Gold Balls of Fur Sample Stories
Gold Balls of Fur
Tonight, as we sat down to dinner, Susan and I could tell the kids were up to something by the furtive glances, half-hidden smiles, and nervous shuffling of butts on their chairs.
Shawna, the oldest and boldest of the three, broke the ice. “ My friend Clair says her puppies are weaned now, and they’ve already given three of the five to good homes.”
Eight-year-old Bryce sighed and slowly shook his head. “Ya know, it’s too bad some of them poor puppies will go to people that will be mean to ‘em.”
Susan and I looked at each other, knowing what was coming next.
“So,” I casually asked, “have you seen these puppies?”
“They are s-o-o-o cute,” Shawna exclaimed, rolling her eyes.
“What kind are they again?” Trying to hide my smile, I took a quick bite of my dinner.
“Golden Retrievers,” Bryce said. “They look like little gold balls of fur.”
Megan, our ten-year-old drama queen, went into her act. “I feel so sorry for those poor little puppies. Yanked away from their mommy and their brothers and sisters, and taken to a strange house where they don’t know anybody. It’s so sad.” Her bottom lip actually trembled, as if she was going to break down and cry.
Susan and I shared a what-do-you-think look across the table.
“I wouldn’t worry too much, Megan.” Susan winked at me. “I’m sure they’ll both go to a good home with children who will love them.”
Bryce wiped the milk from his upper lip with the back of his hand. “But, what if whoever takes one of the ones that’s left and makes it sleep outside when its freezing cold? Or, what if they make it drink out of the toilet?”
“That’s disgusting,” blurted Megan. “We should do something to make sure nobody hurts them.” She looked from me to Susan. Tears actually formed in the corners her big blue eyes.
Susan and I enjoyed the performance the kids were giving. I could tell she was having as hard a time controlling her laughter as I was.
“And what do you think we should do?” Susan asked, looking at each one of them in turn.
“We can’t really help both of ‘em,” Bryce said, “but there’s got to be something we can do for at least one of ‘em.” He rubbed his chin and looked at the ceiling. He was so serious, I would have thought he was contemplating how to fix the national debt.
“Yeah,” jumped in Shawna. “There’s got to be something we can do.”
Megan, eyebrows furrowed in concentration, sadly shook her head. “Yeah, but what?”
Looking defeated, Bryce shrugged his shoulders. “Can you think of anything, Dad?”
Three sets of tear-filled, hopeful blue eyes swept back and forth from me to Susan.
“Actually,” I slowly drawled out, wanting to savor the moment, “I can think of one way to make sure both of them go to a good home.”
After ten seconds of silence, all three of them yelled, “How, Dad?”
“I’ll ask my boss, Mr. Davidson, if he wants them. I’m pretty sure he will.”
Susan and I had to cover our mouths with our napkins to hide our laughter as what-now looks flashed around the table, panic clearly showing on all three faces.
Always a quick thinker, Bryce countered, “But, Dad, he doesn’t have kids that would play ball and stuff with ‘em.”
“Yeah, Dad,” Shawna added. “Don’t you think it would be better if they went to a home with kids?”
“I definitely think they should go to a home with kids,” Megan declared.
“I agree with you, Megan.” I took another bite of my dinner and wiped my mouth with my napkin. “They should go to a home with kids. What do you say we drive over and bring them back here?”
It’s a good thing the neighbors were used to hearing screaming coming from our house, or they might have thought I was killing my kids.
What the hell, I had always wanted a puppy . . . or two.
Pulling away from the drive-through of a popular fast-food restaurant, Brian said, “Man, I wish we could afford more than these dollar hamburgers. They suck.” Hearing the sack rustle, he looked at his best friend Nick, digging in the bag.
“You got that right,” the twenty-year-old replied, “but, hey, it’s better than cooking spaghetti at home.”
“Dude, wait till we get to the park. You’re going to get ketchup on my seats again.”
Shoving the burger back in the sack, Nick said, “Like a little ketchup could hurt ‘em. It’s not like it would wipe off the duct tape you call a seat cover.”
