“Please, Mom,” Sam whined while watching his mom get dinner ready. “Can’t we keep her, I mean him? Pleeeeease!”
“I don’t know, Sam. We’d have to discuss it with your father.” Faith Spencer flashed Sam a quick, telling smile. The smile that launched a thousand ships, his father said. “I’m not making any promises, but I think we can work it out.”
Sam knew what that meant. His mom could talk his dad into anything. “Yay!”
She folded her arms across her chest, cautioning him against getting too excited. “Now, when your father gets home, don’t pester him right away. Let me talk to him first.”
“Okay.” Sam’s foot tapped rapidly against the floor.
“I can tell you’re excited, but promise me, Sam.”
“Okay, Mom. I promise.” Sam crossed his fingers behind his back, just in case his excitement got the better of him.
At six o’clock, Dan Spencer pulled his silver BMW 740 into the driveway. Sam remembered the model number because 7 was for Pistol Pete Maravich and 40 was for Bill Laimbeer, two old time basketball players Sam knew about them from the cards his father collected at summer camp as a kid. He liked that Laimbeer was a “Bad Boy”, and Pistol Pete, well, he just had a really cool name.
Sam ran out to greet Dan in the driveway, his promise to Faith instantly forgotten. His dad was a big shot at the company and really good at selling things to people, but being a big shot meant he worked too much and got home after dark most nights. His mom said that Dan was a good looking charmer who could sell sand to a Bedouin. Sam didn’t know what league the Bedouins played for, let alone which city, or why they’d want sand.
He gave Dan a hug, careful not to ruin the crease on the grey, pinstriped suit trouser. Dan took pride in his fancy suits. “Dad, Dad, guess what? Anna’s got allergies and the Parkers can’t keep Dander. Can we keep her, I mean him? Please, Dad.”
Dan peeled himself free of Sam’s hug and looked down at him with the strangest expression. His mouth was taut and his eyes narrowed, as if he was mad at Sam, but Sam couldn’t imagine why that would be … unless his mom had told him about the broken window.
From the doorway, Faith shook her head. “Sam, you promised! Give your father some room. He’s not even inside yet, for Christ’s sake!”
“Faith, please. Language,” Dan Spencer said. Dan was very observant. He went to the Church of the Blessed Trinity at least every Sunday, and often took Sam. Faith Spencer usually stayed home, to prepare Sunday dinner, she said. Sam thought she just didn’t like going and that was her excuse. Sometimes Sam used homework as an excuse to get out of church. His dad always made him seek out the confessional and sitting alone in that stale smelling closet with Father Browning watching through the latticework gave him the creeps.
After Dan changed into jeans, the family sat down to eat dinner. Faith made Sam’s favorite, spaghetti with red sauce and garlic bread. Everyone held hands and closed their eyes while Dan recited Grace.
Sam sneaked a peek at Faith. Everyone said that he looked like her, with his wavy brown hair and green eyes. Sam thought his mom was pretty. So did Kevin Lowry, his best friend. Kevin said that his dad said that Sam’s dad was lucky to have married such a hot, young babe. Sam had heard the story many times, how Dan Spencer was a junior big shot when he met Faith Yormund at the job fair during her senior year. They married right after she graduated college.
“Lord Jesus, our brother, We praise You for saving us. Bless us in Your love As we gather in your Name, and bless this meal that we share. Jesus, we praise you for ever.”
And then together, “Amen.”
Dan served the pasta. “Now, Sam. What was that about Anna?”
Sam grated fresh parmesan over his spaghetti. “You know Dander, the Parker’s white cat?”
“That dirty, flea-ridden stray they took in?” Dan said with enough venom to put down an elephant.
Sam wondered if Dander had scratched his dad. “Dander is not dirty. She, I mean he, is awesome. I held him, this afternoon. Anna showed me how. He was all squirmy till I learned how to do it right.”
“You’d be proud of him.” Faith beamed. “He’s a natural with cats.”
“So,anyways. Anna loves Dander, but she’s allergic so her dad says the cat has to go. Can we keep him, Dad? Please! Anna says if we don’t, they’re gonna take Dander to a shelter.”
