The Next Generation
Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
Ken awoke with his arm asleep. As he came to consciousness, he discovered the reason: Judy's head, covered with disheveled blonde hair, rested comfortably on his arm. He slid his hand under the covers and placed it on her bare body.
"Good morning, love," she replied. "I've been waiting for you to wake up."
Ken rolled over to bring his lips close to hers. "Is there some special reason?" he asked.
"It's not the reason you're thinking of," she replied. "You left my crutches over by the front door, and I've got to go to the bathroom."
"Aw," he feigned disappointment as he slowly rolled out of bed. "I thought you had something else in mind."
"Oh, that too," she smiled.
Ken slid back under the covers after bringing Judy her crutches. He glanced at the clock; it was fairly late in the morning. It didn't matter; it had been fairly late before they had gotten to sleep, busy as they had been starting to work off the desires that they both had been storing up for months.
He looked up, to see Judy coming out of the bathroom, wearing a very sheer nightie. With one look, his anticipation began to build again. She sat on the bed, laid her crutches on the floor, then rolled over and embraced him. As they had done the night before, their tongues entwined, and their hands wandered freely over each other's bodies.
All of a sudden, Judy pulled her lips away from Ken's. "If I tell you something I never told you before," she said in a serious voice, "Will you still love me?"
Ken pulled her close. "What could be that bad?"
She kissed him again before she said, "We'll have to go out for breakfast."
"The heck with breakfast," he said. "It'll be lunchtime before we're ready to get up, anyway."
"We'll have to go out for lunch, then," Judy told him. She sounded worried, now.
Judy turned her head away from him. "I can't cook," she whispered.
"What do you mean?" he asked seriously.
She turned back to look at him. "I never had a chance to learn," she said. "Mother always said she would do it."
Ken looked at her and smiled. "What have you been doing for food the past month?" he wanted to know.
"The same thing you've been doing. Eating out or eating in the dorm."
Ken squeezed her even tighter. "Well, I've got bad news for you," he told her. "I can't cook, either."
"You cooked when we were on Isle Royale," she said hopefully.
"I boiled water and opened packages."
"That wasn't cooking," Ken said. "Look, did you ever have any practice as what we've been doing the past few hours?"
"Well, outside of the sleeping, no."
"You learned it pretty quickly, then," he replied. "Cooking is something else you can learn. Is there anything to eat in the house?"
Tearfully, Judy shook her head. "I didn't know what to get."
Ken shrugged. "Well, we can go grocery shopping later."
"Later?" Judy brightened.
"Later," Ken confirmed, rolling her over onto her back and kissing her. "We have something else to do first."
Finally, in midafternoon, they forced themselves to get dressed, and launched out on an expedition to the nearest supermarket. Of course, both of them had been in such a place before, but never with quite this mission. They left after a while, nearly a hundred dollars poorer, but giving thanks for the development of such things as frozen pizzas, TV dinners, and canned stew. Judy was surprised at Ken's anger when they left.
"More than a dollar a loaf for bread," Ken fumed.
"I guess that's about right," Judy said. "I mean, that was about the cheapest bread there was. Why does that upset you?"
Ken's fingers turned white as he gripped the handlebar of the shopping cart. "Do you have any idea of how much a farmer gets for that loaf of bread, which mainly consists of the wheat he raised?"
Judy shook her head; she had no idea.
"Less than a penny a loaf," Ken told her. "And people wonder why farmers are going broke. And did you look at that meat rack! A buck and a half a pound for hamburger. You can't sell a typical steer for half that. All the store does is grind that steer up!"
Back at the apartment, Ken put the groceries away, still complaining about food prices. Judy changed to a different nightie, even more exotic than the one she had worn before, with the hope of getting Ken off that subject and back to the one she was interested in. While Ken slipped a frozen pizza into the oven, she made a mental note that she'd better concentrate on grocery shopping in the future.
Judy's nightie got more of Ken's attention than the oven timer; the pizza was burned to a crisp.
Over the course of the next month, they began to slip into a life together, and began to discover just how little they had really known about each other.
Judy discovered that Ken was constitutionally unable to even pile up dirty clothes. They tended to congregate around the bedroom chair until he began to run out of underwear, then the whole mess was ready for the laundry.
On the other hand, Ken learned that Judy thought of the shower as a dryer; he was unable to get clean without a massive deforestation operation.
Judy learned that Ken took showers, and hated baths. Judy was a bath person, both by taste and from the reason she couldn't safely stand up in a shower.
Judy found out that Ken could get in and out of the bathroom in five minutes flat in the morning. She was good for half an hour, if she proposed to enjoy herself, and Ken got upset if he had to wait around. Judy learned to let him go first.
They both had trouble learning to get to sleep next to each other; however, they had ways to fill the time.
