The bed and TV finally arrived. After the delivery people placed the bed and got the TV working, Ken went to the grocery store to buy some food. He unloaded the food into the refrigerator and the kitchen closet, then turned on his new TV. The big picture is definitely worth it. Now I need to fix dinner.
To Ken’s surprise, the doorbell rang. He opened it, finding a pleasant woman in her early forty’s, standing on the landing. “I’m your neighbor, Marty Swanson,” she smiled. “Welcome to the neighborhood!” She handed Ken a wonderful smelling casserole.
“My daughter and I have come to welcome you,” she continued. She looked around. There was no daughter. “Sally, where are you? She’s so shy.”
A tiny 4 year old cautiously poked a head full of curls around the corner.
Ken knelt down until he made eye contact with little Sally. His Mother had taught him, if you want a child to be your friend, get down to their eye level.
“Hi Sally, welcome to my house. Do you want to come in and look around?” Ken asked.
Sally nodded. He took her tiny hand and gave them the complete tour. “As you can see, I’m woefully short in the furniture department.” As they came to the garage, Ken told Sally, “One of the things I really enjoy is the two car garage. It even has an automatic opener. If you push the button, the door opens.”
“Here Sally, you try it,” he suggested.
“I don’t need to, ours is just like it.”
Ken’s ego had been smashed…. . A few seconds laterhe felt infinitely better however, because an idea occurred to him.
After they left, he ate part of the casserole. It tasted as good as it smelled. Now I need to act upon my new idea. He went back to the store purchasing some fancy gift-wrap paper.
When he returned, he wrapped his gift. Now, he was all ready for Saturday night.
The Friday game turned out to be another win for Billy’s Bombers. It was a slugfest with the final score of 20 to 12. Coach put Buzz in to pitch the last inning. He gave up two runs because of a hit, two errors and a walk. But, he did manage to strike out the last man to seal the victory. Ned walked off the mound full of confidence.
Unfortunately, Peggy could not get away to watch the game. This was a disappointment to Buzz as well as to the Coach.
It was not a disappointment to Gloria Gleener, however. She was at the game. When her Glenn hit a double she was ecstatic. The second the game ended, she approached Ken asking him to dinner with them at the Pizzera.
Because Glenn was on his team Ken felt had no choice. As they ate dinner, he decided to try and make some lemonade out of this lemon. “Glenn, can I ask why you are so hostile to your teammates? We’re all on the same team. Somehow I get the feeling you don’t really like anyone.”
Before Glenn could answer, Gloria interceded. “Ken, you have to understand, my little Glenn is upset at his father for walking out on us.”
Ken replied, “That is certainly understandable, Gloria. When did you and your husband split?”
The question stunned her for a moment. “He left, let’s see, five years ago. But the divorce wasn’t final until a year later. Now, I’m completely available and poor Glenn needs a daddy in his life.”
As she said this she batted her eyes at Ken.
Ken was having none of it. He turned to Glenn. “It’s not what happens to you in life, Glenn. It’s what you do about what happens to you. If you go around with a chip on your shoulder you will not have a very happy life. There are a ton of kids out there without their fathers. Either they divorce, as your mother and father did or someone dies, as Ned Waldren’s father did. Either way, you have to get over the anger and hurt and become someone pleasant to be around.”
Glenn made a wry face.
Ken continued, “Please tell me you’ll think about it, Glenn. You’re a good kid and a great leadoff man, but your attitude is not helping. Now I have to run. Thank you for the pizza.”
A few minutes earlier, Ned rode his bike into the driveway at his home. Peggy pulled her car in right behind him.
“We won again Mom! I struck out the last batter! Coach told me I was doing really well. Both Shorty and Billy hit home runs.”
“Did you get any hits?” Mom asked.
“Aw, Mom, pitchers aren’t supposed to be able to hit.”
Saturday night finally arrived. Ken stood by his car in the bank employee’s parking lot waiting for Peggy. In his hand was a small package all wrapped up in fancy paper.
Eyes twinkling, Peggy jumped out of her car. Before she walked toward him, she picked up a brown bag from the front seat. Ken wanted to give her a hug, but she gave the impression no hug was forthcoming, so he simply opened the car door for her. She wore a light blue sweater with a navy skirt. She filled out the sweater beautifully. Ken thought, she looks as if she were a college coed, not a mature widow.
He opened the conversation. “I got you in so much trouble with the flowers, I decided to try something smaller,” He handed Peggy the box.
“You’re not supposed to give me something every time we have a date.”
Before Ken could respond, she asked, “Is it OK if I open this later? We have to start right now if we want to get any shopping done. Antique stores don’t stay open past 8:00 o’clock.”
Ken agreed, so she continued, “Since I’m the director, head north.” As they pulled onto the highway going north Peggy announced, “Now, unlike your beautiful package, which I am going to open later, my brown bag has to be opened right away.”
“Please tell me why your brown bag takes precedence over my beautifully wrapped package?”
