Walking home from school the next day, Denise reasoned out the approach to use with her family to convince them that Jon was a nice guy. And nice enough to spend time with their daughter! She and Jon had discussed it yesterday and she really felt that she could not just keep on lying to be with him. And surely, if they got to know him, they would like him. So they had formed a plan of action. She would talk to them tonight. Dad, first, since he was a softie! Denise smiled. She knew how to handle Dad!

So when Tom arrived home from work, Denise met him at the door with a fresh, hot cup of coffee. "Hi, Dad. Did you have a bad day? Are you tired? Here, sit down and put your feet up. Mom had to run to the grocery store and will pick Todd up from Cub Scouts on her way back. So you just relax a while, OK?"

"Well, what's all this about, Kitten?" Tom asked.

Denise noted the pleased look on his face, mixed with a little suspicion. "No, it wasn't a bad day at all. In fact, it was a good day! I picked up some new clients. But it was tiring and this coffee sure hits the spot!"

Tom, being an insurance salesman, (and one of the best Denise thought), had provided well for his family. While thy certainly weren't rich, they had never lacked for anything that they needed or wanted very badly. He wasn't around much, but that's life, Denise concluded.

"Tell me what has brought on all this extra attention for your old dad? What's going on with you, nowadays? We haven't had much time to talk lately, huh? I hear that cheerleader try-outs are coming up soon. Can't you get Mother to get you a new outfit, or what?" Dad laughed, reminding Denise of the preparations of the previous year for the try-outs. She remembered how anxious she had been to have everything just perfect. But, now, try-outs were the least of her worries!

Denise assured Tom that everything was all set for the try-outs. "But, I've got some other things on my mind, Dad, and I really do need to talk to you." Denise hesitated, looking her dad in the eyes, very seriously. "Actually, it's about a new guy that I'm really interested in." She was trying so hard to sound mature and Dad was quietly laughing at her.

"I'm serious, Dad! I'll be sixteen before long. And nearly all my friends are dating already. Don't you think I'm old enough to date now?"

Denise's big blue eyes were begging Tom to say yes, but he stalled, saying, "Tell me about this friend of yours, Denise. Don't I know him? What about that Freddie 'What's-his-name'? I thought you were 'going steady with him."

"Oh, Dad, that was a long time ago! He was so immature! This guy, well, you don't know him, yet. And the only thing is, he's a little older than me. But you'd really like him, I just know you would, if you met him! And he likes me, too. Would you just let me ask him over so you can meet him? Please, Dad?" By this time, Denise was sitting on the arm of Tom's chair and pouring on the charm!

"I don't see any harm in him coming over here, Kitten and we can meet the young man, if that will make you happy. But, I think you'll need to discuss anything further with your mother. I know you think you're just about grown, but it's still our responsibility to look out for you. Let's see what she has to say about it!"

Denise knew he hated disappointing his family, so he often 'passed the buck'. It was a way of life around here! Well, so far, so good! But, there was still work to do, Denise told herself.

That night, at the supper table, Denise mentioned the subject to Mom. Since Dad had already given permission to invite Jon over, Doris reluctantly agreed that it probably would be good to meet the young man, since Denise was evidently so interested in him. "But, what's this guy's name? Tell us a little about him first! How much older is he? Does he live here in town?"

"Actually, he lives next door, Mom. His name is Jonathon Rivers. But he's not at all like you think he is, Mom. You'll like him. I just know you will!"

"Well, I warned you to stay away from him. Maybe I was wrong, but you evidently didn't listen too well, either. But, go ahead and invite him over so we can meet him and we'll judge for ourselves. But, if he's anything like I heard he was, you will just have to find another boyfriend! Is that clear?" Doris expounded with conviction.

Todd interrupted the discussion, apparently deciding it was his turn for some attention and began teasing Denise about her new boyfriend!

"Shut up,Todd, or I'll shut you up!" Denise threatened irately. What a pain, she thought as she left the table, relieved to have gotten this far with her parents.

Denise arranged for Jon to come over after school the following afternoon. She was so excited when she finally go a chance to tell Jon. Their plan, at least Step 1, had worked! The rest was up to Jon!