Television was another point of difference. Judy watched a lot of television, especially game shows, which Ken couldn't tolerate. Except for maybe one football game a month, Ken liked to watch the news then have the set off. Judy noticed that Ken didn't pay much attention to the local news, other than the farm prices and the weather. The great need for study time kept the television level down to where Ken could tolerate it.
Ken was willing to do his share of the cooking, but Judy soon learned that he had no real concept of a balanced or a varied diet; all food was grist to his mill. He was capable of eating canned soup three meals a day all week long without complaining. It wasn't hard to keep him happy, but after about three days, the lack of variety drove her to something -- anything -- else. As she began to study a cookbook they got at the grocery store, she began to wonder if it was Ken's subtle way of encouraging her to learn her way around the kitchen, but soon decided that her husband was just being himself.
Judy had no afternoon classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays; Ken had one. The first Tuesday, he dropped her off at the apartment, and she decided to begin her program of keeping him interested, although that hadn't been a problem so far.
Ken came home that afternoon with his mind full of agronomics, to find Judy working at her computer, wearing only a grin and a bikini bottom; interest in both agronomics and computers were forgotten instantly. After that, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons were often surprise party time -- not always, partly because of the studying they had to face, and partly because Judy didn't want anything to get to be too automatic.
Despite their interest in such recreational activities, and improving their skills at them, the majority of their time together was quiet. They usually could be found with a textbook in hand, or writing papers on the computer. They'd already learned to work on their studies without bothering the other needlessly.
Judy's grades had taken a nosedive at the beginning of the semester, thanks to the hassles with Jennifer, and now she was applying herself in hopes of bringing them back up by the end of the semester; her midterm grades had shown that she had a chance. Her courses were concentrated on physical therapy and computers; while the former was her primary interest, she showed real skill with the latter.
They had only a few brief weeks to fall into a semblance of a routine before finals were upon them. For about a week, the studying was furious; each set an example, and they really piled into the books, and the meals became simple, indeed.
The results were worth it; Ken maintained his high average, despite more difficult classes than he had taken at Hinckley, and Judy managed to pull her own grades back up to an area where she could consider herself satisfied with them.
With finals over with, it was time for the Christmas holidays. They hadn't managed to make it back to Willow Lake since Thanksgiving, and were in no hurry to head back this time; they were too eager to explore a life together. But, eventually the holidays called them back.
It seemed strange for Ken to be sleeping with Judy old room, which still showed all the signs of being his; it was hard to get over that ingrown feeling of doing something wrong by having Judy there. At that, both of them were glad they decided to stay at the Sorensen's; without any words being said, both of them perceived that Irene Niven was still having a hard time accepting the reality of her daughter's marriage.
On their first day home, they dropped by Bob and Lori Watson's little house, to see their brand-new baby boy and catch up on Willow Lake gossip. Ken was surprised to notice that Bob's stutter was much better than it had been a year before; living with Lori had apparently done him some good. Though he still wasn't much of a person for talking a lot, it didn't take as much patience to listen to him as it once had.
Lori had decided to have her baby by the Lamaze method, and she had to give Ken and Judy a pain-by-pain account of the long labor. Bob didn't say much about it, and Ken got the idea that he would rather have spent the time someplace else, rather than holding Lori's hand.
They got up Christmas morning, opened presents with the Sorensens, and then went over to the Niven house for a while before going back to dinner at Sorensens. This was a much smaller affair than Thanksgiving had been, but the table was still full of food, and they were both groaning when they got up.
"What's on tap for today?" Judy asked as they lay in bed the morning after Christmas.
"Dunno," Ken replied. "Tom's got the H torn apart. He's planning on repainting it. Guess we could help with that."
"I wish I could say that interested me," Judy said. "But it doesn't. Let's go home."
"You mean, to your folk's house?"
"No," she replied. "Home. Athens."
"Well," Ken teased. "I could get a head start on reading soil chemistry. That class looks like it's not going to be fun."
After lunch, they headed back to Athens, to face a joyful week together when they didn't have to go anywhere or be apart for any length of time; they even did get a head start on their studying.
Once the holidays were over and classes began again, their lives began to settle into a routine. By now, they were a little more used to having each other around all the time, and they had gotten their studies down to a habit.
January rolled on into February; life was easy for them, and they knew it.
"The heck of it is," Ken remarked one evening, "That in a couple of years, we're going to have to go to work."
There had been several nice days in February, but it was snowing hard on this, the last Thursday of the month. Ken pulled the Sunbird into its parking space with a smile on his face; Judy had been home all afternoon, and might well be up to something interesting. He felt he could stand the break.
He walked into the apartment, to find Judy somber, her eyes puffy. "You'd better call your folks," she said as soon as he walked in the door. "Tom's dead."
"Tom's ... Oh, my God," he said, reaching for the phone.