Kevin woke up to a beautiful sunrise. Usually a late sleeper on Saturdays, this morning he lay wide awake looking through his bedroom window. Clouds had spread a blue-gray quilt across the sky. The sun poked the edge of its disk above the horizon; the eastern quarter of the sky igniting a blaze of orange and red. It was as if the sun were climbing up over the edge of the earth and up into the clouds. Kevin climbed out of bed as it disappeared behind the clouds.
He flipped open his laptop and clicked on the weather icon. Thirty seconds later he was looking at a radar picture showing a huge mass of green to the northwest of town, moving southeast. He started singing the rain song. It was going to be a great day to play in the rain.
He closed the laptop and looked out the window. Grandma would have loved a day like this. He must have been six or seven when she caught him playing in the rain. He was surprised when she joined him. They sang and danced in the rain. She taught him the song, “Singing in the Rain” which he knew only as “The Rain Song” until he saw the movie on TV. After seeing the movie, his grandma’s comments about Gene Kelly made sense. As he watched the raindrops splash in puddles outside his window he realized that he must be the only Junior in his high school who even knew about Gene Kelly.
Then he saw the shoe box on the window ledge and frowned. The shoes inside it were wide at the toe and narrow at the heel just like clown shoes. Worst of all, they fit perfectly. Unfortunately, his mother had been standing in his door when he tried them on, so he could not lie. She had sounded so pleased with herself, “I found these on clearance,” but he couldn’t forget her smile as she added, “they’re waterproof.”
All he could think was, “Your mother liked to play in the rain.” At least this time he had kept quiet. He had so wanted to shove the box of goofy shoes in the closet and let them rot. Experience had taught him that leaving them out somehow kept his mom from asking questions. So he had moved the box around trying to find the perfect place for it. Now, after moving it around for a week, it was on the window ledge, haunting his view of a beautiful wet day. He moved the box to the floor.
A gust of wind tossed the rain around. It was going to be a cool and sometimes heavy rain. He ‘d need a base layer of quick-dry polyester. Over that he pulled on his favorite jeans, a thick wool shirt and a warm pair of wool socks. Then he reached for his shoes.
The skate shoes in his hand were getting old. The soles were thin; the suede was frayed from skateboarding. He smiled wistfully at the paint stains, acquired when he had helped Vanessa paint her room. That had been a wonderful day, especially when her parents left and they went out by the pool to wait for the paint to dry. He’d let her push him in the pool. Then he climbed out, embraced her with his soggy clothes and they both ended up in the pool. It had been a glorious afternoon and the start of a great teenage love affair. But the love affair was all they had. So it wasn’t long until the arguments began. She complained about his clothes, his friends, his music and his lack of style. Then, last Saturday, she saw Kevin and some friends returning from a long, muddy bike ride. She accused them of wallowing in the mud like pigs.
He looked at his old shoes again. They were memories. They had gone in the pool with him that day. He’d been pushed into other pools wearing them, including the hotel pool when his school won the district basketball conference. He was wearing them when he found and climbed a small waterfall, when he and Liam found that cave and when he found and then lost that ruby.. He smiled, it might have been a ruby. It was red. The ruby wasn’t the only thing he had lost while wearing them. He frowned; he had worn them on every date with Vanessa.
Vanessa. He shook his head. They had met at that party after winning the district conference. He realized now that she liked him because he was on the basketball team and he played rhythm guitar in a rock band. But he was not the urbane sophisticate she wanted. He wasn’t a starter on the team; there were, in fact, games when he just warmed the bench. The band was nothing great either. They were just a garage band, but McPherson’s Pub had let them give a free concert last Friday. They had dressed like a real rock band and the crowd seemed to enjoy the music. When it was over, Vanessa had complained bitterly about the way he was dressed, using words like ‘sloppy’ and ‘unkempt’ frequently. The really bad part was that he had replied with some inelegant words. The next day she had seen him at the end of that muddy bike ride. Yeah, the shoes were memories.