With the convertible top on the beat-up, rattle-trap, ‘85 Mustang down, the wind blew through their hair as they pulled into the park.
“Man, something smells good,” Nick said, sniffing the air.
“Look over there.” Brian pointed to a large group of people. “It looks like somebody’s having a party.”
On the grass sat twenty or so tables, covered with tablecloths and place settings. Beyond the tables, a gazebo had been covered in pink and white streamers. A banner boldly yelled CONGRADULATIONS CHRIS AND LORI. White plastic posts, draped with white plastic chains, surrounded the whole affair and forced everyone to enter through a white plastic entrance arch.
Slowly cruising by, Brian said, “I think it’s a wedding.” The tantalizing smells of food made his stomach growl louder than the worn-out muffler on his car.
“Oh, man, that smells soooo good,” Nick exclaimed, closing his eyes and taking a deep whiff. “It smells like . . . ribs and beer.” Wide-eyed, he looked at Brian.
Brian pulled into a parking spot. “Let’s go get some,” he stated, shutting the car off.
“Are you serious, dude?” Nick asked.
“We don’t know anybody. What if they catch us?”
Brian pulled a comb out of the center console and ran it through his wavy brown hair. “All we have to do is act like we belong. Just follow my lead, and everything will be fine. Here, try to tame that blond mop of yours.” He handed the comb to Nick.
“But what if . . . ?”
Brian cut him off. “If they catch us, we’ll make a hasty retreat, but if they don’t, we’ll have a good meal. Besides, I want to meet her.”
A shapely redhead in a light-green dress walked across the parking lot. She carried a large tote bag emblazoned with the words Faded Glory.
“Whoa, dude, she’s hot,” Nick blurted.
“She’s my next conquest,” Brian, notorious as a lady’s man, replied. “Come on, I’m starving.”
“We’re not dressed for a wedding,” Nick stated, looking down at his shorts.
“Sure we are. Remember, this is Lake Havasu, Arizona. Unless you’re in the wedding party, you can wear anything you want and it’s okay. Look, there are other people wearing shorts and tank tops. Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.”
They fell in behind a plump older couple, shuffling their way to the party.
On one side of the arch, two bored-looking, preteen girls sat at a table covered by a cloth decorated with hearts. “Are you with the bride or the groom?” one of them asked the older couple.
“The groom,” answered the stooped-shouldered man.
“Sign here.” She slid one of two open books in front of him.
Taking the pen the other girl offered, he shakily signed his name.
“You girls look so pretty in your pink and maroon dresses,” exclaimed the gray-haired lady.
“Thank you,” the bored girls uttered in unison as the old couple shuffled off.
“She’s right, you know,” Brian declared as he stepped up to the table and went all out on the charm. “You both look positively stunning.” Tall, dark, and handsome, he knew the effect his wavy brown hair and brilliant blue eyes had on women. He watched as the girls literally melted.
Following Brian’s lead, an equally handsome, blond-haired, blue eyed Nick spoke up. “I’ll bet the bride’s mad at both of you.” He paused, then gave them his best smile. “For looking more beautiful than she is on her wedding day.”
Giggling, their faces flushed brighter than a blood-red sunset. They stammered, “Th . . . thanks.”
“We’re with the groom, also,” Brian said, picking up the pen.
Dreamy-eyed, the girls nodded.
Signing a flourish of scribbles, Brian set the pen down. “You have a wonderful day.” As he walked away, he threw a wink over his shoulder and brought on another burst of giggles. He whispered to Nick, “Piece o’ cake.”
“Yeah, but they’re too young to wonder if we belong here,” stated Nick. “I’m more worried about some of these older people asking us who we are.”
“We’ll tell whoever asks that we went to high school with the bride and groom. Come on.”
Nick looked around nervously. “Speaking of the bride and groom, where are they?”
“Who cares? I see a keg, just waiting for me to draw a beer.”
“Do you think they’ll ID us?”
“No, not if you follow my lead.”
Quickly walking to the temporary bar, Brian said, “Two, please.” He turned to Nick. “I hope my wife doesn’t catch me. I promised her I wouldn’t drink more than two today.” He looked around nervously, as if he was looking for his wife.
