At the Drive-In
The A&W drive-in in Belle City was the place to go after a game, especially if you lost and needed consoling. The A&W, known for its root beer in frosty mugs, had once had car-hops on roller skates, and delivered the food to your car on trays they hung on your window. But too many trays got spilled, definitely too many spilled into the window of the car directly on the customers, and a few unfortunate falls, and a couple of broken legs, had eventually transformed the place into a sit-down fast-food restaurant on the model of McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King.
When Grandpa Butch invited the whole family to go there, he specifically extended the invitation to Mike and Blueberry as well. Not the usual thing. And it required two cars to get everybody there. But Grandpa was paying, and so it was up to him. Dad and Mom and Bobby and Shane went in the Niland minivan while Grandpa drove Mike and Blueberry in his red Toyota pickup.
They were fortunate to find a booth with room for four and a smaller table with chairs next to it, so that it was kinda like they were seated all together in a fairly crowded Saturday evening gathering place.
“Now, Mike, we don’t want you to hold back on ordering what you and your pretty girlfriend need to eat,” said Grandpa Butch. “We know the legends about the appetites of the Murphy boys, and we have actually watched Danny eat before. That was an amazing spectacle at the Wright County fair when he must’ve had at least ten chili dogs in a row. And we have enough money to cover anything your amazing Murphy appetite can inhale.”
Grandpa was joking and exaggerating like he always did. And Mike and Blue both knew it. But the ten-chili-dog thing was actually true, which made the comment all the funnier.
“Why did you want to bring Blue and me here, anyway?” Mike asked/
“Well, we really wanted to thank the two of you for the way you stood up for Bobby after the game. It takes a special kind of friend to defend someone from bullies that way,” said Dad with a smile.
“Oh, he woulda done it no matter what, Mr. Niland,” said Blueberry. “Bobby is my good friend. And Mike does everything he can to please me. And he looks after all the Pirates the same way.”
“Yes, we know he does. He’s practically the leader of the Pirates,” said Mom, also smiling.
“Oh, no! Tim Kellogg is the leader of the Pirates. I am more like his Sir Lancelot, doing all the sword-fighting and stuff,” said Mike, sounding a little upset.
“Yes, we know about the Pirates’ fearless leader,” said Dad. “He’s like a sort of Genghis Kahn or Attila the Hun sort of leader. In my day, when Brent Clarke was the leader of the Pirates, we thought of him as being a sort of King Arthur. A ruler, but not one that ever cut anybody’s head off.”
“Oh, Tim is like King Arthur more than Shmengis Kone or Atlas the Hunter,” said Blueberry. “He’s Mike’s best friend.”
“Grandpa Butch laughed. “Yes, I’m sure you truly believe that, dear. And Tim probably thinks it too.”
“But, Blueberry, honey, he wasn’t very nice to you over your little gender problem, was he?” Bobby’s mom was putting it delicately. Everybody in Norwall knew that Blueberry had been born a boy with boy parts, but was a girl in her mind from the very start. And they all knew it because Tim found out and spread the girl’s personal information everywhere.
“Tim knows I’m a girl now, though…” Blueberry frowned at the table in front of her. “The doctors x-rayed and scanned me, and they found my ovaries on the inside. My problem was just like a birth defect on the outside.
Bobby didn’t like his parents bringing this thing up when Blueberry and Mike were his guests. Blue was definitely a girl. And it wasn’t right to bring up the old scandal thing. Bobby and Mike didn’t want to hear about it all over again. And it was embarrassing to Blue, Bobby thought.
“She’s definitely all girl,” said Mike, apparently willing to talk about it more. “Mom knew it even before the doctor revealed the whole x-ray thing.”
“Yes, and if your mother, Mary Murphy herself, believes it’s so, then it most certainly is,” said Grandpa Butch. “Even I am afraid to ever argue with her about God’s truth about anything.”
Everyone laughed, and then the topic was apparently forgotten. And that made Bobby even more happy.
“Bobby was telling Mike and me about Horatio T. Dogg’s war with the barn rats,” said Blueberry as Grandpa started a list of what everyone wanted to order. Mike had him put down three chili-dogs, two for him and one for Blue. Mike was not in Danny Murphy’s hot-dog-eating league by any means.
“That’s what his grandpa was telling us too,” said Dad. “Apparently Horatio can talk now, and solve rat-crimes like a dog version of Sherlock Holmes.”
“Well, of course he can,” said Blue. “If Bobby said it, it has to be true.”
“Did you ever hear Horatio talk with your own two ears?” asked Shane, looking somewhat sly.
Grandpa wrote down burgers for himself, Dad, Mom, and Shane.
“But I want a chili-dog like Mike and Blue,” said Bobby.
“Sure thing. And root beer for everybody?”
Everyone nodded, and Grandpa took the order to the counter.
“We all know Horatio is a very smart dog. And it can almost seem like he’s smart enough to talk,” said Dad.
“But he does talk! It’s just that only I can hear him.”
“Bobby, you actually thought that you and Blueberry had turned the music teacher into a swan!” said Mike.
“Yes, and we both turned ourselves into young swans and went flying to Belle City to find her and remove the curse,” said Blueberry earnestly.
“No, Blue, you and Brainiac Bobby just got carried away with imaginary stuff during Miss Morgan’s lessons for that Hobbit novel we were reading in her class. It was all idiot-imagining,” said Mike, distaste for the subject plainly showing on his face.
“You saw the fairies too, didn’t you? And the magic spells?” Bobby was trying hard to make Mike remember what he clearly saw when everybody else saw it.
“I saw the drawings Blue made about it. I heard the stories. And I did the lessons. But Tim was lying about there being little people everywhere. And you two did not fly to Belle City in winter wearing only feathers! You both made that up and fixed your imaginations on it too much.”
“Mike has a point,” said Mom. “You know you get carried away with imagination.”
Bobby, looked at the table downhearted. He almost felt like crying. That moment of flight through the crisp, cold winter air was so bracing. And flying above the snow-covered farms had seemed so real. How could he ever accept that it was not a real thing?
“Sometimes, imagination is a good thing. It can solve problems that you couldn’t figure out any other way. And besides, daydreaming and a creative imagination are a sign of intelligence,” said Dad as Grandpa sat the food down on the table in front of him.
“I always thought of imagination like this, it’s the sum of things I can use my mind to take control of,” said Grandpa Butch. “I mean, the things I most need to happen, the conclusions and solutions I need to come to… well, I use the bowl of electrified noodles in my old head to stir up an answer I create for myself. The things I need to happen, I make happen with my imagination. Now, the things that fail, the things I don’t control… well, that’s the universe using its facts and reality to make happen what it needs to happen. I can’t control that. Except maybe later I can use my imagination again to rewrite what really happened so I have memories of it that I can live with.”
“Yeah, that’s the way to look it. Imagination is a good thing if you never use it for evil,” said Dad.
Well, everybody seemed to accept that as the end of the discussion. Mike wrinkled his nose up like he didn’t understand, or maybe wanted to argue more. But the food was there. And Bobby was almost certain that the chili dogs were what kept Mike from saying anything more. After all, you can’t eat and talk at the same time.