The time dragged by at school on Monday. None of my teachers had been sadistic enough to assign homework over the long weekend, and they seemed as ill-prepared to get back into things as the students. Most classes consisted of in-room reading assignments or half-hearted reviews of old material.
It was boring, and the last thing I wanted was a slow day. I was anxious because after school I was going with Gil and Dory to pick up Gil’s dog. A contractor was coming to talk about fencing, and Dory had picked up a heavy-duty tie-out to use until an area could be fenced. We were going to pick the dog up at the shelter and then stop at a pet store for the things we’d need before we brought him home. The fence guy said he could also build a dog house, but he’d have to see the dog to make it the right size.
I’d never had a pet of any kind, and I was really looking forward to having a dog around. Gil had surprised me with the change in plans when I got home the night before, and it was a good surprise. I hadn’t really thought much about the dog since he told me about him, but that’s because it felt like some future event. Now it was immediate, and my teachers did their best to ensure I developed the proper level of anticipation.
When I wasn’t thinking of the dog, I was talking to people about the wedding. We had an audience at lunch. I had a few pictures on my phone and Tommy had taken a lot, so we had visuals to go with our anecdotes. The only one who commented on our kilts was Jim McNaughton. He was distressed to think he had to find us all different nicknames to go with our new image as cross-dressers. He tried Schnoodlemama on Tommy, and that earned him a whole table full of rude gestures.
I did make it through the day, and Gil was waiting impatiently for me at the front door. “Are you ready?” he asked.
I looked at Lisa, “Am I ready?”
She gave me a smooch and smiled, “You are now. Call me when you’re home. Maybe I can come over.”
Gil tugged my arm crying, “Come on. Come on.”
I smiled at Lisa as I was dragged away. The front drive was full of school buses, and we found Dory waiting near the side entrance to the building. Gil ran to the car and hopped into the front seat. He had his seatbelt buckled before I closed the back door. Dory looked back at me and said, “I think someone is excited.”
I grinned, “I am, too. How far is this place?”
“Just a few minutes once we get out of here.”
The area around the school was congested, but it didn’t take long to reach the kennel after we escaped that traffic. We parked in the front and went inside where Gil told the woman sitting there, “We’re here to pick up Daisy.”
The lady said, “Oh, yes,” and selected a file. She opened it and said, “Well, you’re all paid up. Ah, you are aware that Daisy is a male, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” Gil said happily.
The lady shrugged and stood up. “I’ll bring him right out.”
Gil was antsy while we waited. “Wait till you see him. He’s so cute and friendly.”
When the woman brought Daisy out my first thought was, “Whoa! Big doggie.” He had slim lines, but he was tall and long, his nose at about belly button height on me and higher compared to Gil.
As soon as Daisy saw Gil he kind of hunched down and eyed him before he let out a short bark and his tail started thumping. He was cute – mostly white with black and brown splotches, floppy ears and a skinny tail that plumed out at the end. His fur was as unruly as my hair and I felt an instant kinship based on that alone. Gil was on his knees trying to strangle the poor dog with his hug, but when I approached Daisy he knocked Gil right out of the way just by turning his head to me.
I was a little wary because his wag went away, or I thought it did until I realized the plume part of his tail was drawing little circles in the air. I held my hand out hoping it wouldn’t disappear and he inched his long snout toward it until he got a good sniff, and then he sat down and smiled at me. That wasn’t entirely reassuring when I saw his big, white teeth. I couldn’t tell if he liked me or thought I was a snack, but when I stroked his nose he closed his eyes and leaned into it. Then one eye opened as if he was wondering what was keeping me, so I stroked his head and each of his ears. “You like that, Daisy? Are you ready to come home with us?”
The lady handed Gil the end of the leash and said, “You’ll want to replace that as soon as possible. That’s a shelter leash and it won’t hold him if he decides to change direction.”
She gave Dory some papers and said, “Goodbye Daisy. Good luck to you all.”
Gil, of course, wanted to sit in back with the dog, and Daisy clearly liked the idea of going for a ride. Getting him in the car was no problem, but every time Dory hit a bump there was a clunk from the back when Daisy’s head hit the roof. He didn’t seem to mind, and I thought it was comical.
We drove directly to the pet store and parked out front on the street. Dory told Gil, “Daisy can come in, but you keep a good grip on that leash.”
Daisy was a gentleman going into the store, but we learned quickly that he had a high level of interest in other dogs. We weren’t the only ones in the store with a dog, and Daisy wanted to meet all the others. As big as he was, he backed off immediately when some little ball of fuzz yipped at him, and he sniffed eagerly when other animals let him. He wasn’t opposed to being sniffed at either, but we weren’t in the store for a social visit; we were there to buy things.
While Dory picked out necessities Gil and I took Daisy around to check out the toys. That store had a lot of toys, but Daisy’s size narrowed the possibilities. We found a bunch of chew things and a bunch of throw things, and a clerk suggested we get another thing to throw things with. That was a long handle with a cup on one end that would just fit a tennis ball, and it would give you real distance when you threw the ball.
Dory called us over and showed us a tray full of dog cookies. “Try these and find which one he likes best. I have the name of the dog food the shelter gave him. We still have to find a collar and a leash, so let’s look at those.”
Gil and I each selected a dog biscuit and we walked toward the display of collars and leashes. I held out the biscuit and asked Daisy if he wanted it, and when he went to grab it I said, “You have to sit down to get a cookie.” His rump hit the floor in a hurry which made us all laugh, yet when I held out the treat he sniffed it and turned away.
Gil said, “Fussy, huh? Try this one. No, no; sit first.”
Daisy sat again and took the cookie Gil offered. He bit down on it and let most of it fall to the floor uneaten, which is where we left it. Gil said, “You’re a slob.”
Dory said, “He’s probably too excited right now. We can buy biscuits at the supermarket.”
We started looking at the collars and I wondered aloud, “What size should we get?” There were lots of collars. Daisy obviously needed one of the larger ones, but I didn’t want to try them until I knew what size to look at. I caught the attention of a clerk and when she came over I asked, “What size collar should we get. Can you measure him?”
She said, “Of course,” and took a measuring tape that was hanging on the wall about a foot from my face. She put it around Daisy’s neck and said, “Sixteen inches. A medium collar should fit just fine.” She pointed to an area and said, “The medium ones start here. My name is Sylvia; I’ll be around if you need anything else.”
We started looking at collars and there were a lot of choices. I liked a brown leather one but Dory said we should probably get nylon so it would last. The nylon ones came in different thicknesses and there were quite a few colors to choose from. We ended up with a nice black one with a heavy chrome buckle. I still liked the leather collar and said, “Let’s get this one, too. We can use it on Sundays or when we want him to dress up a little.”
“Like for church and when we go out to eat?” Gil asked with a wry smile.
“Yeah, like that. How about a leash?”
