The Third Good Thing
I never heard Mom and Ally come in that night, and in the morning I learned that Ally had to go to Boston to handle some business, so Mom would be carless for a day or so. Ally was in a mad rush to get on the road and I just stood back until she took off. My breakfast was an egg and cheese sandwich on toast and a glass of juice. I had to rush through that or be late, so there were very few words spoken between Mom and me.
Tom and Shea asked me what happened after they left. I was certainly curious to know myself, but had nothing to tell them. They had changed the bus routes, and we no longer had a social period on the way to school. It was more convenient for everyone, but we didn’t see Lisa or Jim McNaughton before we got to school. Everyone closer to town rode the big bus, but it now looped through Lisa’s neighborhood while a little short bus came for us and the people even farther out, meaning Gary, Roger and half a dozen others that we only knew peripherally. It was still a friendly group, but we all missed the gossip, the plan making and the general friendliness of the larger bunch.
Still, it was a shorter ride both coming and going, which gave us an extra twenty minutes of sleep in the morning, and a twenty minute head start on our homework after school.
My problem is that it only gave me a few minutes with Lisa in the morning. Our lockers weren’t close, nor were our home rooms, so we basically got to meet at the stairs and walk to the second floor together. The only class we shared was English in third period. We did manage to sit together most days, but there was almost no chance for interaction.
That made lunch the high point of my school day, and since we were Juniors we had ‘our’ table … sacred ground when you’re an upper classman. Ours was just for friends: Lisa and me, Tom and Bridgette, Gary and Joan, Roger, Jim, and whichever girls they were talking to on a given day.
It was usually a lively place, and that Monday was no exception. Most Mondays were good because everyone had their weekend reports, their new jokes and their current plans.
That was all Lisa and I got, though, as far as school was concerned. There were a few minutes before and after school, a chance to sit together while we learned our language, and a half hour of banter at the lunch table.
At the end of the day I said I’d call her as soon as I got home, but when I got there Mom was waiting for me.
She smiled and asked about my day and all that, and then said, “I need you to show me how to drive your car, and I’d like to learn before dark. I understand there’s something different about it.”
I said, “I think there are a lot of things different, but you must mean double-clutching.”
Mom looked at me and said, “That is the term. It sounds perfectly pornographic, but in a mechanical framework it’s probably very mundane. Put your things down and show me.”
I said, “Ma, can I change and go to the bathroom?”
“Well, of course you can. What made you ask that?”
I went upstairs, dropped my things in my room and went to the bathroom. I took my school clothes off, changed into jeans, a sweatshirt and sneakers, and went back downstairs.
“I’m ready!” I called, not exactly sure where Mom was.
She came hurrying from the kitchen with the key to the Fiat in her hand. She gave me the key and put a jacket on.
The car started right away, which kind of surprised me. It had been sitting for over a week since my last lesson, and the time I thought I’d kill the battery before the engine caught, so it must have fixed itself. I backed up, thinking we could drive on the lawn until Mom got the hang of it, and with words and demonstration I told her about double-clutching. We changed places, and she managed it after just a few tries, which surprised me. She went to the end of the driveway and stopped. “Where is your gas gauge?”
I said, “It’s a light that comes on,” and pointed to it. “If you see that, you have a couple of gallons left and about fifty miles left to go. I filled it after my last lesson, so don’t worry.”
Mom said, “Let me see if I can do this,” and when the road was clear she turned left to go north.
My mother could amaze me sometimes, and she did then. We went for a half-hour drive to Newfane and back and she never misjudged that clutch once.
Newfane is a pretty little town and the green is right beside the road we were on. Mom drove slowly in town, and when we passed the Four Columns restaurant she asked, “Have you taken Lisa to the Four Columns yet?”
I said, “No. I think it’s kind of old for us, and it would take my allowance for a year to go there.”
Mom said, “Oh, nonsense. It’s such a very romantic setting, and the food is wonderful. You should take her there for a Valentine’s day dinner, or perhaps her birthday.”
I said semi-sarcastically, “Perhaps when I’m thirty and gainfully employed.”
Mom said, “You are really stuck on that, aren’t you?”
I didn’t answer, and Mom drove around the green and headed home.
She said, “I should be happy to see you have pride in yourself, and I am. But Paul, you have opportunities that very few other people have.”
I said, “I know that, believe me. Dad wants me to go to MIT and Harvard like him. Ally says I should take a few years and bum around the world. Bernie said I could take the money and live a life of … I don’t know what he was describing … decadence or living large or something. Now you want me to spend it on meals most people could pay their rent with? I like Ally’s idea, but I don’t see myself with the rest of it.”
Mom was silent until we were almost home, and said, “It’s certainly your prerogative to live your life the way you want to, and everyone is impressed with your ideas for doing good things with the money. I only wish that you’d give yourself more consideration. You don’t do yourself or anyone you come in contact with any good to pretend you’re poor when you so obviously are not.”
I protested, “I don’t pretend. I just don’t talk about it. I mean, people know, but they don’t know how much. There was that birthday party, for one thing. Don’t think I’m complaining because I’m not, but most people would have had a cookout in the yard or a movie party or something.”
I said, “Think about it. That party said there’s money to spend, but nothing suggested millions or billions of dollars behind it. Hell, Shea’s family could afford a big party too, but Shea’s idea for a party – just the idea – has him down in the town’s historical record for one of the best parties ever.”
Mom giggled, “I do remember hearing about that.” She turned into our driveway and stopped by the side door. “There is a pot of your favorite marinara on the stove. There are some cooked meatballs in the refrigerator, and all kinds of pasta in the cupboard. I’ll be back later, I’m not sure when.”
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“I have an appointment I have to keep. This is a delightful little car, isn’t it? Your father always rented the tiniest car he could find for our foreign travels. I can just picture him forcing a little thing like this to climb the mountain to Taormina or follow a goat path on some Greek island.” She looked at me quizzically and said, “I don’t think of you as ungrateful and I know you’re not. At his core, your father is a minimalist like you seem to be. He always loved to be off the beaten path, staying at odd little places, eating in taverns and bistros, walking instead of driving.”
Her voice choked and I looked at her. “Those were happy days, Paul, very happy days. The money was coming in then, but we really didn’t spend a lot. It was there, and we dipped into it for plane tickets and things, but we stayed in Frank’s old apartment in the North End for the longest time. That’s the time your father fell in with Bernard Sutton, and Bernie was always full of ideas and surprises. We didn’t have a number at the time, and I honestly didn’t think there was more than a half-million dollars there. It was investment money for Frank – funds for the next idea. Bernard opened our eyes to the fact that we were sitting on almost a half billion dollars, and we should really think about doing something with it.”
She looked at me and at her watch, and went on. “At the time, the tax rate was much higher and Bernard suggested we buy some real estate and make other investments to stave off more taxes. That was when we bought the little house on Cape Cod and the condominium in Boston. Frank put Bernard in charge of the money and he started moving it around, while we had a home and a place to vacation. For the longest time, our only car was my old Toyota, and we didn’t use that much. The thought of a new car never occurred to us.”
I said, “Don’t stop there. I never heard this before.”
Mom smiled and said, “I’m sorry. The next big thing was you. Well, you were a tiny thing at first, although you had a huge voice. When Frank first saw you he was terrified, worried that you’d break if he touched you. He got over that after a visit from his mother, and became the perfect father. He worked at home and had all the time in the world for you, and you both reveled in that. I remember the first time we were at Cape Cod after you started walking … you had your second birthday that year. Your father took you down to the beach, letting you go this way and that along the path, and when you were close to the water he held your hand and you both looked at the waves coming in. I have pictures somewhere. It was a perfect moment, with you fascinated by the waves and Frank fascinated with you. It was a beautiful thing to watch.”
I asked, “Was my hair all sucky then?”
Mom sighed, rolled her eyes, and said, “Yes, your hair was all sucky, even before then and ever since. Now climb out and let me go.”
