Category Archives: finding love

Islands of Identity

Island Girl2z

Who am I?

Why do I do the things that I do?

No man is an island.  John Donne the English poet stated that.  And Ernest Hemingway quoted it… and wove it into his stories as a major theme… and proceeded to try to disprove it.  We need other people.  I married an island girl from the island of Luzon in the Philippines.  She may have actually needed me too, though she will never admit it.

Gilligans Island

When I was a young junior high school teacher in the early eighties, they called me Mr. Gilligan.  My classroom was known as Gilligan’s Island.  This came about because a goofball student in the very first class on the very first day said, “You look like Gilligan’s Island!”  By which he meant I reminded him of Bob Denver, the actor that played Gilligan.  But as he said it, he was actually accusing me of being an island.  And no man is an island.  Thank you, Fabian, you were sorta dumb, but I loved you for it.


You see, being Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island was not a bad thing to be.  It was who I was as a teacher.  Nerdy, awkward, telling stories about when I was young, and my doofy friends like Skinny Mulligan.  Being a teacher gave me an identity.  And Gilligan was stranded on the Island with two beautiful single women, Mary Ann and Ginger.  Not a bad thing to be.  And I loved teaching and telling stories to kids who would later be the doofy students in new stories.

But we go through life searching for who we are and why we are here.  Now that I am retired, and no longer a teacher… who am I now?  We never really find the answer.  Answers change over time.  And so do I.

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Filed under artwork, being alone, feeling sorry for myself, finding love, humor, insight, Paffooney, strange and wonderful ideas about life

My Secret Faun

Radasha is his name.

I was a child who grew to maturity holding a secret horror… a truly terrible secret, in my creative little brain. I was sexually tortured when I was ten. I know now that it sounds like I should blame my torturer for everything, that I should have reported him to the authorities to keep him from ever doing that to anybody else. But my mental defense system took over in ways that prevented me from ever seeking justice. Or what justice too long delayed becomes, simple revenge.

But I could never be that seeker of revenge. I had a Sunday-school faith that had to be strictly followed. First of all, although the thing that happened was never truly gone from me, my creatively evil little mind forced me to forget. Or at least bury the knowledge so deeply within that I could not answer the school guidance counselor in high school when he asked, “Michael, what is it that is causing this behavior, this debilitating fear?” I could only answer that I thought I might be going crazy. He told me that he could help if it was about something like having sexual feelings toward another boy. He was more progressive than most Iowans. But, at the time, I didn’t understand what he was suggesting. I wouldn’t really understand homosexuality as a thing until I was almost out of high school, so when we had that talk, and I was clueless at sixteen, and then he talked about it with my best friend Byron, he knew that it was not about that.

The coach had seen the burn scars on my lower back and legs during P. E. But he only saw scars. I suggested to him that it was probably from playing with the large dog next door. He had big paws and untrimmed claws. And he believed me because he knew my parents, and he knew that they would never do anything like that. And he could tell that I was being truthful when I said I really didn’t know for sure how those scars had gotten there. I didn’t realize for sure how the scars happened until my more-mature twenty-two-year-old evil little brain decided I was burning myself against the heating grate to make sexual feelings and urges go away.


I was seriously beginning to hate myself, be depressed without knowing why, and nearly killing myself at seventeen. All because of an event in my life that I really wasn’t able to admit to myself really happened.

Then, one snowy night in February of 1974, Radasha came tapping at my window.

I realize now that it had to have been a dream, but I knew even then that it couldn’t have been reality.

He was a black-haired, brown-eyed boy with goat horns on his forehead and a deer’s tail on his behind. He was completely naked, sitting on his haunches in the piling snow on the porch roof outside my bedroom window. He was grinning at me. No larger than my younger brother who was sound asleep in his bottom bunk in the room we shared. He indicated that I needed to open the window and let him in.

I should’ve realized that it was a dream then, because in real life I could not have opened the window like I did because of the winter storm-windows dad had put up before the first snowfall in October. But the scene played out according to dream logic.

“Aren’t you cold like that? You must be freezing your peeper off if you are outside naked like that.”