“I know what you mean,” Nick replied. “My wife made me promise not to drink anything.”
“Don’t worry,” the bartender said with a wink, “your secret’s safe with me.”
“Thanks.” Brain gave him a look of relief. “What fun is a wedding if you can’t have a couple of beers? By the way, what time are they serving dinner?”
Handing them two plastic cups topped with foam, he replied, “Four o’clock sharp.”
Brian’s watch, a seven-dollar K-mart blue-light special, said three-thirty-five.
“Great,” said Nick, “that gives us almost a half-hour to get in a few more beers.”
Sipping the foam off their beers, they slowly wandered away from the stand.
“I thought, for sure, that guy would ID us,” Nick said.
Brian chuckled. “I think he felt sorry for us.” He suddenly grabbed Nick’s arm, forcing Nick to stop so fast he spilled beer on his forearm.
“Dude, look what you made me do,” Nick complained as he shook the beer off his arm.
“It’s her. The redhead.”
“Over there.” He pointed with his beer. “Talking to that old couple we followed in.”
About thirty yards away, the redheaded stranger held an animated discussion with the couple. Throwing her head back, she laughed at something the old man said. Her long, red hair shimmered in the bright June sunlight.
“I think I’m in love,” Brian murmured.
“Lust is more like it,” Nick chided him.
“I’m serious dude. I have to meet her. Come on.”
Casually walking up to the threesome, Brian said, “One thing I hate about weddings and funerals is that you see people you can’t remember.” Looking at the old lady, he squinted in hesitation. “I know I’ve seen you before,” he said in fake bewilderment, “but I just can’t remember who you are.”
“I know what you mean about not recognizing people,” she admitted. “I’m Beatrice, Lori is my great niece. How do you know her?”
Not missing a beat, he replied, “We went to school together.”
The redhead ogled him, doubt showing clearly on her face. “Really,” she said, “so did I, but I don’t recognize you.”
“That’s funny, because I don’t recognize you either,” he shot back. His eyes traveled down to her toes and back up to her emerald-green eyes. “And I’m pretty sure I would remember you.”
The old man chuckled. “Who wouldn’t?”
“Harvey,” admonished his wife. “Come on, let’s go see if we can find Lori.” Grabbing his arm, she dragged him away.
Over his shoulder, Harvey called, “It was nice meeting you.”
“So . . . ” Brian started into one of his best pick-up lines.
“Excuse me,” she said hastily, “I have to go to the restroom.” Turning on her heel, she quickly walked away.
Nick laughed. “Whoa, she blew you off, dude.”
“Something’s not right about her,” Brian stated as he began to follow her.
“Wait a minute,” Nick called out, “let’s get another beer before we go after her.”
Brian stopped and watched as she headed for the cinderblock building that housed the restrooms. “Yeah, I could use another one.” He drained his cup.
A large man in a cowboy hat stood at the bar. He turned to them when they approached. His suit, straight out of the Old West, looked like something Wyatt Earp would have worn, complete with a badge pinned to his chest. “You boys trying to get beer?” he growled through his handlebar mustache.
“Um . . . we a . . . ” stammered Nick, staring at the badge.
“Yeah, we are,” Brian boldly replied. “Unless you took it all.”
The cowboy, who Brian nicknamed “Wyatt,” broke out in a wide grin. “Hell, it’ll take me a month of Sundays to drink it all in these little cups.” He held out two cups. They looked like shot glasses in his big, meaty hands.
A PA system, somewhere in the vicinity of the gazebo, squealed.
“Oh, I better go,” Wyatt said. “They’re about ready for the best man’s toast to the newlyweds.”
“In that case,” Nick said to the back of the retreating cowboy, “we’d better hurry and get a beer.”
“Back again, I see,” said the bartender as he set two beers on the bar.
“Yeah, like the cowboy said, these cups don’t hold enough to last long.”
“We did that on purpose,” he replied. “If we keep people running back and forth, they don’t get as drunk.”
“Good idea,” Brian remarked, turning away.
“So what now?” Nick asked.
