The Third Good Thing
I was home and ready to learn what I’d missed and what was happening, while Tommy and Dana wanted to tell everyone about our trip. I learned long ago that, other than family, nobody really gave a crap about my travels, and nothing had changed in that regard.
Gary Andrews, for instance, had only been peripherally aware that I was out of town, and was mildly curious as to how hot it must have been in South America. He did seem ready and willing to tell me about every rock he busted and every stone he placed in my absence. “I’m getting a good reputation,” he told me eagerly.
I asked, “Is there supposed to be a party somewhere tonight?” hoping to hear something about Jim McNaughton, who was not present.
Gary said, “I think we’re at it, aren’t we?”
“Oh yeah, sure. I just thought there might be something else going on.”
Gary shrugged, and I said, “I need to get some water. I’ll be around. Make sure you get a seat when the food’s ready.”
I turned around only to end up face-to-face with Dan McNaughton, who seemed happy to see me there. We shook, and after our greetings I asked, “Is Jim here with you?”
“He’s over in Keene. I dropped him off around five-thirty for a party. He was the first one there when I left him off.”
I said, “Ah. Um, listen; help yourself to some food. I have to go inside for a minute. I’ll catch up with you later.”
I went inside to the dining room to call Tommy. When he answered I said, “Come to the dining room. We have, um, business to talk about. That’s right: business.”
When Tom came in with Bridgette I made a little small talk with her first and turned to Tommy. “Jim’s in Keene. Dan brought him there around five-thirty. Do you remember what we bought in that dollar store the day my father was kidnapped?” I looked at Bridgette and said, “We’re going to need you. Just listen, okay?”
Tom said, “I still have everything.”
“How long to make something good?”
Tom looked at me and said, “Good takes a long time. I can have something half-assed convincing ready in half-an-hour.”
I smiled, “Did you eat yet?”
Tom shook his head and said, “I have to figure out the wind. It was from the West earlier. The Luellens are on vacation, so behind their house should be perfect for a launch. It’ll be way up before anybody sees it, and it should blow right across the river like it’s heading to Keene.”
An exasperated Bridgette finally got her question in. “What are you talking about?”
Tommy took her hand, “It’s a little science project. Let’s eat, and I’ll tell you about it.”
The timing was good, because Lisa called from the door to the outside, “Paul, are you in here?”
I said, “Coming,” and we got some food after collecting up Dana. The hot stuff wasn’t ready, so we chose from various salads, and rounded things off with chips. We ate on the grass on the far side of the Fiat, and explained our call from what Tom called Hair Force One to Jim McNaughton that morning. The girls thought that was hilarious and were beyond eager when Tom explained the UFO they were going to help him put together, complete with taillights.
When we finished eating, I took all the dirty dishes while Tom, Bridgette and Lisa snuck off to his house. I dumped everything, went back to pick up the things I’d dropped and dumped them. I washed my hands in the kitchen sink and dialed Jim’s cell phone.
He picked it up immediately, and I asked, “Don’t you love me anymore? I thought for sure you’d be here tonight to hear about my Indiana Jones adventures south of the Equator.”
Jim sounded dismal, “I wish I was there. There was supposed to be a party here, but there’s nothing. I’m almost out to the highway, and I can’t even catch a ride. It’s gonna take all night if I have to walk all the way.”
I said, “Don’t be stupid. Dan’s here; call him. If he won’t come get you call me back. Somebody will.”
“Dan thought I was stupid coming here.”
“He’s your brother, Jim. He won’t let you walk fifteen miles in the middle of the night.”
Jim said, “I’ll call him, but I’ll probably be calling you back.”
I said, “Okay, let me know,” and closed the phone to look around for Dan.
He was at a grill, and he took his phone out just before I reached him. I heard him say, “… told you to come back with me. Never mind; let me find someone to cook and I’ll be there. Where exactly are you? Well, get under the nearest streetlight so I see you, and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I backed off, but Dan tapped my shoulder and said, “Paul, I have to go get Jimmy. His thing didn’t work out, and he’s trying to walk home. Can you find somebody to take over this grill?”
I said, “Give me that fork. I know how to do this.”
I should have asked how long things had been on the grill. The burners were set to low, and there were a bunch of hot dogs that looked done on one side of the grill, with chunks of some fatter sausage on the other side. Kielbasa, maybe.
I rolled the hot dogs around, and was sure they were done, so I put them on a serving tray and yelled, “Hot dogs are up!”
A pair of hands snatched up the tray, and the owner’s voice said, “We need more burgers next.”
I looked around and didn’t see any, so I called, “I need more hamburgers here.”
A voice responded, “Coming up!”
I wondered, “Who needs caterers with organization like this?”
Lisa’s mother approached me and asked, “Do you know where Lisa is?”
I said, “She ate, and then went off with Bridgette. They were all giggles, so I think it’s girl talk.”
Mrs. Mongillo said, “Oh,” and then her voice brightened, “Oh. I’m glad to see they’re friendly again. Thank you, Paul.”
A plate filled with gigantic burgers appeared on my right, and I rolled the sausages, which looked done. I had to use tongs to put them on a tray. I turned the grill up for the burgers and called, “Sausages!”
Mom came for them and was surprised to see me cooking. She said, “I thought your father had the honors tonight,” sounding a bit less than friendly toward Dad.
I shrugged it off and said, “Nope, it’s me. How long can one person stand here? We’re just taking turns.”
Mom said, “That’s very nice of you,” and held the tray of sausages over her head. She cried, “Look everyone! Mr. Targonsky’s homemade kishka is ready.” I put one burger in the middle of the grill, knowing that if I didn’t have one that was burnt clear through some looney would be back time after time because his was still ‘underdone’. I gave it five minutes before I flipped it and surrounded it with the burgers I’d cook to medium, and gave them five minutes before I flipped everything. I gave the medium ones five minutes on side two and took them off the grill, and I flipped the middle one and left it there.
Dad’s burgers are huge, like half as thick as they are round, and he uses good meat. Cooking them even to medium is a shame, and he should just buy those boxes of patties for people who eat them that way. They just pile salt and ketchup on them, and they taste like salt and ketchup. The guy who demands that well done burger will give his jaw a workout.
When the medium burgers were gone, I cranked the flame up and closed the lid for a few minutes, then opened it and put all but two of the remaining burgers on. I closed the lid and mentally ticked off three minutes, then flipped them and repeated. I scooped them off quickly to stop them from cooking, gave the cinder in the middle a flip and put on the last two: One for me, and one for Dad. Hot, hot, hot fire, and no more than two minutes on a side gave us burgers that had all the juices sealed inside, the flavor of scorched meat on the outside, and the delicious taste of rare sirloin throughout. I put them on a dish, and yelled, “Who wanted theirs well-done?”
An older guy came running over, his bun open on a plate, and I put what was left of that beautiful thing on the bun. He poked a finger at it and asked, “You sure it’s cooked through?”
“I’m sure,” I said, and turned the grill down. I picked up the plate with my hamburger on it and put it on another plate, calling, “Dad! You’re hamburger’s ready.”
I don’t know where Dad came from, but he was there in a flash, and we fixed our burgers exactly the same way: a little mayo on the top and bottom buns, a fat slice of onion on the bottom, and an even fatter slice of juicy tomato on top of the meat. I grinned at Dad and said, “Life doesn’t get better than this.”
He smiled back, and when I was chewing my first bite of that delicious thing an old guy was in my face. “Sonny, I don’t know how you did it, but this is the absolute best hamburger I’ve ever had. Nobody seems to know what well-done means anymore.” He turned away muttering, “Yessir, crispy and not all wet in the middle. That’s a hamburger.”
I was on my second bite when Tommy appeared at my side. “Did you make one of those for me?”
I swallowed and said, “Uh-uh. You weren’t here. I can if you want.”
He patted my shoulder and said, “Never mind. What did you do with Dana? The girls don’t want to stay on the mountain alone.”
“I don’t know where he went. Why didn’t you stay with them?”
Tom said, “If I’m not here when that thing goes up, they’ll know I had something to do with it. Help me look for him.”
I looked at my lovely burger and said, “Tom, call his cell phone. He can’t be far.”
“Right.” Tom walked away dialing, and I sat down between two ladies I didn’t recognize to enjoy my rapidly cooling burger. Thankfully, they weren’t together and didn’t even notice me, so I ate in peace, even if it was a somewhat squeezed peace.
