Anything We Want
It was light outside when I opened my eyes the next morning. I rolled over to go back to sleep, then remembered we were there to ski, so I looked at the clock. It was just after seven: time to be up, so I rolled out into the chill air and pulled my heavy bathrobe on as quickly as I could.
Dad didn’t see the humor in Central Vermont Power’s rate structure, so we avoided using electricity where we could in winter, when the rate was triple the summer rate. Unless someone was sick, keeping the bedrooms warm was low on his list of priorities, given the ample covers we had.
It was good, though, because getting out of bed gave you a jolt in the ass that kept you going and going all day long, like the Energizer Bunny.
There were compensations. All the stone floors in the house had radiant heat in them, and my bathroom was no exception, so it was a pleasure to get barefoot in there, and a pleasure again when I got out of the shower. Toasty toes make a really huge difference in my perception of what’s cold and what’s not, and I danced a little on the warm floor while I finished cleaning up.
It took some time to dress for skiing, and most everyone else was already eating breakfast when I went down.
We ate, and settled on vehicles for the ride north. I rode with my father and Shea while Tommy and Dana went with the Mc Naughtons, and my mother and Ally went by themselves.
It’s not a long ride, and Dad told us to keep our eyes out for restaurants that looked good for later. I did, but we mostly drove past forest and meadow. It’s a pretty stretch of Route 100 there, with the hills coming down to the road, and snow hanging off everywhere. It was a nice day, and the streams we crossed were running high, and looking very blue where they weren’t reflecting the white snow.
The road more-or-less follows the
There were enough places to eat, but we’d just had breakfast and dinner was a long time off, so I just tried to commit some to memory when they looked or sounded good.
When we got to the mountain, all we needed were lift tickets, and Dad bought those in one swipe. Shea was getting a lesson from Dana, so he had nothing to rent, nothing to sign up for, and nothing to find.
The rest of us split up into two groups. My father took off with my mother and Ally, while I skied with the Mc Naughtons and Tommy.
We were all wired, and had a great morning. We started off with an easy run, then went to the top of Castle Rock to wear out our knees, and then we went for the cruiser trails and just had fun. The snow was good, the sun was bright, and we skied non-stop until lunch time. Then we met the rest of the group in the base lodge.
My parents and Ally were happy, and yammered on and on about the good conditions. Dana seemed happy, and he had a real admirer in Shea, who was positively elated. He was funny when they first joined us.
He kind of glowered at me and the Mc Naughtons, and he said, “This is a lot more fun on a real hill, you know. You know what I mean? Where there’s some down in downhill skiing. No wonder I had a hard time last week. I was skiing on a pancake!”
My jaw dropped, then Dana came up grinning behind Shea and said, “Okay, that’s enough, kid.” He looked at the rest of us and said, “You should see your boy now. Well, you will.”
Then Shea started blabbering about how much he learned from Dana, about how good Dana was, how good his morning was, how much he loved steeper parts, until I interrupted with, “Shea?”
He stopped, the question on his face.
“Let me explain this,” I said. “Shut up.”
The other guys laughed, and Shea blushed, then he laughed too. “I talk too much?”
Tommy said, “You brag too much. Keep it down, okay?”
Shea looked chastised and looked down, then his head was back up in an instant. “I can link turns now, did I tell you that? It’s easy when you figure it out.” He patted Dana’s shoulder, “It’s really easy when someone shows you how.”
Dana beamed proudly, and Shea looked at him with adoration. I was both amused and touched by their performance, and proud of both of them.
Shea finally wired down while we were eating, and we all talked about how to spend the afternoon. It was decided that, since I’d already skied with Dana, he’d go with the other guys, and I’d ski with Shea, who Dana promised could keep up with me as long as I stayed away from the black stuff, meaning the expert trails.
I was fine with that, and Dana promised me a last run on the trail of my choice. At last run time, that would be something less challenging anyhow, because I’d be tired and sore by then. It’s a good time to get hurt, which is why we skied the steeps earlier that morning when we were fresh and strong.
Dana was right about Shea, though. It was the kid’s second time on skis, and he was competent on the slope, but still clumsy in lift lines and getting off the lifts. He could ski though, and he could indeed link turns, and he even failed at a tip roll, which I’d never even tried.
I wasn’t trying to show off, or speed or anything, but we skied the blue slopes all afternoon, and Shea was fearless. He made mistakes and fell often enough, but he was already at the point where most new skiers would be after their first season, not their second time out.