“Now, we need to go find that girl.” He headed for the restrooms.
“Wait a minute,” demanded Nick.
His serious tone stopped Brian in his tracks. “What’s wrong?”
“Don’t you think we’re in deep enough without you trying to bed this girl?”
Brian paused, letting a smartass retort die on his tongue. “She’s different.” He looked towards the restrooms and hoped for a glimpse of her red hair.
“What do you mean different?”
“I don’t know, exactly. I just feel like I need to talk to her, and I’m not leaving until I do.” A group of lady’s walked out of the restroom and Brian saw a flash of red hair. “There she is.” He took off trotting across the grass.
“Wait,” yelled Nick, “that’s not her.”
“How do you know?” he called out without breaking stride. “You can’t tell from here.”
“Because she’s over there.” Nick pointed towards the food tables.
Brian glanced over his shoulder. Sure enough, standing with a group of six or seven people, her back to him, was the redheaded stranger. Cutting to his left, he made a beeline for her. Coming to a stop a few feet from her, he said, “Excuse me for interrupting, but could I talk to you for a minute?”
She slowly turned around.
“It’s really important. Please?” he begged.
“Excuse me, I’ll be right back,” she apologized to the surrounding group of people.
“Wait a minute.” A lady wearing a pink and maroon dress stepped out of the group. “I’m Ellen, the groom’s mother.” She walked up to Brian. “Do I know you?”
“You could. Havasu isn’t that big.”
“Don’t you work at the gas station down the street?” She studied his face intently. “Yes, I’m almost positive now.”
“I do. I remember seeing you there a few days ago,” Brian calmly said. “Weren’t you buying a couple bottles of liquor?”
Ignoring his question, she said, “How do you know the bride and groom?”
Being put on the spot didn’t faze him at all. “From school.”
“Which one of them did you go to school with?”
The redhead gave him a disbelieving look.
“Why haven’t I met you before?” Ellen asked.
“Chris and I lost touch over the last few years. I’ve been away to college, but I’m home this summer because my mom’s sick.” He gave her his best sad-eyed look.
“How is your mom?” the redhead asked. “I haven’t seen her for a while.”
That shook him a little. His mom was sick and he wondered, for a moment, if she really did know her. “She’s doing better. The doctors have her stabilized for now.” He studied her face, looking for some sign that he knew her.
“Ellen,” called a man standing by the gazebo, “Lori needs you. We’re ready to do the toast.”
“Well, I hope your mother’s okay,” Ellen said. As she walked away with her group, she added, “Enjoy the reception.”
“Thank you, we will,” Brian called after her.
The redhead stared at him when he turned back to her. “You don’t know the bride or the groom, do you?”
“What makes you think that?”
“Just answer the question,” she said.
He looked into her eyes. “No, we don’t, and neither do you.”
Her eyes widened ever so slightly. “Of course, I do.”
Suddenly, someone grabbed his arm from behind. “Come on, boys and girls,” Wyatt bellowed, encircling all three of them in his arms, herding them like sheep to slaughter. “It’s time for the toast.”
Brian thought he saw a trace of panic in her eyes. If it were there, it had disappeared just as quickly as it had come.
“I need to go to the lady’s room first,” she said, pulling away from Wyatt.
“I need to go to the men’s room,” Brian and Nick said at the same time.
“But, you’ll miss the toast,” Wyatt complained.
“Sorry, but it can’t be helped,” Brian shouted over his shoulder as he ran after her. He was bound and determined not to lose track of her again. Her behavior made him suspicious, and he wondered if she was crashing the wedding, too. He watched her enter the cinderblock building, then he cut around to the back side.
“Why are we hiding back here?” Nick asked as the best man’s speech echoed across the park.
“I want to be able to see her when she leaves.” Brian peered around the corner.
“Let’s just concentrate on the free food and beer,” Nick complained.
A roar of applause came from the gazebo as the best man finished his toast. Then, the bride and groom led the mob to the buffet tables.
“Come on, dude, I’m hungry,” Nick said, pulling on Brian’s arm.