When I finished, I was more interested in what Tom was up to. He’s not usually hard to find, but I couldn’t see him anywhere so I took out my phone to call him and Roger Landry showed up, a bowl of potato salad in hand. “Hi, Paul. Been fishing lately?”
“No. I’ve been skiing.”
I shook my head, “Deep powder. Have you seen Tommy in the last few minutes?”
“I saw him a few minutes ago.”
“He was right here in this yard, over there,” he said pointing. “He was on his phone, so we didn’t speak.”
I said, “I have to find him. Stick with me. We have some fun planned, and maybe you can help. You can keep your mouth shut, right?”
Roger gave me a curious look and said, “Well, yeah. That’s mostly what I do. A closed mouth and open ears will do you a good bit better than the opposite.”
Lord, I really liked Roger. I said, “Help us out. We have a prank going on Jim McNaughton.”
To my surprise, Roger gave me a military-style salute and said, “Cap’n Hook at your service. McJim gave me that name when a bad cast took his hat off and everything wrapped around a branch. If that’s not bad enough he made me go out on that branch to get his hat. It was a birch tree, and that bark is slippery as all get out, so I fell in the river. It was twice as slippery with wet jeans on, but I made it out almost to his hat and the branch broke, so I went back in the river and so did his hat, of course.
“He could have done what I done and reeled in the whole mess, but he even left that to me. I near got skinned alive when I went home all mud and river weeds, and no fish. Tell me your plan, for I am in!”
I said, “Really? Walk with me so I can find Tom. I’ll fill you in.”
Roger was funny in his own way while I told him what we were doing. “Ayuh, ayuh, ayuh. Oh, that’s good. You’re sure that thing will fly?”
“They always do, and this is coal so it should be hotter and fly higher.”
Tom seemed to be well hidden, so I called his cell. “Where are you? We’ve been looking all over.”
“I’m in the Fiat. What do you mean we?”
I said, “Roger is with me. He’s in.”
Tommy said, “Oh, good. Hurry up over here.”
We were only steps away and stood beside the car while Tom sat in it. We looked in through the open roof. He looked out and asked, “Roger, you’re not afraid of a little torch are you?”
“Good. I put wax on the coal to light it, but they can’t keep a match lit long enough to get it going. Come to my house. We have a little Mapp gas torch.”
Roger said, “That should do it. Show me the way.”
Tom got out of the car and looked at me. “Grab Gary or someone and go back to the grill like you’ve been there a while. I’ll be right back. C’mon Rog.”
They hurried over to Tom’s and I went back to the patio. I didn’t see Gary, but the old guy who liked burnt hamburger wanted to talk to me, and he was the perfect person to make me look like I’d been busy. He was interesting enough when he got off the subject of hamburger, and told me a lot that I didn’t know about the war in Vietnam. He said he’d been in military intelligence and was sworn to secrecy, but he was blabbing pretty openly to me.
Tom appeared at my side and said to the man, “Excuse me, I have to borrow Paul for just one minute, okay?”
The man said, “I understand. It was nice talking to you.”
I said, “Same here,” and turned to Tom when the guy walked off. “What?”
“Jim’s not coming.”
“What? How can that be?”
“He sounded all disappointed about the other thing. He’s going home.”
I said, “No, no. Let me think here.” It came to me after a few seconds, “Call him back. Tell him we need donuts, lots of donuts, like five dozen of them. He doesn’t have to stay; we’ll pay him back when he gets here.”
Tom laughed and smacked my arm, “That’s good! He’ll never leave if you have donuts. Maybe you’re not a total imbecile.”
Tom wasn’t that dumb either. He walked to where people were the noisiest and called Jim with the plea for donuts, and came back grinning. “Hook, line, and sinker man! Can you get some music out here in a real hurry?”
I couldn’t, but Ally could. She had a boom box somewhere, but I didn’t know where she kept it. I didn’t know where she was either, but Ally’s booming voice was like a homing beacon, and I found her entertaining a bunch of women with a story. I started tugging at her sleeve and she looked at me. She kept talking, and I tugged a little harder. She shot me a glare that would turn a lesser man to ice, but I was used to her and persisted. She finally said sweetly to her audience, “Excuse me, but there’s a gnat buzzing around. Give me a second to squish it.”
Ally sat and pulled me down. The ladies tee-heed and Ally put her face in mine asking, “What?” in a sharply defined hiss.
I said, “We need music. Tell me where your boom box is and I’ll go.”
She narrowed her eyes, “Closet,” and stood back up to go on with her story.
I got the thing plugged in outside, but didn’t know how to work it, so I gestured for Tom to come over.
He asked, “Do you have CDs?”
I shook my head, “Isn’t there music on the radio part?”
Tom looked the thing over and said, “Let me find something. You go yak with people and I’ll figure this out.”
Tom had music playing before I took two steps, and it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t any too soon either. Five minutes later, Jim McNaughton showed up behind a stack of six donut boxes, and I hurried over to help him with them. I said, “Let’s put these inside, and I’ll get your money.”
When we set the boxes down I asked, “How much was it?”
Jim smirked, “Got you a deal. They have a ‘three for the price of two’ sale, so I got you six for the price of four. With the tax, call it fifty bucks and we’re even.”
I felt my pockets and they were empty, so I said, “I’ll be right back.”
I got fifty dollars from my room and hurried back down to hand it to Jim. I said, “I wish you could stay, man. It’s been a long time.”
Jim shrugged, “I guess I can stay. I got invited to this party over in Keene and nobody else showed up. They said my friends would be there.”
“Maybe they got the address mixed up. Your friends are here.”
He smiled, “And you have donuts.”
“Jim, don’t get a sugar rush going. I can make you a gargantuan burger all nice and rare, and you can have it with all the other things out there. I don’t know what’s left, but there was egg salad, potato salad, salad salad, macaroni and cheese, chili and … things I’m forgetting. Oh, yeah. There’s kishka, or there was, and sauerkraut. Eat for your health then we’ll hit the donuts and get fat.”
“Did you say kishka? Is that food or a toy?”
“It looked like a sausage to me. I never got any because I was cooking. Do you want a hamburger or no?”
“Of course I want a hamburger, and cooked your way.”
He went outside and I got another burger from the fridge and followed him out. I turned the grill back up, and noticed Tom talking happily to Jim. I went over to the picnic table for a roll, onion and tomato, spread some mayo on the roll and brought it back ready for Jim’s dinner. In truth, our little joke seemed to be turning into something hurtful, and I wondered if we could turn it around somehow.
The grill was hot, so I put Jim’s meat on it and kept wondering. It was when I was putting the sandwich together that it came to me. I brought it over to Jim and said, “You better sit. This plate’s pretty flimsy. Everything’s on the picnic table anyhow, so sit there and dig in.
As soon as he turned away I gestured to Tom and said, “We have to make another call from space. Let’s go inside and write the words, and hurry.”
We did, and wrote the script on the side of a big cardboard box in giant letters. We snuck out of the yard with it, and ran up behind Shea’s house. Lisa immediately asked, “Is it time?”
“No,” I said. “Not hardly. We have to practice talking together, and then make a call, okay? I’m sorry; I mean we have to read something together out loud into someone’s phone. Let me show you what it is.”
Tom produced a bright flashlight, and we read the box out loud twice. That part was easier than I thought it would be. Tom took his iPhone out and set it to anonymous caller and dialed Jim’s number just as Roger touched off the Mapp gas torch.
Jim answered sounding like he had a mouthful, and we said, “Hello, Jim. I’m sorry to be late but I had to make a giant loop around a new black hole. You can say goodbye to your Jupiter and the planets beyond. I see that you have found a party, and that is the one you want to be at, with your real friends, not these little toys I have. You’ll see me in a few minutes. Give me a wave, and I’ll say goodbye.”
Tom hung up, and we raced down the hill through his yard and back to the picnic, where we ran into Gary and Joan. Tom was good, and anyone looking would think we’d been having a great conversation.
Jim came over after a few minutes and listened in, and he pulled me aside. “Do you notice anything weird tonight?” he asked.
“Define weird,” I said. “This seems pretty normal to me.”
He looked at the sky and said, “I mean weird up there, not down here. Do you believe in UFOs?”
I said casually, “You know, I never did until we moved to Brattleboro, but I’ve seen lots since we got here.” I looked up and stepped around so I could look in all directions, and saw the taillights heading the wrong way. I pointed at it and said, “There’s one now! Look! It’s turning; I think it’s going to come this way.”
I heard other people yelling about the UFO, but my focus was on Jim. He said confidently, “This one will go right over our heads. I’m gonna wave at it.”