I was impressed, and Shea was a happy boy. When we met the guys at the bottom later, Dana had wowed them all, and it was hard to get them to talk about anything else. Dana asked me where I wanted to make the last run, and I said, “Somewhere we can all go, but top to bottom, okay?”
Jim said, “I know de place! Let’s go!”
We skied over to a quad lift that went to the top, and there was an intermediate trail right off to the side. I figured one of us would lead off, but Dana said, “Go ahead, Shea. Lead the way.”
Shea looked stricken, and probably because he’d been following one or another of us every other time he skied. We all encouraged him. That hill had a little steep bit right where we were standing, but it looked gentle right after that.
Shea took a breath that we could all see, then shoved off, making an awkward turn after the first drop, then he disappeared around the bend, and the rest of us took off, whooping and hollering. We soon caught up to him and slowed down.
Shea’s problem was that he’d never had to pick a path before, so we called out suggestions, and soon he yelled, “Shut up!” and led us down the mountain at a respectable clip, pretty much following the fall line. He fell at the bottom, and for a short instant I felt embarrassed for him, then the rest of us hit the same hidden ice, and only Jim survived it standing.
Jim stood there pumping his arm up and down, going “Hoo! Hoo! Hoo! Here’s how it is folks! Shea Luellen is the leader of the pack. Troll man!”
The rest of us were laughing and grumbling at the same time, looking at the little ice ledge that had formed, and was invisible from the uphill side, especially in the flat light of the late afternoon.
When we were all straightened up, we still had about a quarter mile back to the lodge. Dana grinned, yelled, “Last one back kisses frogs!” and he was off like a shot.
We just watched until he was out of sight, and I just knew everyone was thinking what I was. Tommy confirmed it. “Man, I wish I could ski half like that.”
We were humble and took our time, not racing at all, just putting a nice, quiet end to an excellent day on the snow.
Ally was sitting on a bench when we went to take our gear off, and retrieve our shoes. She smiled when she saw us, and asked if we had a good day. We assured her that we had a great day, and she said, “I’m here as a bookmark. Your folks are in the bar catching up on things.”
I said, “You can go if you want. We’ll find you.”
She stood and kissed my goggles and said, “I knew I could count on you. You do have a wonderful sense of direction.” She patted my shoulder, smiled at the other guys, and left. Smooth operator, that Ally.
Like always, it felt good to get out of the boots and the heavy outerwear, and it took awhile too. When we were ready, I went to the bar and got the keys to Dad’s and Ally’s cars, and said we’d meet them in the parking lot. Then we went out for our skis and lugged everything away. I started the cars to warm them up, while Dan started his, then we put skis in the roof racks, bags in the back, and we had a few minutes.
It wasn’t night yet, and the darkening sky was still clear like it had been all day. We could already see a lot of stars. We stood there pretty much silently, only talking when someone recognized an emerging constellation and pointed it out, and we had to look quickly when someone saw a satellite passing.
Our elders joined us soon enough, and said they had garnered a recommendation for a good Italian restaurant. If there were no objections, that’s where we’d eat. We, of course, had no objections at all, so we followed Ally down the mountain and into a little town to a place named Bernardo’s, and their quaint little sign said ‘Fine Italian Cuisine’ with nary a mention of pizza. We were already committed, and went in anyhow.
Shea went back outside, because he thought he noticed a ski shop with the same name as where he got his rentals, and it was right across the street. Tommy took him over to ask if he could return his skis in either shop, and the answer was yes. That saved someone an hour of driving to return them to where they came from.
The lobby was pretty, done in shades of tan and dark red, with lots of wood trim and nice, discreet lighting. There were wide stairs leading down a few steps to what must have been the dining room, and some nice music was coming from there. We hung up our coats where we were shown, and the person from the desk told us they needed a minute to set up a table for nine. My father and mother, without a word to anyone, walked down to the bottom of the steps and started dancing. Ally looked us boys over, decided Tommy was tall enough for her, and she took his hand. He followed her, willingly it seemed, and there were two couples dancing. I was surprised, because suddenly there was a third, then a fourth pair of dancers who came from the room down there.
When what I thought had been recorded music stopped, the dancers all clapped politely, and a guy’s voice said, “Thank you. I’m happy to take requests.”
