Anything We Want

Chapter 13


I didn’t get up north that weekend, nor could we come up with a reasonable way to get Dana to Brattleboro.  A bunch of guys from school went skiing that Saturday at Mt. Snow, and I went along with Jim and Dan, and Shea came with us.


Despite the big snowstorm in town that week, the ski area hadn’t seen any of it, and it was late in the season.  They kept the higher elevations covered pretty well in man-made snow, but nature got ahead of the machines near the bottom.  Still, it was fun to ski on a warm, sunny day.  Despite bare spots, puddles, and snow that was no longer fast, we had a great time.  By lunch time we were all sweating, and had shed item after item of our clothing.  After we ate, I only wore the sweat pants I had on under my ski pants, and a tee shirt.  That was comfortable until the sun hid its face, when I put my sweater on again.


We all fell a lot, which happens in spring skiing.  You never really know what’s under your feet, and it’s common to go right through a thin layer of snow, and have a ski stop dead against the earth beneath.  When that happens, it’s tough on your knees and your skis, so spring snow tends to get you wet fast.


The ski areas will tolerate more aberrant behavior in the spring, too.  That day, a bunch of guys were taking turns going down the hill in a lawn chair fitted with skis, and they rode it right into the snow making pond at the bottom of the hill, with a lot of hilarity I should add.


It was a good day, and we all had fun.  I’d planned to stick with Shea most of the day, and I didn’t really have to.  All the guys seemed to like him, and were happy to ski a run or two with him.  Shea had become fun to know once he was free to make new friends, and he adapted to different crowds with relative ease.  He laughed easily, and never whined or became sarcastic, so he was kind of favored as being better than a little brother.


I had left my cell phone in a shoe in my locker while I skied, and glanced through the messages while I was getting ready to leave for home.  There was an uh-oh – a message from home with ‘911’ tacked on at the end, which meant it was important.  I stopped what I was doing and called, and it was answered quickly by my mother.


“Oh, there you are!” she said cheerily when she knew it was me. 


“What’s wrong?” I asked.


“Oh, nothing is wrong.  I’m taking Al out to eat tonight, so we probably won’t be here when you get back.  Tommy’s mother has offered to feed you your supper, and I accepted on your behalf.  You can stay there tonight if you want to.  How was your day?”


“The day was fine.  You just scared me with that 911.  I thought you’d surely broken a nail or something.”


She sighed, and I asked, “Where are you eating?”


She brightened right up.  “That nice place in Newfane: the Four Corners.”


I knew that place well enough.  Newfane is this little village just north of us, and it has two world-class restaurants practically across the street from each other.  The village has a romantic look to it, especially in the winter, and I could suddenly envision walking around the village green with Lisa after a fancy, romantic dinner.


I had to stop thinking.  “Have a great meal.  I know you will.”


“Bye, dear.  You behave yourself.”


I nudged Tommy with my elbow.  “Guess who’s coming for dinner?”


“I’m stumped,” he said.  “You?”


“You’re right.  Is that a pleasant surprise, or an unpleasant surprise?”


Tom rolled his eyes and said, “Oh, no!   Why me?  On the one hand, it’s not a really great sounding a surprise like a tit full of whiskey, but I’ve had worse surprises.  Does that answer your question?”


It did, and thoroughly.  We lugged our equipment out to the parking lot, said goodbye to the other guys, and climbed into the Mc Naughton family Rover, which made no effort to start when Dan turned the key.


Dan was clearly fed up with that vehicle, but he got out and opened the hood, and we all  followed him to look at the engine compartment.  That was all foreign to me, but Tom noticed something almost right away, wiggled it, and said, “Try it now.”


Dan got back in, and the car started right up.  Tom was triumphantly happy, and sat up front with Dan to celebrate his genius.


All the guys in the car were now official members of the dance committee.  That was my doing.  I had convinced Tom, Jim, and Shea to sell tickets, promising an easy job since the tickets were free.  Our goal was to have as close to one-hundred-percent attendance as possible, with only extreme excuses allowed.  We’d gone ahead with the idea of printing the tickets on streamers, and they would be ready in a few more days.  We had a computerized list of all the students, and one of the girls had imported it into a spreadsheet, so the guys had a way to keep track.


I didn’t really envy them.  Their job was to go after the people who wouldn’t normally go to a dance: the ones who were reluctant due to their own perceived lack of  popularity or whatever, and the ones with other obligations, mostly jobs.


We had the money to make up for lost income, but not the power to convince unknown employers that it was an important event.  That’s where our publicist came in.  In addition to my fund-raising duties, I’d been appointed publicist for the dance.


Fine.  I already had our art teacher soliciting posters in all his classes, and I was in the middle of designing invitations on my computer.  I’d arranged a tentative interview at the local paper, and was hoping someone from the Jenks family would go with me to lend validity to everything.  Dan was going to approach them.  There were also community-access radio and cable channels.  I don’t know who pays attention to those outlets, but they were free, so I’d try something there as well.


My mom and Ally had offered to take a look at the gym, and offer suggestions to the decorations committee.  Other people were interviewing disc jockeys, planning refreshments, and arranging for the required security, so things were in motion everywhere. I had no idea there would be so much involved in putting on a dance, but I was learning, and I liked my own part.  It was my first involvement in school, really, except for going there, and I was having fun being involved the way I was.  