“Naw, I’m not real, Sharpie. I don’t feel cold because I’m a faun. I’m mythological.”

“Oh. then why did I have to let you in?”

“I’m Radasha. I am a part of you. You can’t keep me out. I should really be inside you instead of out here talking to you.”

“What? Are you my heart or something? Maybe one of my kidneys?”

“More like your love-life. I’m a part of you that shouldn’t’ve ever been detached. You need me to live a normal, healthy life.”

“Should I even be talking to you? What if my little brother wakes up and sees you?”

“Nobody can ever see me but you. I was born in your brain. I’m here because you need me back in your life.”

So, from that moment on I was a teenager with an invisible playmate. He reminded me of all the things I had learned about the birds and the bees from Reverend Aiken, the Methodist minister. We talked about what sex was, and the role it had to play in a normal human life. We talked about what to do about girls and how I felt about them. Without consciously realizing it, I stopped burning myself.

His advice got me slapped by a girl I thought I liked. He also helped me avoid three different girls that were sorta chasing me, at least in my evil little brain. In college he would get me into and out of trouble with girls I both wanted to chase and were chasing me when I didn’t want to be caught.

When I had the assignment to create a life-sized nude portrait for anatomy drawing class, he picked out the girl he wanted me to ask to pose for it, and almost goaded me into asking her. I, of course, ended up drawing my sister with all her clothes on. And I didn’t fail the assignment. He also got me to sign up to pose for the art class in the nude. But fortunately I got the flu the week I was suppose to sit in front of all those female art students in my birthday suit… the best ten-dollar modeling fee I never collected.

My invisible faun was a kind of self-therapy, I guess. He brought the sensual side of me back to life. He healed me and made me more whole.

I seriously thought I had a lifelong invisible friend. But once I started telling other people, real people, about the sexual assault, he kinda faded away.

I have now probably confessed something that makes me clinically schizophrenic, or technically crazy. But Ra is still real to me in so many ways. I used his story as part of my book, A Field Guide to Fauns. And for me he was an imaginative and necessary cure for a very real problem.


Filed under autobiography, feeling sorry for myself, finding love, humor, mental health, nudes, Paffooney

Love Among the Trolls

Once upon a time in a magical land there was a Troll named Timothy Trollhammer. He was big and ugly and surly and liked to call people names in the Internet.

So, he was busy this one time, this Oncepponna Time, arguing with his friends in the Internet Cafe. (We all know what that is. It’s a huge Orc bar kept by a fat old Orc named Juicy Burgher who foolishly built his cafe in the middle of a Giant’s fishing net.) And he wasn’t just arguing with his friends, he was insulting them, suggesting their Democrat stupidity would get them toasted in dragonfire for the sheer idiocy of their communist ideas, and swearing to visit their homes and poop on their dinner tables.

And then, Dixie Tinytroll suggested the unthinkable.

“Timothy, you are so dumb and ugly, you will die alone and never be married.”

Timothy immediately killed him with his magic hammer, the one that could pound any nail in one stroke, provided it landed at least in the general vicinity of the nail.

“Cripes, Tim! You done killed Dixie. Drove him right through the floor like a railroad spike!” shouted Dimbulb Orcpuddles. And you is only supposed to kill a troll with fire, according to the Dungeonmaster’s Handbook.”

“Well, he wasn’t supposed to think that!” Tim insisted defensively.

“Since it is against the law to hammer trolls into the floor without management’s consent, you will have to prove that what he said was the opposite of true,” Judge Mental Phoole said with authority.

“How am I gonna do that if the thing was true?” moaned Timothy.

“Well, the Barefoot Princess comes by here every day being chased by some princely suitor. Go marry her.”

“How will I do that?” asked Tim.

“Well, that magic hammer of yours started the problem… so…”

So, Timothy Trollhammer marched out into the street with his magic hammer.

Out there, the Barefoot Princess was once again being accosted by the Son of Duke Poofter-Doofus from the kingdom of Poofter-Doofus’s Swamp. One swing of the hammer nailed Prince Spritely Poofter-Doofus, and the Barefoot Princess swooned into his free arm, the one without the hammer in it.