I think there were more leashes than collars, so I called Sylvia for some advice.
Daisy seemed to know we were buying things for him and he eagerly inspected each thing we chose. I was watching him when Gil called out, “Bling! Look Daisy; do you like this?”
Gil was holding up a thing that looked like an instrument of torture … a heavy chrome chain with spiky things all over it. I asked, “What the heck is that?”
Sylvia said, “That’s actually a training collar, but people with large dogs like them when they walk their pets where there a lot of distractions. I know it looks like it would hurt, but it really won’t and dogs seem to like them.”
When I asked, Sylvia offered to show us how it worked, and then slipped it over Daisy’s head. She hooked a leash to it and walked Daisy around the section of the store we were in. We added it to the pile, and I saw a cartoonish stuffed bird toy that I liked enough to get whether the dog liked it or not.
I asked facetiously, “Do you have doggie toy boxes to keep all this stuff in?”
They did, of course, and Daisy liked one that looked like a humongous bone.
When we added two giant pillows for Daisy to sleep on, we had to rearrange things in the car a few times before we got everything in, and then Dory stopped at a grocery store on the way home. She got a big sack of dry dog food and picked out four boxes of store-brand dog biscuits. She got two family-packs of chicken thighs in the meat department, then she paid and we left. The chicken wasn’t for our dinner, but to mix with Daisy’s dry food at the rate of two thighs per day.
I turned and looked into the back seat and said, “You’re a lucky dog. I hope you like chicken.”
When we reached the house the contractor’s truck was in the driveway and Hector’s Jeep was behind it. Hector was bundled up on the patio talking to the man, and we hurried over. Daisy dug his feet in when we got close and the hairs on his back stood up. He took a stance that looked threatening, so while Gil held the dog I went and met Mr. Chandler, the contractor. That seemed to calm the dog down and Mr. Chandler grinned.
“Now that’s a dog.” He went closer and held the back of his hand to Daisy’s nose before he stooped down and stroked his ears. Your name’s Daisy?” He looked up at Gil and said, “Um, I don’t know how to tell you this son, but Daisy is a boy dog.”
Gil said, “I know that. I didn’t name him; that’s how he came.”
The guy seemed enamored of Daisy and said idly, “When I was a kid my old man had a record called ‘A Boy Named Sue’ … Johnny Cash it was. You know Johnny Cash?”
Hector said, “I do; he’s was my mother’s favorite, one of them anyhow. I remember that song.”
Mr. Chandler, who was still checking Daisy out, said, “Well, we know there’s a precedent for boys with girl’s names. John Wayne’s real name was Marion something. Daisy here looks like he might have a touch of Afghan in him. That could be a problem if he gets loose in this part of the country.”
“Why’s that?” I asked as Mr. Chandler got to his feet.
“Afghans love to run. To them, five miles is just a wind sprint; they can run ten miles before they think about turning back.”
I looked at Daisy and said, “I thought Afghan Hounds had really long hair.”
“Oh, they do for sure. This boy has an extended list of ancestors, I can tell you that. I’m looking at this long snout and that little flip at the end of his tail, his long legs … he could have some Afghan in him but that’s just my guess. Show me where you want fenced.”
I looked at Gil and asked, “Do you have anything in mind?”
“Kinda. If we could start at the back door and go into the side yard from there it would probably be pretty good. I’ll show you. C’mon Daisy.”
The lights were on by the back door, but the side yard was dark. Gil described his idea, which was a small enclosure around the back door with a gate to the driveway and another into the dog’s pen. That made sense because we’d be able to keep the dog secure when we were coming and going, or unloading groceries. Then he walked to the side of the house where it was pretty much clear, flat ground over to the Timek’s driveway. He said, “I don’t know how big you were thinking of.”
I said, “I wasn’t thinking anything. How about from here to the front of the house and about halfway to Tom’s driveway?”
Mr. Chandler said, “Ka-ching! That’s an awful big run for a dog. How much are you thinking on spending?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know. How much does a fence cost? I know we’ll want something nice, not like a chain fence.”
“I’ll tell you what. Let’s walk it off and I’ll make suggestions. After that I can show you pictures of different styles and materials. When you pick what you like I can give you a price.”
I looked at Gil and he nodded. Hector was just looking around feigning disinterest. I remembered and said, “Okay. You can make a doghouse, too?”
“I sure can. I have pictures of some I’ve built.”
“Let’s go then.”
Mr. Chandler had some ideas I liked. He said he could run the fence in and out of the trees out front, which would give Daisy places to get out of the sun on hot days, and where he could hide out when he felt like it. The only outside lights on that end of the house were floods, and he suggested installing low wattage lights right in or on the fence, depending on the type we chose. When he noticed the cover to the septic tank he said he could make a big gate that would look like two sections of fence so there would be no problem getting the tank pumped out. I didn’t realize septic systems had to be pumped, and I was very pleased to learn that other people did that pumping.
While we were standing there talking Dory came out with the tie-out stake for Daisy and said, “You may as well screw this into the ground while you’re out here. We’ll be using it tonight.”
I took it from her and looked it over. It seemed simple enough. It was basically a big screw, over a foot long. It had a ring on top that was attached to a swivel, and four spokes below that to use as handles. I looked around for a good spot and figured it should be close to the door. I mumbled, “I hope the ground isn’t frozen,” and poked the tip into the lawn. I started turning the thing and it seemed easy enough at first, but every turn took it deeper and the screw became wider, which made every turn harder than the last. I only had it in about a third of the way when I was no longer a match for the thing, and I stood up breathing heavily.
Hector said, “Let me,” and that screw was all the way down in another minute. Hector smirked at me and said, “We’re gonna have to pump you up a little.”
“I wouldn’t mind.”
“I want to get strong too,” Gill piped in.
I sent Gil in to find the cable that would attach the dog to the anchor, and when he brought it out I knelt down to explain it to the dog. Daisy seemed pleased, but he probably thought it was another toy. I got him connected and suggested we go inside to look at pictures. Daisy walked with us until after we turned the corner onto the patio and he reached the end of his cable. That distressed him, and Gil and I both admonished him to be patient and to wait by the back door. When we continued on the poor dog must have thought he was being abandoned again. He barked, and when I turned he had a heartbreakingly piteous look on his face.
Mr. Chandler snickered and said, “You be careful or that dog will be ruling this house. Try to look sadder than he does and go inside. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Gil and I tried so hard to look sad that we started to giggle, and hurried inside before Daisy had time to figure that out. We took our coats off and walked through the kitchen to the back door. Gil called Daisy who came right away, his tail going as fiercely as if we’d been gone a month instead of thirty seconds. Gil went all goofy hugging the dog as he unhooked him, so I led Hector into the dining room and turned the lights on.
I moved some candlesticks off the table. “We can spread out in here”
Gil stuck his head in and said, “I better show Daisy around. Is there any place he shouldn’t go?”