Dan scowled. “Cats are terrible creatures.”
“But Dad, Dander’s so cute. When he purrs, he sounds like your Beamer!”
“If you want a pet, how about a dog? I had a St. Bernard when I was your age, I called him Saint Bernaducci. Dogs make better pets than cats, especially the Parker’s cat. It’s a stray, Sam. It just wandered into their back yard one day. We don’t know where it comes from, if it’s healthy, how old it is …”
“Please, Dad. I really, really want him.” Sam thought about crying. When he was younger, that sometimes worked, but now that he was ten, not so much. The older he got, the less convincing his tears were.
Dan Spencer stood and clutched the crucifix hanging from his neck tightly, as if it was giving him sustenance. Jaw clenched, veins on his neck popping, he looked scarier than any Halloween mask to Sam. “Absolutely not, Sam. I absolutely forbid it. We will not have a cat in this house. Not now, not ever, and that’s final.”
Sam burst into real tears. Dan was never that mean to him. Even Faith looked surprised at his outburst. She slid back in her chair and stared at Dan as if he was an alien. “Take a deep breath, Dan. What’s with all this hostility? It’s just a cat, for Christ’s sake.”
Dan’s hand moved in the sign of the cross. “You don’t understand, Faith. Cats aren’t decent.”
She walked behind Dan, put her arms around his waist, laid her head on his shoulder and kissed his neck. Sam shut his eyes. Kissing was so gross. He didn’t like watching his parents when they were all lovey-dovey. “It means a lot to him, Dan.”
Dan pulled away from her. “I won’t have it.”
“Did you have a bad day at the office, Dan?” She said it all sugary, like she did with Sam when he wouldn’t talk to her after school.
“What?” At first, her question seemed to throw Dan. Then, Sam thought he caught on. “No, that’s not it. Everything is fine at work, better than fine, actually. We closed the quarter with a new sales record.”
Faith poured herself a glass of red wine. “Then what is it? I’ve never seen you act this way. You always want what’s best for Sam.”
“That’s right,” he barked. “And this is no different. This may seem harsh, but it’s in Sam’s best interest. You have to trust me.”
“But Dad,” Sam stammered. “I … I don’t want a dog. I want a cat. I want Dander. She, I mean he, already loves me.”
Faith wouldn’t be put off. She got right back in Dan’s face. “Pets are good for children. They teach them responsibility, to be loving and caring.”
Dan just about spat. “Be serious, Faith. No one loves cats. They’re arrogant, stand-offish creatures, selfish and uncaring. If you were bleeding out in front of one, it would lick its paw and barely give you a sideways glance. Cats don’t teach responsibility either. You don’t have to walk them. Hell, if you don’t change the box, they’ll just shit on the floor.”
The color drained from Sam’s face. “Dad!” His dad never used such language. Dan was equally mortified, as evidenced by yet another feverish sign of the cross.
Faith, never shy about using words Sam wasn’t allowed to use, couldn’t keep the flicker of a smile from her face. She sipped her wine slowly.
Dan apologized right away. “I’m sorry, son. I shouldn’t have said that. That will cost me with Father Browning next Sunday.”
“Oh, Dan. Please. He hears worse every day on the playground.” Faith was right about that. Sam knew words from the other kids at school that would make his dad’s ears burn red.
Dan snapped back, more harshly than Sam thought necessary. “That doesn’t make it right, Faith.”
Rather than listen to his parents bicker (they called it open communication) Sam lowered his gaze and watched an ant carry a crumb from the garlic bread across the kitchen floor. Kevin’s parents discussed parenting behind closed doors. Not Sam’s. They always hashed it out in front of him. He sought a warm memory and imagined Dander cradled in his arms.
“That’s a conversation for later, Dan. Right now, we’re talking about the cat. I gather you don’t like them. I didn’t know that, but that’s fine. I also know that you, and I, always have Sam’s best interest in mind, don’t we?”
“Of course, dear,” Dan said slowly, obviously sensing the same trap Sam did.
Sam relaxed, knowing how it would end. His mom usually got her way. She either sweet-talked or nagged his dad into it. Tonight, he’d snuggle with Dander.