He got his requests, and when the maitre’d finally brought us to our table, we had to cross a busy dance floor. There was a guy who was probably early twenties singing and playing guitar, and a boy no bigger than Shea accompanying him on bass, and joining the vocals in harmony here and there. They were sitting, the guy on a tall stool, and the boy on a bookshelf behind him.
They were quite good, and when we sat down we listened in silence, then clapped politely after their song. My dad saw us there, tapped Ally on the shoulder so she’d notice, then they all came over, stopping for a word with the players.
Dad was beaming when he came to the table, and he nearly sat between Mom and Ally before he realized what he was doing. He sat beside Tom, instead, and put his hand on Tom’s shoulder.
“That was fun,” he said to nobody in particular, then he picked up his menu.
It was fun for me. My parents had always been spontaneous dancers when they were together. I’d seen what they did just then many times before in other settings. It was simple enough. If there was music and there was time, they danced. They danced in restaurants, homes, parks, hotel lobbies, wherever they were when music kicked in, whatever the source of the music. Some artist in a park might have a boom box going, and they’d just start dancing. They’d look at the art, too, and maybe even buy a piece, but it was the dancing I always remembered.
They always seemed to be the happiest people alive then. They’ll both say they are that happy now, and it had just happened again, and I was delighted to see it. I could see that Ally was glad for them, too, and that just made it better. We were a different kind of family, maybe, and there had been sadness and tears when my mother left, but never an ounce of bitterness or acrimony. We were still a family, still loving, and still kind-of together.
The menu had a lot of things on it, and we took our time. When we all ordered, it was funny, because the three adults all ordered the veal saltimbocca, and the rest of us wanted the cheese-stuffed rigatoni with elephant balls. That made it funnier, because ‘elephant balls’ were the ‘largest meatballs on my mama’s Earth’.
It became hilarious when the waiter asked, “Can I interest any of you boys in elephant sausage?”
“I … I … no,” I said. “I don’t think so.”
And Shea: “It’s real elephant?”
I had to go to the bathroom before I wet myself, and did I ever laugh in the men’s room! I shouldn’t have left, because everyone else was laughing at the table.
Dad ordered wine for the adults, and the rest of us got soda or water. The water was fine, but the Cokes were an insult, coming in glasses smaller than the wine came in.
Ally solved that little problem by asking the waiter if they had wine by the jug. When he said they did, she asked for a similar jug of Coke and a jug of Sprite, and wine glasses for everyone.
After that, the meal was fine. The elephant balls were good-sized, but not all that humongous. We stayed quite a long time after we finished dinner, because Mom and Ally wanted a dance each with us, and one more each with my father.
After all that, we were still back at the house shortly after nine, loudly proclaiming a great day. When we were bringing our gear into the house, I noticed Dana speaking with my father, but didn’t pay much attention. They were just talking, after all, and they liked each other.
We gathered in the seldom-used living room, and didn’t really make a dent in it space-wise. I enlisted Tommy and Jim to help carry in some firewood, and we put a mighty number of logs in that fireplace, then I took the fire starter from the mantle, lit it, and put it underneath.
“What’s that do?” Dan asked, as the flame got to the logs.
I looked at him and explained, “It starts fires. Watch.”
Sure enough, the flames caught, one log after another. Soon we were bathed in firelight, and I thought to dim the electric lights in the room.
Walking back from the dimmer switch, I realized what my mother and Ally had done in that vast room. It was cozy, because the main light was the fire, and the fire illuminated not the white walls or the glass, but the artwork all around us, and the effect was magical, on me at least.
The bright colors on the various artworks caught the flickering light, and I’d catch a flicker, here, another there, and the colors danced around the room. Beautiful!
Ally stood and said, “Nobody leave. We have a job to do,” then she hurried out of the room, and was back almost immediately with a paper in her hand. “Let’s vote to name the Laundromat!”
There was a groan, and I volunteered a little story.
“You know, when we were in
Everyone chuckled, and Ally asked, “Your point is?”
I shrugged happily, “No matter which name wins, I think we should have a sign just like that.” I looked at some curious faces and said, “Well, I always remember it! Never mind.” I sat down, and we voted.
‘Danamat’ was the hands down winner, but probably only because it was less bad than ‘White Way’ and ‘Clean Jeans’, and other even lamer names.
I was cranked by my win, and Dana seemed delighted. Then I thought he should be. How many poor, fifteen-year-old ‘crooks and liars’ have something named after them?