I shook my head at first, and then thought better of it. “Make sure the door to my mother’s room is closed. He should be okay anywhere else.”
I went to the door to wait for Mr. Chandler and opened it when I heard him outside. He had his arms full, and I took some of the ring binders from him and led him to the dining room. Dory stopped me and asked if Hector and Mr. Chandler were staying for dinner, so I asked them when I dumped my armload on the table. Hector accepted but Mr. Chandler declined and I told Dory.
Mr. Chandler was spreading books out and said, “I’m separating these fence books by type – metal, wood, composite, and weird things.”
I snickered, “Weird things? What makes a fence weird?”
“You can look through those books if you like. Most of the materials I call weird are for warmer areas where they might make some sense. You’ll see wicker, woven rushes, bamboo, even clear acrylic panels they use as windbreaks for patios and pool areas.”
I grinned, “The wonderful world of fences?”
“Yeah,” Mr. Chandler grunted. “Here, glance through a metal fence book to see if there’s anything you like. I know you said no chain-link, but there are lots of others. To my mind they’re a tad formal for a dog.” He shoved a catalog my way and I leafed through it.
He was right. The metal fencing looked formal and in some cases lethal. It would look fine around a formal estate or a government building, even a cemetery, but not a plain old house like ours, and not just to keep a dog from running loose. “What’s the best of the rest?” I asked.
“That’s hard to say, Paul. It would have been a no-brainer a few years ago but the plastics and composites have come into their own. The materials should be durable, but who knows? They didn’t exist twenty years ago, so I can’t promise what they’ll look like after any lengthy exposure to our climate. You’ll get a twenty year warranty on materials and workmanship, but it will probably come from a five-year-old company. If it does last twenty years, then your savings should be in maintenance costs.”
“How long will wood last?”
Chandler shrugged, “Keep in mind that a violent enough storm can tear up almost any fence. That said, a cedar fence that is sealed every three years can easily hold up for twenty to thirty years, even longer if it’s never abused.”
I said, “These composite ones all try to look like wood. Doesn’t anybody make one that looks like what it is?”
“Heh, that’s a good point. I have seen some architectural composites that favor the material’s own properties, but the designs are pretty mod. I don’t think they’d look good here.”
I opened the wood fence folder and started leafing through it. I knew right away that I wanted a wood fence just from the fantastic variety of styles there were. I started asking questions about the various woods and when I flipped a page my fence was looking at me.
I pointed at it and said, “Tell me about this one.” The fence looked to be about five feet tall and alternated between vertical boards with a couple of rows of open squares on top and shorter sections that were all open squares.
Mr. Chambers took the book and said, “That’s a nice looking fence. Let me read the specs here.” He looked at the details on the back of the picture page and went, “Hmm,” a lot while he jotted some notes on a pad. He looked at me and said, “You can get this in heights of five feet, six feet and eight feet. It’s clearly not a privacy fence, so I’d suggest five foot, but that’s entirely up to you.”
“Is that what’s in the picture?”
He looked back at the picture page, and then on the other side. “It doesn’t say, but I’ll bet it is. That makes the proportions really pleasing to the eye.”
He went back to the details and muttered, “Hmm,” several more times before he looked up. “I’ll have to call for pricing, but the good news is that it’s a stock item and the manufacturer treats it before it leaves the factory. That’s important this time of year because staining wood in the cold isn’t a good idea.” He flipped to the back of the catalog mumbling, “Let me find the color chart. They make the fence in red cedar and cypress. Their properties are about equal and cypress costs about twice as much, so I’d recommend the cedar. Here we go.”
He turned the book to me and said, “You can get this fence in clear, tinted, and a dark stain which is opaque.” He pointed out the colors as he said them and I liked the look of what he called tinted. There was only a sample picture, but it made the grain show up and the color seemed to vary with the grain from reddish-tan to a honey shade.
“I like the tinted if everything else is equal.”
Mr. Chandler said, “Good choice. Now, do you know if your dog is a digger?”
“We just got him. Are you thinking he could dig his way out of the yard?”
“Son, I’ve seen dogs that can put day laborers to shame when it comes to creating holes. If he’s a digger he can get under a fence.”
I stared at him in my confusion. “What good’s a fence, then?”
“The fence will be fine. We just have to put some stone under it to frustrate the dog in case he tries to break out.”
“Do you mean like gravel?”
“Nah. Gravel would work but you’d need a lot of it. It’s best to use paving blocks or slate, or you could try to match your patio with fieldstone.”
I thought about that and asked, “It won’t look stupid?”
Mr. Chandler smiled, “It won’t look stupid at all. If anyone ever even notices it they’ll realize it’s practical.”
“Okay. How long will all this take?”
“I’ll call the distributor in the morning and get back to you. Just because it’s a stock item doesn’t mean it’s actually in stock locally, so he may have to call around. It will depend a bit on what we do out front, but figure on sixty or seventy Sonotubes for support, which I can start on as soon as I have your go-ahead. Whoever does the stone work can get that out of the way, too. Once the fence is delivered you can figure on a week or less for me to finish it. We still have to talk about lighting, but that can be done after the fence is in.”
“And a doghouse,” I reminded him.
“Oh yeah, a doghouse. I try to build those in the style of the main house. Here; there are pictures of a few in this folder,” Mr. Chapman said as he slid a soft-cover folder to me.
I opened it and looked at a few pictures. One of the doghouses was modern chalet style and would go well with the place in Stockton, or the Luellens’ house for that matter. Another was more of a colonial design like the house we were in, complete with clapboard siding. I noticed that the entrance on each one was off center and asked about that.
“That’s my own design. Turn the pages until you see a unit with the roof off.” I did, and he said, “I put the divider in so the dog can have a little hideaway. That’s not important to all dogs, but most do seem to like a private place, and there’s plenty of room to move around in there. The air circulation is good, and if it ever does get too hot inside he can go sit under a tree.”
“What if it’s too cold?”
“I can build in a heater if you like. Daisy has a lot of surface area so it might be a good idea. You can set it to kick in at any given temperature and only turn on when the dog is inside. It’s just for the coldest days and won’t add a whole lot to the package.”
I said, “We might as well get it heated.”
Mr. Chandler looked at his cell phone and said, “I have to get home for dinner. I’ll come by during the day tomorrow and sketch things out for your approval. I’ll be able to give you a start date then. Can I come back at around the same time tomorrow?”
“Sure. You can come earlier if you want to. I’m home from school by three.”
As he gathered up his things he said, “I’ll stop by then. Here’s my card just so you’ll have it. If you’ll give me your email address I can send you a digital copy of the picture you liked. Before you came home Hector told me you can give final approval, but if you want to pass it by someone else you’ll have the picture, and if we decide it’s a go tomorrow I can email a copy of the entire package.”
