Anything We Want


Chapter 4


In the car, I turned to Dana, who was in back.  “Want to come over for awhile?  We can make some cocoa or something.”  I was hopeful, because I liked Dana.  I liked my father, too, but he’d fix himself a drink and space out after the day’s workout.  I’d end up in front of the television more than likely.  That wouldn’t normally bother me, but I had a new friend in Dana, and a real person would trump an image on a screen any day.


Thankfully, Dana smiled and said, “Let me use your phone?”


He called his mother, and they talked for quite a long time.  Dana was cheerful throughout, so I knew there was no problem before he hung up and handed back my phone.  “I have to go home later.”   His expression changed totally, as did his tone of voice.  “Um, you want to come over?  You could stay the night.”


I was very surprised by the invitation, and not prepared.  I glanced at my father, who had apparently not heard it.  “Dad,” I said.  “Did you hear?  Dana asked if I could stay over his house tonight.”


Dad seemed thoughtful for a short moment, then he smiled.  “Good idea!  Tell Dana to call his mother back and see if she’ll go to dinner with us.  We can talk some more, then I’ll drop you all off.”


I looked at Dad, then back at Dana.  “Did you hear that?”


He nodded, and I handed him my phone again.  I could hear some of what Dana was saying, and it sounded like his mother had doubts.  I heard him say, “Come on, Mom.  It’s just dinner.”  His voice faded, and the next thing I knew he was handing my phone back to me.  “She’ll go.  I told her two hours.  Is that okay?”


Dad looked at the dashboard clock, which I couldn’t see, and he said, “It’s perfect, Dana.  We’ll have time to rest up and clean up.  Do you have a favorite place?”


I wondered myself, and Dana’s cheerful voice came from the back seat.  “Yeah, bed!”


I laughed with my father, and Dad said, “I mean to eat.”


Dana said, “Uh, we don’t eat out really.”


“Okay, what have you heard is good?”  Dad asked.


Dana kind of slumped down in his seat.  “Um, people don’t go around telllin’ us about restaurants.  We get a pizza sometimes, and that’s it.”


My father tried.  “Is the pizza good?  We like pizza.”


Dana said, “It smells better than it tastes.  I don’t know.”


Dad said cheerily, “Well, there are plenty of good places on the mountain.  We can just take a ride.”


“Dad,” I said.  “Can we go to that place with the lamb chops?”


McArtle’s?” he asked.


“Yeah, that’s the place.”  I looked at Dana.  “You’ll like it, I promise.  The food’s good, and they have this train set that goes all around the place, like up on the wall!  It’s neat!”


Dana looked at me and mumbled, “Sounds good, then.”


We were pretty quiet the rest of the way home, which only took a few more minutes.  By the time we got there, I had the feeling that Dana was easily bothered by our money, or probably more likely by his lack of it.  Even though we were just trying to share, I think Dana resented it in some way, and I guess I could see his point.


Until just the other night when we found him in the road, he’d had to scratch for everything he had, and even to steal for it.  And when he stole things, it was to make ends meet, not to enrich himself.  His mother simply didn’t earn enough to cover the essentials all the time, and Dana put it on himself to take up the slack.  In reality, there probably was no honest way for him to do that.  At fifteen, he couldn’t get a real job, and even when he turned sixteen, his reputation for dishonesty would probably preclude his being hired locally.


I glanced back at him as we turned into our driveway, and he was looking around outside with a totally wistful expression on his face.  I felt horrible, because we were both born to our situations, and I suppose it was as hard for Dana to envision my lifestyle as it was for me to do the opposite.  I was privileged with money, at least, and I viewed money as a tool more than anything.  We lived very comfortably, and I wanted for nothing, but I often felt embarrassed by the money in front of Dana.


Brattleboro is generally a prosperous little city, but there are have-nots around.  My father calls Brattleboro a hippie enclave, and so do a lot of the residents.  That lifestyle is still there in some minor form.  Just the last summer, it made national news when a bunch of kids started hanging around downtown naked.  The town pondered making downtown nakedness illegal, but they didn’t do it.  And they weren’t ostracized for doing nothing.  The town collectively shrugged its shoulders, and got back to business.  That was the hippie ethic my Dad talked about.  If it’s nobody’s business, then nobody cares, and if your bare body offends someone, they can look the other way.  Or they could have some fun and bring a wet towel to town with them.


