P U P P Y   L O V E

 

 

 

~  8  ~

 

Mrs. O’Connor was smiling more these days.  She was happy, happier than since her husband had died.  She knew one of the reasons for that: she wasn’t fighting with Kerry any longer.  For some reason they’d both withdrawn to their corners of the metaphorical boxing ring they’d been in so long, and then, surprisingly, both had simply exited the ring, never to put the gloves back on.  Their last fight had been a few months ago when he’d yelled at her for opening his bedroom door.  She’d consciously not yelled back, and she’d agreed never to open it when it was closed, even when he wasn’t there.  And she hadn’t.  That seemed to have been the beginning of their new relationship. 

 

It still felt fragile.  It still felt like it could blow up at any time.  She was still being careful.  But, their relationship, right then, was good.  They were both happy with each other.

 

They’d grown together, matured perhaps, after that last fight.  She was trusting him more, and he was making an effort, too.  That was obvious.  He was cooking dinner for them more and more often, he was doing his  homework without being prodded and nagged — he simply seemed a different boy.  He even had a friend now, a boy from down the road, near Doc’s house, named Luke.  She’d asked about him, and Kerry had said he was taking skiing lessons from him.  That made sense; Kerry had been an outgoing, friendly boy before his father had died, then become sullen and combative and spent a lot of time by himself.  Now, that seemed behind him, and giving lessons to a local boy almost guaranteed they’d become friends.

 

Maybe it was just that he was getting older, maybe that’s why peace had finally occurred.  He’d turned 14 a couple of months ago.  He looked less the little boy now, more like the teenager he was.  Boys change, she knew.  She wondered if that might be why the battles had ended.  He sometimes overheard Maryann’s name mentioned when the boys were talking.  She wondered about that, too.  Did that have anything to do with it?  Did he already have a girlfriend?

 

But that wasn’t all.  The most surprising change in Kerry, she thought, was that he was going to church on Sundays now.  With Luke.  She couldn’t have imagined that happening, ever.  But he went.  When asked, he said it wasn’t so bad.  And that was that.

 

When Luke was in the house, she overheard them chatting away, like boys did.  She heard the name Ron mentioned now and again.  When she’d asked, she’d learned that he’d been at the lodge for a week back around Christmastime, that Kerry had taught him to ski, and the three of them had got to know each other then.  Ron and Luke were still friends and did something on the computer together.  She could never figure out that computer stuff, but it seemed they played a computer game where they were a team, even though Ron lived miles away.  Strange how that could work.

 

But she was happy.  Kerry had a friend close by, he was doing better in school this term than ever before, and with spring now soon to turn to summer, with school getting out for the year, skiing was about over, even at their high elevation.  Kerry was a snow kid, and had been at loose ends last year during the summer.  He’d moped around the lodge, spent some time with the doc — it was obvious how much he missed his dad — and had picked fights with her.  This year, she hoped things would be better.  She’d certainly try to do what she could to insure that.

 

One thing that hadn’t changed: he still kept the door to his room shut.  She smiled about that.  She thought it was simply a sign of his established independence, something that was important to him.  His room was probably a mess, too, one that he didn’t want her to see, or, heaven forbid, nag him about.  She even imagined at times that she could smell something odd coming from there when she walked by the closed door.  Well, if a closed door was the price to pay for a happy boy, she was willing to pay it.  As long as no cockroaches or bugs started crawling out.  But she’d even accept that if it happened; she’d simply have to find a way to broach the complaint to him carefully. Whatever the cost, she wasn’t going to war again.

 

≈≈≈≈≈≈

 

Luke was lying on Kerry’s bed, his hands behind his head, at peace with the world.  Lucky’s head was on his stomach; she was sound asleep.  Luke was idly stroking her head, smiling.

 

Luke had come to an understanding with his parents, several in fact.  The important one had happened the night of his first ski lesson with Kerry.  He’d told his father about the lesson, and said he was going to take more of them.  He said it in a way that his father saw was Luke taking a stand.  Saying no would have to be done with a good reason, if he chose to say that.  Mr. Randall was as Luke had described him to Kerry, stern, strict, but fair and rational. 

 

Luke had voiced his arguments for having some personal freedom now that he was 14, and high on the list was that if he decided at some point, after he left home, that he wasn’t going to practice the religion they had instilled in him, they’d be able to do nothing about it.  And the likelihood of that happening would only increase if they refused to give him any say in the matter at all now.  They could only be sure he would not abandon what they’d groomed him for if they slowly loosened the tight reins they’d kept on him.  If he was given more freedom right now, they could see how he behaved.  And for him, being given freedom would mean he wouldn’t have to rebel to achieve it, like most teens had to do.