He handed me another card and I wrote my email on it and walked him out to his truck. When I went back inside I was greeted by a loud bark from Daisy. I said, “Hey, I live here; don’t bark at me. Save it for the burglars.” I scratched his ears and asked, “Did you see the whole house? I hope you like it because you live here now.”
I could tell he liked the arrangement because he wagged his tail.
I asked Gil, “Did you find a place for that toy box?”
He shrugged, “It’s in the back room now. I wasn’t sure where to put it.”
“As long as it’s out of the way. Did you put the toys in it?”
“Well, let’s do it,” I said. “Where are they?”
We took the bags of toys, a pair of scissors, and a wastebasket into the back room and tossed the toys into the box as we got them out of their packaging. Daisy watched with some intensity until he couldn’t wait any longer. He stuck his snoot into the box and came out with a banana that squeaked. The squeak surprised him and he dropped it on the floor to sniff at. He put his foot on it and jumped back when it squeaked again. He barked at the thing and picked it up in his mouth. Ignoring the squeaks, he raised his head in triumph and let his tail propel him out of the room. We laughed when we heard the squeaking continue two rooms away, and finished getting the other toys into the now overstuffed box.
When we went back through the kitchen Dory said, “Dinner will be ready in a few minutes. Go wash up and set the table when you come back … four settings.”
“Why four?” Gil asked.
“Hector is eating dinner with us. Now scoot!”
Gil went into the little bathroom in the hall so I turned to go upstairs. Hector and Daisy were in the living room having a tug of war with Daisy’s toy banana. Daisy had a manic look in his eyes and they were both having a good old time, so I didn’t bother them. When I came back down I said, “It’s almost time for dinner,” when I got to the foot of the stairs.
Hector stood and patted Daisy on the head. He held the banana out to me and Daisy came my way when he saw I had it. Hector said, “I have to wash the dog drool off my hands,” and I dropped that banana as soon as the words registered.
Now I’d have to wash again myself, so when Gil came out of the bathroom I said, “Play with your dog. I have to use the bathroom.”
I heard Gil say, “Oh, gross!” when the door closed behind me, and when I came out he was washing his hands at the kitchen sink.
Daisy was in the middle of the floor with the banana at his feet, and he turned a hopeful look toward everyone who moved. He was out of luck while we ate, and after a while I could hear him pacing back and forth. Dory’s meatloaf was good, and we talked about the fence and the heated doghouse among other things. I asked both Hector and Dory what I might expect to pay for the fence and neither of them had a clue. I wasn’t all that concerned about the cost, but I didn’t want my first major expenditure to be so extravagant that I’d feel foolish.
We were still at the table when there was a tap at the back door and Tommy walked in. “I came to see your dog,” Tom announced. “If that bone in the back room is for him, maybe I’ll just leave now while I’m still alive.”
I laughed, “That’s just his toy box. He’s a big boy, but not that big.”
Tom commented, “Maybe next time you can get some toys to put in it,” which I took as sarcasm and made a face at him before I called Daisy. He didn’t come, so we went looking.
Just when we got out of the kitchen I heard Hector laugh loudly in the living room. We hurried in to find Daisy in the middle of the floor, sitting proudly in the middle of his toys … all of his toys. I laughed silently and said to Tom, “This is doggie toy bin number two. Your host is none other than Daisy Dog himself. Say hello, Daisy.”
Daisy was silent, but that tail tip started moving. Tom gushed, “Oh man, he’s beautiful! What breed is he?”
I laughed, “Daisy represents all the major breeds and the most common colors. He’s the new symbol of our non-discrimination policy.”
Tom gave me a look and, wisely I think, kept his mouth shut as he squatted down to meet the dog. Daisy seemed wary at first, but his tail never stopped and in ten seconds he seemed deliriously happy to get both of his ears scratched. The dog had that crazy look in his eye again, and he barked suddenly before he picked a ball up with his mouth and growled around it. He turned his back on Tom and dropped the ball at my feet, emitting another woof in the process.
I grinned, “Wanna play?” I picked up the ball and said, “Go get it,” before I rolled it across the floor into another room. Daisy tore after it, upsetting a lamp from an end table as he flew by. Fortunately, it had the type of shade that was held on with an ornament so it didn’t sound like anything broke.
Tom put the lamp up and was adjusting the shade when Daisy came running back, and he dropped the ball in front of Hector this time. Hector picked the ball up and glared at the dog, “No playing ball in the house. Find another toy.”
Daisy looked pained and sat down to a sad contemplation of Hector for a moment. Then the manic look returned to his eyes and he dove into the toy stash with his nose. He came up with a fat, twisted rope thing that had a loop handle at one end, and he presented that end to Gil. Gil got the loop in his hand and Daisy shook his head fiercely until Gil lost his grip. Then Daisy pranced around in triumph, swinging the toy back and forth with abandon until Gil grabbed the loop again. “We’ll see about that, doggie.” With both hands through the loop, Gil gave a mighty looking tug that startled Daisy. Daisy’s response was to growl from somewhere deep inside himself as he started to back up. Gil was no match and lost his footing. He fell forward and rolled to the side, hitting the end table and knocking the same lamp over again. It landed on him this time and rolled onto the floor when he stood up.
Once again Tom retrieved the lamp, straightened the shade and put it back where it belonged. I glanced at Gil, who was on his knees in a great tug-of-war with the dog, and looked back at the lamp, sensing something awry. I got up and straightened the shade, which Tom had left a little lop-sided.
“Why’d you do that?” Tom demanded. “I had it nice and straight and you made it crooked again.”
“Uh-uh. You had it tipped down on that side. It’s straight now.”
“You need glasses,” Tom said as he pulled on the shade. “That is straight; now leave it alone.”
It wasn’t straight. “I hate to say it Tom, but you’re the one who needs glasses. That’s off by a good inch.” I glanced behind me, “Right, Hector?”
He said, “It is pretty lopsided, Tom.”
Tom took the lamp by the base and gave it a quarter-turn, and damned if it wasn’t straight. I said, “I know. I bet the shade is bent.” I unscrewed the finial and took the shade off. I put the bottom on the coffee table and it sat perfectly flat, so I turned it upside down. It was still flat. “I don’t get it.” I picked it up and turned the bottom to Tom, “Does it look round?”
“It looks okay. Show me the other end.” When I did he said, “That looks round, too. Why won’t it sit on the lamp right?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know, but I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to put it right back on that lamp and leave it. Maybe it’ll straighten itself out, and if it doesn’t who’s it going to bother? Not me, that’s for sure. I always wanted an asymmetrical lamp shade now that I think of it.”
Hector snorted, “That’s what you always wanted?”
I put the shade in place and screwed the finial back on. “Yup, ever since I can remember.” I stood back and assessed my work. “Look at that. I bet nobody even notices, and if they do they won’t be rude enough to say anything.”