Still, we live fairly modestly in Brattleboro.  Our house is nice, but hardly spectacular.  It’s even a bit crooked if you look closely, and that helps it to fit in.  We have the one vehicle, a two-year-old Grand Cherokee, which is the basic four-wheel-drive model, with only a couple of common sense extras.


I ride the bus to school, and live within my twenty dollar allowance.  I make friends easily enough, and with people I like.  I’m not in a clique even though some of my friends are.  I like people who like to laugh, and my friends and I laugh ourselves foolish at least once a day.  That’s not some criterion, just the way it is.


My best friend there is Tommy Timek, who lives next door to us.  Tommy is a red-headed beanpole, my age, and he’s a mountain of fun to be around.


The day we moved in, I wasn’t out of the car yet when he was there, his face in mine.  “Oh wow!  Come on, man!  I’ll show you around.”


At the time, I looked at my father, who said, “Go ahead.  Go get shown around.”


I looked back at Tommy, and we were off.


Tom was, is, and will probably always be the most eager person I know, and it turned out that he’s hugely popular, which helped my cause when I started school.  As soon as we left the yard, he asked, “So, is your mother dead, or are you divorced?”


I laughed at the phrasing of his question, and said, “Divorced, but only kind of.”

He stopped, grinning, “Kind of?  Explain, please.”


That was the first time I’d been confronted with that question, and I decided to be honest.  Mom is a lesbian, plain and simple.  That fact hurt my father for awhile, and me.  Dad had his feelings, of course, and I felt a wide range of fears when she left the house.  Dad was down like I’d never seen when Mom left, and I felt really lost.  Still, I talked to my mother every day, and I started spending weekends with her and Ally, and it didn’t take me long to realize that I was still loved, and that I wasn’t the problem.  And now I have Ally, who always, always helps me present my side when there really is a problem.


Dad and I recovered, obviously, and the move to Vermont was our new start in life, on our own this time.


By the time we moved to Brattleboro, I was content, so I looked at Tommy and said, “My mom’s a lesbian.  She’s gay. What’s to explain?”


Tommy looked at me for a longish moment, then smiled.  “Nothing.  It’s cool if you’re cool.”


I smiled back, “I’m cool.”


Tommy said, “C’mon, I’ll show you a good path down to the river.” 


And that was it.  Tommy is an only child like me, and his parents are nice people.  We became great friends in no time.  We weren’t saints by any means, and delighted in creating explosions, and UFOs out of various things we found lying around.  We didn’t steal, though, or lie, because we had no reason to.


The first time we got called up on making a UFO, which was a parachute thing lifted by simple Sterno, Tommy’s father confronted us, and asked if we were responsible, because half the town thought the War of the Worlds was on.


“Well, yes sir,” Tommy replied, and his father’s eyes narrowed to slits before he started to laugh. 


“How’d you do that?” he asked, and that was pretty much the end of it.


I have Dana now, and I don’t really know him.  And he’s poor, which I never really understand either. I had some background, of course.  There were lots of poor in Boston, and their varying plights were on television all the time.  The people were around, too, but not often in our neighborhood.


I saw them, though.  Poor people were in the streets, on the subways and buses, and often in the parks.  They made me uncomfortable for no good reason.  I most often saw adults, but sometimes a family, or some kids would draw my notice, and that would really get my attention, for I didn’t know or understand the real difference between my circumstances and the people I ran into that way.


I did know that something was awry, and it made me uncomfortable.  It took me a few years of growing up before I started to understand the difference, and then I spent a lot of time thinking life was unfair to some people and not others.  I was one of the others, and that made me uncomfortable.


It was tough to do much in Boston, because it was such a big city.  I know my parents gave generously to various charities, but what they got in return were requests for more donations.  My folks aren’t stupid, and they only gave to charities who spent the bulk of what they took in on their stated mission, not paying big salaries to their own officers, then spending the rest just raising more.


