Anything We Want

Chapter 12


I think that Lou was at least a good bed partner.  He slept on the opposite side from me, and never once made me aware of his presence.  When the alarm went off, I’d forgotten about him, but he was sitting there looking at the television, which was on with the sound off.  It took me a minute to figure out what he was doing, and there was an ad on when I looked at the screen, but Lou was rapt. 


I only got what he was up to when he bounced a little, and I looked back at the television to see the no-school announcement.  Lou saw me and I saw his excitement.  Feeling a bit wicked, I said, “Why don’t you go tell everybody?”


He jumped out of bed, leaving the remote where he’d been.  I picked it up and said, “I’ll be here sleeping.  You can watch TV downstairs, okay?”


He pulled his pants on, nodded eagerly, and I said, “Close the door behind you.”


He did, and I clicked the television off before the latch shut, and went back to dreamland.


I slept for a bit longer, then heard the doorknob rattling, and Tommy’s voice saying “Don’t worry.  He won’t mind.”


I smiled without opening my eyes.  I figured Tom was teaching Shea what to do when I slept too long.  When the door swung open, and Tommy landed on my legs a moment later, I still wasn’t surprised.  That was about the seven-hundredth time.


It was when I heard a high-pitched giggle that my eyes shot open, and I was suddenly awake.  Lisa?  Yes, and Dina, as well as Shea and Lou were all standing there grinning at me, and I was in bed wearing just a t-shirt and my underpants.


I’d never had to blush that early in the morning before, but I did my best to give them a good one, while I gathered the covers close to my neck, and asked sweetly, “May I help you?”


I looked at Tom, thinking murder, and asked, “What are you thinking about right now?  I can tell you what I’m thinking.”


One of Tom’s finer traits is that he knows, and will admit, when he’s gone too far, and just his look told me that he knew it right then.  He got off the bed, straightened the covers where he’d been, and shooed everyone out, and turned an ‘I’m sorry’ look to me just when he closed the door.  I was tense, and settled back with a thud.  Then I listened to them hurrying down the hall before I jumped out of bed and ran to lock the door.


Damn!  Talk about unpleasant surprises!


I wasn’t funny about being undressed in front of guys my age: not a bit.  Lou had been in his underpants when he slept with me, for Pete’s sake, and that’s how guys sleep.  Lisa and Dina, though?  I think I’d rather they saw me naked than in underpants I put on twenty-four hours earlier.  Guh-ross!


I took a quick shower, thought about shaving and didn’t.  I got dressed for a day off, remembering that Lisa was in the house, so my better day-off clothes.


I went downstairs like nothing had happened, and everyone else was subdued, because they were pretending, too.


After a few tense minutes, I thought it didn’t have to be like that.  “Listen,” I said.  “That was rude, but no big deal, okay?  I’ll kill Tommy when nobody’s looking, but meanwhile, let’s eat!”


Even with Lisa there, it was Tom’s smile that I looked for, and he was wearing it when I found his face.  I smiled back, and the noise level went up.  Pranks go wrong sometimes, and it’s no big deal if nobody gets hurt.


Tom did penance by starting to cook bacon, which is a messy task that takes time.  I started coffee, and put out milk and juice.


When Tom said he had enough bacon ready to feed some people, I stood to start some eggs, and Shea said, “I’ll do it.”


I sat back down, then Lisa touched Shea’s shoulder and said, “I’ll make the eggs.  Lou, make toast.  Sit down, Tom.  I’ll finish the bacon, too.  Somebody set the table.”


Boy, did we eat a big breakfast!  We had the bacon and eggs, toast, juice, cereal, and there was still cut-up fruit enough, o we all ate some of that, too  My mother came down when we were just starting, and headed right back upstairs when she realized she wasn’t needed.


Things got more and more boisterous while we ate, and in the end we left a royal mess in the kitchen, but I went back to clean it up when everyone was settled in front of the television, agreed on an Indiana Jones movie for entertainment.


Silly me, though.  I’d no sooner gone around with a wastebasket, separating paper napkins and uneaten bits from recyclables, when the phone rang. 


It was Miss Warren, and she was gushing.  “Oh, Paul, you are really something else!  I cannot believe that you got Bernard Sutton to call me here.  Me!  Bernard Sutton!  Do you mind if I tell you what a thrill that was?  The man is a genius, and I’ve always thought so, but actually talking to him?  That genius comes out through his very pores!”


“My father suggested him,” I said.  “Are we in better shape now?  Can we use our money for the reason we raised it?”


“Oh yes!” she said almost breathlessly.  “He faxed over very specific wording that we can wrap around that account, and people will know they’ll burn their own fingers if they even think about touching it.”


I was grinning.  “Trust me now?” I teased.


Her voice quieted, “Paul, forgive me my doubts.  Do I have to expand on that?”


I said, “No, just leave it alone.”  I thought about where she was coming from and added, “I don’t think you’d be normal if you didn’t have doubts about me the other day.   I probably sounded like I was showing off.  I’m not offended at all;  just trying to help out.”