Tom nodded solemnly, and went back to watching Daisy and Gil’s game. He kept taking glances at the lamp though, and finally said, “Dammit! Now it’s going to make me crazy. It has to be bent somewhere. Why can’t I see it?”
“The crooked part probably isn’t where you’re looking. Why don’t you just ignore it? I’m already ignoring it. Are you ignoring it, Hec?”
“I’m in full-time ignore mode, amigo.”
Tom frowned and looked back at Gil. He giggled so I looked and Gil was on his hands and knees almost nose-to-nose with Daisy. He said, “This dog has whiskers. I didn’t know dogs had whiskers.” He looked at us and asked, “Did you know dogs have whiskers? I mean, do all dogs have them or just this dog?”
I didn’t know, and when I looked at Tom and Hector in turn it was clear they didn’t know either. “We don’t know, Gil. You can look it up on the Internet. What happens if you touch his whiskers?”
Gil reached out tentatively and I saw him wiggle his fingers. “It made him blink.”
Hector said, “I think you’d blink if I put my hand that close to your eye. Try to kind of sneak up from under his chin so he only feels your finger.”
“He still blinked.”
“That’s it, then,” Tom remarked. “Your dog has whiskers so he can blink his eyes.”
Hector said, “That can’t be. They must be there for a good reason. Did we decide if all dogs have whiskers?”
I shook my head. “Not yet, but I think I would have noticed. Maybe they’re like tiny little antennas he has to stay in touch with his mother ship.”
That set Tom to laughing so I had to defend myself. “It’s not funny. You see the look he gets in his eyes. That’s no little puppy-dog thing; this dog sees things we don’t, or at least looks at things in a different way.”
Hector chuckled, “He’s a dog, Paul. He probably just has a few ways of looking at things, like food or not-food, fun or not-fun.”
“Yeah,” Tom added. “Let’s hope he knows skunk and not-skunk, porcupine and not-porcupine, and all the important nots.”
“I’ll be satisfied if he’s house trained. Do you have to go out, Daisy? Huh? Go outside?”
To my surprise, Daisy stood up and woofed softly before running to the back door.
We all followed him and watched as Gill got bundled up and put Daisy’s leash on him. “We’ll be back,” he said before the door closed behind him.
Hector tapped my shoulder and when I turned around he said, “I’m leaving, amigo. You know where I’ll be if you need me.”
I smiled, “Thanks, Hec. I don’t think we’ll have to bother you tonight. After I call Lisa I have some homework, and I don’t want to be up too late.”
Hector pulled on his coat and said goodnight to Dory before he left. I said goodnight to Dory and went upstairs to my room. I turned the computer on and dug out my homework before sitting at the desk. I heard Gil yelling at the dog before the back door slammed downstairs, and he sounded frustrated. That was followed by a ruckus on the stairs and I looked up just in time to see Daisy race past my door Gil, red-faced and still in his coat, stomped by a minute later.
I stayed out of it and looked at my notes to review my assignments. I had reading to do for Civics and some problems to work out for Algebra. Civics seemed like a less dramatic shift than algebra after playing with a dog. Actually, there is no reasonable segue into algebra from any other known activity so I started with that, comfortable in the knowledge that Civics would be a breeze afterward.
When I had my work laid out I called Lisa and spent most of the call telling her about Daisy and a little about the fence contractor. I’d interrupted her when I called. She was working on her own homework so we didn’t talk very long. I’d see her in the morning and she said that, if she could, she’d ride our bus home the next day so she could meet the dog. I thought that we might just possibly find some cuddle time while she was here. The thought crossed my mind that Dory might present me with some previously undisclosed rules. If she did, they wouldn’t be rules she made up; they’d be from my parents.
I finished my Algebra problems and was well into the Civics lesson when a furry head poked my leg and almost sent me through the ceiling from the surprise. “Daisy!” I gasped. “You scared the bejeezus out of me. What are you doing in here? Where’s Gil?”
He rested his chin on my leg and looked at me, his eyes huge. I melted, “What? You gotta go?” He just looked at me, so I asked, “Are you hungry?”
That got a little reaction from his tail, but his baleful expression didn’t change. “You want a cookie?”
I laughed when he licked his lips. “You do want a cookie? You stay here, I’ll bring some up.”
He sat when I stood and left the room and was eying the doorway with some intent when I came back up with a box. I held it up so he could read and said, “Aunt Fannie’s Dog Biscuits. These are baked for the great taste dogs love, plus they’ll clean your teeth and freshen your breath … oh, hell, you can read it yourself. How many do you want? Two?”
Daisy’s eyes narrowed and he looked away. I said, “Tell me how many. Three?”
He turned his head even farther away and looked upward. “What do you want, ten? How about twenty?”
Daisy turned back with his tongue hanging out and I said, “You want twenty dog biscuits? I don’t think so, pal. Look, the box isn’t even opened yet, so how do you know you’ll even like them?” I pulled the box open and put three of the bone-shaped biscuits on my desk, then re-closed the box and put it into the bottom desk drawer. I held one cookie out and Daisy stood to snatch it from my hand, which I pulled away before I got bit.
“No, not like that. You sit down and I’ll give it to you, okay?”
At least Daisy knew what sit meant. I cautiously brought the cookie closer to his face and he stood back up and snapped at my hand again. I laughed, “No, no, no! You have to sit. If you bite my hand you’ll never get a cookie. Now, wait for it.”
It took a few more tries, but Daisy finally waited and took the cookie ever so gently from my hand before he turned around and devoured it. He lunged once for the next one and I pulled it away again. “Don’t take your cookies so seriously. Now wait for it.” He did and took the cookie gently again. He was a perfect gentleman with the last cookie and I said, “That’s all. It’s your bedtime. I have to finish here.”
Daisy eyed my bed and jumped up on it before I could say anything. He started to circle around and I cried, “Oh no you don’t! Where’s your bed? Isn’t it in Gil’s room?”
I got a blank stare from Daisy before he stretched out prone and put his head on my pillow. “Hey! Come over here; we need to talk. Come on now.”
He got off the bed front feet first and sat in front of me after a hopeful glance back at the bed. “Listen to me dog. This isn’t your room and I’m not your boy. Are you paying attention?”
Funnily enough he did seem to be listening to me. The crazy look was long gone and I thought I saw intelligence and interest in his eyes. “Gil saw you in the pound and Gil rescued you. It wasn’t me; I wasn’t even home. Gil picked out your bed and put it in his room, so that’s where you sleep. Got that? Anyhow, that room has two windows so you can do your dogly duty and keep an eye on the back yard. All that’s out front is the street and a river and you don’t belong in either one, so go get in your bed and I’ll see you in the morning.”
Daisy looked at me long enough that I thought I’d have to repeat myself, but he got up and walked out, his tail high with its fluffy tip making little circles, and headed over toward Gil’s room. I shook my head and snickered at my unexpected prowess as a dog whisperer, then turned back to my Civics homework where I pondered the lot of non-voting delegates to Congress and the ever-changing rules they worked under.