I was meeting and working with kids I would probably have overlooked otherwise, and it was a willing group: eager, even.  A couple of the people on the committee had organized things before, and they took on leadership positions.  We found our own momentum, and Miss Warren said less and less at each meeting.  She was giving us rope and staying out of the way, but wasn’t ignoring us.  She watched keenly, and seemed satisfied that we wouldn’t burn the school down.


Dan Mc Naughton was especially effective.  He was quiet and completely un-bossy, but he’d become fiercely committed to this dance.  Just his being there compelled the rest of us to keep going, and not overlook anything.  Dan never seemed to miss a thing, and when I was looking for pencils, he and Miss Warren helped me with the wording, and all over an apostrophe.  There was no argument, just a question about semantics.  I had submitted, “Jamie Jenks’ Celebration of Things Good,” and nobody liked the idea of an apostrophe on a pencil.  I didn’t either, but didn’t know how to fix it.


Well, Miss Warren did teach English, and after playing with the wording, we ended up with “Celebrate Good Things  For Jamie Jenks. ”


It worked for me, and I ordered five thousand pencils in the school colors.  I got them for a nickel each, printed and delivered.  If I could sell them for a dime each, we’d exceed our fundraising expectations, although my personal expectation was that we’d be giving them away for a long time to come.


What do I know?  Tommy had the idea of advance sales, and we had our break-even money before pencil number-one showed up.  The guys giving out the free tickets talked most people into buying at least ten pencils.  People actually wanted them, and that thought had not occurred to me.


I got a bit of time with Lisa Mongillo every day, and we were developing a close friendship.  It was a friendship that including kissing, and the kisses had become more like icing on the cake than the real meat of our friendship.  Lisa and I liked each other a whole lot, and we could alternately sit quietly, or yammer away about whatever.  We were comfortable doing both, and were going to downtown Brattleboro by ourselves the next day just to knock around.


There wasn’t a lot open on Sundays, but not everything closed up, so we’d be able to go in this or that shop if the weather didn’t cooperate.  The weather was supposed to be nice, though, and it didn’t really matter.  This was my first actual date with Lisa.  I’d asked her to go with me, and she wanted to.  After two years, I knew Brattleboro pretty well, but each and every time I went into town with a different friend, I learned things.


It would be just us, and that was the important part.  And I knew that we enjoyed each other’s company enough that we’d have fun even if we found nothing special to do.  I could, I figured, if all else went wrong, take her to see Lesbian’s Leap.


Meanwhile, I had a nice time at Tom’s house.  His father is a typical Vermonter as a conversationalist, and by that I mean he can make a story of just about anything.  That night, after a good meal of chicken and rice, we sat around the kitchen table while he reminisced.


“I guess I was about your age one summer, when a couple of us took our varmint rifles and went looking for rats.”  He looked at us in turn and said, “There was a rat problem that year.  Some said it was owing to a warm winter, and that past winter had surely been warm.  We’d had a wet fall, too, and others said the wetness had left a lot of hay rotting in fields, and that was another possibility.”  He said up straighter, “Well, we were all of fifteen or sixteen, and we set out to correct the problem.”


“Rat patrol?” Tom asked, earning himself an askance look.


Then his father grinned, “I guess you could call it that.  At any rate, it was me and Joey Mongillo, and an older boy named Errol Farnsworth.  We had good varmint rifles.  Mine was a thirty-ought-six, Joey used a thirty:thity, and Errol had a twenty-two.”  He looked at us and added, seriously, “These are all single-shot rifles: not exactly assault weapons, and shooting things like rats was exactly what they were designed for.”


I almost snickered when I realized I was leaning in close, and Tommy was, too.


“Anyhow, we went out after dinner one night, the three of us.  It was a little later in the year, maybe early May, so the snow and mud were gone and the light stayed later, but the fields weren’t all turned over yet.  All we had to do was be quiet, and hang around in the shadows by the tree line.  We did that.  Everyone smoked in those days, and we stayed there smoking butts and kidding each other until it was full dusk.  Then things started moving, and we saw the animals come out of the woods.


“There were deer first, but it was out of season, and I don’t think any one of us would ever shoot a deer.  There were bunnies too, and we left them alone.  About then, I smelled skunk, but it was far away.”  He smiled, “I don’t mind the smell of a skunk on the wind; it’s just another sign you’re in the country.  It’s no worse than cow manure, not from a distance.”


I exchanged glances with Tom, and we leaned in even closer.  His father said, “Well, we were there for rats, but the first critter to cross our paths was a skunk: probably a mama skunk.  Me and Mongillo backed up a step, but that idiot Farnsworth took aim, and he shot that skunk in the hind end not six feet away from us, and oh, man!  We got squirted!  Like, right on our fronts!”  He  made fists with both of his hands, “It wasn’t just stink, it was liquid stink, and we could feel it on our faces, on our clothes.  Jeez’m, God Almighty!” He smirked, “You know, if you could train skunks, you wouldn’t need any al-Qaeda to terrorize the world.  Talk about an episode!”