I think I heard her stifling a giggle, and she said, “You might try an essay on this.  You could bring your grade up a notch or two.”


I couldn’t resist.  “Isn’t writing all about convincing people that something could be true?  Like truth is stranger than fiction?”


Her laugh put me in a good mood.  Then she took me down.  “Paul, since you seem to be the fundraising committee, I have to tell you one other thing Mr. Sutton said.”


“What’s that?” I asked, still feeling casual.


“He wants us to hold one or two other fundraising activities, just to put normalcy in front of the big gifts.  Can you do that?”


“You mean sell candy or something?” I asked, getting worried.


“Well, he mentioned a bake sale, and I do believe he said something about candy.  His big suggestion was pencils, though: event pencils, or commemorative pencils, or however you want to present them.”


I shrugged, “Pencils.  I’ll think about that.  Why pencils?”


Miss Warren’s voice took on a bit of a caustic tone, after she sighed.  “Pencils aren’t food, and they are especially not sugary food.  Pencils are very politically correct, Paul, and if you sell them for the right price, you can make a real profit.  If you’ll give me your email, I have a list of websites to start you off.”


I said, “Miss Warren, in all respect, we already raised thirty-five thousand dollars.  Now you want me to sell pencils?  I mean, even if we do really well, how much can we make with pencils?  A hundred-fifty, two-hundred bucks?”


“Why, Paul,” Miss Warren said, the humor back in her voice.  “Those are the very figures Mr. Sutton suggested for other fund-raising activities.  I should note this.  As chair of the fundraising subcommittee, you’re free to ask any student in the school to help with your activities.  Any willing person can help, not just members of the dance committee.”


“Thanks a lot,” I said.  “I’ll think about it, okay?  And one thing: I don’t remember becoming chair of anything.”


Miss Warren snorted, she did.  “Paul, you nominated yourself the moment you mentioned a bake sale.  That proved to us that you understand fund-raising in a very fundamental way, and no further vote was required.”


I said, “I think I’d like to see your rule book someday, but okay.  I don’t mind.  One more thing though?”




“Can we call it the begging committee?  Then we can just sit around town with cups, and we can look forlorn.  If I can do that, I can get the drama club to volunteer.”


Miss Warren sighed, I laughed, and I said, “Bye.  Don’t worry.”


I thought it was funny after I hung up.  Me, a chairman of a committee.  Mr. Paul Dunn, if you please.  Don’t you know who you’re speaking to?  Or should it be, Don’t you know to whom you are speaking? Better yet, I’m in charge here.  Call me mister, or call me sir, but ya doesn’t have to call me Dunn!


I slay myself.


The telephone had a mind of its own.  I meant to clean the kitchen, but I spent most of the morning talking while Lisa and her sister cleaned around me.  Tom and Shea went out and shoveled again while I talked.  Lou tried to sit on my lap, and Lisa kissed my ear once, and I finally took my cell phone and tossed it upstairs on my bed, then took the phone in the kitchen off the hook.


I’m me, not the center of the universe, and I laughed when I thought of the movie, “Bruce Almighty.”


I wanted some time with Lisa, but it wasn’t to be.  I’d been wrapped up on the phone since breakfast, and in the meantime the storm had stopped, the streets were getting plowed, and our driveway was free.


Shea and Tom had left to help each other shovel around their own places, and Lisa’s father was at our door.  I was feeling kind of shell-shocked by the frantic pace of the morning, and only paid attention when Lou sped by me screeching, “Daddy!”


I went to the door and invited Mr. Mongillo in, and he followed me into the kitchen while his kids went to get their things. 


“Coffee?” I asked.


“Thanks, yeah.”


I poured one for myself too, and sat down heavily, facing the man.  He was intimidating, physically, but his face right then was calm and gentle looking.  He took a sip of coffee and sighed like it was the first one in his life.  It was then that I sensed someone behind me, and turned with a start.


Lisa’s father said, “Aldo, don’t sneak up on people like that.”  He smiled at me, “This is Aldo: my oldest.”


I looked at Aldo, who had a resemblance to his father, specifically in his broad shoulders, but his smile seemed friendly.


I stood and held out my hand, “Hi, Aldo.  I’m Paul.”


He nodded, still smiling, and dropped my hand.  His father said,  “Aldo’s taking HVAC in the tech school.  There’s a project over in Keene he’s doing, and I just got him there when the storm started yesterday.  Who knew?”


I smiled at that.  Lisa’s father seemed to be pretty well tuned into his children, and I didn’t automatically associate that trait with a murderer of boyfriends.


Aldo wasn’t really a handsome kid, but he looked a lot more like his sisters than Lou did.  Lou was on his father’s lap, almost giddily happy, and Mr. Mongillo kissed his head again and again, like that’s what they did.  There was a calm in Lou’s eyes that hadn’t been there before, and it made him look almost pretty, because all his features relaxed.


He still didn’t look like anyone else in his family, but the pain and fear were gone from his eyes.  He smiled enough that I noticed his nice teeth, and I saw comfort in his face.  I was comfortable being there with them. 


