C (leaning over, whispering): Is that a real dog?
D: Yes, it’s an acting dog.
C (quietly gasping): There’s a person inside that dog?
D: No, no! It’s a real dog. He’s a dog that knows how to act a little.
C (smiling): Oh, cool!
The self-described “crusty old bachelor” who lives across the street once thought that Papa (Darin) and Daddy were brothers. As described here, he came around, once he figured things out, both awkwardly and sweetly.
Since then, he’s had several stays in the hospital, suffered a stroke, and engaged round-the-clock in-home assistance. After months of staying inside, sometimes watching Daddy and the twins hit tennis balls into his ivy, he had a wheelchair ramp to his front door installed. Now, with the help of his wheelchair and his aides, he goes out for a walk at least once a day.
One day, he comes for the first time upon Daddy and the twins whacking tennis balls across the street into his newly razed yard. Gone is the ivy. On the day the gardeners clear-cut the front, thirteen tennis balls rolled out into the gutter. Ahem. Daddy explained “baker’s dozen” to the twins while picking them up that day. This day, the first day that Johnny comes along while the kids are working on forehands, an aide asks him, “Would you like to sit outside?” The aide maneuvers the wheelchair into a position from which he might watch.
The kids are staring. Cory starts to smile. She likes an audience.
A: Do you want to watch…
J (harsh, scowling): No! Inside! Take me inside!
Cory’s face falls. Fisher stares. Daddy has to explain that Johnny, like everyone, has good days and bad days. It has nothing to do with them. Today he just wants to be inside.
A couple weeks later, Daddy is out with them again. This time, music is blaring through a front window to liven the tennis up a bit. Cory is hitting a mix of forehands and backhands, and Fisher is tooling around on his bicycle. Daddy’s favorite song comes on. By the first “And I know and I know and I know…,” Daddy’s and Cory’s rackets are on the ground. Dance break!
Cory’s laughing and moving. Daddy’s moving and laughing. Fisher starts circling around making goofy moves on his bike. No one cares about the passing cars, which have to slow down to avoid multiple tennis balls, most of the drivers either oblivious to what’s happening on the driveway, or, if aware, smiling.
The song winds down. Daddy and Cory lip sync, “One last time, I need to be the one who takes you home” to a big finish. Everyone laughs until Cory stops and points discreetly behind Daddy. Johnny is out, with his aide having brought his wheelchair to the exact spot where he’d been so grumpy before. The next song starts. It’s danceable. Daddy starts wiggling. Cory joins in, smiling. She still likes an audience, although her moves are somewhat more tempered. Fisher circles…
…and for almost a whole song, Johnny smiles, claps his hands down on his legs, and laughs occasionally. It’s all a little odd, but Daddy goes with it. “I keep, going to the river to pray…”
F (at dinner that night): Daddy, I think Johnny liked watching us play tennis today, right?
D: I think so.
C: Yah, he was having a good day, right, Daddy?
D: Yep, seemed so, huh?
F: Yah, he was having a very good day.
“I keep, going to the river to pray, cause I need something that can wash out the pain…”
Daddy calls the kids back as they leave with Papa for their last day of kindergarten.
D: Give me a kiss. This is the last time either of you will be able to give me a kiss as a kindergartener because tonight when I pick you up, you will be first graders.
F (after complying): Bye, Daddy.
Cory runs over for a last kindergarten kiss (and hug), too.
D (climbing out of the car at pickup, opening the back door): Now, guys, let’s check it.
F: Check what, Daddy?
D: We definitely have to check it. (Leaning over for a kiss from him.) Yep.
C (faux exasperation): What!? I know you are just…
D (cutting her off with a kiss): Yep, yep.
D: I knew it. (Big sigh.) Definitely first graders. You guys are definitely first graders. I guess time kept moving forward today…like it always seems to do.
Daddy shakes his head. They smile. She has a moment, later, crying suddenly in the shower.
C: But, Daddy, my best friend in the whole world is leaving! (One of several “best friends in the whole world” is not moving; she’s just attending a charter school in the same district.) And, I don’t get to go to kindergarten ever again in my whole life!
