Dan opened the back door and walked into the kitchen, fully expecting that mum wouldn't be there. This time of day she was usually slumped on the sofa, with some talk show or other blaring in the background. He was wrong.
She was sitting on the kitchen floor in front of the sink, knees bent up, and her head resting on them. She raised her head to look up at him, and he saw the grubby damp tracks on her cheeks. His heart contracted and he swallowed, hard.
''Danny?'' She struggled to get up,and a part of him wanted to put a hand out to help her, but he still needed to make sure she knew that he wasn't her friend.... not while she was in this state. He dumped the bag of bread on the counter and walked into the living room.
''Danny.'' She was standing in the kitchen doorway, swaying slightly. ''I'm sorry'' she slurred. ''You're a good boy. I'm not much good to you, am I? Your dad knew that. He was right to leave. I'm useless''
He hadn't seen her in this contrite condition before and he didn't know how to react. He stubbornly stood his ground, though he was aching to go and give her a hug. She was his mother and he still loved her, but he had learned not to trust her over the past few weeks. She was right. All they had these days was each other and she had only been thinking of herself.
He looked at her and shrugged.
''Mum. If you'd just stop... drinking.''
''What?'' she shouted. ''What would happen if I stopped, Dan?'' She stumbled into the room and sat on the sofa. ''Would he come back?'' She stared up at him, an intense stare, but not quite keeping her eyes focused on him. ''You don't understand, Dan. Nobody does.''
He looked away, and then saw the mess. Broken green glass, all over the floor under the coffee table.
''Mum!'' he looked at her. Her eyes were drooping, but she opened them, an enquiring look on her face.
''Where's the dustpan and brush?'' he said, pointing at the broken wine bottle.
She raised herself slightly and looked. ''Oh yeah. Sorry. That's what I went in the kitchen for. Couldn't find it.'' She closed her eyes again.
He went into the kitchen and looked in the cupboard under the sink. She didn't look far then, he thought, taking out the dustpan. He went back into the living room and swept up the remains of the bottle. His mother was now snoring lightly. He sighed.
Back in the kitchen, he looked for somewhere safe to put the broken shards. He couldn't put them in the bin. He thought maybe he could find an old padded bag or something like that, but didn't feel like searching at the moment. He was too hungry.
He remembered that there was a bucket in the shed. That would do for now - he'd dispose of the glass properly tomorrow.
He went out into the garden and opened the shed door. The first thing he saw was the rows of empty bottles. He put his hands either side of his face and sank down on his haunches with a deep sigh. It hadn't occurred to him to wonder where she put the empties. What did she think would happen when she ran out of space in the shed.
Then he saw a movement at the back of the shed. He stood and peered into the distance. There it was again. Something small and white. He picked his way through the bottles, lifting his feet high. As he reached the back of the shed he heard a mew. A tiny, plaintive, frightened little mew.
He crouched down. ''Hello?'' he said softly. Two very blue eyes looked up at him.
''Meeeew'' It was such a strange sound, like a cat who hadn't learned to miaow properly, and he knew instantly whose cat it was.
He reached out with one hand, and stroked the little white head. The cat nuzzled his fingers and batted his hand with its forehead.
''Bobby?'' he said, then giggled. He's deaf, stupid! He stroked it again and rubbed his fingers behind its ears, to be rewarded instantly by surprisingly loud purring. He scooped up the little cat and hugged it against his chest. It didn't even struggle. Very placid, very trusting, this cat.
''We need to find your owner, Bob.'' he said. He could imagine what must have happened. Mum had been out here, dumping a bottle or two this morning, Bobby had wandered in, unnoticed, and then she'd shut the door on the poor thing.
''Don't worry.'' he said, though Bobby seemed totally unconcerned and was snuggled into Dan's chest. ''We'll find her. She'll be so pleased to see you, mate!''
But where? He went back into the house, with his new feline friend purring against him, looked at his mother curled up on the sofa. Out for the count. Now there's a surprise.
He went out through the kitchen door again, dismissing the broken glass-filled dustpan on the counter, but with a quick, hungry glance at the loaf, and set off toward the other end of the row of houses. He decided it was best to start at the very end and work back. If he drew a blank, Bobby would have to stay with him overnight and he'd try again tomorrow. As he walked down the road, he found that idea rather appealing - found the cat's trusting presence comforting.
He knocked at the first door, No reply. The second he ignored, as there was a grumpy-looking elderly woman crouched in the garden, doing some weeding. He walked up the path of the third house and rang the doorbell. He waited. No reply, but on a whim he rang it again. He was about to walk back down the path again when the door opened a crack. One greeny-blue eye looked at him, then the door opened a little more. It was Cassie. Her puzzled look turned quickly to joy as she looked down at his arms and saw the cat.
''Bobby!'' she squealed, coming out onto the step and holding her arms out. ''You found Bobby!''