“What happened?” Tommy asked with some excitement in his voice.


His father smiled mirthfully, “We went camping.  Better said, we were sent camping, to a clearing along the river, with instructions to swim all day.”   He grinned, “They gave us a tent and all, but after the first night we slept outside, and after the second night we slept far away from each other.  Joe’s mother put a sign by the path warning about a big stink ahead.  It took a week before we could go back home, another week till we could eat at the table, and all because of one moronic little stunt.”


He sat back and looked at us, and took a sip from his glass of whiskey.  I was expecting a lesson on morals, but Mr. Timek broke out in a smile and said, “That was one of the best times of my life!  We lived and we learned, but you learn at an accelerated pace when you have skunk juice directly on your body.  I can tell you that much.”


When Mr. Timek sat back in his chair and picked up his glass, I knew the story was over, and I almost felt like applauding, but I sat back instead, as did Tom.


Tom’s father poured another drink for himself, and put a little in each of our glasses.  Jim Beam.  I only looked at mine, but Tom sipped his, communing with the skunk god, I suppose.  No, no, he was communing with his dad, just like I did when I took a sip of beer or wine.  You didn’t have to like the stuff to like your father, and if he thought it was a treat, then it was.  You wouldn’t get drunk on a tiny sip, but you’d become that much closer to your dad.  It was his special moment, not yours, but it was still special.


After a good sleep, and just toast and juice for breakfast, I walked back to my house.  It was around nine by that time, and Mom and Ally were in the living room just lounging.


I knew they were gay, and I knew they were a couple, and I’d seen them hold hands and snuggle, even lay close on the floor to watch television.  I’d not seen them making out before, and I tried to back out of the room when I walked in on them kissing.  I’m noisy by nature, and they had their heads up before I got out of sight, so I just stopped.  They had been kissing, that’s all, and I was embarrassed from stumbling into their space.


Something had to happen, and as usual, it was Ally.  “Hi, Paul,” she said cheerily.  How was the skiing yesterday?  How was your night?”


I took a step back and mumbled, “Excuse me.  I’m going upstairs for awhile.”


I turned and headed toward the stairs, and before I got there Ally was in front of me.  “Hold it right there, Paul!”  She smiled at me, hands on her hips.  “Don’t make this into something it isn’t.”


I took a step back and stared at her.  Ally sighed loudly and said, “Listen.  All you saw was a little kiss.”  She took a deep breath and said,  “I’m sorry, but you know what’s going on.  You’ve known  for a long time.”  She took a step back and pointed her finger at me, “All you saw was a friendly kiss, Paul!  That’s all you saw, and I’m sorry if that embarrassed you.  I’ll go back to Boston if that’s what you want, but I thought we had this settled last year.  I love your mother, and she loves me.  That doesn’t leave you out, not in any way at all.  It is what it is, and you know you belong.”


I looked at Ally and started leaking tears; I don’t know why.  The last straw comes to mind, but that wasn’t it.  When Ally saw my tears, she came close and pulled me to her.  I needed that.  Ally patted and stroked my back while I cried on her shoulder.   When I calmed down, I was in my room, so Ally must have danced me there.  There was a blank in my mind between downstairs and my room, but I was in my desk chair and Ally was sitting on the edge of my bed.


I smiled weakly at her, no longer sure why I’d been upset.  I did know, though.  That was the first overt expression of their love that I’d been witness to since I learned of their romance.  I had accepted that my mother was gay, and that Ally was her mate, but that was on one level: the level where gay and mate and partner are just words.  Now I’d unexpectedly witnessed an action, and had been completely taken aback. 


It’s not that a kiss is a big deal, not at all.  It was the physical proof that Mom and Ally were gay, were together, and were different than most people that hit me in the face.  I was embarrassed about my own feelings, unwilling to look over at Ally.  I knew her, too, and if I was bothered, then she was bothered times ten, and she’d sit there as long as it took for me to say something.


I finally mumbled, “It’s okay.”


Ally patted the bed beside her, and I went and sat there.  “I’m sorry I overreacted,” I said softly.


Ally stroked my shoulder and said, “You didn’t overreact, honey, not at all.”  She smacked my shoulder and let out a laugh, “What you did was under-noise!  If you’d come home in your normal freight train fashion, you would have found us working the crossword puzzle.”  I looked up at her smiling eyes, and she asked, “Whatever inspired you to sneak in like that?”


I smiled back.  “I didn’t sneak.  It’s just that I brought all my things home last night, so it was just me coming in.  No ski equipment, no book bag, no nada, and I fit through doors just fine without all that junk.”


She stroked my hair and asked gently, “You’re okay?”


I was, though I wasn’t sure I should admit it.  I did, though, and nodded.  Ally said, “You’re really special, Paul,” and squeezed my shoulder as she stood.  I stood too, and at the door she smiled again, then left without another word.


After she left, I sat back at my desk and put my head down on my arm.  I was no longer upset, but I had some feelings to sort out, and I did that best alone.


I don’t know much about gay to begin with.  Well, I probably know more than most people I know because of what I learned with my father.  There were a few people at school who others whispered about, but I didn’t see anything in it.  They looked like anyone else to me, and I think that’s the crux of it.


