The dog and the boy . . .
The dog looked up and stopped panting for a moment. Its ears twitched forward as if to encourage me in return. I continued to talk in a quiet voice, telling it how pretty it was and wouldn’t it like to come and see me? It hopped through the split-rail fence at the edge of the yard and walked warily toward me. As it got closer it began wriggling, its stub of tail seeming to wag its whole body. I was struck by its beautiful pale blue eyes.
“Who are you?”
I waited for it to sniff my hand, resting against my knee, and then slowly reached toward the top of its head and scratched. It tried to lick my face and I laughed, scratching more roughly around its ears and neck. We sat together for quite some time, me stroking and scratching the lovely soft fur, and the dog obviously basking in the attention. It occasionally licked my hand and leg and continued to try to lick my face if I bent too close.
It was leaning contentedly against my leg as I stroked it, and I was wondering where it could have come from when the dog’s ears perked up and its shoulders tensed. It didn’t move, but its attention turned toward the south end of the street. After a moment, a high, uneven revving approached.
A rider on a motorcycle came into view around the hill. As he drew closer, the engine dropped to a lower, even drone. He looked from side to side, ahead, and sometimes behind as he rode. He had almost passed the house when he caught sight of me, looked away, then quickly looked back. Circling in the middle of the road, he came to a stop and sat staring at me, legs to the ground, bike idling.
I realized at once that it was the sight of the dog that had caught his attention, not me, but that didn’t stop my cheeks feeling like they had burst into flames. It wasn’t a response I was used to. I hoped it wasn’t noticeable from that far away or that my sunburn covered it.
I thought he was the most attractive boy I’d ever seen. It was difficult to tell how tall he was, but the one visible jeans-clad leg looked long and slim. The brown arms holding the handlebars were very well-muscled for someone who didn’t look much older than I was. I guessed he was probably about sixteen but could have been older. I would be turning fifteen in January but thought I looked about twelve.
The boy’s hair was a medium brown but even at this distance I could see highlights of a lighter shade. It was wavy and a little on the long side, longer than most of the boys I’d gone to school with. His face looked very tanned too, and while I couldn’t tell the color of his eyes, his brows were dark and finely shaped. From what I could tell, at this distance and with my imperfect vision, he looked really cute.
My mind was racing. Should I just sit here? Maybe he was waiting for me to do something. Should I stand up? Not a good idea. Long expanses of skinny burned flesh with welts and scratches from my ramble the other day could hardly be attractive. He probably wouldn’t see them from the road, but I knew they were there. Should I talk to him?
“Um . . . hello . . . is this your dog?” Of course it was his dog. Why else would he even be looking over here? That would sound way too stupid.
“Um . . . nice dog. What’s its name?” I’d have to yell if I wanted him to really hear me. I didn’t like yelling. My voice always cracked and squeaked if I tried to talk too loudly.
The boy gave a loud, high-pitched whistle—I was impressed that he didn’t have to put his fingers in his mouth to do it—then revved his engine twice and sped back the way he had come. Though the dog had been watching the boy the whole time, it hadn’t shown any inclination to move until hearing the shrill sound. Now it didn’t hesitate or look back at me but tore after the boy and disappeared.
For some reason, I shuddered violently—then mentally slapped myself. I was such a wimp. Brenda was always telling me so. Sometimes I was a dork and a couple of times I had thought her on the verge of calling me a loser, but she was right. I had no social skills to speak of and absolutely zero experience with boys. Prospects for change didn’t look good.
A new friend . . .
I left the enclosure and followed the road a little farther north. There was a sudden rustling beyond a clump of high bushes and I froze in my tracks. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. . . .
Thoughts of bears, boar, and mountain lions invaded my mind and caused my heart to thump heavily. Another rustle brought a large tawny head, shoulders, and forelegs out from the edge of the foliage. Now I was frozen in awe. My heart sped up; not in fear but excitement.
