P U P P Y L O V E
~ 5 ~
On his bike, pedaling back toward home, Kerry was thinking hard. He had no idea how to go about this, none at all. He had to ask a huge favor of a kid he didn’t know, and all he had to offer was something that was embarrassing to talk about and would sound crazy coming from a stranger.
Still, what did he have to lose, other than his dignity, and he was willing to risk that. A little humiliation was nothing if it could possibly lead to hanging on to Lucky.
It was mid-afternoon when Kerry rode his bike up Luke’s driveway. Feeling a little unsure of himself, but also realizing he needed to be his most positive and persuasive, he left his bike leaning up against the snow-covered bushes by the front door and rang the bell.
A middle-aged woman with an imperious air and a suspicious expression on her face answered the door. Kerry swallowed his heart, which seemed to have climbed into his throat, and said, “Mrs. Randall?” He only knew their name because Doc had asked him once why he never hung out with Luke Randall, and when Kerry had asked who that was, Doc had told him.
“Uh, is Luke home? Could I talk to him, please?”
Mrs. Randall looked at Kerry questioningly. “Does he know you? I’m sorry, but I don’t recognize you.”
“I’m Kerry.” He stopped and smiled, and then realized that probably wasn’t enough. “Uh, Kerry O’Connor. We live farther up the road in the hills.” He kept his smile, hoping it would make a difference.
“And do you know Luke? I don’t recognize you from church.”
Kerry had to think fast. He knew Luke’s parents were ultra-religious. He knew they kept pretty tight reins on him. He had to be careful what he said here.
Was it a sin to lie to religious people? Probably. But Kerry wasn’t religious and didn’t believe much in sin, and he was on a mission here. How could a little lie hurt? Besides which, it was looking more and more like without stretching the truth just a wee bit, he wouldn't even get in to talk to Luke.
“No, I haven’t been there. My mom doesn’t take me to church. But this kid I know at school who goes to your church — Chuck Waller, you know him? — he said Luke went there, too, and was really into religion and stuff, and if I had any questions or was wondering about it at all, about what goes on there, like whether maybe I’d like it, you know? Chuck said maybe I should talk to Luke about it ‘cause he knows more about the religious aspects than he does. I think Chuck mostly goes just because his parents make him. Well, since Luke lives right near me, and, a, well, here I am.”
And he smiled again. Feeling a little silly, but smiling.
Mrs. Randall seemed to have lost a little of her reserve. “Well then, in that case, I think maybe you could talk to Luke. Why don’t you two sit at the table in the kitchen? I’ll get some milk and cookies for you, and I might be able to answer any questions about our faith and church Luke has trouble with!”
She seemed very happy. Kerry felt like kicking her. Sitting and talking about what he needed to discuss with her in the room would be impossible. They’d have to talk about church, for crying out loud! That was the last thing Kerry wanted to talk about.
“Uh, actually, Mrs. Randall, do you think I could talk to him in his room? Just the two of us? See, I’m kinda like shy around adults and I know I’d never find out half the things I want to find out; I wouldn't even be able to remember the questions I need answered. You’re awfully nice, but even now, just standing here, I’m all nervous and having trouble talking. I’d be much more relaxed if it was just me and Luke. Probably he’d have a better chance of talking me into coming to church if it was just me and him discussing it.”
He tried to look pleading and embarrassed at the same time. He decided he was probably more cut out to be a professional skier than an actor.
“I see,” Mrs. Randall said, and some of her joy seemed to have dissipated; some of her coolness had returned, but after hesitating, she did acquiesce to his request, at least marginally. “Well, I’ll go see if he wants to talk to you. Please come in and wait here.”
Kerry came into the house and she closed the door behind him. Then she walked back into the house. A few minutes later she came back and said, “He says to come on up. Top of the stairs, first bedroom on the right.”
Kerry thanked her profusely, trying not to be too profuse. She looked at him a little suspiciously anyway, so he wasn’t sure he’d got it right. Anyway, he had gotten past the troll at the bridge. And that was supposed to be the easy part!