One Sunday in Boston,  when my parents were still together, I took a walk with my father to enjoy the nice weather, and we ran into the Gay Day Parade, or whatever it was called.  I can tell you, I was shocked, stunned, and knocked out by the people on floats, and the ones marching.  If they were trying to shock people, they sure did a job on me!  Men in almost nothing, other men in leather and spikes, and still others in pants so tight they looked painted on. Guys wore bright things, and pink feathers, and I don’t know what.  There were women, too, and just as flamboyant. I didn’t want to be there.  I looked at my father and asked, “Can we go?”


He’d been looking around, and turned to me.  “Look at the crowd, Paul,” he said calmly.  “The marchers are people showing off – I don’t know what.  These people on the sidewalks?  These thousands of people, looking like you and me – that’s your gay community, and I think we both need to get used to it.


Whenever Dad put his hand on my shoulder, he did it right at my neck so he had a little of both in his hand, and I loved when he did that.  He was my father, not some teacher or coach, and I loved his touch, yet when other men touched me I didn’t always like it.


I was now looking at the audience rather than the performers, and Dad was right as usual.  They were there in droves: ordinary people!  Ordinary except that men held hands with men, and ladies held hands with ladies, and children had same-sex parents.  If I thought the people in the parade were kind of extreme, which is exactly what I did think, then I had to admit that their audience couldn’t have been more normal looking if they tried to.  Not to put them down in any way, but the word banal comes to mind.  Plain old people, watching a parade on a nice Sunday, just like we were.


I was glad I remembered that.  The plain people, the regular people, weren’t the ones I remembered from the parade, because the guys weren’t wearing fluorescent pink weskit mini-skirts.   I remembered the crowd, though, and it outnumbered the marchers by an order of magnitude, and they were just regular people: regular people like Mom and Ally.


I couldn’t dwell too long, anyhow.  I had time before I’d meet Lisa for our date, and I needed that time.


I started with a shower, where I was careful to change soap brands in respect of my easily-addicted hair, followed by a careful shave and an extra careful job brushing my teeth.  I even flossed, which I’m not good about remembering.  I needed a haircut, so I just did the best I could with that.


I took out new underwear and socks for the occasion.  I didn’t have a lot to worry about with what I wore otherwise.  Like my father, everything I owned went with everything else I owned, so error in taste was impossible.  I picked out a bluish shirt that I liked, and dark gray khakis that didn’t look too new, and weren’t yet frayed either.  My mother had given me a leather belt she bought in Sorrento for Christmas, and I used that for the first time.  A pair of  brown Skechers that kind of matched the belt color finished off the look.


I took fifty dollars from my secret pile, then went back for twenty more after awhile.  It wasn’t long before I had a hundred dollars in my pocket.  I had no idea of where we’d eat lunch, or what else there would be to spend money on.  I didn’t want to get caught short.


I had some time before I had to leave, and I idled it away on the Internet, looking up downhill skiing speed records.  I found that there is a speed skiing record that has nothing to do with downhill racing and everything to do with cojones.  These guys head straight down an icy slope with only speed in mind, and regularly attain speeds over one hundred fifty miles an hour.


No thank you, ma’am!  And never on Sunday.


Downhill racing is tamer, but only by comparison.  Dana had said he was cruising at sixty-five or so when he fell, and I finally learned that real racing speeds ranged from roughly seventy to eighty-five miles an hour.  Wow!


I wondered how fast Dana had been going a few times when I skied with him, and that made me wonder how fast I was going those times when my nerve ran out.  I was skiing faster since I met Dana, but that was because I was skiing better.  I didn’t have any way to guess my speed, but I suspected it was half that of a downhill racer at best.


I was thinking about it when my phone rang, and it was Lisa saying I could come any time, because they were back from church.  I promised that I’d be there as soon as I could, then stood in front of my mirror.  My clothes looked fine, and my hair didn’t, but it never does.  Boring hair.  Bad hair!


I couldn’t think of anything else I needed from my room, and I made a point of clumping my way down the stairs  to avoid any more surprises.  I stomped over to the living room, then spotted my mother and Ally in the dining room.  Naturally they were working the crossword puzzle, but they hadn’t filled a single square in yet.


“Tough one, huh?” I asked, and Ally shot me a menacing look.  “How do I look?” I asked, turning a full circle.


My mother, getting to her feet, said, “Oh, Paul!  That’s a question you never have to ask.  She looked me over, and tugged a little to fluff up the shoulders of my shirt, and said, “As soon as you pull up your zipper, you’ll be quite ready for public display.”


I was sure she was kidding, and laughed it off, so she reached down as if to pull it up for me, and the room glowed red from my face.


“Better here than at Lisa’s house,” Ally said, kind of maliciously I thought, and my blush heated up even more.  “Are you ready to go?”


“I think you better tell me,” I said.  “I have money in one pocket, my comb in another pocket, and my ID in my shirt pocket.  My phone is set to vibrate, so all I need is a coat and a ride.”


My mother was suddenly on her tiptoes, “Ooooooh!  Wear that nice suede jacket I bought you for Christmas.  It should be perfect for this weather.”


