Faith, Hope and Cherishing
"Now Opie, I already done told you that you ain't going, and that's that," Andy Taylor repeated in a firm voice as he stood in the kitchen next to his son, his Aunt Bee and girlfriend Helen Crump seated at the table.
"But Pa!" the child wailed. "All the boys is going!"
"Well all the boys ain't grounded, now is they?" Andy countered. It was unfortunate that the punishment he'd delivered to Opie for a recent transgression coincided with the upcoming camping trip, but that's just the way things had turned out, and like spilt milk there weren't no use a-crying over it.
"Pa, couldn't I be grounded next week?" Opie pleaded, not adverse to taking his punishment, but not opposed to re-arranging the scheduling of it if it would let him go to the camp out with his buddies.
"Opie, it don't work that way," Andy tried to explain. "Listen to me son," he said, laying a hand gently on his son's shoulder. "When you do something wrong, and you take your punishment then it's forgotten and things is square again. Right?"
"Right," Opie begrudgingly agreed.
"But there's one catch," Andy went on. "You gotta take the punishment as it comes to ya. You can't go about deciding when the time is right for YOU. That's too convenient. Then it don't mean as much. D'you understand?"
"I guess so. But I sure would like to go on that camping trip."
"I know son," Andy acknowledged his son's disappointment.
Andy watched Opie leave the kitchen dejectedly and he sighed heavily. Lord knew it would be easier to give in, to let Opie go. With one easy reprieve he'd be the hero in his son's eyes once again, instead of the villain meting out what seemed like unreasonable punishment. Andy sighed again.
Aunt Bee got up from the table, a pained expression on her face as she worried a tissue between her hands. "Andy, why don't you let the boy..." she began.
"Now Aunt Bee...," Andy interrupted. "I gotta do what I think's best," he said carefully, diplomatically.
"Well, if you think it's best," Aunt Bee replied, in a voice that clearly indicated her doubt as she turned and pushed past the swinging kitchen doors.
Andy sighed again. Lawd, now he had two of them against him.
"Andy...," that from Helen, who'd also risen from the table and had come over to Andy's side.
"Now Helen, you just stay out of this," Andy retorted, immediately regretting his sharp tone. But dadburnit, Opie was his son and he was the one who had to decide what was best for him.
But Helen didn't seem bothered by either Andy's remark or his tone. "Alright, alright, I'm out, I'm out," she shot back, raising her hands in concession and backing off slightly.
As he watched her leave the kitchen, Andy had to admit he was grateful for that at least. Grateful that Helen hadn't been hurt by the way he'd excluded her from his difficult decision. He was a man much used to playing the diplomat, his job as sheriff one of perennial peace-maker and it was a relief to have at least one person he didn't have to continually watch himself with. If it was one thing he knew about Helen Crump it was that she gave as good as she got. No shrinking violet her. She might be miffed with him, but she was never hurt. Not she who delivered her own strong opinions in an often-forceful tone. Maybe that was why, he surmised. Maybe a woman of such a strong mind and strong opinions was more readily accepting of those same traits in others. Whatever the reason, he was grateful for it now.
Oh, he knew what the townsfolk said behind their backs. That Helen wasn't sweet enough for their laid-back sheriff. She was too sharp around the edges, too forceful and with too much of a temper. They didn't know that the very traits they saw as negative were the ones to deliver him a welcome respite from his workaday life. He was a small town sheriff where just about the most exciting thing to happen in any given week was if they got two jaywalking violations instead of one. A man like him, under those circumstances, well he didn't want a woman who fawned over him, who yes deared him to death. He wanted a woman with a bit more fire, one who'd give him a challenge now and again. Andy smiled in recollection. Helen Crump was the most challengingist woman he knew.
Plus they didn't know about her sweet side. How could they? How could they know how sweet it felt when he held her in his arms, the light scent of lemon verbena wafting around her like it always seemed to. The way her frame fit into his, like she'd been designed especially for him. The way she sometimes touched his face, laying her palm along his jaw like she was...like she was cherishing him. That was the only way he knew to describe it. It wasn't something he knew much about, this cherishing, he only knew that when she'd started the peculiar gesture all those months ago he'd found himself drinking in the sweetness like a thirsting man at an oasis. How could the townsfolk know all that? he asked himself. It didn't get any sweeter, and if that sweetness came with a little vinegar now and again, well, he wasn't one to complain.
