I have a routine with the dogs now that Mrs. W is spending her days at the hospital with Mr. W. I no longer take piano lessons, so I have an hour in the afternoon during the week to walk the dogs after school, but on the weekends, I take them in the mornings. On Saturday morning, I unlock the door, step aside as the Three Musketeers bolt out, Porthos running in circles, and the two others trotting around the yard sniffing and checking out the inventory. I have something for Mrs. W’s dinner made by my Mom that I put into the refrigerator. I find a note from Mrs. W with a smiley face at the end of the last sentence thanking me for the two sci-fi anthologies I’ve left for her to take to Mr. W.
I grab the leashes and round up the Jedi-wannabes. “You guys can be so tiresome!” I scold, but when they lick me, nuzzle me and do their little yip-yip-yip, I have to smile at them. Even Porthos, the little miscreant, is mellow today.
The one thing I notice is the yard. The grass is overgrown and the edges of the lawn are scraggly. I bet Mr. W., probably even Mrs. W, doesn’t like that. Maybe, I think about this for a minute, I could get my Dad to mow the lawn. I know he would.
My three charges are trotting along today like well-mannered dogs, which is not like them. It occurs to me maybe they are missing Mr. W., too.
Dean is beside me and I haven’t even a clue where he came from!
Oh, we are really conversant, aren’t we?
“I’m going to ask my Dad if he’ll cut,” I gesture behind me, “the Wessenfeld’s lawn. It shouldn’t take too long, huh?”
I bounce along ahead of Dean, being towed by the three turbo-charged dogs.
Dean pedals ahead, pointing at the park. In one great surge, we all converge at the entrance. I do an obligatory lap, while Dean parks his bike. We go through the same old routine of yip-yip-pat-pat, scratch-scratch, ahhh, and Three Musketeers settle down. Dean looks me straight in the eyes and says, “We could do the lawn.”
We? “Huh?” Sometimes I amaze myself how bright I am.
“Yeah, Fran. You…and m-me. We could mow, edge. All of it.”
Me? I’d like to point out that I’m somewhat challenged, but when I look at Dean, he’s got this funny little half-smile, all I can say is, “Yeah, okay.”
I look at the dogs, so contented as we both pet them and think, oh, geez, cleaning up after them will be so romantic.
Dean is staring at me full bore, making me a little uncomfortable. “Fra—an, I like you without makeup.”
I don’t say anything, just scrunch my face at him as I yank at the leashes to get the dogs up and going back along our route.
Well, Fran, I think, you’ve gotten yourself into a fine mess. What will Dean think about you when he sees that you haven’t a clue about how to run a lawn mower? Oh, and an edger, now that will be a good one!
Dean disappears. I look around but he is nowhere in sight as I unlatch the gate, carefully re-latch it, and let the dogs off leash. I refill water dishes at the outside faucet, then let myself into the house, and into the garage to scoop dry dog food into the plastic bucket to distribute into the dog dishes.
Suddenly, Dean is at the gate. Dean and a lawn mower. Dean with a lawn mower and an edger. Oh, boy this is gonna be good.
“Fr-ran! Get the dogs!”
“Hey! Come and get it!” Porthos, Aramis and Athos come running for the food, giving Dean his break. He scoots through the gate pushing the lawn mower with one hand and holding aloft the edger with his other hand.
I point at the outside electrical outlet as he plugs the long, orange cord into the edger and hands it to me.
“I’ll mow, you edge.”
I stand there holding the handle, wagging it back and forth, until he notices. “Never used one before.”
Without a word, he shows me how to turn it on and takes it to make a swift, clean line along edge of the lawn. I am dogging his footsteps until he turns and hands the buzzing thing to me, waving at the remaining edge. The edger vibrates and I think I might drop it, and it digs out a hole before I get a grip and get it to do what I want. Dean revs the lawn mower into high gear and makes neat, parallel lines across the green grass.
The Three Musketeers stay on the porch watching us. Their little heads turn right, left, right, left, as Dean and I go about our business. We break long enough collect all our gear, including the dogs, to go to the back yard and begin the whole process again. I’m pretty good at this, I’ve only left behind four divots in the grass. Dean is seriously busy with mowing and emptying the bag into the compost bin. When he is through with the mowing, he asks me if there is a broom he can use, and we search the garage until we find one obviously used for the outdoors, not the inside. Even I know that much.
I’m sweaty, but so is Dean. I wonder, though, do I smell like freshly mown grass, or just gross?
“Tha-that didn’t take as long as I thought,” Dean smacks the grass bag smartly spewing grass clippings into the compost bin. “Looks good.”
I nod and shrug. “Think anyone’ll notice the little potholes?”
He does his little half-smile and hooks the bag onto the mower.
He unplugs the orange cord and winds it around his forearm in a figure eight, until he is nose to nose with me still holding the edger. He just smiles and rubs noses. The dogs come alive and start barking, and dancing around us. Some much for another kiss.
I distract the three dogs as Dean wheels the mower out the gate. “I’ll be back in an hour to check on you guys. Be good!” I command them, latching the gate. As I turn around, I see Brian, Justin, and Collin across the street.
Dean sees them, too. I take two steps to be beside Dean.
“Hey! Look!” Brian stops mid-block and points at us. “Fanny and her Fag!”
I am frozen, I can’t speak or move. I do nothing. Nothing.
Dean straightens up, staring Brian down. No one makes a move.
“Hey, fag! Where’s your mother?” Brian shouts, then laughs like a hyena.
I can’t feel or think anything.
Then I look at them, over there, and see Justin. I want to put my hand on Dean’s arm, reach out, but I do nothing. Except stare at Justin. Then I take one, little, step away from Dean.