It was a spring and fall jacket, and I hadn’t had a chance to wear it before,  and it was just about perfect.  I decided I should go to the toilet again before venturing out, and then I was on my way. 


My mother and Ally both came for the ride to Lisa’s, and our plan was to walk from there.  There were sidewalks all the way, and the Mongillo’s house was only about ten minutes from the center of town.  They dropped me off so they could look for a carwash, and I walked to the front door.  It opened almost immediately on a smiling Lisa, who looked me up and down.  “You look nice,” she said.  “I love that jacket!”


I followed her in, and Lisa looked great, too. You would never call her heavy, not by any stretch, but she’s far from being a bag of bones, and everything is in exactly the right place.  She was wearing jeans made out of some soft-looking gray fabric.  They fit her closely without being skin-tight.  Some girls at school wore pants so tight that you could see the outline of their underwear, and some guys thought that was a turn-on, but it did the opposite for me.


Lisa’s pants, however, kept my eyes occupied until I was in front of her parents, and I wondered idly how I got there.


It was an easy hello with them, and be home by six, and when Lisa turned back to me I finally noticed she was wearing something besides pants.  I’m sick, I swear it.  She looked very much the skier girl from the waist up.  She had a thin, kind of paisley red sweater over an off-white turtleneck.  With her white winter skin and black hair, she was stunning.


I’m not into weak knees, but I had to look away, and I looked at my hands, then back to Lisa, and I knew that at least one part of me would fit with precision over one part of her.  Two.  Two parts … two hands.


Her parents offered to drive us into town, but except for the road they lived on, there was a sidewalk the rest of the way, and we’d planned to walk all along.  It was a nice day, too.  The sky was blue, with puffy white clouds scudding about high above, and it had warmed to over fifty.  There was still snow around, but mostly back in the woods and in the shadows, and of course in the hard pack the plows pushed up.


When we reached the sidewalk and turned toward town, I gallantly took the outside path, so Lisa would be protected from any street-side menace that might crop up.  I learned to do that at a young age, when my mother took me walking in Boston.  She protectively held my hand, but insisted that a gentleman always walked on the side toward the curb.  That was one of the little lessons that I remembered, and I felt gallant enough when we were safely out of her parents’ view to take her hand in mine, but in the role of the protective male I felt like.


I wasn’t used to feeling protective, but I liked it.  I’m not big, but I’m a lot bigger than Lisa, and I felt right being in the protective role.


The day felt right too, and the sun warmed us right away once we were walking directly in it.  We both loosened our coats, and before long we were carrying them.  As we neared town, there were more and more people out, and dogs, too.  Lots of dogs seemed to be roaming at first, but they were with people we saw walking; they just weren’t leashed.  One little beagle came up to me with a stick, so I tossed it for her, and she chased it all scrunched down, and like a million miles an hour, and brought it right back to me.


I kept walking with Lisa, and I tossed the stick again and again for the little dog, until someone else called her.  She took a last look at me and went running in leaps and bounds back to her owner.


Owner is a bad term, isn’t it?  I mean, you own your pet because you bought it, but saying you’re the owner is as bad as calling the animal an it in the first place.  I love animals, I really do, but where we live and how we live would make us stinkers as far as having pets.  Cats and dogs don’t live long on our street in Brattleboro, for one thing.  It’s a state highway, so traffic can be heavy, and a lot of it is tourist traffic, which is unfriendly to pets and pedestrians to begin with.


Add that to the fact that I spend time with my mother in Boston, and time at the ski house, and I take a trip a year at least with Mom and Ally, and again with Dad, and it wouldn’t make sense for me to have a pet.  Someday, though.  Someday I’ll have a dog and a cat at least, and maybe more than one of each.  Maybe even a real, live burro instead of a fake, stuffed one.


It was Lisa I was with, though, and when the little dog left I found her smiling at me.  “You should get a dog,” she said. “That’s the most fun I ever saw you have.”


“I like dogs,” I said softly.  “I like most animals.”  I smiled, “I really like your cat.  I never saw anything like him!”


She smiled again and said, “Yeah, he’s a real comedian, and he just loves being around people.  And he’s so big and beautiful.  Daddy says he’ll be twenty-two pounds when he’s fully grown.”


That comment got my attention.  “He’s not grown yet?  Oh, my God!”


Lisa tittered, “That breed grows slowly. He should be his full size in a year-and-a-half, when he’s five.”


We were downtown by then, and I was a bit surprised by the number of people out.  Then again, it was the first nice weekend day of the season, and I suppose people were just enjoying the chance to get outside and take in some sunshine and warmth.  Just like us.


I was having fun with Lisa.  We looked in store windows, made guesses about some of the odder people we passed, and we stopped to talk whenever we ran into someone we knew.


We turned a corner onto a side street, and I was face-to-face with none other than Jim McNaughton.  It was the big girl beside him who surprised me, and I cried, “Zoner!  What are you doing here?”


Get this name:  Norma Lee, and I wouldn’t kid about a thing like that.  Long before I came to town, she started going by the single name of Arizona, and I only found out about Norma Lee through the grapevine.  I was shocked, I assure you, and sympathized with her decision to exchange the adverb for the state.