When I got out, and before I closed the door I asked, “Where are you going?”
“Don’t be such a snoop. That is for me to know and you to find out, so please close that door.”
I did. Mom forgot to double-clutch and crunched the gears halfway down the driveway.
I felt kind of dreamy walking into the house. I’d just learned more about my parents’ early years that I’d never heard before, and that my relationship with Dad was close before I was even aware of it.
I wondered idly what Mom was up to, but figured it was some boring thing about the wedding. I wasn’t hungry yet, so I went up to my room and called Lisa, and started on my homework after we hung up. It was almost seven by the time I went down to eat. Mom’s sauce was simmering away on the stove, so I dropped a few meatballs in and opened the cabinet to find some pasta.
Lord, I think there was some of every freaky shape they ever dreamed up, but there were also boxes of linguini fini, my favorite.
I sat down to eat by myself with a big plate of linguine, two fat meatballs, and a scoop of my mother’s heavenly sauce.
There was no bread and no wine, but I was happy with my meal. After I rinsed off my dish and utensils and put them in the dishwasher, I went into the living room to watch television, but called Dana as soon as I turned the set on.
He said happily, “Hi, Paul.”
“Not a lot. I’m training with the high school team and the Killington team. I don’t know which way I’ll go yet. How about you?”
“Just the usual confusion. Ally had to go to Boston for something, and Mom took off for I don’t know where in the Fiat.”
Dana laughed, “It’s just a normal day, then?”
“I guess so. How’s work going?”
Dana said, “It’s incredible. The machines are running all the time. Katie’s selling so many crafts and cheese that Dad put her on commission. It’s slowed down a little now, but when the foliage was good we had tourists coming in to look at the waterfalls in the toilets, and they all bought something.”
I laughed, “That’s funny. How’s Russ, by the way?”
Dana said, “He’s good, except I can’t smack him in the head. They won’t let him ski, but he’s back working and back in school. It’s too bad about the skiing because he always got us points. He says he’s still fragile. I know he’ll miss it.”
“He has everything else back?” I asked. “I mean, is his arm okay? His balls?”
Dana laughed, “I think his arm is okay. He’s doing therapy to get his strength back, but he says it doesn’t hurt and he can do pretty much anything.”
Dana said, “You’re asking about his balls? I can’t tell you, Paul, and I’m not ready to ask him. He’s not complaining about them, and I know if it was me the world would know. How are yours, by the way?”
I laughed, “Still where they belong. I will say no more.”
“Good. Please say no more. I got the disk from Hector, and it’s good. What’s that music every time I show up? That da-da-da-dom?”
“It’s the beginning of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. You never heard it before?”
Dana said, “I’ve heard it, I just never knew what it was. It’s really funny, like a musical uh-oh! Look out now ‘cause here it comes!”
I laughed. Dana interpreted things his own way sometimes, and that was a perfect example.
We talked about how things were going at school, and Dana suddenly got serious. He asked, “What’s gonna happen after the wedding? Do you know?”
I asked, “What do you mean?”
“I just wonder where we’ll all live. Are you coming up here, or are we going down there?”
I said, “Good question. Nobody’s said a thing to me. I guess I figured things would stay the same, but they probably can’t.”
Dana said, “I did ask, and I didn’t really get an answer. Mom beat around the bush and finally said she didn’t know yet, and it’s not really up to her.”
I frowned. “It would be between Dad and my mom, but nobody said anything about it, and they haven’t asked me what I want. All I know is that we’re going to the wedding on a Wednesday and coming back on Sunday. I haven’t heard a word about anything after that.”
I thought about it after we ended the call, and it seemed very strange to me. I had heard nothing about honeymoons, changes in living arrangements or anything like that, and it wasn’t like any of them not to tell me about something so potentially earth shaking.
I thought I’d talk to Mom when she came in, but she wasn’t back by nine-thirty, so I went to bed. I could talk to her the next day.
That didn’t happen. She wasn’t up when I came down for breakfast, so I fixed myself a bowl of cereal, had a cup of coffee, and stuck a banana in my pocket when I went out to get the bus. When I came home that afternoon there was a note saying she had borrowed the Fiat again, and that she had an appointment. She left me instructions for heating my dinner, which was in the refrigerator.
Damn! I called her cell phone and it rang on the counter behind me. That was no surprise; she was always leaving it where it didn’t belong and she rarely used it anyhow.
I went upstairs and changed before getting into my homework. Studying, if nothing else, is a great distraction and I had a lot of assignments that night. After three hours I was hungry, so I read Mom’s directions and turned the oven to its ‘low’ setting and put the foil covered plate in without even peeking to see what it was. I set the timer for a half-hour and went into the living room so see if there was a psychological novel a little less heavy than Marcel Proust.
The timer went off before I found something, but my assignment, which was in a fortune cookie of all things, was to read a psychological novel translated from another language, and submit a written critique no less than a thousand words in length and written in the same style as the novel. I was sorely tempted to print out a new one that told me to read something hysterically funny that was written in English in this century. I had the same teacher the year before, and the whole class had to read ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Dostoevsky. I liked the writer’s imagery, but didn’t get the point of the story at all, so I did my report on just the imagery and got an A for it.
My dinner was delicious, at least the parts I ate. There were four rib lamb chops that came out perfectly, mashed potatoes and creamed Brussels sprouts, which I put the foil back over so they wouldn’t make me think of pending doom. When I was done the foil made a perfect wrapper for them when I scraped the bones into the garbage.
The next day, Wednesday, was almost a repeat. Mom wasn’t up when I left for school, and when I came home I had some hope, because the Fiat was parked near the house. She wasn’t home, and there was another note saying Ally was back and they’d gone out to take care of some matter. This time she promised they’d be home in plenty of time for dinner.
That was a hopeful sign that I wasn’t being abandoned. I took an apple with me and went upstairs to change and do my homework. I was finished and on the phone with Lisa when I heard Mom and Ally come in, but I didn’t rush to end the call, and when it did end I took the time to put things in order for school the next day. I went to the bathroom and washed up and hurried downstairs. I ran into Ally in the kitchen doorway. She pulled me into a choking hug that I had to wiggle out of. I said, “Hi. It’s nice to see you still have it.”
She patted my shoulder. “Let’s sit down. We have a lot to talk about.”
When Ally let me get by and into the kitchen my mother was at the table with another lady who I didn’t know, and I got nervous from the way she was looking at me. I thought she looked official in brown jeans and a tan shirt, and wondered if I was in some trouble I didn’t know about.
She stood when I approached, and Mom said, “Paul, this is Doreen Saunders. She likes to be called Dory.”
I reached my hand out and shook hers, and I sounded nervous even to myself when I said, “Hi. I’m Paul.”
She smiled and said, “I’ve heard a lot about you, Paul.”
I smiled weakly because I hadn’t heard a thing about her, but we both sat down and Ally sat beside me a moment later. She elbowed me and whispered, “Lose the edge, kid. We hope you’re going to like this.”
Mom folded her
hands on the table and looked at me. “Paul, you must have been wondering
and worrying about our living arrangements after the wedding. Al and I
really can’t stay here forever, and your father isn’t in a position where he
can come back to
I said, “What’s going to happen?”
Mom said, “Well, we have struggled with that for months now, and the other night you dropped a possible solution right in our laps.”
I asked intelligently, “Huh?” and Mom and Ally both snickered.
“You brought that boy Gil here for dinner. You managed to get Mrs. Luellen to donate a basket of clothes, and you sparked our imagination.”
over, “It reminded us so much of Dana that we wondered if it could happen
again. That’s why we brought him home, why we were out so late. We
wanted to meet his mother and we did. Our idea was vague then, but we
learned a lot that night. I’ve been in
Mom said, “And I’ve been spending time with Gil and his mother to get a grasp on their relationship, which is strained sometimes but basically solid.”
I was confused, and asked, “What’s the point of this?”