Living in Vermont made things easier.  We knew more people, for one thing, because we felt closer than we had in Boston, even though the population was smaller and more spread out.  We heard things, too, and we saw things, and people outright asked for help.  The people who needed the help didn’t ask directly, but a friend or neighbor, or some family member, would take up a collection when someone was in trouble.


Now my father was offering direct help to Dana’s mother, and he was getting involved at the same time.  I didn’t know exactly what he had in mind, but this was no simple donation.  And if it worked, it would help other people in the end, because Dana’s mother couldn’t do half of what we’d talked about by herself.  She’d have to hire others, and I’m sure my dad would try to make sure she hired people who really needed the income.


I made hot chocolate for everyone at the house after we got out of our ski clothes.  Since we’d be going out, my father had a hot chocolate with us instead of his usual cocktail, and we just kicked back with the television set on ESPN.  We weren’t really watching.  Dana and my father both dozed off with their feet on a coffee table, so I took their mugs to the kitchen, then I looked out the window for a long time.


It was quite dark out, but there were some lights outside that threw some illumination on the drifts.  The sky was clear, too, so there would be starlight soon enough. 


I loved the nights where we were.  In Boston we could only see the brightest stars and the moon, and you could easily believe there were only several hundred stars in the universe.  On our mountainside, though, you could walk fifty feet from the house to get out of the direct light, look skyward, and on clear nights you could see countless stars.  I could stand there bent backwards, looking straight up, and I’d get dizzy just taking in the vastness of it all.


I was tired from skiing at Dana’s pace, and didn’t want to go outside, so I just gazed at all the new shapes the snow had brought to the yard until it was time to go.


When we left to go to the restaurant, my father and Dana were wide awake after their naps, and it was me who nearly dozed off in the car.  We were going to where Dana lived, though, and I kept my eyes open so I’d know where it was the next time.


Stockton is a sleepy little hamlet in the mountains, and there is no real downtown, yet the center of the village has some things.  There is a grocery store, a gas station, the Laundromat, a butcher shop, a pizza place and a few other places to eat, and a few public buildings.  There’s no church, no library, no arcade.  Well, there is a Bed and Breakfast that always looks nice, and it has a gift shop.  There’s another gift shop at the edge of town, too.  Some homes have signs by the road, like one place where you can get things sharpened, another that says they sell quilts, several that sell firewood, and others who offer snow plowing and handywork as well.


It’s a pretty place, though, and the region draws lots of skiers in the winter, vacationers in summer, and leaf-peepers in the fall, so the town is often full of strangers poking around.


Dana reminded my father where to turn, and the place he lived in didn’t look bad at all from the outside, at least not in the dark.  I don’t know why, but I had pictured some run-down, ramshackle place in a dismal part of town, but I should have known that nothing in Stockton qualifies as dismal.


Where Dana lives with his mother looked nice enough.  It was a little, one-story addition to a larger house, and it probably served some other purpose back in history.  They have a small, covered porch, and when Dana led us in, we were in the kitchen.  It was old and decidedly not fancy, but it was cheery enough.  All the woodwork was painted white and the wallpaper was a pale yellow, and it seemed the kind of room that made you feel warmer than you really are.


Dana’s mother called from another room, “I’m almost ready, just another minute.”


Dana was shuffling around nervously, and my father noticed.  He was good with uncomfortable people, and he smiled at Dana.  “This is a nice room.”  He looked at me and asked, “Isn’t it, Paul?”


I nodded eagerly, and Dana stopped with the nervous movement.  He smiled, “I’d show you around, but there ain’t much to see.  Want to sit?”


Dad nodded, and we sat at the little table that was pushed up against the window wall.  It was white, as were the chairs, and had a pale green, plastic tablecloth on it.  There was a little white bud vase in the middle, and instead of a flower it contained a glass stick with a blown-glass mouse on the end.  It made me smile, but I didn’t say anything about it. 


Instead, I asked, “You live here long?  I like it.”

Dana looked down and said, “About a year.”  He looked up, an odd expression on his face.  “I like it, too, ‘cept it’s so little.  Want to see my room?”


I said, “Sure,” and Dana didn’t look too happy about that, but he stood. 


