We hadn’t set the alarm, but when I opened my eyes in the morning it was exactly eight o’clock.
It was only eleven when we went to bed, and I’d had a good sleep. Dan was sleeping, so I took advantage of the free bathroom. I started the coffee and went through my ablutions, remembering that it was Thanksgiving and I should shave again. When I saw my hair after I tried to tame it, I thought I should consider a change to Judaism so I could wear a skull cap, but that wouldn’t cut it. I once thought of letting it grow into dreadlocks, but decided they’d just stick straight up and I’d be worse off when little children thought I had playthings on my head.
The big dinner was set for three, and I brought a suit to wear to that. I dressed for the morning in jeans, a turtleneck and a somewhat oversized sweatshirt. I poured myself a coffee using most of what was in the little maker and brought it to the great bay window. The day was really dazzling. The sky was clear blue and the snow, lit obliquely by the morning sun, actually hurt to look at. It seemed to be the same four inches we’d walked to the room through, and our footprints were still there.
I finished my coffee just standing there taking in the scene. When I went back for more I looked around for another package before drinking what should have been Dan’s coffee. There was a packet of decaf in the basket, but that wouldn’t cut it. I opened a drawer under the machine and it was empty, so I looked in the cabinet above and hit the mother lode. There were many packs of both regular and decaf in a wire basket, boxes of sugar packets and other sweeteners, packets of creamers, stirrers, and to-go cups with lids. I was being pampered just like the brochure said I would be.
When I got back to my window it seemed like there were more footprints in the snow. I turned to my right and saw why, and ran to the door and called, “Lisa!”
Lisa, Tom and Shea had just walked by and I almost missed them. They turned as one and came running over. I ushered them inside quickly because the frigid air from outside was blowing in behind them. I pulled the door closed just as Shea’s heel crossed the threshold, and the sudden bang made sat Dan bolt upright. Confronted with four people in the room, he said a very Barent’s thing, “Don’t mind me. I’m just sleeping.”
Lisa started to say, “Maybe we should …”
I spoke right over her and said, “Go look out the window, Lisa. Dan’s getting up now.” I looked down and asked, “Aren’t you, Dan?”
Dan said, “Good idea. You go point out our wonderful view to everyone while I, um, well, I’m not wearing much.”
I pointed to the big window and said, “View’s there. Dan, there’s more coffee in the cabinet over the machine.”
He said, “Cool,” made sure nobody was looking and hurried to the dresser where he pulled out some clothes. Then he disappeared into the bathroom. As soon as the door closed he opened it again. “You didn’t tell me there were robes here already,” and closed the door again.
I went to the window and reclaimed my coffee. Tom asked, “Do all the rooms have more coffee?”
I replied, “I honestly don’t know, but I bet they do. It’s that kind of place, you know.”
Tom said, “Damn! Where’s your phone?”
“It’s in the charger over there.”
Tom saw what he wanted and as he sat on my bed he said, “I meant the room phone.”
He picked it up and poked a few buttons. “Dad, there’s more coffee in the room. We’re in Paul’s room now and it’s different than ours, but here it’s in a cabinet over the machine.” He listened, “Hold on,” and looked at me. “Is there a lot there?”
I nodded, so he said, “Yeah, there’s a lot. Will you tell the Luellens and Mongillos? Thanks. I’ll see you at breakfast.”
When he put the phone down he looked at me and said, “This bites. We get sent to the lobby to beg for more coffee and it’s already there.”
I said, “Wait a minute. There’s no problem here. If you want more of anything in the room, like toilet paper, blankets, pillows, towels and yes, coffee packets, you should call housekeeping. You can get ready-made coffee from room service.”
Tom said, “I guess I know that, but I’ve been warned off room service since I can remember. I think they forgot who’s paying here.”
I didn’t like it being put that way, and when I didn’t say anything else Tom didn’t either. I went back to the window, and we watched the place come alive. There were people out there now, quite a few of them. Except for Shea’s little brother and sister they were mostly couples enjoying a first winter walk in new snow on a brilliant morning.
I wanted to be out there myself, and asked, “Where are the girls staying? Dana and Gary are right down the hall.”
Shea said, “I know,” and instead of calling he pulled his coat on and said, “I’ll be back. If you go anywhere, call me.”
Dan came out of the bathroom smiling and wearing his white resort robe. When he spotted us he blushed. “Yes, now I remember. Pardon me,” and he closed the door behind him when he went back into the bathroom.
We snickered and Lisa said, “Dan’s nice. I wish Alana was here to see that last move.”
I asked, “What do you think of Alana? I mean I’ve known her for a long time but never really knew her. She was eleven the last time I saw her before yesterday, and blowing bubble gum. She was good at that, and I remember my mother worrying about the constant chewing and that bladder that kept coming out of her mouth. Mom thought she had some terrible disease or malformation.”
That sent Tom and Lisa into hysterics even though I wasn’t trying to be funny. I guess it’s just the picture sometimes, but my mother didn’t know bubble gum, and it was her natural reaction.
After a few minutes, we sat and turned on the television. I’d forgotten once again that it was Thanksgiving, but the Macy’s parade program was already on even though the parade hadn’t started. We sat around and watched that, and when Dan emerged dressed and ready to go I asked, “Does anyone want a coffee or tea?”
Tom asked for a coffee, so I started another pot.
When I was waiting for it the room phone rang and I heard Dan pick it up.
“No, this is Dan. Oh, hi Mr. Dunn. The trip was fine thanks; no hassles. Here’s Paul.”
I took the phone and said, “Hi, Dad.”
He said, “Hi, Paul. I know you’re here with your friends, but try to make some time to visit with all the relatives.”
I said, “Oh, I plan to. Last night was hectic, but I figure we have today and tomorrow to hang out and not much else.”
“Good. You should spend time with Dana getting to know Elenora’s family, too.”
“There’s one more thing. Other kids in your age group came in while you were out last night. Can you try to make sure that nobody feels left out?”
I said, “Sure. I’m good at that.”
Dad said, “I know. That’s why I asked. Have you had breakfast yet?”
“No. I don’t even know where it is.”
“It’s in the castle building, to the left of the lobby. The doors were closed last night, but you won’t miss it. Just order what you want; it’s not a buffet.”
I said, “That sounds good. We’ll be there as soon as we find everyone.”
Dad said, “I’ll see you there,” and rang off.
I said, “I’m gonna run down the hall and make sure Gary and Dana are awake. I’ll be right back.”
I tapped on Dana’s door, hoping I had the right one, and his voice came from inside, “What?”
I said, “It’s Paul.”
The door opened in a second and I went in. Dana looked ready for the day and I asked, “What are you doing?”
He said, “Just hangin’.”
I said, “Well, hang out in our room. Shea went to get the girls.”
That made Dana brighten and he said, “You should have told me. Should I bring my coat?”
I said, “Coat, hat, gloves, bring them all. It’s cold out. Is Gary in his room?”
Dana nodded, “I went over a while ago to show him how the coffee thing works.” He picked up his coat and hat and said, “Let’s go.”
We went across the hall and Dana banged on Gary’s door and yelled, “Come on. The ladies don’t like to be kept waiting.”
While Gary was getting his things I asked Dana, “How’s your room?”
He replied eagerly, “It’s pretty darn nice. You told me once that hotel rooms are for sleeping, and I sure slept. It’s really quiet here, and that bed is beautiful.”
I was glad that he liked it, and Gary loved his room as well, except his view was of the banquet hall and not the big lawns. We walked down the hall to my room and, as luck would have it, when we came in through the back, Shea and the girls were just coming in through the front.