Zoner graduated high school the prior year, and headed to her namesake state for college, in some suburb of Phoenix.  She had been one of the Brattleboro nudes the last summer, and I was all aware of her glory, but I hadn’t seen nor heard from her since she left for school.  Well, I’d heard messages on the answering machine, but every time she came home for a visit, we were up at the ski house or somewhere else.


Arizona is one big girl.  She’s close to six feet tall, and she has boobs that literally defy gravity.  I remember the first time I saw her, thinking, yeah, she’s wearing a concrete bra, and it’s anchored to stanchions somewhere behind herBrattleboro’s nude summer put the lie to that thought, but I never got rid of the idea that Zoner has the best balancing act in Vermont going for her.


I like her, so it was good to see her face again.  She leaned forward and kissed my forehead, her hands on each of my cheeks.  “You look good, Paul.  I like your hair long.”


I smiled, because I kind of like my hair long myself.  It’s only long because I hadn’t figured in any time to get a haircut since Christmas, and I wouldn’t let it go much longer, but I liked a shaggy me better than a skinhead me.  My hair wasn’t that short before, but short enough that I didn’t have to mess with it very often, because it could mess itself up with no help from me.  Sucky hair.


Jim asked, “Where are you guys headed?”


“Just around,” I said.  “You?”


Arizona said, “We’re hungry right now, but we’re just hanging around, too.  Most everyone should show up on a day like this.”


Jim asked, “Are you eating?   Let’s go together.”


I looked at Lisa, and she seemed noncommittal.  I’d been counting on kind of a romantic lunch together, but Zoner was my friend, and I hadn’t seen her in a long time.  I tested the waters.  “Okay, but some place with a tablecloth, okay?  I really don’t want chain food.”


Jim shrugged and looked at Arizona, who seemed thoughtful.  “I don’t know about tablecloths,” she said, “but the Opera House has some atmosphere.  She looked around and at the sky, “They might even have the outdoor service today.  It’s nice enough.”


Lisa said, “Mmmmm,” and looked at me.  “They have good food, too.  Let’s go there.”


“I’m easy,” I said.  “Where is it?”


It was down a side street that led to the river, and I was surprised I hadn’t noticed it before.  It was a real theater building, complete with a marquis, and the headwaiter was positioned in a stylized box office just inside the door.   I didn’t see the main dining room, because the outdoor area was open, and there was a table available.  As we followed the waiter out, I noticed individual tables in various nooks, and thought it was pretty neat.


Outside wasn’t really nice; it was just tables set up under a giant arbor in a corner of the parking lot.  There were grape vines all over the top of  it, so it was probably nice in the summer, but right then the vines looked like so many weeds.  Our view from the table was other diners, brick walls and parked cars.


Still, it was the company that mattered at first, and I was with a happy group.  Food was next in importance, and I got my hopes up when I saw mussels cooked in garlic and wine listed both as an appetizer and as a main course.


I looked at my table mates and asked, “Ever try the mussels here?”


Arizona licked her lips, while Jim said, “I don’t eat fish!”


When I looked at Lisa, she said, “I love them, but you have to really like garlic.  They don’t kid around.”


We ended up ordering just appetizers, and they all sounded good to me.  We had mussels, clams three different ways, a big antipasto salad, garlic bread, fried mozzarella, mini-cannellonis, and minestrone all around.  We shared it all, which was fun. Jim even tried a mussel, which he made a face at when he put it in his mouth, but he seemed to enjoy it once he bit in.  They were all gone before he got a second chance.  Lisa was right; they held a very serious dose of garlic.


We spent a very fun hour there, and in the end it wasn’t very expensive.  Jim and I each put in thirty dollars to split the tab, and that included a nice tip.  Brattleboro isn’t Boston, nor is it a ski resort when it comes to restaurant prices.


Jim and Arizona wanted to see what was playing at the movie theater, and Lisa and I wanted to walk around town, so we went our own ways after leaving the restaurant.  I managed to get a promise from Arizona that she would at least stop by before she went back to school.


Lisa and I walked down to the river, and looked across to New Hampshire.  There are a lot of plans for ‘rescuing’ the river, and there has been productive activity for sixty or seventy years, but there’s still much to do.  The water is clean now, and that wasn’t the case fifty years ago.  These days, they’re trying to improve public access to the river in towns like Brattleboro, where historically the riverfront had been commercial in nature. 


There is also a huge program to restore a salmon run, and that will be a very long-term thing.  They release millions of little salmon from hatcheries far upstream, and the hope is that someday the salmon’s natural radar will take over so they can return to breed in the wild.  Salmon have many predators other than men, and the survival rate is slim.  The swim back is difficult too, and removing dams and installing salmon ladders give the fish a chance at finding their home waters.


The water was high and moving fast that day, the result of snow melt up north.  There would be the normal spring flooding farther south, in Massachusetts and Connecticut, but nothing out of the ordinary was expected this year.