Suddenly, the kitchen door swung open a foot and Helen popped her head inside. "You coming?" she asked. They were due over at Thelma Lou's for a game of cards with her and Barney. "Or are you gonna stew in here a while?" she challenged dryly as she met his eyes, one of her brows cocked in question.
Andy sighed. She wasn't giving him an inch, was she? He thought on it a second. Was that sweet or was that sour? You know, after a while it all kinda blended together. Suddenly he grinned.
"Well Opie, it won't be long until school starts," Helen began the next night, sitting down beside the child on the stoop, Andy and Aunt Bee busy inside the house and a soft light glowing from the windows onto the darkened porch. "You'll like Miss Williams," Helen said, naming the teacher at Opie's grade level.
Opie stilled the flashlight in his hands that he'd been playfully shining into the yard and he looked over at the woman at his side. "I hope so. I'll miss you not being my teacher no more," he confessed.
"Really? I'm kind of glad of it," Helen countered matter-of-factly.
"You're glad you're not my teacher no more?" Opie asked, his eyes suddenly wide at the perceived slight. Had he been that bad a student that she was glad to be rid of him?
"No Opie, I didn't mean it like that," Helen smiled over his misinterpretation. "I mean I'm glad because we can be friends now."
"But I thought we were friends."
"Well, yes," Helen acknowledged with a little nod. "But now we can be a different kind of friends."
Helen smiled and nudged his arm. "Yeah, you know, the kind of friends where one friend isn't giving the other friend homework," she teased dryly.
"Oh that kind!" Opie intoned wisely, the pair smiling over their shared joke. Opie returned to his flashlight and a moment or two passed in companionable silence while he danced the light beam around the yard.
"Opie?" Helen began after a moment.
"Now that we're friends I wonder if I talk to you about something."
"It's about your father."
"My Pa?" Opie turned to look in Helen's eyes. "Ohhhh," he drew the word out knowingly. "This is about the ca..."
"No Opie, don't say it!" Helen interrupted. She'd promised Andy she wouldn't interfere with him about the camping trip issue and if she could at least keep those words out of this conservation she'd feel a whole lot better about what she was doing. "That...that topic is between you and your Pa. No, what I want to say is this: Mayberry is a small place."
"Huh?" Opie tilted his head.
"Mayberry is a small place," Helen repeated. "And someday, when you get bigger, you'll see other places. Bigger places. And you'll meet more people and you'll see other families, other fathers, and by-and-by Opie you'll come to see that your father...well, you'll see that your father is one of the best Opie. He's the best fathers I've seen, and I've been around a little," Helen smiled the confession. "Opie, I know you don't always understand why your father does what he does, but I think he's worth your faith."
"My faith?" Opie's brow wrinkled.
"Yeah, faith. That's when you believe in something even though you're not sure it's true. But you believe anyway," Helen explained. "I'm just saying that you might not understand now, but someday you will. In the meantime, maybe you could just put your faith in him. One friend to another, can I ask you to think on that a bit?"
Opie mulled her words a moment. "Okay," he agreed.
Helen smiled, exorbinantly pleased. This had gone better than she'd dared to hope. "Good. Well you'd best go in. I think your Aunt Bee's got your bath ready." At Opie's expression of obvious distaste, Helen laughed.
"'Goodnight, Ma'am," Opie said, making to rise.
Suddenly, impulsively, Helen reached a hand to halt him. "Opie?"
"Yes Ma'am?" the child turned his gaze to her.
"Opie, there's one other thing I forgot."
"It goes both ways Opie."
"Your Pa, he's one of the best, and so are you Opie. You're one of the best sons I've ever seen."
"Me?" the child blinked incredulously.
Helen laughed softly at his expression. "Yes, YOU," she replied with emphasis.
"Gosh!" Opie expelled his breath in wonder.