That room was nice, but clearly wasn’t suited for a dozen people, so we got into our coats and hats, and headed right back out the front. The edge had come off of the cold, and the sun was up high enough that it wasn’t blinding anymore. We paired off and dawdled to the main building while I told everyone what my father expected of Dana and me, and how I hoped they’d try to socialize with the new people, whoever they were.
Cheri asked, “How will we know if they’re new?”
Shea said, “I guess if we don’t know them, then they’re new.”
When we reached the building we went to the coatroom that I’d used as a phone booth the night before. There was a lady there taking coats and giving out claim checks, and two other people were inside hanging them, so there was no real wait.
We walked over to the restaurant and looked inside. There were plenty of vacant tables, but they were all set for two or four people. The night before I’d wanted to sit with just Lisa, but I was kind of hoping we could all sit together this time. We hesitated just inside the door, and a man came hurrying over. “Paul Dunn?” he asked the group in general.
I said, “That’s me.”
He said, “Follow me, please. We have a table for twelve set up by the main windows for you.”
He walked away briskly and we followed after him, only nodding and giving little waves to people who called to us. I was looking around in awe at the architecture. The building was constructed of an orangy-brown stone in kind of a modern gothic style. The two exterior walls consisted mostly of large groupings of lancet windows, one after another, with interior sills that were at least two feet deep. It was a softened gothic look that I found very appealing, with everything rounded from the sharp points of classic gothic structures.
Our table was in the corner of the two exterior walls, and we’d have plenty of time to admire the building. The table itself appeared to have been constructed just to occupy that corner. It formed a rounded vee shape and was set for four along each outer side, and two on each inner side, though it looked long enough to fit at least four more.
Like everything in the room, it was beautiful, and Lisa actually hugged my arm and gasped when she saw it.
The tablecloth was a peach color, with another white cloth draped over it. The glassware was all oversized to suit the baronial nature of the room. The dishes that were out were white with broad stripes of peach and pale blue, and the napkins matched the blue in the dishes. There were candles and flowers everywhere on the table, and as soon as we sat down a guy was there with menus, another poured water, and a third went along lighting candles, and he had a lot of them to light. The candle holders themselves were kind of unique, like upside-down chandeliers sprouting up from the table. They were low things, sort of floral in their design, and each had eight arms that curved up, down and up again ending in little blossoms, each of which held a slender candle three or four inches high.
I usually like an end seat when I’m eating, but since I felt like the host I led Lisa to the center of the vee, with our backs to the corner. Dan and Alana sat beside us with Tom and Bridgette opposite them. Gary and Joan were to my right, with Dana and Gretchen beside them, and Shea was opposite with Cheri.
Configurations like that were usually kind of awkward, but it was surprisingly easy for us to communicate. I tested it by fooling around. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m glad you could join me this morning for a dissertation on meat. Yes, meat. You’ve all seen it, perhaps even tried some. If you have, you’ll know where I’m coming from. You know how good it can be, and how good it should be, but things sometimes go wrong. You, like me, have probably been served something that looked like the scrapings from the inside of an ancient diesel engine.”
Lisa tugged my arm, but I plodded forward. “Maybe you’ve been to Canada, where they put gravy on all meat. Yes, even fine steaks. If you ask for meat without gravy you should be prepared to wrestle the gravy ladle from the cook. It’s in their nature to desecrate meat.”
Dan laughed at that, probably because he lives very close to the border.
I said, “At any rate, by now you must have noticed what corned beef looks like the next day …”
Lisa tugged my arm and Hector was behind me. I said, “Oh.”
Hector patted my shoulder hard enough that it hurt, but only said, “I just want you to know that I had a very nice time in Chile, amigo.”
I groaned, “Same rules?”
“Si. Read your menu.”
Gretchen followed him with her eyes wide and asked, “Wer war das?”
Thinking she’d forgotten him, I said, “That’s Hector. Dad got him from a slaver in the Canal Zone and keeps him around to learn me manners.”
Lisa hit me in the head while everyone else groaned and I cried, “Oh, the slings and arrows.”
When I looked at Gretchen again she looked like she was contemplating a rapid return to Germany and I laughed. “It’s just a joke Gretchen. Dana, you explain it.”
Dan spoke up, “How can he explain you? You’re not a musician or an artist, so there’s no simple explanation.” He looked at Dana and said, “Blame it on too much gin in his ninth year. That’s at least plausible.”
I looked at Dan and said, “That’s not fair. I took one sip and barfed it up two seconds later.”
Dan nodded his agreement, “Exactly. You had too much.”
Oh Lord, Dan too? Timid little Percy Paynter was now getting the upper hand? My world was crumbling, imploding on me. I don’t think I was ever so glad to see a waiter.
“Are you ready to order?”
I said, “Give us a few more minutes to look at the menus; is that okay?”
“Of course,” he said and walked to a different table.
I said, “Maybe we should look at the food,” and picked up a menu to share with Lisa.
Fortunately, there wasn’t a weird thing on the menu; it was just regular New England breakfast food. There are a few things that may be peculiar to the area, like home fries instead of grits, hash browns, or scatter potatoes. This wasn’t an area of any particular ethnic majority, so kielbasa and sardines weren’t on the list. It was eggs, egg concoctions, pancakes, bacon, sausage, steak and ham, plus some vegetarian and vegan choices.
The real variety was in the muffins and toppings, and mint chutney caught my eye. My grandmother, Dad’s mom, made that, and I had it every time we visited them in Maine. Hers had the best flavor that ever touched my tongue, and I wondered how this would compare.
I let everyone order before I did, and I got a typical breakfast. I ordered two soft fried eggs, a short stack of pancakes, home fries with lots off onions, and a buttered English muffin with mint chutney on the side. I wanted it on the side for two reasons. First, it might suck, and second, if it was good others might want to try some.
We talked about the building, the weather, what we brought to wear for the big Thanksgiving dinner, and a myriad of other things until the food came, and that shut us up. Three waiters came with four meals each, and they didn’t ask a thing before we each had the correct meal in front of us. A fourth server followed with refills of coffee, juice and water.
The place sure had the slick part of service down pat. We were served and they were out of there in record time, yet they didn’t rush or make us feel rushed at all, and they knew we didn’t need anything else so they didn’t ask. Everything came just like it was ordered, of course, and it was eaten with purpose, but not really hastily. My chutney was different than my grandmother’s, but very good in a somewhat milder way.
After the dishes were cleared and we were having coffee and tea I looked around the room to see who I knew. I saw Rhod eating with Bernie, and when they looked our way I gave a little wave. I saw Jonathan and Anthony, Dana’s cousins that I’d met in Albany. They were sitting with their parents who I hadn’t met, and I didn’t remember if it was their father or mother who was Elenora’s sibling. I decided it had to be the father, because he had the same light coloring, though that was the only resemblance. His wife didn’t come close in any dimension given her large frame, jet black hair and very sharp features. She was an attractive woman for sure, but no way did she come from the Senator and Mrs.
The Luellens were on the far side of the room and Lisa’s folks were a few tables away. I couldn’t see everyone, but didn’t see anyone who looked like a new kid. There was another section to the dining room that I couldn’t see at all. I wished I’d asked Dad how many other kids were there. Maybe he just meant Jonathan and Anthony. They’d be easy enough.
My attention came back to our table when Lisa pinched my hand and asked, “Are you in there, Paul?”
“Dan has asked three times if you think we can find a football somewhere.”
I looked at Dan. “We don’t have enough guys to play football.”
Dan said, “I don’t mean a game. If we can find a ball we can at least toss it around and get some air.”
That sounded like a good idea. I said, “Let me ask,” and pulled Lisa from her seat. “Come with me.”