 

His father listened, and to his mother’s surprise, agreed with him.  He knew about teenage rebellion.  He had been expecting it.  He hadn’t expected it to come in such a quiet, respectful, well-thought-out manner.  He was cagey enough to know that easing their control would permit them to still have some.  So, Luke was allowed to continue with the skiing lessons, and his father, always practical, said he would pay for them.  Luke took the opportunity to tell them that was covered; he’d be taking care of Kerry’s dog for him while he was in school.

 

“I need to meet this boy,” his father had said.  “You’ll be spending a lot of time with him.  I don’t object to what you’re asking, but I will if this boy isn’t the right sort.”

 

“OK,” Luke had said. 

 

“He’s going to come to our church.  Luke’s been proselytizing him.”  Luke’s mother was quite proud of that.

 

“Oh?”  His father wasn’t as easily deceived. He knew boys and their capabilities better than his wife.

 

“He’s thinking about it,” said Luke, being as noncommittal as he could.

 

“Well, why don’t you have him come this Sunday then?  I’ll meet him and talk to him then.  You can keep taking these lessons with him until then.  I’ll decide if you can continue after that.”

 

That had worried Luke.  He hadn’t thought Kerry would do it, in the first place, and, in the second, even if Kerry agreed, he didn’t think he’d ever get past one of Mr. Randall’s examinations.

 

It had all worked out, much to Luke’s surprise.  He was reflecting on this, lying on the bed with Lucky.

 

Kerry was working on his computer.  He had a report to finish for school, a final project.  He was doing it for his Modern Living class, a class that seemed to cover a smorgasbord of topics, from sex-ed to home finances, from the expectations of colleges for admission to the jobs available without a college diploma, from computers in the workplace to recreational activities at various stages of life.  The topic he’d chosen for his report was the rapid increase in home-schooling.  He figured he had a source of first hand knowledge, so why not use it.

 

Lucky shifted in her sleep so she was now lying on Luke’s legs, pinning them to the bed.  Luke tried to wiggle out from under, but the dog weighed over 50 pounds now, and all the weight seemed concentrated on his knees.  He gave up, continued contentedly stroking the wide head, and remembered back a few months to telling Kerry about his father’s dictate when they’d had their ski lesson along with Ron the next morning --

 

“He wants you to come to church on Sunday.  He wants to meet you.  He’ll interrogate you, Kerry!  I don’t blame you if you refuse.  I still can probably take the dog for you, but the ski lessons’ll probably be a no go then.”

 

They’d been fastening their boots to their skis, adjusting the bindings.  Kerry finished first — he had more experience than the other two, of course — and sat back on the bench.  “That sounds like fun.”

 

“Fun!  Fun!!  You have no idea.  My dad is intense.  No sense of humor, either.  He puts you on the defensive.”

 

“I’ll go.”  Kerry was smiling.  “I’d like to meet him, too.  Can you pick me up?  I’m not sure the clothes I’d wear to ski down the hill would be right for church.  Uh, you don’t dress up with a tie, do you?  I hate ties!”

 

“This sound OK?”

 

Luke was startled out of his memory.  Kerry wanted some input on his report.  He read a paragraph he’d written to Luke, and Luke nodded.  Kerry went back to work, and Luke remembered that not-so-long-ago Sunday.  He’d been worried.  Kerry was a free-wheeling, happy-go-lucky kid.  Free as a bird, too.  Just the sort of kid that Mr. Randall was most against his son getting friendly with.  They’d gone to church together, and then Luke had left for Sunday School, leaving Kerry to fend for himself.  Later, Kerry’d told him what had gone on in his absence --  

 

The ride from Kerry’s house to the church was silent.  Kerry and Luke were in the back.  A strong air of disapproval came from the front seat.  It might have been Kerry himself that evoked it, or it might have been the tie he was wearing with a large, smiling Mickey Mouse on it.

 

They filed into the church which was about two thirds full.  Evidently the Randalls were well-known there; Kerry saw them being greeted by many of the people as the four of them made their way down the aisle to the second pew.

 

The seating arrangement was Mr. Randall, Mrs. Randall, Kerry and then Luke on the outside.  Mrs. Randall orchestrated that.  Kerry was sort of glad.  He wouldn't be tempted to distract Luke, get him giggling this way.

 

There was an opening lesson during the service, and then the pastor announced those attending morning church school should leave for their classes.  Luke got up, so Kerry started to stand, too, but Mrs. Randall put a hand on his arm.  “Stay for the sermon.  Then my husband would like a couple of words with you.”

 

Luke looked back at him with regret and sorrow in his eyes, but dutifully walked back up the aisle with the other young people who were leaving the nave.  Kerry was left alone with the Randalls. 

 

The sermon concerned sin.  The pastor went on for some time about the various kinds of sin that tempted people, and the awful fate that awaited them in the afterlife.  Kerry was a little confused.  He’d always thought that Christianity was about love, kindness, and charitable acts.  This sounded a lot more like a God who hated people.  But he listened.  He wanted to know what Luke had been dealing with all his life.