It took Lisa’s bump on my arm to pull my attention from the view before me, and I realized that I’d paid her scant attention since we stopped at the water.  I smiled and continued to look at the river.  “Just think,” I said.  “There’s all that water, and for every drop of it, this will be the first and last time we ever see it.  The water we see tomorrow and the next day will be brand new each time it goes by.  Today’s water?  Tomorrow it’ll be in the ocean, doin’ its part to keep the salt down.  This very water that’s in front of us will dissipate, evaporate up into clouds, and who knows?  Next week it might be raining these drops on Moscow, or Finland or somewhere.”  I looked at Lisa, hoping for a reaction.


She giggled, “Finland?”


I said, “Yes, Finland.  It’s only a possibility.  Do you know where Finland is?”


Lisa said, “I think so.  Sort of.”


“Well, you go to the North Pole, then keep heading north, and yoFinland!”


Lisa giggled and leaned into me, and I put my arm around her.  I liked how that felt, and I loved that she relaxed up against me.


This was our first date, and my first date ever, and it was progressing all on its own, and I felt a whole lot of good things because of that.  I like Lisa, and she likes me, and that’s a good thing.  I feel, like, totally myself with her, even alone with her, and that’s an amazing thing.  I’d just expressed my wonder at the magic of rivers, then joked about where the water ended up, and Lisa didn’t tell me I was boring, or out of my mind, or anything.  No, she giggled!


“I have books about this river,” I said.


“You read them?” Lisa asked kind of coyly.


“Some.  I do look at the pictures, though.  I have a book about the bridges.”


We were suddenly in shadow as the sun hid behind a building, and we both shivered.  “Tell me about the bridges,” Lisa said, taking my hand and turning me to sunlight.


I did talk about bridges, starting with the first one at Bellows Falls.  She stayed with me on the bridges until we found ourselves in front of a head shop, and we both wanted to go in.  The front window was surrounded with blinking blue bulbs.  It’s blue light that does that to me, I think.  I’d as soon chug Drano as stroll through a K-Mart, but blue light outside, with black light inside, was right up my alley.


The store was mostly t-shirts in black, crap jewelry, and fake tattoos.  They had joke things, too, and I laughed at a His and Hers Birth Control Kit, which came in a neat little cedar box, and consisted of a clothespin and a cork.  It had an instruction sheet, too, but I didn’t read it.  “Want one?” I asked Lisa.


“Maybe someday,” she said dryly, then smiled.  “You don’t need it either, if you’re thinking of me.”


I didn’t make a wisecrack.  “I know,” I said politely.  “If I ever do, I bet there’s a better way.”


Lisa looked at the cork and said, “Me, too.  Let’s get out of here before I want a tattoo.”


When we were back on the sidewalk, I asked, “You think you might get a tattoo someday?”


Lisa frowned, “Not even on a dare!  I mean, I don’t care what other people do, but I don’t want a pen-and-ink on my skin.  Would you get one?”


“No,” I admitted. “I don’t even know why people want them.  I haven’t seen many that I even like.”  I shrugged, “I’m like you: to each his own, but I don’t want a tattoo, and I don’t think I’ll change my mind.”


The wind gusted, and Lisa shivered.  I said, “Let’s go in here, noticing a little art gallery with a café.  There were only a few customers inside, all at little round tables for two, and the lady at the front counter said, “Sit where you like.  I’ll be right with you.”


We took a table in the middle of the room and put our coats on the backs of our chairs.  Lisa sat down, and I looked at the paintings and sculptures they were selling.  I was intrigued, because it was Indian art from the Pacific Northwest, and I immediately liked it.  There were a few paintings and a lot of prints, but most things were carvings in wood and stone, and there was handmade jewelry.  I walked around looking at things, and was struck by the bold designs and the sparse coloring. 


There were prints for forty dollars, and most of the sculptures and carvings were in the hundreds of dollars range, with a few bronzes that cost thousands.  Of course, I fell in love with a bronze that was a face-on abstract of an Orca, looking as if it had been pulled inside-out.  I stood there awestruck by the piece itself, which was about ten inches in diameter, and probably four inches front-to-back.  It was priced at seventy-five hundred dollars, which seemed a bargain to me.


Listen to me, huh?  A bargain!  But it was!  The Orca had clearly been crafted by a master artist, with a brilliant understanding of how things fit together.  I wanted it!


I often wrestled with myself over things like this.  My father would buy it for me if I asked.  So would my mother or Ally, but I would never ask for something so precious for myself.  I never had, and I never would, because doing so would make me the rich brat I so wanted not to be.


Lisa came over to see what I was looking at, and she drew a deep breath when she confronted the bronze Orca.  “Oh!” was all she said, and I didn’t know what that meant.


We both looked for a bit longer, then went to our table when we saw the waitress there, looking at us.


“Sorry,” I sad as we sat.  I looked at Lisa and asked, “Coffee?”


She looked to the waitress and asked, “Can you make hot chocolate?”


“The best,” the woman said, writing on her pad.  Then she turned to me and raised her brows in question.


“I’ll have hot chocolate, too,” I said.  I looked at Lisa and asked, “Cake?  A pastry?”


She started to stand, “Let’s see what they have,” and we both walked over to the glass display case, where there was an impressive display of sweets.  One was a cheesecake, white, striped with red, that looked yummy to me. 


I asked, “What’s this one?” while I pointed at it.