My mother, who’d gone out for a walk in the snow, came in when we were all there.  She engaged Mr. Mongillo in excited talk as soon as her coat was off, and poured him a second coffee, so I turned my attention to Aldo, who looked about my age.  He turned out to be seventeen, and he was in trade school, which is why I didn’t know him.  He was basically quiet and friendly, but we didn’t have much in common.  Aldo liked mechanical things, and said he had an ice boat.  He didn’t see the point in skiing, didn’t read for fun, and he had a girlfriend who he was apparently afraid of.


He’s a nice guy, and we’ll get along, but I don’t see any big friendship looming.  I don’t think he even noticed when Lisa and I held hands. 


They all left soon enough, and Mr. Mongillo extended a vague dinner invitation to us, which my mother was gracious about.  I managed a very quick kiss with Lisa before she left, and I was suddenly alone with my mother.


I sat in a chair, with my back to the table, and I smiled at her.  “What a day, huh?”


She touched my shoulder before she turned a chair backwards to face me, and sat with her arms across the back of it.  She smiled and said, “I’ve been in quieter subway stations, Paul.”  She wiggled her nose at me and added, “It was fun, though.  Why don’t you go out in the snow, and I’ll finish up in here?”


I looked around and just saw a few mugs, so I stood.  “I think I will.  I feel like I’ve been in for longer than a day.  I’ll be back.”


I pulled my outerwear on and went out the back door, thinking I’d find Tom and we could go down by the river.  The sun was out in an oblique kind of way, and I liked when the water looked black and the rocks had snow caps on them.


Tommy’s house looked pretty well shoveled out, but nobody was home, so I headed up the hill to the Luellen’s place.  Mr. Luellen was out on a deck, and he had the lid of a grill up.  “There you are!” he cried when he saw me.  “The Missus just called your mom, and she’s on the way.  Come inside, boy, and I’ll make you a hamburger like you never had!”


I went in without knocking, which was what I did at Tom’s house, and I followed Tom’s voice until I found him with Shea in the first little room I’d been to in that house.  It was about twelve feet square, with a view outside that could cause vertigo, the hill outside was so steep.  It made me feel like the room itself was off-kilter.


The room wasn’t much, otherwise, and I learned it’s where the kids watched television, read, and worked on their homework if they didn’t want to be in their own rooms.  There was the television, and a counter ran along the interior wall, with stools up to it, and fluorescent lighting overhead.  There were two futons and several bean-bag chairs, and not a lot else, except books and magazines here and there.


There were fingerprints on things, and stains from spills on the carpet and the futons.  It didn’t take a genius to see that this little sacrifice of space helped to explain the immaculate condition of the other rooms I’d seen.


Shea was cross-legged on a bean bag, and Tom was perched on the edge of one of the futons, his head against his fists, and his elbows were on his knees.


“How do you do that?” I asked, pointing at his legs.  That’s like balancing toothpicks.  Tom’s face reddened and one of his fingers worked its way loose to gesture at me, but he didn’t say anything.


Shea giggled a little at my comment, but Tom paid him no mind.  “So, what’s up?” I asked.


“Nada,” Tom said.


“Not much,” Shea added.  “Are you okay?” he asked, sounding serious.


“Why wouldn’t I be?” I asked, as I wormed out of my coat.


“I don’t know,” Shea shrugged.  “We were just saying how much you put up with the last two days.  You had all these things going on, and you were just … you!”  He smiled, “Tom says you’re solid-state.  I guess you are, but honest; there were a couple of times I prob’ly would have flushed myself down the toilet.”


I laughed at that thought, and sat down next to Tom hard enough to make his elbows lose their place on his knees.  “I don’t know,” I said.  “What was the problem?”


Shea shrugged, “All that noise?  All those people?  You just blew through it like it was nothing special.”


It was my turn to shrug.  “You guys keep me sane, you know.  You were nice to Lisa’s brother when I wanted to flush him.”


Tom said almost menacingly, “He’s just a little kid, Paul.  You really have to keep that in mind.”  He glanced at me, “I saw you wanting to kill him, and I saw him afraid of you.”


“Really?” I asked meekly, surprised by Tom’s tone of voice.  I thought about his words, then asked, “I was that bad?”


“No,” Tom said.  “In the end you were good, but why let a little guy like that bother you?”


I looked at Tom and smiled, “He punched me!”


Tom nodded, “And you didn’t hit him back, but you would have.”


“Would not,” I said flatly, not sure of my own truth.  I thought out loud, “I don’t hit people.  I never did.  That kid, though,” I laughed, “He did not make a good impression.”


Tom said, “I didn’t like him either, but I wouldn’t hurt him.”


“I didn’t,” I said.


Tom snickered, knowing he had me, and my own laugh let him know I knew I’d been had.


Liam poked his little head in right then and announced, “Hambuggers!”


My head went up!  I sure didn’t need any encouragement.  Hamburgers were right there at the top of my favorite food list, especially for lunch. 


Tom and Shea both commented, but I was first out the door after Liam.