I said, “It’s up pretty far, man. I don’t think they’ll see you waving.”
“If they don’t, then they don’t. I promised.”
I took a step back and asked, “You promised who? What?”
He said, “Never mind. This is a real beauty; look at the lights.”
Jim was right. Tom’s craft was really good looking from the ground, somewhat less so up close. It was a pail with some sand in the bottom so the coal wouldn’t burn through it, and it was borne by a hastily made bed sheet parachute that was attached to the pail with wire.
There were lights, blue and white ones, duct taped around the side of the pail, white pointing up into the parachute and blue pointing to the ground. All of those were blinking. There were four more taped to the bottom – two white ones facing one way and two red ones facing the opposite way, and there was a cardboard fin that hung down about two feet that Tom hoped would keep the contraption lined up with the wind. Those lights were on steady, just like the headlights and taillights on a car.
The effect was great. The parachute was golden from the glow of the burning coal, and it pulsated when the white lights blinked. There was enough humidity in the air that the whole thing had a kind of fuzzy look to it. Tommy was like a proud papa, running around taking pictures while he could, and the party had become silent. I took a step back thinking I’d be next to Jim, but a hand closed on my neck. Dad. He asked in a whisper, “Can you explain this?”
I said, “Jim McNaughton can. He said it came here for him.”
Dad let go of my neck, pointed a finger at my face, and disappeared back among the adults.
I tried to disappear myself when I realized a lot of people were on their phones reporting a UFO, but I stayed to hear the snippets that I could.
“It’s huge, like a giant building … a big fluorescent dome… no, I don’t see wings and it didn’t make a sound … How high? I can’t judge that, but it must be many miles …it’s the most beautiful thing I ever saw … definitely not of this world …”
Tommy went by with his iPhone and I grabbed his arm. “Are you recording these people? This is where the real show is.”
Tom grinned, “It looks good, doesn’t it?”
I said, “Maybe too good. You didn’t leave anything behind up at Shea’s, did you?”
Tom said, “I’ll look in the morning, but I don’t think so. I brought the torch home and cut up the box we wrote on. That’s in the back of the Fiat.”
I said, “I think we should look as soon as we get a chance. Maybe we can get Roger to look around up at Shea’s. I don’t know what to do with that cardboard.”
Tom said, “You talk to Roger. I can take care of that box.”
I patted his shoulder and said, “Let’s do it.”
I had just seen Roger, but when I looked around he wasn’t in sight. Lisa and Bridgette were though, and they were stoically fighting off the giggles that would give the show up. Bridgette asked me where Tom was, and I told her to check around the Fiat. I asked Lisa if she’d seen Roger in the last few minutes, and she pointed, “He’s right there talking to Gary.”
I looked, and all I saw was Gary, so I put my face in front of Lisa’s and Roger was there indeed, but Gary was big enough to be blocking him. I took Lisa’s hand and said, “Help me here. I need Roger for a few minutes, but I don’t want to make Gary and Joan suspicious.”
Lisa said, “Got it,” with enough confidence that I looked at her again. I squeezed her hand and we walked over to them, and Lisa immediately engaged Joan in talk of a double date sometime before school started. Gary paid attention and turned away from Roger, and I pointed behind Roger and mouthed, “Meet me.”
He nodded and took a few steps in a different direction, side-stepped some people talking about the UFO, and met me behind a pine tree. I said, “I need you to go and look around where you were behind Shea’s house to make sure there’s nothing there. Will you do that?”
Roger nodded, so I said, “Come inside. I’ll get you a flashlight and a bag for anything you find. Be casual; if people want to talk, we’ll stop and talk.”
Roger nodded and we started toward the house, and were generally ignored until we were right at the door. Tom’s mother was there, and she asked, “Where is Tommy? Do you know?”
I said, “Last I saw, he was around the other side with Bridgette.”
Her eyes softened, “Oh, well alright then. Thank you.”
Roger and I escaped inside and I found a little Mini-mag flashlight for him to use. It was plenty bright for what he needed, and he could just drop it in a pocket when he was done. I went to the kitchen and got him a plastic grocery bag to use if he found anything.
We never use our front door, but it was the best way for Roger to get out undetected. The inside door was stuck good though, probably swollen from humidity. I was sure the handle would come off in my hand at first, but I finally yanked it open and pointed the way to Roger.
I sat on the bottom of the stairs and waited for him. If it went well, he’d be back in eight or ten minutes. It might take that long again to get the stupid door closed, but we should have an evidence-free launch site. None of it probably mattered. The Luellens’ house was built on a crag high behind ours, and with its above-ground basement, two floors, and high-peaked roof that made it as tall as a five-story building, anyone there would swear that our little craft was miles high when it came into view.
I saw Roger approach the stoop out front and stood up when he came in. He handed me the empty bag and said, “Nothing there. I used the bag to sweep off some footprints, but I don’t know if they were even ours.”
I said, “Good man. Help me close this door and we can go back to the party.”
The door put up a good fight, but we managed to get it to click shut with a lot of effort.
We went outside and the party was still going on, but there was a fire starting in the Timeks’ fire pit, and I was certain that our box was kindling it. There was no chill, but it was a cool evening, and people began gravitating toward the fire after it flared up and the smoke thinned out.
I had lost track of everyone except Roger, and we started looking around. It didn’t take long. My friends are like kids anywhere; when you find one you find a bunch, and we found them in groups. Luckily, I found Lisa first, shared a sweet kiss with her, and took her hand firmly in mine. No more fooling around.
The ground was damp. Mr. Timek started bring out lawn chairs, while I led Dana and Lisa to our garage to get some moving blankets that we kept for picnics and the like. They weren’t thick, but they had a little padding, and you didn’t feel every twig and pebble under your butt.
Tom brought out his own boom box and hooked up his mp3 player. The music was random and benign – his studying music. There was nothing to excite and nothing to offend. It was fine with me; anything would have been. I was finally sitting with Lisa, a little bit tired but ready to spend the night right there by the fire, and with friends and neighbors. The people would fade like they do when I really tune into Lisa, and it was her turn to keep us honest.
We didn’t try to scandalize the place, and talked quietly. Lisa really wanted to hear about the events in Chile, so I did my best without getting too deep into Freddie Ramirez’ reputation. It was still a pretty hairy story to recall the lengths that guy was willing to go to for revenge. I’ll never know why he had such a bug up his ass over what should have been a minor thing, especially someone into the things that guy was. He must have had worse things than getting kicked in the nuts happen to him.
Lisa made me laugh when she said, “Maybe it wasn’t the first time that day.”
That brought my knees together in a hurry, and I snickered, “That’s probably it. Why didn’t I think of that?”
Lisa giggled, “You crossed your legs fast enough when I mentioned it.”
I kissed her neck and said, “You’re funny.”
That’s how the evening went for us. Lisa told me about things that had been going on, while I talked some about skiing and a lot about the little family restaurants we’d been to in Santiago. I expected Shea to be gone, but Gary’s advice had worked. His parents had brought Cheri along, and when her parents picked her up somewhere in Maine the next day, Shea would be going on to New Brunswick with her family, so his August had turned into the exact opposite of what he had feared. Lisa bet me ten bucks that they’d come back hating each other but reneged after she thought about it.
After another hour of snuggling, people started getting up to leave. I knew I should be saying goodbye, but lingered for a good kiss with Lisa.
We were lip-locked when her father’s voice said from above, “Sorry. Lisa, sweetheart, we have to go now. Say goodnight to Paul and meet us at the car.”
I don’t think my blush would have been evident in that light, but I could feel it. I looked up, smiled meekly, and said, “Goodnight, sir.”
He gave me a quick smile and turned around and left. I looked at Lisa and said, “I guess this is it, then. I’ve been meaning to ask; I know your birthday is next month, but what day?”
Lisa said, “It’s the eighth.”
“Are you having a big party?”
She shook her head and smiled, “Just a little one – family and a few friends. Why?”
I said, “I don’t know what day the eighth is, but maybe the Saturday before or after we could go, just the two of us, for a nice, romantic dinner somewhere?
Lisa said, “That sounds wonderful. We always seem to have a lot of people around us.”
“That’s why I asked. Let’s plan on it.”
Lisa beamed and said, “Let’s.”
We shared a comfy kiss before I walked her to where her parents were waiting. After we said our goodbyes I went to help with cleanup, and a lot of my friends were still there. Some of them seemed to be waiting for me. I asked, “Is everything okay?”
