Anything We Want
Vermont is in New England, and March weather in New England is notorious for being fickle: fickle as in rapid climate changes.
Monday had been a mild day, in the forties temperature-wise, and had hinted of mud season. On Tuesday morning, I woke to the sound of mighty winds blowing even before my alarm went off. When conditions are right, the ell of the house that my room is in causes the wind to whistle, and it whistled me right out of bed that morning.
I looked outside, and the sky was clear and starlit, but it was still dark and I couldn’t make out the trees blowing around. It sounded like there was a hurricane outside.
It was a little early, but I stayed up and got ready for school. My mother wasn’t up, but I didn’t expect her to be.
The house was perfectly warm, but just the sound of that wind gave me a chill, so I boiled some water to make instant oatmeal, and I soon sat down to a big, steaming bowl of it, complete with milk, brown sugar, and a pat of butter. I filled my State Fair glass, which holds twenty-four ounces, to the brim with milk, and mentally challenged the wind to come and get me now.
My mother came down before I left, and she chided me for not waking her up, but when she knew I’d fed myself and was ready to leave, she headed back upstairs. She loves to sleep in.
When I went outside, it wasn’t only windy but frigid, too. I went right back inside to look out the kitchen window at the thermometer, and it read nine degrees.
I grabbed a wool cap, a scarf, gloves, and my heaviest jacket before I ventured back outside, and the wind still stung at my face. I hurried down to the bus stop, where Tom and Shea were already huddled close, and I joined them.
“Who ordered this?” Tom asked, shielding his cheeks with his hands. “Jesus!”
I didn’t think it was so bad with the wind to my back, and asked, “You okay there, Shea?”
He shuddered and nodded, choosing to preserve heat by not opening his mouth.
It seemed like forever by the time the bus stopped, and stepping inside caused a dramatic-enough change in temperature to make my scarf reach like a snake for the metal railing.
I think I was colder than I thought I was, because when I saw that Lisa once again had a vacant seat beside her, I couldn’t form words with my mouth at first. I got out something that sounded like “I, Eesa,” which was what I could manage without movement in my jaw or cheeks.
She leaned to me a gave me a quick smooch on the cheek, which had a curious effect. My blush felt like someone was holding a torch to my face, and I actually backed away.
“What?” Lisa asked, as I pulled my glove off to touch my cheek.
“Hot,” I said absently, then realized what I was saying, and to whom. “I mean, that was one hot kiss!” I smiled at her, “Thanks.”
She giggled and pushed up to me so our shoulders were tight together. “I had a nice time last night. I can’t believe we got all that money. I can’t believe you thought we could, and we did!”
“I was pretty sure we could do it. I um … what did your parents think … I mean, of me?”
She said easily, “Oh, they like you just fine. Daddy says you’re respectful, and that’s all he looks for. They both like that your mother is so friendly. It’s all good.”
I relaxed hearing that, not aware that I’d been so tense to begin with. Respectful: I guess I had been. Why wouldn’t I? I was petrified. Other people with shoulders like his, I’d have asked if they ate their Wheaties, and the box too. But most people don’t carry knives, nor do most people have daughters as cute as Lisa, so yes. I was respectful, and I’d remember to be in the future.
When the bus stopped to pick up the group that included the Mc Naughtons, I stayed in my seat. Dan headed right toward us, and tapped my shoulder on his way by. As soon as the bus moved again, he was right beside me in the aisle, asking in his cold-cheek way, “ow uch?”
I shook my head. “Not here, okay? We have it covered.”
He nodded, and rubbed his cheeks so his mouth would work. He smiled, “I can’t believe it! In one night?”
I shrugged, “Ask Lisa. She called this magazine in Boston and had the money in probably ten minutes. They’ll give again next year, too.”
Dan started yammering with Lisa, and I thought it was funny that he’d just spent the weekend with Ally, and really talked to her a lot, and still hadn’t caught on. That was good, too. Lisa and I had agreed the night before to only use company names when we talked about the donations, because the money would come on company checks.
That’s why I had to find Miss Warren before classes. I needed to know how to have the checks made out so the money would go where it belonged.
I took Lisa’s hand when we got off the bus, and we went to Miss Warren’s room, but she wasn’t there yet. I told Lisa, “You don’t have to be late for class, too. I can do this.”
She gave me the most amazing look, and said, “You button it up! If you think I’ll miss this, then you have the wrong opinion. This will be worth a hundred detentions!”
I laughed. Lisa was right. It would be worth any number of detentions to see Miss Warren’s reaction.
We didn’t wait that long, and Miss Warren stopped in her tracks when she saw us waiting there.
“Paul! Lisa! Is there a problem?”
I said, “Not really a problem, but a question.”
“It’s about fund raising?” she asked suspiciously.
I giggled, “Kind of. It’s about funds raised. Like where should this money go? Where should people send checks to? Is there an account that’s safe?”
She stared at me. “Safe? I don’t know what you mean. Of course any donations will be safe.”
Lisa surprised me. “I think Paul means safe, like this money will be there for this Jamie Jenks fund, and not just get spent any old place.”