“Because in the brown bag is our dinner. We need to eat while driving. There are two good antique stores. We’ll never get to the second one before they close if we don’t cut a few corners. I hope you enjoy ham sandwiches and lemonade.”
“You know, my new girlfriend is really terrific. After two dates, she loans me $125,000 so I can buy a house. On our third date, she buys me dinner. How good can life be?”
Peggy laughed. She shook her head, causing her light brown hair to swish attractively around her face. “I suppose what you say is accurate, although slightly distorted. I hope you like mustard and mayonnaise.”
The first antique store displayed fine tables, dressers and other antiques. Peggy felt the store too pricy. She urged Ken to make no purchases until they checked out the other store.
The second store, Old Barn Antiques, was several miles to the north. As they drove, Ken asked Peggy, “Last week we talked about your life with Peter. Maybe tonight, you could tell me about your life when you were younger.”
“Well let’s see,” Peggy began, “I was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, which as you know is right across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. East St. Louis is a factory town, pretty rough around the edges. Dad was teaching in the public high school there, while he completed his doctorate at St. Louis University across the river. Mom stayed home with me until I was five. After I went to school, she taught full time in a public high school.
Grammar school in East St. Louis consisted of grades one through eight. The day I left eighth grade, Dad got a job on the faculty at Hamilton U. We moved here, bought the house where Mom still lives, and moved in. Life became much better for us after we left East St. Louis. That town was really rough.”
“How do you mean really rough?”
“You know, a lot of poverty. Mean kids with anger issues. I suppose I can share this story. I rather enjoy telling it. There was a girl in my class, a big tough girl, who sort of ran the social life. Her name was Brenda. In the fall of our eighth grade year, she caught me talking to one of the good-looking guys she felt she owned. After school, Brenda and three of her buddies came up to me. They started shoving me around. Without warning, Brenda slapped me across the face, hard. Next, she smashed her fist into my stomach. When she kicked me in the shin, I fell. All four of them spit on me as they walked away.
“I ran home. Fortunately, Dad was there as well as Mom. After they consoled me, Dad took me down to the basement so he could teach me how to box. It turns out; he was on the boxing team in college. We worked at boxing once or twice a week all semester. One thing Dad insisted on was that I learn how to throw a straight right. He taught me to throw the punch quickly. He also insisted on my putting my shoulder into the punch. He even had me lifting weights. Dad used to say, ‘If you punch with your arm it will only sting your opponent. If you get your shoulder into the punch, it can be lethal.’
“On the last day of school the following June, I felt ready to extract my revenge on Brenda. I cornered her after school in the parking lot. As usual, she had her three buddies with her.
“I badgered Brenda until I saw her wind up to begin the old roundhouse slap. I ducked under her slap, then snapped a left into her stomach so fast she never saw it coming. As she brought her hands down to her stomach, I let go with my straight right. I really put my shoulder into it. The punch caught precious Brenda right on the chin. She collapsed in a heap. Out cold!
“I glared at Brenda’s three accomplices as I blew on my aching knuckles. With a straight face I was able to say, “Anybody else want to mess with me?”
“Nobody moved. I walked away. I found out later, Brenda was unconscious for more than two minutes.”
“Two minutes? Was your Dad thrilled?”
“Mom pretended to be shocked, but Dad grinned from ear to ear. Right afterwards he told us we were moving to Hamilton. We were all glad to leave East St. Louis.”
“Any fights in high school?” Ken asked.
“High school was a ball. I made the tennis team, dated lots of guys, had tons of friends and managed to do well academically. My good grades, plus the fact Dad belonged to the faculty, was how I became financially able to attend Hamilton University.”
“When did your dad pass away?”
“Gosh……. it’s been four years now. He had a heart attack. He was such a strong loving man. I miss him terribly.”
“Have you thought about giving Ned boxing lessons?”
“Ned? He’s only ten for heaven’s sake.”
“Maybe so, Peggy, but that Glenn Gleener has a nasty temper and a mean streak. I keep feeling he and little Buzz er Ned are in for a tumble one of these days. Glenn needs someone to punch his lights out.”
“You know, Ken, I never thought of that. If Glenn’s so nasty, why do you keep him on the team? It’s only little league. Having a good leadoff hitter can’t be that important.”
“I totally agree. But if I kick him off the team, will it help Glenn? I keep hoping I can help him get the chip off his shoulder. Coaching is far more than winning games, Peggy. It’s about helping young people get ready for the real world.”
“I knew that’s what you were going to say. And, of course you are correct in trying to help the kid. I guess I’m kind of prejudiced because of Gloria, his trashy mother.”
“If you want my opinion, his mother is a huge part of the problem.” Ken then told Peggy of his dinner with the divorcee and of their conversation.
When he finished there was a long interval of silence. Peggy finally asked, ’It’s none of my business, Ken, but was Gloria successful in her efforts to attract your attention?”
Ken thought for a long time as to exactly how he should respond. The silence in the car was palpable.