And the burgers were even better than promised, because the rolls were Irish soda-bread.  Mr. Luellen did hamburgers much like my father did, the patties minimally formed, and be damned if a piece fell off into the fire.  His patties were huge, too, so they could stand the loss of  a bit, and the one I picked up was cooked to a perfect medium-rare.


My first bite had juices running down both sides of my chin, and that only made me smile.  I may have tasted better meat before, but I wouldn’t swear to it, and I ate a second one just to firm up my opinion.


When Mr. Luellen asked if I wanted a third, I gripped my tummy with both hands and said, “I’d burst.  But imagine this!  Bursting might not be the world’s worst fate.”


“Does that mean you want another?” he asked through his smile.


I nodded, silently cursing my weakness.  Mr. Luellen went back out on the deck whistling, and Tom looked at me. “Three of them?   Are you nuts?”


“Nuts, yes.  That would describe me.”  I smiled meekly at Tom, “But you know that already.”


I looked over, and my mother had Shea’s little sister on her knee while she gabbed with Mrs. Luellen, and they looked like a happy pair.  I stood up to wander a little, hoping to help make room for a third wonderful burger, and the moment I did that, Shea jumped up and asked, “Is something wrong?”


“I’m nuts,” I said simply.  “I can’t believe I asked for another humongo-burger, but they’re just so good!  But still, I’d curse myself if I didn’t have it, so why play games?”


Shea just laughed.  “Yeah, they’re good!  Dad’s pride and joy.”  He smiled, “Don’t worry if you can’t eat it all;  we’ll go buy a dog or something.”


When Mr. Luellen came in with the third hamburger, it was cut in half, and he kept one half for himself.  He winked and said, “That’s it for meat.  If you still want more, we’ll have to raid the freezer.”


I smiled and said, “This is perfect, thanks.”


I think the measure of wonderful food is that it’s still wonderful even when you’re really stuffed, and that’s how good Mr. Luellen’s hamburgers were.  I probably had over a pound of ground beef in me, yet the last bite tasted as special as the first.


I could eat no more, though, and since everyone was feeling logy from being house-bound, we left shortly after we ate.


Tom went home, and my mother and I went to our place.


As soon as I looked at the answering machine in the kitchen, I was happy that I hadn’t been home to take all the calls.  I’d left my cell phone behind on purpose, too, and that had five voice mails.  I went upstairs, and my own machine had four more.  Sixteen messages in under three hours.  I went downstairs, pulled my coat on, and called to my mother, “I’ll be at Tommy’s!”


I didn’t wait for an answer, and I was halfway over to Tom’s by the time the storm door closed behind me.


I’d just had enough the day before, and again that morning.  Usually, my phone is my friend, but when it gets out of hand I make believe we’ve never met.  Sixteen messages was at least on the edge of being out of control, and I never looked to see who they were from.  If they were all from Lisa Mongillo, then I might be cutting my own throat.  I didn’t think that was the case to start with.  I really like action, and the activity of the last two days didn’t have me distressed at all, I just wanted a break from it.  Sixteen messages: not what I needed on a snow day.


I didn’t even go right in when I got to Tommy’s.  Instead, I wandered around by the door, calling in a high voice, “Shnoodlemeyer!  Oh, Schnoodlemeyer!” until he opened the door and called me an asshole.


I walked in behind him, pulling my coat off.  “I have sixteen messages.”


“So?” Tom asked.


“So, I’m not calling back.  Did you ever have sixteen messages?”


Tom looked, stroked his chin, and said, “No.  Well, maybe that time we went to California and didn’t change the answering machine.  That was two weeks, though.”


I looked around, “Your parents never came home?”


“Yeah, they did.”  Tom shrugged, “They left a note.  They figured I was okay since I wasn’t home, so they cleaned up and went back to work.”


It was my turn to shrug, and I had a real question for Tom.  I waited until he sat at his kitchen table, then when I sat I asked, “What do you think about Lisa?”


Tom snickered, “Lisa who?”


“You’re supposed to be a carrot, not a dildo,” I said indignantly.  You know Lisa who!”  I took a softer stance and put my elbow on the table, then rested my chin in my palm.  “I think I kind of like her, you know.”


Tom gave me a surprised look and asked, “You just figured that out?  I think you kind of liked  her since you showed up in these here parts.”


I said, “Well, yeah, but that was from afar!  I mean, now I like her up close and personal.”


Tom tipped his chair back and eyed me.  “Am I thinking what you’re thinking?”




He smiled, “I think you have … what?  A crush?”  He shook his head, “Naw, it’s more than that.”


“What is it?”  I asked, happy that he seemed to know.


“Horny,” he said, then looked me up and down as if to confirm.  Then he nodded his red head and said, “You’re horny as hell.  Bad  Paul!”


I sighed, “I guess I am … horny.  I mean … I don’t know what I mean, I just know I mean it.”


Tom’s face took on an odd expression, but he said solemnly enough, “I understand.  I think I understand.”


I just nodded, “I knew you would.”  Then we sat in silence for a few minutes.


“Your mother’s leaving,” Tom said idly.