“Really?” I asked, and looked at Lisa, who licked her lips in response.  I said, “Two of those, please,” and walked Lisa back to our table, admiring more art on our way.


I admired Lisa while we enjoyed our treat.  The light from overhead was way up there, and there was fading light from outside, so we were in an interesting pattern of shadows, and splashes of light that illuminated the colorful art pieces.


It added up to put a warm glow on Lisa’s skin, a multi-hued light in her dark eyes, and changing reflections off her gleaming hair.  I could have just watched her, and I did for awhile, even after our cocoa and cheesecake came.


The hot chocolate looked and smelled very good, but it was very hot, too, so we both started on the cheesecake.  I didn’t know what to expect with that, because I’d never had anything except watermelon that claimed to be watermelon flavored.  My first bite didn’t exactly scream watermelon at me, so I picked at the red vein until I had just some of that on my fork.  It too, was good and sweet, but it may as well have been a cough drop, or any red roll-up candy.


I smiled over at Lisa, who seemed to have the same reaction.  “Good, huh?” I asked, “But I don’t see where watermelon is involved.”


She finished her bite and giggled, “I like cheesecake, and this is good, whatever it is.”  She licked her lip, put her fork down, and said, “I’ll go with watermelon, because now I can say I’ve had watermelon cheesecake.”  She smiled brightly.


“Good reason,” I said.  “Probably nobody else ever had watermelon cheesecake, so we get bragging rights.”


I looked at Lisa, whose expression was benign right then, and said, “You’re pretty, you know that?  Very pretty.”  When she looked like she’d say something, I put my finger to my lips.  “Shh.  Don’t say anything, I just want to say what I’m thinking.  I like you, Lisa.  I like you a lot.  And you’re pretty.  And this light makes you double pretty.”  She put her fork down and I put my hand on hers.  “We’re good, aren’t we?”


She looked at my hand on hers, then picked it up and gave me a kiss on the hand.  “We’re good,” she said, and I loved to watch her lips when she talked.  I had the odd thought that deaf people must just love Lisa, because she’d be so easy to read.  I loved that she made everything she said in that little place look so sensuous, like I should have kissed every word.  I would have, too, given a bit of privacy.


That was me though, living out a bit of fantasy.  We were in a coffee shop that was a bit romantic, and I was the leading man in my own play, only this time the girl was real, and she was Lisa, and I felt the first pangs of true love ever.  Well, maybe.


When I walked Lisa home, that feeling never left me, and we shared a kiss that I’ll call magnificent, right on her front step.  She went in, and I didn’t call for a ride.  I could take the splashes from cars.  I was all dizzified, and in desperate need of air and time by myself.


I walked home, alone in the near-darkness, but it didn’t seem dark, and I didn’t feel alone.  I felt good about myself: better than I had ever felt.  I wasn’t simply content with the here-and-now, either.  I was more involved in the world around me than I’d ever been, and I liked it.  I was proving things to myself:  little things, to be sure, but I was taking initiatives I wouldn’t have when the school year began, and each little success made me want to try more things, to expand my reach into new and different things.


When I got home, the ground floor lights were mostly on, and I made a point of making not one, but two tons of noise on my way in.  I slammed the door hard enough to make the curtain fall off, stomped my feet hard on the floor, and hollered, “I’m home!  Anybody here?  I need help!  This wall’s falling down!”


The pitter-patter of my mother’s little feet was followed by the thumping of Ally’s slightly huger feet, and then they were there.  I had my jacket off from one arm and hanging from the other, which made the perfect counterbalance to the curtain rod, which I had back up on one side, but I couldn’t figure out how the other end went together.


Even with my back turned, I had a sense of the gathering hilarity behind me, and said, “Before you laugh, will someone put this stupid curtain up?  I don’t know how it goes.”


“I got it, Sweetie,” Ally said, and took hold of the offending side.  I slipped around her and grinned at my mother.


“Hi, Ma.  I had a good time.  Was that loud enough for you?”


She mused, “There’s a word, let me think of it.  It’s cretin if I’m not mistaken.  Isn’t that right, Al?”


Ally had the curtain back in place, and turned around.  “Now, now.  Let’s not go calling names.”  She put her hand on my shoulder and prodded me toward the kitchen.  “Tell us all about your date.”


I sat at the table and looked at their two hopeful faces.  “I can’t.”

My mother’s face clouded, and Ally said, “But of course you can.”  Then her face darkened, too.  “Uh-oh.  You did something you can’t talk about?”


“I did nothing wrong,” I said.  “Isn’t it dinner time?  What’s to eat?”


My mother opened the refrigerator, looked inside, and said “Well, we have pickles, and we have sour grapes, and oh look!  Humble pie, just for you.” 


She pulled out a dish covered in plastic wrap, turned to me, and said, “Shepherd’s pie!  Your favorite food.”


I reached for it and she pulled it away, “Oh, no you don’t.  I’ll heat this up, but you get one bite for each sentence you utter.  The sentences have to be coherent, and they have to at least imply what you did today.”


I gave up.  “You win.  Cook the food, and I’ll tell you almost everything.”


It was an easy truce.  I really do love shepherd’s pie.