Our first stop was at the front desk, where the clerk looked up when I approached. I said, “Hi. I’m Paul Dunn.”
“Yes, Mr. Dunn. What can I do for you?”
I asked, “Is there any chance that we might find a football here? One is good; more than one is better.”
He thought out loud, “A football? Let me think. I’ll call the spa.”
He picked up his phone and tapped a few numbers, smiled when it was answered. “Oh, Alex, this is Rick at the front desk. Do you have footballs out there?” His face fell, “Oh. Well, do you know where we might find some on Thanksgiving Day?” His expression darkened and he said, “That’s not even funny. Help me out here.” He listened intently and said, “Oh, that’s a good idea. Thank you, Alex.”
He looked back at me and said, “We don’t have footballs here, but he suggested that I ask the staff members on duty. A lot of them are athletic and they live nearby. I think we’ll find you a ball or two. How long will you be here in the restaurant?”
I said, “We’ll be here. I think it’s time for meet and greet, so just follow the griping and I’ll be at the source.”
Rick laughed and said, “That’s funny. Let me get on this; it shouldn’t take long.”
I said, “Thanks, man,” and we took off, heading the other way in the dining room to see if there were kids we hadn’t noticed. There were kids there, most of them our age given a lot of leeway, probably between age twelve to twenty or so. There were some younger kids, too, just a few of them, but I didn’t think Dad intended for me to be all-inclusive.
We headed around and back to our table. I was hoping that Dad would bring me and Lisa around to meet his own friends, and Elenora, Mom and Ally would do the same. To be polite we stopped to say hello with the people we knew well, like Lisa’s parents, the Luellens and Timeks, Rhod and Bernie.
Bernie asked how Alana was getting along with Dan, and I said, “They like each other. They sure talk a lot.” That’s as far as I’d go with that kind of information. Bernie would have plenty of time to talk to Alana when he drove her back to Miss Porters.
We went back to our own table where I explained the hotel staff was out looking for a football, and as soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized how funny that sounded. Just when I sat down a waiter appeared beside me with a tray on his shoulder. “Mr. Dunn?”
I looked up and said, “That’s me.”
He grinned and lowered the tray while he removed the lid, revealing a cruddy looking old football on a bed of lettuce.
I almost choked to death, while Tom said, “Nobody move,” so he could get pictures.
I was laughing so hard I pretty much crawled up the waiter’s arm, and asked, “Whose ball?”
He said, “It belongs to my kid. It was in the trunk.”
I said, “We’ll take good care of it. How will I get it back to you?”
He said, “If it’s today, I’ll be here. If not, just leave it at the desk and say it goes to Jimmy Grand.”
“You’re Jim?” I asked.
“No, Jim’s my son. I’m Neil.”
I said, “I really appreciate it,” and shook Neil’s hand. Neil took off and I sat down, laughing again at the football sitting on a bed of lettuce atop the silver tray in front of me. I picked the ball up, held it upright and asked, “Are you ready for some football?”
I knew I had to stay and Dana had to stay, but the rest of the guys were free agents, and when they were getting ready to go I said to Tom, “There are kids in the other room. Ask them to join you, okay?” I pointed at Jonathan and Anthony and said, “Ask them, too.”
Tom nodded, took the ball, and went to see Dana’s cousins. I leaned into Lisa and said, “You don’t really have to stay if you don’t want to.”
She said, “Be serious. I want to.”
Oh, boy. Dad came over with Elenora, and Mom came with Ally, and Mom asked brightly, “Are you ready to meet the people?”
I glanced at Dana and he seemed about as enthusiastic as I was, but we were resigned. I thought we’d get to do this one family at a time so I could sort people out in my own head, but we went by the random order that people were seated in. Dad’s relations, Mom’s friends, Dad’s business associates, Ally’s relations, Mom’s relations, Elenora’s friends, back and forth, on and on. I was beginning to understand Proust after all the intervening years.
I kept the smile on my face and it was genuine when we got to people we knew. Dad’s brothers were there with their wives. His older brother is one of my favorite people. Roger lives in Seattle, but when there’s any kind of problem at all he’s right there. His wife, Rose, never seemed to like me, but never made a big deal about it. I always though that Roger got into a bad deal somewhere, but they seemed happy together and I kept my mouth shut.
My uncle Ted is Dad’s younger brother, and I think he’s a leech. He makes a good living because of some deal Dad made long ago that came with Ted, so woe to the other side. Ted’s wife, on the other hand, is a real sweetheart. How Trish puts up with Ted I’ll never know. Ted is devious and conniving, and I know he wants my father’s money, kind of like he thinks it’s his birthright. Opposites attract, right? Trish is a good looking woman, and I know she has to be both mother and father to their kids. She goes to the PTA meetings, the parent-teacher things, the kids’ activities. Ted goes to the casinos in Connecticut, just across the line from where they live in Rhode Island. Still, Trish is always there for Ted, and fetches him when he’s too drunk to drive and a casino takes his keys and calls her.
I think it sucks. I just turned sixteen and I wasn’t perfect, but I think Ted is stuck at twelve in his mind. He gets money that he probably doesn’t really earn, or more likely doesn’t even try to earn. I don’t like him, but I smiled like I had to when we said hello, and then hugged Trish and whispered, “You’re a real saint.”
We met a lot more people, and spent some time with Ally’s family. I knew her mother and father, but now there were a brother and sisters with kids that had already gone out to play football. Ally’s brother was NFL material like her, a big man with a great smile and a hand that could have crushed mine but didn’t. He grinned at me and said, “Don’t waste your time here. Go toss the ball with your friends. We can talk when there’s less going on.”
I said, “Maybe we can watch the college games after turkey, and fall asleep together.”
He put a hand like Hector’s on my shoulder and chuckled, “That sounds like a deal.”
We went around and around. It was fun meeting new members of the extended family, and seeing distant relatives for the first time in years, some of them for the first time ever. It became less fun when we got around to meeting business associates, and I begged off. Dad cut Dana loose, too, and on our way out I saw Mr. Spalding at a table with his family. I told Dana to go ahead without me, and walked over.
Mr. Spalding saw me coming and was on his feet when I got there, hand out and a wide smile on his face. “Hello, Paul. How are you?”
I said, “I’m fine. Yourself?”
“Frankly, it’s nice to get away for a few days. Things have been very hectic due to the short week. Let me introduce my family.”
He turned to them and said, “Everyone, this is Paul Dunn, Frank’s son. Paul, meet my wife Sue.”
I held my hand out, and when she took it she said, “Paul, I’m so pleased to meet you.”
I said, “The pleasure is mine.” She was a nice looking woman, kind of on the plump side, but still quite pretty.
Mr. Spalding continued, “My son, Brandon.”
I smiled at the kid and he scowled back at me, and ignored my hand when I offered it. His mother spoke sharply, “Be polite, Brandon. It’s nobody’s fault but your own that you forgot your Game Boy. Now, you apologize and say hello to Mr. Dunn.”
Brandon looked away and mumbled, “I’m sorry,” and got to his feet and held out his hand with a hopeful expression on his face.
I smiled and we shook. “You know,” I said, “There’s a game controller in my room, so I bet you can find all the games you want on the television.”
He looked at me warily, “Where’s your room?”
I laughed, “You should have the same kind of controller in your room. You just have to look for it.”
He finally smiled, and I turned to the little girl. Sue said, “This is Melissa. Say hello to Mr. Dunn, sweetheart.”
I almost laughed when she smiled and said, “Heh-wo.”
She was missing a bunch of teeth, and I asked “How are you going to eat turkey later?”
“Mommy cuts it up small, and I have to chew on dis side, cuz anudder toof is missing over here.” She was really cute, and quite serious when she explained that.
