When the phone rang there was daylight coming into the room. I had my back to the nightstand and tried to roll over to get the phone, but Dana already had it. He didn’t say anything into the phone and hung it up. I wasn’t awake, but he was getting out of bed.
“Who was that?” I asked.
“Wake up call. Go back to sleep.”
“What time is it?”
“Are you nuts?” I asked.
“I think I might be,” Dana said with amusement in his voice. “Ally’s picking me up for breakfast at eight and I want to be awake. Go back to sleep.”
“Okay,” I mumbled, and I did just that.
Dana came into my consciousness a few times with his getting ready, but he was long gone when I did wake up a little after nine. I thought about calling down for breakfast, but I wasn’t hungry, so I read the directions on the coffee pot and set that to brew while I got ready for the day.
When I was clean, shiny, and ready for a new day, I fixed a cup of coffee, turned on the television, and sat on the side of my bed to look at the hotel directory. There was a note from Dana saying he’d be back around two, and would call if he’d be earlier or later.
The directory didn’t say anything about having guests use the pool, and I wanted to ask Tom and Ian over. I called the desk and they told me there was a small fee for each guest, but they were certainly welcome.
I finished my coffee and poured another one, then called Ian’s cell phone and got no answer, so I left a message. I guessed that he’d gone off somewhere and forgotten the phone, but he called back within a minute. “Paul? I’m sorry. I never get the phone on time.”
He sounded upset about it. “Don’t worry. Are you with Tommy?”
“Yeah, Tommy and Hec. You want to talk to them?”
I said, “No, I want to talk to you. Do you like swimming?”
“I guess so.”
“Don’t guess. It doesn’t matter, why don’t you come here and we can hang around the pool? It’s indoors.”
“Okay,” Ian said.
“Do you have a bathing suit?”
“Do you know where I am?”
“You said somewhere close.”
I decided to tease him a little. “You’re right. I’ll see you when you get here.”
“Wait! Aren’t you coming to get me?”
I said, “No need. Just meet me at City Sports. We need bathing suits, too.”
Ian cried, “Wait! Talk to Hector.”
Hector came on and asked, “What are you doing, Paul? You have this little fella all upset.”
“I just said he could meet me at the sporting goods store, and we could hang around the pool at the hotel. You and Tom can come too, if you want.”
“Where is this store?”
“It’s just around the corner, really. Go down through the Gardens to Boylston Street, turn right, cross the first street and it’s on that block on the right-hand side.”
“We should walk?”
I said, “Hector, it’s five minutes to that store and another five to the hotel. You’d waste an hour or more just trying to find parking twice, never mind that you’d probably end up parked farther from the hotel than you are now.”
Hector chuckled, “You make good points, amigo. You’re meeting us at the store?”
“I’ll wait out front,” I said.
I told Hector I’d call him when I was leaving the hotel, and we all went to get ready. It looked like a beautiful day, but my window didn’t open and it was too far down to see what people were wearing outside. I put on jeans and sneaks and a short-sleeve shirt, and carried a light windbreaker just in case.
I knew I didn’t need the jacket when I hit the street. It wasn’t quite what I’d call hot out, but it was warm and fairly humid. I called Hector and headed to the store with the jacket under my arm. I waved when I saw the guys, and we met at the door of City Sports.
The store didn’t have much of a bathing suit selection, so we got the same for each of us, color and size being the only difference. I paid and we walked over to the hotel. I had to stop at the concierge desk to get visitor passes for Hector, Tom and Ian to use the pool, but I only needed to show my room key for that. The concierge told us there was a dressing room with lockers on the pool level, so we didn’t even have to go up to the room.
The young guy at the desk in the pool area had scissors, and took the tags off our bathing suits for us. He gave us towels and pointed us to the locker room where we changed out. The lockers were free, so we put our things away and took our keys with us into the pool area.
There was one woman in the pool doing leisurely laps, and a man beside the pool doing pushups. We pulled chairs together by the window-wall, where Ian and Tommy looked outside in awe. There were springboards on either side of the pool, and I dove in from the one on the side where the lap-lady wasn’t. I got a little water up my nose, but there was no shock otherwise – the water was the same temperature as the rest of the room, and as warm as the pool in Florida.
It felt good, and it wasn’t long before the others joined me. Ian didn’t like being in over his head, so we migrated to the shallow end. We just fooled around, swimming some, splashing a lot, seeing who could stay under longest (Hector by a mile), trying to sit on the bottom and, best of all, getting high-pressure water massages from the jets. Over the course of the first hour, a half-dozen other kids showed up by ones and twos, and we ended up in a fun game of Marco Polo.
Another hour in the water had us done in and hungry. We sat in our chairs and mostly drip-dried while we watched the sky cloud up outside.
Ian said, “I’m hungry,” and that’s all it took to get us moving. We went and changed into our clothes, dropped our towels in the bin, returned locker keys at the desk, and rode the elevator up to the twenty-second floor. When I opened the door to the room, Ian and Tom immediately gravitated to the window to see the view from on high, and Hector wasn’t far behind them. I could see why, too. The sky that way was getting seriously black, but the sun was still bright overhead and the effect was magical. Buildings gleamed in the sunshine at the same time the sky overhead looked dark and ominous. People at street level would probably never even notice, but our perspective added special effects.
I had come upstairs so I could look at the restaurant menu, but the restaurant was a sports bar. I know they’re popular, but I won’t go into any restaurant whose only boast is the number and size of televisions on their wall. I just won’t do it. I asked “Who’s hungry?” and everyone turned around. I said “We can get room service or go out somewhere. Your choice.”
Tom said, “Let’s eat at one of the outdoor places by Faneuil Hall.”
Ian added, “Yeah, let’s do that.”
Hector just shrugged his acquiescence. “Do we need the car now?”
I looked back outside and said, “That’s probably not a bad idea. We’ll walk with you; it’s easier from Mom’s house.”
We walked back to my mother’s so Tom and Ian could change. Hector went to get the car while I found some umbrellas. The forecast wasn’t for rain, but the sky was broadcasting a different message, and it was drizzling when we went out front to wait for Hector.
I directed him to the closest parking garage by the marketplace and was surprised that the full sign wasn’t on. That’s rare for a summer Saturday after about seven in the morning. Not only did we get in, but Hector found a spot on the second level. We had to walk two short blocks, and I asked, “Want to eat anywhere in particular? You can find just about anything here for sit-down, and there are the pushcarts and the little stands inside.”