“Not ‘til my father comes back,” I corrected.


He snickered, “I mean she’s leaving now!  She just drove out your driveway.”


I turned quickly to look, and Tom was right.  The car was gone, and if my guess was right, after Mom came back the house would be provisioned for the second siege of Leningrad.


Tom and I just kicked back and did nothing, and when it started to get dark, I went home.  I never saw my mother come back, even though I looked out several times to see, but she was home when I got there, and cheerful in the kitchen, stuffing cabinets with cans and boxes.


We talked amiably for a few minutes, then she asked, “Are you going to return these calls, or can I just erase them?”


I looked at the machine in the kitchen, which was now up to ten, and I thought that might be the limit, so I pushed the button.  I had a pad ready, but I remembered without writing anything.  Miss Warren twice, my father once, two of the people who had pledged money and were wondering where to send it.  My head swam just hearing them, but I figured I’d get it over with and listen to the rest.  My own answering machine had all calls from Lisa and Jim, and my cell phone voice mail had other miscellaneous calls, plus another from my father, and one from Dana.  Dana didn’t leave a number to call, and I didn’t feel like calling people anyhow, but I did.


The first was Miss Warren, and she was home at last when I called.  She gave me the exact language for the donors to put on their checks, which included the account name and the account number.  After I hung up from her, I called those people one at a time to give them the information, and I thanked them again.  Each and every one of them sounded warm, friendly, and very understanding about the delay.  I suppose they deal with crap and crooks every day of the week, and I’m sure they all felt debts to my father, but you wouldn’t guess that from how I was treated.  I was Paul, and we only talked about the business at hand, and they all seemed happy to find a place for some money where they thought the cause was real.


The cause was real to me, and now the money would be real, too.


After talking to the last guy, and sharing a good laugh with him, I wondered if there was a future millionaires club somewhere, because I had the feeling that would be a place to meet some nice, intelligent people.  Then I wondered who would know ahead of time, and decided there would be no such organization.


I talked to Jim and Dan, who had called separately, and called Lisa before trying up north for my father and Dana.


Lisa’s phone was picked up by her father, who answered, “Mongillo here.”


“Um, hi, Mr. Mongillo.  This is Paul.  Is …”


Paul!” he shouted, scaring me. “I had Lisa trying to call you all day!  Can you and your mother come here for dinner tonight?”


“Really?” I asked.  “Hold on.”


I went downstairs and said, “Mom!  Mr. Mongillo’s on the phone, and he’s inviting us to dinner!  Can we go?  Can we?”


She looked at the vegetables she’d been slicing, then pulled them into a Tupper box, and said, “Of course we can.  Ask if  I can bring something.  Mention that I have some wonderful Chianti.”


“We’ll be there!” I said breathlessly when I got back to my room, and I was surprised by Lisa’s voice.


She giggled, “This isn’t a special offer.”




“Remember our power was out for a day?  So was the freezer.  I mean, things look okay, but my parents don’t want to take chances.  They’re cooking up all the meats.”


Like I needed more meat.  “That’s okay,” I said.  “We’ll see your house.”


Lisa sighed, and said with some sarcasm, “Yeah, that’s a treat in itself.  Can you be here around six?”


“We can,” I said.  “Mom says she has nice Chianti.  Do your parents drink wine?”


“Bring it!” Lisa laughed.  “Dad makes his own wine, but I don’t hear it called nice very often.”


I finished my phone calls after that, and they weren’t really special except when I talked to Dana.


”You remember that cop from that Sunday?” he asked.


I thought uh-oh, and said, “I remember.”


Dana’s voice sounded full of joy.  “Well, he came by today to ask about the other apartment, because where they live is pretty far.  He talked to your father, and he said talk to my mother, and she said he had to ask me!”  Dana laughed, “Do you believe it?”


I laughed a little, but wondered, “What’d you say?”


Dana hesitated, then said softly, “I could have been a dick, but he’s not a bad guy.  He’s married with a couple of kids, and just wants a nice place to stay, that’s closer to his route.”


“Route?” I asked.


“Whatever they call it,” Dana said.  “I just think it’s good for us if he lives here.  I mean, who’s gonna bother us with a patrol car parked here?”


I let that sink in, then said gently, “Dana.  You are opening a Laundromat. Who’s gonna bother you to begin with?  Clothes thieves?  Oh, my God!  Detergent addicts?  Bleach bandits?  Basket cases?”


Dana was laughing, and I added, “I don’t blame you.  I just never thought of it before, but police protection is probably more important in the clean-clothes business than even drug-dealing.  I mean, the money’s already been laundered.”


Dana was silent for a moment, then he let out an exaggerated sigh.  “Good one,” he said.  “Are you coming up this weekend?”


I hadn’t thought about it.  “I don’t know,” I said.  “Probably not.”


“Oh, okay,” Dana said, a little disappointment in his voice.


“I want to,” I said.  “I just don’t see it happening.”   Then I thought, “Can you come down here?  You don’t even know where I live.”


