DW is a veteran, a father, a husband, and a teacher. He's published 9 YA/NA novels thus far. The story you're reading might be next.
Lunch with Leslie's Parents
The drive from Plymouth to Hookset was a fifty-mile straight shot down I-93. Leslie's parents were expecting us in time for lunch. Leaving a margin for traffic and delays, we left Plymouth in my Nova around ten-thirty in the morning.
Traffic was light. We arrived at the exit for Hooksett thirty-five minutes before the time Leslie's parents expected us. With time to spare, Leslie gave me directions to the American Legion Hall. We didn't go inside, but just south of the Hall was a pedestrian walkway across the Merrimack River.
"This used to be railroad bridge not too long ago," Leslie told me as we walked out to the halfway point. "When the railroad abandoned it, the town took it and turned it into a walking bridge. Bike riders use it, too. In the winter, people use it for snowmobiles and cross-country skiing."
I was watching the river flow under the bridge and only caught the last of what Leslie said. "You were on your high school cross country ski team, right? Did you ski across here a lot?"
"No. I went to high school in Manchester. I told you that."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot."
Leslie glanced at her watch. "We should probably get going. My parents are expecting us for lunch, and my mom will start worrying if we're not there right at the stroke of noon."
We made it to Leslie's parent's house just at noon. Her father met us at the door.
"Hello, Leslie," he said, greeting his daughter. "I take it this is your friend Darren."
"Yes, father, this is Darren, but everyone calls him Ren." She turned to me and said, "Ren, this is my father, Mr. Herschel."
I offered my hand and said, "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."
"I'm sure," Mr. Herschel replied. He took my hand for a brief, none too firm, handshake.
He turned around and walked into the house. Leslie and I followed.
"Your mother is in the kitchen finishing lunch," Mr. Herschel said over his shoulder before he turned into what turned out to be the dining room.
I followed Leslie to the kitchen.
"Hi, mom," Leslie said from the doorway between the dining room and the kitchen.
Mrs. Herschel turned from the stove and said, "Oh, hi, dear. Is this your young man? Nice to meet you. You'll pardon me if I don't shake hands. I'm just finishing up our lunch."
"It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Herschel," I said. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Oh, no," Mrs. Herschel insisted. "Everything is nearly ready. You two should go on into the dining room and take your seats. I'll be right out with the food."
Lunch turned out to be grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches, tomato soup, and corn chips. It was not quite the menu I was expecting, but I had no complaints. As lunch, this menu was one of my favorites.
As we ate, Mrs. Herschel bombarded me with questions about where I was from, why I was in New Hampshire, what I was majoring in at college, how I had picked Plymouth State, how had Leslie and I met, and on and on. Mr. Herschel finally decided the interrogation had gone on long enough.
"For goodness sakes, Martha, let the boy eat."
Mrs. Herschel turned a hurt look on her husband and then looked to Leslie for support. As she looked at Leslie, her eyes went wide.
"Oh! My goodness, Leslie! What is that on your finger?"
Leslie froze in mid-bite and stared at her mother. Mr. Herschel looked at Leslie's hand and dropped his spoon.
"Yes, Leslie, what is on your finger? It looks like an engagement ring."
Leslie swallowed hard. I sat stock-still. We'd planned on announcing our engagement after lunch. Our timetable had accelerated.
"It looks like an engagement ring, daddy, mom, because it is an engagement ring," Leslie explained to her parents. "Ren and I are engaged."
Leslie's Folks React to the News
"Oh, oh my, oh what wond-," Mrs. Herschel sputtered.
Mr. Herschel rose from his seat and pounded his fist on the table. "I'll not have it. Young lady, you take his ring off your finger right this instant." Then he pointed at me. "As for you, you ... you ... leave my house this instant before I throw you out. How dare you ask my daughter to marry you before you've even met her mother and me?"
I began to stand.
Leslie said, "You stay right there, Ren." Then to her father, she said. "It just so happens, father, that Ren didn't ask me to marry him; I asked him to marry me. Girls can do that these days. We can, and I did."
"I don't care who asked who," Mr. Herschel roared. "The two of you are not going to get married. This boy is going to get out of my house right now, or I'm going to throw him out."
Mr. Herschel was a good four inches shorter than me, twenty pounds lighter, and not well muscled. The idea of him throwing me out against my will was laughable. However, beating up my fiancé's father within an hour of meeting him had no upside to it.
"I'll go, Mr. Herschel. I'll go, and Leslie will go with me."
"She'll do no such thing," Mr. Herschel commanded. "She'll stay right here. And she won't be going back up to school with you there, either."
Leslie shoved her chair back from the table and stood up. "I'm leaving with Ren, father, and there's nothing you can do to stop me. You can't stop me from going back to school, either."
"I can stop paying the bills for you," Mr. Herschel threatened.
"No, you can't, Thomas," Mrs. Herschel said. "Her college money came from her grandparents, and you can't touch it." She rose from her chair. "And if these two leave because of you, you best be on the way out the door as soon as they're gone because you won't have a home here anymore either."
"You can't talk to me like this, Martha! I'm your husband."
Mrs. Herschel pointed at Leslie. "And you're her step-father. She just told us some wonderful happy news, and you're trying to turn it into the worst day of all our lives."
Mr. And Mrs. Herschel stared at each other for several long seconds before Mr. Herschel stepped away from the table.