Tom said, “I’ve heard of Durgin Park. Is it good?”
I said, “It’s really a tourist place, but it can be very good. They give you a ton of food, and it can be great one time and really crummy the next time. I think it’s overpriced, but I’ll go if you want to.”
Tom said, “No, it’s alright. Let’s just look around.”
The umbrellas were a good idea. A rain had developed that was light but steady. We walked along the South Canopy, and I saw a place I’d eaten at before. I stopped and said, “This place is good for lunch.”
There were a handful of free tables outside, and the other guys shrugged, so I approached the hostess and she brought us to a table close to the building. Even if the rain became a downpour we wouldn’t get wet there. The place offered seafood, sandwiches, a couple of pasta dishes, and a lot of salads. Looking at the salads, I realized why I remembered the place. It was because they had a ‘Garlic Lover’s Garlicky Garlic Caesar Salad’ and I wanted to have that again.
Everyone loved the place, and not just for the food, which was really good. Tommy was enchanted by a redhead at the next table. I wasn’t really crude enough to turn and look, but when I came back from a visit to the men’s room I got to see her. She was an attractive woman for sure, but she looked to be somewhere on the long side of thirty.
I grinned at Tommy when I sat down. “I’ve heard of robbing the cradle, but give me a break. You’re thinking of robbing the grave?”
Tom gave me a look like I was an insect on his sandwich. Then he smiled, “I’m only fantasizing here, Paul; you give me a break. You brought me here to this place with the fantastic view. I’m hungry and I keep sticking my sandwich in my nose, so can’t you see I’m in love?”
He did have a bit of ketchup and mayo between his top lip and his beak when I looked, and it made me laugh. I said, “You might want to wipe that off. Now, let me eat my salad.”
“You call that a salad? What is it, a leaf of Romaine on top of a bed of flaming garlic?”
I said, “It’s not flaming. I haven’t even tasted it yet, but it looks good.”
Tom said, “It’s your breath that’ll be flaming. You just had a bathtub full of onion soup, and now you’ll eat all that garlic. Dragon breath, that’s what you’ll have. Paul the magic dragon.”
Hector laughed, and Ian was having a giggle fit. That was a normal reaction when I got into it with Tom, but we did it for our own amusement, and we weren’t done. I dug into my salad, and it did have a lot of garlic in it, and a garlic dressing. The croutons were pretty garlicky too, so it lived up to its billing. Tom had his face right there, so I blew him a kiss, and he actually recoiled from it. I’m sure he faked the cough, but he made a face and pleaded, “Don’t do that again. I won’t say anything else, but when we leave please sit on the roof like Mary Poppins with your umbrella. You can make the traffic lights work in our favor, because they won’t want you sitting there stinking up their corners.”
I leaned close to Ian with my eyes on Tom and said, “Be careful how you choose your friends, kid. Look at Tommy, for example. I buy him books, and I buy him more books and he never learns a thing.”
That made no sense, but it sounded funny, and I’d said it loud enough that people sitting at nearby tables laughed quietly, including Tom’s redheaded matron.
Tom blushed, so I had won that one, and we went back to eating our food. Tom was careful to get his sandwich in his mouth instead of his eye, and I wondered where the super-potent garlic came from. Maybe I would have to sit on the roof.
Lunch was good, but expensive, and I was going to need more cash soon. It was still raining when we left the restaurant just after two, and my phone went off.
It was Dana. “Paul, we’re going to see Russ now. Do you want to meet us there?”
I said, “We’re on our way. How’d it go with Ally?”
He said, “It was great. It really was. I never had many pictures of myself, but there’s about a hundred million of them now.” He laughed, “Can you hear that clicking? They’re still taking pictures and video. Ally says maybe three or four pictures will make the magazine, and she’ll send me the rest of them on disk. Next time, if I’m eighteen, I can be the centerfold.”
I heard Ally shriek in the background, and said, “I hope you made that up.”
“I did. We’ve been screwing with each other’s heads all day. I think we’re here.”
I said, “We won’t be far behind. I’ll see you in a few.”
I guided Hector to the hospital because he hadn’t gone that way before. His company had chartered a parking spot there, but it still took time, and we had to walk a fair distance anyhow. It was probably better than circling around looking for something close, but not a lot better.
When we got up to the room, everyone was in the hallway. Dana latched on to me right away, and Mrs. Glover explained that Russ was getting a sponge bath, which would take a few more minutes.
Dana tugged me away from the others and flashed a grin that surprised me. “Man, Ally is really a pisser. She says the interview went great, but all I remember is laughing and the camera flashing. She’s really good.”
“You weren’t nervous?” I asked.
“Only at first. I didn’t know what to expect, but Ally’s real easy to talk to. It never got personal till we got to Mr. Schiffer. I mean, he’s the guy who got me into skiing. He started up the whole program, got me my first skis and all the skis since. Same for Russ and a lot of kids. Now he’s a killer and a molester, but Ally promised the story wouldn’t be about him. She really does have to bring it up because how I learned to ski is the reason for the story.” He smiled and said, “You know what? I don’t care. She made me feel better about this whole mess.”
I patted his shoulder and said, “I’m glad. Did you ask the Glovers if you can see Russ alone for awhile?”
Dana said, “Yeah, that’s no problem, but I want you and Tom to go in with me.”
“That’s not time alone,” I pointed out.
Dana blushed a little and said, “I know, but he’s used to seeing you here. Anyhow, if I faint or something how would anybody know? Russ can’t talk.”
I laughed. “I don’t think you’ll faint. Russ looks a lot better than he did, and he can get up and walk around with a little help. I know he’s really bored here most of the time, but it won’t be much longer.”
Dana looked hopeful. “Really? Mom said he’d be out for a long time, maybe even a year.”
“I never heard that, Dana, only that it might be a year before he’s totally recovered. I think he’ll be going back to school with you, but he probably won’t be skiing this winter. That’s probably what your mother heard.”
Dana started walking back to the group waiting outside the room. “Why no skiing?”
“Dana, his face and his elbow are all bound up with pins, wires and super glue or something, and he has a concussion. They won’t want him to take any chances. It’s not like he won’t be able to ski, it’s just too risky.”