I nodded, “That’s
what I meant. Does this committee have its own account somewhere?”
Miss Warren sat against a desk and asked, “This money is for a dance. Why would it be spent anywhere else?”
Lisa said kind of gleefully, “It’s thirty-five thousand dollars, and there’s more behind it. I think we need our own account.”
Miss Warren’s eyes expanded, and she drew a sharp breath. “Dollars? You’re serious?”
I nodded, and Lisa said, “Yes, Miss Warren. Thirty-five thousand dollars. That’s what we have pledged.” She touched my shoulder and added, “We decided before we called people that five thousand would be a better number for the dance. Who would have guessed that seven out of the first seven companies we called would offer that much?”
Miss Warren let out a big exhale, and said, “Not me! Of course, you’re right. We will need a separate account. I think the principal can do that, but even if it’s the board, it’s just a call to the bank. Let’s think of a name.”
“That’s simple,” I said. “The Jamie Jenks Memorial Fund.”
Lisa said, “Perfect,” and miss Warren nodded.
“I’ll set it up today.” She gave us an exasperated look and asked, “Is this for real?”
“Yeah,” I said, almost in unison with Lisa, then I went on. “Listen, we have thirty-five thousand coming, and equal promises for next year. I just don’t want to see this money sucked up somewhere else. I don’t even think we should tell the committee how much there is, except for this year. This money is for a purpose, and I don’t think it should get spent on baseball jerseys or something.”
Miss Warren was thinking. “I see your point.” She thought for a moment, then said, “Let me think about this. I think you’re right. We should eventually open a separate account with this kind of funding.”
Right then, I noticed that it was snowing like crazy outside, and both Lisa and Miss Warren noticed my expression. They turned to the window and saw, and Lisa drew a sharp breath, while Miss Warren said, “Oh, my. Not more snow!”
Then the bell rang, and as her home-room students came into the classroom, she filled out late passes for us.
The talk in my first classes was the unexpected heavy snow outside, and at ten o’clock there was an announcement that there would be early dismissal at eleven. Buses would run as normal, but students without transportation were told to gather in the cafeteria, while those who drove their own cars were dismissed immediately.
I was just mesmerized by the storm. I’d seen squalls that heavy, but the snow was coming down relentlessly. I was standing at the window in French class, just looking out with my usual wonder. Our teacher had disappeared on the announcement and hadn’t returned, so I felt free to goof off.
There was a sudden flash outside, and the room went dark. Someone said, in a deep, male voice, “Holy shit! Did you see that? That transformer exploded!”
I had seen the flash, and the emergency lights had come on, so we weren’t exactly in darkness. It was a dark, snowy day outside, but it was still day. The building was kind of eerie in that light, and someone in the back of the room started making ghostly sounds that made me laugh. Then the loudspeaker barked, “School is dismissed. Please be patient and don’t crowd. The buses are outside, but they are not in order. If you don’t know your bus number, follow someone you ride with.”
They kept talking over the speakers, but we found our way out into the halls, then to our lockers. It was different, not frightening at all, and when I saw Tommy I called, “Hey! You there with red hair and no flesh! I know you don’t know your bus, so follow me! I live next door to you!”
Tommy brought a very long finger to my attention, and we both laughed and headed outside. We hung back by the doors at first, under the protection of the overhang. I looked right, then left, and there were just buses and people everywhere. Bus One would normally be right in front of us, the rest behind it. Now Bus Three was where Bus One belonged, and Bus Sixteen was next in line.
Tommy tapped my shoulder. “Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to go find our bus, then come back and show me where it is.”
“My mission?” I started to say, then Dan was right there.
“We’re down this way,” he said, pointing to the left.
Tom and I started to move away, and Dan cried, “No, no. Stay here and help me look There’s only a couple of people on the bus yet.”
So we turned our attention to the doors. Tom and Dan were both taller than me, and better suited for spotting people, but it was me who saw Shea first, and I waved him over. We waited until we found ten people, then I led them to the bus. Thankfully, Lisa was already on board, and I quickly sat beside her. I said a quick hello, and decided I should say something to the driver, so I went up and explained that a couple of giants were gathering his passengers, and they’d probably all show up at once.
Then I went back to Lisa and asked, “How’d you find the bus so fast?”
“Dan showed me,” she said. “He was waiting when I came outside.”
I snickered, “Think he’s becoming Jamie?” then thought about what I’d just asked. In two days, Dan Mc Naughton had gone from this quiet, thoughtful guy who preferred ski dancing to downhill racing, to someone who was acting like the new leader of the pack; like it was his to do.
I took Lisa’s hand in mine without thinking, and I felt warm acceptance in her grip. “She said, Dan’s really a lot like Jamie. Jamie was pretty quiet most of the time. He only stood up when things needed to happen.”
She looked at me, and touched my nose. “I think that’s what Dan does, too. Maybe they learned it from each other.”
I shrugged. “Maybe. Or maybe they’re both like that.”
Lisa was about to say something when the bus suddenly filled with people. Tom and Dan were the last two on, and Tom touched the driver’s shoulder. This is everybody.”