Helen couldn't help but laugh at the child's innocent delight. You'd think she'd told him he'd won a trip to the moon or something! Impulsively, and with a heart singing sweetly, she brought a hand to his face, cupping his jaw and then leaned close to press a kiss to his forehead. "Goodnight, Opie," she smiled.
Opie blinked back at her a second or two, then smiled. "G'night, Ma'am," he said, rising quickly from his place and going into the house.
Alone on the stoop, Helen sighed loudly, a pleased smile of satisfaction on her face as she picked up Opie's abandonned flashlight and began shining it into the yard.
She'd done alright, she thought. Yup, she'd done alright.
It was a night or two later when they were all assembled on the porch, Aunt Bee in her rocking chair, Andy and Helen on the porch swing and Opie sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of them, an odd assortment of military toy figures laid out in front of him.
"Hey Opie!" a voice called suddenly from the fringe beyond the porch. Opie looked up.
"Hey Johnny Paul!" he called back in recognition as his friend came into view, the light from the porch lantern illuminating his presence. "What you doing here?" Opie asked. It was dark and he knew Johnny Paul wasn't allowed out after dark, just as he himself wasn't.
"My Pa's waiting for me at the curb," Johnny Paul explained. "I just wanted to stop by and ask you what time you want us to pick you up for the camping trip tomorrow. My Pa says we can come anytime you like."
There was an awkward hush over the assemblage on the porch, a startled exchange of glances amongst the adults.
"Johnny Paul, I ain't going on the camping trip," Opie informed his friend solemnly.
"You ain't? How come?" Johnny Paul asked.
Listening to the exchange, Andy groaned inwardly. Oh no, another opportunity for Opie to make him feel lower than a snake for denying him this trip, to needle him with blame. And this time it'd be in front of his friend when he told Johnny Paul he couldn't go because his father had grounded him. Why was parenting so difficult sometimes? he wondered, sighing as he awaited Opie's indictment.
"I can't make it this time Johnny Paul," was Opie's simple reply. "But I'd like to hear about it when you get back," he added. "Maybe I can go next time," he suggested hopefully.
Johnny Paul shrugged. "Well, okay, suit yourself. See ya, Ope!" he said, turning away.
"See ya, Johnny Paul!" Opie called after him, before turning back to the figures before him, continuing his game and oblivious to the exchange of looks from the adults above him.
"I think I'll go make some coffee," Aunt Bee announced, rising suddenly.
"I'll help," Helen chimed, and the two women quickly vacated the porch.
Alone together now, Andy leaned forward to rest his forearms on his knees as he studied his son in the low light. He didn't know why he sometimes made assumptions about what Opie would do or not do. Like tonight when he'd been sure he'd get another earful about missing the camping trip. But Opie hadn't complained about it one whit. No, not at all. He'd answered his friend in a most mature way for a child his age, and without making his father feel any worse than he already did. "Opie?"
Opie looked up from adjusting the toy figure and met his father's eyes. "Yeah, Pa?"
"Opie I want to thank you for not giving me a hard time about the camping trip," he said quietly.
"That's okay, Pa, I have faith in you," Opie informed him.
Andy's brow wrinkled over his son's unexpected reply. "Faith?" he asked.
"Mmm-hmm." Opie nodded. At his father's look of perplexion, Opie continued knowledgably, "That's when you believe in something even when you don't really have a way of knowing for sure whether it's true."
"Opie, I know what faith..." Andy began, then stopped himself. He knew what faith meant, he'd just been surprised to hear Opie use the word about him and in particular in the context of their recent difficulty.
"Ma'am explained it all to me," Opie continued.
"Ma'am?" Andy asked, puzzled over his son's strange use of the word, as if it were a name and not a form of address. In fact, Andy was having trouble following his son's thought process throughout this whole conversation, and the Ma'am part only added to it.
"Miss Crump," Opie clarified before continuing. "We had a talk about it the other night. She said that maybe I don't understand right now, but that I would someday. She said you were one of the best Pas she's ever seen and that I should just put my faith in that for now."