“It’s small,” he said, as he led me out of the kitchen through a doorway with no door.  That led into a hall that was no more than six feet long, and had doors on both sides.  Dana opened the one on the left, which led into his tiny bedroom.  I’m not kidding about tiny either.  His single bed took up one wall, and a dresser and a little kid’s desk were on the other.  The short walls only supported a bookcase under the window, and where the door was had some posters taped up.  The three of us could not have stood side-by-side between the bed and the dresser, the room was that small.


Still, it looked nice enough, and it dawned on me that this little apartment was absolutely spotless.  Dana’s room was as cheery in its own way as the kitchen.  His walls were a medium blue, the trim all white again, and his posters weren’t hanging randomly like I did with things.  There wasn’t much on the walls, but where those things were made sense, and they kept to the small proportions of the room.


I smiled.  “I like your room, man.  It’s tight.”


Dana snickered, “You got that right.”


Then we heard his mother’s voice calling, “I’m ready,” and went back to the kitchen.


I was struck again.  Dana’s mother is really a pretty woman.  Dana doesn’t really look a lot like her, but they share an eagerness that I find appealing.  Dana’s face was still messed up from being in the cold too long, but his mother didn’t have that problem; her skin looked very soft and very touchable.


My father put his coat on, handed mine to me, and said, “Ready?”


I like McArtle’s as far as restaurants go.  It’s in an old building, but most of Vermont is in old buildings, so that doesn’t say much. McArtle’s is just more charming than most.  The dining rooms are small, most with just a handful of tables, and the décor is eclectic.  They have this large-scale electric train that runs around the place, going from room to room through little tunnels through the walls.


The food’s good, too, and it always smells great in there.


When we were seated, I picked up my menu, even knowing I’d probably get their lamb chops.  You never know, though, because they often had neat specials.


My father was suggesting things to Dana’s mother, but Dana was silent, so I looked at him.  “What?” I asked, when I saw the look on his face.


He grimaced and said, “It’s kind of expensive.”


Oh, man.  It’s not an expensive place, just normal.  I smiled at Dana, “You earned it with that ski lesson.”  I looked quickly at my menu to find the most expensive thing, and when I did, I said, “Get the two-and-a-half pound baked, stuffed lobster … and the boiled one!”  They were fifty bucks each.


He looked at the menu again, then at me with a huge grin on his face.  “You’re nuts!  That’s like a hundred bucks just for lobster.  I don’t even think I ever had lobster!”


I said, “Order one, then.  I don’t much like lobster myself, but most people do.”


He looked at me and asked, “What are you getting?”


“Probably lamb,” I said, looking back at the menu.


“Lamb’s all I get,” Dana said, and I looked back at him.  He looked dejected.


“Dana,” I said. “Get what you want!  If it’s not on the menu, I’m sure they’ll make it for you.”


Dana looked at me, and I severely regretted that last statement.  It had little rich boy all woven through it. 


I lowered my eyes and swallowed, then said, “Listen, if it sounds good, get it.”  I looked up at him, “Just order what you want.  That’s what we’ll all do.”


I went back to the specials, and Dana asked, “Even a steak?”


“They have steak?” I asked, and looked again at the menu.  “Which one sounds good?”


A half hour later, my father and I were trading bites of steak for bites of lamb, while Dana traded bites of his steak with his mother for lobster.  I felt better, because once Dana ordered, he was the picture of anticipation until the food came, and when he dug in his manners showed.


He was poor for sure, but his mother had taught him more than just the basic social graces. 


That thought got me looking at her again, and Elenora seemed very comfortable in a nice restaurant, sharing a bottle of wine with my dad as she ate her lobster.  She didn’t order a huge one, but she knew how to deal with the one she had.  No bib, no foot-high pile of napkins, she just went through it like a pro.


I’m a slob with lobster.  Maybe partly because I don’t like a lot of it, but it’s a pain in the ass to start with.  I just snap parts off, and if I can get something out of a particular part, I eat it.  If I can’t  get something easily, it goes  with the discards.


Elenora ate lobster like my mother and Ally did, and I wondered if my father would make his joke about asking for the breakfast menu when the waitress came back.