An eternity goes by. The sun shines still, the earth does not open up and swallow me. Dean slowly pushes the mower in a straight line down the driveway, makes a left turn and heads home.
Brian high fives Collin and their jeering laughter fills the air. Then, like it didn’t happen, I am alone. I look right over my shoulder and Dean is plodding down the sidewalk; I look left and the badgers are swaggering up the street. I suddenly hear the dogs barking, lunging against the fence, fierce voices echoing their judgment.
“Stop it!” I shout, but really not at them.
My feet feel like lead as I go home. God, I cry out, thoughts so jumbled I can’t get it straight, where are You?
I try reading for a while, but my thoughts are on Dean. Why didn’t I say something? Why didn’t I do something? And worst of all, I don’t know why I stepped away from Dean when I wanted so badly to grab him and hold onto to him.
My Mom pops her head into the door way. “Fran, would you like to go to the library for a half an hour?”
“No.” Leave me alone.
“Is anything wrong, honey?”
“No.” Nothing is right. Go away.
My celly rings, making me jump. I pick up, hoping it’s Dean. It isn’t. But it’s Dusty.
“Hi! Can you work on the project this afternoon?”
“Yeah, great! Let me ask my Mom. Call you right back.”
“Mom!” I’ve startled her into looking up from doing the crossword puzzle in the Saturday newspaper. “Can I go to Dusty’s house to work on our class project?”
“Be home by five.” She continues filling in the blanks as I call Dusty.
“Be there in fifteen.”
A beep tells me I have a text and it is from Annie.
“mt me @ nordys 1pm”
I am confused. I text her, “restrictions?”
“prts gone tday”
Oh, Annie, I wish you wouldn’t, is what I want to say. But instead, I text her, “cant. class prj”
I have to look that up on my computer to find out she has said “ta-ta for now”.
I gather my laptop, backpack and head out the door. I am relieved beyond reason to be going over Dusty’s house for the afternoon. I get another text message from Annie just as I am about to ring the doorbell.
“justin here wnts to know whre ur”
Dusty answers the door before I can reply, so I don’t.
“C’mon in. We can sit in the TV room and work.”
She is taller than I am and is so much more graceful when she walks, as if she belongs on this earth. I feel like I’m always supposed to be somewhere else or someone else. I envy her confidence.
“Fran, that was such a great idea! No one else is going to do this travel brochure of ancient Rome. Gads, look at all the research you’ve done!”
She sorts and I gather the snippets into the Pages app on her Mac laptop. It looks good, but lacks something indefinable.
Dusty scowls at the computer screen. “My Mom is an artist. I’ll ask her what she thinks.”
“Mom!” Dusty bawls out over her shoulder. “Can you come see?”
Mrs. Conner is taller than my mother, and prettier. She glides when she walks, just like Dusty. Her long hair is piled in a messy twist on top of her head, but it looks good on her.
“Hmm.” She studies the outlay for a minute, then taps the screen. “Put headlines here and here. Maybe magenta?”
Dusty’s fingers fly over the keyboard making the changes. “Yes! That’s it!”
And it is. It is really good. We both sit back and laugh, giving each other a high five.
“Let’s have some snacks.”
We forage for crackers in the pantry and cheese in the fridge. “Want Coke™, Snapple™ or cranberry juice?”
I take the bottle of juice. We sit outside on the back deck and munch and talk. I am surprised to find out that she and I have lots in common. She likes sci-fi, ELO Nightrider and Queen Bohemian Rhapsody.
“Beatles, too.” Dusty flings crumbs over the rail.
I shake my head. “Way over done. Ya know, they’re too hyped.”
Dusty waggles an eyebrow. “Well, we agree we don’t like the Jonas Brothers.”
“Yeah, we agree.”
“Fran, you want to watch a video?”
We discard ‘Ever After’, one of my faves. “I own this one, too! Like a million and one viewings!”
Dusty tosses aside ‘Divine Secrets of the YaYa Sisterhood’ and we both say at the same time, “Too mother-y!”
“This is the one,” she plunks in ‘Save the Last Dance’ and we sit through it, not acknowledging our little tears during the poignant scenes.
“Ah, that was good,” Dusty hits the rewind button.
“Yeah, it was.” I gather up my stuff. “I’m going to walk the Wessenfeld’s dogs. My job and I actually get paid for it!”
“That’s cool. I’ll see you later.”
It had been such a wonderful afternoon that I almost forgot about this morning. I looked for Dean on the walk with the Three Musketeers, but I didn’t see him on our route.
Mrs. W was standing on the porch when I got back with the dogs. They are so much better behaved around her, trotting up to her and all three just sit, stare up at her and wag their tails until she addresses each one by name and gives them a treat.
“How’s Mr. Wessenfeld?” I ask as I put up the leashes and begin refilling water dishes.
“George will be fine, Dusty.” She swept her arm, indicating the lawn. “Did you have anything to do with this yard?”
I smile. “Dean did most of the hard work. I just put the divots in, for artistic effect.”
“I’d like to pay you both for this. It was so thoughtful!”
I shake my head, hard, though it occurs to me I’d have an excuse to go see Dean. “No, we wanted to do it.”
“Well, I’d like to make arrangements to have it done weekly. Do you think Dean would do that?”
Perfect! “I’ll ask him and let you know. Bye!” I wave as I leave. All the way home, I think how perfect this is, a way to get back together with Dean. Tomorrow, I’ll go see him. I envision myself walking up to the door, a few awkward moments, but then this offer, this way of letting him know I’m sorry and yet we could get back to being like we were.
Perfect ending for a movie. But not in real life.