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Copyright © 2011 by Paul Griffin
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Griffin, Paul, date.
Stay with me / by Paul Griffin.
Summary: Fifteen-year-olds Mack, a high school drop-out but a genius with dogs,
and Céce, who hopes to use her intelligence to avoid a life like her mother’s,
meet and fall in love at the restaurant where they both work, but when Mack
lands in prison he pushes Céce away and only a one-eared pit bull can keep them together.
ISBN : 978-1-101-52943-0
[1. Love—Fiction. 2. Restaurants—Fiction. 3. Family life—Fiction.
4. Pit bull terriers—Fiction. 5. Dogs—Fiction. 6. Ability—Fiction.] I. Title.
For my editor and friend, Kate Harrison,
and for Juan G., who dreams of happy endings
A HUNDRED AND TWO DAYS.
That’s probably about average, but it didn’t seem close to that long, especially in the beginning, that first month or so. It was just getting to that sweet spot, where everything is perfect for a while. A short while. Before it starts to fade—little by little, usually. Not for them, though. For them, it was ripped away in the middle of an ordinary summer afternoon, in a little less than a minute and a half.
It happened in a city you may or may not have heard of, but you probably know them—people like them. You have a friend like her, and maybe you’ve worked with somebody like him. At minimum, you’ve seen them around, in restaurants, on the street, walking a dog or two. People said,
Hey, what’s the big deal? It happens all the time.
And it does. Until it happens to you. Then it’s something different all right, especially when you’re left to wander the wreckage.
It started in an unremarkable way, the same way it starts for lots of people: A hint was dropped, an introduction was made. When you’re set up like that, you think it’ll never work out. But it can, and sometimes it does.
And then somebody does something stupid. Not stupid. Somebody loses control. And then . . .
A hundred and two days. And then it was over.
THE FIRST DAY . . .
(Friday, June 12, just before the dinner shift)
“Bad news,” Vic says.
“There’s another kind?”
“I lost the restaurant.”
“Another tough night at the online poker table?”
“Catastrophic.” The old man saddles a flipped milk crate and clobbers garlic cloves with his hand. Says it makes him feel one with the earth, except there’s not a lot of earth up here in the city. Baked concrete, now, that we got. Back in Texas, there you had land. “I’m bringing you and Tony over to my other place,” Vic says. “Didn’t I send you there once, to fill in for Freddy maybe, Valentine’s Day?”
“No sir.” I only started working here three months ago.
“It isn’t far from here. You’ll still be able to walk to work. You’ll like it there. Nice family atmosphere. Tony’s mom works there. His sister too.”
“He told me.” He also said his sister would like me, but I don’t think so. I’m no good at looking folks in the eye. I guess I’m taller than average, but I grew up small, didn’t hit my growth spurt till later. I don’t know. I steer clear of people as much as I can. Vic and Tony. They’re the only folks I feel a little comfortable with. I don’t mind it so much, being alone. You can’t do anything about it. You’ve got to keep going. What else are you going to do? “What’re you gonna do about the name of the other restaurant, Mister Vic?” He has Vic’s and Vic’s Too—or he did until he lost Vic’s.
“It’ll still be Vic’s Too,” he says. “Brand recognition. Very important.”
“I see.” No, I don’t. How do you have a Too when the first one is gone? “My spot at the new place, dishwashing?”
“Freddy keeps smoking pot on the job, you’re in,” Vic says. “Till then, you’re on delivery. You look disappointed.”
“I like to clean stuff.”
“I know,” Vic says. “You’re very good at it. The grease on those plates. You’re uncompromising.”
“Thought you just said I was good.”
“I suspect Freddy won’t last,” Vic says. “I gave him half a dozen chances to straighten up, and he left me chapfallen every time. Six or seven more times, I’ll have to let him go.”
“I hear you. Yeah. I’m betting
means nothing near what I think it means.”
“Are you seeing a picture of a fancy British guy falling off a horse?”
“Yeah,” Vic says, “then you would be wrong. It means he douched me.” Vic looks about as smart as a thrown stone, but he’s the king of the crosswords. “Very potent word,
. Remember it.” Vic says
a lot too.
“Why would I use
when I can say
“Because you might not want to say
in front of a woman.”
“I do see your point.”
“You up for some Wiffle ball?” the old man says.
“I got a bunch more prep work to do.”
“Ey, look at me.”
“Yessir?” I look him in the eye, but a second later I’m back to looking at my sneaker laces. One’s busted, but I have string in my pocket.
“You’re fifteen, not fifty,” Vic says. “I don’t tell somebody to do something unless I’m sure I’m right about it. I know what I know. Right here, right now, for you, this is the right thing, this Wiffle ball. You need to do this.”
“I need to do Wiffle ball?”
He studies the ball in his hand. “Kid, no matter how much money you make, you’ll spend more than you have. You miss a chance at fun, you never get it back. Now go on out and tell Tony I said knock it off with the clams. You work too hard, the two of you.” Vic grabs the Wiffle bat from where we keep it with the long breads and chucks it to me. “I gotta call this guy, then I’ll be out.”
Out back, Tony’s shucking cherrystones. It’s hot for early June, and I’m sweating, but Tony doesn’t sweat. He’s the coolest dude, eighteen but with old-man wisdom. I can’t look him in the eye either.
The restaurant backs up onto an old house on the one side. The neighbor’s dog hops the fence to hang with us. Dog jumps all over Tony. Tony’s laughing and telling the dog all nice to sit, but the dog has Tony on his pay no mind list.
I make my hand a claw and poke the dog’s flank, like his mom would do. Dog spins and looks at me. I have no problem looking him in the eye while real quiet I grunt “Wait.” Dog rolls belly up for me to scratch him. His tail beats dust from the concrete.
“I’m telling you, Mack, you gotta do it.” Tony is always after me to start my own dog training business. “You’d make serious coin.”
“I don’t have the money for the school.”
“You don’t need the school,” Tony says.
“You need the license from the school, or people don’t think you’re any good.”
Tony claps my back to make me look him in the eye. “How much is it?”
“The school? Got no idea.” I got the exact idea.
“What, like four or five grand?”
“Four. How’d you know?”
“Four is nothing,” he says. “We’ll put it on my credit card.”
“Nah, I don’t like owing folks. What if I can’t pay you back?”
“So?” he says.
That right there is Tony in a minute. He’s the line cook, and he doesn’t make a whole bunch more than me. I tell him he was right in the first place, the school’s a waste of money, but now he won’t let up on he wants me to go to the school.