The waitress didn’t ask; she just cleared what she could from the table, then brought us dessert menus.  I honestly didn’t want any more food in me, but Dana was looking longingly, so I said, “Get your own if you want, but the volcano sundae is huge.  We can share one if you like.”


His eyes went back to the menu to find it, then he put the menu down and said, “Sounds good to me.”


The volcano is a brownie about six inches square, topped by a mountain of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, all buried under hot fudge, nuts, whipped cream, and an orange candy on top.  It‘s seriously big enough for four people, but Dana and I polished it off.  Mostly Dana, but I did what I could.


I was talking to Dana quietly while my father talked to his mother, and I began to pick up on something I wasn’t ready for.  My dad sounded interested in Elenora, and I was trying to listen in even while I talked to Dana.


That doesn’t work, of course, and the good thing was that Dana seemed curious, too, so by silent consent we decided to eavesdrop.


“Here’s your check, sir.”


Dad smiled up at the waitress and took the little booklet.  He pulled a credit card out and put it in there with a corner showing, then turned his attention back to Elenora.                                                                                                              


I glanced at Dana, and he was looking at both our parents intently, his mouth hanging somewhat open.  I noticed then that my mouth was in the same position, and closed it, and I stared at Dana until he looked back at me,


When he did, he seemed embarrassed, but I knew he saw what I did.


It made me uncomfortable, though I can’t see why.  My dad is a decent looking guy, and Elenora is a striking woman.  I think it would be obvious if Dana wasn’t there, and it was him being there that made me feel edgy about things.


There was a clear attraction between my father and Dana’s mother, and why wouldn’t there be one? 


Dana had an odd expression right then, so I tried to distract him.  “Good food, huh?” I asked.


He looked at me and smiled a kind of Thanksgiving smile, like he ate too much but he was glad he did.  I leaned real close and whispered, “I think your mom likes my dad, or vice versa.”


He gave them a glance and turned back to me.  His look soured and he said, “Don’t make jokes, okay?  This was nice tonight, so let it be.”


I wanted to tell Dana he was wrong, but I didn’t have it in me.  Maybe he wasn’t, and it was me who was off-base, so I just nodded to him, and he smiled back.  I liked that, because it told me we could be friends after we disagreed, at least if we disagreed over unimportant things.


I wasn’t joking, but Dana thought I was, so I let it go, and I was usually stubborn with things. 


I stayed at Dana’s that night.  He slept on the floor in a sleeping bag while I slept in his bed, and I slept fine, all stuffed full of lamb chops and volcano.


I woke up early, and it was because of unfamiliar sounds from outside, but I guessed it was people going to work or whatever, and went back to sleep.  I didn’t sleep long, and what woke me up next was a moan from Dana.  When I looked, he was sitting up and twisting his back, and it seemed that I was the cause of his discomfort.  I’d offered to sleep on the floor, but he insisted, so I didn’t really feel bad, but I still felt sorry for him.


“You okay?” I asked.


He glanced at me with a grimace on his face, but it morphed right into a smile.  “I’m okay, just stiff.”


I said, “Next time, I’ll take the floor.”


Dana smirked, “You got it!” and started shedding his sleeping bag.  He had slept in sweats, where I had on some flannel pajamas I got for Christmas.


Vermont is flannel country, and I’d never really worn pajamas by choice before we moved here, but even in a warm house the flannel pajamas and a heavy bathrobe make for less shocking trips to the bathroom after hours, and I had waddled carefully around Dana once during the night already to make that trip across the hall.


When we were dressed, we went to the kitchen for breakfast, and Dana opened an upper cabinet.  “We have oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, and Wheatena,” he announced.


Wheatena,” I said, without much thought.  I’d never heard of the cereal in Boston, but it was a staple in Vermont, and I liked it.


I looked around while Dana made the cereal, and the kitchen still looked nice in the bright sunlight of morning. Everything was shiny clean, and the only aroma was from the cereal Dana was boiling on the stove.


“Where’s your mother?” I asked.


Dana said, “Oh, she cleans up over at the B&B in the morning.  She’ll be back.”


