In the spring of 2010, both Tim and I managed to get summer jobs. Tim was going to work at a McDonald's in Falmouth and I was going to do yard work in Osterville. Poor Tim's shift began at 6:00 AM which meant he had to catch a 5:00 o'clock bus to Falmouth. True, he finished at 2:00 PM but that's small consolation for getting up at 4:30 AM.
Grandma had found the job I was going to do. One morning a week she cleaned house for two men who lived in Osterville. They had a large lawn and many plantings and they wanted somebody to care for the grounds who didn't use any power machines like gas lawnmowers or leaf blowers. They had asked Grandma if she knew of anybody who might take it on and she suggested me. So I was to work in the mornings four to five half-days a week depending on what they needed.
Both Tim and I were working so we could contribute to helping Grandma support the family. Neither of us expected to get anything out of it for ourselves. Grandma had other ideas. She thought it wouldn't be fair if we worked and never got any money, so she suggested that we start a family savings account into which 80% of the money would go. It would then be there when it was needed for things like school clothes and supplies for all three of us as well as for family emergencies. The other 20% would go to us for spending money. I didn't know about Tim, but I planned to save most of my spending money for something I might want later on. I also planned to slip a little of it to Joey from time to time so he could have a little spending money.
I began my job before school got out for the summer by working all day Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Sunday morning was reserved for going to Mass. Grandma was very strict about that. On a Saturday in the middle of May, Grandma drove me to Osterville to get started. The house was a sprawling, one-story building, which seemed to spread out forever. To me it was a mansion! The driveway curved around to the front door then continued left to the garage. In the rear was a large patio. Looking in through the patio door I saw two grand pianos. "Wow, I thought. They must be rich! There were plantings and a hedge along the front, as well as islands of trees and plantings scattered on the front and back lawns. I would certainly be busy!
Grandma introduced me to the two men, Peter Bradley and Christian Walker, who were probably in their early seventies. They showed me where the lawn equipment was kept and told me that, to begin with, they would tell me each day what they wanted done, with the hope that in a few weeks we would be settled into a routine.
That day I began on the lawn, front and back. As I said, it was a big lawn and the mower was one I had to push. Fortunately, they had had the blades sharpened and the wheel bearings oiled, but it still took me all morning just to mow the grass. By the time I was finished I was really tired, and I had sore muscles where I didn't even know I had muscles.
We ate lunch on their patio, chatting as we munched sandwiches, chips and cookies. They seemed very friendly, asking about my family, how I liked school, what my hobbies were, and what else I planned to do for the summer. They told me how they had met when they were in junior high school and that they had enjoyed making music together. They had both become professional musicians and had lived together their entire adult lives. Now they were retired. Since they had always lived in big cities they had decided to retire to the peace of Cape Cod. They still enjoyed making music together and exploring the Cape.
In the afternoon, I raked the entire lawn, bundling up the clippings so they could be recycled later. As I worked, I noticed a boy sitting on the patio of the house next door. He appeared to be about my age but bigger and stronger. Even from a distance I could see that he sported beautiful, jet-black, wavy hair. At one point I saw him watching me, so I waved, and he waved back before he went back to the book he was reading. By the end of the afternoon, I was exhausted and my hands were full of blisters, but I was happy, feeling I was doing something to help support the family. Grandma picked me up at 5:00. When we got home I took a long, relaxing, hot shower. For some reason, my mind kept returning to the boy on the patio, and I decided that someday I would have to find out who he was.
When I awoke on Sunday, I was sore all over, so I took another hot shower to loosen me up a little. In church I had difficulty kneeling and getting up again, so Joey and Tim helped me, quietly giggling. Wouldn't you know it, in the afternoon, the men had me planting flowers in what they called a "herbaceous border," which meant that I would spend most of the time getting up and down, but the planting actually proved to be fun, and my muscles gradually loosened up. I enjoyed setting the plants out to see what patterns I could make before I planted them. I loved getting my hands in the rich, deep soil and gingerly placing each plant in the spot I had appointed for it. Again, the black-haired boy was on his patio reading. Since reading was one of my favorite pastimes I hoped that we might have something in common. I waved once when he looked up, and again he waved back.
