P U P P Y L O V E
~ 9 ~
School was finally over. Last day, last class. Kerry was elated. No more school till next fall! No more getting up two or three hours before he wanted to in the morning. No more reading all those boring textbooks. No more writing reports. No more sitting inside and wasting whole days looking at classroom walls. No more solving for X. He couldn’t care less what X was!
He was on his own for a couple of months. Well, that had been something to look forward to before, being on his own. Now, he had a friend to hang with and it was different. He liked spending time with Luke. But he still enjoyed the solitude of being off in the hills by himself. Luke would probably want to hike in the hills with him, and that would be great. Swimming with Luke in some of the crystalline lakes that abounded in the area would be fun, too. Lucky could come in with them. She would love to swim, and would join in without any prompting, Kerry was sure; he’d read up on Golden Retrievers. But for the next few weeks, Kerry would be on his own as far as human companionship was concerned. Luke couldn’t join him quite yet.
Oh, and there was another thing to celebrate: no more Maryann, either! Since he’d started dropping Lucky off at Luke’s house in the morning on school days, the only day he’d had to see her was Sundays when he’d take Lucky to her house before church. That had been easy: his mother slept in on Sundays, the only day of the week she could, and so he could slip Lucky out of the house unseen. Now that it was summer, he was going to take a vacation from church as well as school. He’d only been going because it guaranteed he and Luke could spend time together outside church. But he’d come up with a great reason to satisfy Mr. Randall why he wouldn’t be going with them to church this summer. He was going to tell him that there were some other churches in town, and he wanted to check them out because he was still learning what this religion stuff was all about. Mr. Randall had told him their church was based strictly on the Bible and its teachings and so he needn’t sample any other church, and Kerry had grinned and told him you don’t decide you like or don’t like candy by just sampling licorice, do you? What if you did that and didn’t like it and never had candy again in your lifetime till the very end, and then, on your deathbed, someone slipped you some chocolate, and you realized what you’d missed all your life? You’d die sad, not happy, and that wouldn’t be good, would it? It would be tragic. Well, he needed to sample some other churches for much the same reason and perhaps avoid a tragedy. Then, he would come over and discuss what he liked and didn’t like about them with Luke, and Luke could set him straight. After that discussion, Kerry gave Mr. Randall another of his patented grins. Mr. Randall had taken to loathing that grin.
But it had worked; Kerry was free to try other churches. The only one he was planning to attend was the church of the great outdoors. Maybe Mr. Randall felt closer to God in a cement building. For Kerry, the trees and lakes and open sky were a testament to what was good about this world.
After that one final week of ‘school’, the family was going on a two-week vacation. But after that, the two boys could get together. This was certainly against Mrs. Randall’s wishes, but her husband had reluctantly agreed to it. He’d discovered he wasn’t very good at coming up with counterarguments against Kerry’s rather offbeat but maddeningly unimpeachable challenges. Mr. Randall could have just put his foot down, but he believed in acting rationally, and if he couldn’t come up with an argument to top Kerry’s, then he guessed logic must be on the boy’s side, and he wasn’t about to give up his principles just because of that boy’s infernal grin.
Kerry watched the clock in his classroom and counted down the minutes. He already had received his final report card. He was amazed, looking at it. All A’s, and several comments from teachers commending his new and much more mature attitude toward his schoolwork. He laughed at that. He wasn’t maturing at all! He was sure he was the same boy he’d been way back in the fall at the beginning of the school year. He’d just had a reason to keep adults happy, especially his mother. He wanted to be in her good graces for Lucky’s sake. He loved that dog, loved her unconditionally, and that love had grown with the time they’d been together.
For some reason, parents seemed to really like good grades, and getting them for her was just something else he’d done to cement his mother’s better relations with him. He’d surprised himself, though. He’d never worried about whether he was smart or not and had never tried to get good grades. He’d not liked studying and homework and sitting in a stultifying classroom all day. But, since Lucky had come along, with the need for a reason to spend time in his room at home with the door closed at night without interruptions, he’d used that time for studying; there was nothing else much to do with Lucky asleep. Telling his mother he was studying had turned into the excuse for the closed door, and, lo and behold, the time he’d spent actually working on homework while Lucky snoozed away had resulted in a sparkling report card. Was this some of that serendipity Doc liked to talk about? Maybe it was. Maybe his report card was Lucky’s fault!
The bell rang, the kids whooped and ran for the doors, ignoring the protests of the teachers, all of whom had smiles on their faces, too.