I was watching Dana cook, and thought he looked different than when I first saw him.  His face was getting back to normal, but that wasn’t it.  He seemed taller than I remembered, and not so heavy looking, and I didn’t know what to make of that.  After our meal the night before, he should have been wider if anything, and he wasn’t.


I figured it might be the light, and the fact that he wasn’t wearing layers of long johns.  I lost the thought when he put a bowl of Wheatena in front of me, then put a bottle of milk on the table, and asked, “You want sugar or syrup?”


“Brown sugar?” I asked, because that’s the way I usually had it.  “You put syrup on it?”


Dana nodded, “That’s my preference, but we have sugar.”


I’m so bold and daring.  “I’ll try syrup,” I said.


I’m glad I tried it that way, because it was oh, so good. 


We divided what was left in the pot for seconds, and had it the same way.  When Dana sprinkled a little salt on his, I did the same, and I had a new favorite breakfast cereal combination.  It wasn’t nearly enough salt to taste the salt itself, but it sure brought out all the rest of the flavors.


I smiled at Dana, “You’re a good cooker.”


He replied, “Yuh-huh.”


I asked, “You taking a shower?”


Dana said, “I will.  You first, if you want hot.”


I said, “Dana, you don’t have to.  I can skip it, or wait.”


Dana said, “I’m not smelly either,” and pushed the curtain back to look outside.  “It’s two below,” he said.  “Want to walk around?”




We put our dishes in the sink, and Dana said he’d do them later.  Then we dressed and bundled up, and walked outside.


We looked around all morning, and I learned a lot about our little town, none of it very interesting.  I saw how Dana interacted with people, and the first words I heard about him rang true.  He was liked, and he was likeable, but nobody really let him out of their sight.  Kids our age seemed to like him, and he spoke easily with girls.  I like girls, but they bring out the shy in me.  That’s a problem that didn’t seem to afflict Dana at all.


We looked at the building for sale, the one that contained the Laundromat.  It had a wide front on the street and looked to be in good repair from the outside.  It wasn’t lit inside, but looked okay in there too, just like any Laundromat.  There was a small real estate office in the building on the street side, and a furniture refinishing shop around back.


I was going to buy us lunch, but we ran into my father on the sidewalk, so he bought.  He’d been talking to a lawyer, so it was a coincidence that we met.  We ate in this little place called Hazel’s, and the food was pretty good.  I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it, because Dad was wired up.


“The building is seriously for sale,” he said.  “The price isn’t bad, so I bid full price.”  He looked at the two of his, a soft smile on his face.  “They can’t refuse that, but who knows?  I called our old law firm in Boston to keep tabs.”


Our food came, and my ‘Zingy Corn Chowder’ was in a bowl big enough to float a boat.  It looked good, though, and I dug in, blowing on the spoon to cool it.


Dad kept talking.  “We should be able to close as soon as the owner accepts the bid.  I don’t know when that will be, because it depends on when he sees the bid, but not long.”


I smiled between spoonfuls, “That means we bought that building?”


Dad nodded, and Dana said an almost silent, “Yay.”


I watched Dana all through the meal.  His face was still a little blotchy and shiny, but I thought I was seeing the real him for once.  I didn’t know what to think, really.  My head was still a little clouded by the ‘thief and liar’ thing, but he looked nice.  Not hardly handsome, but Dana had a face anyone could like, and he was more expressive than I thought at first, once that face didn’t hurt him anymore.


“Where’s your mother?” my father asked Dana.


He shrugged, “Probably home.  Why?”


Dad said, “I just thought I’d tell her, is all.”  He looked at his watch, “We should have asked her to eat with us.”


“Want me to get her?” Dana asked.


He didn’t wait for an answer, but took off across the street, while all we could do was watch him go.


Dad smiled at me, and said gently, “He’s a nice kid.”


“What happened to thief and liar?” I asked, and immediately added, “Don’t say it!  He’s not.  At least not with us.”  I looked at my father and said, “He stole to stay alive, Dad, not to get rich.  Not to buy drugs. He stole things to keep the rent up, to help pay for food.”


My father gave me an odd look, and asked, “Do you really like that boy?  Because I do, too.”