+ + + + + + + +
Nine days later we got off the bus and walked up the driveway. We looked around back and waved at Mr.Chandler. Gil ran ahead and I said, “I think he’s finished. You guys want to look?”
Tom and Shea came with me, and on the way Daisy barked from within the fence and was near the gate when we got there. He’d been using his doghouse on and off for a week and seemed to like it, but he’d always been hooked to the spike in the ground. Now he was loose in his enclosure and we went inside the gate to visit him and look around. Daisy gave us the grand tour at his speed and was back before we moved to follow him, his tail high and in full wag. I grinned, “You *hic* like *hic*?”
Dam hiccups! I hadn’t had them in ages. I looked at Tom, “I *hic*.”
He seemed surprised. “I can tell. Go take care of that, will you?”
I hiccupped my way inside and dropped my things in the hall. I went into the kitchen hiccupping and Dory said, “Oh, dear. Sit down; I’ll get you a glass of water.”
I hiccupped some more and shook my head as I pulled the silverware drawer open and picked up a spoon. I sat at the table and pushed the spoon up the bridge of my nose until it hit my brow and then put pressure on it until my nose almost hurt. When I didn’t hiccup for a good minute I put the spoon on the table and stood up, the hiccups gone.
Dory looked at me and asked, “What did you just do?”
“I cured my hiccups.”
She stared at me, “With a spoon?”
“Uh huh. I’m going back out to see the fence.” I went out through the back door. Tom and Shea were still there with Mr. Chandler and Gil. The sun was behind a mountain and they were waiting for it to get a little darker so they could watch the lights come on. There was a small covered light atop each of the fence uprights. They had copper ‘roofs’ shaped like pagodas and were very attractive. There was a similar light like a half-pagoda over the door to the doghouse. The lights weren’t really bright but there were a lot of them and together it was enough light to see by.
The lights had been turned on before to test everything out, but the area had been full of fence parts and tools then so this was the first time any of us had seen the finished product. I was really happy with it. When Gary was laying the stones that would keep Daisy from tunneling out he had the idea to make a stone path from the back steps to the doghouse. It would serve the dual purpose of keeping most of the dirt from muddy paws outside and would also be something we could shovel snow from instead of shoveling the lawn. When he explained that idea, I had him put stones down in the area behind the back door and out to the new gate. We’d be able to keep our own feet cleaner when we brought in things like groceries and ski gear.
I went inside and took a new tennis ball from the sack of them that Dory bought when she learned we’d better buy them in bulk. I brought it out and showed it to Daisy. A new ball was reason enough for lots of doggy excitement. I said, “Look Daisy! Now you have a place to play. Go get it!” I tossed the ball to the far end of the enclosure and Daisy had it in his mouth before it stopped rolling. He came prancing back with the ball making it look like he had bright green teeth. He teased each one of us with it in turn but wouldn’t give it up. We were on to his charade by then and just ignored him until he dropped it and barked. When Gil moved to pick it up, Daisy started running to the other end of the fence and waited for the ball.
He caught balls in the house all the time, so we knew he could do it. He almost caught the one Gil threw, but misjudged and it bounced off his nose. He managed to lunge forward, and had it in his mouth before it hit the ground so we all cheered.
I think Mr. Chandler was right about Daisy having some Afghan in him. He was fast and tireless out there and we were still throwing the ball an hour later. I was saved when my phone rang, and my eyes lit up when I saw who it was.
“Dad! Hi,” I said as I walked out of the enclosure to the back stoop.
“Hi, Paul. What’s new?”
“We have a dog. That’s new. When are you coming home?”
“Oh, I don’t know. We kind of like it right here on the beach. The house is a little big for us, though, so I think we’ll come back on Saturday. Tell me about this dog. What’s its name?”
“Barko. I hope you don’t mind, but we put up a fence so he won’t get in the road.”
“I don’t mind. A fence is a necessity for a dog on that road. What kind of dog is it?”
“It’s a boy dog. Should we be getting a Christmas tree for here? Where are we going to spend Christmas?”
“We were just talking about that. I think we’ll stay in Stockton for Christmas Eve morning and drive down later on. We can have Christmas together there and go out to Whistler the next day.”
“Um, I live in your room now. Do you want me to bunk in with Gil?”
“No, that’s no problem. We’ll get a room at the Four Columns and Dana can stay with you. Is your friend from Chile going straight to Canada or is he stopping in Vermont first?”
“He’s flying up on Christmas day right to Vancouver. The security company will take care of him that night and bring him up to Whistler in the morning. The flight gets in around midnight so he’ll probably just go to bed anyhow. What about this weekend? Are you going to stop here or go straight to Stockton?”
“Good question. I guess we can go to Brattleboro instead of Rutland; let me get back to you on that. Can you pick us up at the airport?”
“Oh, right. Never mind that; I’ll set something up. How is life with Dory and her son?”
I said, “It’s good. Dory’s a good cook and she’s really organized. I get along fine with Gil. Actually, his father’s coming here to eat on Sunday with his fiancée. They went to his house for Thanksgiving so this will be part of their Christmas. We’re having one of those roasts that was left over from the wedding.”
Dad laughed, “If you still have some of that left you’re a real master of restraint. How much did you end up with anyhow?”
“There were three roasts and Dana took one. Ours are still in the freezer. I’m giving one to my friend Roger. He didn’t go to the wedding and between Tom, Shea and me bragging up the food he’s all jealous. He says if we ever have another wedding he’ll wear a tutu if he has to.”
“Let’s leave it at that,” Dad chortled. “I’ll get back to you soon about this weekend.”
“Okay. Enjoy the rest of your trip. Bring me something.”
“I will. You haven’t asked where we are.”
“I know I haven’t, and I’m glad you noticed. Keep it in mind the next time I want to go off somewhere by myself.”
Dad snickered, “Nice move, Paul. We’ll see you Saturday.”
I smiled to myself, “Bye.”
I snickered as I put my phone away. I’m not sure where Barko came from, but I didn’t want to get into an international discussion of Daisy’s name and his status as a male dog.
I turned around to see who was still there and almost bumped into Mr. Chandler, who put a hand out to stop me. I said, “Oops! Sorry.”
He smiled, “I’m all done here. If you’re satisfied with the job I’d appreciate it if you could release the final payment. I have to go Christmas shopping, you know.”
“No problem; I’ll call right now. Everything looks really great.” I pulled my phone out and made the call to Bernie’s office. The payment was all queued up, so it was probably in Mr. Chandler’s account before I hung up. I looked at him, “That’s done,” and walked with him to his truck where we said goodbye.