So, the following afternoon, immediately after Denise and Todd arrived home from school, the doorbell rang. Denise had been anxiously giving Todd last minute orders regarding his behavior and comments, as she went to open the door. Jon looked just as handsome as always, cool, calm and collected, Denise noted. Inviting him in, she called to her mother. As soon as she entered the room, Denise introduced Jon to Doris and Todd. Looking at the clock over the fireplace, she explained to Jon that Dad was running late, again, but should be here soon.

Jon was very gracious and sat on the sofa, next to Todd. He seemed quite comfortable with meeting her family, Denise reflected, especially knowing how thy felt about his being older than her. But she hadn't had the heart to tell him about the rumors Mom had heard about him. They surely weren't true, anyway!

Soon, Tom arrived for the special meeting and again, Denise attended to the introductions.

Denise sat across the room from Jon and Todd, avoiding eye contact with him, lest their eyes should betray their relationship. Jon was casually pleasant to her, but conversed mostly with the rest of the family. He knew what parents wanted for their little girls, he had told Denise, and together, they had planned to make them like and trust him. And, as for Todd, Jon buddied right up to him, too.

Jon learned that Todd was taking guitar lessons and mentioned that he played also. With a little prodding, Todd brought the guitar into the room, and after showing what he could do with it, handed it to Jon. Before long, Jon had charmed the entire family into singing along as he played old songs that everybody knew. Denise happily concluded that everyone seemed to be having a good time and there was no sign of problems for the future. Jon certainly knew how to put everyone at ease, she decided. Her family surely couldn't keep from liking him after today!

But, soon, it was time to stop the fun and get supper on the table. Doris invited Jon to stay for supper, but he declined, thanking her. He asked if he might be allowed to come over and visit Denise, saying he understood their reluctance and knew they wanted to do what was best for Denise. He agreed with them that Denise was young yet. He acted so mature for his age, so considerate, and wise, Denise thought proudly. Her parents surely couldn't refuse his request. Besides, he had not asked to take her out. Just to visit with her right there in her home.

Jon was a big hit that evening with the whole family, although they were reluctant to admit it!

After a few visits, Jon was treated just like a member of the family. Tom and Doris began to take an interest in him. Tom recruited Jon when he needed a man's help, they laughed at Jon's jokes, teased him unmercifully about his good looks, invited him to meals frequently and involved him in plans for the family.
Jon had introduced his family, James, his dad, and Vickie, his mother, and his little sister, Amanda to the Whitakers. Tthey soon all became good friends, as well as neighbors, drawn together by the interest of their children in each other.

The two families all celebrated together when Denise was again chosen for cheerleader for the coming school year and all seemed to have a good time, especially devouring the luscious meal that Doris and Vickie had prepared together.

As the time drew near for the Spring Fling, Denise confronted her mom as they were driving home from a shopping trip. "Mom, Jon asked me to go to the Spring Fling with him next Saturday night. Can I?"

"You know, somehow, I knew this was coming." Doris replied teasingly. "Your father and I discussed this just the other night and since Jon has proved to be so different from what I thought, I don't think it would hurt anything for you to go out with him to special functions, but you'll have to be home early. Can you handle that?"

"Oh, Mom, thank you! You're the greatest! I can't wait to tell Jon!"

Denise's enthusiasm covered well the fact that lately she had left the house several times, after everyone was sleeping, walked down to the corner of the next block as she and Jon had planned, where he picked her up and took her to a very secluded spot overlooking the small town. And the times she had spent the night with Nancy so she could go out with Jon, without risking upsetting the relationship between her parents and Jon by pushing for dating privileges.

She knew her family was totally unaware that their beloved daughter was so involved, so 'in love' that she could hardly deny Jon anything he asked!

At last, she could see Jon without sneaking around, this time anyway! The curfew was early, but, at least she could be alone with him without lying about it!

And as the school functions increased toward the end of the school year, so did the dates. And Denise became even more deeply involved with her 'knight in shining armor' as the time went on. Her world revolved around Jon, it seemed. But, her world was soon to change!