I smiled and said, “Yeah.  I don’t know why, but I do.  Dana is … I don’t know  what he is, and is probably isn’t a good word.”  My father laughed, and I asked, “What?  I sound like Bill Clinton?”


Dad laughed again, and I persisted.  I leaned toward my father and lowered my voice.  “Dana has nothing, Dad.  He never did.  He’s a good person, though, and I know I’m right.”


My father smiled, then looked up, and Dana was back without his mother.  Sitting back at the table, he said, “She’s not there yet.  I left a note.”


We finished our meal, and Dana’s mother never showed up.  My father said we could come back to our house with him, or he’d pick me up later.  I let Dana decide, and we ended up back on the mountain, where we wasted the afternoon playing video games.  We also planned on skiing the next day, and every day for the rest of the week.


There was nothing in the world that I wanted more than to become a better skier, and I learned so much that first time with Dana that I wanted to take every opportunity to ski with him.  The winter before, Dad and I had skied in Western Canada at Whistler, and I’d been blown away by a whole lot of things.  The mountains were enormous, for one thing, with a full mile of vertical.  It tended to be snowy at the top and rainy at the bottom, and often foggy in-between.  Still, just the vastness of the place was amazing, and the variety of terrain drew skiers of every ability.


One clear afternoon, we were doing our best on a steep, expert trail near the summit, and two guys skied off a cliff and right over our heads, whooping and laughing when they touched down between some trees, and I immediately had a new mission in life.  I wanted to be able to do exactly what those guys had just done, and do it just for fun, which meant I’d have to be super-capable before I ever tried it.


I started skiing faster that day, and less nervously, and by the end of the week I felt my ‘expert’ rating was realistic.  I felt I could ski down anything, go fast without fear, and look pretty good doing it.  I had a long way to go before I’d be rated ‘extreme’, though, and I thought Dana was already there, so I was excited to go skiing with him again.


Dad was in work mode, so he dropped us off at various ski areas in the mornings and left to do his dealings, then picked us up around four.  He finally went with us again that Saturday, which was our last full day there, and I know I impressed him with what I’d learned from Dana.  I wasn’t extreme yet, but I was a lot faster than I used to dare, and was no longer fearful of long bits of airborne, and I was way better with bumps and ice.


I used to dread ice patches, especially big ones, but Dana loved them, and showed me how to use my edges just-so to ski the ice with ease.  A day earlier I would have said it couldn’t be done.  Dana told me stories about groups of people who would walk up the slopes after dark, before they started the snow makers and the mountains were really icy, just to ski down the ice slopes that stretched from top to bottom.  They did that in the dark, and by the end of that week, I could see the appeal.  Ice is nice.


Dad asked Elenora out to dinner that Saturday night, and left me and Dana at our place to fend for ourselves.  Well, he left us two big sirloins to fend with, and I think we had more fun on our own than we would have had in some restaurant.


Dana had a sense of fun that was different than mine, but we meshed pretty well, and kept each other laughing.  We chose to eat in the dining room that night, only because we never did.  It was a huge room, and one outside wall was almost all glass, so could seem almost infinite.  We had a ten-foot table with ten chairs in there, and if it weren’t for my mother’s sense of humor, it probably would have looked like some corporate conference room.


Except for the burros.  Yes, the room was decorated with ceramic burros, and where there was room for a wall hanging, they were Mexican blankets.  The burros came in many sizes, most of them big.  And gaily painted.  Just to make sure nobody got too full of themselves, there was a stuffed burro standing guard at the exit to the living room.  My mother swore it was a fake when it made me almost cry the first time, and I took her word for it, but only because I don’t want to go through life thinking someone would have their burro stuffed.


Dana and I carried our colossal steaks and potatoes in there, where I already had a bonfire going in the giant fireplace, and we sat across from each other, then immediately moved to different seats when Dana said his shirt was on fire.  It wasn’t, but he was in the hot seat for sure, and I let the fire die down before I ever re-stoked it.


I felt easy and comfortable with Dana by then.  We were friends, and money or lack of it had nothing to do with anything.  When I left the next day with my father, all we talked about was when I’d be back, or when Dana could come down to Brattleboro.