 

When the service was over, everyone stood and started back up the aisle.  Everyone but the Randalls.  Mr. Randall said, “Kerry, why don’t we wait till we have some privacy.  Then we can talk.”

 

Kerry simply nodded.

 

When the church had emptied, Mr. Randall stood and indicated that Kerry should slide out of the pew.  He did, and the other two followed.  When they were standing in the aisle, Mr. Randall faced Kerry.

 

“What did you think of the service?” he asked.

 

“It confused me.”

 

“Oh?  How?”  Mr. Randall had a tight smile.

 

“All that talk about sin and sinners.  I didn’t know that’s what church was about.  I haven’t been before and so I wanted to know more about it.  What I heard today was all about sin, lots of sin, and human weakness and hating the sin and how sinners will be punished — for eternity.  I thought I’d hear about loving our neighbors, treating them with kindness and respect, and helping those who needed it.  I thought that’s what Christianity was all about.  So I found myself wondering a bit about that.”

 

Mr. Randall stood a little straighter.  “Are you criticizing the sermon.  Our pastor?”

 

“Criticizing?  No, not really.  I was just saying that it wasn’t what I expected.  I’m not in a position to criticize or approve till I understand enough to have a more informed opinion.  Did you like the sermon?”

 

Mr. Randall’s eyes opened a little wider.  “It was important.  It was to tell us how God is watching us, judging us, and how we must obey His rules.”

 

Kerry wanted to say that didn’t answer his question, but thought he was on thin enough ice as it was.  So, instead, he said, “The guy up front seemed angry.  Is he always like that?”

 

Mr. Randall’s face reddened.  He started to speak but his wife beat him to it.  “There’s a lot of sin in the world, and the pastor — the guy up front as you put it — feels obliged to fight it, and he’s passionate when speaking about it.”

 

Kerry smiled.  “Oh, and since he was yelling at us, I guess that means there’s a lot of sin here, in this church, and he has to yell at the people here because of that.  Well, that makes a little more sense then. I understand his attitude a little better.  See?  This is why I needed to come, to understand these things.  Thanks!”

 

Mr. Randall seemed to be having a difficult time with this conversation.  He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times without speaking.  Kerry jumped in to fill the void.

 

“Maybe I can come again with you guys.  I really don’t know any of this stuff.  Maybe I can go to Sunday School with Luke next time. See if the teachers there are as angry as this guy here was.” 

 

“Let’s go out,” sputtered Mr. Randall, and the three of them walked up the aisle and out the door.  Luke was waiting for them.

 

“How’d it go?” he asked.

 

“Pretty good,” answered Kerry.  “Your parents explained some stuff I wasn’t clear on.  Next week I’m going to go to Sunday School. With you.  Oh, that’s if your parents say it’s OK.  I have a lot to learn.”

 

Mr. Randall was just as quiet as he’d been driving to the church on the way home.  When Kerry got out of the car, thanking them again for taking him, Mrs. Randall leaned over and said, “If you do come again, don’t call our pastor ‘the guy up front’, and don’t wear that tie.  It’s disrespectful.”

 

“Oh, really?  This is the only one I have, but maybe some of my dad’s are still around.  Gee, thanks.  See, that’s exactly why I need to go, to find this stuff out.  You guys are really great!”

 

On the way back to their house, Luke’s dad was still quiet, but when they were walking to their house, he did say something.  He looked in Luke’s eyes and said, “That boy is very dangerous.”

 

“But he can still go with us, can’t he?  He wants to learn.”

 

Mr. Randall hesitated.  Then he said, “For the time being.”  When they were inside, Luke went upstairs but lingered on the landing, listening.  What he heard was his mother asking, “Why in the world did you say it was all right for him to keep seeing that boy?”  And his father’s reply: “Better the enemy you know, dear.  We can only hope Luke sees through him, eventually”

 

Luke remembered smiling at that as he went to his room, feeling a lightness in his chest that was normally absent after a session at church.

 

The report was done.  Kerry proofread it one last time, then clicked PRINT.  As it was printing, he, too, was remembering.

 

He wasn’t thinking of himself, however, like his mother was thinking how her life had changed for the better, or how Luke was remembering why he now had a great friend his age and how he was a much happier boy because of it.  Kerry was thinking of something else.  Of Lucky.  And Maryann.

 

He had problems with both.  And he was well aware of it.

 

Luke stroked the soft hair on Lucky’s head, no longer the peach fuzz of puppyhood.  He was thinking, well, I haven’t seen through Kerry yet.  He’d looked into him and liked what he’d seen.  Now, he glanced up at Kerry and said, “I can’t believe you’re still willing to go to that church every week.”

 

Kerry smiled and captured Luke’s eyes with his own.  “Hey, it’s a small price to pay to have a best friend.”