Dana frowned. “That sucks, doesn’t it? Russ is good on skis.”
Dana stopped suddenly, and I had to take two steps back to find out what he was thinking. He seemed puzzled, “This really does suck. Mr. Schiffer is the one who gave us skiing. Now he took it away from Russ just because Russ saw him in town that morning.” He looked at me and added, “I guess I’m glad I never crossed the guy, but what an asshole he turned out to be. That’s why he shot Lori too, because she saw him when she went out to lock up the gas pumps. The idiot could have cut through yards and woods and nobody would have seen him, but no. He had to walk right through town.”
I felt bad for Dana, but I also had to suppress a smile. He knew a lot about not getting caught, and might have been a help to old Schiffer if the circumstances had been different: a lot different.
We joined the others, and the door opened shortly. A man came out, looked at us and said, “Ah, Russell Glover’s fan club.” He grinned, “You can go in. Russ is all scrubbed up and presentable.”
I’d been concerned when we first went to visit Russ as a group, but his doctor said it was fine for us to do that because Russ enjoyed it. Those visits were short at first, but now we were allowed to hang around even when Russ went for a test of some sort. Some days we made a real crowd when the Glover’s had relatives visit, and we’d be a crowd again this day once Ally came back with my mother.
Russ was in a robe and sitting in a chair when we came in single-file. His jaw had been loosened up enough to let him show teeth when he smiled. He couldn’t chew food and he couldn’t talk, but he sure beamed when Dana went in just ahead of me. He had the IV thing on his hand, but it wasn’t hooked up to anything at the time. Dana walked right up to him, and Russ held his good hand out to shake. Dana took it with both of his hands, and looked Russ over. He asked softly, “You okay?”
Russ nodded, and Dana let his hand go. “Good, because there’s this girl in Stockton who’s all worried about you. She’s been writing but hasn’t heard anything back. I guess you can’t write though, huh?”
Russ lowered his eyes and shook his head a little, and then jerked his eyes back to Dana. He pointed at the table beside his bed and confused everyone. There was a small decanter, a little plastic cup, the phone, a remote, and a box of tissues there, and nothing else. Dana stared. We all stared at that table in confusion, but Ian figured it out.
“The phone! Take a picture with your phone. You can show Katie when you get back.”
Both Mr. and Mrs. Glover raised their eyebrows at the mention of the girl’s name, but they only smiled at each other.
Tom said, “You don’t have to wait. You can send it right to her phone.”
Dana looked dumbly at Tom. “I can?”
Tommy said, “Give me your phone; I’ll show you.”
Dana handed his phone over, and Tom knelt to take a picture, but stood back up. He grinned at Russ and said, “It looks like that IV pole is growing out of your head. Can I move your chair a little?” Russ nodded, and Tom turned his chair, with Russ in it, a few degrees at a time until he found a view that didn’t look weird. Then he knelt down again, told Russ to look at the phone, and snapped a picture, which he looked at and showed to Russ.
Russ looked mortified and shook his head. Tom said, “Try to keep your eyes open. Wait. Ian, come stand over here.”
Ian came close and Tom positioned him, told Russ to look at Ian instead of the camera, and told Ian to make Russ smile.
“Ready,” Tom asked and Ian giggled. Then he farted, and Russ smiled in wide-eyed surprise and Tom caught it. He showed the picture to Russ while I told Ian he’d better go check his pants, but he just stuck his tongue out.
Russ seemed pleased with the picture, and Tom passed the phone around so we all could see it, and we agreed that it was a good picture.
Tom asked Dana for Katie’s number.
“I don’t know. I don’t even know if she has a cell phone.”
Tom looked at Russ and asked, “Does she?” Russ nodded, and Tom asked, “What’s her number?”
God, Russ looked so helpless right then. He couldn’t say her number, and he couldn’t write it with his left hand. When Tom realized that he said, “Hold on just a minute. I’ll get it ready to send and you can put the number in, okay?”
Russ nodded. Tom pressed a few buttons and held the phone down where Russ could reach it. “I already put the area code in, so just put the local number in.”
Russ nodded again, and Tom slid the phone around until Russ could push the buttons while still relaxing his arm on the chair. Russ missed a few numbers, but Tom knew how to backspace, and the picture was sent in a minute. A little cheer went up, and then phones came out. We all wanted to take pictures, and it got funny after a few minutes. We took pictures of Russ and each other. Tom took a picture of Ian’s butt for proof of performance, and I got a picture of Tom aiming his phone at Ian’s rear
For a few minutes we all laughed and had a good time. Russ was clearly enjoying the nonsense. Hector put an end to it when he said, “Come on folks. We’re being a little bit noisy here, and this is a hospital.” He grinned, “Maybe not this room, but we don’t want to give Russ a bad rep with the other patients.”
I looked around and everyone was a bit red in the face, including Mr. and Mrs. Glover, so I guess we were overdoing it. I elbowed Dana and said “Cut it out.”
He elbowed me and said, “You cut it out. Wait a minute! Tom started this, why am I hitting you?”
Tom ducked down behind Russ and said, “Because Paul needs hitting sometimes. Don’t stop now, Dana.”
We were back at it until the door swung open and Ally stood there glaring. “What is going on in here? I could hear this racket down at the nurses’ station.”
Where I was standing at the moment, I could see everyone except Hector, and it looked like a toothpaste commercial. Everyone, Russ included, had innocent-looking little, toothy smiles, and their eyes were rolling around looking at everything except Ally.
Ally wheezed out a little laugh and said, “Alright. Let’s consider this to be a fraudulent entrance. I’ll just back out of here and come back in, and I’m sure I’ll find Russell’s loving friends and family looking after him like they should be.”
The door closed, and Tom said, “Quick! It’s moon time!”
I was already in position, and Tom hurried beside me. We dropped the backs of our pants, and Dana and Ian hurried to join us. Russ was bouncing with laughter and his parents just turned their backs. When the door opened again I heard Ally saying, “I assure you, doc… oh, no.” She chortled, “I’m out of here. You deal with them.”
A man’s voice said, “Hold that pose, boys,” and a flash went off, and then a second and third time. “Great. My daughter thinks there’s nothing wrong with sexting. If she’s right about viral speed, these should be on the evening news in Fiji.”
He walked past us and said, “Hi, Russ. How are you feeling? Is it too warm in here? You’re all red.”
