P U P P Y L O V E
~ 7 ~
Mrs. Randall answered the doorbell. “Good afternoon,” she said in her usual, slightly-suspicious manner.
“Hi, Mrs. Randall,” Kerry said with his accustomed cheerful bounciness. “Can we go up and see Luke?”
He could see that idea didn’t really sit well with Mrs. Randall. Then they all could hear the thumping of feet on the stairs, and Luke appeared, smiling and saying, “It’s OK, mom. I invited him.”
“Well…” Mrs. Randall said, her face hardening. She wasn’t giving up control that easily. “I don’t know this boy. Either of them, really. I think—”
She was interrupted by her son, something that clearly surprised her; her son was usually very respectful to her, and certainly didn’t act so brusquely. He was passive, not one to take charge when it came to his dealings with her.
“It’s OK,” he repeated, “Kerry told me there was another boy asking the same questions he was, and asked if he could bring him over today. Remember? I told you they were coming, even though I certainly didn’t think you’d have a problem with trying to talk two teenagers into formalizing and proclaiming their faith. I thought you’d celebrate that! Anyway, they’re here now, and it wouldn’t be Christian to send them away — it’d be rude — and especially wrong when all they want is to learn more about our church and how to join it. I think preventing that would be a sin, wouldn’t it?”
Mrs. Randall’s face lost some of its sternness. Luke’s argument obviously had hit home. Still, she wasn’t going to lose control without checking things out entirely. She looked at Ron and asked, “What is your name, young man?”
“It’s Ron, ma’am. Ron Tasley. I was talking to Kerry here yesterday when we were arranging my skiing lessons. I asked him about what he believed. Spiritually, I mean. I didn’t want to take lessons with the wrong sort of boy. We talked some then, and he didn’t have all the answers to my questions about the church he’s thinking about attending, but today he said your son could help explain it better. So I came along. If that’s all right with you, ma’am.”
Kerry almost smiled but managed to keep a straight face, one showing concern. Mrs. Randall wasn’t sure what to think. She’d never had two strange boys in her house with Luke before. Somehow, it felt dangerous. Still, if they were deciding whether to investigate what went on in church, they could well see the wisdom and beauty of it, get caught up in it, and that would be marvelous. She couldn’t really deny them that opportunity, could she?
So she caved. “All right, you two can come in. It would be best if we all talked at the kitchen table.”
“No, Mom.” Luke was quite adamant. “I’m going to use my computer when we talk. Besides, it’ll all be more open that way. And I want to convince them myself, not have you do it. I want this to be my accomplishment, for the church.”
Grudgingly, Mrs. Randall accepted defeat. She allowed them to go upstairs, telling Luke she was nearby and available for any help.
“Luke, this is Ron. Ron, Luke.” Kerry was alive with enthusiasm. It had actually worked, he’d gotten them together, and it looked like he was going to have a place for Lucky when school started back up in a few days.
The two boys grinned at each other. Luke said, “Was any of that true, what you said to my mother?”
Ron blushed. “Not really. I’m not religious at all, and don’t want to be.”
Luke laughed. “But Kerry said you like computers?”
“Oh yeah! I spend most of my time when I’m not in school on them. I like some of those games which have multiple players going after some objective, and you can join teams and like that. I play World of Warcraft and a few others.”
Luke’s face lit up, and then they were talking a mile a minute, comparing notes, and Kerry was left standing grinning at them. Kerry didn’t play computer games. He didn’t have time for them.
Pretty soon a game was being accessed online, and Kerry had to stop them. “Hey guys, listen up a minute!”
Grudgingly, they stopped and turned to listen to him.
“Guys, I’ve got to bug out of here. But I want to tell you what I’d like to do, see if we agree on it.”
Both other boys looked impatient to get back to the computer. They were going to see if they could merge their hard-won assets to make themselves stronger in their game. The real world was less interesting to them at the moment.
“Look, we’ve got another problem. Ron’s supposed to be taking a ski lesson every day. If he doesn’t, I might be able to talk around that with his father, but probably not. Ron says he’s a hard-ass. But — Ron enjoyed his lesson today. And I was thinking, Luke, you want lessons, too. And as much fun as the two of us had today, it might even be more fun with three. Then, Ron would have a reason to cut loose from his parents in the afternoon — a new friend. That would delight his mother, and it would probably be OK with his father. And,” he said, turning to Ron, “it would be the beginning of Luke’s ski training, which he wants. My question is, Luke, can you make it work with your mother?”
