"Tommy!" Caroline called from the back porch.
"Want something to eat?"
Caroline held the screen door open for him, and smiled and tousled his hair as he entered. It was all right. She frequently coaxed him over to her house whenever she cooked up a huge pot of spaghetti or ravioli or veal or chicken cacciatore, with a subtle and delicate sauce made from the tomatos and basil she grew in her garden at the far end of the back yard.
He knew she didn't mind how much he ate because there always was plenty to go around. She always had a wood case of green-bottled Cokes in the pantry, so good on a hot summer day, and delicious deserts like chocolate-covered vanilla cream-filled donuts or white pan cake with butter and powdered sugar icing.
Tommy sat down at the table in her spotless kitchen.
"Like it spicy?"
Caroline slathered bright yellow on the ham and then pressed on a slice of rye bread. She cut the sandwich, and spread the halves apart to make room for a pile of potato chips and a dill pickle, sliced lengthwise in quarters. She put the plate in front of him, then went to the pantry and returned with two Cokes. She popped the corrugated metal caps, slid one bottle toward him, then sat down.
"Where's your father?" Caroline asked.
"I don't know." Tommy took a long swallow of his Coke, and burped quietly.
"He shouldn't leave you alone in that house."
"I don't mind."
"I know it's none of my business, but it just isn't right."
Tommy glanced at Caroline as he took another large bite from his ham on rye. She rubbed her eyes. She sighed.
He knew something was up. He could feel it.
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