Gil’s mother, Paul. If you’re agreeable to it, we’d like to move them in
here, with Dory as sort-of house mother, so we can go back to
I was shocked, surprised, and I don’t know what else. I tried to see Gil in his mother and didn’t find him there, but I’m not good at that. It was an awkward moment for me and I asked, “Am I supposed to decide something right now?”
Mom said, “Of course not. If you want we’ll leave you and Dory alone to talk, or I can pick Gil up if you want to test the chemistry.”
I smiled at Gil’s mother and said to my mother, “Yeah, get Gil. Who knows? It sounds like a good idea.”
Ally stood and said, “I’ll get Gil and you can start dinner, or I can pick something up.”
I asked eagerly, “Chinese?”
Ally said, “If you like. Where’s the best place?”
“Panda North, hands down. Do you know where it is?”
Ally said, “Gee, no. You only send me there every third day. Have them deliver it today. I have to go the opposite way for Gil. I’ll have what you have.”
In one of the
oddities of living in
Ally was out the door and I asked Gil’s mother, “What would you like?”
She said, “I don’t know Chinese food. You order, but something I’ll recognize.”
I said, “Ribs and white rice,” as I wrote it down. “Do you want some soup or egg rolls or anything?”
“I don’t think so. What are you having?”
“I think shrimp in lobster sauce, but maybe pork dumplings. Egg-drop soup for sure.”
“Paul,” Mom said. “Maybe you should order six meals, rice and steamed vegetables for six, and an appetizer platter.”
I pointed at her and said, “That’s a go.” I had the place on speed-dial and the owner recognized my voice right up front. “Ah, Paul! I have an idea for your hair. You can shave most of it, but leave that thing in the back that sticks up. Let it grow until you can tie it into a topknot! That’s very aristocratic, you know, very appealing to the young ladies.”
I laughed and said, “Thanks. I guess anything’s better than what I have.”
He asked, “What can I do for you tonight?”
I told him, and we shared some ideas, but he knew his business, and when I said two of the people didn’t know Chinese food he told me not to worry. He’d set us up. I told him not to hurry and said yes when he asked if he should put it on our account. We didn’t have an account really, just an open charge to a credit card. He knew to put the driver’s tip on that, so there was no delay at all when the food showed up.
When I got off the phone I asked Mom, “How will this work? What about bedrooms and groceries and getting around?”
Mom said, “Nothing is really decided yet. Your father has agreed to give up his office and bedroom. There is your room and the spare room, so it’s just a matter of who takes each one. We’ll just need a bit of new furniture.”
I asked Dory, “Have you even seen this place yet? I can show you around until Ally gets back, not that there’s much to see.”
She said, “I’d like that, yes.”
I looked at Mom and asked, “Do you want to come with us?”
She said, “No, you go. I’ll set the table.”
I started in the room behind the kitchen, which was the back hall, laundry room, mudroom, and the place where things like skis and outerwear ended up. I turned on the outside light and opened the door. “This is the best place to park, especially if you have groceries or anything to bring in.” I pointed to the building out back and said, “That looks like a garage but there’s no room for a car. It’s full of everything else.”
I led her to the side hall and said, “This is the main entry. There’s a little bathroom here and a closet there, and you can see all the coats and things hanging over there.”
I turned around and led her into the hall, and reached into the dining room to turn the light on. When Dory looked in she drew her breath, “We don’t use this that much, usually just for company, but that big window is nice anytime. Oh, wait. I’ll turn on the lights so you can see out there.” I flipped switches until the right lights came on. Even in November it looked nice at night. There were still some yellow leaves clinging to the white birch trees, which are mixed in with evergreens and attractive all year long. Then there was the living room, and it always looked nice, the spare bedroom with its own little private bathroom, and the space behind the stairs. We didn’t use that as a room, though there was a sofa and some chairs around, with cabinets against the walls. It’s just an overflow area when there are a lot of people there.
She said, “This is really a lovely house, Paul.”
I said, “Thank my mother for that. She’s the decorator.”
I led her upstairs, more to show the layout of the place than anything because these were our personal spaces. I showed her Dad’s office, and went through the bathroom to his bedroom. Then I showed her the main bathroom, opened the door to my room so she could look in, and did the same with Mom and Ally’s room. I didn’t know what she’d been told so I said, “This is Mom’s room.”
That was it, and we were almost downstairs when the doorbell rang. I yelled, “I’ll get it,” and raced to the door to get the food from the delivery guy, whose name tag identified him as Panda Pete. I took the two bags he held out and he said, “There’s more. I’ll be right back.”
I said, “Just come inside and turn left.”
I brought the bags into the kitchen for Mom and Dory to sort out, and Panda Pete was right behind me with two more. “Four more,” he said, so I went out to his car with him and we each brought two in. Ally and Gil were coming in through the back then, so I walked Pete to the door and said, “Thanks, man. Perfect timing.” He nodded and left.
Back in the kitchen, Ally and Gil were just hanging their coats on pegs in the back room. When Gil turned around and saw me he seemed surprised. I said, “Hi, Gil. Don’t you remember me?”
He said, “I remember. I just didn’t think you’d be here.”
He looked really nervous and I said, “Come on, it’s time to eat. I hope you like Chinese. Sit over here with me.”
He did, and Mom had the appetizers on plates and in bowls so we wouldn’t have to eat out of cardboard boxes. The restaurant had done us well, with little lettered flags poking out of the egg rolls, which had been cut in half. There were “P” for pork, “B” for beef and “C” for chicken, as well as “S”, “V”, and “H” for hot, and that was Ally’s. S and V meant shrimp and veggie.
I took a half of a shrimp eggroll and a half of a pork one, and Gill did the same. He took a nibble at the shrimp, then the pork, and ate the pork one in three bites. Then he went back to the shrimp and nibbled until it was gone, but it was clear that he wasn’t certain he liked it.
When the appetizers were gone, Mom brought the soups from the stove, where she’d been keeping them hot in pans. Ally had put soup bowls in front of us and Mom said, “I have hot and sour here, and sweet and sour, so take your choice, and there is egg-drop to come.”
I covered my bowl unnecessarily with my hands because I wanted the egg-drop. Ally took hot and sour, while Mom and Dory got bowls of sweet and sour, so it was egg-drop for me and Gil, and I got the idea that he thought if it didn’t poison me, it wouldn’t poison him either. That was amusing, but I didn’t say anything, and devoured my soup when Mom served it. I love that soup and all its variations.
Gil gobbled it down, too, and said, “That’s good!” when his bowl was empty. I noticed his mother smiling at him, and Ally was too.
Ally picked up the soup bowls when mom came with dinner plates and handed me my plate full of steaming shrimp and rice in lobster sauce. She put two big plates between Dory and Gil and said, “This is a sampler. There you have white rice, brown rice and pork-fried rice, and over here you have ribs in Chinese red sauce, chicken in orange sauce, and General Tso’s chicken, which is spicy hot, so beware and enjoy it all.”
I certainly enjoyed mine. I don’t know where the term ‘lobster sauce’ came from, but it was delicious spooned over white rice. The shrimps were small, but there were a lot of them, and that, with the egg-drop soup, was my favorite Chinese meal.
When we were finished, almost everything had disappeared but for a few pieces of the General Tso’s chicken and a little mound of the pork fried rice.
My phone rang and it was Lisa, so I excused myself and hurried to the dining room to take the call. “Hi,” I said.
Lisa said, “You sound nervous. Is something wrong?”
I said, “I’m not nervous; I’m just out of breath. My future is being decided here; can I call you back?”
“Not until you tell me more, mister.”
I said, “Okay. Have you ever wondered where I’d end up after this wedding?”
“I never thought about it.”
“Neither did I, but Dana asked the other day, and he was right that things had to change, and they’re gonna change. It’s happening right now, so can I call you back later?”
Lisa warned, “If you don’t, I’ll have to kill you.”