They both bopped my shoulder on the way by, and when everyone had a seat, the bus started moving. It was slow, and even sitting in the middle I could tell it was slippery, but once the bus was out on the road it got better. I thought to turn my cell phone on and call home, and when my mother answered I said I was out of school because of the storm, and maybe fifteen minutes away.
I held the phone out to Lisa, and she didn’t take it right away, then she called her mother at work and said about the same thing.
Shea came up and asked to borrow my phone, and he got nothing while he listened. I said, “You can come to my house ‘til they’re home.” That earned me yet another grateful little smile from Shea, and it told me to think of a way that it could be me thanking him next time. I didn’t want the kid to be feeling all indebted to me, because he wasn’t.
My phone went off before I got it back into my pocket, and the readout said Luellen, but the voice after I answered was all broken up. I said, “I can’t understand a word. Try again, okay?”
Two minutes later, it rang again, and it was Mr. Luellen. “Sorry, boy. Must have been a blind spot. We’re on the way to pick up the little ones. Where are you?”
I said, “It was Shea who called. We’re on the bus, and almost home. Shea can stay at our place ‘til you get back.”
He said, “Good, good, good. We’ll pick him up there. Thanks for calling.”
He hung up before I could respond, and I held my phone up in the air and asked, “Anyone else need this?”
There was no response, and everyone seemed busy, so I leaned close to Lisa. “Kiss me?” I asked, and she did! We kept it private, and we kept it up until the bus stopped at the end of her street. I told her I’d call later, and she said not too much later, and I loved it!
It was Tommy, me and Shea at our stop, and Tom came to my house too, because his parents were working. We went to the back door and came in that way. The snow outside was already several inches deep, and it was coming down like sixty. Don’t ask me to explain sixty, it’s just a Vermont term that means loads of snow in a short time. Maybe in 1760, 1860 or 1960 they got a ton of snow at once, but a snow dump like we were getting meant it was coming down like sixty.
When we got out of our heavy clothes and tumbled into the kitchen, it was clear that my mother was expecting me, and not Tom and Shea, and she hurried to make more sandwiches and dish up more soup. Mom was casual about it, though, and said, “Shea, your mother called. They might be stuck for awhile and thought you might show up here, so just make yourself at home.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Shea said, as he dipped a spoon into his soup bowl. “Paul talked to my father from the bus.”
It was then that Tom thought to call his father at work, because he might be stuck too, and he was. He was glad that Tom was safe, and told him to stay with us. Tom’s mother was stuck by the storm, too, but everyone was safe where they were.
After we ate, we went into the living room and turned the television on, hoping to learn where exactly this storm came from. It seemed to be pretty local, and predictions were for between ten and twenty inches of snow in the next eighteen hours. I heard that and said, “I have to go shovel. You guys stay here.”
Dad had a guy come to plow the driveway, but he didn’t take care of the walks or the back part of the driveway. Shea and Tommy both bundled up and came to help, and I was glad for their help. It had turned to sleet while we were inside, and that made for a heavy mess to shovel. It was still coming down, too, but thankfully back to snow.
We went back inside, cold and wet, and sat in the kitchen. We were there for awhile, talking about things, when the phone rang. I picked it up.
“Paul?” Lisa’s voice was small. “Can you … is it possible … our heat is out. The power’s out. My parents can’t get home. If we walk over there, can we stay with you?”
“Lisa, don’t walk, it’s bad out. What do you mean? How many people make ‘we’?”
She giggled, I have a family, you know. I have a brother and sister with me, and another brother who’s not here. Lou and Dina are cold like me.”
I said, “Hold on,” and went to look for my mother, who was in the living room.
“Ma,” I said. “Can you drive that Audi in this weather? Lisa is stuck without power.”
My mother looked at me and said, “Paul, I believe that car was designed for this weather. That’s what Ally said. Should I call her?”
I said, “Just give me the key so I can warm it up. They’re cold.”
I picked up the phone in the kitchen. “Lisa? Tell me how to get to your house. We have to clean off the car, but we’ll be on the way in about ten minutes.”
We were there in twenty minutes, and Lisa’s house was a plain-jane blue ranch with a garage addition that seemed too big for the house. I got out to go to the door, but Lisa came out first, followed by two little ones. Littler is the better word. Her sister was probably twelve, and had an uncanny resemblance to Lisa, and Lou was around ten. He was different, at least his glasses made him look a lot different.
They all climbed into the back seat, and when I got back in and we took off, they started commenting on the warmth, and thanking us.
I just smiled at Lisa, craning my neck to do so. “Your parents are stuck, too?”
She said, “Yeah. Mom works here in town, and still can’t get out. Dad is over in Keene with Aldo. They’re staying, too. We’d be okay if the power wasn’t out.”
It just took a look at the trees to see why power was a problem. This snow was heavy and sticky, and trees were bent over all around us. It just took an overburdened branch to hit a power line, and that could put a home, or even a neighborhood, right into darkness.
We got back to our house without mishap, and my mother parked the car where we’d shoveled earlier, to keep it out of the way of the plow.