Dan said, “Yeah, nice night. I’m giving Roger and Bridgette a ride home. Do you know where Gary and Joan are?”
Tommy said, “They were right there in front of the fire earlier. I didn’t see where they went.”
I shrugged and asked, “Did you look over by the Fiat? That seems like the new center of gravity here.”
Jim said, “Ah!” and pointed a finger upward. “I’ll check it.”
Dan said, “Thanks, Paul, and thank your folks. Great food and,” he looked around to see if Jim was back, “this really cheered Jim up. He’s been in a funk because every one is doing things but him. We usually go somewhere, but Dad is tied up on a project and has to be here. He’s talking about going somewhere warm in the winter.”
I said, “That’s cool. I don’t know if we’re really doing it, but we’ve talked about a trip to Whistler at Christmas.”
Dan grinned, “The year-round skier, huh? Dana was telling us about your trip.”
I asked, “Where is Dana, anyhow?”
“Sleeping somewhere, I think. He could hardly keep his eyes open before.”
I said, “I feel like that. Here’s Jim.”
Everybody looked and Jim said, “They’re getting dressed. They’ll be right here.”
Dan snorted, “Yeah, right.”
Jim said, “Well, they had their shoes off.” He looked at me and said, “You never told me that car had Recaro seats. Gary was pretty creative. The front seats were flat, their feet were on the steering wheel and dashboard, and their heads on the back seat. Very cozy, but I bet they both get cramps.”
Tom and I both laughed. Leave it to Jim to think about cramps instead of the good stuff, but Bridgette seemed to be considering the possibilities. I didn’t point that out to Tommy.
Gary and Joan showed up in a minute, all cozy with each other. When they asked if I needed help with the cleanup I said I could take care of it, and walked with them to the car while Tom said goodbye to Bridgette. She squeezed into the second-row seat beside Roger, closed the door, and Dan backed out. He gave a quick toot of the horn, and they went to the road, and when the headed north they all yelled, “Goodbye!” out the window.
They were out of sight, but Tom and I both waved anyhow.
We walked back to the yard, and it was seriously in need of a cleanup just when we were seriously not up to it. Most things could wait, but I wanted to get the moving blankets back into the barn. Dad bought those things when we first got the house on Cape Cod, and I was a baby then. We used them on the beach and in the back yard, and brought one when we went to the town fireworks. We used them in Boston too, for concerts on the Esplanade and picnics in the park, and they were over the carpet for my little kid parties in our condo.
I guess they were still my security blankets in a way, the only things still around that had given me comfort and a platform for having fun for most of my cognizant life. I wouldn’t leave them out there alone for any reason. I told Tom that he didn’t have to help me, but he did anyhow. We were both ready to drop, and when the last blanket was folded in the barn I smiled at Tom. “Good vacation or what?”
He said, “Better than good, and don’t take this the wrong way, but we need a day or two apart.”
Tom was right. I’d woken up and gone to sleep with Tom and Dana’s faces in mine for fourteen days straight. I needed real time with my father and mother, Lisa and a lot of other people.
I snapped off the barn lights, put my arm around Tom’s back, and escorted him to his house. “You’re right. I won’t avoid you if something comes up, but there’s not much we need to know about each other right now.”
Tom patted my lower back and I gave his shoulder a quick squeeze and walked home without another word.
It wasn’t an awkward moment for us. We were the best of friends, but enough is enough, and we had enough of constant contact to carry us through a few days.
I looked at the yard and patio thinking I had my work cut out for me in the morning. I grinned and did a skip-step to the house when I thought it might go away if I slept past noon, which I fully intended to do. I closed the door behind me, turned the outside lights off, and went upstairs.
Dana was zonked on my bed, but he’d pulled out the rollaway and it was ready for me. He had his shoes on, and I pulled them off and put them on the pillow beside him, trusting in the old plumbing maxim that says Stink goes up.
I was down to my underwear when my phone made the message-waiting sound. I walked around the bed to my desk, where I’d left the phone earlier. I thought it would be from Lisa, but it was Hector and an uh-oh formed in my mind.
I looked at the clock and it wasn’t all that late, just after eleven, so I took the phone out into the hall and called back. I was in the bathroom sitting on the toilet lid by the time Hector answered.
“Hey, amigo. I called a long time ago, and spoke with your father since. Mama is fine. The doctor thinks it’s just stress and crappy food bothering her stomach. That’s why I called. I’m taking your advice and bringing her out to New Mexico for a week. I know the state because I did my service training there, and she always liked the pictures. Our flight out is Monday, so I will see you Tuesday or Wednesday the following week.”
I said, “Good deal! I’ll be busy getting ready for school and everything. Treat your mother well, and I’ll see you when I do.”
“Thanks, Paul. When does school start?”
“It’s right after Labor Day. I don’t know the date this year.”
We said goodnight, and I flopped down on the trundle bed, pulled a cover over me and conked out.
I was not ready for noise at eight in the morning, but it was noise that I got. Ally opened my door and said, “Get up, you two. We have lots to do before the Stockton folks leave, so get a move on.”
I groaned, “You’re kidding, right? I just went to bed like a minute ago.”
Ally growled, “Get up and get ready. Dress nicely; we’re going for brunch.”
She closed the door and immediately reopened it. “We’re leaving soon. If you go back to sleep you’ll still go, and you’ll go as you are.”
The door closed again and I sat up. “Damn! I really wanted to sleep today.”
Dana’s feet hit me when he sat on the edge of the bed. “Sorry. What do you think this is about?”
I shook my head. “I have no idea. You want first dibs on the shower?”
“Okay. Are you going back to sleep?”
I said, “I’m afraid to. I’ll shave while you’re in the shower, and you can just leave the water running.”
“Good thinking. Let me get by.”
I moved to the side and Dana took a couple of steps around me on the bed. He opened his suitcase and pulled out some clothes, which he tossed on the bed, and came up with his shaving kit and some underwear.
When he left for the bathroom, I did the same thing, but pulled on a robe before I left the bedroom. He was already in the shower, and I said, “It’s me,” when I came in. I took my razor and shave cream from my kit and shoved the bag into its usual place under the vanity. I was still shaving when Dana said, “I’m done. You ready?”
I said, “Have another rinse. I need about fifteen more seconds.”
I finished up, made sure there were bath towels for both of us, and put my things in the bag under the sink. “I’m ready, so anytime.”
Dana stepped out of the shower dripping wet and I handed him a ready towel and slipped in behind him. Ouch! The water was too hot for me, so I stood back and turned up the cold to a level I could tolerate. I scrubbed and washed and started to come alive. Dana was gone when I got out, and I decided to take a minute to trim my toenails. I hadn’t touched them in the last two weeks and they were funny looking. I should have combed my hair first, because when I was done with the toenails my hair didn’t want anything to do with a comb or a brush. It had dried too much, and I had to soak it with water from the sink to get it to do anything at all. For revenge I used cold water straight from the well, which is a constant fifty-five degrees all year round.
That gave me a headache but did nothing for my belligerent hair. I gave up like I always do, and got dressed in long pants, a dark red polo shirt that was in my closet even though I didn’t remember seeing it before, and brown leather Skechers sneakers that were very plain and passed as shoes. I hoped that wherever we were going was air conditioned, because I felt sticky already.
When I got downstairs Ally handed me a coffee and a brochure and said, “Study this. It’s the place we’ve chosen for our wedding if there are no serious objections. Get comfortable wherever you like. We’ll leave in about forty minutes.”
I took a sip of coffee and tried to get a look at the brochure but it was like a tall, skinny book and I didn’t see much. I didn’t know where everyone else was, so I sat at the kitchen table where you can always catch a breeze. The coffee was good, and the brochure was from a resort in the Berkshires Mountains in Western Massachusetts. The place looked beautiful, with long views, big lawns, and a lot of buildings.
There was a wedding brochure folded into it, and I didn’t see anything to object to. They could do a wedding up to two-hundred people indoors, and half that would probably do. None of our families were very big, and they were limiting invitations to their closest friends and no business people unless they fell into the closest-friend category.
Looking through the brochure, I wondered why Mom or Ally might think someone would object. The place looked beautiful and well-kept, and it had rooms in a lot of older buildings on the property. It was more like a giant bed-and-breakfast than a hotel. I decided to vote yes, and went for a second coffee, which I wandered around with looking for other people. Dana was alone in the dining room where the smart money goes. He was asleep in his chair, making better use of the time than I was, so I left him to it and found Dad and Elenora in the living room.