The smell of barbecued ribs caused Brian’s stomach to growl. “Yeah, you’re right. Let’s go. I’ll watch for her while we eat.”
Walking towards the tables, Brian was shocked to see her standing in the food line. “How in the hell did she get here without me seeing her?” he asked Nick, pointing her out.
“She must not have gone in the bathroom,” Nick said. “I’ll bet she walked over here while we were behind the building.”
She talked with Harvey and Beatrice, filling their plates as the line slowly inched forward.
Brian turned to Nick. “I’ll bet she’s going to sit with Beatrice and Harvey, so I’m going to ask Beatrice if she’ll save a seat for us. You go get in line.”
Before he reached Beatrice, Ellen grabbed the redhead’s arm, spinning her around. “Chris and Lori don’t know you. They’ve never seen you before.”
“Of course, they have,” the redhead started to explain. “They’re just . . . ”
“You’re a wedding crasher and, not only that, you’re shoving food into that bag, aren’t you?” She grabbed the tote bag and tried to yank it from her arm.
The redhead jerked on the bag, causing Ellen to lose her balance and crash into the table
Brian watched in horror as Ellen, the table, and all its contents crashed to the ground.
The redhead turned to run, only to have the big, meaty hand of Wyatt reach out and grip her arm.
“Oh, no, you don’t, little lady,” he said as he snatched the bag out of her hand.
Twisting out of his grip, the redhead ran off before Wyatt could stop her.
Nick, standing next to Brian, said, “I think it’s time to go, dude.”
Now on her feet, Ellen pointed at Brian and Nick with one hand and wiped barbecue sauce off her dress with the other. “Wyatt, get those two, also.”
Brian momentarily swayed, shocked to learn that the cowboy’s name really was Wyatt.
As Wyatt started forward, Brian realized the gig was up, the ribs were ruined, and it was time to go. “Let’s get out of here,” he said to Nick as he turned and made a mad dash for the parking lot.
As they ran, Nick said, “Well, at least we had a couple of free beers.”
“Yeah, but we didn’t get any ribs, and I’m still starving, Now, we’ll have to eat the burgers we left in the car.”
“I don’t think that’s an option either,” Nick said, pointing to the car, twenty feet away.
Black birds and pidgins exploded as Brian rushed to the Mustang. “Shoo . . . get out of there.” He waved his arms wildly.
“Dude, you should have put the top up.” Nick shook his head as he picked up the shredded sack. “Now, we’ll have to go get more burgers.”
“Throw it in the garbage and get in,” Brian moaned as he wiped ketchup off the duct-taped seat.
Ten minutes later, as he was standing in line waiting to order, Brian heard, “So, you have to settle for burgers instead of ribs, too, huh?”
Turning around, he looked into the laughing, emerald-green eyes of the redheaded stranger.
“Putting the names and locations in that brown book is a mistake,” Mindy said.
“Leave me alone, I know what I’m doing.” Dennis glared at his mom across the patio table.
“You’re going to get caught sooner or later and that book will be enough evidence to put you away for a long time.”
“Maybe I want to get caught.”
“Why?” Mindy demanded. “Is it because I got caught thirty years ago?”
“Yes,” Dennis screamed. “If you wouldn’t have been screwing around with the pool cleaner, Dad never would have caught you and he . . . he . . . ”
“He wouldn’t have drowned me and I would still be here for my baby boy, right?” Mindy crooned as she floated out of her chair and hovered next to Dennis.
He felt a chill run down his spine as she ran her hand down his back.
“That’s it,” Mindy whispered in his ear. “Blame your poor, cheating, dead mother for your psychotic behavior.”
Dennis cringed and turned his head as a cold breeze brushed the side of his face.
“Your concrete business is perfect for hiding the evidence,” Mindy said. “Bury the body, pour the slab, none of those people will never know what’s under their new homes.”
Her laugh chilled Dennis to the bone.
“So where are you going to bury this one?” Mindy asked as she floated over the pool.
“Maple Drive.” Dennis beamed as he looked at his newest pool cleaner, floating face down in the center of the pool.
“Would you like to go for a walk on the beach today, my love?” Willis asked as he shuffled into the sunlit family room.
