By ChicagoTunnelKid


Kipper sat back, then forward;he tapped his toe, then jiggled his heel. Will Father never end this lesson? It’s Friday, and I’ll be late meeting my new friend. I betcha she won’t wait for me, either. This thought sent his head plummeting to the tabletop.


“Kipper, what has you in such a fidgety state? You won’t understand the nuances of Shakespearean language if you do not pay attention.” Father emphasized his last words by beating the meter of the words on the tabletop, effectively startling Kipper.


Kipper looked embarrassed. “Sorry, Father.”


At that moment, Vincent strode into Father’s chamber. “I see you are keeping the students late again, Father. Surely, on Friday, you could try to finish on time.”


All six children in the literature class shot Vincent a grateful look, especially Kipper,who thought his entrance likely spared him a further talking-to from Father.


“Is it later? My goodness, I get so immersed in the language of Shakespeare that I very much lose track of the time. My apologies, children.” Father looked at each child as he spoke. “Well, get along now, no sense hanging about!”


Kipper was the first one out, and he kept walking when tge others turned. “Hey, Kipper!” Eric shouted. “Where are you headed?”


“Gotta meet someone Above. I’ll be back before dark.”


His new friend would be waiting for him not far from the park tunnel entrance, so Kipper had to use a different exit in the next block. He would double back so she would see him coming from a direction other than the tunnel. Kids Below learned early to keep the secret.


Breathing heavily, Kipper slowed down a bit since he was getting near. He saw her, and thought again how pretty she was and how much she reminded him of his mother. She had dark curly hair, just like his mom, at least what he was able to remember about her. And this lady laughed a lot, like his mom. At least she did until things got messed up.


The other kids Below would laugh at him if they knew his new friend was a lady. Why would a lady want to be friends with a kid? He wondered that himself, except she was so nice to him, and really seemed to care about him, so he decided it didn’t matter.


“Hi, Kipper! How are you? I was getting a little concerned because you were late in coming. I was afraid you might not make it.”


“I had to stay late in class. I hurried over as soon as I could. I was worried you wouldn’t wait for me, so I was glad to see you here.”


“What? Me, miss a dinner date with a handsome young man? I wouldn’t think of it.” She smiled at Kipper. “I believe the chef is ready for us if you are hungry.”


“I sure am!”


Together, the pair walked over to the hotdog cart on the path by the entrance. The smell of roasting dogs filled the air. They got three dogs, with everything on them, and a hot pretzel. She took one hotdog and gave Kipper the rest. They found a bench and sat to enjoy their meal.


Kipper munched and thought. Something about eating outdoors, with someone nice, made everything taste better. He swallowed his bite. “Did you know that hot dogs in Chicago don’t have ketchup on them?” Kipper asked.


“Why, no I didn’t. I wonder why.”


“Nope, they just use mustard there.  They top it with onions, pickle relish, and stuff, but no ketchup.”


“How do you happen to know about hot dog preferences in Chicago, Kipper?


“I read it in a book. It was a travel book; you know, where they talk about things to see and places to eat and stuff.”


“Do you like reading travel books?

“Yeah, it’s neat seeing places I’ll probably never get to see myself. Just because I can’t go there doesn’t mean I can’t visit in my mind. At least that’s what Vincent says.”


“That’s a wonderful way to look at it, Kipper. Who is Vincent?”


“Um, he’s one of my teachers. He lets us call him by his first name. He’s not into the formal stuff.”


“What other places have you traveled in your mind?”she asked.


“I know where Italy is, that it’s shaped like a boot. I know lots of restaurants here in the city serve Italian food. You know, spaghetti, meat balls, pizza and stuff.”


She smiled. “Perhaps sometime, we can get pizza instead of hotdogs, then. Have you read the book I gave you?” she asked.


“Nearly. It’s neat. Mark Twain really takes you along the Mississippi with Tom and Huck.”


“Yes, he does. I’ll have a new book for you next week then,” she said.


Kipper wiped his mouth on his napkin. “You don’t have to give me anything. I’ll still be your friend.“


The lady smiled. “Thank you, Kipper. But I enjoy giving books to someone who enjoys reading. And I get a lot of them through my job.”


“Then I’ll bring you something next week – something I made.” Kipper said.


“If you made it, I’m sure I’ll love it.” She looked around. “It’s getting dark. Time for you to get back home,” she said.


They stood. She gave him a hug, tousled his hair lightly, then let her hand slide down the back of his head to gently press him tighter, just for a moment.


Kipper sighed. That’s why he came. It wasn’t for the food or the books, although those things were nice. He came for that instant when he could believe he was with his mother from the touch of her hand.


The hug ended and they pulled apart.


“Well, I gotta go. Thanks for the hot dogs!”


“You‘re welcome. Take care, and see you next week, Kipper.” She watched him go thinking, what a sweet kid. What a joy to have him in her life.


Kipper turned and waved. “Bye, Jenny!”