"She did?" there was genuine surprise in Andy's voice. Well, he guessed he shouldn't have been surprised at Helen's interference in the recent trouble between himself and Opie, even though he'd asked her to stay out of it. There was no stopping her when she cared about something, as he had long since learned, and he knew she cared about them, the realization bringing a soft smile to his face.
Opie was nodding. "Yup, she did. She said something else too, Pa." Opie smiled mischievously over the leading statement.
"Oh? What else did she say?" Andy asked, marvelling at the here-to-fore unknown transpirations between Opie and Helen and the equally unknown revelations they brought.
Opie was grinning now. "She said I was one of the best sons she'd ever seen too."
"She did?" Andy asked, his voice inflecting with mock incredulity, as he tried to conceal his own smile. He could tell his son was revelling in the unexpected praise he'd received from his former teacher.
Opie nodded proudly for a second, but then he grew quiet and his face took on a thoughtful expression. "Pa?" he said after a moment.
"Pa, she done something else too, something I don't really understand," Opie said, his head tilted thoughtfully, his expression reflecting his strain for understanding.
"What's that Opie?" Andy asked.
"She kissed me goodnight. Right on the forehead."
"Oh?" Andy absorbed the information, thinking he knew where this was headed. "And you didn't like it?" he surmised, a smile of amusement twitching about his mouth. Most 8-year old boys didn't like having a woman fussing over them, kissing them. It was as if small boys had a built in repulsion for 'mushiness' and most of them did their utmost to avoid overzealous female relatives with their kisses and cheek-pinching. Why it was right up there in the avoidance department along with getting a bath every once in a while.
"No, I liked it fine," Opie confessed, effectively countering Andy's conclusions. "That ain't it."
"It was...," Opie hesitated, trying to find the word, trying to articulate how this kiss differed from all the others he'd had in his life, the ones from his father, the ones from Aunt Bee, even the one he'd gotten on the playground at school from the girl in his class. The one from Ma'am wasn't like any of those. "It was different," he finished aloud.
"Well, for one, she touched my face when she done it."
Andy studied his son a moment, something twigging with familiarity in the back of his consciousness. "She touched your face?" he repeated, the dim consciousness now at the fore as a sudden picture of the scene appeared vividly in his mind. "D'she lay her hand along...here?" he asked slowly, thoughtfully, drawing his thumb along his own jawline, somehow knowing he was right even as he asked it.
"Yeah! Howd'ya know?" Opie perked suddenly in surprise. "What does it mean Pa?"
A small tender smile tugged at the corners of Andy's mouth. "Well son," he began, the smile barely hidden, and his eyes warm upon his son as he prepared to inform him of a certain fact, one that was now shared between them. "It means you've been cherished," Andy explained.
"Yup," Andy replied. "It's a thing women do, to show they care about you," he explained knowledgably as he nodded reassuringly. "Well, a thing this woman does, anyway," he amended, remembering the peculiar gesture Helen had bestowed on him in the past, and now had apparently bestowed on Opie as well.
"Oh," Opie said, thoughtfully absorbing the information, as he looked down a moment, mulling his father's words. It kinda fit with his idea on it, he thought, this cherishing stuff, so maybe his idea was right after all. Opie looked up.
"Pa, I've been studying on it since she done it and I was wondering...,"
"I was wondering maybe if it was kinda like something a Ma would do to a son. Do you reckon that might be so?" Opie asked, something akin to hope in his voice.
A quick flash of pain tore through Andy's gut at the innocent question. "Well, now, I dunno Opie. I reckon it could be," he answered cautiously.
But Opie was already nodding. "I thought that might be it. Why it was different. I'm glad of it then."
"Yeah. I'm glad I got to know what that was like," Opie said matter-of-factly, a measure of gratitude in his voice.
Andy swallowed hard, the apple in his throat bobbing with sudden emotion. It was the gratitude he'd heard in Opie's voice that did him in. Most children knew a mother's love every day of their lives and never gave it a second thought and here was his son. His son, who was grateful for just the merest taste of it.
"Well then I'm glad too, Opie," Andy replied quietly, not trusting himself to say anything more.
