Before even opening his eyes, Kevin recognized that he was in his own bed, but he grimaced as he remembered he wasn’t “home.” The sounds surrounding him were unfamiliar. Water swooshing through pipes coming from directions and with a tonality that were not what he’d been used to hearing at home. He’d never paid deliberate attention to such things, but his subconscious mind recognized that it was somehow…different. So were the smells.
The thwump of a heavy Sunday newspaper hitting the floor outside his apartment door as the delivery person’s rattling 2-wheeler proceeded down the outer hallway had been the clincher.
No. He blinked a few times and rubbed the sleep from his eyes before focusing on the unfamiliar ceiling fixture. This was home now. Then again, maybe he would forever refer to his parents’ house as “home” in that casual way people did. When someone said, “I’m going home for Christmas,” everyone knew they weren’t referring to their own place of residence.
Even the scritch, scritch coming from the mouse cages sounded different. Poor Corky and Isabelle; their habitat’s screen had been damaged in the move. He really should have finished that repair before going to bed, exhaustion be damned. But he hadn’t wanted his final safety check of the elaborate structure to be made while he was having trouble focusing. Still, he hated that “his girls” had spent the night in their little traveling cages.
The angle of the light slanting through the blinds told him it was still early, but the tightness in his belly told him it was time to get up anyway. “Hang in there, girls,” he sing-songed in a manner that should be familiar and comforting to them. “You’ll be back home in no time.”
Their home—habitat—would be the same, but they’d probably be able to pick up on the fact that their world had moved for the same reasons Kevin had when he’d awaken. He rolled out of bed. They’d be hungry, too, and there was no sense disrupting their routine any more than necessary.
Kevin washed up, then fed and watered his mice. He’d shred some carrot for them later as a treat to help offset the disruption in their lives.
A grin spread across his face when he opened the refrigerator. His mom had bought groceries, making sure to pick up the ingredients for his favorite casseroles, the recipes for which she’d left in a neat stack on the countertop.
Yeah, her fabulous breakfast casserole was just what he needed to chase away that touch of homesickness pulling at his heartstrings. Either that or it would exasperate it. Regardless, he was hungry, so he pulled out the eggs, sausage, hash browns, chives, and shredded cheese, and got to work.
Once that was in the oven, he rummaged through his toolbox for pliers and screws, then pulled his drill off the charger. Everything seemed so much easier this morning. It was amazing what a difference a good night’s sleep could make. In no time at all, the habitat was complete and secure to his satisfaction.
A noise out in the hall reminded him of his newspaper. It sounded like another door opening. A door just down the hall in the direction of the cute guy he’d noticed during a couple of his box-hauling trips. Maybe he could catch another glimpse and maybe sneak in a “hi” and a wave? The guy was flaming—obviously gay—which considering Kevin’s faulty gaydar, was points in the guy’s favor because after a bad experience with a straight guy who’d turned out to also be a raging homophobe, he was always reluctant to ask a guy out if he was unsure of his sexuality.
Kevin quickly opened his door to retrieve the newspaper. Something flashed in his peripheral vision, and he froze, then relaxed. No, it couldn’t be—
Kevin jumped when the man down the hall let out a high-pitched yelp. He looked up in time to see the man hop from foot to foot and shriek, “Rat!” as a pale streak detoured into the man’s apartment.
“Shit,” Kevin muttered. He spun to check the travel cages and his heart leapt into his throat. Corky’s door was ajar. He closed his apartment door and took off running down the hall.
To be continued…