As soon as we were inside, Lisa called her mother at work to let her know they were with us. Her mother had already called the power company, and their place was on the list to be fixed.
Lisa’s brother was a terror. He was running around the house like a curious dog, except he kept picking things up to look at them, then putting them down in the wrong place. I finally got in front of him, hands on my hips, and he stopped. I said, “Calm down!”
He punched me! Right in the stomach, but not the place that knocks the wind out of you. Tom saw that, and grabbed the Lou’s elbows from behind, which made the kid start kicking and screaming like he was being murdered.
Lisa got right in his face, her hand firmly on his chest. “Stop it, Lou!” He did stop long enough to glare at her, so she said, “Help me, Tom. Sit him in a chair by the TV, and sit on him if you have to.” She stroked Lou’s shoulder and said, “We came here to get warm, not to tear the house apart. Now sit and watch television, and be quiet.”
Lou looked around, defiance still in his eyes, but I think he realized the numbers weren’t in his favor, so he let Tom and Lisa bring him to a chair with a good view of the TV. He sat down without further commotion, and picked up the remote. In another minute he was paging through the channels, starting from the channel it was on. He wasn’t flipping through rapidly, though, and gave all but commercials and obvious soaps a fair look before he moved on.
I took a long look at Lou as he settled in, and he really doesn’t resemble his sisters at all, nor does he look much like either of his parents. Lou is slim and not well built, even for a young kid. His hair is short on his head, and simply combed forward. Where his two sisters have black hair, Lou’s is reddish-brown. His nose is thin and straight and he has thin lips and kind of a pointy chin. Maybe it’s mostly the glasses, but Lou looks like a stereotypical bookworm, and his punch didn’t have enough behind it to convince me otherwise.
Shea and Dina both sat down to watch television, and soon Lisa seemed satisfied. She came over to me, Tommy right behind her, and walked right past me into the kitchen, where my mother was reading. Before I could ask, Lisa turned to me. “He’s afraid Daddy won’t come home.” She sighed and leaned against the counter, propping herself with both hands. “It’s a long story. When my father was our age, a little older, he got into a fight and stabbed a man. He was still a minor, so he spent until he was eighteen in a juvenile facility. In jail.”
She looked at me for a reaction, and I just lifted my eyebrows a little. “Lou was probably too immature to hear about it, but my father told each of us when we turned ten. The rest of us heard it as a bit of family history, but Lou has the idea that Dad might go back to jail at any time. He doesn’t usually freak out like today, but Dad’s not home, Mom’s not home, and now we’re not home.” She looked at me sadly, “He’ll want to apologize for hitting you. Just let him, and don’t make a big deal out of it. Okay?”
I nodded, feeling sorry for the kid.
With nothing better to do, we all went in to watch television, and before long Lou was leaning against me. There was worry in his eyes, and he whispered, “I’m sorry I socked you. Are you mad at me?”
I gave his back a pat and said, “Don’t worry about it, Lou. And your dad’ll come for you when the storm lets up.”
“Okay,” he said. Then he went around the room putting all the things he’d moved back into their original positions. When he was done, he went back to his seat, and let out a satisfied sounding little sigh when he was comfortable.
About a half-hour later the phone rang, and my mother called for me to pick it up. I did, and wandered into the next room so I could hear over the TV. To my surprise, it was Miss Warren.
“Well, Paul. Your fundraising skills have raised a lot of eyebrows among the staff and the board. Everyone likes the idea of a memorial fund for Jamie Jenks, but there is resistance to the idea of it being strictly there to fund dances.”
I said, “But that’s what the money was donated for!”
“I know, I know,” she said. “I have pointed that out many times today, but there is a certain board member who claims the school isn’t bound in any way to earmark funds, no matter what the spirit was behind the donations.”
“That sounds like bull to me,” I said. “Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to keep calling after we got enough for this year. Can this board member really get his way?”
“Not if we’re careful,” Miss Warren said. “I spoke with our own counsel, and if we merely change the account name to ‘the Jamie Jenks Memorial Dance Fund’ there’s little the school system can do to use it elsewhere.”
“Let’s do that, then,” I said.
“People made a lot of valid points, Paul. This is a lot of money, and some people see it as almost frivolous to spend so much on dances. It would make a very nice scholarship fund, for instance.”
I made a face, which she obviously couldn’t see. “The school can give out scholarships?” I asked.
“No, they can’t, nor can the school board. It would have to be an outside fund.”
“Let me guess,” I said. “A certain board member would be happy to resign, and take charge of that fund himself?”
She coughed, then allowed herself a little laugh. “You’re an astute listener, Paul; and you’re right, except it’s herself. “
“Okay, let’s get this name right. The Jamie Jenks Memorial Dance Fund. Anything else?”
“No,” Miss Warren said with some humor in her voice. “That should do it.”
I should have hung up, but I asked, “Do you think a scholarship is a good idea? I mean, we could do something separate if we want to, right?”
She said, “Talk to me, Paul. Do you think you could repeat your magic on a larger scale? Scholarships are wonderful things.”
I asked, “Where are you, anyhow? Still at school?”