I turned to look at Hector, and he had his face to the wall, his giant shoulders heaving … giantly.
The doctor turned around and said, “Oh my, we’re all red here, aren’t we? I should probably have this room quarantined.” Then he grinned and said, “Give me a few minutes alone with Russ, and when you come back try to keep it down, okay?”
We mumbled our assent and walked out into the hall, and I kept going toward the men’s room. Dana, Tom and Ian followed me, and we laughed as we peed.
Dana said, “That doctor is pretty funny. I thought he was all ticked off at first.”
Tom said, “Nah. He got turned on seeing our butts, that’s all.”
I snickered, “Don’t say that, Tom. You’ll ruin the moment. With your hair, it’s hard to see when you’re embarrassed, but you were glowing back there.”
Tom grunted, “I don’t glow. That doesn’t happen, and you can’t say it does.”
I said, “Dana?”
He replied, “Glowing, definitely.”
“Like a Christmas light.”
I smirked at Tom, “There you have it. It’s a consensus. Let’s go back and ask Hector and Russ. I bet it’s unanimous.”
Tom glared at me, “I have two words for you, and you know what they are, so don’t make me corrupt Ian’s little ears.”
Ian touched an ear curiously, and Dana burst out laughing. When he settled down he asked, “Don’t you ever …” and started laughing again. “You never quit, do you? If I said the things …” He turned around to laugh in the other direction, and we left Ian there to take care of him.
Back in the hall, Tom and I laughed ourselves foolish and I felt back to normal for the first time since I came to Boston with the Glovers. From the day we met, Tom and I had connected in humor, and that had never left us. We had our share of pouty little disputes here and there, and they always ended in hilarity.
We walked back to the room and people were still waiting outside. I asked Mrs. Glover if something was wrong and she said, “I don’t think so. The doctor is still with Russ, but he’s trying to decide if he can release him to go home this week.” She took a deep breath and smiled as she let it out. “Keep your fingers crossed.”
Dana and Ian walked up, and Ian asked, “What’s wrong? Is Russ okay?”
Mr. Glover said, “He’s fine.” He put a hand on Ian’s shoulder and said, “Come on, son. Take a little walk with your old man.”
Ian beamed and they walked off toward the elevator. Mrs. Glover looked at Dana and said, “As soon as the doctor leaves you can have your time with Russ.” She turned to me, “We’re going to the coffee shop to sit with your mother and Ally if you want to join us.”
I said, “Thanks. We’ll just wait here.”
She turned to Hector, and before she could issue the invitation he smiled and said, “I’m ready for a coffee.” He put a huge finger in my face and said, “Keep it down in there, amigo.”
I smiled my sweetest smile and gave him a little wave, and he did everything but make a harrumph sound before he turned and walked away.
Tom said, “Show me your balls, man. They must be getting huge for you to tease that guy!”
I protested, “Hey, he teases me.”
The door opened then, and the doctor came out smiling. “I think we’ll keep Russ here for most of the week. The surgeon who put his elbow back together has the last say, and he’ll see him on Thursday. If he’s happy with his work we’ll set Russ loose on Friday. He’ll mend better at home, and we don’t want to deny him the short Vermont summer.”
Dana asked, “How long before he can talk?”
The doctor smiled, “He’ll talk on Thursday, too. His jaw has set pretty well, but we’ll give it a little grace period.” His smile turned to a grin, “Don’t expect to understand him at first. He’ll be speaking in a language known only to him, but his English will come back soon enough.”
“And that’s it?” I asked.
“Not exactly. The good doctors in Rutland can remove his cast, and they’ll recommend a therapist. He can see a local dentist, too. Three teeth have to be replaced, and they’ll do that with either implants or a bridge. He’ll have to stay in a safe place where he won’t re-injure himself, and he has that concussion. He can be active, but only moderately for another month. We’ll have him back here in about six weeks for a look-see, and again after six months.”
I don’t know what our faces looked like hearing that, but the doctor snickered. “Don’t worry. Russ is a tough kid and he’ll be just fine. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some sexting to do.”
He walked away and Tom asked, “Did I just hear an evil hiss?”
We went in to see Russ and he was in bed, his head propped up and a sheet pulled up to around where his belly button would be. His condition made his grin look kind of fraudulent, but his eyes belied that. His father was exactly right; Russ could express a lot with just his eyes, and he was probably celebrating that he’d be home in a week.
I pulled a chair close to the bed on Russell’s left side and told Dana to sit there, and I joined Tom by the window on the other side of the room. Dana wanted to talk to Russ about something intensely personal, and I felt like an intruder already, but the distance helped. I whispered to Tom, “Let them talk. I’m a little embarrassed being here.”
Tom whispered, “Me, too.”
I whispered, “Let’s look out the window. If we just talk low, maybe they’ll forget we’re here.”
Unfortunately, the room was on a low floor. The hospital grounds were fairly attractive, but we otherwise saw the buildings across the street. I asked Tom in a near-whisper, “Are you ready to be home again?”
Tom said, “I guess so. Bridgett says she doesn’t remember what I look like, so I think it’s time.”
I giggled. “Tom, Bridgett is using that as a metaphor. Take my word for it; nobody will ever forget what you look like. Nobody.”
Tom eyed me and I quickly added, “Your look is one of distinction. You’re … memorable.” I almost said unforgettable. It means the same thing but didn’t seem as flattering.
Tom stood a little straighter, looked at his shoulders and brushed some imagined thing off his left one. “You think?”
“I know. I just thought of something. You can get a train to Brattleboro from here. You can get home whenever you want to.”
Tom kind of huffed, “Am I being dismissed?”
I laughed and bopped his back. “No, you’re not being dismissed; I’m offering you your freedom.”
Tom put his hands on the windowsill and looked out. “I told Ian I’d take him to the science museum. Hector wants to go, too. Maybe after that …”
I realized that Tom was serious about wanting to go home. I just didn’t know what to say. He’s a wonderful friend, and he’d already given up the first few weeks of summer vacation to stick with me, and there had never been a question of why he did that. If the same mess had been in his lap, I hoped I’d be half the friend he was. I would be in the future, but I couldn’t really project that backwards.
I said, “Ally can tell you about the train. She uses it sometimes.” I had a thought, “We’re going to have to stay in touch, you know. What’s the coolest phone that works with AT&T?”