I said, “Well, pretty soon you’ll have nice new teeth, and you’ll have to take care of them.”
I looked back at her parents and said, “I just wanted to say hello.” I looked at Mr. Spalding and asked, “Did anything ever get resolved with Mr. Glover?”
He grimaced and looked at his wife. “Excuse me, I have to visit the men’s room,” and when he stood up he said, “Take a walk, Paul.”
He put his hand on my shoulder and we walked toward the reception area. “Paul, Chief Glover’s injuries are almost unimaginable. His surgeons at the time must have had to fight tooth and nail to keep his legs at all, and given the technology, or lack if it, at the time, they did a truly remarkable job. I just got the final analysis and treatment prognosis yesterday and called the chief before we left for here.”
“What is it?”
“Let me say it’s hopeful. He’ll never get to a hundred percent, but I can list the things that can be done. First and easiest, there is a lot of scar tissue causing stiffness and that kind of jerky reaction he has when he steps a certain way. That accident happened over ten years ago when scar tissue from surgery was just expected and left behind. Now there are fairly simple treatments to both shrink the amount of it and leave what’s left more pliable.
“A larger problem is his knees, which were crushed by the missiles, and that’s where the people who treated him did their best work. His accident is actually well-known when you start investigating something like this, and his specific case was written up in a widely read journal, with a step-by-step history of the procedures employed, x-rays, and a description of the end result. It was landmark surgery at the time. That’s neither here nor there these days. Knee replacement surgery is common now … common enough that people are having their replacements replaced. There’s a company in New Jersey making knees from titanium, and there’s no real reason they shouldn’t last forever.
“Last, his ankles and feet also received crushing injuries. The feet healed almost completely, but his ankles are a big part of his problem. The same company making the titanium knees is working on ankles now. They have working prototypes, but it will be a year or more of human testing before they can offer them to the general population.”
I said, “Holy shit. What’s all this mean for Mr. Glover?”
Spalding stopped and faced me. “It’s up to Chief Glover now, Paul. Nothing will ever give him back a hundred percent, but if he goes for the scar tissue therapy and knee replacements he could be at fifty percent in a year, maybe fifty-five or sixty. Ankle replacement is new in this country, and the first operations were done just last year. The book is still being written, but things look promising. If the chief has successful replacements his overall recovery should be in the seventy-five to eighty percent range.”
I said, “What would that mean to him?”
“If he goes for the fifty-percent, he will walk more normally, but still with a decided limp. He’ll be able to stand up straight. He’ll always have a limp now, there’s no getting past that. If he has successful ankle replacement surgery, then most of his pain will fade away, and he should be able to do most of the things a guy his age might do.”
“This is good news, then.” I said. “It’s great news.”
Spalding looked at me sadly, “That’s only true if the chief decides to go ahead with it all. I won’t kid you, Paul. All the normal risks of surgery and anesthetics are there every time. Recoveries vary, but at best he’ll have to spend some good chunks of the next two years being inactive.”
I frowned, “I don’t think that’s his nature.”
Spalding said, “That’s the rub. He likes the idea that he can be fixed, but the thought of being inactive for months at a time has him wondering about the value of it.”
I thought about that, and couldn’t come up with any plausible response. All I could think of was, “Does my father know this?”
“We talked last night. He’ll talk to the chief when he gets back from Ecuador.”
“Ecuador?” I asked.
Mr. Spalding looked me in the eye and said, “Forget I said that, okay? Just forget it and I’ll double our contribution to your school fair.”
I said, “You promised, huh? Hell, now I forgot what it was you said.”
Spalding laughed and patted my shoulder, “You’re a good guy, Paul. Go find your friends and have fun.”
I did. I got my coat, hat and gloves and, feeling kind of foolish that I’d worn my dress coat and good shoes, went outside. I followed my ears till I found the guys in a large area just down the driveway toward the road. That was nice because it left the big lawns in front of the resort untrammeled, while they had a real mess going where they were. They had somehow conjured up a second football. Gary and Dan were at one end apparently playing quarterbacks, while everyone else was disbursed calling, “Over here!” and, “Throw it to me, Gary!”
Gary and Dan both surprised me, because they kept throwing perfect spiral passes to whoever caught them. I was surprised because I never pictured either of them as athletic, but they could throw the football for sure. I headed out in the field and saw Shea catch a pass thrown so hard it put him right on his back. He got up laughing and tossed the ball back.
I asked nobody in particular, “Why aren’t you playing touch or something?”
Tom said, “Not enough people.”
“What the Hell? This isn’t the NFL. It’s not even peewee. Use what you brung!”
I think that sounded good, and someone asked, “Who against who?”
I said, “Let’s go ask the quarterbacks,” and we all ran over to Dan and Gary. I said, “You guys pick the teams. Be arbitrary because we don’t know everyone.”
Dan said, “Let me count,” and pointed at everyone once. “Nineteen guys. That’s nine on a team and a spare.”
“No, it’s nine on a team and a referee. How’s that?”
Dan agreed, “Okay,” and started looking at the guys to decide who he wanted on his team.
“No, Dan. It’s arbitrary.” I looked back at the kids and asked, “Who doesn’t know anybody here?”
One hand went up and I asked, “Who are you?”
I said, “Okay, man. Count off nine guys for each team and you can be the referee unless you really want to play. If you do, the team captains can do odds or evens to see who gets you, and the winner has to give up a referee. Is that good?
He said, “I guess so,” and counted out nine guys on the right side and nine guys on the left. That’s where it became clear that we’d missed someone or they came late because two kids were left standing. Peter sent them to their destinations.
I felt in my pocket, and had to ask, “Does anyone have a coin?”
Several hands held out coins, and Peter took a quarter from one of them. Dan and Gary came close, Peter tossed the coin while Dan cried ‘heads’, and it came up tails. Gary grinned and said, “We’ll receive.”
The rest was schoolboy hilarity. There were no goal posts, no field markers, and there was no way we had a hundred yards to play with. Some of us were wearing dress shoes and heavy wool melton coats. Our playing field went from snowy to muddy in no time, and after an hour there was no score, no completed passes, nothing that actually resembled football. When we gave it up we were laughing, happy, and probably in big trouble for the mud on our clothes. We’d all been there, and one good time was worth a dozen muddy coats. The dry cleaner would send the coats back like new anyhow.
I’d met the kids I didn’t see inside, and oddly enough a black kid approached me and said, “We’re related. My father is your father’s cousin. I’m Patrick Dunn.”
He had the clipped British accent of the Caribbean, and he sure didn’t look Irish. I grinned while we shook hands and said, “I’m glad to see that someone in this family had the balls to step out of the Irish mold. Where are you from?”
He said, “Turks and Caicos; ever hear of it?”
I said, “Yeah, I have. The guy who’s performing the ceremony is my father’s investment attorney, and he puts some investments through there. Is your father a banker?”
Patrick grinned, “Close. He works for a bank, but does computers and communications.”
“And your mother?” I asked.
“She’s a local lady. She started at the same bank just when my father arrived and, well I don’t know the details but here I am.”
“Are you an only child like me?” I asked.
“No, no. My sister is married and living in Cockburn Town. They have a grocery store there, and three kids. That’s why they’re not here. My brother is at university in Leeds, and studying for exams right now.”
I asked, “Is he going to be a doctor?”
Patrick said, “A doctor, yes, but a researcher rather than a practitioner.” He smiled, “He loves science. It’s where he belongs.”
I asked, “How about you? Where do you belong?”
He shrugged and smiled slyly. “I’m not sure. Sometimes I think I’d like to live at the delivery end of a very long bong. Other times I wish I could play my guitar in front of lots of people. It won’t work like that. I know I have to get a job and do some boring thing day after day.”