Now he had to confront a kid he’d never met, talk him into doing something he probably didn’t want to do by offering him a carrot he probably had a revulsion for and would be offended hearing. Piece of cake. Yeah, right.
Filled with a terrifying lack of confidence but a staunch resolve, Kerry climbed the stairs. When he got to the top, he saw Luke standing in the doorway, a bemused expression on his face. Kerry smiled at him. Luke smiled back and said, “I can’t wait to hear this.” His voice was filled with sarcasm, but he was grinning. For the first time since Kerry had come up with his crazy idea, he felt a flicker of hope. If this kid had a sense of humor, anything was possible.
“Hi,” Kerry said. “I’m Kerry O’Connor. Your neighbor.”
Luke laughed. “Neighbor. Well then, you’ve probably come to give us cookies as an awesome welcome-to-the-neighborhood gift. You’re just a bit late. We’ve lived here for six years. Maybe you were busy?”
He was still grinning. Kerry found himself having to shift gears. So far, he liked this kid. The thing was, he’d been expecting someone like Ronald, sort of geeky, lacking self-confidence, not good with strangers — that sort of kid. Instead, this guy was more relaxed than he himself was. Obviously, lack of self-confidence wasn’t a problem Luke had to contend with. He was also quite good looking with curly brown hair of medium length and an athletic build. No, he wasn’t what Kerry had pictured at all.
“Nope, no cookies. I came to talk you into something. And I had no idea how to go about it. I have even less now. You’re not what I expected. I somehow thought you’d be shy and nerdy because I’ve never seen you out and around. Instead, though, you’re funny and kind of cocky and not shy at all. Which is too bad because that was going to be the lever I was going to use to convince you.”
Luke moved back into his room and Kerry followed him. The room was a total mess. Books and papers and clothes and dishes with half-eaten food were covering every surface space to be seen, even the floor. Kerry looked around, then turned to Luke. “Looks just like my room.”
Luke grinned. “If you’re going to do something, do it right.” Luke seemed delighted as he took in the room as if from an outsider’s first viewing. “I take pride in my mess.” Luke sat down at his computer desk, then pointed to the bed. It wasn’t made, but that didn’t bother Kerry at all. He sat down.
“So what did you want to talk me into?”
Kerry looked at him without speaking for a moment, then two, and finally took a deep breath and sighed. “I was going to try a snow job on you, lay it on heavy, but I think I’ll just come clean instead. It’ll either work or won’t. I thought — well, I didn’t think you’d be cool like this. So, here goes.
“I need someone to watch my dog for me while I’m in school. I just found a puppy someone abandoned, just up the road and across from your house. The thing is, my mom and I don’t see eye to eye on much of anything. We’re at war with each other most of the time. If I showed her I had found a puppy and wanted to keep it, she’s say no way, and that would be that. So, I’m not telling her. I’m going to keep it and raise it without her even knowing about it, and when she finally finds out it’ll be fully grown and mine and there’ll be nothing she can do other than yell some more, and she already does that.
“My problem is, I don’t have anyone to be with it during the time I’m at school. So my brilliant idea was, since you’re home schooled, you could keep it here with you during my school hours.”
He stopped. He’d been looking at Luke. Luke had been looking back and wearing a very unreadable expression. Now, with Kerry obviously waiting for him to speak, he said, flatly, “How did you know I was home-schooled? And just how were you planning to snow me into doing this?”
Kerry knew this had to be his sales pitch. Luke hadn’t said no right off, which meant Kerry still had a chance. Well, he hoped it meant that. Anyway, the only way he had to sell his idea was to sell himself. He had to try.