Tom looked at me and said, “Probably the iPhone, but …”
I said, “No buts. You take Ian and Hector to the science museum tomorrow. If Dana wants to go, we all will, but you’ll have an iPhone on our plan when you get back.”
Tom said, “Paul, you don’t have to do that.”
I said, “I’m sorry. I think I do have to do it. I want to see Lisa like you want to see Bridgett, but I’ll probably have to stay in Stockton for awhile. Damn! I want to get my driving lessons and my license, so maybe I’ll do it in Stockton. We’re going skiing in August, me and Dana.” I looked at Tom, “Shit, this summer’s a mess. I’d take the train home with you if I could.”
Tom looked at me with a wry smile. “Pardon? Did you say you popped a pimple?”
I thought about that, and what I’d just said, and Tom was right in his usual funny way. I might have blushed, but I said, “I don’t get pimples, Tom. You know that. If I managed to pop one of yours without hurting you, you should be happy.” I grinned, “I know I’m not making any sense here, but let me go on. I’m just feeling kind of overworked, like there all these things to do and not enough time to do them.”
Tom said softly, “Sort them out, Paul. Tell you what: I’ll stay here till Russ goes home, then you come home with me. The train might be fun … I’ve never been on one. We’ll spend a week with the guys during the day and alone with Bridgett and Lisa after. Then you go to Stockton and do what you have to do. You can take the driving course any time. You get around without a car better than anyone else I know. I’ll get my license as soon as I can get a test, and Dad’s giving me the Malibu. We’ll have a ride when you get home.”
As easily as that, my summer was redefined and simplified. Scratch out weeks of driver training and I could get back to life. Tom was right, too. I didn’t need my license in a hurry, because nothing at all depended on me having it. I could put all those required hours back into my summer, and leave a little extra room for more important things.
Dana had been talking to Russ behind us, and I was only aware of their presence. I had heard Dana’s voice, but not the words. When I turned around, Dana had Russell’s good hand in both of his and they were kind of staring at each other. I didn’t really have a view of Dana’s expression, but Russ had tear streaks running down the one side of his face that I could see, yet he was smiling and there was something like contentment in that smile.
I turned away before they saw me. I whispered to Tom, “We should wait outside.”
He nodded and we walked to the door. Before I opened it I said, “We both need the bathroom. We’ll wait for you in the hall, okay?”
Dana looked like he’d shed a few tears, too, and responded with a quick nod. I looked at Russ again and said, “See you later. Are you ready for everyone else to come back?”
His eyes went to Dana for a second, and he looked back at me and raised his first finger. I took that as a yes. Tom and I stepped out into the hall and closed the door behind us. Tom said, “It looks like Dana and Russ really needed that time. I hope it helped.”
“Me too,” I said. “Let’s tell the Glovers they can come back up. I want something to drink anyhow.”
We rode the elevator down to the main level. We ran into everyone sitting in a small lobby across the hallway from the radiology department, probably because it was there. My mother and Ally were talking quietly with the Glovers while Hector played checkers with Ian.
Tom and I stood there until people noticed us and looked up. Tom said, “You can go back up now. Russ is waiting.”
I added, “Dana’s still there, but I don’t think they need privacy anymore. We’re going for something to drink, and we’ll be back up in a few.”
Ian protested. “That’s not fair. I’m winning.”
Hector said, “You’ve won every game we played. That makes you the champ, and I concede.”
Tom and I walked away before that deal worked itself out. We headed to the self-service part of the cafeteria. I took a bottle of water, and on the way to the cashier I saw they had egg salad. I picked up a little plate, put an ice cream scoop of the egg salad on it, and took a small bag of crackers from its hook. When we got to the checkout I let Tom go ahead and told the lady I’d pay for both. Tom had a can of lemonade and a little pack of cheese and crackers.
We sat by a window, and Tom kept a hand over the cheese and crackers. He needed both hands to open his lemonade, and when he did I got a glimpse of the package, which read in part, ‘Genuine Cheez Whiz’.
I laughed and said, “You are really hopeless with that stuff. When you get over being skinny, one day you’ll blow up like a giant soap bubble. I hope it’s twenty below when that happens so you don’t just burst.”
Tom said dryly, “You could call someone to clean me off your floor if that happens.”
“It’s not that, Tom. When you knock off a jar of that stuff you get like nine times the RDA of saturated fat and salt.”
Tom looked at me and asked, “Where do you know this from? Where do you get your facts?”
I blushed a little and admitted, “I read the nutrition panels on labels. If you eat what they call a serving you might live past twenty. It’s when you eat forty of those servings at a sitting that you get in trouble.”
Tom asked, “What are you saying?”
I said, “I’m saying you can’t undo damage to your body. Your mother says she can’t afford Cheez Whiz, and you know that’s bull. She knows it’s not good for you the way you eat it, so she doesn’t buy it.”
Tom looked at me and said, “And you care because …?”
“You’re my friend, Tom. I want you to outlive me, because I don’t think I can take ever going to your funeral.”
Tom eyed me suspiciously, “You’re kidding, right? You think I’d do better at your funeral?”
I said, “Well, yeah. At least you’d be sure I was dead.”
Tom turned red, and I’m sure I was redder, and when he grabbed his cheese and crackers saying, “Give me that!” I burst out laughing. I had him good that time, and we both knew it. There would be payback, too, but that would be down the road. I spread a glob of egg salad on a cracker, knowing that it was probably just as unhealthy as Tom’s Cheez Whiz, but it sure tasted good.
When we finished we walked back toward the elevators, and were met in the hall by everyone else. Mr. Glover said, “Russ is asleep, so we’re leaving.”
I looked at Dana and asked, “What do you want to do?”
“Did you get me a bathing suit?”
I told him I did, and he said, “Let’s swim.”
I looked at Mom and Ally and asked, “What about dinner?”
She smiled and said, “We’re having dinner downtown with the Glovers and going to see Bryan Adams at the Wang Center. What are your plans?”
I said, “Let me think.” I put my hand on my cheek and looked at the ceiling, “Maybe, just maybe, with the money I have left we can split a can of tuna four ways.”
Ally said, “Bullshit! You can sign for what you want at the hotel.”
I shook my head. “The only restaurant is a sports bar. A spoonful of tuna is preferable, even if I die from starvation. Trying to eat with forty-nine big screen televisions competing for my attention would be worse than death.”