“You play the guitar? Are you good?”
He shook his head, “That’s just a dream for some day. Tell me where you belong since you’re getting all personal.”
I thought about that and said, “I guess I don’t know either. It’s hard, you know? A little history: I went to this private school, Barent’s Academy. It’s not far from here. God, that was the worst time of my life. That place takes perfectly normal American boys and tries to turn them into sophisticated snobs. Forget the education part; it’s like a social molding institution. Most kids took to it, like ‘ooh, ooh, ooh, I’m superior?’ and I wasn’t having it. I wasn’t born to be some guardian for the family money. For Christ’s sake, nobody really knows how much there is, but that’s what Barent’s wanted for me. They didn’t want to teach me how to earn a living on my own, just how to protect that fucking pile.”
“You don’t like money?” Patrick asked in surprise.
I sighed, “Its money, honestly earned. There’s just too damn much of it, and it’s clinking up faster than you can blink your eyes. I like the lifestyle my Dad and I found in Vermont after his divorce. We live there pretty modestly.” Patrick looked confused, so I said, “I’m sorry. That’s not what you asked. I like the money for what it can do, and I don’t mean for me. Your question was about where I’m going, and I honestly don’t know. I guess I’d like to someday be in charge of spending that money to help people in trouble. We already have a couple of little things going, and something bigger is in the works.”
Patrick grinned, “You’re an altruist?”
I smiled, “I guess, maybe. Sue me.”
We walked back to the inn together, and Patrick asked, “Do you like this snow?”
I said, “I love snow, probably a lot more than most people.”
He shivered and said, “I’ve never felt this cold before. If I stay here will I turn white like you?”
I looked at him and he was grinning. I asked, “If I go to Turks and Caicos will I turn black like you?”
Patrick had a good laugh and said, “Never. You’ll turn pink like a flower, then orange like a lobster. After that you’ll be red like a beet and maybe burn purple like an eggplant, but never black. Never.”
We both laughed, and headed inside. I nudged Patrick and asked, “So, what are we? Some kind of cousins, right?”
He said, “If you say so, white boy,” and laughed. “Ask my mother; she knows those things. According to her, I’m related to everyone on Turks and Caicos except the people on the private islands.”
Lisa came hurrying over as soon as she saw me. I introduced her to Patrick and told him to look for us before he sat down for dinner so we could sit together.
I watched him walk off and grinned at Lisa. “Patrick’s my cousin.”
“How can that be?”
I said, “It just is. Want to come to my room? I have to get cleaned up.”
Lisa said, “You’ve ruined your coat.”
I said, “I’ll send it to the cleaners. It’s just dirt.”
“Let me get my coat out of hock.”
“I’ll be at the front desk.”
I walked over to the desk and asked the clerk, “Is there a same-day dry cleaner in town?”
He replied, “Today is Thanksgiving, but I’m sure they’ll be open tomorrow.”
“Do you have their card or a number for them?”
“Just call housekeeping. They’ll bring you a garment bag and tell you what to do.”
I asked, “I can do it through the hotel?”
I thanked him and waited for Lisa. I held her coat while she wiggled into it and we left for the short walk to our cottage … my cottage … the room I shared with Dan in the twenty-two room cottage. The air was still chilly, but no longer frigid, and the snow was already disappearing. Things were still white, but leftover autumn leaves were poking through here and there. The sky was still cloudless, so I didn’t think any more snow was imminent.
I asked Lisa, “Are you having a good time here?”
“I am. This is the nicest place, and everyone seems so friendly. How was your football game, other than dirty?”
I said, “Ah, it wasn’t really a game; we just knocked around for a little while. It was just a fun game.”
Lisa asked, “Who won?”
I laughed, “Nobody. It was a zero to zero tie. I think there might have been a few scores if we ever decided on goals. What did you do while we were out there?”
“I just talked to people. Ally saw me with Alana and asked us to talk to the girls we didn’t know. We did that, and it was fun. I never thought I’d just walk up to strangers like that, but it wasn’t hard.”
“Did you meet some nice people?”
Lisa scowled, “They were all very nice except for this one girl. She asked, You’re Italian?, like it’s a disease or something. Alana stuck up for me. This girl’s name is Jennifer something, but Alana called her Girlie after that, and explained that half the people here are Italian and Jennifer was the minority. That shut her up, but I don’t think she’ll be making any friends.”
I chuckled and opened the door. “I wonder what she’ll think when she sees Patrick. Be sure to dance with him if he asks you.”
Lisa made a face, “You’re awful.”
“No, my clothes are awful; awful dirty anyhow. Let me go out in the hall and shake this coat out. Have a seat.” I handed Lisa the remote, pulled my coat off and created a nice little pile of sand and dust in the hall and on me when I gave the coat a good whipping. It actually didn’t look bad after that, and I thought I could brush it out instead of having it cleaned, so I went back in the room and said, “Look!”
Lisa giggled and said, “You got it off the coat and on you. Now you need a shower.”
I said, “I guess I do. Do you want to join me?”
She smiled coyly, “Not this time, but one of these days. It’s too bad you didn’t get a private room.”
I grinned and said, “I don’t think the morals police would let that work out. Gary and Shea have private rooms, and Joan and Cheri are locked up in a convent somewhere. It’s the same with Alana and Bridgette.” I lifted my eyebrows and said, “I know. You could tell your parents that my shower is clogged or something and we could have a bath in your room.”
Lisa gave me a sweet smile and said, “Uh-uh. You could ask that if you have a death wish, but I’m not going to.”
I said, “I’m taking a shower. Call room service if you want anything.”
With that, I dug out clean underwear and socks, got my suit pants untangled from the jacket, and went to shower up. I didn’t spend a long time; I just had to get the crud off and try to make my hair do something normal, which wasn’t going to happen. When I went back into the room, Dan and Alana were there having a happy talk with Lisa.
I asked, “What am I missing?”
Dan looked at me and said, “Let me see. Well, from the top down you’re missing a decent haircut, a shirt and shoes.”
I tossed my wet towel at him and said, “Idiot. I mean what were you talking about?”
There was a brief silence before Alana said, “You, of course, and the enigma that surrounds you.”
I laughed, “Right. Like I’m a mystery man? Let me find my shirt.”
I looked in the closet and Alana said, “You’re not a mystery man, Paul, but you are a puzzle.”
I turned around and said, “Gee, my own aura. Why am I puzzling?”
She smiled and said, “Don’t get edgy. We all think it’s a good way. You have a lot of money at your fingertips and you’re not thinking of the things it can buy you, or a grand lifestyle or anything. You just want to be everyman, and you’re sitting with three people who happen to agree with you. My father is rich, too. So is Dan’s, and if Dad is right Lisa’s father will have his own pile in a few years. I’m like you. I don’t want to just sit out my life getting whatever, whenever. I want to do things, change things, make things better. Dan wants to do it through science, and I’m like you I think. I want to do it through social action.”
I said, “Wow.” I looked at the bathroom, which was still steamy, and sat on the arm of Lisa’s chair. “What do you think?”
Lisa hesitated for a long while and said, “I’ve seen what money can do because of you, Paul. I don’t know. Staying in a beautiful place like this is really nice, but it’s not necessary. When we go on a driving vacation, a Holiday Inn seems fine.”
Alana said, “I’m the same way.”
Dan said, “Me, too. I mean, if you’re going to stop for a night all you need is a bedroom and a bathroom. Dad likes to stop at old-fashioned roadside motels, and we meet the nicest people sometimes.”
I said, “Me and Dad do the same thing. Any place is a good place when you’re tired, and some of those kind of places really are nice.”