“The answer is….. you are correct, it is none of your business. However, I choose to answer with a question for you. If you had a chance to have a date with a gentle loving golden retriever or a stupid horny mule, which would you choose?”
Peggy remained silent after that. But there was a slight smile as she reflected on the comparison Ken set up with his question.
They arrived at the second antique store just before closing. In spite of the hour, the nice man let them shop. They were glad he did. This store stocked fewer real antiques. But they had a lot of old furniture.
“Now this is what I mean by early attic, not antiques,” Peggy whispered.
They found a round 48-inch table with a set of four matching chairs for under $200. There was also a wicker couch. It felt solid and only cost $50. Peggy told Ken, “If you buy the couch, I’ll find some cushions to make it comfortable.
“Maybe I should buy a new couch.”
“You can, if you want to spend somewhere between $1,000 and $2,000.
That settled things. Ken had no idea a couch was so expensive.
“If you can find a way to deliver them to Hamilton, I’ll take the table, the chairs and the couch,” he told the proprietor.
“I’ll have them there tomorrow around dinner time,” promised the man. Ken wrote out a check.
After they left the Old Barn Antiques, the man locked up, walking away towards a nearby house.
Ken did not start the engine when they got back in the car.
“Mrs. Director, are we through rushing for the evening?”
“How about opening my present?”
Peggy tore open the paper as she looked inside. “What’s this? ……. A garage door opener?”
“You guessed it,” Ken replied. “It will open my garage door. I have an attached two-car garage with only one car. I plan to leave the left side empty. My hope is, even though I’m under cover, some night you might want to visit me at my house. With this garage door opener, you can drive up, open the door, drive into the garage, shut the door and the nosy neighbors will never know I have company.”
“I see. Will the door into the house from the garage remain unlocked?”
“So you are essentially giving me a key to your house. Let me see, what can I do with it? I could sneak in some night and murder you in your bed. Or, I could sneak in and rob you of all your earthly possessions.”
“I was rather hoping you would sneak in and put a casserole in my refrigerator. Or even better, maybe someday you would sneak in and get into my bed!”
“Enough of this conversation,” Peggy laughed. “Thank you for the door opener, I think.”
“Please keep it in your car glove box at all times. I left you a note in the bottom of the box. Did you see it?”
Peggy looked, pulled out a paper and read:
“I might as well give you the key to my house,
Because you already have the key to my heart!”
There was a glow in Peggy’s eyes as she looked up.
“What am I going to do with you?” she asked. “I throw every kind of complication at you. Yet you keep working your way under my protective shield.”
Ken ventured, “are we still just ‘acquaintances’ or have we progressed to the point where we are in a relationship?”
“I refuse to answer on the grounds I might incriminate myself.”
Tactfully changing the subject, Peggy suggested, “We passed a Dairy Queen on the way out here. Let’s stop on the way home.”
As they ate their D.Q. treats, Peggy asked Ken about his earlier life.
“Not much to tell, Peggy. I was born in Chicago. My dad left us before I was born. I never even met him. Mom worked in an insurance office. Gram was the person who took care of me while Mom worked. After Gram died, I was about twelve; I began a newspaper route for the Chicago Tribune.
“Riding my bike around the streets early in the morning was fun in the summer, but in the winter, when the wind whips across frozen Lake Michigan, it was awful.
“Later, I added an afternoon route delivering the Chicago Daily News. Delivering papers was OK, it was the collecting that was the hard part. Except at Christmas. At Christmas I got lots of tips from happy customers.
“Mother’s goal was for me to graduate from college. I knew she couldn’t afford to send me, so I joined the Army. After nine years, I had enough help from the Army program to get me through Hamilton.
“Last summer, Mother took two weeks off and we drove out west together. We saw Yellowstone, Mount Rushmore and the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was the only vacation we ever had. When we returned home, Mom told me about her lung cancer. She’d always been a smoker and the cigarettes finally got to her.
“She was a tough person. She hung on until I graduated. I got my diploma early, skipped the ceremony and rushed home. She had my diploma in her hands when she died.”
“Oh Ken, I’m so sorry.”
“It’s taken me a while, but I’m getting over it. Mother had a tough life.”
“Thanks for sharing,”
They returned to the parking lot behind the bank. It was pitch dark. As they got out of the car, Ken took her in his arms, kissing her gently. Suddenly, Peggy deepened the kiss. Ken pulled her in close. They seemed to fit together exactly right. They were both breathing hard when the kiss ended.
Ken mumbled, “You’re awesome, Peggy. It was at least a #9 point kiss.”
Peggy looked up at him. “Ken Lister, I’m very competitive. I’m sure if we try again we can get to a #10!”
This kiss took much longer….. Once it ended, Peggy looked up, “Well?”
“Peggy, I’d give anything in the world to tell you it was a #9.5 so we could try again, but, I promised never to lie to you. It was a #10 kiss, an absolute #10!”
With a big twinkle in her eye Peggy smiled, “Goodnight, Ken.” She climbed into her car and drove away.