I said, “Your honesty and clarity are two of the main reasons why I love you so much. I’ll call, I promise.”
I ended the call and turned off the ringer. I’d still get the vibration if someone else called.
I went back to the kitchen where Mom had the coffee pot going and the table cleared. She said, “Paul, when the coffee is ready you can serve it. I want you to talk to Dory and Gil. It’s going to be up to you three to decide if this might work out.”
She left, and a few minutes later I heard her and Ally going upstairs, so it was really up to me to figure out whatever it was. Could I live with Dory and Gil? Four years of Barents said I could live with anybody, but I didn’t have to like it there. This was different from Dana and Elenora, because Dana had a chance to grow on me and Dad, and then Elenora became a player. Here I might be plunged in with people I didn’t know and had no reason to trust other than Mom and Ally seemed to.
I had to venture something, so I asked Dory, “If this works out, which bedroom would you like for yourself?”
Without hesitation she said, “Oh, the one on this floor. It would be perfect.”
I turned to Gil and said, “You’ve seen my room. Would you like that?”
He said eagerly, “Like it? I would love to have that room.”
I said, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to talk about here. I mean, do you have any questions or anything?”
Gil asked, “Why are you doing this? How do we mean anything to you?”
I thought for a long moment and said, “Reset, Gil. I’m not doing anything. I don’t want my life to go out the window if my parents can’t decide something. My life is here, and theirs aren’t anymore. I need this even if you don’t.” I stared at him and added, “I know you want it,” and softened my tone. “Look, I know you’ve had a bad deal, but now you can change it. There’s no perverts in this neighborhood and you can stop looking for them.” I grinned, “If you don’t believe me I have a Hector to back up my claim.”
Gil asked cautiously, “What’s a Hector?”
I said, “You’ll see, and my Hector will keep you honest and make sure you clean your nails.”
Gil giggled, which was a first in my presence, and asked, “What is it? A genie or something?”
Oh, no! Sight unseen, Gil had painted the perfect picture of Hector. All Hec needed was a turban with a giant jewel in front, maybe feet that dissolved into smoke, and he’d be the perfect storybook genie! I said, “Yeah, he’s probably a genie. I don’t know if he grants wishes, but he can make you wish sometimes.”
Gil eyed me, “How’s that?”
“I mean, he could put his thumb on your head and squash you like a bug. If you do something wrong, you won’t want to try it a second time with Hector around.”
Gil said, “Oh,” very softly and Dory giggled.
I said, “Let’s go in the other room,” and I led the way to the living room where Dory and Gil sat on the sofa. I sat in an upright upholstered chair that was about as comfortable as a church pew. I looked at Dory and said, “I don’t know what you, Mom and Ally talked about. Where are we starting from? What would you do, just live here to make me legal?”
She replied, “They didn’t tell you?” and I shook my head. “It would be my job to get groceries and cook most meals, and I’d also take care of the house and grounds. I’ll be responsible for Gil, of course, and only nominally for you.”
I asked, “What’s that mean?”
“It means I’ll wake you up in time for school, try to make sure you have the things you need day-to-day, wash your clothes and cook your dinner and any other meals you take at home. It doesn’t mean I’ll be your boss in any sense. I’ll just … be here.”
I looked at Gil and asked, “What do you think?”
He looked at me almost guiltily and said, “I don’t know. It sounds really nice, but I never lived like this. I don’t know how I’ll do. I’m not always a good person. I don’t want to bring you down.”
I looked at him in surprise and said, “Gil, if there’s one thing I can promise, it’s that you won’t change me, and you can’t do anything that will bring me down.”
He said, “If you say so.”
I asked, “Is there anything you want to know?”
“Are there any kids around here?”
I said, “Just Tommy and Shea, really. Shea’s close to your age. He has a brother and sister but they’re still in elementary.”
Gil looked down and said, “I like Shea. He’s nice.”
I said, “Tommy’s nice too … all my friends are. It’s not that far to town if you have your own friends, and they can come here if you want. I’m not gonna tell you how to live.”
When Gil didn’t say any more I looked at Dory and said, “I don’t have a problem with this arrangement. What’s next?”
It’s funny. I only realized how tense she’d been all along when she let it go in one big exhale, and color came to her face. She smiled and said, “I have to meet your father tomorrow to get the final go, but it’s your approval that I needed.”
I said, “There are things I wanted to ask, like how did things get so bad for Gil?”
She looked at Gil and back at me. “Okay, that’s fair. My husband, Gil’s father, would leave for months at a time to work on projects. We had a nice enough life then, but over the years it got lonely for both of us. I started going out with some girls I worked with. It was Saturday afternoon most times, but we graduated to Saturday nights.”
She glanced at Gil and asked, “I told you all about this, didn’t I?”
Gil nodded, and she went on. “One night, there was this big, friendly redhead there asking me for a dance, and I accepted. He bought me a drink after, and that was it. After that I ran into him once in awhile, maybe weeks or a month in-between. He always had this big smile, and he was easy to like. One time I told him about Leland …”
“Mom!” Gil interjected.
She said, “I’m sorry. I don’t know why you find your given name so offensive.”
She looked back at me and said, “When Les learned that I had a son, he talked about a picnic in the park on a Sunday, and we all went and had a nice time. Les had Gil running around and laughing all afternoon, and when he drove us home Gill fell asleep holding onto Les. After that, in my mind, it kind of changed to fast-forward. Les brought Gil along when we went to dinner, to the movies, to the fairs. The times my husband, Gil’s father, came home there was no mention ever of Les, but we were falling apart anyhow. He knew something, and I suspected the same of him.
“Anyhow, I got together with Les, and Gil’s father went with his latest squeeze. It wasn’t an ugly divorce. I got the house and Gil, while he kept his truck and his savings, and there was no alimony or child support imposed. I married Les, and thought it was wonderful. He had his quirks, and liked it when Gil came home all dirty from playing. I thought it was just fun at first, eating supper with Gil all grimy from the park or wherever he’d been.
“After a while, when I told Gil to go wash up for bed, Les would tell me to leave him alone, like he could clean up the next day, and for a year that’s how it was. Then I started changing shifts, and when I was away some nights I knew that Les would take care of Gil. At least I thought I knew.”
She looked at me and said, “I failed Gil then, and it went on for over a year before Gil said something, and then I didn’t want to believe it. To me, Lester was the kindest, gentlest man on Earth. Now I know better. I will be apologizing to Gil until the day I die, and things will be different from now on whether I get this job or not.”
I looked at her and said, “This must have been tough for you to face, but it’s what I wanted to know. You go see my father, and don’t worry; he’s a nice guy.”
I wanted to tell suggest she hold out for more money, but didn’t go that far. The thought made me smile, though, and when I yelled to Ally and Mom that it was time to take them home they came running.
Mom hung back for a minute when Gil and Dory went out with Ally. She said, “Your thoughts?”
“I think it’ll be fine, Mom, and good thinking on your part. Take Dory to see Dad and see how that goes.”
She said, “That’s probably just a formality. We’ll be late again tonight. We have to come to terms and talk about dates and other things. Don’t wait up.”
She hugged me and hurried out, and I watched the Audi’s lights disappear down the driveway. I plopped down in a chair in the living room and called Lisa to tell her what was going on.
Her cautious side came out immediately. “Are you sure about this? What do you know about these people?”
I said, “Not a lot, but Mom and Ally spent a lot of hours with them, and they’re the ones who suggested it. It’s not like I’m afraid of them, and it could be the only way I can stay here. It’ll probably seem weird at first, but I’m kind of used to living with strangers from my years at Barent’s. I mean, I know them a little now, so it won’t be like a first day at school when I find out who I have to live with.”
Lisa said, “I guess you know what you’re doing. I don’t know if I’d like strangers in my house. Your parents are sensible people so I won’t say anything.”
“Aren’t you glad that I won’t be leaving here?”
