Excerpt Heath snagged a Coke from the fridge, cracked it open and took a long, cool swallow while Clancy sat between his feet, looking up at him and drooling.
"Puppies don't drink soda," Heath said, shaking his head at Clancy. "Go lap up some water, pal. This stuff will rot you from the inside out."
Heath meandered to the kitchen door and looked out through the curtain swags framing its window into the backyard. Neat as a pin, it was complete with emerald green grass cut to a uniform length, a doghouse (which Heath somehow doubted Clancy ever used, unless Bill dragged it inside every night and laid it at the foot of his bed). There was a redwood picnic table with a gigantic, striped umbrella sticking out of the middle of it, and a huge, stainless steel grill. Along the length of one side of the white picket fence that continued from the front yard around the rear, was a neatly tended vegetable garden. From the look of tall, leafy plants with bright red-orange fruit, he guessed tomatoes, and something dark green and leafy, maybe cabbage or spinach.
Yup. Definitely Mayberry, he thought, taking another chug of his Coke. I wonder where he keeps Andy, Aunt Bea, and Opie?
No matter how sarcastic his thoughts, there was a small voice inside his head that whispered, "Me, too." Maybe it was his experience with Johnny, but suddenly, being in the middle of a fifties' sitcom didn't seem half as bad as Heath would have thought just the week before. No noise. No traffic. No ex-lover-hoodlum-former-convicts stealing him blind.
It was kind of nice -- peaceful, if a little corny. He looked down at Clancy. "Guess you come part and parcel with the rest of it, huh? The house, the picket fence, the dog... it's all part of the Norman Rockwell gig. I gotta admit, you're cute for a furry poop factory."
He returned his gaze to the yard. There were colorful flowers planted around most of the perimeter of the property, except for the space taken up by the vegetable garden. He recognized roses and daisies, but didn't know names for the rest. Short evergreen trees edged the yard, too small to be very old. The thick green grass made him want to kick off his shoes and socks and run barefoot through it. He could almost feel the blades tickling between his toes.
Clancy yipped and jumped up, resting his paws on Heath's leg. Heath could swear the little bugger was making "puppy dog" eyes at him.
Of course he is, he thought. That's where the expression comes from. Dogs have begging down to a science, particularly cute, fuzzy, baby dogs.
"Stop looking at me like that," Heath said to the pup. "This stuff will strip the paint off a car -- just imagine what it'd do to your squishy puppy innards. Even if I offered you some, you'd probably turn your little wet nose up at it, anyway."
"Don't be so sure. He's not the brightest pup in the litter. He'll eat or drink anything. Once, he ate one of my socks. Hand to God. You did not want to be around when it came out of the other end, either."
Bill stood in the kitchen doorway, dressed in a pair of tight jeans worn so thin Heath could practically see Bill's spleen, and a blue, button-down shirt. He wore it open at the collar; a clean white T-shirt peeked out from underneath, and looked altogether too sexy against Bill's tanned skin. His blue-black hair was wet, and finger-combed. A dribble of water, missed in the drying process, dripped down the side of his neck. Heath felt a sudden, almost uncontrollable urge to lick it off Bill's smooth, golden skin.
Heath sucked in a breath, fighting his body's urges as it hardened against his will. He knew Bill was good-looking, but somehow he hadn't been aware of just how hot Bill was while he'd been dressed in his uniform, with the bulky leather belt and radio, holster, gun, and flashlight hanging off it. Or maybe Heath had been too distracted by his problems to notice. Bill was breathtaking dressed in his civvies, and Heath's doubts about going out to dinner with him redoubled.
It was going to be extremely difficult for Heath to suck down manicotti while drooling profusely and uncontrollably at his date, not to mention the awkwardness of the inevitable goodnight kiss, particularly when Heath's body was already insisting that a kiss alone wouldn't be nearly enough.
"Are you ready to go?" Bill asked, drawing Heath out of his thoughts.
"Yeah, sure," Heath said, tossing his empty can into the blue plastic recycling bin near the kitchen door. It clinked against a dozen others, masking Heath's small sigh.