“That’s assault with a deadly weapon, and harassment of a Princess,” said Fontaine Fox, a potential eyewitness.

“I fear the Troll may nail us as hostile witnesses,” moaned Deefenbarger Duck, a second potential witness.

“You two come with me,” said Timothy. “I’m getting married, and I am in need of witnesses.”

And then Tim had Judge Mental Phoole perform the ceremony, only having to threaten to nail him on the head with a magic hammer three times. It was a lovely ceremony. Most of the trolls at the wedding couldn’t refrain from making rude comments, so they got hammered (with wedding-celebration booze, of course. What did you think I meant?)

And after the honeymoon the Barefoot Princess woke up. She was grateful for being rescued from the Poofter-Doofus. But they did not live happily ever after. After all, they had three kids. And the kids were all trolls.

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Filed under finding love, humor, Paffooney, satire

Love ‘Em While You Got ‘Em

Renfatootie Paffenboingey does not really look like this.

My wife is an immigrant from the Philippines, come to this country in 1993 to be a Texas public school teacher. Like the other members of the Filipino colonization of the United States, she came here with family. And more are coming every year. You go to a family gathering and meet cousins by the dozens, friends from this country, and friends from that country, and their relatives, and lots and lots of kids… that must belong to somebody somewhere.

They get together and talk, tell jokes, eat, talk some more, sing karaoke, mostly off key, tell stories about the Philippines in English, and stories about the Philippines in Tagalog, and stories about the Philippines in Kapampangan, and even stories about the Philippines in Ilocano (but nobody listens to him anyway… He’s from the North) and sing more karaoke, and definitely take a group photo while eating and talking.

And one time at one of these family gatherings, while others were singing karaoke, somebody put a baby girl in my lap. She was Renfatootie Paffenboingey. (Obviously not her real name… even in Kapampangan.) She was the daughter of my wife’s cousin and her Greek husband. She was only about a month old then. My own daughter had not yet been born. She was, in fact, not even certain to be a daughter at that point in the pregnancy.

“You need to get used to holding one of those,” Renfatootie’s mother told me.

And then the sweet little thing looked at me and smiled (though she was not old enough to focus her eyes and what she did was probably more gas bubble than smile.) I am told that you are not supposed to fall in love with other people’s children, so I didn’t. Or I did and just lied about it afterwords.

There were several other times that baby Ren was put in my lap. I rocked her to sleep and sang softly to her more than once at family gatherings and picnics and barbecues and… they do a lot of eating in Filipino families.

As Ren got older they began to call her “Tweety” because of the big forehead and big eyes and the Tweety-bird grin she always wore. I didn’t see her often, and talked to her even less. I really thought she didn’t know who I was. She was not my kid. She smiled at me a lot, but she smiled at everybody.

This is not Renfatootie in her bathing suit either. This is an alien girl in her scaly skin.

Then one day we were at a picnic in New Braunfels where the families were all taking advantage of the cold spring water in the creek in the park on hot South Texas day. I was talked into putting on swim trunks and getting in the water with my kids and all the other kids. Renfatootie had a squirt gun. She was about ten then. And as malevolent as a ten-year-old is made by God to be. Every opportunity she found she used to squirt me directly in the face. And then she giggled and ducked the splashes of my weakly attempted revenge. It almost got to the point of being more irritating than cute.

Later I had put clothes back on and most everyone was settled into eating and talking and taking group photos while eating for the rest of the afternoon. Renfatootie “Tweety” Paffenboingey came after me soaking wet from her most recent dip in the cold water.

“Michael! Give me a hug!” she commanded, throwing her arms out wide for me. I took hold. And the wet little thing soaked my clothes in chilled water as she gave me such a squeeze that my eyes nearly popped out of my head.

“You did that just to get me wet again,” I said, with a smile rather than anger.

“Nah. You gotta love ’em while you got ’em. I don’t get to love you near enough.”

I was not the only one she pulled the wet-hug trick on that day. But she left me admiring her philosophy of life in a big way. I may not seize the opportunity as much as she does. But I have resolved to try.