Her voice brightened right up, “Well, I sure am. I never really thought about it. You never said anything, so I thought things would stay the same.”
“It’s my fault, I said. “I didn’t think about it either, but it had to happen. Ally can’t run her business from here and neither can my father, and I should have known better. Unless your parents want me to share your room with you, it’s probably the best deal I’ll get.”
Lisa said, “I could ask, but they’d probably put you in with Lou.”
I snickered, “No thanks. You see that I don’t have a lot of choices. I get a new room. I can take Dad’s office and Gil can have my room.”
“You’ll sleep in the office?”
“There’s a bedroom too. I’ll keep that big desk if I can. I’m sure Dad will want most of his things. It has its own bathroom.”
Lisa said, “I’ll have to meet this Gil. When is he moving in?”
I said, “That’s one of the things they’re talking about now. I’m not sure how soon. It might be before the wedding and it might be after, but I think it’ll be close to then, though that’s just a guess.”
“It sounds like you’re in the dark.”
“I think we all are. This just came up since Sunday, you know. Mom and Ally worked hard to come up with something, and I think this will be okay. I’m sure they’ll have me face to face with Gil and his mother as much as they can.”
Just then the phone on the table rang so I told Lisa, “Hang on, I have to get the other phone.”
When I picked it up it was my father, so I told him to wait a second and told Lisa, “It’s my father, so I have to go. Want me to call you back?”
She said, “No, it’s getting late. I’ll see you in the morning. Don’t forget that I love you, Paul, and I hope this works out well.”
I smiled, “Thanks. I hope it does, too, and you know I love you.”
I closed my phone and picked the other one up. “Dad?”
“I hear you’ve made a new friend and that things are changing. Tell me your feelings.”
I said, “I’m okay with it … apprehensive maybe, but I think it should work out just fine.”
“You’ve always been optimistic. I hope you’re not feeling that I’m
abandoning you because I’m not. Your mom and I just wanted to find a way
for you to finish out your high school in
I said, “I know, Dad, and I do appreciate this. I’d hate to have to go somewhere else right now. I can go back and forth when I want, right?”
“Sure, Paul, and we will too. I’ll be there in January for the trial and …”
“You really should read the local papers, Paul. My kidnapers go on trial in January, at least the first one does. They want separate trials. The first one starts January twelfth.”
I protested, “I read the paper, Dad. Bernie did a really good job of keeping your kidnaping out of the news, or your name at least. They always referred to you as ‘a prominent businessman’ and I don’t believe I ever saw your name at all.”
“Prominent, huh? Well, I guess I can live with that. At any rate,
the first trial,
I said, “Poor Russ, that’s gonna be hard for him. He grew up thinking the world of that guy, and now this, like he has to put the nail in his coffin.”
“I hear you,
Paul, but Russ is ready to do it. He’s had counseling, but from the time
he came back from
“I hope so,” I said.
“Tell me about Gil, will you? Your mother gave me some blab that sounded like a lot of camouflage.”
“I don’t know that much, Dad, but I’ll try. The first time I saw Gil was when Jim McNaughton said Gill was bugging some kid for having a gay brother or something. We decided to bag him at lunch and teach him some truth, but that never really happened. God, he came down the hall, this grubby little runt in dirty clothes using his dirty mouth to say he was going to kill a kid with a rock.”
“Ouch!” Dad said.
“Yeah, ouch. We were trying to scam him, really, because he had this thing about gay people. I wanted to trick him into joining the GSA, saying we needed to know their plans to indoctrinate everyone. I really thought that if he went, he wouldn’t know who was who because they don’t say, so he’d be with these kids who might be gay and might not, and maybe make friends with some and find out that it didn’t matter.”
Dad laughed, “A nice little twist, Paul.”
I smiled to myself, “I thought so, but it never got that far. I asked him what he had against gays, and he said his stepfather told him they were bad, and then he told me his stepfather did things to him, and he kind of broke down. We got him to the guidance counselor and that’s the last we heard till I saw him at the park on Sunday. It’s been like two months.”
Dad said, “I think I heard the rest from your mother.” He chuckled, “Is Gil going to be your Christmas present this year?”
I said, “I thought he’d be yours. I want new skis.”
Dad said, “You’re easy. Dana wants four pairs for all the different races. Does that make sense?”
“It does to me. You saw the video didn’t you?”
“I did, and
you all made good use of your time in
“I don’t know. I’ll ask when I see him.”
“I’m glad to know you’re alright with this new arrangement.”
I hesitated, but said, “If it works out I will be. I can’t really predict that.”
Dad said, “I understand. Let me know if there’s any trouble.”
“I will. Bye, Dad.”
“Good night, son. I love you.”
“Love you too,” I said, and hung up.
I’m not sure
how they worked everything out so fast, but by the weekend before Thanksgiving
the background checks were done, agreements were in place, and a local moving
company appeared with Dory and Gil’s belongings. They were moved in by , which is when Ally whisked me away to
When we got
back, my new room was together, with Dad’s big desk moved against the long wall
and lots of space available for other furniture. The bedroom furniture
didn’t change, but I did get a new mattress and box spring. The same
movers that delivered Dory and Gil’s things were on their way to
It’s a big
room, and that was the first time in my life that I had a lot of space to
myself. My room in the
I also had my own bathroom, and I wanted to be sure that worked, so I gave the plumbing part a pretty fair test. I hung my new clothes in the closet still in their plastic wrappers, and went across the hall where Gil had Shea and Cheri happily setting him up in his own new space.
I tapped on the door and went in. Everyone looked at me, so I smiled. I said, “This isn’t an inspection. I just want to see what’s going on.”
It was still my old room, with a new and nice looking blanket on the top of the bedspread. The furniture hadn’t been moved around but it still had a new touch, and I was glad that Gil wasn’t hesitant to put his own things on the walls, on the dresser and table top. I said, “It looks good. Where’d you get that blanket?”
softly, “I inherited it. My grandpa Gilman didn’t have a lot, but he left
I said, “It sure does,” as I went over to feel it. The blanket was deep red with wide black stripes near the head and the foot, and that big splash of red was what really changed the look of the room. The blanket was in the right place on top because it was scratchy to the touch, but it was nice and heavy and would feel great on a cold night.
I probably should have said that out loud, but I didn’t. Instead I got up to look at the bookcase, which was pretty full. I glanced at the titles, and they certainly weren’t great literature. There was a Time-Life series on gardening along with a lot of other gardening books. There were books on metallurgy, psychology, self-help, and half a dozen other subjects where there were more than one or two books on a theme. There were biographies, too. Those were mostly about French artists, but some political figures were included. There were a bunch about the French Revolution, others about the Foreign Legion, and half a shelf was given over to just Napoleon, apparently everyone’s slant on the guy.
I looked at Gil and asked, “You read this stuff?”
“Are you kidding? Those were my grandma’s books. She was French-French, not French-Canadian.”
and said, “I’ve been trying to convince Gil that all French-Canadians were
French-French until they moved to
I said, “Give that one up, Gil. Don’t argue with women in the first place, and don’t try to make a French person less than a French person. That crap starts wars.”
Shea had a good laugh and was joined by Cheri, me, and finally Gil. He didn’t really laugh, but he said “Okay, okay, I get it. I don’t read this stuff, and I’m not French.”
I felt evil so
I said, “Sorry, Frenchie, I mean Gilçois. If your grandmother was French,
it means you’re at least one-quarter French. People who are less French
than you go around bragging that they’re French because it’s a cool thing to
be. Well, I mean when the Republicans aren’t in office. They change your
nationality to Freedom in remembrance of how
I looked at him, trying to stave off a laugh, and said, “You’re either French or Freedom, so face it. If there’s a little Polish in there somewhere, maybe you know where to get decent kielbasa in this town, but having an English name only makes you easy to spell.”
Shea added, “For people who speak English.”
I cracked up. Shea was learning! Gil got the joke and laughed, taking it well enough. He was already learning.