Alana asked coyly, “See a pattern here, Paul?”
“I guess I do. We’re kind of all the same, aren’t we?”
Alana clapped her hands and cried, “Yes! We’re very much the same, I think. Tell me if you agree with this: There is too much money in the hands of too few people. The big picture is loaded with complexity, so just answer the one question I asked. Do you agree or disagree?”
I said, “Oh, I agree, and you’re not kidding that it’s complex. You can’t just start knocking on the doors of people who have, say, over fifty million, or five hundred million and tell them to give it back. Except for the bunch who are genuine crooks, rich people didn’t take money from anyone, and they didn’t earn it by overcharging for anything. There’s nobody to give it back to. These are the people who invented things, thought up new ways of doing business, dreamed up services that everyone wanted once they were available. They weren’t just making money; they were building factories and offices and hiring millions of people. They made a lot of other people rich in their wakes. What they weren’t doing was taking money. They were generating it, creating whole industries sometimes. It’s not like a den of thieves.”
Dan said, “Don’t stop.”
I smiled, “I have no intention of stopping.” I looked around, “Look, the very wealthy have been giving their money to society since the days of the Robber Barons. Look at the Carnegie libraries all around the country, the Rockefeller Foundation, Vanderbilt University. Maybe they just wanted to get their names on things, but that can’t have been all of it. They built buildings like they would have made for themselves. It’s still going on now. You hear about the big guns like Gates, Turner and Buffet, but there are a whole lot of other people who keep their charitable giving private. My father might finance a building at MIT, but there’s no way he’d slap his name on it.”
Lisa asked, “So who has too much money?”
“Lots of people do, but the living ones aren’t the problem. It’s the inheritors and the companies someone leaves behind who get greedy. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s fortune when he died would be something like a hundred-forty billion dollars today. He still lived in the apartment where he and his wife raised their kids. Who built all the fabulous Vanderbilt mansions? His grandchildren did, all trying to outdo each other. The so-called ‘gilded age’ wasn’t when that money was earned, when all that energy and creativity pushed this nation westward. It was two generations later when over-privileged, uninvolved people went on a three-decade binge of self-indulgence. That’s when the mansions sprung up in Oyster Bay, in Newport, and in Bar Harbor.
“That’s no different than what’s going on now. It’s not always the people making this kind of money who are bitching about taxes. Hell, most of them took a chance to try something, and some of them found the next big thing. They never dreamed of money like they’re making, and taxes be damned. I’m sure there are exceptions, but the loudest complainers are the descendents of the people who created that wealth. They’re the ones crying crap like, How can I last the next five hundred years on just two million a year? Let the poor people pay taxes. Who do they think they are, and what exactly does the word ‘fair’ mean? I mean, these people have to have serious complexes if they think they sound real.”
Dan looked at me with a smile and said, “You’re exactly right, Paul. My family held on to the business, but not all the people around us did. A lot of them sold out and they got a lot of money. My father says that’s great, but there won’t be any more money coming in and he doesn’t think they’re quite smart enough to realize that.”
I noticed the clock and said, “It’s after one. We should finish getting dressed.”
Dan asked, “Where is dinner today?”
I said, “Good question,” and looked around the room for the schedule of events, which was on a table under a dirty coffee cup from earlier. I read it and said, “It’s in the banquet hall. That’s the place right behind this building.”
Lisa was pulling her coat on and I said, “Wait, I’ll walk with you. I don’t know where you’re staying. I can come back and we can walk to dinner together.”
I got into my coat even as incompletely dressed as I was, and we left by the front door, turned left, and walked to the next building, which was a more modern brick structure two stories high. The rooms didn’t have separate entrances from the outside, so we walked down a hall and stopped at the second doorway. Lisa opened it and asked me in. We came into a small foyer where Lisa hung her coat. I kept mine on because I still had to finish dressing, and I really just wanted to see where she was.
It was another nice building, and despite the modern exterior the suite was a model of New England country living. The sofa and chairs in the main room were overstuffed with print fabric. The tables and other accents were all Hitchcock style maple. The armchair even had a magazine holder beside it. The wallpaper was cream-colored and embossed to look like leather, and all the pictures were Wyeth reproductions. It was a really attractive room. Lisa let me peek into her room, but shooed me out saying she had to hurry.
At the door I asked, “Where are the others staying?”
Lisa said, “Tom and his parents are down the hall on the same side. The Luellen’s and the other girls are in cottages down the path and down a hill. They’re in like a little glen by themselves. It’s pretty.”
I gave Lisa a kiss and asked, “Should I just come back at five of two, or will you call me when you’re ready.”
She thought for a second and said, “Oh, just come back. I’ll be ready.” She gave me a kiss and said, “Don’t forget to clean your shoes.”
I looked down at my feet and there was still muck on the shoes, so I was happy for the reminder.
I walked back quickly, feeling very happy indeed. If I was happy, my mother had to be floating on air. Everything was going perfectly for the wedding, and also for the romantic weekend I’d envisioned with Lisa.
Dan was out when I got back to the room. The first thing I did was take my shoes off and wipe them clean with a facecloth in the bathroom. I left them on the vanity to dry and went to finish dressing. I needed socks and an undershirt, my tie and jacket. Before I did any of that, I noticed that my outer coat wasn’t exactly spotless. Lacking anything else, I brushed it clean with my hair brush.
I had brought a few pairs of dress socks and tossed them in the dresser with everything else when we arrived. When I found a pair, I pulled out a new undershirt and got halfway put together before Dan rushed in. He asked anxiously, “Are you done in the bathroom?”
I said, “I can be; give me a second,” and snatched my shoes and the shoe cloth that came with the room. I sat in a chair and wiped the shoes. They shined right up, so I put the socks and shoes on while I was still sitting. Then I took my shirt off and pulled the undershirt on, put the shirt back on over it and tucked everything in. Ally had picked out my tie, and I didn’t really like it, but it looked pretty good when I put the suit jacket on. The suit was off the rack. They had to hem the pants, but the jacket fit like it had grown on me and it felt great.
My evil hair was sticking out all over the place, and the comb did nothing. In frustration, I slapped the worst offending area hard with my hand and my hair sat down. I looked at it, waiting for it to spring back up like a jack-in-the-box. It didn’t. It didn’t look good, but I was always happy when it stayed down. I started smacking other cowlicks. I was hurting my head in the process, but I thought I’d finally discovered the secret to Dunn hair. You can’t comb it, brush it, tease it or perm it, but a good beating seemed to do the trick. Once I had everything sitting down I was afraid to touch it lest my hair lose its new fear of my hand.
When Dan rushed out of the bathroom he was buck naked and still damp from his shower. He pulled a drawer open and in a second he was wearing underwear and socks. He went to the closet and in another few seconds he had his shirt and tie on, and just moments later he was in his pants and suit jacket, straightening his tie.
I said, “You’re fast! All you need are shoes and your belt and you’ll be ready before I am.”
“Oh, yeah.” He found his belt and put his shoes on, checked himself out in the mirror and said, “Oh, damn you anyhow. I never combed my hair.”
I snickered, “Don’t damn me for that. What am I supposed to know about hair?”
He did a double take at my head and opened his mouth, but nothing came out. I said, “I hit it with a hammer. That’s the only thing that works.”
He went back into the bathroom and came out a minute later. Dan’s hair is straight and blows around in a breeze, but it’s at least obedient. He asked, “Ready?” and I put my coat on.
We walked down the path until I got to the building Lisa was in and Dan asked, “Are you going to wait for us?”
“I don’t think so. I never get to walk with just Lisa, and it’s too cold to hang around outside. We’ll see you when you get there. Don’t forget to try and sit with someone you don’t know.”