It’s been a few years since I saw her last. She’s a big girl now. Graduated from high school and everything. But remembering her brings a smile to my face even now.

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Filed under autobiography, family, finding love, happiness, humor, Paffooney

AeroQuest 3… Nocturne 7

Nocturne 7 – The Prophecy Fulfilled (the White Thread)

Ged returned to the Palace of 1,ooo Years with a lot on his mind.  But, in truth, the last thing he was thinking of was becoming a biological father.

As he was entering the apartment that he shared with the Lizard Lady, he was surprised to see her sitting at the table with her feet folded under her and a large green egg on the tabletop in front of her.

“What is this, Liz?”

“You have been busy, my love.”

“I have, yes.”

“So have I.”

Ged suddenly had an eerie feeling about what this all meant.

“Is that…?”

“It is.  You must say hello to your firstborn son.”

“But that is an egg.”

“One cannot fool the White Spider.”

“Galtorrian females lay eggs?”

“We do.  Its gestation still has another six lunars to go.”

“Six Gaijinese lunars?  Ten Earther months?”

“That is correct.  You were in Galtorrian form when he was conceived.  He will be as pure-blooded as any Galtorrian ever is.”

“How do you know it is a boy?  Is he already formed in the egg that way?”

“That I do not know.  But this is the child of the prophecy.  This will be Lizardboy Aero, heir of the White Spider.”

“You will tend the egg like a bird?  On a nest?”

“Not quite.  Shen Ming has the necessary incubators to raise a Galtorrian cub.  Lizardboy will not be the first eggborn delivered on this planet.”

Ged knelt on the opposite side of the table.

“May I hold it?”

“Certainly.  You are his father.”

Ged carefully took the leathery but firm egg from her.  He turned it over and over in his hands, examining it carefully.

“My mother on Questor would never have believed this of her son if she were still among the living.”

“May Zhan keep her soul, and may she be blessed by her grandson from another world.”

“Are all Galtorrian purebloods born by eggs?”

“Not all.  There is much Earther DNA in Galtorrians.  They have been intertwined for more than three thousand of your Earth years.  Possibly from a time even before our two home-worlds were ever aware of each other.”

“I know fusions like Phoenix and Taffy King were born the way Earth humans are born.”

“Yes.  All fusions are born the Earther way.  That is why they are so much more human-looking than I am.”

“Ah, but you are beautiful too.  I admit, I never felt it at the beginning, but I do love you now.  And I will love this boy as well.”

“Now comes the hard part, my love.”

“What do you mean?”

“If it hadn’t been for the Prophecy of Zhan, I would never have met you.  But my part in the prophecy is not yet ended.  I am still a spy in the service of the Imperium, and I still have a destiny to fulfill.”

“So… what does that mean for the two of us?”

“We must part for now.  I will leave in the morning, heading back into the Imperium.”

“In what ship?  There is only the Dragon and the Rooster on this planet now.”

“The prophecy says a scout ship will arrive tomorrow.  I must be on it when it leaves.”

“How will I raise our son without his mother?”

“You will be a wonderful father.  And young Sara Smith is not the only lovely little lady that will happily play mother to our son.”

Ged’s head was swimming with emotion.  This parting was completely unexpected and unwanted.

“But certainly, we still at least have tonight?”

“We do still have tonight.”

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Filed under aliens, finding love, humor, novel, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney, science fiction

Curiouser and Curiouser

I finished a possible cover for my work in progress, A Field Guide to Fauns. It is a book about re-forming families from tragedies and divorce. It is also about suicidal thoughts and depression. And it takes place in a nudist park where the family has a permanent trailer.

This book will definitely be about some of my own experiences with these things and issues. And I hope to distill a bit of high-quality wisdom from this brewing novel. After all, when it comes to depression and battling it, I have deep scars and burned-in notions of how you overcome them. It is ironic that I know so much about fighting depression and darkness, even though it was mostly about the depression of other people, not me.

I have come to know how to stitch families together out of used and discarded parts. Hopefully not creating a new monster. And again, it is ironic that I know this mostly from other families, not ours.