I caught a glimpse of my father looking at me, and I knew in an instant that I’d pleased him, and that always felt special when it happened.
Well, we’d set out on this path, my father and me, to make a difference for Dana and Elenora even when we didn’t know them, and we seemed to do one right thing after another.
I can’t say that I ever thought Dana was in a shell, because he was always fairly outgoing. He’s like Shea: shy personally, but he likes people and he likes to be part of things. In my own way, I’m kind of shy myself. I get past it with new people by saying ridiculous things to break the ice, and that’s fun. It’s not really me, though, just the way I get through life. I like to think I’m a little more real than my wisecracks, and when I have a friend, I try hard to be a good one and hold up my end.
That’s where I thought I was with Dana. The guys from
There were kids in our
For instance, they taught ‘pocket billiards’ for Pete’s sake, and they called it a ‘gentlemanly endeavor, often enjoyed after a dinner meal.’
Well, I cleaned clocks at pocket billiards, because I’d been shooting games of nine-ball in local pool halls, for a quarter a point, since I was ten!
I just didn’t have anything in common with most of the other guys there. I wasn’t the only newly-rich kid in the school, obviously, but most of the others like me seemed bent on learning how to put people to sleep so they’d look like old money. It was the money with all of them, and I didn’t think it was so important: not important at all if it makes you a snob.
I wanted out so bad, and I wanted to scream it to my
parents, but I never did. Not until my mother left, then I told my father
how much Barents sucked, and he took me at my word then, and pulled me
out. Then we moved to
Now I live in
It’s been a happy place for me since we moved in, and the sudden turn with the Luellens promised even more fun.
Now we have this huge place on the mountain, and I love it here, too, and I stopped daydreaming enough to get back into things.
I realized that I’d been taking photos with my eyes. Shea: click! Mom: click! I’d been doing it for several minutes, and it was something I often did when I was spacing out.
I was spacing out, too, and listened intently to the chatter around me, hoping I could find something to join. People were just sounding tired, though, and I was tired myself, so we soon broke up to go to bed.
I walked up the stairs with Dana, and we hadn’t really talked much, so I said, “I like you, Dana. I really do.”
I said that because I wanted him to know, and it felt awkward after I said it, but Dana isn’t that complicated.
“I like you, too,” he said. “I owe you.”
“No you don’t,” I whispered. “You be you, and I’ll be me, and nobody owes nothing.”
Dana stopped walking, so I turned, and he had a look on his face. “Your grammar!” he said sternly, and I thought back, and we both laughed.
We split up to leave, and I was just going into my room when Dana tapped my shoulder. That surprised me, and when I turned he seemed serious. “Can we talk, Paul? It won’t take long.”
“Sure,” I said, and gestured around. “Sit anywhere.”
Dana sat where I would have, cross-legged at the head of my bed, just in front of the pillow. He looked eager, and I thought it was funny that he chose that spot, but I took the opposite end of the bed and sat the same way, facing him. “Now that I have you in my bed, what shall I do?” I asked.
Dana laughed and threw a fake punch my way. “You shall stash it, if you don’t mind. I need to ask you something.”
I put my hands down flat for balance and noticed that Dana was indeed serious, so I said, “Ask, then. I don’t bite.”
Dana looked at me and said, “Paul …” He rolled his eyes, “Do you think …” He swallowed hard and said, “This is gonna sound stupid, but I need something from you. Something else … something that doesn’t cost money.”
I shrugged, “Well, if it’s free, I don’t think you have to ask.”
Dana thought, furrowing his brow, “Just hear me out, okay? I said it doesn’t cost anything, not that it’s free.”
“Keep talking,” I said, interested.
“Paul, don’t take this the wrong way, but I … I … I love your father.” The last came out as a mumble, and Dana took a breath. “I love him,” he repeated clearly.
I waited for him to continue while I wondered about what he meant. When he didn’t say anything more, I said, “Dana, I don’t know about love, but I can see that Dad really cares about you, too. He likes you.”
“Really?” his face looked down at the bed covers, but his eyes lifted to mine.
I suppressed a yawn and said, “I think I know what you’re saying, so let me try, okay?”
Dana nodded, and I said, “You don’t know your father, and you don’t even know his name, right?” Dana nodded. “You had this old guy who was like a father, though? He taught you things like fishing?” Dana nodded again.
I said, “Dana, I don’t know what to say. My dad’s a good guy, and there’s plenty of him to go around. I’m not sure what you’re asking for.”
