Valentine Update: Everyone's Wild About the Boyfriend
The girls are now 7, 10 and 14 years old, and they are all in love. With a 15-year-old named Pete.
I’d been hearing about Pete for a year or two, always as an object of fun among Marie and her middle-school girlfriends. Whenever they’d see him wearing his yellow coat, they’d holler at him, “Hey, Banana Boat!” Pete didn’t mind. Marie made comic-books of his fictitious adventures. She’d show him the cartoons amid general razzing from her gal-pals, which he accepted good-naturedly.
Then last summer Pete began hanging around our end of town, joining in the nightly neighborhood games of Flashlight Tag. And by mid-July he and Marie were “an item.”
I remembered back to some very effective pre-emptive supervision I received from younger siblings of my girlfriends, especially from the king of them all, Eddie Johnson, age 10. Because I found his big sister Peggy to be an object of wonder, Eddie found me to be an object of wonder – more fascinating than a burning building. Throughout that long, hot summer, Eddie was always so close to us that I could’ve reached out and throttled him – an idea almost as exciting to me as holding his sister’s sweaty hand in mine. Because of Eddie’s unblinking surveillance, very little transpired between his sister and me beyond the sweaty handholding. (If Eddie isn’t right now somewhere sitting in an unmarked car sipping coffee out of a Styrofoam cup, and looking up at someone’s apartment, the world of law enforcement has been cheated.)
Deciding to harness some of that little-sib energy, I asked my youngest daughter Wendy to “keep an eye on Marie and Pete and let me know if they do anything interesting.” Would she? It was like asking a dog to bark at company.
One night, after I’d called everyone in, Marie pleaded, “Dad, can’t you make Wendy and Sally leave us alone? Sally is mean and rude to Pete, and Wendy is always tagging along and showing off and pestering us.”
“Well,” I said, “Wendy is just doing her job. But I’ll talk to Sally about being mean.”
“Dad,” she said, “It’s not as simple as that. Wendy and Sally totally can’t leave Pete alone. They have issues.”
She’s right; they like Pete, too. To tell the truth, I also like Pete. He’s polite and personable and looks me in the eye. A product of his time, he is unable to call me “Mr. Epstein,” so he calls me nothing. At least he doesn’t call me “Rick,” and I appreciate that.
But it wasn’t until last Monday night that I was really swept off my feet. I came home from work and found him visiting. “Would you like to join us for dinner?” I asked.
“No thanks, I already ate,” he said.
It wouldn’t do to have him lurking around the living room during supper, so I said, “Well, come sit at the table and stare at us while we eat.” He joined us and I peppered him with questions about school and parents. Usually, teenagers under interrogation are as tight-lipped as captured spies, but Pete responded pleasantly and informatively.
After dinner, it was Marie’s turn to do the dishes. Because she had company and usually does such a poor job anyway, I was tempted to excuse her. But I remembered happy Sunday mornings from my youth, standing at the sink in the church kitchen beside the lovely Peggy Johnson, drying coffee cups as she handed them to me.
I said to Pete, “You can help Marie with the dishes if you want,” and handed him a dish-towel. They were in the kitchen for a long time, and when they’d finished there wasn’t a spoon or a crumb out of place.
“Dad,” Sally said, “When are you going to get that big ugly desk out of my room?” She’d been wanting me to do that for a couple of months, but it was at least a two-man job.
“Pete,” I said. “Want to give me a hand?”
“No problem,” he said cheerfully, and even took the heavier end as we lugged the oaken man-killer up narrow stairs to the attic.
I had never considered there might be an up-side to this boyfriend business. Pete may have fantasies about my daughter that I don’t like to think about, but he’s fulfilling a major fantasy of mine – having a kid in the house who does what I ask him to.
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Rick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org