Ally laughed and said, “You win that round.” She looked at my mother and asked, “What do you think?”
Mom looked in her purse and came up with her debit card. “There’s an ATM right down the hall just before the main entrance lobby. I’ll wait here.”
I took the card and ran, got five hundred dollars, and ran back. I didn’t need that much, but I was tired of running out of money and asking for more. If they were going to see Bryan Adams at the Wang Center, they probably paid between two hundred and four hundred bucks a seat. I didn’t feel too bad.
I handed my mother the card and receipt when I got back, and she didn’t look at the receipt. They left with the Glovers to rest up and get ready for the evening. We trudged the three blocks to the garage and drove back to the hotel.
We’d hung our suits on different racks in the bathroom, and they were dry. Dana’s still had the tags on it, and Hector produced a knife with a scissors on it and clipped them off. We changed into the swimsuits, put our shirts back on, and walked barefoot to the elevator. We alternated between playing around in the pool and relaxing by the window until after six, when we went to the room to get dressed for dinner.
We didn’t have a reservation anywhere, and when I asked, “How about Italian?” everyone agreed.
We left the hotel shortly, and I guided Hector to Giacomo’s where they don’t take reservations. They have a branch right up the street from where we were, but the original is a little place on Hanover Street in the North End. It’s hugely popular, and when we got there a line was already forming on the sidewalk. Hector looked at me, and I said, “Don’t worry. We’ll have a table in ten minutes, probably less.”
The restaurant is small, and its popularity has endured a high level of efficiency. We got seated, had menus in our faces, heard the specials, and were asked for drink and appetizer orders. I ordered two loaves of garlic bread and two antipastos for the table. I looked, and the special was Zuppa di Pesci. Zuppa means soup in Italian, but this is far from soup. They make it with shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, lobsters, probably other things, served over pasta, and there are a lot of sauces you can get it with. The only sauce that matters is garlic and oil. The dish is only sold in a big portion for two, so I asked, “Anyone want to share a Zuppa di pesce?”
When nobody else volunteered, Hector said, “I will. It looks good.”
Tom and Ian both wanted chicken parmigiana while Dana settled on shrimp scampi. The waitress brought our appetizers and drinks, took our meal orders, and hurried away. I pulled off a few chunks of garlic bread and spooned some antipasto onto my side dish. I said, “Eat up, guys. This place serves fast.”
Their garlic bread actually rivaled Ally’s, and the veggies in the antipasto were tangy with vinegar while the sopressatta had a zing all its own.
The restaurant has a few too many tables owing to its popularity, and conversations around us were both close and loud. It was kind of like having Sunday dinner with a large Italian family, but it suited us.
Dana was busy telling Tom about learning to surf in Florida and about Gretchen, complete with pictures on his phone. Ian and Hector were trading little kid jokes, and I, for once, was the quiet one. I didn’t mind one bit. I don’t know if solitude is the right word for that setting, but I nibbled the antipasto and chewed the yummy bread, and I was alone with my thoughts.
The truth is that I wasn’t really even thinking. I was just enjoying the place, the people I was with, the people around us, and all the wonderful aromas. I was basically spaced out, but in a good way.
When the food came I swapped seats with Ian so I could be across from Hector. Our dinner came in two big bowls, one of seafood and one of linguini, and a smaller bowl of sauce. It honestly looked like enough to feed all of us, but the other guys had their own food.
We all did justice to our meals, though. Even Ian finished all his chicken. Hector and I only left some linguini, and there was a single mussel swimming in the juice at the bottom of the serving dish. I was so full I couldn’t look at it, and Hector didn’t want it either. The place doesn’t even offer desserts, so we were done. I paid the bill, and I think our table was cleared and set up again before we reached the door. Their motto might have been good food, good service, get out! That’s how they took care of the line, though, and when we walked out it stretched a good way down the street.
When we reached the car Hector asked if we wanted to do anything else. Nobody said anything, so I suggested, “It’s a nice night. We could go to the skywalk for the view.”
Ian asked, “What’s a skywalk?”
I said, “It’s a place way up high. At night you’ll see all the lights, and you can see where the U.S. ends and the Atlantic Ocean begins.”
“I want to see that,” Dana said.
Tom and Ian agreed, so Hector said, “Show me the way.”
When I thought about it I said, “Park at the hotel. It’s just up the street from there.”
I guided Hector back to the hotel and the valet parking, showed the attendant my room key, and we walked down the street to the Prudential Center. The elevator ride to the fiftieth floor gave everyone a thrill, and the guy at the ticket counter just looked at our faces when I said, “One adult, three students, and one child.” He could have been a dick and asked for student ID cards, but he didn’t, and that saved ten bucks.
It was worth it. The night had cleared and the half-moon was bright over the sea. From the East side of the building I pointed out the reach of Cape Cod to the south and Cape Ann to the north and said, “Next stop that way is Ireland. You can put on your earphones and walk around.”
The audio tour came with admission, and it was well done. I was enjoying it with the others, and we drifted apart, at least to the extent it’s possible to drift apart in what was basically a wide hallway, albeit a hallway with a glass wall that offered one of the most spectacular views in the city.
I was looking for a bathroom when I saw Tom on a bench with Ian on his lap. I stopped and took my earphones off. It was kind of a cute scene and I said, “You’ll be a good father some day.”
Tom glared and said, “I feel like one now. This kid can’t stay awake, and he’s not exactly a lightweight. My leg is like totally cramped up.”
I sat on the bench, leaving room for Ian between us, and helped get him off of Tom. I smiled at Tom, “Shake a leg, man. Find Hector and Dana and we can get out of here.”
Tommy stood up unsteadily and looked at the ceiling before he turned to me. “Shake a leg! Only you, Paul. Dammit, I can’t even feel my foot, so I’m going to have to stand here and bounce before I can walk.”
I saw Hector over by the window and said, “Turn around. Ask Hector to find Dana and we’ll get going.”
Hector and Dana came over after a short wait. Tom was steady on his feet by then but Ian was just about asleep. Hector stooped and picked him up as if he weighed no more than a table napkin, and we walked back to the hotel. The valet brought the car out. I’d charged the parking to the room, so I gave the guy ten bucks for a tip, and held the passenger-side front door open while they buckled in. I put my head in and said, “I think we’ll sleep in a little tomorrow. Are you having breakfast at the house?”