The book is flowing, practically writing itself. And that is always a sign of a big idea turning itself into a great novel. I look forward to finding out what happens in each and every next chapter… or, in this case, Canto.

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Filed under battling depression, Depression, feeling sorry for myself, finding love, humor, illustrations, novel, novel plans, NOVEL WRITING, Paffooney

A Look Back… Too Far Back

Once upon a time there was a geeky, nerdy hobbledehoy who liked girls pretty much, but was totally oblivious to the fact that some of them really liked him.

This problem began in junior high when the hobbledehoy was thirteen. A girl named Nikki decided to sit by him in art class even though they were assigned seats in alphabetical order, and the hobbledehoy’s last name began with a B, while Nikki’s last name began with V.

She constantly remarked about how wonderfully he drew each and every assignment, even the ones that looked like a black bird bathing in a mud puddle even though they were assigned to draw the teacher using swirl doodles, which nobody knew how to do and everybody got wrong.

By the end of the first semester, Nikki had made it known to the hobbledehoy that her greatest wish was for him to come to her house after school and draw her in the nude. “I cannot,” said the hobbledehoy. “I have to catch a bus after school. And this is Iowa. It is too cold to take my clothes off to draw somebody. I would shiver too much to draw well.”

In college, the hobbledehoy was still a little clueless and clumsy. He still didn’t see it whenever someone of the female persuasion looked at him and hoped that he would be their little huggie-bear.

A beautiful blonde girl started sitting with the guys from Ayers House whenever they went to lunch in the dorms. She always chose to sit next to the hobbledehoy. She asked him about his class times and class locations. When the guys went in Doobie’s car to MacDonald’s. She sat in the front seat and turned around to talk to the hobbledehoy in the back seat, the whole way, both going and coming.

Then one day, she sat by him at the food service table even though no other guy from Ayers House was there at the time. “Sometime you will have to show me these drawings you can do, the ones that Doobie is always talking about. You can bring them to my room when my roommate is out. Doobie can tell you where to find me over in the Maples Building.”

The hobbledehoy seriously thought he might show her some of his drawings. But he couldn’t ask Doobie where to find her, because he didn’t know what her name was.

Finally, when the hobbledehoy got through college, and he also got through remedial college to get a Master’s Degree and a Teaching Certificate, he got a job teaching middle school English in South Texas. And he had a pretty Hispanic teacher’s aide who asked him to take her places in his car. And the pretty blond Reading teacher from the classroom across the hall also liked to invite him to go places either in her car or in his. And he had a great time with each of them. But the three of them never seemed to be able to do things together without somebody getting angry. And the hobbledehoy didn’t understand it. He was never the one who got angry.

The Hispanic one had a sister who lived in an apartment complex in Austin. And the hobbledehoy’s parents lived in the suburbs of Austin at the time. So, they would travel together to Austin for weekends. The only complicated thing was… the apartment complex where the hobbledehoy dropped her off and picked her up was a clothing-optional nudist apartment complex. The hobbledehoy learned about human anatomy and nudist etiquette very quickly.

And the Reading teacher was rather aggressive. She dropped a lot of hints. And one night she arranged a card party at the hobbledehoy’s apartment. It was a small party. Just the Reading teacher and the hobbledehoy and the female Science teacher. And it turned out that the Reading teacher had bought two packs of pornographic playing cards. And she wanted to play strip poker.

So, the moral of the story is… even hobbledehoys grow up sometime. And by the time the hobbledehoy had gotten fat around the middle so that he could no longer be a hobbledehoy, he got married and had three kids.

And if you were to say to me, “Mickey, is the hobbledehoy really you?” I would say to that, “I don’t think I can answer that.”


Filed under autobiography, finding love, humor, strange and wonderful ideas about life

On Thanksgiving

It was a lonely day. My family was away. My Thanksgiving dinner was purchased at the drive-thru at Jack in the Box. Just me and the dog, hanging out with Netflix. I watched what I wanted to. The dog complained there were no dogs in the shows. There was a monkey. But that didn’t impress the dog.