Kids were milling around outside, saying goodbye to friends for the summer or making plans to hang with them. Kerry did the same. When he was standing alone momentarily, two girls came up to him, one acting a bit shy. Girls still made him uncomfortable, but he was friendly to everyone and didn’t like to be rude. He was chatting with them, talking about his plans for the summer and theirs, and one of the girls, the shy one, Sarah, put her hand on his arm. She was standing just a little too close, as well. She was a girl who had been finding a way to talk to him a lot recently. She made him just as nervous as Maryann did.
“Kerry, I don’t think we’re going on vacation this year. I’ll be home all summer. Will you be, too?”
Her friend giggled.
Kerry knew where that question was going. Sarah was a nice girl, pretty in a unique sort of way, which meant her face wasn’t ordinary but still quite attractive, especially her dark eyes and short, dark hair — but, she was a girl. ‘Nuff said. Some of the boys in his class had recently been saying girls weren’t the nuisances they’d seemed in the past, and a couple had even asked girls out on dates. He shuddered at the thought. He knew he’d feel differently about that some day. Not yet, however. Not with a glorious summer ahead of him!
Kerry needed a way to deflect Sarah’s obvious come-on. He was trying to think of how to let her down easily when the most surprising thing happened. As Kerry stood thinking, looking a little foolish, a little tongue-tied as he often did when approached by a girl, suddenly, out of nowhere, Maryann appeared. She walked up to him, brushed past Sarah, put one hand on each of Kerry’s shoulders, turned him to face her, and kissed him, square on the lips. Then she turned, looked at Sarah, fire in her eyes, and walked away.
Kerry just stood there, completely dumbfounded.
Sarah was looking at Maryann striding away, and the other girl pulled on her arm. They walked off, whispering to each other, leaving Kerry standing alone.
Which was good because he was spaced out. What had just happened? It took him halfway to Luke’s house in the school bus to get his head back on straight.
Luke came to Kerry’s house the next day, defying his mother. He told Kerry he’d simply gotten up and left, telling his mother he needed a break, that Leviticus was a little bit too much for him and he needed time to decompress, that he’d be back in an hour. Mrs. O’Connor just happened to overhear them talking. Well, she was a mother, after all, and justified her listening in on them to herself for that reason. She couldn’t help but smile when she heard what they were saying.
“She did what?!
“She kissed me. I was talking to Sarah Conn, and she walked up and kissed me. Then she glared at Sarah and walked away. Didn’t say a word to me at all.”
Luke laughed. “You know what she was doing, don’t you?”
“Yeah — embarrassing the heck out of me!”
“I mean why she was doing it.”
“Not really.” Kerry actually did have an idea, but Luke seemed to be enjoying himself, so Kerry let him explain.
“She was acting like a male dog. She was marking her territory. I suppose she could have pissed on Sarah’s foot, or yours for that matter, but this was just as effective and a lot less crude.” Luke grinned.
“But I’m not her territory!”
“Maybe not to you, but to her. From what you’ve said, I think she’s liked you for a long time. She is gorgeous, you know. And nice, too.”
Kerry frowned. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what do I want a girl hanging around me for?”
“You will. You’re good looking, smart, friendly, athletic and good looking.”
“You already said that, and I’m not.”
“You don’t think so? Ask Maryann. And you can’t really tell me that you’ve no interest in girls at all.”
Kerry was silent for a few moments. When he finally spoke, he sounded just a bit defensive. “I guess I don’t find them quite so icky as I used to.”
“Hah!” said Luke, and smirked.
Kerry had been quick with the comeback. “I don’t see you asking any girls out!”
“I’m not into that,” Luke said, and something in his tone of voice made Kerry drop that line of inquiry.
But Mrs. O’Connor, in her mind not really listening, simply overhearing, grinned. She liked Maryann. Maryann was a smart girl as well as good looking. She and Kerry would look cute together. And Maryann lived close enough that Mrs. O’Connor could keep an eye on them. Puppy love was such a cute thing! The two of them holding hands would be adorable! They’d need monitoring, of course, but that’s what mothers were for.
While Luke as still at home having to study his mother’s beloved Bible, Kerry was doing what he loved. He was hiking in the hills. Once he left the house in the morning, he could easily spend the entire day without seeing another person. He still enjoyed solitude and communing with nature. Somehow, it seemed to re-energize his soul.
It was different this year. He had a companion. Lucky loved being outside. She’d spent most of her time growing up inside, either with Kerry or Maryann or Luke. Now, she was reveling in being outside with the boy she loved, free to explore and run and sniff and frolic.
It was a warm day, atypically warm for late June. Kerry had on hiking shorts, a tee shirt and was carrying a backpack with lunch for him, some treats for Lucky and several bottles of water.