“Yes,” she sighed. “Snowed in. Don’t worry, though, There are sofas in the teacher’s lounges, and plenty of blankets and pillows. Oh, and about five hundred lunches ready to heat up in the cafeteria, so I’ll survive.”
“You’re alone there?” I asked.
“Oh, no. There are about twenty of us who didn’t make it out. The power came back several hours ago, so it’s comfortable.”
“So, do you think we should set up a scholarship after all?” I asked. “How much more would we need?”
She said, “I’ll have to calculate some things out. A scholarship fund should be self-sustaining, meaning you either use only the interest, or you have the means to replenish it with donations every year.”
“Would both be better?” I asked.
“Of course. Keep talking.”
“Who would get this money?” I asked. “Smart kids who don’t have too much, or would it be kids with a certain interest, or something else?”
“The donor normally sets up the rules, Paul. If it’s a general scholarship fund, and you intended to put it in Jamie’s name, for instance, then I think it would be appropriate to involve his family; let them decide.”
I suddenly put my brain in gear. “Can I have your number? I think I should get some advice on all of this.”
“Sure. I’ll be here all night.”
She gave me the number and I called my father, and got no answer. I tried his cell phone and got voice mail, so I left a message. I joined the others in the living room, and waited while watching a freaking ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie.
That got me more agitated than interested, and I was certainly interested in the girl next to me. I didn’t think an invitation upstairs would be wise, but the dining room was vacant. I thought for a moment that it wouldn’t be too hard to move the television in there to free up the living room, but I’d be pretty obvious. There was a storm raging outside, so a walk was pretty much out of the question. I finally asked, so nobody else would hear, “Want to see our fancy dishes and things? They’re in the next room.”
Lisa smiled and held out her hand so I could help her up. Fortunately, we didn’t have to take a direct path, but went through the kitchen. My mother seemed lost in a fat book and paid no mind when we walked by, and we suddenly had privacy. Privacy without comfort, but privacy just the same. There is a big light over the table there, and I left it off, turning on the wall sconces instead. They were on a separate dimmer, and it suddenly seemed pretty cozy there, even with our large view to the snowy outdoors.
I held my hands out to Lisa, pretty in a pink sweater and faded jeans, and she came to me. We hugged, and I kissed her, and we kissed again, then again. I think I was practicing kissing, because I certainly had no prior experience. That showed at first in the number of times we clicked teeth. We just giggled when that happened, because the rest felt good, and it was our own kiss, not anyone else’s.
Unfortunately, I think we both got a little bit hot. Well, I got a lot bit hot, and I can’t speak for Lisa. It just seemed that she was there too, or at least close. It was probably providence that made the phone ring, and after a moment my mother called, “Paul?”
“Coming,” I said, and I took a deep breath. I didn’t leave Lisa there alone; nossir. I took her hand and walked her proudly into the kitchen, where I picked up the phone. I expected my father, but it was Dan Mc Naughton, whose first words were, “What’s going on?”
“With the donations. I hear there’s a stink.”
I said, “Oh, yeah. I don’t think a stink, but I do believe a certain school board member wants to take charge of the pledge money.”
His voice sounded sad, almost fatalistic. “Go figure, huh? Do you know who?”
“I didn’t ask names,” I said. “Miss Warren is on our side, and I have a call in to my father.” I squeezed Lisa’s hand and said, “This is pretty creepy, you know. It’s not gonna happen, though.”
“Don’t be so sure,” Dan said. “I told my father about your success, and he told me to watch out. It’s a lot of money to most people, and some of them will want to get their hands on it.”
“I guess it’s happening. Nobody has actually mailed a check yet, so we can straighten it out in advance. We’ll need money to get the dance going, and I don’t think that first five K is in question. The rest can sit on hold ‘til we know what to do.”
“You’re sure?” Dan asked. “I’d hate to lose it.”
“That money’s safe until the checks are sent, and they won’t be until I say so. Until then, it’s just a promise to me. We should be good.”
Dan was quiet for a moment, then kind of wheezed out a little laugh. “You know this stuff, don’t you? I would love to cull out the crooks on the school board. Nobody ever knows where the classroom budgets go. It’s too vague.”
“Dan,” I said. “Think about the dance, okay? Think about a theme, about decorations, about music, about yummies. We have the money for this year, and we’ll have it next year. Let’s do that, and think about crooks and liars later.”
God, that bothered me the moment it came out of my mouth. Dana.
Dan said, “Yeah, good thinking. It would almost be worth it to let it go through, and ask the State’s Attorney to keep an eye on that money.”
“Never mind,” he said, and snickered. “You did good, but now I have an idea why so many people bury their money.”
“I guess,” I said. “Want me to call after I talk to my father?”
“If it’s not late,” Dan said. “Tomorrow’s good, too.”
“Tomorrow, then,” I said. “I have a lot to do tonight.” I smiled at Lisa, who smiled back. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
We hung up, and my mother said, “Paul …” and the phone rang again. This time it was my father, and I heard my mother asking Lisa what might be a good dinner.
“Hey, Paul. You’re getting snowed on, I see.”