I have had time to write. And I have made progress. I reached 35,000 words on my work-in-progress. I watched a really good movie in the theater in Lewisville.

But what am I truly thankful for?

My wife and I are headed towards separation. I am bankrupt and must pay off my bankruptcy in the next two and a half years. I am in terrible health. I am forced to earn extra money in order to keep making all the payments I must make. Working is hard because my diabetes and arthritis both interfere. No one reads my books beyond a few random discoverers of the power of the stories I tell. And it all will probably end sooner rather than later. I may be developing cancer again. Diabetes may be wrecking my heart, or possibly setting me up for a stroke. It will all be over soon… probably.

But my hardships are what I am thankful for.

Pain reminds me that I am still alive, and dealing with pain makes me stronger to live a little longer.

Sadness reminds me that there are people and endeavors that I truly love and care deeply about. My sadness is proof that I have really known love.

Being poor and nearly destitute reminds me to take stock of all I do have, and to make the wisest possible use of all that is left to me.

I am not homeless.

I have a wife and kids. My parents are both still alive. My brother and my two sisters are still thriving. The dog still loves me. Some of my people do too.

I am free to think and feel and be… no matter what the thoughts and feelings and facts of my being are.

It is true that some people are luckier than I, have more than I do. But more people are given a lot less in life. And what I am truly thankful for is the greatest gift I have been given. I have the honor of being me, and I actually know what that means, who that person is. That is a rare and priceless gift.

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Filed under being alone, feeling sorry for myself, finding love, insight

Dancing With Alan Watts

It seems sometimes, in a Judaeo-Christian society, that we are a constantly being scrutinized by a rather harsh all-knowing God who rewards getting the faith-words accurately correct, to the letter, and the faith-based actions perfect, without a single mistake. And He punishes missteps of word or deed with pain and suffering and the potential of an eternity in Sheol or Hell. And that is a tough God to live with. He is like a teacher who uses his or her God-like powers to reward or punish to lead his students all down an exacting, narrow path to a destination that does not have room for everyone when they arrive.

It doesn’t take long in childhood for a highly intelligent person to realize before childhood is over that this cosmology is actually a load of horse pucky. It didn’t even take long for somebody as semi-stupid as me.

What I like about listening on YouTube to the wisdom of Alan Watts is that he gives us an alternative way of seeing the universe and ourselves. This he can offer through his studies of Eastern and Buddhist philosophies. Everything appealing in John Lennon’s signature song “Imagine” comes from Lennon’s love of listening to the lectures of Alan Watts. He is obviously a wise-guy.

Alan Watts teaches us the pathways that lead to finding yourself, who you truly are, and how you fit into the universe as a whole. When Carl Sagan says that we are all made of star-stuff, he is not only telling us what is literally true, as the elements our bodies were formed from were literally made in the nuclear forges at the centers of stars that later exploded in nova-bursts to scatter the elements across the skies of everywhere. He is also telling us that what Alan Watts says is metaphorically true, that everything in the universe is part of the same thing and we are all one in this way.

There is plenty to worry about in my little life. I could easily drop dead at any time from any one of my six incurable diseases or even the return of the skin cancer I beat in 1983. I suffer from the consequences of disease daily, as I have for many years now. My sins are many. I broke my promise the other day to never show you the horrors of my naked body on this blog. I constantly eat the wrong thing and continue to do things that I know are bad for the environment and the health of my body. I am prejudiced against racists, stupidity, and the actions of dedicated Trump-lovers. In many ways I deserve God’s wrath and brutal correction. I have come to truly believe that climate change is going to end life on Earth. I am horrible.

But I have learned from Alan Watts that all of those concerns mean nothing. I don’t believe in Heaven or an afterlife. But I do not fear death. I am one with the universe. And the universe goes on even if I do not. And I will always be a part of it, even after I am no longer alive. The universe has a mind and is intelligent And I take part in that because one small part of that intelligence is me, and lives in my head.

There is comfort to be found in the words of Alan Watts. And living in pain as I do, I really need that comfort most of the time. That is why I have attempted to share a bit of that comfort with you.