Dana seemed to hesitate, then said, “I can ask.” He seemed to think more and said, “I’ll do that.  I’ll ask.”


I didn’t hold out a lot of hope, but things seemed to work out almost on auto-pilot between North and South, and we hung up on a hopeful note.


That night at the Mongillo’s home was enlightening.  From the outside, their house was a plain old box, like lots of places in Brattleboro. 


It’s an old town, and buildings date back to the 1700’s.   Our own house is an example: old, but not historically significant, meaning nobody famous either owned it or visited there.  Our house had been restored,  but other old homes closer to town had been ‘converted’, which means converted to apartments: usually upstairs and downstairs, but bigger places became real apartment buildings, with several units.


The Luellens weren’t the only new money in town, and while their house might have been leader of the pack, it wasn’t atypical.  The Luellens had gone and chosen an architect, and they’d selected some tough land to build on.  That combined to  make their place special.


Developers didn’t think much about making things special.  They focus on spectacular, and spectacular  loses a lot in the translation when they build eight or ten identical spectacular homes in  a neighborhood.


Homes like the Mongillos lived in were in-between.  Their house was neither new nor old; probably built in the fifties or sixties, and built as a place to live in, not to show off.  From the outside, at least, it was the typical three-bedroom, two bath ranch, painted blue, with a colossally oversized garage addition that hadn’t yet been painted.


The front door opened right away on my knock, and it was Lisa’s father there to welcome us, the others a small distance behind him.  “Come on in, come on in,” he said, backing up. “It’s cold out there.”


I held the storm door for my mother, then followed her in, where Lisa offered to take our coats, and I glanced around when she left with them.  The entranceway was small, and the living room stretched out to the left of us, and turned in an ell to the dining room.  The kitchen was through a door straight ahead, and a hall led off to the right.  Lisa’s parents asked us into the living room, and I sat on the sofa beside my mother.


The room was nice; nothing fancy, but there was a nice fire going in the fireplace, and the décor was kind of sparse, in the modern manner.  The carpet was beige, the walls eggshell white, and the padded furniture was covered in large, muted red-and-beige checkerboard material.  There were art prints on the walls, and framed photos all around.


My mother admired things out loud while Mr. Mongillo went to get a cocktail for my mother and a glass of water for me.  Lou was sitting in a chair looking at me, and I had to refrain from commenting on how orderly his own house looked, even with him living in it.


Lisa came in and sat right beside me on the sofa, which embarrassed me until I noticed that her parents seemed comfortable with her there.  Talk got around to what everyone did for a living.  Lisa’s mother works in an insurance office, and her father announced, “I’m a tile man.  I did the work in your house, you know, back when Jenks was doing the renovations.  Yup!  I bet you can’t even tell how out-of-square that upstairs bathroom is.”  He smiled, “I know it’s just a bathroom, but that one’s really a mosaic.”


I made a note to look closer at our tiles, and my mother disappeared into the kitchen with Lisa’s mother.  Mr Mongillo stood and said, “Come on, Paul.  I’ll show you my workshop.”


I looked at Lisa, feeling somewhat panicked, but she just smiled and said, “Go ahead.  I have to set the table.”


Mr. Mongillo took his drink with him, so I brought my water, and I started to follow him down the hall toward a door at the end.  Before I stepped off the living room carpet, this huge creature ran between us, and every hair on my body reacted with sudden fear.  I thought it was a dog of some sort at first, but it turned to see why we’d stopped, and it was a cat.  An enormous cat: a three foot long furball with a cute face and paws as big as hands.  It sat and looked at me, and the white fur around its neck fanned out like a puffy scarf.


“What’s that?” I asked nervously.


“That’s Archie,” Mr. Mongillo said.  “Our kitty.  C’mon Archer, I’m showing Paul the shop.”


The cat stood and turned, then trotted down the hall like he’d understood, and he didn’t even have to stretch much to get his paws on the doorknob.  Then he turned the knob and fell behind the opening door, which he went through with his outrageously fat tail held high.


I just looked at Mr. Mongillo, my mouth agape.  “Smart cat,” is all he said, and I followed him in.


Before he turned the light on, I felt heat on my face, and then we were in what I had thought was a garage.


Well, it was built like an oversized garage, and it had garage doors facing front, but others faces to the rear as well.  The building was mostly unfinished wood inside, with a long, unobstructed bench along one wall, skids piled high with sacks of something, and a stone structure in the middle, with a stainless-steel chimney that went straight up through the roof.  That’s where the heat was emanating from, and Mr. Mongillo opened a door in the side to look in, and he waved me over.  “Art tiles,” he said.  “I’ll show you some in our kitchen later.”  He sighed, “I wish I thought of these a few years ago.  I’d be sailing in Tahiti by now.”


“You sail?” I asked, because I was learning to, and I was interested.


He grinned, “No, not yet.  I haven’t been to Tahiti either, but I’m thinking on it.”


“So,” I said.  “You make your own tiles?”