"I'll not be talked to like this in my own house," he muttered on his way to the kitchen and out the back door.
"Honestly, mom, I don't know why you put up with him," Leslie said as she sat back down. "You know I never thought you should marry him."
I followed Leslie's example and took my seat, too.
"I know you didn't, dear, but the truth is I love him with all his faults. And he's tried to be a good father to you."
Leslie snorted. "He didn't try too hard. He always acted like I was in the way, and he couldn't wait for me to go off to college."
"Thomas never had children of his own," Mrs. Herschel said to me. "He never got the hang of how to be a father to a teenage girl.
"I do think it would be better if the two of you didn't stay here, though. Ren, do you think your parents would mind awfully if you showed up this evening instead of tomorrow morning."
"No, ma'am," I said. "I don't think so. May I call them and let them know we're coming?"
"Of course," Mrs. Herschel said. "There's a phone in the hallway you can use."
On to See Ren's Mom and Dad
As soon as we arrived at my parents' house in Rye, Leslie and I informed them we had an announcement to make. We sprang the news of our engagement once everyone was seated in the living room.
"Well, this is quite a surprise," my mother said. "When you said you were bringing your girlfriend home to meet us, I didn't realize the two of you were already engaged."
My father nodded. "This is rather sudden. I hope you two are planning on a long engagement."
"We haven't set a date or anything yet, Dad," I assured him. "We just made our engagement official yesterday."
"How long was it unofficial?" my mother asked.
"I asked Ren to marry me two weeks ago," Leslie said. "Last week, he said yes. Yesterday he gave me a ring."
My father laughed at me. "This gorgeous young lady asked you to marry her, and it took you a week to say yes, Ren?"
"She asked me to marry her right after trying some of my fried chicken while we were on a picnic," I explained. "I didn't think it fair to hold her to a question asked while in the thrall of my fried chicken."
Leslie nudged me hard. "I knew even before then that I was falling in love with him. I knew the moment we first sat down and played piano together."
My mother sat up straight in her chair. "Ren, you're playing the piano again."
Suddenly the subject wasn't our engagement anymore.
"I never really quit, Mom. I just didn't like feeling like I had to play to make everyone happy."
"We just wanted you to reach your potential, Ren," my mother said. "No one wanted you to be unhappy."
Leslie was looking at me with her lips twisted into a frown. Then she looked at my mother.
"When I asked Ren about his playing, he told me he just tinkered around on the piano. How good a pianist is he?"
"I taught piano for years and years," my mother said. "Ren started playing as soon as he could reach the keys. By junior high, he could play nearly any piece of music put in front of him."
"And then at the start of high school, I quit," I broke in. "What had been fun and a challenge became boring drudgery. Everyone expected me to be at the keyboard every spare minute. Never mind dating, hanging out with friends, going to the beach, or any of those things. I had to practice, practice, practice all the time if I wanted to be 'one of the greats' in the piano world. So, I quit playing. Only I didn't. I still played for fun when I wanted to. I just refused to make it an obsession."
"I supported Ren's decision," my father added. "When playing stopped being fun and became an arduous task, I knew it was time for him to stop."
An awkward silence fell over the four of us. We looked from one to the other until my father started laughing. His laughter got me laughing, too. My mother and Leslie eventually joined in, and after we'd all laughed ourselves out, the conversation came back around to our engagement.
"I take it, Leslie, that your parents were not pleased by the announcement of your engagement," my father said.
Leslie sniffed. "My mother was surprised, but it was my step-father who blew his stack. I don't know where he gets off thinking he has any say in it, to begin with. He married my mother when I was twelve, and it's not like he's ever been a father to me. I even begged my mother not to marry him because I didn't like him much. I still don't."
"If you were so against her marrying him, why did she?" my mother asked.
"The way my mom explained it to me was, she knew I'd be moving on in a few years, to college and then to a life of my own, and she didn't want to wind up alone and lonely. I'm not sure she even loves him."
My mother folded her hands, except for her index fingers. Those she pressed together and pointed at Leslie.
"I'm sure your mother has some feelings for your step-father, Leslie. And I'm sure your step-father is just concerned about you getting engaged because you're so young."
"My step-father is only concerned with the fact that my mother will have to turn my inheritance over to me once I'm married. My birth father's parents left me some money. My mom has been in charge of it since my grandmother died. She gets to pay herself a fee each year. They use the money to go on vacation or buy stuff. Once I get the money, they won't get the fee anymore."
My father's brow creased. "Ren, did you know about this inheritance?"
I looked from my father to Leslie and back to my father. "No, sir. This is the first I've heard about it."
"I was going to tell you, Ren," Leslie said. "There just never seemed to be a good time to say, 'oh, by the way, my real dad's parents left me a few thousand dollars.' It's not exactly something I could slip into a conversation."
"No, it isn't," my mother said. She rose from her chair. "I don't think now is the time to talk about it either. Ren, take your bag and Leslie's up to your room."
In response to my wide eyes, my mother said, "Oh, don't look at me like that. Your father and I aren't prudes. We know how young people act these days."
I laughed and said, "Yes, ma'am."
"While you do that, I'll show Leslie the rest of the house."
Ren's story continues in Chapter 6
- One Fall in New Hampshire (A Buzby Beach Novella) Chapter 06
An unexpected and unwelcome guest arrives at Plymouth State.
© 2020 DW Davis