May blended into June with me working every weekend in Osterville. After school got out for the summer, we agreed that I would work Mondays through Thursdays unless one of those days was rainy, in which case I would make up that day on Friday. That meant that most weeks I would have a three-day weekend.
One morning in late June, I was trimming the grass with hand clippers along the fence between the two houses where the lawnmower couldn't reach when I came to a pair of bare feet. I looked up and there was the boy standing on the other side of the fence watching me.
"Do you work here every day?" he asked.
"Usually four days a week, but just in the mornings."
"My name's Mark," he said, reaching out with his hand.
I shook his hand and introduced myself.
"I've a suggestion," he continued. "We've filled the pool now, and the water's great. Why don't you have lunch with me tomorrow and then we can swim?"
I didn't tell him that I didn't own a bathing suit and hadn't been swimming in years. Instead I said, "I'd love to, but I'm really an awful swimmer."
"That's OK. The only way to get better is by doing it. Here." He took out a little pad and a pencil and wrote his name and his parents' names, their address and telephone number and gave it to me. "Who's the lady who brings you each morning?"
Aha, I thought, he's been watching.
"That's my Grandma. I live with her in Mashpee."
"OK," he said, "Why don't you have your Grandma call my parents to be sure that it's all OK. I'm sure it will be with my parents, but your Grandma might want to speak to them before she lets you stay, and they can agree about when you'll be picked up."
Shoving the paper into my pocket, I said, "I'll do that. And I'll see you tomorrow."
We waved goodbye and I got back to work.
When Grandma picked me up at noon, I told her about Mark and the invitation. She thought it sounded like a great idea, so late that afternoon she called and talked with Mark's parents. "It's all set," she said when she hung up, "but we need to get you a bathing suit. In fact, why don't all three of you boys get bathing suits so you can use the pool here at the apartment?" That night after supper we drove to K-Mart and bought bathing suits.
The next day, I put my bathing suit on under my shorts and took a towel with me. When I got to the house, I told the men that I was having lunch with Mark that day. Peter said, "Oh good. Mark's a lovely boy. You'll enjoy him."
Lovely? I thought. I'd never heard a man call a boy 'lovely' before. I wondered what he meant.
At noon, Mark came to get me. We walked to his patio, arriving just as his mother was bringing food out to the table. "Mom, this is Richard…." He hesitated. "I don't even know your last name."
"It's Guthrie," I said. "I'm pleased to meet you."
"And I'm pleased to meet you, Richard. I'm Mary Russell. Do sit down and enjoy your lunch."
We sat and ate while she went back in the house.
"So," began Mark, "what do you like to do besides working on lawns and gardens?"
"I love to read," I replied, "and I like to write, but I'm not very good at it."
"I suppose it's like swimming," he said. "The more you do it the better you'll get. How old are you?"
"Fourteen. I'll be fifteen the end of August."
"We're almost the same age. I turned fifteen the end of May."
We ate in silence for a few minutes before he said, "I love to read too. What kinds of books do you like?"
I knew it, I thought. He's a reader too. Aloud I said, "I really enjoy the classic books like Kidnapped, Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, things like that. Of course, I've read all the Harry Potter books. I've read The Hobbit but I haven't read The Lord of the Rings books yet."
"Oh, you should. The Hobbit is fun, but the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy is amazing. Do you have it?"
"No, but I could get it from the library."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'll lend you my copies. Wait here a minute," and he ran into the house.
What a nice kid, I thought; I wonder if he'll be around all summer.
A minute later he returned with the books, three beautifully bound hard-cover volumes. "Wow!" I said. "These are gorgeous."
"My parents gave them to me last Christmas. I think they're the most wonderful books I've ever read."
"I'll take really good care of them," I said, laying them carefully on the table.
"I'm sure you will. Do you feel like a swim?"