Dan smiled, “Okay, and I didn’t forget.” He bopped my shoulder and walked down the path, while I went into Lisa’s building.
I tapped on the door and Mr. Mongillo stepped back to let me in. He grinned, “Hi, Paul. You’re looking pretty sharp today.”
He was wearing everything but his suit jacket and looked good himself. Lisa’s father isn’t a handsome man, but he is good-looking in his own way, and when his stern and stoic face broke into his crinkly smile he was easy to like. I said, “I never saw you dressed up before. You look good, too.”
I heard Lisa from behind her father, “Daddy, Paul came to get me. You find your own date.”
I laughed, and Mr. Mongillo stood out of the way grinning, “Well, pardon me and I beg your pardon. I was just welcoming your young man.”
I stared. This was the first time Lisa and I had seen each other dressed up, and she was a Thanksgiving picture. She was wearing a heavy-looking rust-colored skirt that ended just below her knees, with brown socks or tights that disappeared up under the skirt. Her blouse looked like silk in a very pale yellow, and it was kind of like a tunic. She wore a cape, I guess you’d all it, over her shoulders. It was a swirl of deep red and murky orange, and pinned together just above her cleavage with a little, blue love rune from Chile.
I just stared and mumbled, “You’re beautiful,” and her father disappeared from my side.
Lisa smiled and asked, “I look okay, then? I thought I might be overdoing it.”
I know my mouth was open, but I had no words and just shook my head. She wasn’t overdoing anything. In fact, I thought she had stopped right at the height of perfection. I finally managed to ask, “Ready?”
Lisa said coyly, “You look like you are. Help me with my coat.”
Her father came back and said, “Let me get a picture before you leave,” and he had us move around the room until he found a spot where the decoration wouldn’t be a part of us. Then he took a few pictures, even one where we were kissing. Her mother came out before we left, and commented about how nice we looked, and then we were gone.
Outside, I told Lisa, “I really like your parents.”
She had started walking quickly and I held her back. “We don’t have to rush,” and cuddled up against her, my arm around her waist. The hall was just a few hundred feet away, and we had no obligation to be there in any particular order.
It was a beautiful afternoon with a blue sky and crisp air, so we took the long way around, past my building and back to the castle, then down the path from there. We hadn’t been talking much, but when we got past the castle I said, “Lisa, you know what?”
“I know,” she said. “We should find places to walk like this when we want to.”
I looked at her, astonished, because she’d taken the words out of my mouth. I asked, “How did you do that?”
“You said just what I was about to say about finding nice places to walk.”
She stopped and turned to me. “I don’t know where that came from. That’s weird, isn’t it? It’s like I knew what you were going to say before you said it, like we rehearsed it or something.”
I looked around and found myself alone with Lisa, so I pulled her into a hug and said, “That’s amazing. Do you think if we keep kissing we’ll think more and more alike?”
Lisa rubbed noses with me and said, “I’m pretty sure we already think alike when we’re kissing; at least we think about the same thing.”
I smiled, “I know you’re right, but let’s have a kiss anyhow. I don’t think we can get in a lot of trouble during Thanksgiving dinner.”
We kissed, and kept it up until someone cleared his throat. That startled us apart, and my slightly embarrassed father was there with an older man, two men around his age, and three women, who were clearly partnered with the men. He said to them, “Everyone, this is my son, Paul and his girlfriend, Lisa. Paul, I’d like to introduce you to my uncle Earl from Astoria, Oregon and his wife Colleen.”
Uncle Earl sure had the family hair, and looked very much like my grandfather. I shook hands with him and his wife, and while they were greeting Lisa Dad said, “This is my cousin, Edward, and his wife Liz, and my cousin Cassidy and her husband Bill. Bill and Cass raise sheep on their ranch in Idaho. Ed sells airplanes for Boeing and Liz does volunteer work. Uncle Earl is retired from a life of shipping northwest timber around the world.”
I grinned, “Okay, I remember all that, I think.”
Dad said, “Come on inside. The tables are filling up, and I’m sure you want to be at the same table as Lisa.”
We followed him in, talking in his wake. They all seemed nice, but sheep ranching kind of intrigued me and I wanted to hear more about Cassidy and Bill’s life.
The immediate entry to the banquet hall was a wide hallway with a coatroom on each side. We stopped and checked our coats and walked through one of the many doors to the large reception area. It was a modern building, but done nicely in expensive looking wall treatments and a parquet floor. There were huge, lit fireplaces at each, surrounded by holiday decorations. The room itself was all columns and arches in orderly rows. Each column had a table built around it and each table held a giant cornucopia. Alternately they spewed the usual fruits, nuts and other goodies, while the next was full of holiday corsages.
There were hints to not let things go to waste: nutcrackers, napkins and small china plates went with the food-bearing horns and there were discreet little cards by the flowers that read, For your Lady, in fancy calligraphy. I took Lisa’s hand and asked, “See one you like?”
She breathed, “Oh,” like she just realized they were corsages and not decorations. “Oh, God, they’re all beautiful. You pick one out.”
I stepped back to get a second look at Lisa’s color scheme, and all the colors were in the corsages, but I couldn’t tell where one corsage ended and the next began, so I reached for a flower that was almost as dark red as her cape. I pulled it out and came up lucky. There were pale yellow flowers in it, and the ribbon that hung down was a rust color like her skirt.
She smiled brightly and clapped her hands, “Oh, yes! This one is perfect.” She stood close facing me and said, “Pin it on me.”
The cape she wore draped down over her right shoulder and was tossed up over her left shoulder. Lisa took my hand and pulled it right to her right breast, which my hand felt from a lot of directions before she found the right spot and said, “Put it right here.”
I’m sure I was as red as that dark flower. I felt warm and my hands were trembling. I mumbled, “I don’t want to hurt you.”
Lisa smiled at my condition and said, “Pin it to the cloth, Paul, not to me. I’ll help you.”
She had to help. There were two safety pins on the back of the corsage. The pins were about an inch wide while the corsage was probably five inches. Lisa could see behind it, but I couldn’t. Between us, it took two minutes to get the corsage on straight, and by then I was totally overheated and thinking desperately about other things, like what exactly is the price of tea in China?
When Lisa wanted to look in a mirror, I noticed a few on the fireplace walls, and led her to the nearest one. Lisa declared the corsage perfect, and when we were passing another cornucopia of flowers she casually plucked one out and pinned it to my lapel in a fluid motion that didn’t even slow our stride. Lord, I had enough feels to embarrass me, and Lisa could have had a lulu while I was sticking a flower to her chest.
I kept my mouth shut when we entered the main room, which was resplendent in fall colors, and I noticed a non-fall color waving his arms at me. I nudged Lisa and we went to join Patrick and his parents, who happened to be sitting with Ally’s brother and his wife, and three empty chairs.
We headed over to join them and the guys stood when we got there. I introduced Lisa, noticing that all eyes were on her, and when I looked she really was stunning. Lisa is a very pretty girl, but not in a Sophia Loren way, not a sex kitten. She’s sexy, but it’s her nature, not something she works at. In her outfit, she seemed to belong in that room more than anyone else, and her soft black hair really set off the warmth of the autumn colors.
We met Patrick’s parents, who were his father Jack, originally from Montana, and his mother Mariana, on her first trip out of the Caribbean. She was humorous with her dislike of New England weather.
Ally’s brother was Hank, and he looked like a Hank, even though I thought Hank was a nick for Henry. He didn’t look like a Henry, so I went with Hank. He introduced his wife Judy, and we all sat down and started yakking.
A hand landed on my left shoulder, which was next to the one empty seat.
“Is anyone sitting here?”