They didn’t know, so I said, “We’ll walk over around nine so if you go somewhere to eat, leave a note on the door. If you stay in, tell my mother to set two more places.”
Hector said, “Thanks Paul. It was a nice night.”
Tom said, “Yeah, it was. Thanks.”
I looked in back and Ian was asleep, so I said, “See you,” and closed the door. Hector drove off, and I looked around. You could get to the lobby via the garage, but we walked around to go in through the main entrance. We were inside by maybe ten feet when a man from hotel security stopped us.
He asked to see our room key, and then asked if we were staying with an adult. I guess Dana and Ally had a line set up because he said, “Yeah, our stepmother.”
“Her name?” the guy asked.
“Allison Phillips.” He put on a worried face, “Did something happen to her?”
“Oh, no, no,” the man said, sounding flustered. “It’s just that we’ve seen you boys coming and going by yourselves last night and today with no sign of her. I wanted to ask if she was alright.”
I took out my phone and said, “I’ll call her. She went to a concert with friends so she won’t answer if it’s still going on, but if you give me a card I can leave a voice mail and tell her to call you when she hears it.”
This is one thing I learned from Hector. When someone is demanding information from you, ask them for their name and number, and nine times out of ten they’ll drop it.
“Oh, that’s not necessary. As long as you know where she is I’ll just leave it at that.” He left us with a weak smile, and when we were in the elevator Dana and I grinned at each other and snickered at the man’s discomfort.
In our different ways, we’d both been scamming people for years. I did it for personal entertainment, while Dana often enough did it to eat. Now we’d done one together, unplanned and unrehearsed. It was nothing important, but we’d pulled it off, and I could tell Dana felt as good about it as I did.
When we got to the room and were getting ready for bed, I said, “You were good. That face you made when you asked if something happened to Ally was perfect.”
Dana laughed, “And you asking for his card … that made him nervous. Why do you think that was?”
When I was getting under the covers I said, “Hector taught me that. They don’t really know who you are, so put them on the spot for their own personal information. If it’s a real cop, he’ll just give it to you and tell you a good time to call. Anybody else just wants to get out of the situation, even when they started it.” I grinned at Dana, “It works with telemarketers, too. If you say you’re parents aren’t home and they ask when they’ll be back, just ask them to leave a name and number. They hang up on you instead of the other way around.”
“My mom taught me an easier way. Just ask who’s calling and they usually hang
I thought about that, and giggled, “That’s a good one. You don’t get to goof on them, but you still get them off the phone. Dad tells them he’ll listen to their spiel and puts the phone down. He goes back to whatever he was doing and hangs up later, at least if he remembers to.”
Dana asked, “Want the light off?” and hit the switch when I said yes. We talked and laughed into the night, until yawns were as frequent as words and we said goodnight.
+ + + + + + + +
Sunday morning was nice enough, but we had the television on in the room when we were getting ready, and the forecast was for rain by noon, so Dana and I checked out and walked to my mother’s in shorts and short sleeves with umbrellas looped around our wrists. It was warm and a bit muggy, and already clouding up.
Tom had called earlier asking if we wanted to see the science museum with them, but Dana wanted to see a little of the city before he had to leave so we declined. We were kind of anxious at breakfast too, because the darkness kept encroaching. Dana had a very quick look around the house, which I think he liked, and we ate as quickly as we could within the bounds of politeness. Dana had been nervous that Ally would want more of his time, but she was delighted with what she had. She promised Dana that he would be like a rock star and super chick magnet when the issue hit the streets and mailboxes.
Hearing that made me a little jealous of Dana, and when I glanced at Tommy he looked a lot jealous. It was funny in a way, because neither Tom nor I could be resentful of Dana. He had grown up almost desperately poor, and found his salvation in the mountains. He learned to ski like God’s own medalist, and on crappy old equipment. He knows how good he is, yet he’s modest to the point of embarrassment about everything else. He struggles to keep his grades up, but they’re up.
It was easy for me to see Ally’s fascination with Dana because there’s a lot of depth to him. On the surface he’s this friendly and unassuming kid from Vermont, kind of naïve really, but that’s from lack of exposure to things outside Stockton, Vermont. Peel back a layer and you find a ski racer who has what it takes to become the best downhiller the world has yet seen. The next level exposes a somewhat fragile boy with some specific fears, which he’s learning to face and conquer.
I won’t go on, but I’m sure Ally learned during their interview that Dana doesn’t decline questions, and he’s pretty good at fitting questions to himself and his views, so his answers are revealing. I know Ally tapes the interviews and I hoped she’d let me see the ones with Dana.
When we were leaving we took our umbrellas and left Dana’s flight bag in the foyer. We stepped outside and the sky was dark with clouds, but they were high up and looked like they were on their way to somewhere else, not likely to unload on us anytime soon. I asked Dana, “Anything special you want to see?”
He said, “I’m not sure. What’s best?”
I looked at Dana and said, “Never ask that. All you can possibly get are opinions, and they’ll all be other people’s favorites. If you like history, the Freedom Trail starts right down the street. If you like water there are harbor cruises. If you just want to walk around and look at things in general we can do that. I’m supposed to get a new suit, so we can shop if you want.”
“What’s that Freedom Trail?”
“It’s kind of a path to places where things happened that led up to the American Revolution. It’s just a walk, and there are monuments, plaques you can read, places that are still where they were back then. You don’t have to stay on it. It goes right through town so you kind of pass a lot of other things.”
Dana asked, “How long is it?”
“What time’s your flight?”
“Just after six … six-twenty I think.”
I stopped to think for a minute. “We should head out to the airport by four, then. They want you there a couple of hours ahead. We can follow the trail for awhile, but just this side of the river. I’m sure you’ll want to spend time when we get to the markets. If you want to do some of the trail, we can start up at the burying grounds and kind of do it backwards, because it comes right back here. If you really want to get into it, you could spend a couple of days next time.”
Dana grinned, “Who’s buried in the burying grounds?”
I shrugged, “Regular people, mostly. Cotton Mather is there, and the guy who hung the lanterns in the North Church. They say there are about a thousand free black people, too.”
On Dana’s silence, I looked at him and he was grinning. “Who in hell is Cotton Mather? I know I’ve heard the name, but I don’t know why. Who names a kid Cotton anyhow?”