When he drove off I walked out back again just in time to say goodbye to Tom and Shea. Gil was just going inside through the back door so I followed him and said, “Whatever it is smells great,” when a piquant aroma reached my nose.
Dory was at the sink and turned a smile to me. “That will be chicken cacciatore in about ninety minutes; I’m just softening the onions and peppers a little.”
I said, “I can’t wait,” and headed upstairs to get started on my homework. I had a Civics exam the next day. It was pretty simple stuff but I wanted to review it anyway so I didn’t have the only non-A grade in the room. That was the last exam before the holidays and my only other obligation was to select a book for my vacation reading. How’s that for a Christmas gift? I get to read on my ski trip.
It didn’t really matter. We’d be at Whistler during the shortest days of the year so I’d have lots of non-skiing hours to use up. I just needed a book to read. I ran downstairs and started looking through bookcases when I thought to look at the newer things that usually sat with the magazines until they’d been read. I looked at them one at a time and the first four were cook books, which were followed by a volume on Russian palaces. The next one was called, “Life” and was the autobiography of Keith Richards. From the size of it I could tell he’d lived a very long time. The only other book was called “Cod” and it was a biography of the fish. I needed a novel … at least I thought I needed a novel. The assignments always called for novels but I didn’t recall seeing that requirement this time. I ran back upstairs and found out that I was right. I had to read a book, and there were no qualifiers as to the type of book.
I went back downstairs and looked at the two biographies. I’m sure that Keith Richards is an interesting man, but I wondered if he’d hold my attention through five hundred and fifty pages. It’s not that I thought a codfish would be more fascinating than a rock star of the first magnitude, but I could learn all about the fish in three hundred fewer pages. I’m not usually daunted by long books, but this was vacation reading and I didn’t want to be reading in every spare moment, so the fish story won out.
I brought the book up to my room where I wrote down the correct title and author, which was all I needed for the time being. I pulled out my Civics book and looked over my notes, trying to anticipate some of the test questions. I was still at it when the aroma from downstairs got to me, and I was already headed to the bathroom when Dory called us to dinner.
The food was delicious and we were quiet while we ate. Gil and I were both hungry, and it must have shown because Dory didn’t say anything until we slowed down some. Daisy was still out in his new doghouse, which made eating a little more comfortable. Dory wouldn’t let him near the table when we were eating, and he tended to sit in the doorway and sulk because his toy box was also closed during our meals.
“Daisy must like his doghouse; I was afraid he’d bark the minute you came in. It’s nice that he’s not sitting over there pouting.”
Gil said, “He loves that house, ma. I just hope I can get him to come in when it’s time.”
Dory looked at Gil, “Did you see your counselor today?” On Gil’s nod she asked, “How did that go?”
Gil glanced at me and I got the idea that it was something he didn’t want me to hear. I said, “I’ll be done in one minute. Let me finish eating and I’ll leave you alone.”
Dory said, “Gil …”
I butted in, “It’s no problem, not at all. I don’t have to know everything that goes on. Two more bites and I’m done.”
“Don’t rush, Paul. I shouldn’t have said anything. Please, take your time.”
I looked at the serving dish and smiled, “In that case, I think I’ll have a little more. This is really, really good.”
I had a small second helping, and brought some cookies upstairs with me for dessert when I left. Chocolate chip wouldn’t sit very well on top of garlicky cacciatore so I’d eat them later, probably much later.
I sat at my desk and quickly ran through my Civics notes one last time, but I honestly couldn’t think of anything that would trip me up on an exam. We’d been studying the basic structures of the various levels of government and, while their workings could be complex to the point of bafflement, the physical makeup was pretty simple and straightforward. At any rate, I couldn’t read anything new into it so I put my book away and called Lisa.
She had just picked up when I heard a noise from outside and I cut her off, “Shh. Do you hear that?”
“I don’t hear anything … oh, wait. Is that a siren?”
“Not like a siren I ever heard around here, but yeah, some kind of siren.”
Lisa said, “Now I hear a siren outside. It’s different, though. Can you hear it?”
“I just hear the one near here. Oh, wait! Now I hear another one. It’s like a fire truck or an ambulance. That one’s getting louder and so is the one I heard first.”
The nearer siren stopped suddenly while the other got louder. I went to the window and in a minute an ambulance raced by heading away from town. I said, “An ambulance just went by. The other one stopped.”
Right then I heard some tumult on the stairs and Daisy came skidding into my room, his tail twirling like propeller. Gil was right behind him wearing a wide grin. “Did you hear Daisy? He was singing at the siren.”
I patted Daisy’s head, “That was you?” I spoke into the phone, “Did you hear that? It was Daisy singing.”
“I heard. I wonder if he could teach my fat cat to sing.”
“I don’t think cats can sing. I mean, can Archie teach the dog to meow? How about purr?” I looked at the dog, “Can you purr, Daisy? I didn’t think so; you don’t have the equipment for it.”
Lisa laughed and said, “You’re being silly,” so I stopped being silly. Gil got the message and called Daisy, who followed him out.
I talked with Lisa for about a half hour. Gil stuck his head in once, but before I could react he shook his head and left. After my call ended I took a shower and, remembering Gil’s visit, pulled on a bathrobe and went to his room to ask if it was anything important. His door was open and Daisy was sprawled out on his bed while Gil was at his desk with his back to the door. I tapped on the jamb and he turned, his mouth open but not in surprise.
“Did you want me for something?”
Gil looked down for a moment and turned back to me, his eyes focused somewhere beside or behind me. “Um, yeah. Do you have a minute?”
“Sure.” I gave Daisy a poke and when he opened his eyes and stretched his legs I sat where a paw had been and patted his head. I looked at Gil and asked, “What’s up?”
He eyed me before he spoke. “Mom thinks I should tell you about my counseling. I guess she’s right that it’s not a good idea to try to keep secrets now we live in the same house.”
Poor Gil seemed so edgy I tried to ease his way. “Is this counseling about what happened with your stepfather?”
“It’s a good thing then, isn’t it? You don’t want to be like one of those altar boys with … that hanging around your neck till you’re forty. Those poor guys never had anybody they could go to, nobody who would believe them. I know with a lot of them it’s screwed up their whole lives.”
I could barely hear Gil when he said, “I know. It’s … um, I mean … there’s more to it, or there was … at first anyhow.”
More to it? I was confused. “I don’t follow you. There’s more to what? Did he do things you haven’t told people about?”
Gil shook his head and stared at his knees without saying anything. Just when I was about to break the silence he exhaled and said, “It was my fault … part my fault.”
I shook my head, “Don’t say that.”
“I have to. It’s true.”
“Gil, your stepfather is an adult and you’re a kid. He took advantage of that, and of you, and that’s wrong no matter how you look at it. It’s not your fault.”
Gil leaned forward, his elbows on his knees and his hands on his face, although he still didn’t look at me. He said so softly that I found myself straining to hear, “I let him. I didn’t stop him. I didn’t even try to stop him at first. After, when he wanted to do more, I didn’t want to do that, and he made me feel bad so I still let him.”