I knew his voice and turned to smile at Rhod, “That’s your seat. We saved it.”
Before he sat, I stood to introduce him. “This is a family friend, Rhod Daniels. You might recognize him as a star of stage, screen, television, grand openings and sixteenth birthday parties. He’s an important friend.”
With that, we sat down and Rhod joined the general conversation. We talked for a long time and about a lot of things. I think we were all surprised when a waitress came and said, “You can go to the buffet now.”
We stood up, and I saw that a lot of other people were eating already, but that the buffet line was still long. I would normally wait when I wasn’t starved enough to jump in the line early, but it seemed right to wait along with the rest of our table. We never really dropped our conversation, it just became punctuated by looks forward and back.
The food was great. I stuck with the turkey dinner, and one slice of ham. I didn’t take a lot of anything, but it was still a lot of food. I had a few slices of dark meat turkey, the slice of ham, a scoop of apple stuffing, squash, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy. I think a teaspoon full of each would stuff anyone, and I was thoroughly sated when I impaled that last creamed onion with my fork.
Ouch. I needed a nap, and so did Lisa. We found a place for one when we left the banquet hall proper for the reception area. It had been transformed into a sitting area with lots of televisions and sofas, and plenty of pillows and blankets.
I thought it was funny at first, as did Lisa, but the moment we sat down we realized it was a necessary convenience. We put pillows on the coffee table and stretched our feet out, more pillows behind our heads, and I pulled a blanket over us with my last bit of consciousness.
We weren’t down for the duration, but a digestive nap was necessary, and not just for us as evidenced by the near-silence in the crowded room.
I don’t remember my dream, but I was in a happy place when I was startled awake by my phone vibrating in my pocket. It took me a few seconds to recognize the sensation, and a few more seconds for me to get the phone out. I didn’t know the number and there was no ID, but I answered it anyhow.
“Hi, Paul. It’s Gil. Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Gil … hi! I didn’t expect you to call and didn’t recognize the number. Did you have a good holiday?”
“Yeah. Guess where we had dinner?”
“Um, at the White House?”
Gil snickered, “Yeah, sure, and we’re going to Disneyland for dessert. We had dinner at my father’s house!”
That was interesting. Gil hadn’t said much about his father, and it had always been past-tense. “Really,” I asked. “How’d that come about?”
“Mom called him the other day to let him know where we are and all that. He called back later and asked us to come for Thanksgiving.”
“Were you surprised?”
“Kinda. I mean, he stayed friendly with Mom. He’s getting married, so we got to meet his future wife. He’s been wondering about Lester since he read the paper. Today wasn’t a good time to get into that, so I’m gonna see him tomorrow and tell him about it.”
“Good luck with that,” I said. “What do you think he’ll do?”
Gil said, “What can he do? He’ll be mad, but Lester’s in jail somewhere, or maybe in a mental hospital. My father isn’t violent anyhow. He’ll let the law take care of it.”
“I guess that’s the best way,” I said. “What phone are you calling on?”
“Oh, I almost forgot. The security guy brought us phones yesterday; he said we had to have them. You should have my number now.”
Lisa stirred and almost knocked the phone out of my hand. I chuckled, “I have to go, Gil. I’ll mark your number down right away. Do you want everyone to have it?”
“Uh, sure, I guess so. Can I ask you one more thing?”
Gil suddenly sounded nervous. “Do you think … I mean … what would you think about having a dog?”
I asked, “Do you have a dog?”
“No, but I always wanted one and we never had the room. Now there’s a lot of space but it’s not our house.”
I thought and said, “I sure wouldn’t mind, but that’s not a very safe place for a dog. You don’t want some little ankle-biter that stays inside all the time do you?”
“I don’t know what kind; it doesn’t really matter I guess, but not some little thing.”
I said, “Tell you what. We can talk about it when I get home. How’s that?”
“You mean it?”
“Sure. We’ll have to get a kennel or fence in part of the yard. I always wanted a dog, too, but we’re never there enough.”
Gil sounded beside himself as we said goodbye, and I heard him calling his mother before he closed the phone.
“What was that about?” Lisa asked as she took my hand.
I grinned, “I told Gil it’ll be okay if he gets a dog. He’s kind of wired about it.”
“You didn’t ask your parents if it’s okay.”
My grin widened, “My parents don’t live there anymore. I’ve been abandoned and I can do what I want to.”
Lisa frowned, “It didn’t take long for that idea to sink in.”
“Nope, and it wouldn’t take you a minute longer. Admit it.”
Lisa kissed me and said, “I think you’re right. Do you want some dessert now?”
The desserts were set up in the dining room where we had the main meal, and there were a lot of things to choose from. We took plates and napkins, poured coffee for ourselves, and grazed around the dessert tables sampling whatever looked good and talking to whoever we ran into. It was fun, and all the talking kept us from eating too much.
Lisa and I were talking with Gary and Joan when the girls decided to go to the ladies room. Gary watched them walk away and said, “Damn, she never wants to go alone.”
I said, “I think it’s a girl thing. They all seem to do it.”
Bernie walked up then, coffee in one hand and a cookie in the other. He said hi to me and turned to Gary. “You’re Gary Andrews aren’t you? Noel’s brother?”
Gary gulped whatever he had in his mouth and said, “Hi, Mr. Sutton. Yeah, Noel’s my brother.”
Bernie said, “I sent him a letter yesterday. He should probably get it tomorrow, or Monday at the latest. I saw you here with Paul and decided to give you the scoop. You can call your brother or keep it a secret; that’s up to you.” He smiled at Gary’s open-mouthed stare and said, “Don’t be nervous. This is good news. We’ve looked into the school he’s interested in, and they have a good history and a decent reputation. We also followed up on Noel’s references, and he seems the perfect candidate.”
Gary looked hopeful, “You mean …”
Bernie nodded, “In the letter, we offered him a full scholarship beginning with the spring session. He told us he already has a place to stay, which is fine. We’ll include a stipend to help with books, meals, transportation and the like, and enough for some entertainment. He’ll also need tools-of-the-trade which the school will provide and bill us directly. I go into some detail in my letter, but we’re all new at this, and in a way he’ll be our guinea pig. We’ll be asking him to provide us with information about things we’ve overlooked or should think about changing. Also, once we get this into program format we may ask him to help develop promotional information. He’ll get a separate package from the school with all the details he’ll need from them along with his acceptance letter. I’ve asked him to respond to us, and I’m sure the school will expect some sort of response as well. After that, it’s a matter of waiting till March.”
Gary looked stunned and pushed the hair back on his forehead. “Wow. Noy won’t believe this, you know. Can I really tell him?”
Bernie smiled, “You go right ahead, and give him my congratulations.”
Gary grinned, “I will, and thank you Mr. Sutton. Thank you!” He looked at me and asked, “Can I borrow your phone?”
I handed Gary my phone and as he walked off I said, “Looks like you made his day, Bernie. You never told me you were that far along with things.”
Bernie said, “We’re not, really. This was strictly a manual effort … a learning exercise. Now we have to start building a system based on what we’ve learned. After we have something, we will want to expand in baby-steps with more students in different fields, and build in the flexibility to accommodate the different situations we’re bound to encounter. The next step after that will be a pilot program of some sort, and we have to start involving you in everything we do.”
I smiled, “So I do get to be involved? Now I’m excited.”
“Let us get as far as we can with what we have. I think we should probably get you to Boston for at least a few days of your spring vacation. Noel will just be starting school and we’ll all want to learn from his experience. We’ll have some separate office space and a few people on staff by then, and the fits and starts should be out of the way.” Bernie grinned, “Your baby has been conceived. It’s in the womb now, and we’ll want you on hand for the delivery.”