Things were moving forward with the building purchase, and it was going to happen soon.  When we had breakfast that morning, Elenora came with us to the restaurant.  There was more planning between her and my dad, and I was starting to feel left out.


I said, “I hope you have a summer job for me!”


Everyone looked at me, and they seemed surprised.  I said, “I’m serious!  I want to be part of this, too.”


My father looked at me, “Really?”


I calmed down and said, “I’m serious.  I mean, wasn’t this a little bit my idea to start with?  I don’t wanna be left out.”


Everyone stared at me, and my father said, “Of course you’re part of it.  I think if you want a job, you should ask Elenora politely, and don’t expect special treatment.  But yes, that’s a fine idea.”


I don’t have a lot of ‘rich kid’ in me, but it does show up sometimes, and I’d just embarrassed myself again.  I lowered my eyes for a moment, lots of swear words coming to mind, but I swallowed them all.  “Sorry,” I said when I looked back up and around.  “I just don’t want to feel all left out, is all.


Dana smiled, “You mean left behind.”  He looked at his mother, then my father, and said, “I feel like Paul.  Shouldn’t I be part of this, too?”


My father and Dana’s mother looked at each other, both seeming surprised, then Dad turned to us looking a bit sheepish.  “Um, well … of course you should.  You should be involved.  I thought …”  He looked at Dana’s mother, “We kind of left them out, you know that?”


She nodded, an odd expression on her face, and Dad turned back to us.  He smiled and said, “You’re involved, both of you, and we won’t forget again, okay?”


On our way home to Brattleboro, my father said, “I’m going to have to spend time on this PaulieProbably in Stockton.  I’m thinking I should ask your mother and Ally to come stay with you for a week or two.  How’s that sound?”


I eyed him and said, “That’s a pretty dumb question, isn’t it?  I think you know the answer.”


He swatted at my arm and missed.  “I’ll call them when we get home.”


I’d spent a few days at Christmas in Boston with my mother, and they had visited us in Brattleboro and in Stockton, of course, but I hadn’t lived with her for a long time, and this would be in my own territory.  “Perfect,” I said, more to myself than my father, but loud enough for him to hear me.


I smiled the rest of the way home, and was in a great mood when we got there.  It was late afternoon and I was kind of hungry, so I chased down some snack food while my father went to make phone calls.  Tommy from next door had seen us drive in, and he thumped at the kitchen door with his gloved hand.  I waved him in, then realized the door was locked, so I turned the knob.


“How was skiing?” he asked, pulling his cap off, then his gloves.


I grinned, “Skiing was extraordinarily incredible!  Dad ran over this kid who skis like Bode Miller, and he showed me more moves than I knew there wereCoke?”


“Got a root beer?’ Tommy asked, and I handed him one.  “Your father ran him over?”


“Just his head, I think.  He didn’t hurt his legs.  Dana skis like nobody I ever saw!”


Tommy was used to me.  “Okay, your dad ran over this guy’s head, and the guy takes you skiing?  What?  To show his thanks?”


“Actually,” I said, settling for some chips and Cheez Whiz, “Dad denies running over his face, but the damage was right there for the world to see.  The skin was all broken and bloody, his hair all matted down from being compressed like that by the tires.  It was us that took him skiing, and I don’t think that would’a happened if my father wasn’t so crazy behind the wheel.”  I put the bag of chips on the table and opened the jar of Cheez Whiz.  “It was a guilt trip, plain and simple.”


Tom was staring at me suspiciously.  He started to say something, then dipped a chip and put it in his mouth instead.  After a few more chips, he asked, “Dana is a boy’s name?”


I said, “That was my immediate reaction.  That’s what he said, though, and that’s what his mother calls him.”  I grinned, “Wait, scratch that!  I don’t believe I once heard her call him Dana.”  I nodded my head at Tommy and said assertively, “His real name is Baby.  Maybe Dana’s a nickname or something.”


Tom tossed a chip at me, and it hit my cheek.  “I know I’ve said this before, but you are the single most full-of-shit person I ever met in my life.”


I smiled and bowed my head a bit, then said, “My mother’s coming to stay here for awhile.  Dad found a new job up north.”