Dana kept looking down, then brought his eyes up, and there was both sorrow and hope in his expression. “I want him, too, Paul. I want him the way you have him, and I want him to think about me like he thinks about you when you’re not around.”
Dana’s eyes got wet, then started leaking tears. He covered them with his palms and said, “Oh, God, I want that.”
I slid off my end of the bed and went over to Dana, where I sat beside him. “Dana, don’t cry,” I said. “I don’t know why you’re talking to me about this. It’s not some choice that I make, and if you think you’re asking me to give something up, you’re not.” I had to think about what Dana was asking, and I idly touched his hand, then his knee. “There’s no way that my dad can be your dad, because he just isn’t.” I smiled suddenly and said, “Well, maybe he can, sort-of.”
I’d just remembered my first conversation with Dad, the night we found Dana in the road. He’s the one who told me that Dana and his mother needed money, but more importantly, he said they needed moral help. I snickered, which made Dana look at me sharply. The next day, before we left for home, I was going to pin that thought to my father, and someplace he wouldn’t forget it.
“I have a way,” I said out loud: not specifically to Dana, but he tensed beside me and I smiled at him. “Don’t worry. Wanna sleep here?”
Dana nodded dumbly, and I said, “Slide over, then. You get the wall side.”
I got up and took my clothes off, then pulled on a pair of sweat pants, and I tossed a pair to Dana. It took both of us to pull the bedding down for him to get in. It’s a queen-sized bed in a small room, so it’s pushed up against a wall. I never had to get over to the other side, and was used to just climbing in by lifting one corner of the covers.
I’d been tired earlier, but felt awake when I was comfortable in bed, and I did something with Dana that we’d not done before, which was make small talk until we slept.
It was nice to talk to Dana like that. We told little stories and jokes, talked about school and things we did, and the next thing we knew it was morning.
When I woke up, Dana was tossing over there like he was uncomfortable. Then I realized he was having a bad dream and I teased him out of it. “Dana? Oh Dana. It’s not real, boy, just a dream. Oh Dana! Your ears are drooling. Your socks are under the pillow. Your mother’s in the mail.” I kept it up until Dana’s movements calmed down, then poked at his shoulder to wake him up.
Believe it or not, that’s the sum of my useful education from Barents. Nightmare training wasn’t a subject, but we all had roommates there, and they taught us to talk them out of their disturbing dreams by saying things that might pull the dreamer’s attention back to reality. It worked, too. Instead of just shaking someone who was having a tough dream, which often resulted in screaming, or even a wet bed, just talking seemed to work fine.
If Dana even remembered his dream, he didn’t say anything, and he took first turn in the bathroom while I dozed some more.
I get up early most days, I really do. Our school bus comes at , so I’m up at six on school days. I get up early if we’re traveling far to go skiing, or doing anything good, like a field trip.
However, I could happily stay in bed for a year at a time if I had no priorities, and that Sunday I had no real reason to get out of bed, so I didn’t.
Dana, done with his shower, came back and said, “Your turn,” and all I did was move around to get more comfortable. I didn’t hear him say anything else, and I didn’t hear him leave. I was sleeping happily: peacefully, when the door started banging, like it had come alive.
“Paul Dunn, you get out of that bed, and right now!”
Ally’s voice, and thus words to mind.
“What’d I do?” I mumbled, but I sat up. “You can come in. It’s open.”
Typical of Ally, she didn’t shove the door open, not even after her ultimatum. She opened it with the knob, and was still holding that knob when she said, “Honestly. You could be a little more considerate of your friends, Paul. They’ve been waiting for you for an hour now.”
With that, she closed the door quietly. I decided to just wash my face, brush my teeth, and comb my hair, all in consideration of my friends.
Sometimes even my best friends tick me off. If I’m sleeping, how am I depriving them of anything but my presence? Anything they could possibly do with me, they could do without me as well, but no.
I guess I could see it. It’s my house, and I’m their host, so I’m supposed to make their day fun. I’m good at that, too, but damn! It’s not like it was or something, only nine in the morning.
I only stayed in bed because I liked to be there, not that I craved sleep. Something was fishy anyhow, because at home Tommy would have marched into my room and literally bounced me out of bed if there was something going on. If he was just early, he’d come in and we’d joke around until I was awake.
As soon as I left the room, I could smell the wonderful scents from Ally’s baking wafting up the stairs. When I went down, the first people I saw were my mother and Dana’s mother sitting in chairs in the hall, and they looked to be having a good old time.