“Yeah, a lot,” I said.
“What’s up? You sounded disturbed.”
“I called those people about donations last night, and they all promised money. Now people want it for other things, and I want to keep it for the dance committee.”
I heard my father mumble a swear, “What people?”
“A school board member, for sure, but others in the school, I think.”
“Aha!” Dad said. “Crooks everywhere, eh? Tell you what, you tell me who he should call, and I’ll have Bernie Sutton call and tell the good guys exactly what to do. How’s that?”
“That’s what I was hoping for,” I said as I dug Miss Warren’s number at school out of my pocket. “This number will be good tonight, all night. It’s Miss Warren, my English teacher. She’s the sponsor for the dance.”
I could hear the humor in my father’s voice. “Paul, trust me. Your people in charge will be dancing to a brand new drummer by the day after tomorrow. That’s your money, honestly raised, and it will be honestly used. I can promise you that.”
“I knew you’d know what to do. How’s Dana?”
“Uh-oh,” my father said. “Dana’s testing new skis. Let me go, so I can pick him up on time.”
I smiled, then called Miss Warren and told her to talk to Mr. Sutton when he called, and he would make everything right. When my father needed a big-gun lawyer he used Bernard Sutton, the biggest legal gun in all of Boston.
It was a busy day with the phone. Lisa started helping my mother with dinner, so I turned to go to the living room when it rang again. This time it was Lisa’s mother, so I handed the receiver to her and went into the other room, where my cell phone promptly made its jarring racket. This was Mr. Luellen, so I handed it to Shea. Tom was snoozing on the sofa next to Shea, and Lou was curled up in his chair, also asleep. That left Dina, who was rapt with whatever she was watching on television, so I went back to the kitchen to see if I could help with dinner.
I didn’t want to help, really, but being with Lisa seemed a good choice.
She was still on the phone, and I asked my mother, “What can I do?”
She handed me a sack of potatoes and said, “Peel these.” Then she looked at the sack and said, “On second thought, don’t. We’ll have some linguine. Get some fresh garlic out, and slice it as thinly as you can.”
Lisa got off the phone and said, “Well, everyone is staying where they are, so I hope it’s okay if we stay here.” She looked at my mother and said, “We don’t need anything. We can sleep on the floor in the other room.”
My mother said, “Nonsense. We have beds,” and I could see her thinking about sleeping arrangements, but she didn’t say anything else right away. I had a great suggestion, but kept it to myself.
Lisa started cracking eggs into a bowl, then scrambling them with a fork. Mom was at the cutting board pounding veal, and my mouth started watering. I loved anything with veal and garlic, and the eggs told me it would be battered veal: my favorite.
Tom came out with my cell phone, holding it out, Shea right behind him. “Here’s the deal. My folks got a room in town Traffic is stuck everywhere.”
Shea said, “Mine, too. Tom can stay at my house, or I can stay at his, or,” and his eyes and Tom’s both took on pleading looks, “or we can stay here, if it’s okay.”
I said, “Oh, that’s great! I was going to paint the upstairs ceilings tonight. Now we can do murals, too.”
Shea inhaled sharply, and Tom, true to form, grinned. “Oh, oh! That sounds fun! Come on, Shea, let’s start now.” He looked at me and asked, in all sincerity, “Where do you keep your crayons?”
I had to laugh, which was my normal condition when Tom was around, and I managed, “You know where they are.”
I couldn’t continue because my cell phone sounded off once again, and it was an excited Dana on the other end. “Is it okay if I call you on this number?” he asked.
“Sure. What’ up?”
“Oh man, I was at a demo shop today, and I’m in love!”
“Who is she?” I asked.
“Not she. Skis! Real downhill racers! Honest to God, you should see!”
“Fast?” I asked.
“Yeah, fast. I don’t know how to say it! Like lightning!”
“Did you get a pair?”
“No, but now I know what I want. Everything I tried was good, but these downhills were made for me! I could do no wrong.”
I thought about that, and giggled. “Dana, when did you ever do wrong on skis?”
He sounded hurt. “You think I didn’t have to learn? With new skis I can learn more, and if you haven’t seen a high-speed face-plant before, you should have seen me today. They had me guesstimated at sixty-five or seventy, and I just went down. He snickered, “I put a hole in that mountain.”
“You fell?” I asked in surprise. “What happened?”
“I don’t know,” Dana said. “It was kind of gnarly out there anyhow, and it was my third set of gear in two hours. New everything, I guess, and I was over-skiing it. Those weren’t the skis I liked best, anyhow.”
“So why didn’t you get a pair of the ones you liked?” I asked.
“It’s the end of the season, for one thing, and I’ll probably grow.”
“I guess,” I said.
“They videoed me, and they think there’s a chance that a manufacturer might sponsor me next year. They’re sending tapes out.”
I was excited. “Really? Do I get to see it?” I asked.
“Sure. I have a copy. If I get a sponsor, I’ll be all over the place! I’m cranked, Paul,” he said excitedly.
“Wow, me too! Where would you race?”
“I’m not sure. I know I can make World Cup, but I need to finish school for that. Maybe some Nastar and the Olympics training squad.”