Outside, the raindrops were splashing in the puddles. His foot kicked the box on the floor. He picked it up. Waterproof? His mom knew he loved playing in the rain. He took the new shoes out of their box. The leather was thick and sturdy. It might be interesting to test and see if they really were waterproof. So what if they looked like clown shoes? He felt like a lonely, rejected clown. Splashing through puddles would cheer him.
The house was quiet. He grabbed a bowl of cereal for breakfast and called Al, who was still in bed. Kevin’s mom walked in while Al was explaining why the band couldn’t rehearse at his house today. He told his mom that he was trying out the clown shoes. Al heard him over the phone and laughed.
The walk to Al’s house was exhilarating. He was hardly wet when he arrived, except for the splashes on his jeans from dancing in the puddles. And, so far, the shoes kept his feet dry.
Mike was already there and Liam, the last band member, arrived shortly after Kevin. They quietly complained about not being able to rehearse. The boys were restless, wandering around the house. They drifted into the kitchen several times. Eventually Al’s mom chased them out of her kitchen, threatening to put them to work.
Kevin suggested a walk to the mall. When Al objected to getting wet, Kevin said, “We get wet riding bikes in the rain, hiking in the rain and playing football in the rain. A walk in the rain would be fun. I’m going. You coming?”
Once they were out of the residential area, Kevin started singing some of the band’s rock-and-roll songs. Even though his friends joined him, the rock and roll just didn’t fit their mood. Suddenly Kevin started “Singing in the Rain” and they all laughed. Mike took off running and they raced to the mall.
The mall didn’t open until ten o’clock. So they circled it, looking for more adventure. It began to rain a little harder, too.
“Hey, Kevin,” Al taunted, “I thought you were going to wear clown shoes. Where are they?”
“On my feet.”
Al looked at Kevin’s feet, “Those?” Al sounded genuinely puzzled. “They’re not clown shoes. They’re just sneakers.”
Kevin just shrugged. He was having too much fun to argue with Al.
Mike hollered, “Come on! Second breakfast!” and headed toward a McDonald’s with Liam right behind him. Al and Kevin quickly followed.
Tiny puddles formed on the floor beneath them as they warmed themselves with hot coffee. Just as Kevin bit into a sausage biscuit he heard Liam groan, “Uh oh!”
Mike whispered, “Hey, look who’s graced us with her presence.”
Vanessa walked in, escorted by Greg.
The four boys erupted in laughter when they saw Greg. “What’s happened to our favorite geek? He’s become a preppy freak!” Liam chortled.
“Hey Greg!” Al just could not pass up this opportunity, “Love your new look. Nice how the tie matches the cardigan and khakis. Very prep school. Nice shoes, too. They look like Kevin’s. Did you two go shopping together?” His gaze shifted to Vanessa, but his remark was addressed to everyone, “You’d think someone as sophisticated as Vanessa would know better than to dress her escort in a tie and sneakers.” He turned his eyes to Greg, pausing an instant to emphasize his final gibe, “She did dress you this morning, didn’t she?”
Greg, already embarrassed, turned beet red.
Vanessa looked straight at Kevin.“Well, if it isn’t the four little pigs. I see you’re still wallowing in the mud.”
Kevin grinned, “Wrong again,” he said, “like Gene Kelly, we’ve been singing in the rain.”
She snapped her jaw shut, censoring the comment she was about to make. Turning back to the counter she appeared to examine the menu. Greg quietly ordered breakfast.
Kevin looked down at his feet. He felt sorry for Greg and happy for himself. He was who he was, wet shoes, muddy bike and frequent bench warmer. The shoes were just like Greg’s, except Greg’s were tan and dry, not black and, well, damp. He grinned and said a silent ‘thank you’ to his mom. They were not bad shoes. In fact, they were quite comfortable. And now they had a good memory. Gene Kelly shoes. Great for dancing in the rain.