Filed under artists I admire, commentary, feeling sorry for myself, finding love, foolishness, healing, health, humor, Paffooney, philosophy

When the Captain Came Calling… Canto 6

Canto Six – Bacon and Eggs

Mom had breakfast ready and on the table.  Eggs and bacon on stoneware plates, one for Val and one for Daddy Kyle.  She was a great cook and loved to stuff her small family with what she made.   That was probably the reason she was watching over a second pan-full of sizzling bacon.

“Your father isn’t ready yet?” asked Mom, left eyebrow raised.

“Oh, he had to change his pants again for some reason.”

“That man can find more excuses for dragging his feet than…”

“Mom?  Is something the matter with Daddy?”

“What do you mean?”

“Last night I thought he was crying in the machine shed.”

“Well, you know your Daddy Kyle.  He loves his machinery, and that big old combine is broken down again.”

“It shouldn’t be.  It’s only two years old.”

Mom looked at her with unreadable eyes.  Was she mad?  Sad?  What?

“He says he can fix it.  He says the problem is just mechanical and you know how handy he is with tools.”

“Sure.”  He did love that combine.  Maybe that was what made him sad.   He loved Valerie and he was always sad when she was sick too.

Valerie gobbled eggs and bacon.  It was good, but even better eaten fast so you could enjoy those bacon burps for the next half hour.

“You eat like you’re starving.  I wish I could eat like that, Val, and stay as thin as you do.”

“Mom, I’m only eleven.   I’m not supposed to be a fatty at my age.”

“I thought you were ten, dear.   Where does the time go?”

Valerie was still thinking about yesterday, the holiday Monday… and why did so many people have to feel sad?

“Do you know what makes Ray Zeffer so sad, Mom?”

“Ray Zeffer?  What brings that up?”

“He and Danny Murphy walked me all the way home last night from town.  He’s such a gentleman.  But he always seems sad.”

“Well, I would guess that losing your father the way he did, such a short time ago… well, it might have something to do with it.  I know his mother, Donna Zeffer, is sad a lot too.”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“And there was a brother that died… older brother…  Bobby, I think.  His family has been through a lot.”

Valerie buttered a piece of toast and then sipped her milk from the mug that Grandpa Larry had given her years ago.  The mug had a big red heart on the side of it.

“I didn’t know about the brother.  Younger or older?”

“Definitely older.  More than ten years ago.”

“What was more than ten years ago?” asked Daddy Kyle as he came in to breakfast.

“Valerie was wondering about Ray Zeffer because he and the Murphy boy walked her home from town last night.  How long ago did Bobby Zeffer die, Kyle?”

“Oh, at least sixteen years ago.  But what’s this about boys walking Valerie home last night?”

Uh-oh.  Dad radar had picked up a boy-alert… a potential boyfriend/trouble/rock salt alert.

“Danny and Ray were just being gentlemen,” said Valerie.  “They wanted to make sure I got home safe.”

“And they didn’t have anything but your safety on their little minds?” Kyle asked with a skeptical smirk.

“I suppose now you want to shoot Ray?” asked Valerie.

“Who said anything about shooting Ray?” asked Mom.

“Dad did.  He wanted to shoot Pidney and Danny last night, and now he wants to shoot Ray!”

“Kyle!”  Mom’s scolding stare could wither flowers that were otherwise in full bloom.

“I was just kidding around!” said Daddy in a defensive voice that sounded a lot like a little boy who’d been caught pulling his sister’s hair.  “I wouldn’t really shoot anybody…  It’s a dad thing.”

“I’m sure it is,” said Mom.  “But let’s not joke about that anymore.”

“Yes, ma’am.”  He was thoroughly chastised, and Valerie marveled at how Mom could make him so instantly repentant, like a Baptist preacher preaching Hellfire or something.

“The bus is here, Princess,” said Daddy Kyle while peering out the window. And it really was.  Valerie had to hustle.  The old yellow bus driven by Milo Volker was waiting at the end of the Clarkes’ lane, and he wouldn’t linger if she didn’t show up fast.  Still, it made her grin to see the look of relief on her Daddy’s face as he realized the dangerous conversation was at an end.

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