We took off our outer clothes down to our bathing suits. He wore a Speedo which didn't hide much, while I had plain old boxers-style swim shorts. I couldn't help admiring his body. In addition to his beautiful hair and handsome face he had the broad, strong shoulders, narrow waist, and muscular legs of a swimmer. I wondered what he thought of my scrawny body. Why can't I look like that, I wondered.
We jumped into the pool and splashed around a bit. Because the pool had just recently been filled, the water was a little cold, but I quickly got accustomed to it. Mark set off swimming the length of the pool with a relaxed, very smooth crawl stroke. I tried to follow him, but I couldn't even swim the length of the pool without tiring.
When we were standing at the end of the pool I said, "See what I mean? I'm not very good. Where did you learn to swim like that?"
"I've been taking lessons since I was four. I'm on the school swim team. I feel more at home in the water than I do on land." He laughed. "Well, less awkward at least."
We swam to the other end. This time Mark did the breast stroke with a dolphin kick while I struggled along with a combination crawl and dog paddle.
"Would you like to give me a few tips?" I asked, a little embarrassed by the whole scene.
"Sure, if you want me to. Let's see. The first thing is that your belly's too low in the water. You need to be straight, almost like a board. Here. Float face down."
Before I knew it, he had his hand on my stomach and was pushing it gently up. For some reason, I began to get a hard on, even though the water was cold. Oh dear, this could be very embarrassing, I thought.
"Now try to straighten your body out so that it feels like it's trying to rest on top of the water. "
I tried it, and it felt entirely different. Then I tried a few strokes, and suddenly my stomach was sinking again.
"That's it," he encouraged. "It'll take you time before your muscles adjust and it feels natural to you. Just keep working at it, a few strokes at a time. Stop before your belly begins to sink again."
For the rest of the afternoon, I kept working at it, while Mark swam back and forth, slowly at first, and then faster and faster.
"Wow! You're really fast."
"That's what the swim team has done for me. When you feel like you're competing every day, you get faster. "
Finishing, we toweled off and returned to the patio, my being very careful not to drip on Mark's books.
As we sat, Mark asked, "Richard, have you ever heard this one? It seems that one morning a boy walked into class late. The substitute teacher asked him, 'Where have you been?' He replied, 'Throwing pebbles at a car.' Fifteen minutes later, a girl walked in and the teacher asked, 'Where have you been?' She answered, 'Throwing pebbles at a car.' Two hours later a young girl came in all bruised and dirty. The teacher said, 'Let me guess. You were throwing pebbles at a car.' She answered, 'No, Miss, I'm Pebbles.'"
I groaned and told him the joke was awful. Little did I realize that his jokes were just beginning.
His mother brought out lemonade and cookies, and the three of us sat chatting about nothing in particular. She asked me about my family, and I told her I was living with my two brothers and Grandma.
"Where are your parents?" Mark asked, without thinking.
"Mark," his mother cautioned. "That's really not any of our business."
"I don't mind," I said, looking at Mark, who was blushing bright red, "but I don't want to go into that right now. Anyway, we've lived with Grandma for five years."
"What does she do?" asked Mark. "I see her at Peter and Christian's house about once a week."
I smiled and laughed. "You notice everything, don't you? What are you, the local Neighborhood Watch?"
He looked a little embarrassed. "No, but I do sit outside a lot, so I see who's coming and going."
"Don't be embarrassed," I said. "I was just kidding. Grandma cleans houses. Sometimes she does two a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Usually she picks me up before going to the second house." After that, the conversation turned to other, perhaps safer subjects
At 5:00, Grandma picked me up. I said goodbye, thanking them and tucking the precious books under my arm. "What have you got there?" she asked when I was buckled in and she was driving.
I told her about our shared love of reading. "So, you had a good time?" she asked.
"Oh yes. Mark's invited me back for tomorrow afternoon even though I don't work tomorrow. Can I go?"
"I don't know why not," she answered. "They seem like very nice people."
That night I began reading The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in the trilogy, and I got so engrossed I read long after my brothers were in bed and asleep.
And so we settled into a routine. I worked in the mornings, and swam and talked with Mark and often his mother in the afternoon. I was having the best summer yet.