Dad looked up, “Did you see the brochure? What do you think?”
I said, “I don’t see why that’s a question. It’s beautiful.”
Dad said, “I’m not sure what they’re worrying about. I agree: the place looks wonderful.”
Elenora said, “It looks absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to see it. Have you seen Dana?”
“Dana is taking a nap. If I was that smart I’d have done the same thing.”
Mom came in and said, “We should get going now. Where is Dana?”
I said, “You’ll find him in the dining room.”
Mom frowned and said, “Paul, you speak like I’m looking for his corpse. I just want to tell him we’re leaving.” She turned toward the dining room.
I mumbled, “Don’t scream.”
She never listens to me. “Dana! Oh dear, are you alright? I thought for a moment that …”
That’s all we heard from the living room because we were laughing as silently as we could, which causes a certain degree of deafness. Mom came back with a somewhat unsteady Dana and said, “Let’s go. We’re just going down the street to the Landing. We’ll go together in Ally’s car.”
The Landing is a place on the water where the rivers converge, connected to a marina that serves as a launching point for canoes and kayaks mostly, but also small power boats. The restaurant isn’t a fancy place and it doesn’t pretend to be, but it offers great views across the water and into the mountains and is, as my mother was quick to mention, the only nearby place with open reservations for Sunday brunch.
It was a buffet, but the waitress brought us coffee and juice, and as soon as Ally started talking I realized that this was going to be something like a family meeting. That was cool, because I’d heard of family meetings back at Barents, where they usually seemed to be about cutting someone out of the inheritance for repeated doltism, and instead them to change their name in exchange for a generous stipend. I suspected a lot of the kids at school were the sons of those dolts, sent there to learn how to regain that family money.
Ally started with, “Come back to earth, Paul, and wake your brother up.”
Dana’s eyes shot open and he said, “What? I’m awake.”
I put my hand over his and patted his wrist. “Ally wants to ask us something, and it’s something very weird. That’s why she’s all edgy like this.”
Ally closed her eyes and muttered, “Jesus H. Obama Christ! All we want is to agree on a theme for the wedding. Since it’s Irish and Italian for Frank and Elenora, and Irish and English for me and Necia, we thought of something a little Irish and a little Italian, with the Irish being in our dress, and the Italian in the food, with a bit of each mixed in everywhere.”
I made a face and said, “Do you mean like corned beef cacciatore?”
My father turned red trying not to laugh, and Ally steamed. “I don’t mean to mix dishes. We will certainly have corned beef, but served traditionally with boiled potatoes, carrots and onions.”
“No cabbage? I asked.”
It was Mom’s turn to laugh, “Not at a wedding, Paul.”
Dana asked, “Can I go to the buffet? I’m really hungry.”
Dad said, “Let’s all go. I’m hungry too.”
With that, we followed Dana and Dad to the buffet table. It was mostly breakfast stuff, and they had the fat Vermont sausages that I had so missed in Chile. There were prepared scrambled eggs that looked okay, but there was a guy cooking omelets to order. I asked him if he could do a couple of eggs fried sunny-side and he said, “Coming up,” and I went down the line for some pancakes and syrup. I was back just before the eggs were done, and excused my arm as I stuck my plate between an older couple to collect them up.
Back at the table I was looking at a real Vermont breakfast, and I started in on it as soon as I sat down. Everything was done just right: juicy sausages, soft-yolk eggs, thin pancakes, and as the flavors came together on my plate they made a whole that really transcended the parts. When I ate it all, I decided I could go for a bit more, so I took another plate, put two slices of bread in the toaster, a sausage on my plate, and asked the man for two poached eggs. I went to the toaster just as mine popped up, slathered both slices with butter, and was back for my eggs just when the guy started looking for me.
It was a wonderful breakfast all over again, and when I was done I was really done. I took a sip of Dana’s juice, but didn’t ask for anything else when the waitress came around again.
Something had changed when Ally said, “Let’s talk about this.”
Ally, Mom and Elenora were on one side of the table, and Dad was sitting on the other side of Dana. I looked past Dana beseechingly at Dad, but when he noticed me he gave an unknowing shrug.
Ally said, “We’ve agreed on a civil wedding for a lot of reasons, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give it the full-court press. She looked pointedly at me, then Dana, and said, “Paul, we want you for our Best Man, and Frank and Elenora want Dana. Will this be a problem?”
I looked at Dana and could tell this was the first time he’d heard this, too, and he kind of shrugged, like whatever. I looked at Mom with a little smile and said, “Works for me.”
Ally asked, “Dana?”
Elenora looked worried, “Baby, if you don’t want to just say so.”
Dana said quietly, “I want to, but what do I have to do?”
Ally said gently, “You have to bring the rings, and keep track of which is which. I think that traditionally you would have a stag party for Frank, get him puking drunk, and extort money from his friends. This time around, watching out for the rings will be more than enough.”
Dana asked, “I can’t get him puking drunk?”
”Dana!” Elenora cried, and we all laughed, Dad the hardest.
I asked, “What do I have to do?”
Mom said softly, “Just be there with our rings, Paul; nothing else.”
I smiled at Mom, and Ally said, “Ah, actually there is something else. We want the ceremony to have some Irish and Italian flavor, so we kind of hope you and Dana will consent to wearing … how do I put this? Kilts.”
I’m sure I shared the same mortified look that was on Dana’s face. My hair was bad when I left the house and it just got worse. “You want me to wear a skirt? No way!”
“That’s what a kilt is?” Dana whispered, and on my nod he said, “Not! I thought you meant a stupid hat or something.”
Things got confusing then because Mom leaned to me and Elenora leaned across to Dana, and their pleas got mixed up in my ears. I finally said, loudly enough to turn heads in the restaurant, “I am not wearing a dress to your wedding, period!”
Dad said, “Boys, take a walk with me, okay?”
That was a relief, and we went out onto the docks, where we ended up at the end looking across the river and into the hills of New Hampshire, with colorful kayaks bobbing in the current below us.
Dad said, “Listen to me. Kilts are not dresses. They’re the clothing of warriors from the past. Lots of men wear them today, to celebrate their heritage. What the ladies have in mind are great kilts, ones that are full body things, not just the lower part. And don’t worry, with a kilt you wear fat socks that come up to your knees, and you can keep your underwear on. I’ll find you some pictures when we get home, but with the tunics we’ll be wearing nobody will ever mistake us for girls.”
“Us?” Dana and I asked in unison.
“Oh, yeah,” Dad said. “Didn’t anyone mention that?”
Dana asked, “Where do I fit in? I’m Italian, not Irish.”
Dad said, “Oh, there are Italian kilts too. You’ll wear one of those. They’re blue, not as boring as the Irish green.”
Dana seemed placated, but I wasn’t. “If I wear one of these things, damn … what’s in it for me?”
“Nothing, Paul. You can wear what you want; your Mom and Ally still want you for their best man. You don’t get extra for doing what they want, but I think you’ll lose in the long run if you don’t.”
I looked at Dana, and got no reaction. I figured he was waiting for me to decide, so I decided. “Okay, I guess I can wear a kilt, but just for the wedding itself, right? Not for the reception or anything, okay?”
Dad grinned, “That’s fine. You decide when you want to change clothes.” He looked at Dana and asked, “You?”
Dana looked away and said, “I like blue. I guess so.”
Dad smiled, “Think of something you really want, because you’re about to make three ladies very happy.” He looked at us and said, “Let’s go back in. Show some enthusiasm. The man’s kilt is where the term ‘dressed to kill’ came from, and it meant exactly that.”
When we were walking back to the table, Ally had a worried look on her face for the first time since I met her. Mom and Elenora were both watching us with anticipation, and I felt suddenly glad to have good news for them. When we reached the table I said, “I’ll wear a kilt,” and tried to smile. I doubt it looked very enthusiastic.
“So will I,” Dana said
Ally exhaled while Mom and Elenora exploded in squeals and came running around the table from both ends to dispense a whole lot of motherly joy and affection on Dana and me, while Dad stood there smiling. I heard someone at another table say, “Maybe they hit the lottery last night.”
We sat back down. Ally had a long list of things to talk about, and next up was the date. The place was available Thanksgiving weekend, and Ally seemed like she was trying to sell us on it. “It’s between seasons, so the foliage will be gone. With any luck we’ll have some snow. We can go late Wednesday and settle in; I’ll find a place for a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday. Friday we can go shopping or antiquing, or just enjoy the spa, and have the rehearsal late in the afternoon. The rehearsal dinner will follow after.”