Martha’s voice, shaky with age, bubbled with enthusiasm. “That would be a splendid idea.”
“Come on, then, let’s go.” Willis helped her to her feet. “Here’s your cane.”
She took the red-tipped cane in one arthritis-crippled hand. “What’s the weather like today?” she asked, smoothing out her flower-print dress.
Willis opened the door. “Another beautiful San Diego day, as usual.”
“Oh, wait.” She put a hand to her short, blue-gray hair. “Does my hair look okay?”
“It looks perfect,” Willis said. “Come on, now, let’s go before the beach gets too busy.”
“I’m coming,” she said, tapping her cane in front of her.
Willis shut the door behind her. After locking the deadbolt, he made sure he had his emergency cell phone in the right front pocket of his shorts and his heart pills in the left pocket.
“Do you have your phone?” she asked as she found the edge of the step with her cane.
“Yes, dear,” he said, wrapping her arm around his.
“What about your pills?”
He patted her hand. “Don’t worry so much. Let’s forget about everything for a while and just enjoy our walk. We don’t know how much time we have left together, and I want to spend every minute I can with you.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry.” She tipped her head back so her face pointed to the sky. “I can feel the sun, it’s warm. It feels good.”
“It’s a hell of a lot better than Wyoming this time of year,” he said with a chuckle.
She let out a little laugh. “What did Sherry tell you it was the other day? Twenty below and five feet of snow? No thanks. I don’t miss that a bit.”
“Don’t you miss having snow for Christmas?”
“Snow-shmo. I have enough snowy Christmas memories to last me forever.” She pulled down on his arm. “And one good thing about being blind, all you have to do is tell me it’s snowing and I’ll believe you.”
He laughed and led her across the street. When they reached the sidewalk next to the beach, he asked, “So you’re still glad we sold the ranch and moved here?”
“Yes,” she replied without hesitation. “My arthritis doesn’t bother me near as much as it did in Wyoming.”
“I know. Mine doesn’t bother me as much either.” He guided her around a young mother pulling a beach wagon full of chairs and coolers. Two kids followed closely behind her, their arms loaded with buckets, balls, and floaties. Willis smiled as they went by.
The mother gave him a tired smile back.
“Poor girl,” he mumbled, shaking his head, “she’s already tired and they’re just getting to the beach.”
“What was that, dear?”
“Oh, nothing, I was just talking to myself.” He didn’t want Martha to spoil their day by worrying about the young woman.
A few minutes later, Martha pulled him to a sudden stop. “Oh, my, I think I need to sit down for a minute. I’m feeling a little dizzy.” She swayed on her feet.
He slipped an arm around her waist. “There’s a place to sit right here.” He guided her to an empty bench.
“Are you okay?” he asked, sitting next to her. He put two fingers of his leathery hand on her wrist to check her pulse. It was beating fast, almost too fast.
“I’ll be fine.” She took a deep breath. “I just need to rest for a minute.”
Willis put his arm around her shoulders. “That’s fine. I could do with a few minutes of rest myself.”
Resting her head on his shoulder, she said, “I’m the luckiest woman in the world.”
“And why is that?” He rested his cheek on top of her head.
“We’ve had sixty wonderful years together, raised two great kids, and best of all, you’ve always wanted to spend just one more minute with me.” She patted his leg. “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” He squeezed her shoulders and looked out to sea.
They sat in comfortable silence for a while until Willis’s back started to hurt.
Shifting his hips slightly, Martha’s head slumped to her chest.
“Martha?” He gently shook her shoulders. His heart skipped a beat when she didn’t respond. Raising his work-scarred hand, he placed a finger to her neck and checked for a pulse.
Heavy-hearted and fighting back tears, he reached for his phone. A sharp pain tore through his chest and down his left arm. This isn’t a good time . . . to have a heart attack. He reached for his heart pills . . . Or, is it?
After taking the pills, he repositioned Martha’s head on his shoulder and put his cheek back on top of her head. He whispered, “I’ll be with you shortly, sweetheart. Give me just one more minute.”
The empty pill bottle fell to the sand.