Luke got a determined look on his face. “I’ll make it work. I’m tired of staying in the house all the time, of not being around kids my age. And if I tell her Ron’s only going to be here for a few more days, she won’t worry too much about my values being compromised. Yeah. I’ll make it work.”
“OK then. The lesson tomorrow is scheduled for 9 to 11. It’s a 45 minute bike ride to the lodge from here. It might be better if I didn’t pick you up here; I don’t know how much your mother trusts me. So I’ll wait just down the road for you. I’ll be there shortly after 8. You’ve got a bike, don’t you?”
“Yeah. And if she says she’ll drive me to meet Ron at the lodge, I’ll tell her we agreed to ride bikes tomorrow while we talk, and that I want to ride my bike in anyway.”
“Perfect. OK. I’ll see you shortly after 8 tomorrow morning. And Ron, you can ride back to the lodge by yourself, can’t you? I’d leave here just after 4 this afternoon if I were you. Better not get back after 5. Being a little early will be good, give your parents confidence in you.”
Kerry went downstairs by himself, telling Luke it would be better if he had a chance to talk to his mother alone. Luke disagreed, but it was hard to talk Kerry out of something when he had decided.
Kerry found her in the kitchen. “Hi, Mrs. Randall. I just wanted to tell you I was leaving. I have another ski lesson to teach this afternoon and have to go home first. I wanted to thank you for letting us talk to Luke. I think I’ll be coming to check out your church soon. It sounds pretty good, from what Luke says. He’s really enthusiastic about it, and about Ron and my joining. Ron’s already checking online for a church of your denomination where he lives.”
Mrs. Randall thanked him for saying goodbye, and was actually smiling as she closed the door after him.
Kerry stopped to see the doc before getting Lucky. He found the man giving a shot to a large Labrador.
“Hey, Kid. See this dog? Lucky’ll probably be about the same size.”
“Wow, she’s big.”
“Golden’s sometimes are even larger. You’re going to have a good-sized dog.”
Kerry sank into the chair he usually used when talking to the doc and sighed.
Doc gave him a glance. “Your mother still unaware?”
“Yeah. And I’ll tell you, I feel like I’m juggling six eggs at a time and about ready to drop one. I’ve got all these irons in the fire and trying not to get burned.”
“Yeah, and you’re in danger of running out of clichés, too.”
Kerry snorted. “I wish that was all. I’ve got Maryann taking care of Lucky, and I think she thinks that means I’m going to be her boyfriend or something. She’s acting all weird. Well, she’s always weird, but this is worse. Then I’m in the process of getting Luke to watch Lucky while I’m in school and that means I have to lie to his mother. There’s a kid at the lodge I’m teaching to ski against his wishes, and I’m not being straightforward with his parents either.”
Doc giggled. “So to keep the dog, you’re now deceiving three sets of parents? Pretty good. I can see why you’re tired! How long can you keep it up?”
Kerry shrugged. “As long as I can. It’s my mother I’m worried about. But so far, so good, I think. No one seems the wiser yet.”
“Well, good luck. You need anything from me, or are you just taking a break with the only adult you seem to be being honest with?”
Kerry laughed. “You know, it feels good to be honest. Less pressure this way.”
Doc was done with the Lab and set him down on the floor. The dog immediately came over to investigate Kerry, his tail wagging. Kerry rubbed him behind the ears, and the dog moved forward, trying for more pressure. Kerry obliged him for a couple of minutes, then stopped. “Guess I’d better go pick up Lucky.”
“Be sweet when you say hello to Maryann,” cooed the doc.
“Fat chance! I don’t want to encourage her.”
“I don’t think she needs any encouragement. I overheard her on the phone last night. I think she’s picking out wedding dresses already.”
Kerry got a disgusted look on his face as the doc grinned him out the door.
Kerry had a scare that evening. He was playing with Lucky on his bed when, for the first time, Lucky let out a sharp bark. Kerry’s mother was in the laundry room at the time and Kerry’s stereo was on at a volume he and other teenagers seemed to find appropriate, and the bark went unnoticed. But Kerry redoubled his no-barking training.
He’d only had Lucky a couple of days now but he was sure the puppy was larger already. Her coat was growing, too, and some of the puppy fuzz seemed to be turning into fine golden hair.
“You’re going to be a handsome lady, aren’t you?” he asked, and the dog, smart for her age, wagged her tail rather than barking in response. Kerry laughed and hugged her.
Kerry was waiting down the road from Luke’s house and looking at his watch. It was 8:20 and there was no sign of Luke.
Five minutes later, he saw Luke come around the bend in the road, pedaling furiously. He had a scowl on his face, but when he saw Kerry, he slowed to a stop and looked relieved.