My mother is cute. She was wearing red leggings under a green, plaid skirt, a white blouse under a soft white sweater with a fancy neck. Mom has the most beautiful hair you ever saw. It’s a golden brown, soft and shiny, and that morning she had it in a ponytail that draped forward over her shoulder.
I was surprised to see Elenora there, and wondered if she’d been there somewhere all night. Nothing surprised me anymore.
Anyhow, they were wrapped up in each other, talking eagerly, and I walked by unnoticed.
I went to the kitchen, which was almost overpoweringly good-smelling, and the only one there was Ally, wearing her big oven mitts.
“Okay, what’s going on, I asked? Where are all these people who are pining away for me?”
Ally looked at me and shrugged. “I don’t know, Paul. Maybe they gave up on you.”
I knew I was being had, but I didn’t know about what or for why. What I did know was that trying to get it out of Ally would be like trying to pick the lock of a two-ton safe with a soggy toothpick.
I went looking, and eventually noticed movement outside, and the guys were out there sledding. Tom saw me in the window and waved wildly for me to join them, and five minutes later I was going down the hill on a plastic roll-up, screaming because the snow was fast and I had no control at all. I stayed with it, though, and lived through my brief ride, and once I found my sense of direction I noticed the other guys standing there, watching me.
“What?” I asked as I stood up. “Did you really have Ally drag me out of bed to go sledding?”
Tom shook his head no, and they were all doing the same thing, but less vigorously. Then Shea approached me. “No,” he said, holding his gloved hand out. He had coins there, and I’m sure my confusion showed.
Shea indicated a little, round snow structure on the ground near our feet and said, “This is a wishing well, Paul. I have five coins here, one from each of us Drop the coins in the well and make one wish with each one. Your wishes will come true.”
I stared at Shea, the coins in his glove, and then I looked at the other guys. I was wondering what they had in mind for the joke, but nothing came to me. I held my hand out to Shea, looking at the little well and not him while he gave me the coins. The well, was just a circle of snow, formed by hand into thin walls, and it was barely a foot in diameter.
Dimes. Five dimes. I closed my fist and they clinked, then I let my eyes drop. What would I wish for? I had everything, and by that point in time I wouldn’t even wish my father and mother back together, because that would be like wishing Ally away.
I took a step back to look at the guys’ expectant faces. Tommy Timek: my best friend, my compatriot, my partner in mischief: His family wasn’t rich, but they lived damn well. Pat and Jim Mc Naughton: again, hardly rich, but they had what most would only wish for. Shea Luellen, my newest friend, and newly rich himself. What those guys wanted wouldn’t come from a wishing well, because when basic needs are already met, one would only turn to genies and the like for affairs of the heart.
I walked over to Dana and held the coins out to him. “Take these, man. You make the wishes” I patted his shoulder, “Make good ones, okay?”
Dana’s eyes showed surprise, and a whoop went up behind me. “I told you,” Tommy practically screeched, and the mysterious little gathering became clearer to me. It embarrassed me too, but not in a bad way. My friends knew me, and there was probably more money turned over in side bets than the fifty-cents I gave to Dana.
I looked at Dana, and could tell that it was an important fifty-cents for him. He took his glove off and held out one dime to me. “Take this, Paul. I think I’ll need help with one wish.”
“I know which one, too,” I said. “Don’t worry. Don’t even waste your dime.” I thought better of that and said, “It’s not a waste, is it?” I tossed the dime Dana had given me into the little well, and he tossed one of the other ones, and there was a tiny clink to indicate they had connected. It was a satisfying little clink, and when I learned that nobody had eaten yet we all hurried inside.
Ally tried to offer eggs and things, but we were blasting our way through muffins, hot buns, and sweets, with crumby abandon. Ally made these hot-cross buns that were so sweet they’d cross your eyes, and she baked muffins with crumbly, crispy tops, which were loaded with berries. Loaded! There were also pastry puffs that were sweet, and so light it was like putting sweetened air in your mouth.
Ally complained, “Save some for the others,” but the others had been there first, and had their chance. When our frenzy petered out, we sat there all satisfied, and full of enough sugar for the next year, but we were happy.”
Out of the blue, I felt a hand on my shoulder, and it was my father. “Paul, got a minute?”
I nodded, and he said, “You too, Dana.” He crooked his finger, “Come on.”