Cheri chastised me, “Paul, I don’t think the government was being kind when they changed the name to freedom fries in their cafeteria.”
I looked at her and said, “I don’t think so either, but they picked a synonym despite themselves.”
Cheri thought that over and smiled, “Thanks for that. I’ll tell my family. I think they’ll like it.”
Cheri really was a good girl for Shea to be with. They were both small for their age, intelligent, literate enough for fourteen or fifteen, and fun to be with.
Shea was coming into his own, and I think Cheri was the catalyst, the girl behind him who told him to speak up when he had something to say. I wondered if Gil thought of some girl that way, but it was hardly the time to ask.
Gil asked me to show him how the cable worked and that was simple enough, but I didn’t have a channel card. I said, “You can get one off the net. It changes all the time anyhow.”
He stared at me, and I said, “The Internet,” and pointed at the computer. “That thing over there.”
Gil’s face told me he didn’t have a clue, so I said, “Let’s get something to eat. I’ll show you later, or if Tommy comes by he’ll show you better.”
Tom’s voice came from the doorway, “Who am I showing what better to this time? Is it toothpaste now, or the proper use of bookmarks, or maybe map reading?”
I said, “It’s like map reading, Tom. Gill doesn’t know the Internet. Can you get him started?”
Tom said, “Gil’s mother said lunch is ready. Is later okay?”
There were hoots from me and Shea, and Cheri sighed, “Oh good, I’m ready to pass out.”
When we got to
the kitchen, it was Dory presiding. She said, “
God that sounded a lot like one of Mom’s lines but Dory was right to stand out of the way. It was after one and late for lunch, so we were jet-propelled.
Lunch was great. Homemade vegetable soup, make-your-own sandwiches on big round rolls that I hadn’t seen before, though Gil knew where they were from. All the fixings were there including a bowl of chips, and ice water all around.
We ate and ate until we were stuffed. Shea and I used up almost everything on the last roll and split it in half, but neither of us quite finished.
Tom asked, “Ready to learn about the Internet, Gil?”
Shea asked Cheri if she wanted to go for a walk.
Nobody said anything about lunch, so I looked at Dory, who seemed nervous, and said, “It was delicious. I’m in no way responsible for these lumps,” and she laughed.
I wanted to
see Lisa, so I sat out on the little stone circle
“You’re back! That took a long time!”
“I’ve been here for awhile. Gil and his mother are moved in, and I have a new room. We were just getting used to each other.”
Lisa asked, “Things are okay, then?”
I said, “So far. I’m not really worried. How are things over there? I know your father seemed worried about the tile thing the other night.”
Lisa said, “He’s looking for a loan to buy a building. The business is going fine, but too good right now. We have the one kiln here. He could use two or three more, and more help to make what people want, but money seems to have dried up. His business plan is realistic, but banks won’t talk to him.”
“That sucks. I could ask Bernie to find some investors if you want, but I think if you tell your dad to he’ll do fine.”
“Really, Paul? Wait a minute, let me get Dad. You tell him.”
Less than a minute later a breathless Mr. Mongillo asked, “What’s this, Paul?”
“You never said you needed investment money. Mr. Sutton has people almost desperate to make more than zero percent. You should call him.”
“I don’t know. I barely know the man.”
I said, “I’ll call him then and he’ll call you. Line up your ducks and go to him with how much you need, send your business plan, and he’ll find all the investors you want.”
“Of course. Do you want me to call him?”
“No, give me the number and I’ll call him myself. I really appreciate this.”
I gave him Bernie’s home, office and cell numbers, got thanked again, and he gave the phone back to Lisa. I wanted to be with Lisa, not on the phone, and I asked foolishly, “How about dinner at the Four Columns tonight?”
She said, “Be serious.”
I said, “I am … was. How about dinner anyhow … somewhere we can go by ourselves?”
“Paul, don’t you think you should be home with your house guests for tonight at least”
I can be an airhead, and I had given no thought to Gil and his mother. I asked Lisa, “Do you think you can come here to eat? I just want to see you.”
Lisa said, “I’ll ask, but you should ask too. Call me back.”
“I will. Make sure you can come. I’ll call a little later.”
I’d been sitting there on the phone for nearly an hour and I was getting chilly anyhow, so I went inside and looked for my mother, which didn’t take long. She was at the kitchen table reading a newspaper. To avoid startling her, I opened the refrigerator door, and she said, “Oh, Paul! Can I get you something?”
I said, “No,” and sat in a chair on the other side. “Can I invite Lisa to dinner tonight? Actually, I already did, but permission is always nice.”
Mom said, “Of course you can, and you should ask Hector as well. Dory and Gill will have to learn about the security people before we leave, and Hector can explain things to them.”
I said, “I never thought of that. What’s for dinner?”
Mom smiled, “Ask Dory. This is her kitchen now, at least for the next two years. We’ve already warned her about your proclivity for asking people to eat here, so she’ll be ready for a few more.”
I looked at my mother. She could be, and usually was, a real ditz. Sometimes she got it together, though, and the past month had been the longest of those non-ditz periods on record. Well, my record anyhow. I stood and kissed her cheek. “I’ll ask Dory then.”
I didn’t know where Dory was, but I met her in the living room coming from the direction of her room. I said, “Hi. Are you getting settled in?”
“Yes, Paul, thank you. I just finished hanging the last of my clothes. Have you seen Gil?”
I said, “Not since lunch, but Tom was going to teach him how to use the Internet. That might take some time.” I looked at her and asked, “Can I invite two people for dinner tonight? One is my girlfriend and the other works for the security company.”
“Oh, yes. I was told about the security people. Of course you can invite them. I was just going to start dinner now. I have a nice leg of lamb.”
“I love lamb,” I said.
Dory smiled, “I know. I have a list of your likes, and it seems to cover everything but oatmeal and certain green vegetables.”
I blanch at just the thought of oatmeal. It’s not that there is anything wrong with oats, but oatmeal cereal looks too much like vomit for me to get close to. I said, “I don’t care much for oatmeal. Is garlic on that list?”
“It certainly is! I think you’ll like my leg of lamb, I use a lot of garlic in it.”
I said, “I know I’ll like it now. I’m going to call Hector and Lisa. What time will dinner be?”
She asked, “Is seven a good time?”
Before I could answer, Tom and Gil came clomping down the stairs sounding like a herd of reindeer, and Tom said, “C’mon, Paul. We’re going to my house to shoot some hoops.”
I said, “I’ll be over in a few. I have to make a couple of calls.”
They ran outside, and I looked after them. I turned back to Dory and said, “It looks like they hit it off.”
Dory smiled and said, “I’m so glad. Gil has never made friends easily, but he seems to really like your crowd.”
I shrugged, “I can’t tell people to like him. He earns that on his own. Oh, and seven is perfect for dinner.”
We made a little more small talk, and I went upstairs to call Hector and Lisa. Hector was going to pick me up at six-thirty to get Lisa, so that was all set. I changed into jeans and sneakers and pulled a lightweight hoodie on before I ran out back to join Tom and Gil. There’s not a lot you can do with three guys, so we were just shooting jumpers or hooks and getting out of the way so the next person could grab the rebound. That was more strenuous than it sounds because we were always moving, going through the order three or four times a minute.
Gil was a pretty good shooter for a little guy, and I’d gotten used to that with Shea. After playing for about half an hour we were sitting on the picnic bench catching our breath, our backs to the house. Tom’s father asked from the doorway, “Tom, have you seen Shea? Oh, there you are. Shea, your father’s looking for you.”
I turned around and said, “Shea’s not here. He went walking with Cheri.”
He walked out to where he could see our faces, looked at Gil, and said, “You’re not Shea. Your head looks just like his, behind.”
Tom stood up and pulled Gil to his feet. “Dad, this is Shea’s behind … I mean Gil. He’ll be living with Paul for a couple of years. Gil, this is my father.”