I spoke up, smiling, “Can’t you just ask us if the date works? It’s fine with me, and I’ll be where you are anyhow.”
Ally smiled, “After the kilts I thought you’d be a hard sell on everything else. Okay, next question. Will you boys want to bring dates? If so, do you think they would agree to be in the wedding party?”
I looked at Dana’s long face and he mumbled, “My girlfriend is in Germany.”
Ally frowned while Mom looked at Dad. Elenora said, “Oh Baby, her whole family is on our list to invite. Why don’t you call Gretchen later to find out if they’ll be able to come? If they can’t, we can get her a ticket to come on her own.”
Dana smiled, “Really?” and Elenora nodded. Maybe this kilt thing wasn’t a bad idea after all.
I said, “I’ll call Lisa. I know she’d love to see me in a dress, but I don’t know what her parents will think.”
Elenora said, “I hope you’re not getting kinky with that girl, Paul.”
Stunned, I said, “Me? It’s not me, it’s Lisa. She’s Italian, you know.”
Dad handed me a spoon and said, “Dig a little deeper, Paul”
I smiled sweetly at Elenora’s glare and said, “No offense to present company. I should have said Sicilian.”
Ally said, “Paul, if you feel the urge coming on to belittle another race or nationality, please sit on it. We have more to get through here.”
I swallowed my argument and looked expectantly at Ally. She said, “Fine. Do you think any of your friends would consider being ushers? We should probably have four or five of them.”
Dana asked, “Do they have to wear skirts?”
Ally was on the verge of exasperation. “Yes, absolutely. If you can’t find anyone, I’m sure we can import some Irish and Italian gentlemen who will be proud to wear their tartans. Get back to us on that.”
I asked, “Doesn’t the groom’s father usually host the rehearsal dinner?”
Ally said curtly, “Yes. That is the custom, but you’ll have to admit that this isn’t your typical wedding. We’ll ask all four of our fathers to co-host.”
She gave me a look to quiet me and said, “Let’s get on with this,” and she did. The rest isn’t worth repeating, with talk about menus, flowers, music, carriages and ad-infinitum. It was two o’clock when we left, and only because Dad wanted to get back to Stockton.
On the way back to the house I asked Dana if he had anyone he wanted to ask to be an usher, and he didn’t. Those embarrassing questions would be my duty.
When we got to the house I asked Elenora, “Don’t you think some of your nieces and nephews might be interested in being in your wedding?”
She kind of squirmed at the question. “I thought of that, but they don’t know us at all, really. I think they’d be happier as guests. I think your friends would be more comfortable; they’ve at least spent some time with us.”
That made sense, so I said I’d ask, but couldn’t promise anything.
The first person I asked, of course, was Tom. He was in the yard with his father finishing the cleanup from the night before. When my father asked Tom’s father what was going on, Mr. Timek said, “I noticed your yard was a bit unsightly when I was having my breakfast. When nothing changed by noon, I figured you’d flown the coop, so we came to pick things up before they took root.”
Dad laughed and bopped his shoulder. “Thanks, Ralph. How about a nice, cold Beck’s?”
Tom offered, “I’ll have a Beck’s.”
“Like Hell,” his father muttered, “Oh, why not?”
Dad raised the umbrella on the closest table and said, “Have a seat. I’ll be right back.”
I cornered Tom before he could move and said, “I have a deal for you. Have you ever worn a dress? I mean a war dress?”
Tom started laughing, “Where’s this going, compadre? I already don’t like it.”
I said, “Never mind. I knew you wouldn’t like it.”
Tom said, “Wait, wait. I only heard the dress part. Where’s the bit that makes it a deal for me?”
I put my hand on his shoulder and led him around the corner of the house. “Here’s the deal, but let me give you a little background. The wedding will be Thanksgiving weekend, and the place they have picked out is gorgeous – down in the Berkshires near the New York line. We’ll have a great big Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, free time on Friday followed by a rehearsal and a rehearsal dinner. That’s where you’ll get some neat gift from Dad and Elenora, and another from Mom and Ally. The wedding is Saturday, and the only time we have to wear kilts is for the wedding itself. We can change out right after.” I increased the pressure on his shoulder, “Here’s the good part. You can bring a date, and she can be in the wedding too if she wants.”
Tom didn’t seem too eager. “You said kilt. You mean we could … would …no, I don’t think so, Paul.”
“Don’t be so hasty, Tom. Think of it like a four-day vacation date with every luxury at your beck and call. You’ll probably be fifty before you can afford something like that on your own, and by then you’ll be too old to enjoy it.”
Tom eyed me and said, “You mean, like me and Bridgette, we could … “
I said, “Tom, picture Ally in your mind for a second. You’re not going to get away with anything more than drinking too much champagne, and you won’t sleep in the same room with Bridgette, maybe not even in the same building, but you’ll still have the date of the century.”
Tom said dreamily, “Yeah. Four days on our own, sort-of. It sounds good to me. What’s it gonna cost?”
I clarified, “You’re clear with the kilt, right?”
Tom shrugged, “I understand. What do I have to pay for?”
“Just things for you and Bridgette. Don’t worry, it’s an expensive area. You’ll be able to dump money till it hurts.”
Just then we heard Tom’s father, “Tom? I thought you wanted a beer.”
I held him back, “We need to find three more guys with girlfriends. Go get drunk. We’ll talk later. I have to call Lisa.”
“You don’t want a beer?”
“Not now, I don’t. I’ll be back.”
Tom bopped my arm and said, “Go, man. Talk to Shea and Gary for sure. How about Hector if one of them can’t?”
“Good thinking,” I said, and went to sit in the shade of a tree to call Lisa. We were usually feeling fall by then in August, but the sky was clear and the sun was bright and hot. There was still humidity around.
When Lisa picked up I asked, “Would you think it kind of funky if you saw me in a dress?”
“Okay, I’m talking about a kilt, where I wrap my body in cloth and go forth to kill people.”
Lisa giggled, “I can’t really picture it, but I think I’d like to see whatever you’re talking about.”
“So you’ll do it? Please say yes.”
Lisa laughed, “A few more details would be nice.”
I said, “Let me ask you this. Is Thanksgiving a big deal with your family?”
“Paul, do you ever think of getting to the point, or do you like just beating about the bush?”
I giggled, “Did you ever consider that I might not know what the point is until I beat a few bushes?”
“No, I haven’t thought of that, but maybe you should beat the bushes before you ask such an intriguing question. I guess I’ll say that Thanksgiving is nice. Last year Al and I went to the football game and froze our fingers off. Then we came home to a nice turkey and all that. After we ate, Dad, Lou and Aldo fell asleep watching football while me and Dina helped clean up and put things away. That’s the usual, except it’s the first time I went to the game. That’s probably the only Thanksgiving I remember since I was little and we went to Dad’s house for Thanksgiving with the grandparents.”
I asked gently, not knowing the story, “Are they gone now?”
Lisa said, “They got lucky. Their farm is really pretty looking, but pretty useless. Some people from New York paid them way too much for it, and they live out near San Diego now.”
“I guess they got lucky. So, it wouldn’t be a big deal if you weren’t here for Thanksgiving?”
Lisa laughed, “I think I’d need a better reason than seeing you in a dress, but no, not a big deal.”
I went on to tell her about the wedding, and she seemed excited about it, and more so when I said Tom was asking Bridgette and I still had to ask if Shea could come with Cheri. I didn’t mention Hector and Arizona because Ari would be back at school and Hector would be there anyhow as security. I asked, “Lisa, what would you think if I asked Gary and Joan? Mom loves Gary more than she loves me and the rest of Vermont, and he’d fit her picture of a Celtic warrior in kilts.”
Lisa snickered and said, “He’d fill that picture in for me, too. Why not? Gary’s a good guy, and I know that Joanie would love to have more time with him.”
“I’ll call him, then. I don’t know what the chances are, but I can ask. Elenora doesn’t want to ask her nieces and nephews because she hasn’t met them all yet. She thinks they’ll be happy as guests.”
“I think Elenora is exactly right,” Lisa said. “I’d feel put out if some relative I never knew wanted me in a wedding. Invite them to the party and get to know them.”
I said, “Thanks for the words. I had the same feeling, but didn’t work it out in my head. I want to see Dad and them before they leave, so you’ll ask?”
“Give me a few more details so I know what day and how long, then I’ll ask.”