He leaned against a counter and said, “I do now.  The material in your house is just from a supplier.  I took a ceramics class a few years ago, and now I’m making some special tiles, and people really like them.  Come over here,” he said, as he stood and walked to a cabinet.  He reached in and pulled out several tiles, which he held out to me.  Archer the cat stretched up and put a paw on my wrist so he could watch.  He was making me nervous again.


I looked at the tiles and I thought they were beautiful.  The surface looked like a combination of metal and stone, and the various ones I had in my hand ranged from a coppery-red to a bluish one, to green, and to brown.  He held a few more that were different colors, and they were all beautiful. 


I started to say so, but Mr. Mongillo talked over me.  “Paul, listen to me a minute.  I know Lisa told you I’ve been in jail, but she doesn’t know the whole story, and I don’t want you going around thinking I’m some kind of murderer, or someone you should fear.”  He stroked Archer, who was now stretched up his side almost to his shoulder.


I just looked at him, my eyes once again not blinking.  I asked nervously, “Before you start, what kind of cat is that?  He’s enormous!”


He gave the cat a stroke along its back, then pushed him off, while he smiled lovingly.  “Yeah, he’s a big ‘un.  Maine coon cat is what he is.  He’s smart, and learns tricks like a dog.”  He looked at me seriously, “You should get a coon.  Most have the extra toes bred out, but Archie has more fingers than I do, and I kind of like that.”


I took a step back, not sure what to think about a cat that size, especially if it was smart.


Mr. Mongillo said, “When I was seventeen, my sister, Julia, was thirteen.  There was this kid up the road from us, Errol Farnsworth.  He was older than me, but he came sniffing around after Julia all the time.  My father died years before that, so it was one of my jobs to look after Julia, and keep idiots like Errol away.”


He smiled glumly at me.  “I tried, I did, but Julia had a mind of her own, and old Errol was a sneak if ever there was one born.  They ran off together one afternoon when nobody was home.”  His face reddened, and I could see the anger he still held.  “That worthless little prick tried to rape my sister, right in his own tool shed while his mother was home!  Well, Julia got away before much happened, and she wasn’t going to say anything, but my mother could always tell.”


He looked up, took a deep breath, then turned back to me.  “I wasn’t trying to kill Errol.  That was too good for him.  I was trying to cut his balls off, and I was within an inch when he clonked me with a cue stick, and someone else smashed an ashtray on my head.  I went down, but not out cold or anything, and when I could see again, my knife was sticking  straight out his ass.  It was in there all the way, too, and he was screaming and wiggling all over the floor.  It was still there when the men pulled me away.”  He smiled at me, and led me back toward the house, Archer happily at his side.


“Errol got five years for what he tried with my sister.  I got to spend five months in juvie.  Errol never came back around here to my knowledge, but I know that to this day he can’t sit without pain, can’t walk up straight, and tries to eat all soft foods.”


I started snickering, and couldn’t hold it in.  “Are you shitting me?”


I love a person who can laugh, and Mr. Mongillo was as helpless as a jar of jelly for the next minute.  He banged his head against the door enough times that Archer cried, and Aldo came to see if we’d locked ourselves out.  Halfway down the hall, he turned into the bathroom to wash the tears off his face.  The cat followed him in.


I kept walking, and when I went by the kitchen door my mother reached out and caught my elbow with her hand.  “Paul, you have to look at this,” she said as she literally pulled me over by the stove.  “Look!” she said, gesturing dramatically at the wall with her hand.


I saw the wall tiled with the same tiles Mr. Mongillo had just shown me, and the effect on a larger screen was almost magical.  The tiles he’d chosen for his own kitchen looked like greenish slate tinged with copper, and I found it kind of hard to figure out, like I couldn’t exactly get my eyes to work together.  Then I smiled, because whether my eyes worked right or not, they sure liked what they saw, and I just breathed, “It’s beautiful.  I never saw anything like it.”


Mr. Mongillo’s heavy hand landed on my shoulder, and he laughed.  “Ha!  Good boy!  It’s like a magic carpet, huh?  Except it takes you where the floor don’t go!  Up!  Not across.  No, no, but not just up, either.  It’s up and in!  Am I right?”


I had to smile, because that was the exact reality of it.  Those flat tiles on that flat wall, drew me in as surely as cool water on a hot day might.  It wasn’t just pretty, it was sensual, and I mumbled something to that effect.


“Ha ha ha!” I heard as I was bear-hugged from behind by Lisa’s dad.  “Sensual!  Did you hear that?  I been thinking of a name forever, and that’s it!  Sensuals by Mongillo Art Forms.  Is that the name, or what?”


His family sure thought so, and they whooped it up until dinner was ready, and what a lot we had to eat!


Well, they were worried about the frozen meats to start with, so there was this vat on the stove that was filled with sauce and some surprising meat.  There was hamburger and Italian sausage, of course, but also steaks, pork chops, pieces of veal, cut up chicken, and a whole eye of the round roast.  And spaghetti on the side: the little angel hair spaghetti.