Standing before me, not ten yards away, was a large horse, its long, light colored mane twisted and full of twigs and debris. Its tawny coat was mostly covered in dirt, and its legs were caked with brown as if it had been playing in mud. It was beautiful.
“Hi,” I said softly.
The horse regarded me calmly then took a few more steps as if I wasn’t there, and I could now see his tail. It was so long it dragged on the ground but was in a pitiable condition, even dirtier and more tangled than his mane. I knew nothing about horses, but I thought he probably looked very nice underneath all the dirt. He also looked very thin, his ribs showing slightly through the yellowish hide of his flank, but otherwise he looked healthy to me. I felt oddly relieved by his existence. This, at least, was not just in my head.
“Where do you belong, huh?” I asked, only just beginning to wonder if I should be worried at all about my safety.
I reached out slowly toward him, but he snorted loudly, trotted away, and clambered up the steep side of the hill.
He was gone.
Snow day . . .
There was a gentle decline before us, but spreading out beyond that to the mountain-studded horizon was a panoramic view, tinged golden by the rising sun and unlike anything I’d ever seen. It was worthy of one of those huge picture books that grabs your attention at the front of bookstores. Almost everything was snow covered, but darker colors—rock, last year’s shed needles, and patches of green—showed through in small sheltered patches. It was truly magical.
I stood gawking for quite some time until something hard, cold, and stinging hit the back of my head. Sure of my attacker, I turned around, ready to protest Dave’s behavior. But I was brought up short.
Chris stood several yards away, coolly regarding me, expressionless as ever, and forming another snowball between gloved hands. My jaw dropped and my eyes popped wide realizing he’d not only circled back and hidden in the trees waiting for me to come out into the open, but he now prepared, very deliberately, to pelt me with another projectile. I began backing away as quickly as the snow and cumbersome boots allowed.
“Get her, Henry,” he said, calmly.
The next thing I knew, I’d been tackled by a very robust eight-year-old, almost knocked off my feet, and was now held quite firmly, my arms pinned against my sides. I expected Chris to lob the snowball from where he stood, but he began walking very slowly toward me holding the large, firmly packed orb in his right hand.
“No . . .” I said, unbelieving and looking for a way out of the situation. I looked to Dave. He’d moved out of the way as soon as I’d gotten hit, probably thinking he was next. Now he watched, looking confused but apparently amused enough to allow his brothers to continue.
“Henry!” I said firmly, managing to extricate my arms. “Let . . . me . . . go!” I gasped, now ineffectively working to remove his arms from around my waist.
He just laughed. Now I was laughing too—very nervously.
Chris continued his slow, deliberate progress toward me, torturing me with anticipation until he stood directly in front of me. He didn’t look me straight in the eyes but took brief glances there. “What? You don’t really think I’d hit you square in the face with this, do you?”
I laughed nervously again. “I . . . don’t . . . um . . .”
He scowled slightly as if hurt that I’d consider such a thing. “I’d never do that,” he said, his voice deadly soft, and I felt a moment of relief. Perhaps he was content with just alarming me badly.
Nope. In the next instant, he slipped behind me, grabbed the back of my collar, and stuffed as much of the well-packed snow down it as he could before Henry’s grip loosened and they both let me go. I squealed loudly, both from the cold of the attack and the absolute fright he’d given me. Henry was rolling on the ground laughing. I quickly unzipped my jacket and tried to remove as much of the offending ice from my back as I could.
“Consider us even,” Chris said, a strange look in his eyes and a very slight smile on his lips.
I caught my breath in complete surprise. I couldn’t tell whether he was just satisfied with his revenge or if he really thought it was funny. But that was the expression I had seen in the painting, the “You’ll never guess what I’m thinking” look that had fascinated me. It was gone quickly and so was he, stopping just long enough to scoop up another large wad of snow, then walking away toward the hillside the others had climbed.
“One down,” he said, quietly. “Come on, Henry.”