I did that, and promised to call or stop over after everyone left. I joined Dad, Mr. Timek and Tom on the patio and declined the offer of a beer. If the day was done I might like a glass, but I thought there was a lot left to do. I got a glass of water from the kitchen and joined them for some salami, cheese dip and rye crisps, and sat there listening to Tom talk about Chile until Elenora came out and suggested they should leave soon.
They did leave soon, and Tom, Dana and I shared a group hug at the real end of our vacation together. We really did have a wonderful time, despite Freddie Martinez. We spent two weeks marveling at the mountain scenery, thrilled with the challenges we faced skiing, all the while learning to love the people and good food of Chile. Dana had improved his technique and learned some things, while Tom and I had improved by leaps and bounds. I can say modestly that we are now world-class skiers. We’re not racers like Dana, but I doubt there’s anything that will give us second thoughts. Steep? Bring it on! Not too much snow? It happens. Lots of rocks? We’ll ski between them. It looks pretty scary? Let’s go!
Honestly, it was the first time in my life that I felt I could meet any challenge, at least in the context of Alpine skiing. There were still relationships, politics, and trash collection to be figured out, but that was in the future. On Dana’s brilliant suggestion, we found Dad and shared the hug with him, expressing thanks for the best time we ever had.
I know Dad liked that, though he didn’t say much. Then it was time for them to leave. There was a last goodbye, and Elenora drove the Subaru down to the street, waited for a car to pass, and tooted the horn when they drove off.
Tom and I kind of leaned together with our thoughts. That trip was more than the skiing, the beautiful vistas and the food. It was more than the excitement, too. It was a first for me, and all of us. I’d never spent a block of time more-or-less on my own with any friend, but I’d been with Dana and Tom every day for two weeks. Heh, I guess the fact that we were closer friends after that tells the important story, and we were better and closer friends in my mind. That’s not a question you can ask, but I knew the answer. Tommy and Dana would think the same thoughts, and they wouldn’t ask either. Nobody would ask because there was no question there.
I walked back to the house with Tom, and he went on home with his father. I didn’t know when Shea would be home, but I went inside to tell Mom and Ally about my prospects so far, and see what they thought about asking Gary.
Mom, as I expected, was thrilled with the idea. It’s funny, because when I told Gary girls would like him because he looked dangerous I never projected that to my mother, yet she was enthralled with his dark looks, and couldn’t wait to see him in a kilt. She looked at Ally, “Maybe he should have a sword. He’s tall enough, or maybe a pistol in his belt, and one of those sashes all full of ammunition!”
Ally said dryly, “That would be a bandolier. This is a wedding, girl, not a siege. A sword or a holstered pistol might look nice, but a bandolier makes it look like war is afoot. Really.”
I laughed to myself. War is afoot? They’d worked themselves deeply into the medieval frame of mind, and I thought it was funny. I had practical matters on my mind, and asked, “Who are you planning to invite from Brattleboro? Anyone?”
Mom looked at Ally, and Ally said, “We thought the Timeks and the Luellens. They’re the only people we’ve really gotten to know here, and they’re our neighbors after all. Lord knows they’ve put up with a lot with all this security and what-not. Do you have someone else in mind?”
I said, “I guess if you’re inviting the Timeks and Luellens anyhow, Tom and Shea will have to say yes to being ushers. If the Luellens go Catherine could be your flower girl.”
Mom piped up, “Oh, wouldn’t that be precious. And the little boy, what’s his name?”
“Yes, of course. Liam. We could ask him to be the ring bearer. They have such nice Irish names, too.”
Ally looked at me and asked, “Are we omitting anyone here?”
I felt nervous asking. “Well, there’s Lisa’s family … “
“They will get an invitation then. We have an option on almost all the spaces, so there’s no end of rooms.”
“Does that mean you’re paying for everything?”
Ally said, “We got a much better price that way, so there’s no reason for anyone to think they can’t stay all four nights. Everything is covered except the gift shop. We are hiring horse-drawn carriages for the wedding itself, and they’ll be there all day and into the evening for anyone who wants to brave the cold to take a ride.”
I think my jaw was down around my breastbone by then, and I didn’t really know what to think. I was torn between thinking it was a great way to blow a ton of money in a short time while I wondered what good might come of that amount elsewhere.
It was best left alone, not my business. I didn’t know who was paying what. Dad had money for sure, but so did Mom and so did Ally. The wedding would probably be the best day ever for all of them, so the money wasn’t something I’d ever comment on. They’d expect me to say something, probably, but it’s their money, and even a very lavish wedding would be a drop in the bucket to them.
Then a name popped into my head, and I directed my question to Mom. “Do you remember my roommate at Barents?”
“Oh yes, that little blond boy from the Midwest. He had an unusual name; was it Percival?”
I said, “Very good. His name is Dan now, and he’s a big blond boy from Michigan. I have to ask him if it’s possible, but he’d be the perfect fifth usher you want.”
Ally said, “I think we’ll leave that to you. The ushering will just be symbolic anyhow. There are four families involved, so there won’t be any bride or groom questions to ask. We’ll just have to come up with a way to identify relatives so they’re seated toward the front. Everyone else just needs a seat.”
I mumbled, “So get a rubber stamp and stamp ‘relative’ on foreheads you recognize.”
Ally rolled her eyes, and Mom said, “That’s enough. Run off and call your friends and … wait! Lisa is Italian, isn’t she?”
I nodded, and Mom asked, “Do you think she’d consider being our maid of honor? It would be perfect to have the Italian tartan on our side too, and she’s so lovely.”
I dumbly asked, “You want Lisa to wear a kilt?”
Ally said acidly, “Girl.”
Huh? I ran that sequence through my head a second time and snickered, “Yeah, she is. Sorry. Should I ask her?”
Ally said, “Hold off on that. I want to let Elenora have a voice in this. I’ll speak with her soon and then give you some direction. In the meantime, it would be a nice idea if you tell these families to expect invitations very shortly. Let them know that the only expense to them will be for getting there and back home, and their personal shopping.”
I asked, “Do you have a minister and all that lined up?”
Mom said gently, “No, Paul. This will be a civil ceremony and Bernard will officiate. The ceremony will be brief, and the party will be long. You, as our best man, will propose a toast, and Dana will do the same for Frank and Elenora. After that, it will be dining and dancing through the afternoon.”
“I have to speak in public?” I asked weakly. I get stage fright something fierce, and hate when the spotlight is on me, even in class.
“Just a toast, Paul,” Ally said. “You can prepare it in advance and practice in front of a mirror. It doesn’t have to be long; short is better.”
I sighed, “I’ll get through it. Is there anything else?”
Mom opened her mouth, but Ally talked over her. “Of course there is, and there’s also a lot of time. Take what you have and get us a wedding party. We can talk more another day.”
I took the hint and went outside to try calling Gary and Dan. I was flying blind, not knowing what either one would think about participating in a wedding where half of it was gay. I called Gary, and he was out somewhere, so I left a message for him to call me when he got a chance.
I had better luck with Dan, and he answered so quickly I thought he must have had his phone in his hand already. He sounded cheerful. “Hi Paul. What’s up?”
I said, “My mother and father are getting married Thanksgiving. How would you like to come and help out?”
“I’m not sure I understand. I know they got divorced, but are you telling me they forgot how to get married? Don’t you think they should ask someone older, like someone who has experience in marriage?”
I said, “Don’t bust my balls, Paynter.”
“Why not? I learned from you, master.”
“I’ll let that go by for now. They don’t need advice; advice is Dad’s business. What they need is help, as in ushers and bridesmaids.”
Dan said, “Oh, that kind of help. I’ve been an usher before, but you said Thanksgiving?”
I felt it coming. “Yes, the whole weekend.”
“I don’t think I can, Paul. My parents kind of adopted Thanksgiving as their holiday a long time ago. They put a big to-do on here, and family comes from everywhere. It’s fun, and I’m not ready to miss out on it even if they’d let me, which I kind of hate to even ask.”
I said, “I understand that. My next question was going to be if you’d wear a dress for the occasion, but I guess that point is moot now.”
“A dress.” Dan
stated. “Well, that adds a new wrinkle, doesn’t it?”
I said, “A new pleat at least. Do I detect a renewed interest?”
Dan snickered, “I might be interested in seeing the wedding photos. What got your parents back together anyhow?”
“Back? Oh no. They’re marrying other people, not each other. They’re just doing it together.”