He stopped for lunch by a mountain lake he’d visited in the past. It was surrounded by trees; he’d never seen another person there; it was beautiful and seemed his own private refuge from the rest of the world. He sat on the bank, leaned back against a large cottonwood tree, and took out his lunch. Lucky sat next to him, staring at the backpack.
“OK,” Kerry laughed. “I brought you something.” He handed Lucky two dog biscuits, which disappeared almost instantaneously, then took out a bottle of water and chugged it. He was dripping with sweat after hiking uphill in the sun, and the water tasted wonderful.
He saw Lucky waiting expectantly. She was panting, too, her tongue hanging out farther than it seemed a tongue should be able to hang, not any more accustomed to this much work than Kerry was. Kerry had an idea. He got up and looked around him and had no difficulty finding a fallen tree branch. He broke off a section about a foot long that was nearly an inch in diameter. They played tug of war with it long enough for Lucky to understand the stick was a plaything, and then Kerry threw it out into the lake.
Lucky looked at it floating there, looked back at Kerry, then turned, took two steps and went flying into the lake.
Kerry marveled at how strong a swimmer she was. It was her first time in the water, too, but she took to it like a, well, like a retriever to water. She grabbed the stick and brought it back to Kerry, shaking herself when she did and spraying water all over the boy.
“Hey, watch it!” Kerry laughed, and then realized how good the cold water felt. Without a moment’s thought, he stripped down and plunged into the water, Lucky following happily.
The water was very cold, but Kerry had swum here before and knew he’d get used to it as long as he kept swimming vigorously and didn’t just dogpaddle or float. He swam a fair distance out into the lake, Lucky right by his side. She was swimming so effortlessly that, just to see what would happen, Kerry grabbed her tail at one point. Lucky acted like she didn’t even notice and pulled him through the water, not missing a beat.
After about fifteen minutes in the lake, Kerry thought it was time to get out. Even actively swimming, the water was cold, and it was beginning to chill him. He turned back toward the shore, looked up, and stopped.
Standing on the bank was Maryann.
“Hey!” he shouted out. “What are you doing here?”
“I was out hiking!” she shouted back, grinning.
“Well, go away. I need to come back in, and I’m naked.”
“That’s OK. I’ve seen naked boys. We have the internet.”
“Well, you haven’t seen me, and you’re not going to. And why did you kiss me, anyway?”
For the first time, she looked just a little embarrassed, though it quickly passed. Ignoring the question, she called out, “Come on in. We can hike together.”
“I can’t come in. I’m naked!”
By this time, Lucky, not being as bashful as her master, had swum to shore to greet her friend. She shook, and Maryann squealed. Kerry watched, then yelled, “Hey, it’s cold in here. Go away so I can come in.”
She looked out at him again, then yelled, “OK, I’ll move back where I can’t see. Come on, Lucy.”
“Don’t look!”, he called out, and then swam in. When he was close to the shore, he covered his modesty with one hand and then walked the rest of the way in. He grabbed his clothes and struggled them on over his wet body.
“Ready yet?” she called out.
“Yeah,” he cried, still struggling with getting his shirt down over his wet back.
She came up to him and helped, managing to stroke his back lightly with her fingers as she pulled the shirt down.
“Sorry if I embarrassed you,” she said gently.
“I didn’t see you offering to come in the water,” he said, a little gruffly. He was still upset about almost being caught naked.
“I thought about it,” she giggled.
His eyes opened wide as he looked at her, and then she started to giggle and blushed, and his mood suddenly improved; then they were both laughing.
“Woof!” said Lucky, wanting to join in, then looked embarrassed. She knew she wasn’t supposed to bark.
He ended up sharing his lunch with Maryann, and she hiked with him the rest of the day. He was surprised to find she didn’t slow him down at all. She also shared the last bottle of water with him, and he didn’t bother to wipe the bottle top before taking his turn.
It was only later that evening, lying in bed and reviewing his day, that he thought to question why she was there in the first place. There were thousands upon thousands of acres of hills and woods to explore. There was only one possible explanation why she’d stumbled onto him.
She had to have followed him. The most surprising thing about that, he realized, was that he didn’t really mind that she had.
Not that he liked girls, or Maryann for that matter. He would go so far as admit to himself he’d enjoyed spending the day with her, but it wasn’t because she was a girl. It was because she hiked as well as he did, she didn’t chatter all the time the way lots of girls did, she was just there, accompanying him, seeing the same sights, working just as hard going up and down hills — there seemed to have been a communal spirit between them. That had been nice. Being a girl had nothing to do with it.
Having decided that and happy with having settled the matter in his head, he rolled over, getting more comfortable, moving an inch away from Lucky because the heat she generated was too much for him now that it was getting warmer. He had a contented smile on his face as he drifted off to sleep.