Hello, hello, so good to see you! Please, come in! Did you have any trouble finding the house? The turn comes up quickly after you make the right on Lake Street, so some people end up driving right past it. Gosh, can you believe it's been almost a year since your last visit? Time just moves so quickly! Anyway, make yourself at home, apologies for all the dead rotting pets everywhere.

Can I get you something to drink?

I've got Diet Coke, Sprite, Crystal Light, OJ, whatever you like. If you don't mind grabbing a coaster they're over there in that cupboard behind all the cat corpses.

Enough with the formalities, I want to hear all about the apartment and the new job! Spare me no detail. You're doing advertising now, is that right? Consulting of some kind? I get bits and pieces through the grapevine, but it's been hard staying in the loop, what with my crazy work schedule and all the lizard bodies piling up around here. I feel like I finish one project and there's two more on my desk the next day.

Whoops, watch your step with that half- decomposed trout on the rug there.

Again, I apologize for the mess. I keep telling myself one of these weekends I'll stop being a royal slob and devote a whole day just to cleaning up around here, but you know how it is. You throw a couple of parakeets in a trash bag and load the wheelbarrow with ferrets, and next thing you know your butt's parked in front of the TV set watching Animal Planet. I swear I'm this close to hiring a housekeeper!

But I'm sorry, you didn't come to hear me complain. Sit, sit. You can just push all those box turtles off the couch. Have I told you we're going to remodel the den? You know, we've been talking about it for so long, we figured it was high time we finally do it. See where those dead hamsters and chinchillas are all bunched up in a ball against the wall there? We're thinking of pushing that out another couple feet. I think it'll really open things up a lot.

There are some blueprints somewhere in that mound of pugs if you want to take a peek.

By the way, how's your aunt? She and I have plans to get coffee at some point. It seems like every time we settle on a date either she's got her hands full with the kids or I'm digging dead boa constrictors out of the crawl space. If you speak to her before I do, send my regards. I'll send her an e-mail once I've gotten all the dead bats out of the computer room.

Speaking of which, you may have noticed Cinnamon wasn't there to greet you at the door like she used to. Well, I'm very sad to report that she's being groomed today and won't be around.

Oh! What a terrible host I am! You must be starving after the long drive. I've got a ton of leftovers and didn't even offer you any. Just wait here and I'll fix you something to eat. As soon as you're good and full we can go fetch some oats and head out back to comb the horses, just like you always loved to.

I'm sure they'll be champing at the bit for a snack. The poor guys haven't been fed in months.