Tom’s father smiled and shook hands with Gil, but the smile went away. “Did you see where Shea went? He was supposed to have Cheri home an hour ago.”
We just shook our heads. I asked, “Do you know if the Luellens checked with the security company? They usually know things like that.”
Tom’s father pointed at me and said, “Good thinking. I’ll call right now.”
He hurried back inside and the three of us looked at each other, and I felt nervous. Shea was never late for anything, not ever, so this was totally out of character for him. I sat back at the bench and wondered aloud, “Where would they go? Tom, are any of Cheri’s relatives nearby? Shea wouldn’t go to the river, he’s afraid of it, and it’s low anyhow.”
Tom said, “Would they stop at Lisa’s if they went that way?”
“I don’t know why. Let’s see what the guys across the street say.”
Tom led us inside where his father was at the kitchen table with the phone to his ear. He looked up at us and said, “They’re reviewing the surveillance tapes right now. Can you call Mr. Luellen and tell him what you know?”
I said, “I’ll do it,” and got my phone out. I called Shea’s house and didn’t even hear a ring before it was picked up and Mr. Luellen said, “Yes?”
I said, “Hi. It’s me, Paul. Mr. Timek is on the phone with the security people and they’re looking at their tapes. Shea left for a walk with Cheri right after lunch … about two o’clock … and they should be able to see which way they went.”
“Oh, that’s good, that’s good. I should have thought to do that myself. Shea didn’t seem upset or anything did he?”
I said, “No. He seemed really happy after a big lunch.”
His father may have snickered then, but Mr. Timek held his hand up like he was asking for silence. “I see. That’s it? They don’t show up anywhere else? Hold on, I’ll ask.”
He turned to me and asked, “Paul, is there any kind of trail behind your garage? The best video shows them coming out the side door and walking toward the hill, and they went behind your garage. There’s nothing after that.”
“What’s going on?” Mr. Luellen asked.
I said, “I’ll put you on speaker phone. Did you hear what Mr. Timek said?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“He said when they left our house they went behind the garage, and they’re wondering if there’s a trail there. I’m going to answer him now, okay? I’ll put the phone on the table so you can hear everything.”
I looked at Mr. Timek and said, “You know, I honestly don’t remember going behind the garage. There’s just a strip of grass there, and then it’s bushes going up the hill.”
Tom held up his hand and said, “There’s something like a trail there. You’d never guess in the summer, but you can probably see it now, and when there’s snow it’s pretty clear. I never followed it very far because it’s steep. I know Shea found it though; he told me, and wanted to know if I wanted to build a fort or something.”
Tom’s father spoke into the phone and asked, “Did you hear that? Can you guys come here? I think we should look.”
He hung up and said to Mr. Luellen, “Why don’t you come down here, Greg. We can put our heads together and figure out our next steps. I’ll see you in a minute.”
It took me a moment to realize that I had to hang up. I heard Tom’s father saying something to his wife, and then the bathroom door closed. Before he came out, Hector was there with two guys he introduced as George and Manuel, and a minute later Mr. Luellen rushed in.
Hector looked at Tom as Gill looked at Hector in horror. I put a hand on Gil’s shoulder while Hector asked Tom about the trail he saw behind our garage.
Tom said, “I probably went in about two-hundred feet and the hill shoots almost straight up. It’s climbing stuff, not for walking. I’m not into climbing, so I just turned around. Shea must have gone up, though, ‘cause I didn’t see anyplace that would be good for a fort where I went.”
Hector looked at his watch and said, “Let’s get going. There’s not a lot of daylight left.”
He turned and headed out the door, leaving most of us stunned. He turned around and said, “I need you, Tom. The rest of you can come or not, but I go first. I’m a hunter … a tracker, and I can follow a very meager trail. Let’s go.”
We all followed him out the door, and when Tom’s dad emerged from the bathroom he donned a jacket and hat and followed us, grabbing his varmint rifle on the way out.
When we were behind our garage I was confident that I’d never set foot in that part of the yard before, but the trail was evident, and when Hector looked around he said, “They came this way. Follow me.”
Hector walked at a moderate pace like he could see things we couldn’t, but not so fast that he’d miss them himself. We were well into the woods, way more than Tommy’s two hundred feet, when we bumped up against the mountain. The climb wasn’t a technical one that you’d need equipment for. You could walk up, but a lot of the steps were two and three feet high and there wasn’t much to hang onto.
We had been climbing for fifteen or twenty sweaty minutes when Gil yelled, “Stop! I hear someone.”
I didn’t hear anything, and I don’t think anyone else did, but Gil pointed to the left and said, “Over there, not up higher.”
Hector shushed us, and sure enough when our ears attuned we could hear Cheri’s voice crying, “Won’t someone help me?”
Hector said, “Paul, call 911 and have an ambulance wait at your house. Let me and our guys get over there. You can wait here or down below, but don’t try to follow us.”
I said, “Okay,” and watched them scramble away with surprising speed. I went to our yard and only Mr. Luellen followed me. I made the call for the ambulance and got grief from the female dispatcher.
“This better not be a prank, kid. You’ll pay if it is.”
I said, “You know, just give me the number for the ambulance, then. I’ll pay them and you don’t even have to be in the loop. Can I speak with your supervisor?”
I got a very curt, “Certainly,” in reply, and a man picked up in no time.
“Do you have a problem?”
I said, “I do. We need an ambulance, and whoever that lady who answered was gave me grief right away. We still need an ambulance here for some kind of mountain injury.”
“A fall?” he asked.
“I don’t know, most likely a fall. People are trying to get there now. All we need is an ambulance in case it’s serious.”
He said, “I see. You’re on a cell phone. Can you give me the exact location?”
“Sorry, yes. It’s the Dunn residence, eight-forty-four West River Road. Have them go straight up the driveway to the garage.”
“I’m dispatching now. Can they call you at this number?”
He said, “An ambulance is on the way.”
I said, “Thank you very much,” and closed my phone.
It went off again almost immediately, and it was an EMT lady in the ambulance. “Can you describe the injuries?”
“No. There are men trying to get to them right now. You’ll probably be here before he is.”
“Do you know his past medical history?”
I said, “Wait. His father’s right here,” and handed the phone to Mr. Luellen. God, I don’t know much about my own medical history, much less anyone else’s.
I saw the ambulance was turning into the driveway. They backed up in front of the garage, flung the doors open and pulled out a gurney, which was probably standard practice. I stood there and said, “I don’t know if anyone is hurt, but they might be.”
“Why did you call, then?” one of the guys asked.
“We heard a call from the mountain, like ‘please help me’, that’s why. There are three pros up there looking. Let me call and find the status.”
Before I got my phone out of the holster it started vibrating and I flipped it open. It was Hector, “We have him, amigo. I don’t really think he’s hurt but he should have his foot x-rayed. Is the ambulance there?”
“Good. We should be there in ten, fifteen minutes. Cheri might need something for nerves. She’s been crying up here for hours.”
I looked at the ambulance people and said, “They have him. They don’t think there’s anything serious, but he’ll need x-rays. It sounds like his girlfriend is kind of hysterical.”
It seemed to please them that they could actually take someone to a hospital and I called Tom to tell them to come on in. Hector had already called him, so they were almost there.
The second Tom appeared I told him to have Cheri’s mother or father come right over. If Cheri did need a sedative they’d have to give permission.
Of course, by then the rest of the Luellens, Mrs. Timek, Mom, Ally and Dory were circling around the ambulance. They all listened while Mr. Luellen explained what he knew. Then Hector appeared with a limp looking Shea in his arms and Shea’s mother ran over to him. Shea immediately said, “I’m okay.”
The ambulance attendants pulled their gurney over to Hector and took Shea off his hands. They fitted him with a neck brace and the EMT asked Shea, “Which foot did you injure?”
“The left one,” Shea replied. “I slipped and slid down the hill, and my foot ended up wedged between two rocks. I don’t think it was hurt then, but I kept trying to get loose and probably scraped my ankle up pretty good.”