"Well, I guess it's time for bed," Aunt Bee observed a while later, rising from her chair after their coffee and pie. "Come along, Opie," she called over her shoulder, heading into the house, the screen door swinging closed lightly behind her.
"Okay, Aunt Bee," Opie called out, scrambling from the floor before turning to his father. "Goodnight, Pa," he said.
"Goodnight, son," Andy replied from his place on the porch swing, momentarily squeezing his son in an affectionate hug before reaching for his guitar and plucking a few soft chords into the moonlit night.
"Goodnight, Ma'am," Opie said cheerfully, passing by Helen as he continued on his way into the house.
"Goodnight, Opie," Helen called to his back with a smile.
Suddenly Opie stopped in his tracks as if a thought occurred to him and he slowly turned back to look at Helen, perched at her place on the edge of the porch railing. Helen brow's raised in surprise as their eyes met. Did Opie want something? she wondered. But Opie didn't say anything, he merely tilted his head thoughtfully a moment, as if making a decision, before he took a step towards her. Helen's forehead wrinkled with puzzlement as she watched Opie approach her, his steps slow and hesitant until he stood in front of her, a strange expression on his face as he peered up at her, one Helen didn't quite understand. Was that hope she read there? Expectation? She wasn't sure.
"Opie?" she prompted politely, but Opie remained silent, just looking up at her, blinking hopefully at her as he waited patiently. Yes, that was it, Helen realized. He was waiting for something. But what?
"Opie, do you want something?" Helen tried again. Opie scanned her face, reading her incomprehension and slowly the light of hope and expectation faded from his eyes. He lowered his gaze from hers and his shoulders slumped slightly with dejection. Helen cast a quick startled gaze Andy's way, to where he sat on the porch swing, the guitar suddenly stilled in his hands and his mouth slightly agape as he met Helen's eyes with astonishment and something else she couldn't read. Finding no answer there, Helen turned back again to the child before her. "Opie?"
"No Ma'am, it's nothing," Opie replied, still downcast, and began to turn away.
Never in her life had Helen Crump felt so confused, nor so inadequate. Opie Taylor wanted something from her but she didn't know what. She only sensed his disappointment and dejection as she watched him turn away from her, something about his forlornness tearing inexplicably at her heart.
"Opie, wait!" she cried out in frustration, as she leaned forward and reached her hands out to stop him and to gently tug him back to her. But Opie kept his gaze lowered, averted from her own. Why wouldn't he talk to her? Helen wondered. Why wouldn't he tell her what he wanted? And now he wouldn't even look at her! she realized, taking in his downcast eyes. In frustration and desperation Helen reached a hand out along the child's jaw, pulling his gaze up to her own, intending to ask him to explain himself. But she never got the words out. There was no need to. As soon as she met Opie's eyes she saw that it was back. The hope. It was there again in his eyes along with a small pleased smile on his face. All she'd done was touch him, all she'd done was put her hand alongside his face. Was that it then? Helen wondered. Was that what he'd wanted? It was no more than what she'd done that other night when she'd kissed him goodn-
Suddenly a slow smile of enlightenment and understanding came to Helen's face. Ah, so that was it. Her gaze upon the child unknowingly transformed with tenderness, Helen leaned forward and placed a gentle kiss on Opie's forehead. When she pulled back their eyes met and they shared a secret smile, a silent communication passing between them as Opie's face fairly glowed with pleasure. "Goodnight, Opie. Sleep tight," Helen breathed the words softly to him as she brushed her thumb along his cheek with a featherlight stroke.
"I will. 'Night Ma'am," Opie replied through his smile, then he turned out of her palm and bounded happily towards the house, the screen door bouncing shut behind him as he went inside.