Daisy sensed that something was amiss. He slipped off the other side of the bed and approached Gil, who didn’t notice until Daisy prodded his hand with a cold nose. That released some tension from Gil, and he hugged Daisy to him as he whispered, “Good boy; good boy.” I could see that his eyes were wet.
I said, “Gil, whether you let him or not, you didn’t make those things happen. I don’t know how it all started and I don’t need to know, but I have to believe it was begun by Lester somehow and not by you. The first time he touched you in a sexual way, and every time after that, he was breaking the law and he knew it. It’s not just the law, either, but everything that’s moral and decent between a father and a son, between any man and any child, related or not. It’s not your fault, not even a little bit.”
Gil mumbled, “If you say so.”
“Come on, Gil. I’m no professional, so look at it this way. There’s a good reason that Lester is in jail and you’re not. If you were even the tiniest, most microscopic bit responsible, if you shared one single iota of responsibility, don’t you think you’d be in some kind of trouble yourself? If you allowed the abuse to start and let it go on, wouldn’t you expect to at least be in reform school if that was breaking the law? Don’t go around thinking you’re wrong because of something Lester did.”
“But I never stopped him. I didn’t want to stop him; don’t you get it?”
I asked quietly, “Do you think you’re gay? Is that it?”
Gil hesitated before he spoke. “I don’t think so, no. It’s just that when it started … oh, God … it was just him and me alone at home. It was nothing at first, just touching; I don’t know … not there. We just got close is all, like to sit together and watch TV. The first time he really touched me I didn’t even notice at first; his hand was on me and I don’t know for how long.” Gil scrunched up his face, “Do you want to hear this crap?”
“Not really,” I admitted, “But I’ll listen if you want me to.”
“I won’t say all of it. That’s all that happened at first, and it was like nothing, really. We talked about things – not like what his hand was doing, but just things, and we watched our shows and that was it, except …”
I waited in silence. “Um, he’d start like opening my belt and then he’d unzip me, things like that, and I never did say to stop it. It didn’t seem dirty or anything … it just felt good.” Gil’s expression turned pleading, “So see? It’s my fault, too, at least part. He might of stopped if I said to. I think he would of.”
I took a deep breath so I could speak calmly. “Gil, please. I’m not qualified to give you specific help, but please stop blaming yourself. Lester’s a grown man and he should never have touched you in the first place, ever. Nobody has the right to do that. If you got some good feelings at first it only means he knew what he was doing. It’s supposed to feel good; that’s a natural reaction, but adults shouldn’t be doing that to kids.” I leaned toward Gil a little and said, “You don’t have to tell me more unless there’s something I can’t figure out, but I get the idea how it went. You’re going to have to work this out with your counselor, but please don’t go there thinking you’re to blame in any way. You’re not.”
Gil looked at me and I smiled, “I have spoken.”
Gil smiled back, “You have spoken? You sound like the pharaoh in some Egypt movie I saw.”
“I’m not a pharaoh; not yet anyhow,” I laughed. “You think I’d look good with a gold head and stripes?” I stood up, “Say goodnight, Daisy. Say goodnight, Gil. Do you want the door open?”
“Yeah, you can leave it open. G’night, Paul.”
I stood to leave and Gil said, “Paul?” I turned, “Thanks. Thanks for talking to me.”
I smiled and gave him a little salute before I went back to my room. I got ready and into bed. After I turned the light off I thought about my talk with Gil, and his words had a familiar ring to them. I knew why, too, because I’d read some of the testimony from the trial of a convicted priest whose approach to boys seemed much like Lester’s. That priest had gotten away with his evil doings for a very long time and with many boys before one of them said something. I think Lester tripped himself up when he decided he could share Gil with other guys. If he’d kept it gentle and loving the way he started out he’d probably still be at it, which wouldn’t be a better deal for Gil. It was a complex situation that didn’t leave Gil with an easy way out.
I found myself doubting that my talk with him was worth anything, and wished I had a way to help him. I’d done a crappy job of listening for starters. I shouldn’t have spoken until he said everything he intended to say. That’s one of my failings and I keep promising myself I’ll do better, but when moments arise where I should be listening I have no tripwire to remind myself to shut up.
I didn’t think I’d done any real harm to Gil this time, but I didn’t want to the next time either, not with Gil or anyone else. I thought I might be painting myself into a corner with a brush made of money. After all, it was Dad’s money that helped Dana and Elenora, Dad’s money that bought the best possible care for Russ Glover, and Dad’s money that helped in many lesser situations.
Money wasn’t going to help Gil, though, unless it paid for special care or counseling that he wouldn’t get without it. He would no doubt enjoy the things that money can provide, but those things wouldn’t erase his experiences with his stepfather, nor would money keep it from biting him in the ass somewhere down the road. My telling him nothing was his own fault when he so clearly thought it was wouldn’t help him. That’s where he had to get to, but he had to be able to say that on his own and know it as the truth … his truth.
I couldn’t turn my thoughts off and they were keeping me awake. I finally rolled out of bed and pulled my robe back on as I walked across the hall to Gil’s room. The door was still open but the light was out. The light from the hall was enough to show me that Gil was sleeping. Daisy was beside him pointed toward the foot of the bed where his head hung over the side and one leg pointed right at the wall. I smiled at the sight and went to my room and back to bed.
Gil was in a good mood in the morning so I left things alone. I didn’t want to risk upsetting him with an apology even though I felt I owed him one. We were living in the same house so there was no urgency involved.
School mornings were tough on Daisy. He never wanted me to leave, but only because Gil usually left with me. With Gil, the dog was a little more emphatic. Dory spent a lot of time mending Gil’s jackets and gloves because Daisy tried to keep him home by hanging on anywhere he could with those big, white teeth of his.
That meant that this morning would bring an important test. I’d leave to wait for the bus before Gil brought Daisy out to the new doghouse to feed him out there. Daisy had a highly developed sense of entitlement when it came to breakfast, and we figured he would get too wrapped up having food in his new environment to pay much attention to Gil’s comings and goings. According to Dory, Daisy was fine once Gil actually left. He’d take one of his chew toys and spend the day alternately chewing and snoozing.
I wished them luck, mentioned getting a Christmas tree to Dory, and went out to catch my bus. I met Tom at his driveway and Shea was already waiting by the road. As soon as I met up with Tom I said, “Dad’s coming home this weekend.”
“Oh, cool. Where’d they go?”
I shrugged, “I don’t know, but they’re coming back. He said he was in a big house on a beach.”
Tom grinned, “I guess I don’t need to know more than that. I bet you missed him.”
Tom was right, but I just shrugged as the bus approached and Gil came running to join us. I did miss my father, and wondered what life was going to be like living apart from him.