He decided to answer the questions in order. “The doc told me. I guess you know him. He asked me once why I never hung with you. And he told about the home-schooling. As for the snow job, well…”
He stopped to gather his thoughts, then realized this wouldn't get easier with waiting and plowed forward. “I had two things to offer. One, I was going to tell you that if you’d do it, I’d teach you how to ski. But I didn’t think that would appeal to you because I had this picture in my head of a little nerdy guy who’d never want to leave the house, who sat at his computer all day when he wasn’t reading books. Skiing didn’t seem like something you’d want anything to do with. But, if that had been the case, I had an alternate plan. It also was based on who I thought you were, and now I can see it probably would have as much appeal as liver loaf for dinner.”
Luke couldn’t help himself. He laughed. Then he put his straight face back on and asked, “What was that plan?”
“OK.” Kerry stood up. This was stressful. “See, I’m giving ski lessons to this kid at the lodge, starting tomorrow. He’s, well, he’s what I thought you’d be. He’s not athletic, he’s a little overweight, and mostly, he doesn’t want to take ski lessons. They’re his parents’ idea and he hates it. I asked him what he wanted to do instead and he said he wanted to do what he does at home: spend the day on his computer and reading, but his parents won’t let him. So, since in my head that’s who you were, too — a computer nerd — and since I got him to admit he’s lonely as hell, well, I could see you two hitting it off. If you were stuck up here in your room all day, every day, and didn’t have friends, well, I just thought meeting a kid, being able to spend some time with him...”
Kerry’s voice tapered off to nothing and he couldn’t help himself; he blushed. But then, with the last of his determination, he forced out, “I thought you might be lonely, too.”
Luke didn’t say anything, just kept staring at him. When Kerry, nervous now, sat down again, Luke said, “And how were you going to sell that plan? I mean, what were you going to say to convince me?”
Kerry grinned, feeling better now that that was over and Luke was still talking to him. “I was going to wing it. Play it by ear, I guess. See what you were like and go from there.”
Luke laughed. “You got some balls, you know that?”
Luke stopped smiling.
Finally, Luke spoke. “You don’t know anything about problems with parents. You only mentioned a mother; one person yelling at you. I got two. And they’re both the same. They’re religious, their religion is the most important thing in the world to them. It’s the only thing they feel is important at all, and they’re absolutely fixated on me being just like them. They want me to be a pastor, to lead a large congregation, to do God’s work. They don’t want anything to come between me and their goal, so they regulate everything I do. Friends, activities, recreation, education, everything.”
Kerry could see he had more to say, and so remained still.
“I overheard you at the door. The only reason you got in was that bit about thinking of joining the church and wanting my advice. Proselytizing, gaining converts, growing the church is an ideal for her. Actually doing it would be like a jewel in her crown, and if you joined our church because she let you in the house and encouraged it, she’d be on cloud nine for weeks.
“But anyway, that’s why you’ve never seen me in town, or at the lodge. I only get out if one of them is with me. I do play soccer in a summer league, but it’s a church league and we play other church teams.
“I have a couple of friends from church but we’re not close, and they don’t come over here. So, as a matter of fact, your trying to talk me into taking care of your dog by introducing me to a kid who’d like to hang out, even if only for a week, well, I’d have jumped at it. But I doubt it would have worked.”
Kerry’s hopes had lifted. He didn’t want to hear any negatives now. “Why not?” he asked.
“Because unless the boy was religious, my mom wouldn’t approve. She probably wouldn’t object to the dog. Taking him on would be doing a Christian thing, helping someone out. But hanging with a kid she doesn’t know who might pollute me? No way.”
“You mean you’d do it if your mother would allow the kid here? You’d take the dog when I’m in school?”
“You mean it about the ski lessons? I’d love to learn, and can probably talk Mom into that if you continue to pretend an interest in joining the church.”
Kerry was excited. This might actually work. “Let me talk to Ron. I have no idea what he feels about religion, but I do know he’ll do almost anything to get out of ski lessons. And hanging with you for a week would be good for both of you, I guess. I’ll talk to him tomorrow morning when I’m giving him his first lesson. Then I’ll stop by on the way home and fill you in.”
Luke smiled. “I’ll prepare my mother.”