Dad looked serious, and Dana looked frightened, and I wondered what could be wrong. If there had been mischief, I think I would have heard of it. It was still morning, too, so whatever was wrong wasn’t current news.
Dad led us to a back corner of the TV room and took a seat in a chair. Dana and I sat on a sofa and looked at him. My father was looking at us, back and forth, and he looked far more curious than angry. He finally addressed Dana, speaking softly. “Dana, is there something you want from me? Forgive me if I’m a bit dense sometimes, but I suddenly get the feeling that something important is in the air, and that you and Paul are involved.”
Dana’s jaw dropped, but I kept a straight face. Dana shook his head slowly, then swallowed.
“You’re sure?” Dad pressed. “Paul, do you know?”
I tried to keep my nod imperceptible, but my dad saw it, and I looked at Dana. Truth time!
“Tell him, Dana,” I said.
He looked away from my father and said, “I can’t. It’s too stupid.”
Dad got up and came over to the sofa, and he sat by Dana on the other side from me. I decided to take Dad’s chair so I could watch, then decided they should have some privacy, so I turned to make myself scarce.. Dad said gently, “It’s not stupid, Dana. I won’t think it’s stupid.”
Dana mumbled, “It’s stupid.” Then he looked at me and cried, “Don’t go, Paul!”
I turned back and looked at my father, who nodded, so I sat opposite them.
I leaned forward and said, “Come on, Dana. It’s just a wish, isn’t it? How can a wish be stupid?”
My father was eying me, then he turned back to Dana. “Dana, I’ll listen to you now. That’s all I can promise.” He gave Dana’s shoulder a stroke, turned a quick, worried look to me, and then went back to Dana. “You have my attention.”
Dana fussed with his hands, looked all around the floor, picked at his collar, and made a whole lot of nervous gestures.
“Want me to ask?” I asked Dana, and he looked momentarily relieved, then he went back to fussing and looked away again.
He finally said, “Mr Dunn, I … I don’t know where to start.”
“From the beginning usually works,” Dad prodded gently.
Dana nodded, and in a minute he started, mumbling, “I don’t know my father. I don’t even know who he is. Mom has family somewhere, but she tore up with them when I got born, and I don’t know them either. It’s always been just us.” He turned his eyes to me, then my father. “We’re good, mostly. Mom tries, but all she knows is day labor, and that don’t pay much.” He looked at us in turn again, “I’m not complaining about the money, ‘cause broke is all I know.” Dana closed his eyes and said, “I told Paul about this last night.” He swallowed hard and went on, “I need to know how to act, and how to talk to people, and what to think about things when they happen.” He squeezed his eyes closed, “I need a man, Mr. Dunn; a real man in my life that I can follow along, and make pretty sure I’ll be a good man myself when I grow up.
Dad sat for a moment and asked, “And who would that man be, Dana?”
Dana eyed my father, and his voice came out quieter than a whisper, “I been watching you. I see how you are, with people and by yourself. You’re not mean, but you get things done. You ain’t loud, but people listen. You’re happy when you’re alone sometimes, and I can tell. You hum, and you whistle, and you dance, and it’s not a put-on for the world to see.”
Dana stopped talking to wipe a tear from his eye, so I said, “Dad. Dana wants some of you, and I already said he could have half my share.”
Dad was seriously choked up, as was Dana, so all I could do was wait, and hope to not break up myself. Dad got over it quickly and pulled Dana to him. “Dana, I’m touched. I really am. You’re looking for what? A mentor?”
Dana shook his head and started really crying, and Dad looked at me worriedly. “I said he could have half, Dad. I know I could divide you fifty ways and still come up with enough for me, but Dana wants a man who thinks of him when he’s not here. That’s what he sees with you and me, and it’s what he wants.”
Dad nodded almost dumbly, then thought for a long moment. He pulled Dana close to him, “Here’s what I can do, Dana. I can try, okay?” He took a breath, “I have Paul going back to the beginning, with diapers, first-this and first-that, and I can never have those things with you. Understand?”
Dana looked at Dad, and not really happily with those little truths before him. Dad said, “Listen, Dana. I think you’ll be a fine son. I don’t want to sound boastful because there’s nothing to boast about, but I think I can be a good father. We already know we can have fun together.”