The EMT took Shea’s shoe off, and Shea winced in pain when she tried to pull his sock down. She asked, “Is that all that hurts?”
Shea said, “Um, not really. My butt feels like I took a ride on a cheese grater.”
Just then there was a squeal of brakes on the road, then a roar before a big car slid to a stop by Tommy’s house. That had to be Cheri’s father. He jumped out of the car and came charging over while Bridgette got out from the other side and chased after him.
When he was close he cried, “Where is she? Where’s my daughter?”
Mr. Timek said, “Take it easy, Dale. She’s right over here. She wasn’t injured; she’s just a nervous wreck.”
They disappeared behind the barn, and the EMT did some things with Shea, blood pressure and pulse, temperature and the like, and pulled the covers up over him. The attendants loaded Shea into the ambulance and the EMT went to look at Cheri. I think they mostly just talked for a few minutes before the EMT returned and told Shea’s parents, “One of you can ride with us if you want. Right now I just need to see your insurance card and for you to sign a medical waiver.”
Mrs. Luellen handed her husband their insurance card and he said, “I’ll ride with you. I can sign the waiver on the way.”
She pointed to where he should sit, and she strapped into a similar seat on the other side of Shea. The doors were closed and the ambulance drove off with the lights flashing but no siren.
Mr. Fournier and Bridgette approached us, with a wan-looking Cheri between them. He brightened when he saw me there with Mrs. Luellen, Mrs. Timek, Mom, Ally and Dory. He made a little bow and said, “Thank you, ladies. You know, I always tell Tom how lucky he is to live in a neighborhood with so many beautiful women. Each of you is lovelier every time I see you, and hello,” he said when he saw Dory. He held his hand out and bowed. “I am Dale Fournier, and you are?”
Dory shook his hand and said, “Doreen Saunders … Dory.”
“Dory. That is a very pretty name for a pretty lady. Well, I have to get my youngest home to warm up and eat some good French cooking.”
He wasn’t wearing a hat, but he still made a gesture like he was tipping one and said, “Ladies, adieu.”
I had only met the Fournier family one time, and only briefly then. They were downtown on a Saturday when I was banging around with Jim McNaughton, and Bridgette called us over to say hello. They certainly are a good looking family. The father is tall and handsome, the mother on the plump side but well-endowed and very pretty, and the girls are both really cute and well put together.
Bridgette had told us once that her father is a real ladies man and I’d just seen what she meant. The thing is that he pulled it off without seeming smarmy at all, just polite, interested and full of compliments. The fact that even Ally seemed to eat it up spoke to the truth of that.
The Luellens and Timeks left for their homes, and when Hector and his guys were leaving he told me, “I have to clean up before dinner. I’ll be back shortly.”
Dinner. Lisa! “Ally, I have to clean up, too. Can you take me to pick Lisa up when I’m done?” I looked around and asked, “Where’s Gil?”
“I’m over here,” he said, and he was standing against the garage. “That Hector picked me up and put me here and said to stay out of the way.”
I said, “Well, you did a good job. You can come inside now.”
He trotted over and we all went inside together. Gil looked pretty grubby and so did I. We’d gone from sweaty basketball to mountain climbing in a short period of time and it showed. I said, “You need a shower, too. I’ll see you in a little while.”
I ran upstairs and called Lisa to explain why I was going to be late, and her concern was rightfully all for Shea and Cheri. I said, “I think Shea’s just banged up. Maybe you should call Bridgette to ask about Cheri. I need to clean up and change, and Ally’s bringing me to pick you up as soon as I’m ready.”
Lisa agreed, and I got a look at myself in the full length mirror on the inside of the bathroom door. I was cruddy for sure, especially my hands. It looked like a good portion of that hill was under my nails. The dirt came off okay, though, and I was downstairs in a half-hour. Hector was already there getting acquainted with Dory, and he took me to get Lisa.
Lisa did call Bridgette, and she’d also talked briefly to Cheri, who was tired but fine after she warmed up and had dinner. She had begun to panic after Shea was stuck for so long, and thought they might both freeze when the sun went down. It had been a mild day for November, but it had dropped to freezing or below every night for a month.
I thought how fortunate we were that Gil heard her cry for help when nobody else did. We would have continued uphill where we would never have a chance to hear her, and a little accident could have turned into a disaster.
I mentioned that to Hector as we pulled into our driveway, and he said I was right about that.
When we went inside, there was a nice fire burning in the living room fireplace, so we sat in there until dinner was ready. It was a nice time because Lisa and Hector got to meet Gil, who seemed at least moderately comfortable in his new surroundings.
Despite his behavior the day we met, and the next time at the park, Gil wasn’t without social graces. He was a good listener who laughed in the right places. He seemed to be more up on current events than anyone there, and happily admitted to being a news junkie, addicted to the News at Five and the News at Seven while his friends were at home watching Barney.
He was deliriously happy when Tom showed him a few of the big news index pages on the web, where you could link to sites of newspapers and television in all the states and around the world.
When Dory called us into the dining room, Gil sat between Lisa and Hector. He was no longer afraid of Hec, and I think he’d taken a liking to Lisa. Well, who could blame him?
The dinner was delicious. The lamb was infused with garlic, not coated in it, and roasted to a nice char but still deliciously medium-rare on the inside. I ate a lot, as did everyone else, and there was nothing but the bone left when we finished. There were no mashed potatoes left either, no mint jelly, no horseradish sauce. All that remained were a few lonely little onions in cream sauce.
It’s a good thing that dessert was ice cream because we could wait for later, but we did stay at the table for coffee. Dory had an expectant look on her face, but instead of complimenting her directly I said, “Ma, I think you’ve met your match in the kitchen.”
Mom smiled and said, “I know it, and there will be a girl fight if I don’t get the recipe for that lamb.”
Everyone laughed at that, and I said, “Let’s hear it for the chef!” and started clapping. When everyone joined in Dory looked pleased, if a bit abashed.
Mom said, “This calls for a toast,” and she took the good crystal from the hutch and put a glass in front of each of us, while Ally uncorked a bottle of red wine, and a bottle of white. They went around pouring it and Ally hesitated to look at Dory before she gave any to Gil. Dory nodded and Gil got a full measure of the red. After toasting Dory, Hector talked a bit about the security measures that were in place there in Brattleboro, in Stockton, and in Boston for Mom and Ally.
He looked at Mom and said, “When you go back to Boston, I’ll stay here with Manuel, but George will either go to Boston or back to his home base in Chicago. At any rate, there will be two people on full-time in Boston, four in Stockton, and two here. I hope you don’t feel our presence here is intrusive in any way.”
Mom shook her head and said, “You aren’t intrusive at all. It seemed like it would be at first when you were installing electronics all around, and calling to sort out friends and the mailman from potential foes. After the first ten days or so, those calls nearly stopped and now we hardly know you’re there, but you are and that’s comforting.”
Ally added, “Your team has helped too, just like tonight when Shea fell.”
Hector beamed and put his arm around Gil a bit too heavily, and Gil almost disappeared from view until Hec realized he was crushing the kid. “I’ll give tonight to Gil. He was the only one to hear that cry for help and, like Paul told me earlier; if we had kept climbing we wouldn’t have heard it at all, so let’s give credit to Gil.”
He started clapping and the rest of us joined in. Gil blushed crimson but he was trying to smile at the same time, enjoying the attention.
I looked around realizing that my life would take another major shift after the wedding. I’d be in Brattleboro apart from my family, but I wasn’t really daunted. Dory and Gil might take to me or not, but I had the Timeks, the Luellens, the Mongillos, and so many others around town, and don’t forget about Hector. I know he was hired and paid to look after me, but we had developed a real bond of friendship over time, and it really solidified in Chile when there was an actual threat to me.
Bring on the wedding! I’ll be entering yet another life and the new horizon looks just fine.