I laughed, “You mean it? I mean, that would be so awesome.”
Dana said, “Yeah, wouldn’t it? Listen, your dad’s here tapping his foot, so I gotta go.”
I laughed, “I know what that means, so go. I’ll talk to you next time.”
Paul and Shea were looking at me raptly, and I told them what Dana told me, and they were excited for him, too.
Right then, Lou came into the kitchen rubbing his eye. “Where’s the bathroom?” he asked groggily, so I brought him to the door, and he scooted in.
I’d been standing for what seemed like a long time, and sat at the kitchen table. My mother had long since sliced the garlic, and she was mixing a salad at the time. I left my cell phone by the regular phone, hoping neither would ring, so of course the house phone rang. My mother picked it up, which was good because it was Ally, and she disappeared into the living room.
I looked around at
a room full of kids who all looked bored or distracted, and it made me smile.
It spurred me to action, too, and I stood and asked, “Who’s thirsty? We have
Tom snickered, “What good is whiskey without guns?”
I did my best hurt look. “We have guns! That’s why I’m always painting ceilings.”
“Whiskey!” Tom whooped in a high falsetto.
I bent forward and looked everyone in the eye, one at a time, and said menacingly, “Guns!” I kept looking around. “Yes! Whiskey and guns. Who wants to get drunk and shoot the place up?”
My mother appeared at the door, phone in hand, and she knew this game. “Paul! If you’re going to drink whiskey and play with those damned guns, do it upstairs!”
If I hadn’t heard Ally laughing through the earpiece, I might have held it together longer, but I heard her, and I lost it. I laughed hard enough that I got hiccups, and both Shea and Lisa started patting me on the back. That wouldn’t work, and Tom led me to the table, where I sat, and he handed me a spoon.
This was his family remedy for hiccups, and it always worked on me. I took the spoon, laid the handle flat on the top of my nose, then pushed up until it was pressing into my forehead, then I pressed down on it and the hiccups stopped. They always stopped, and every time that little folk treatment worked, it was longer before I got hiccups again.
When I was younger, I got hiccups something fierce, often for hours on end. The hiccups were my primary social defect for a long time, but the first time I had a hiccupping fit in front of Mrs. Timek, she did the silver spoon thing. That worked, and it works every time.
When my grandfather once told me he’d give me a quarter if I could hiccup again, Dad warned him about bankruptcy, and I hiccupped for a day and a night.
I embarrassed myself and everyone around me, so my hiccups were the curse of my life for a long time. I’d go for months without them, then have them almost constantly for the next months. It’s not funny, either, even though it sounds like it would be. Constant hiccups are debilitating, and they can be painful. They’re also not helpful at all socially. I was just happy to be rid of the hiccups in the present situation, and was grateful for the reminder of yet another reason that Tommy was my best friend.
My mother came back and shooed everyone out of the kitchen, and gave me orders to set the table in the dining room. With six of us, that went fast. I gave Lou placemats, silverware to Lisa and Dina, and water glasses and dishes to Tommy and Shea, and the table was ready before I finished closing the hutch.
The dining room had a window-wall with all little panes of glass, colonial-style. I turned all the outside lights on, and it was beautiful. It was still snowing, but gently now. There was a lot on the ground, but it’s always hard to tell how much unless you’re out in it.
Still, I fell into my normal little trance and just looked out the window. I didn’t pay attention when the room went quiet behind me, but I did see my mother sneaking up on me in the reflection. I didn’t mind.
“There he is! My little Eskimo!” she said as she hugged me from behind, and when I turned my smile to her, we rubbed noses. That may be corny, so sue me! It’s a tradition, and it’s our tradition, and I’ll love it as long as we can still do that. Most of my fondest memories include snow, and usually falling snow. Whether it’s falling gently like it was then, or coming down in a raging storm like earlier, my fascination was the same.
I think it’s the silence of snow, partly, and that silence brings a sense of secrecy with it. You can hear wind, you can hear rain, you can hear sleet, and you can certainly hear hail. You don’t hear sunshine, though, nor do you hear clouds. And you don’t hear snow. You could go to bed when it wasn’t snowing, and it could snow overnight. If you weren’t up, you wouldn’t have a clue that it was snowing, not an audible clue anyhow.
Our dinner was typically mom-wonderful. Garlicky, lemony veal, with linguini in oil and garlic on the side. My mother’s secret for that was to use butter with the oil, about half-and-half. She had a decent salad and a loaf of white bread on the table. Ally’s baked bread was missing, of course, but so was Ally. Somehow I missed Ally more than my father right then.
I was surprised that everyone cleaned their plates. Mom’s cooking isn’t always gentle enough for young kids, so I figured that Lisa’s family, being Italian, were probably used to garlic by the pound.
At least the phone held off, and when the table was clear my mother looked at Tom. “Tommy, we’re short on breakfast things here. I have six eggs left, some bacon, and a few slices of bread. Would you mind raiding your kitchen to help out?” Then she looked at Shea and smiled, “You too, sweetie.”