I laughed. “His father’s name was Increase, so don’t stretch your imagination. They were both preachers. I guess Cotton was a genius because he went to Harvard when he was twelve.”
Dana asked, “I’ll learn more at the graveyard? Let’s go.”
So we headed to the far Boston end of the Freedom Trail. It extends across the river into Charlestown, but we really didn’t have the time.
I hadn’t known it, but Dana had a keen interest in American history, and he knew the things I’d surprised Tom with on his first night in town. We took the drop-in tour of the Old North Church and learned that Paul Revere had been a bell ringer there as a boy. We paid to go inside the Revere house, which Dana found more interesting than I did. We walked right past Faneuil Hall and the markets because Dana didn’t want to miss the Old State House.
You enter that by crossing the site of the Boston Massacre, and Dana walked by the stones slowly, and in the Old State House he was positively reverent. He whispered, “I can’t believe I’m standing here. Samuel Adams, James Otis, John Hancock, John Adams … they were all here, right here where I am now!”
Dana’s interest was real, and we did the tour and spent another hour in the upper museum floors. Then Dana acquiesced to an empty stomach and agreed to some food in the marketplace. The rain had begun when we went outside, but it was just a few drops. We hurried back to the markets, and I told Dana about the wonderful garlic salad wherever it was, but he wasn’t interested. “Find me a cheeseburger … a big, fat one,” he said.
I knew a place for that, and hoped they were open on Sundays. We hurried, and got to the restaurant before the rain really started. McCormick and Schmick’s is a seafood place, but their basic burger is a half-pounder and they’ll do it up however you like. It’s a chain restaurant, but a good one. Dana ordered his cheeseburger and I got linguine with clams cooked in wine, butter and garlic. They didn’t have garlic bread on the menu, but it was no problem when I asked for some.
Full and fortified, we used the toilets and went outside. The rain had never developed and the sky was still dark, so we walked back to my mother’s place, still following the Freedom Trail but only stopping long enough to read the historical markers.
Walking the last few blocks from the Common, Dana said, “I want to live here some day.” I looked my question at him and he said, “I don’t know. I feel connected here somehow. It’s my first big city and I love it.” He looked at me sheepishly, “Paul Revere’s house, that Prudential place we went last night, the State House … it’s just amazing. I don’t know cities; Rutland was always the big one. But now … holy cow! I love this place.”
Dana had a big grin on his face, and his eyes had been darting around taking everything in. Just before we got to the corner of my mother’s street my phone rang.
It was Hector. “Where are you, Paul? Doesn’t Dana have to get to the airport?”
I said, “If you waited ten more seconds to call you would have heard my phone ring. We’ll be right there.”
“Would you like me to open the door? Your key is right here.”
I put my hand in my pocket to check, but Hector was right. “That would be nice of you,” I said meekly, and we rang off.
Dana said, “You forgot you key, didn’t you?”
I grumbled, “Freaking analog technology. Every door should have eyeball recognition or something. Nobody could ever forget their key.”
Dana laughed out loud, “You’d forget which eyeball to use and still be locked out.”
When Dana saw my look he started running, and he ran right past our door. I didn’t say anything and stood on the stoop until the door opened. I smiled at Hector and walked past him. He asked, “Where’s Dana?”
“He ran away.”
Hector closed the door and turned to me, “What?”
I managed not to laugh and said, “The last I saw, he was running down the street.”
“Did you have a fight or …”
It didn’t last long enough for me to really get Hector going. The doorbell rang and some ferocious knocking followed. Hector pulled the door open and a red-faced and irate Dana stomped in. He pointed at my face and said, “I am seriously gonna get you for that, and you’ll be yelling cruel and unusual punishment before I’m halfway done.” His face turned even redder and he started laughing. I smiled nervously, and Dana stumbled forward and pulled me into a hug.
I hugged him back tentatively, and relaxed into it once I realized that Dana was sobbing, not laughing. I whispered, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong,” Dana gurgled. “I just … it’s … it’s like this. You never … I never, um …it’s like you call me your brother, but I … I always end up feeling like a visitor or something, like a guest.”
I thought I knew what Dana was getting at, and I smiled. “So, I should have played tricks on you a long time ago?”
Dana relaxed and mumbled, “Something like that.”
I backed out of the hug and said, “You could try being a dick once in a while yourself. You’ll get a reaction, trust me. You act like a guest, you get treated like a guest.”
Dana grinned, his face still wet with tears. “I’ll try harder. What time is it? Do I need to hurry?”
I said, “You need to wash up, but yes, you should get going. You know the way, right?”
Dana said, “I remember. I take green to South Station, then silver to the airport, right?”
I said, “Sorry, that’s the way we came. We take the red line from here. I’ll go with you.”
“So will I,” Hector said, and Dana and I both spun around.
I heard, “Um,” from the stairs and turned to look. Tom and Ian were there, my mother and Mrs. Glover behind them, and Ally and Mr. Glover on the next step up. Tom said, “We’re going, too.”
I did a double take and said, “Everyone?”
Tom turned around and seemed surprised to find four people behind him. He blushed and said, “I didn’t mean …”
Ally said, “Of course we’re all going. We were just talking about what fun a Sunday subway ride would be.” She looked at the faces turned her way and asked, “Weren’t we?” She looked back at us and smirked at Dana. “Dana, go wash your face and take a leak; we’re going to give you a proper sendoff.”
I don’t know if anything was ever proper with my family, but we walked to the Charles Street station and rode the trains to the airport with Dana, and we stayed with him until he went through security, and only left when he put his shoes back on and left for his gate. When we were leaving, Ian cried, “Look! There’s a Burger King. Can we eat mmmmph …” Mr. Glover had his hand firmly over Ian’s mouth, and I turned away so the kid wouldn’t see me laughing.
We ate at home that night: chicken in some kind of sweet and spicy orange sauce, Basmati rice, and mixed veggies. Dana called while we were eating to say that he was in the car with Darius on his own way home. He said, “Tell everyone thanks again, especially Ally.” He paused, “Thank you too, Paul. I love you, brother.”
I said, “I love you, too,” and closed my phone.
Everyone was looking at me, probably wondering why I had tears in my eyes.
I knew why. My connection with Dana was solid at last, and permanent. We were no-kidding brothers, and our last names didn’t matter one bit. We were in it for the long haul – for good – forever.