Helen stared after him, momentarily stunned by what had transpired, her hand still frozen in the air from where Opie had vacated his place beneath it. She'd always loved children, what teacher didn't? After all, that was one of the main reasons she'd even contemplated becoming a teacher, her love of children. And she'd always thought she had a good understanding of them, had prided herself on that understanding. But this moment between her and Opie was something different, something she'd never experienced before, and she was moved and awed and humbled by it. It was almost as if there was a secret language, one that she hadn't even known existed, and Opie had spoken to her in it. He had come to her and spoken to her in it. Not with words, and not to her ears, but directly to her heart, the first child to ever to speak to her that way. At first she hadn't understood what he was saying, what he was asking. Like standing in a roomful of strangers who spoke a foreign language, she'd been lost behind clouds of confusion and incomprehension. But suddenly, of their own mysterious accord, the clouds had lifted and she had understood. Had not only understood the strange new language, but even more amazing had known how to speak it herself, how to answer Opie back. Helen shook her head, trying to sort out and make sense of the revelations, and then another one came to her with sudden truth and clarity.
That maybe she'd known this language all along. That maybe it had been inside her all this time. She'd only been waiting for that one special child to speak it to.
Helen jolted out of her musings and turned to find Andy standing beside her. "Andy," Helen acknowledged his presence, replying in a slightly flustered voice as she forced herself back to the present. "Yes?" she blinked up at him as she swallowed, trying to regain her composure.
Andy eyed the woman before him. He'd watched the scene play out between her and Opie with amazement and not a little pain. He'd seen his son ask for something in the language only children, and the adults who loved them, used. He'd recognized and understood it, and it had torn his heart to see his son ask for something no child should have to ask for. It was something that was every child's right, or should be. Opie had had a taste of one of the sweetest things in life and tonight, like a starving Oliver Twist, he'd asked for more.
"Yes, Andy?" Helen repeated, still looking up at him.
Andy cleared his throat. "Opie tells me you and he had a little talk," he began, the merest hint of mock accusation in his voice.
Helen's eyes widened slightly. Uh oh, she thought, easing herself off the railing and backing slightly way from him, a palm raised in the air between them. "Now Andy, I wasn't interfering," Helen defended herself, as she took a slow step back and Andy took a slow step forward. "Andy! I didn't even mention the camping trip!"
"I know," Andy acknowledged, still advancing on her.
Helen backed another step but blinked in surprise. Well, if he wasn't upset about her interference with Opie then why was he advancing on her like that?
"I got two things to say to you," Andy said firmly, narrowing the gap between them.
"Oh?" Helen eyed him warily and a little worriedly, easing further away.
"Yeah," Andy confirmed, just as Helen's back met the wall and she could retreat no further, but could only stare up at him in part surprise and part alarm.
"What?" she asked.
"One...thank you," Andy said. Yes, thank you, he thought. Thank you for what you done for my boy, for what you gave him. Andy knew he couldn't tell Helen that, that it wasn't something he could find the words to tell her just yet, but he had to thank her for it just the same.
Helen's eyes grew wide in surprise. "Th-thank...?" she started but Andy interrupted again.
"And two...," Andy paused, something simmering in the depths of his eyes as he held, and would not release, her gaze. "And two, I think it's about time I did some cherishing of my own."
Helen blinked in confusion, totally lost and uncomprehending. Cherishing? What in heaven's name was Andy talking about. But there was no time to ask for suddenly Andy closed the gap between them, until they were only a breath apart. He raised a hand and laid it alongside her face while Helen stared back him, stunned beyond words. His oversized hand rendered the gesture a tiny bit clumsy and awkward, but his touch was gentle like a man's is when he's trying to be tender.
Helen was overcome as she stared back at him, her eyes wide in soft wonderment and her shoulders rising softly with her quickened breaths. It was darker here in this corner by the wall but she had no trouble making out Andy's expression, nor the gaze that seemed to bore into her very soul. What was he doing? She didn't know, but she could not deny the sweet sensations that were washing over her. Why she almost felt...felt...she didn't know what to call it, what the word was.
"Andy, I..." she stammered.
"Shhh." Andy commanded on a whisper, his eyes travelling from hers down to her mouth. Slowly he lowered his head and brought his lips to hers. The kiss was sweet and tender and Helen felt herself melt into it, into him. And then she knew. It came to her suddenly and clearly. The only word for the way she felt.
thanks for reading my story...please leave comments, thanks!