The transformation in Dana while my father’s words sunk in was slow but dramatic. I think he’d been certain of rejection, and my father took him off guard at first. Then he seemed like a prairie dog, sniffing at the air, and he ended up in a full sideways body-hug with Dad, and I could see him taking in Dad’s scent.
Dana was almost beside himself when Dad pulled free from him. “Down, boy!” Dad said cheerfully, and slapped one of Dana’s groping hands. Dana’s expression was precious. This perfect little smile formed on his mouth, then disappeared, and then it was back again, over and over. It was like was envisioning moments to be shared, or perhaps moments missed, like he was three and had dressed himself properly for the first time; or he was five and had ridden a two-wheeler without falling.
I looked at my father and asked, “How did you figure this out?”
He shrugged, “I don’t know, I guess I missed the signals. Then, just now, a bell went off in my head and I realized what I’d missed.” He smiled and patted Dana’s shoulder, “And what I’ve been missing.”
I didn’t want to interrupt their moment, so I just mouthed the words, “I love you,” to my father, and he smiled his acknowledgement.
We stayed there for quite awhile before my father became uncomfortable and started to stand. “Nature calls.” He turned to Dana, “I’ll be here, son, and we’ll get wired together. Then, when we’re apart, we’ll still have good thoughts.”
Dana still seemed shy when my father turned to go, but he turned a good smile to me. “I still have these other dimes. Should I hang on to them, or use them before that well melts?”
I sat back, saying my words one-at-a-time. “Dana, I think you should pass them on. Either that, or wish things for other people.”
Dana looked right through me and said, “Let’s do that, then. Let’s wish for other people.”
He stood, and I followed him into the hall where our coats were. “This is good,” he said seriously. “We can keep some people alive, maybe. Then we can make sure they can eat, and I’ll still have a dime.” I could only smile at his certainty about the power of those dimes.
We bundled up and walked out to the little snow-wishing well, and I stood there solemnly beside Dana. “Okay,” he said. “This first one is so people don’t get their heat shut off because their credit gets cut off.” He looked at me, “It happens every year, and somebody dies from a fire, or from smoke, because they try to heat with charcoal.” He looked at the well and repeated, “Every year. My wish is that it stops.”
He dropped the dime, but it was a bit stuck to his glove and missed the well. He bent to get it, and I said, “Don’t use that one again! It’s probably your own.”
Dana looked at me and nodded, pulled his glove off and dropped another dime from only a foot up, saying, “Same wish!”
That one hit the target, and I grinned at Dana. “Do the next one,” I prodded.
Dana held his dime up where he couldn’t miss, and said, “I wish the store would give credit a little longer.” He dropped the dime perfectly, then spoke to the well. “We’re not bums here. We’re your good customers, and it’s not right to clamp down just when everyone else does.” He looked at me, a gleam in his eye, and said, “That oughtta do it, huh?”
I laughed, and we stood together. “Yeah, that ought to do it for sure … brother.”
Dana looked at me with a ‘do you mean it?’ look on his face, but he didn’t have to ask the question, and I believe I was as happy as he was.
We walked inside together, and it was pretty obvious that we’d been observed from within. Tommy was there trying to shake a section from the upside-down newspaper. The McNaughtons were in chairs with their arms behind their heads, like it was a normal Sunday activity. The only with a bit of a guilty look on his face was Shea, so I turned to him.
“Okay, who’s idea was the wishing well?”
They all looked around knowingly at each other, but it was Shea who hesitantly poked his hand up. “And the coins?” I asked.
Shea said, “It won’t work with your own coins, it never does; and it won’t work if you want things for yourself.”
I sat on the ottoman in front of Shea while Dana sat on the arm of Shea’s chair. “This is real?” I asked, incredulously, knowing already that it had worked at least once.
Shea nodded, offering nothing else.
I patted his knee, and said, “Okay, good enough.”
I started to stand, then suddenly sat back, overcome with fatigue. I noticed Dana yawning at the same time, and Shea said, “You’re tired. I’ll get you coffee.”
I yawned widely and nodded, and paid no attention to anything until Shea held a mug out to me. Steaming coffee with just a drop of cream in it. I could only sip at it, it was so hot, and I could feel it working its way down. By the time my mug was half-empty, I felt wide awake again, and sniffed at the mug, but it smelled just like coffee.
Dana was alert, too, and asked Ally if my father was around. She said he was somewhere in the house, and Dana went off to look for him. The rest of us kicked back with books or various sections of the different Sunday papers, and spent a lazy Sunday morning together