Hair full of conditioner, eyes full of tears, face full of angst, naked as a jaybird, she stamps her foot in the water. Daddy tries to take it seriously. Fisher has his, quieter moment later.
F (hugging in the dark before Cory arrives for bedtime rituals): Daddy, I wish I could just stay in kindergarten for another year.
D: Why’s that?
F: Because in kindergarten, you get to make a pinch pot, and you get to have your own playground, and you get to…
He keeps ticking the “get-to’s” off. Two years have passed since their first day in kindergarten. Good, solid run.
F (looking at pictures just downloaded, through an early morning haze): Why is Boston just standing there without his leash on?
D: That? Oh. Want me to tell you?
F: Uh huh.
D: I took Quincy and Cinder for a walk, like I always do, and Boston came along. You know Boston doesn’t go for many walk anymore?
F: Because he’s old?
D: Yep. Well, I took my phone along with me on the walk. Do you know why I did that?
D: I take my phone along just in case I need to call Papa.
F: Why do you need to call Papa?
D: Well, Boston is getting old. He might get too tired to walk anymore. Then, Papa might have to come and pick us up.
F: Oh. But, why is Boston just standing there with no leash on?
D: Because when Cinder comes along, he likes to walk Boston. He takes Boston’s leash in his mouth and walks along, kind of like HE’S walking Boston instead of Daddy.
F: He does?
D: Yep. Some puppies do that.
F: Puppies like Cinder?
D: Yep. Anyway, I was walking along reading stuff on my phone. That’s the down side of bringing a phone along on the walk. You look at your phone. And, Quincy was in front, as usual, and Cinder was walking Boston way in the back, as usual. Or so Daddy thought. I looked back at Cinder, and he had Boston’s leash in his mouth, and Boston’s collar was on that leash, but that collar was not around Boston!
F: It wasn’t? It came off?
F: Where was Boston?
D: He was standing a pretty good distance back down the street. Just standing there panting.
F: You almost left him?
F: Is that where he was right there? In that picture?
F: It looks like he is trying to hide from you.
D: Why do you say that?
F: He looks like one of those er, eh, uh animals that tries to be like hiding in the grass. (Pointing.) Those white spots look like those white spots. And his brown is like that brown. And his white is like that sidewalk.
D (smiling): You know, Fisher, you have a point. He looks like he’s trying to blend in.
F: He needs to have some green on his legs.
D: That would help, sure, but it might look funny.
F:Maybe he just didn’t want to go on that walk anymore. Did you call Papa?
D: No. I took the leash out of Cinder’s mouth and put the collar back on Boston, and we finished the walk.
F: Oh. That’s a little bit sad for Boston.
Yes, it is. Poor Boston, too old and too stiff to lie down and take full advantage of natural camouflage.
The next door neighbor boy recognizes an opportunity when he sees one.
He has proposed several times to Cory. Although Cory has been non-comittal, Pierce is unfazed. He has assured her, in measured, innocent, confident tones, that when they get older, they will indeed marry.
Another friend from Cory’s class has an awesome Star Wars themed birthday party. There are various Jedi training exercises to complete: a balloon hangs from a string in a gazebo, with handled pool noodles nearby, you know, for light saber training. There are laser (water) guns to shoot down big bubbles. There’s ewok food to restore energy. Costumes galore. On and on. Great fun.
Kids race everywhere. To the “mountain” (a Star Wars themed bouncy). Out of the “mountain.” To the “tower” (the play structure). Out of the “tower.” To the “forest” (a tree). Out of the “forest.” The birthday girl is the ring leader, zipping around in an Anakin costume with a light saber of her own. At some point, she jumps on a rocking horse (she has a baby brother) in the backyard. Other kids hop on behind her. Others climb on the metal supports. The makeshift tauntaun or speeder creaks, looking a little overloaded, but it somehow gets “Anakin” and her band of Jedi where they need to go. Off they leap, at which point Cory gives the thing a try…
…and Pierce pounces.
A passenger can’t stay on a tauntaun/speeder/motorcycle/whatever without wrapping arms around its rider, right? That kid’s no fool.