“I thought you’d have gone on ahead,” he said.
“I was going to give you another five minutes and then I’d have had to. Not good to be late to school when you’re the teacher. What happened.”
“My mother decided I wasn’t going to get a ski lesson. Not now, not ever. So we talked about it. Shouted about it, really. It’s the first time I stood up for myself with her, and she didn’t like it. So we had a big fight.”
“Did you win it, or did you just walk out?”
“No, I won. I’ll hear about it tonight from my dad, but I got her to say OK before leaving.”
“How’d you manage that?” Kerry was wondering if Luke had done something he needed to learn, although he hadn’t had a fight with his mother in a couple days now.
“I told her if she was going to keep me locked in the house, then I’d stay in on Sunday, too. If I wasn’t free to go out by myself, then I certainly couldn’t be trusted at church not to run off or do whatever terrible things she must be thinking I was planning to do. So fine, I’d stay home now, but on Sunday, too.
“Then I took off my coat and started to go upstairs. She saw I meant it. My going to church with them is awfully important to her. She wants all the other church families to see how perfect we are. What a perfect son I am. What a perfect mother she is. So the threat scared her. She said I could go, but we’d talk this out with my father tonight.”
They were riding fast toward town and the lodge. Kerry hoped they still might make it on time.
“How’ll that go?” Kerry never had fought with his dad. He didn’t know what that must be like.
“I don’t really know. I’ve never defied either of them before. But it’s time. All I’m doing is riding my bike to a ski lesson and back, and then entertaining a friend at home in the afternoon. And I’ll be taking care of your dog during school hours, but I won’t mention that; we already got my mother’s permission for that, and since she hasn’t seen the dog yet, she’s probably forgotten all about it.
“But dad is rational. Strict, but rational. He’ll listen to what I have to say. And I plan to have a bunch of arguments all ready for him. Like how am I supposed to learn to stand on my own feet if I never have any practice? How am I to learn social skills sitting in my room all day? How can they learn to trust me if I never have the opportunity to earn that trust?”
Kerry snickered. “Hey, that last one sounds like me. Shaming them for not trusting you while at the same time you’re misleading them. That’s a classic.”
“Thought you’d like that!”
The two boys grinned at each other. Kerry felt a closeness to this boy that surprised him.
Kerry had a question, though. “So you’re not sure you’ll be coming tomorrow?”
“I’d say the chances are pretty good. But if I’m not where we met by 8:15, just go on ahead.”
They got to the lodge just a few minutes late. It didn’t make any difference as Ron was waiting for them alone.
“Hey guys,” he said, getting up as they came into the great room, his face brightening.
“Hi, Ron,” they both said simultaneously.
Kerry took them to the equipment rental area. He showed Luke what he needed and why, and watched as Ron chose his own stuff, following the directions Kerry had explained to him yesterday.
Ron sat through the beginning instructions again, but told Kerry it was good hearing it all a second time. Luke was a little faster catching on to the fundamentals than Ron had been, being more athletic, but he was a beginner and all beginners have problems at first. Luke fell down a lot. Kerry did, too. Ron watched this and finally said, “Hey, you’re doing that on purpose, aren’t you?”
Kerry looked a little abashed, but nodded. “It makes it easier. If you fall down and no one else does, pretty quickly you get embarrassed. It’s good to have company.”
Ron thought about that, then said, “Thanks.”
The second half of the lesson was as much fun as yesterday’s had been. Ron was surprised that he’d actually learned something his first day with Kerry, and he was delighted he was doing better at it than Luke was. He wasn’t much better, but he was better, and that inflated his sorely lacking ego like nothing had recently. Luke, of course, was not expecting to do well right off and was simply enjoying himself being with two other boys his age and learning the rudiments of skiing.
Near the end of the lesson, on a fairly flat area, Kerry touched Ron and said, “You’re it!” and then skied away quickly. Ron looked surprised, then went after Luke. “No fair,” shouted Luke, laughing and trying to get away. Eventually he crossed his skis and, laughing, tumbled to the ground. Ron, unable to stop, sprawled over him. Ron’s momentum got them moving and they ended up slowly sliding into a snow bank. Kerry was roaring with laughter as he helped them up. “Guess you’re not ready for the black diamond slopes yet,” he said, and then had to explain what those were.
When the time was up, all three boys had a snack, sitting together and joking about the lesson. When they were done, all three rode their bikes back to Luke’s house. Kerry didn’t stay long, just long enough so Luke’s mother got used to him being there, then took off. He had a dog to collect, and a girl to placate, or avoid if at all possible.