"Mom? Marry James?" Kenny's look was nasty. He waited for an answer as he noticed his mother's nervousness. She always looked around the room when she was stumbling for words.
It was just the other day he reminded her, dad had left three years ago. He often thought of mom getting married again. But, to James?
What would she say? Would she even answer him?
He kept his eyes steady, a little sad at his mother's discomfort. Maybe this wasn't the right time to ask. But he had to know.
"Mommm," an impatient whine dragged on his tongue.
"Well Kenny, you know James has been coming around more often lately...and yes, it has been discussed..."
"I knew it! I just knew it!" he exploded. "Why didn't you ask me how I might feel?" Without giving his mother a chance to answer Kenny grabbed his schoolbooks and rushed out of the room.
A steady drumming of foot-thuds could be heard as he pounded upstairs. Each step stomped out a message, "I'm upset. I'm upset." Echoes of his feet attack on the stairs soon faded away.
How could she think about marrying again? What's wrong with her? "Gee whiz, mom."
Slumping on his bed, Kenny thought of dad who had been gone since the winter the boy had turned nine. "My leaving has nothing to do with you. I'll always love you," dad said. Then he stepped out of his life, like a fading ghost. There were times Kenny cried like a baby, over something he knew was missing in his life.
He kicked off his sneakers and bent to peel off his socks. Laying on his back, arms tucked under his head, he scanned the room carefully.
His eyes took in the pennant from Halifax and pictures of he and mom. Also himself and his buddy Troy, taken at Boy Scout Summer Camp last year.
They all stared back at him.
Kenny sat up and placed his feet on the cool floor, then walked slowly to the window. He knew he had the best view in Sheldon, a village of 200 people near Truro, Nova Scotia. His house sat on a hill overlooking the highway. He felt like an owl settled on a branch watching the world move along.
The collection of old houses, trailers and newly aluminum-sided buildings straddled both sides of Highway 104.
They were like salt sprinkled at random.
Right now the stars were bright, their luminous eyes keeping him company. He could see the Big Dipper, or âUrsa Majorâ as he learned in school.
"It's tough growing up," he said aloud. He knew he was acting silly but things seemed much simpler when he was younger.
He enjoyed staring out the window at night, elbows on the window-sill, chin cradled in his hands. There was a time when he dreamed of being an astronomer or 'star-gazer.' Everything seemed so peaceful up there.
His brow furrowed when he thought a lot. And he was thinking about Larry, his neighbour who took him fishing last Saturday.
He would make a great dad. But he's already married with grown up kids of his own. "So I'll probably end up getting stuck with someone like James," Kenny sighed.
It wouldn't be so bad if James didn't have to work all the time. He never took him anywhere. And he's so strict. Kenny continued to look out the window as his mind raced along on a merry-go-round of memories.
Tiredly he made his way back to bed and flung himself down. He was too sleepy to even climb under the sheets and pull up his covers.
His mind re-lived events from last Saturday when Larry took him fishing. It had been a perfect day. "This is really neat," Kenny had said, eyes dancing with excitement. Kenny really liked Larry.
The first time they had met was last year when Kenny began a paper route. Kenny had marched up the front steps. "Would you like to take the weekly? He had asked. "I guarantee good service. How about it?"
"Call me Larry," the man had said, "unless your parents object."
"That's cool. My mom won't mind. She's divorced and she lets me make lots of decisions."
Since then he had met Larry's wife and even had a tour of their big old house which used to be a church manse. Imagine, the place was over 140 years old.
He learned to play chess with Larry and had come over many times to help pile wood and mow the grass. It soon become his second home.
Larry didn't pay money for chores. "Instead I'll be glad to take you hiking or even go on a fishing trip,â he had said.
That suited Kenny just fine.
Now his dreaming relived that awesome trip last weekend to Economy Lake, ten miles north of Bass River village.
His sleepy eyes gave in to the comfortable images. His body settled back in bedâ
"Do you remember what I told you Kenny?" Larry had said. "About the different parts of the canoe?" He knew Kenny liked to be tested on his knowledge.
"Yes, the sides are called gunnels."
"And the front?"
"And the back?"
"Right." Kenny knew Larry was proud of him. He really liked someone to teach him things.
Fishing rods were loaded, food packs carefully placed into the center of the canoe, and life jackets worn. They had waded barefoot from the shore, carrying the boat to a depth of several feet, so as not to scratch its hull.
Kenny stretched, then turned on his side. His memories were like a movie reel. The best part was yet to come.
While Larry held the canoe, Kenny gingerly placed his cold feet inside, one at a time, then sat down in the bow. As Larry seated himself in the stern, Kenny said quickly, "OK dad, let's go." He glanced back to see if Larry noticed what had slipped from his tongue.
He must have missed it.
Kenny hadn't said it on purpose. It sort of sneaked out. "OK dad," he repeated under his breath, "let's go." Sounded really nice, he thought to himself. He turned around from the bow and looked back.
He noticed Larry's peaked hat, with the perch fish on its front. Red vest, blue shirt, worn jeans and bare feet completed the picture. Larry's paddle was ready for action. And his eyes seemed at peace with himself. They were always full of laughter.
Kenny wished James was more like Larry.
"What's up Kenny? Why are you looking at me so seriously?" Larry had said, chuckling.
Kenny turned away quickly, his heart pounding.
"Nothing. I'm ready...that's all."
But it wasn't all. He missed having a dad, and he was glad his face was turned away as moisture gathered on his cheeks. He wasn't crying, not really. He felt like a traitor for even pretending Larry was his dad.
But then it must be okay, the sky didn't explode or anything.
To himself he said softly, "OK dad, I'm ready now. Let's go." And he felt good inside as his paddle dipped in the water...
Kenny jerked awake in his room as he heard his squeaky doorknob. Through half-closed eyelids he watched his mom step in.
Kenny pretended to be asleep, one arm flung out. His fingers were open as if waiting for a handshake from someone.
As his mom crossed the creaking floor, he carefully controlled his breathing. He felt her eyes travel from his toes, lanky legs, and thinly stretched frame to his blond head.
She puffed air softly on his closed eyelids, testing to see if he was really asleep. It tickled, but somehow he calmed his reflexes.
He wanted to reach out and hug her.
She retrieved a blanket from the closet and placed it over him. He groaned softly, letting out some of his tension. The sound drifted as if from a far-away planet.
Before he fell asleep he made a promise to himself.
Tomorrow he would tell her he loved her.
* * *
Â Richard L. Provencher
My wife, Esther and I really enjoy writing. It is an excellent salve, in addition to prayers, a great wife and family during my continuing recovery from a stroke/aneurysm. You can contact us at: email@example.com re comments on our work. We live in Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada. Pray for others.