When Tom and Shea agreed, my mother named the things she wanted: eggs, milk, bread, cereal.
Everyone wanted to go, so we all got our winter clothes on and headed out, figuring on two trips. One to Tommy’s and back, then up the hill to Shea’s.
Tommy’s house yielded a pound of bacon, nine eggs, a gallon of milk, and two boxes of cereal. We left the Cocoa Puffs behind, and trudged back to my place, then headed right back out into the night to climb the hill to Shea’s.
That was tough going. There was about ten inches of snow on the ground, and at about inch four there was a layer of crust from when it had turned to sleet. The crust held up to Lisa, Dina, Lou and Shea, but Tom and I crashed through it with every step, so we had to lift our feet back out of the exact hole we’d gone in through to take our next step.
The driveway up to the Luellen’s house is steep, too, and we were all huffing and puffing when we finally made it. Their door to the outside was in front of us, and Shea checked his pockets before saying, “No key!”
He’s lucky that he survived to grin and mention, “It’s not locked. We never lock it.”
It wasn’t locked, but it was frozen, and it took Shea several kicks to loosen it, and we found ourselves in their foyer, which is on the basement level. A wide staircase curled up to the right, and we followed Shea’s lead and removed our boots at the top. The kitchen was off to the left, and I hadn’t seen it before. It was really stunning, because it had part of that two-story window-wall at one end, and the ceiling there soared up past the second floor right to the peak of the roof.
The whole room reeked of top-shelf, but Shea dug into the refrigerator with abandon, handing out anything he thought would be useful. Then he attacked the pantry, where he was more selective. There was too much. He handed out a box of Cheerios, a jar of jelly, a box of oatmeal.
Going back down the hill was no easier than going up had been, and the snow had picked back up, so our back door was a welcome sight. We piled in, peeled off out outdoor things, and put three over-stuffed sacks on the kitchen table. We were just pulling things out when Lisa asked nervously, “Where’s Lou?”
That stunned all of us, and we looked around like he should be right there, just shorter than us. He wasn’t. I thought back, and I was positive that he left Shea’s with us. That hill was every-man-for-himself steep, though, and I honestly only paid attention to where my own feet were going on the way home.
“I’ll find him,” Shea said, heading for the back room.
“Not without me!” Tom said, right on Shea’s tail.
“Wait!” I called. “I know I saw him come out Shea’s door. Who saw him after that?”
Everyone shrugged. “Hold on,” I said. “I’ll get flashlights.”
I got flashlights, and had to convince Lisa to stay there with Dina. Shea, Tom and I knew where we were, and it wouldn’t help to lose anyone else.
We got our coats back on and headed out. As soon as we were outside, Tom said, “Wait!” He pointed at the ground, and there was a fairly solid group of footprints going both ways. I figured out what he was talking about right away. The footprints were in a tight group, and if we followed them up to Shea’s, we had to look for prints that wandered off.
Halfway up the hill, Shea said, “That little shit. Look!”
Tom and I looked, and even through the snow we could see that a lot of lights were on in Shea’s house, so we went straight there. This time the door was locked, and it took Shea a good ten minutes fumbling under the snow to find their hidden key.
Young Lou was sprawled in a big room, watching a video on a giant-screen television, and my first thought was that this would be the kid’s last day on Earth. He was missing anyhow, right? We could slice him up into little itty-bitty pieces, microwave those, then strew them all around the mountain, where they’d be eaten by wild things.
My hopes were dashed when Tom stood in front of Lou and asked, “You okay, pal?”
Lou had big tears in his eyes, and shook his head no. Then he saw me and ran over, where he gave me a big hug around the waist. I’ll admit this only once. I hugged the little freak back, not sure of myself at all.
Lou had problems, that was clear. Clearer yet, to me at least, was that I don’t understand problems like he has. I didn’t know, but I guessed that Lou had problems where I never did: between him and his father, and that made him like Dana in a way, so I held the hug. I even got mushy, saying, “It’s okay, Lou. It’s okay.”
I ended up giving Lou a piggy-back ride to our house, and I had nobody to thank for that except me. As tough as that hill was for me alone, it seemed nothing at all with a dependant on my back, and I felt no malice toward Lou.
Of course, my mother, Lisa and Dina fussed all over Lou when he came in. None of us; not me, Tom or Shea mentioned the circumstances. We just let it all fall where it did, and soon enough it was time to find places for people to sleep. That wasn’t a problem. My father’s bedroom has a king bed, so Lisa went to bed there, with her brother and sister.
Our guest room had two twin beds for Tom and Shea, and I had my own place: my cocoon. I took my clothes off idly, dropping them wherever, and looked out the window. The storm had kicked up again, so I put school out of my mind. I got into bed and wiggled around until everything felt right, then I got into sleep mode.
There was a tiny tap at my door. I thought there was, anyhow, and put my senses on alert. It repeated, and I said, “What?”
The door opened a crack, and Lou’s voice said, “I can’t sleep with my sisters! Do you know how gross that is?”
I started giggling, and tried to keep it down. I patted the bed beside me and said, “Yeah, I guess that would be pretty gross. Get in. And close the door.”