Dan sighed, “Why didn’t I think of that myself? I’ll tell you; the only thing I liked about Bareass was being in the east. Everyone there did interesting things, and there was no such thing as having prayer meetings before you go for a pizza. Nobody here wants anything to change … not ever. If it was good in 1905 it was still good in 1925, and if it was good then it was good in 1945, 1965, and 2005. I’ll tell you what. If you’re under real time pressure to find someone, my no is still no. If you have some flex, maybe a week, I’ll see what I can do about being there.”
Dan hesitated and said, “Tell me about the dress part.”
I laughed, “We have to wear kilts, but only for the marriage part, which Ally says will be short and sweet.”
Dan said, “Nothing is short and sweet with a kilt. It takes a half hour to get wrapped up in one and you need two people helping.”
I asked, “You’ve worn one?”
Dan said, “Lots of them. The company is a sponsor of the Renaissance Faire here every year. I’ve spent a long weekend in a kilt every year since I was eight.”
“You’re not embarrassed about that?”
“Why would I be embarrassed? Even the athletes wear kilts, and I’ve learned one thing.”
“The guys in kilts get all the girls.”
I said with a little laugh, “I’m glad you told me that. If it ends up that you can’t come, I’ll use that line when I’m looking for someone else.”
Dan said, “Do that. Did you take your trip to Chile yet?”
It was at least an hour before I closed the phone, and my ear was all sweaty. I put the phone on an outside table and went to the lav in the entryway. I used the toilet and washed my face in cold water twice. That felt good. I washed again in warm water so the soap would suds up and after I rinsed off I rinsed again with cold water.
I looked around for Mom and Ally but didn’t find them. I figured they were making plans, taking a nap, or doing something I didn’t want to think about. I was a little hungry, and after looking around I stood at the refrigerator and munched on deli ham by the slice. It was pretty salty, so I only had a few slices, which was enough. I went outside with a big glass of water and looked at the messages that I knew came in while I was talking to Dan. One was a text from Dana saying they were home, and the two missed calls were from Gary Andrews.
I went to call him back, but by the time I’d entered half his number he materialized in front of me. I smiled in surprise and said, “I was just calling you.”
Gary sprawled in the chair opposite me and said, “I called twice, and decided to come over instead. What’s up? Mom said you needed me.”
“I do. Can you get away for the Thanksgiving weekend, like leave on Wednesday and come back on Sunday?”
Gary replied, “I can do what I want as long as I have a damn good reason.”
I said, “I’ll give you a good reason. Do you think Joanie could come, too?”
Gary’s eyes widened, “You mean come away with me? I can’t say, but I’d like that.”
I said, “Here’s why I’m asking,” and I laid the whole wedding and resort scenario out in front of him.
He didn’t even balk at the kilt, didn’t even blink his eyes. “Hell, I bet I’m big enough for my father’s kilt now.”
“You have a kilt?” I asked in surprise.
“Oh yeah. It’s ancient and not suited to no fancy wedding. Dad only wears it to funerals and such these days.”
“You’d wear a kilt no problem?”
Gary shrugged like was no big deal.
“Will you do it, then? The wedding, I mean.”
“Okay, but you have to get me there and back.”
I asked, “You’ll ask Joanie, too? What are the chances that she can come?”
Gary snickered and said, “Better than even, I think. I know her folks found some deal on a cruise, and they would sign up except for Joan. If your mom or someone could talk to her mother, and promise that we won’t be humping each other all day long, I bet she could go.”
I said, “I don’t think any of us will be humping. My folks aren’t crazy.”
Gary straightened up and said, “I’m not either. Me and Joan know when to stop, though Lordy it’s not easy sometimes.”
“Tell me,” I muttered. “I didn’t tell you everything, so hold on while I get a brochure for the place.”
I went in, found one, and was ready to go out when I realized Gary didn’t even have something to drink. I thought back, and he always wanted water, so I filled a big glass with ice and well water from the tap. I set the water down in front of him and handed him the brochure. “This is all about the place they’re having the wedding, and everyone’s staying there. You can keep that to show your folks and Joan.”
Gary started looking through the pages and mumbled, “Holy cow! This place is something else.”
I said, “It won’t cost you anything unless you want to go Christmas shopping while we’re there.”
Gary asked, “When do you need to know by? I can call home right now, and then call Joan to get her thinking on it.”
I slid my phone over and said, “Be my guest. I’ll leave you alone here. I haven’t looked at my computer since I got home, so I’ll be up in my room. Come on up when you’re done.”
“Okay,” was all Gary said.
I went to my room and pushed the power button on the computer, and nothing happened. Then I remembered I’d disconnected everything to protect it against a lightning strike and had to reconnect it all. When it started coming up I straightened out the rollaway bed and shoved it back where it belonged, took everything out of my suitcase and stowed that in my closet. I put the few clean clothes where they belonged and brought the bag of dirty clothes, my ski bag, parka and ski pants down to the back hallway. The parka and pants would have to be dry cleaned, but they’d be fine until my next growth spurt.
When I logged on to my computer it took a longer time than usual and the reason for that became clear when the email program opened and said I had two-hundred twenty-nine new messages. The top one was from Hector and had come in thirty minutes earlier. It was just a quick note saying that he realized he had all our trip pictures on DVD, so he’d just overnighted them to me. I sent him a quick thanks, and wished him a good trip to New Mexico and scanned the senders. I stopped near the top where an email from the night before had DLavín as sender. I guessed it might be Daniel, as the address ended in .com.cl, and I was right. In two weeks I’d never heard Lucero’s last name, and I gave myself a demerit for never asking.
Daniel’s mail was basically a thank-you note, a request for some pictures if we had any good ones, and an invitation to come back any time.
I wrote back promising pictures when we got them sorted out, told him about the uneventful flight home, and related the story of our latest UFO.
When I sent that off, there were several large messages from Tom that had pictures from the trip. The first batch had the sunrise over the Andes as seen from the helicopter. Most were a little fuzzy, probably caused by the vibration of the helicopter itself, but a few were crystal clear and really spectacular. I opened a new folder and saved them all. The other messages had different sets of our last two days skiing, and they were generally much better. There were a few shots of us skiing, but most were downtime when we were warming up or having lunch. Tom was pretty good with people pictures, and some of these had each of us looking like we were contemplating something important. Not a lot of contemplation actually took place, but we had that look and it made for good pictures.
There were pictures of the mansion at La Parva, and the rest must have been given to Hector to put on DVDs for us. I forwarded Tom’s mails to Daniel intact and said I’d send a copy of the disks when I had them, and in that one I asked him to send me his address in Chile written in a way that the post office would get mail to him. I sent him the same for our Brattleboro address.
Tom had sent a few other messages from earlier in the trip, but they were individual pictures sent from the mountain we were skiing on that day. I saved the pictures and forwarded the messages on to Daniel, hoping for his sake that he had a good connection. I remembered sharing dial-up connections at Barents, and shuddered at the thought of getting a bunch of hi-def photos that way.
I left the rest of the email for later when Gary came in, and he announced, “I can go, no problem. Joan probably can too, but only if your mother calls her father.” He sneered, “Her mother will only let her go if I’m kept in the dungeon. Her father just wants the details.”
I shoved a piece of paper to Gary and said, “Write down their number.”
He did, and I asked, “Do you know her father’s first name?”
“Oh yeah, sorry. It’s Walt.”
I took another piece of paper and made things into a note. “Let’s go downstairs. I’ll tape this to the refrigerator.”
I didn’t have to tape anything. Mom and Ally came out of their room just when I stepped into the hall, and I said, “Gary’s here. He’ll be in the wedding, and if you call Joan’s father I think she can too.”
“Where is that boy? You say Joan’s father? Shouldn’t I call her mother?”
I stepped away from the door where I had Gary trapped behind me, and Mom ran over to give him a hug. “Oh, you dear boy! Thank you so much for offering to be in our wedding. I shall call Joan’s father as soon as I get downstairs.”
I handed her the paper I had in my hand and said, “Before you ask a lot of questions, here are the answers.”
Ally said cynically, “Don’t tell me you have a crib sheet ready.”
Mom said, “Really, Al, all that’s here is a name and a phone number.” She looked at me and said, “Tell me again why I’m phoning her father and not her mother.”
Gary said, “Her ma don’t trust me too much. Her dad’s gonna decide in the end anyhow, so you might’s well start with him.”
Mom smiled, “I see; less time and less aggravation. You really are a very astute young man.”
She led us down the stairs and into the living room, where Ally turned me and Gary around and led us back outside. I looked at Gary and grinned, “You have to tell me what Mr. Novitzke says about this phone call when you see him.”
Gary grinned, “Promise.”