I could have survived on the salad.  It was mostly the usual stuff, but the top was loaded with crumbled egg yolk, teensy bits of onion, and tiny shrimps, and that made it kind of outrageously good.  The whole meal was good, and there was a lot of food, but I didn’t overdo.  Only Aldo ate a real lot of food, and from the way nobody paid attention to him, I figured that was his usual.  It was all good too, and only Allie’s garlic bread was missing.  Archie was eating cat food from his dish in the kitchen, and Lisa told me he didn’t like to eat alone.


Everyone had wine, too, including me, and even Lou.  He finished mine, because I only took a few polite sips, and mostly drank water.  I don’t dislike wine, but I like water with my food, or maybe milk with some things.  Once in awhile Mom and Allie will drink sherry, but not with food.  When they give me a little glass of that, I like it, but I generally don’t have a taste for alcohol.


It was a nice time that evening.  Lou was behaving, and I liked all of Lisa’s family, but I liked Lisa best.  After dinner, she suggested a walk, and I was sure ready.  When Lou wanted to come his father told him sternly to stay indoors, so I walked outside alone with Lisa, mittened hand in mittened hand, and Archie came along.  He was like the best-behaved cat I ever heard of, and he was big, and I liked him, even though cats never pleased me very much before.  This one opened doors and ate with the family, and I really liked that a lot.


It wasn’t a moonlit or starlit night, and Lisa brought a flashlight.  We didn’t really need it, because the snow was still white, and anything not-white was an obstacle.


We didn’t go far, just enough away from the house that we were alone, and when we stopped, I said, “I like your family.  It’s nice that you’re close like you are.”


She smiled at me.  “They like you, too.”  Her smile brightened, “I like you!  Want to kiss me?”


I did.  We did.  I learned things.  I learned them without speaking, without really even thinking, and when it was time to stop we both knew it at the same instant.


We walked back to the house, and the timing was just right.  Archer scooted in around us, then sat preening himself.  People looked up and smiled, and my mother said we should get going soon, then went back to her conversation.  It was like no rush but pretty soon.  I was still holding hands with Lisa, and when I realized that I blushed a little, but didn’t let go of her hand.


It was all new to me, and I really didn’t know how to behave in front of Lisa’s family.  I let her take the lead, and we weren’t doing anything except showing a little affection, and my embarrassment faded


When we did leave, Mr. Mongillo was the one to give me a quick hug, and he said, “Thanks for the idea, Paul.”  He snickered, “Thanks for the laugh, too. You behave, okay?”


“I will,” I said, and I was soon back at home with my mother.  I thought she’d be anxious to shake me off and call Ally, but she was too impressed by Mr. Mongillo’s tiles, and the whole nice family, to let me go easily.  It was pushing ten o’clock, and when she noticed that she sent me to bed.  I did think to check out the tile work in the bathroom before I went.  It was kind of comical, because the room was crooked, but the tile work seemed to bring it back into square.  It was amazing and charming at the same time, and I’d never paid it the least bit of attention before: a mosaic!


I plopped down in bed feeling good.  I was full of good Italian food, a little wine, a lot of laughs, and my kisses with Lisa.  I also had the feeling that I was now something like buddies with Lisa’s father, but that didn’t worry me enough to keep me awake.  And I met a cat that I liked a whole lot.


The next morning, I was in the kitchen sipping my coffee when the phone rang, and I picked it up quickly so my mother could sleep.  To my surprise, it was Ally.


“Hi, sweetie!” she said cheerily.  “I thought I’d get your mom.  She’s sleeping?”


“How’d you guess?  How’re things in Boston?”


“Caught up, for the most part; that’s why I’m calling.  I’m coming back on the train tonight, so can you let her know she should pick me up in Brattleboro at five?”


I took a pad and wrote it down.  Brattleboro?” I asked, “Not Springfield?”


“The connection is better going that way.  I don’t have to sit in Springfield for five hours.”


I chuckled, and she said, “I hear  you have a cute little girl on the line.  What’s that about?”


“It’s about time, mostly,” I said.  “I just … I don’t know.  For the first time I really feel comfortable with a girl.  Her name’s Lisa, by the way:  Lisa Mongillo.  You talked to her the other night.”


“I haven’t forgotten,” Ally laughed.  “You know, when someone is calling for their cause, you can really hear it in their voice.  Lisa sounded almost panicked at first, but when I asked her things, she calmed right down and  made her case quite well.  I like her.”


I made some more small talk with Ally, then Tom was there with Shea, and I had to hurry to get the bus, so my goodbye to Ally was kind of abrupt, but I knew she wouldn’t be offended. 


Ally wasn’t offended ever. Trying to offend her would be like trying to offend a tree trunk: not possible.  But believe me when I say I’d tried to offend her the first time we met, and several times afterward.


Ally never once treated me like an annoyance, even when I was actively trying to be one.  She treated me with far more respect than I’d earned.  When we finally came to terms, they were her terms, but they remained unspoken.  I just knew what they were, and it wasn’t unlike getting to know Lisa’s cat.  They both frightened me at first, and they were both tough and a bit aloof, but ultimately they were friendly, loving, and in charge.  It just didn’t take me so long to realize it with the cat.