Mud Season

Chapter 3


Florida isn’t exactly the tropics, but it’s close.  One place where that shows is at a breakfast buffet, where the array of fresh fruit is almost mind-boggling.  The state is noted for its citrus crop, at least in the East it is, and we were sitting within spitting distance of some of the most famous groves.  Nothing local was in season at the time, but they had dispensers of fresh-squeezed orange, grapefruit, tangerine, and tangelo juices, all nicely chilled.


The rest was fruit without effort – all peeled and cut up in advance, and the display was vibrant with color and aroma.  There were melons I recognized and others that I didn’t know by sight.  The pineapple was so fresh it was sitting in its own juice, sweet enough to curl hair.  A tray of sliced kiwis beside the pineapple was followed by coconut, guava, mango, tamarind, peaches, apricots, strawberries and who knows what else.  And bananas:  regular ones and bite-sized ones, with a big dish of already-sliced bananas.


I piled fruit upon fruit on a full-sized dinner plate, and poured myself a little cocktail of mixed juices into a glass, brought that to the table, and went for some toast, which I had to make myself.  That gave me a minute to look over the hot section of the buffet.  It was mostly the usual, with a few surprises tossed in, like beef liver.  I mean, ugh!  For breakfast?  Another surprise was baked beans, which also didn’t seem to fit the hour, but at least beans aren’t liver.  On the plus side, there was a slice-your-own ham, and the guy doing eggs would grill you a steak if you asked.


I was happy with my fruit and toast to start with, and when the toast popped up I took it to the table and sat, ready to dig in.  Dana was at the table then, after his foray to the buffet, and he had all protein in front of him.  He had a good pile of ham, two smallish steaks, bacon, sausage, liver, and a mound of scrambled eggs, with a large glass of milk to wash it all down.


Dana saw what I had, and asked, “You like that stuff?”


I nodded, spearing a chunk of pineapple with my fork, and looked at his plate.  “You like that stuff?”


Dana grinned, “Like you don’t know, man.”  He sawed up a chunk of ham and pointed it toward his mouth, “This is Heaven!  I eat like this every day … whenever I want.”


I forked a chunk of pineapple and smiled at Dana.  “Don’t overdo it.”


He had his mouth full, but pointed at my fruit pile and, after he swallowed, asked, “What are these?” pointing at my kiwis.


I grinned, and poked one onto my fork.  “Kiwis: green, yellow and red.”  I grinned again as I ate the morsel.  “It’s sweeter than sweet!”  I put another on my fork and held it out, “Here, try one.”


Dana took it with his fingers, looked at it, then sniffed it, then tested it with his tongue.  His eyes opened wide, and he bit half of it off, which made his eyes water.  Then he put the rest in his mouth and ate it.  “Holy … that’s sweet!  What is it, kiwi?  Oh my God, I love it!”


It was funny for a minute, because I picked at Dana’s ham while he ate all the kiwi off my plate, then he dug right into his meats and eggs like I wasn’t there.


I picked through my fruit until it was gone, and then went to get a steak for myself.  Dana’s sure looked good, and they were just little things.  I picked up a hard-boiled egg and some hash-browns to go with it.


That breakfast set the stage for my entire stay.  I only gorged myself that one time, but I knew what was waiting for me every morning.  We took the hotel’s buffet almost every morning, ordered a light lunch at the pool, and ate out for dinner.  Before I arrived, Dad or Elenora made dinner when they didn’t want to go out.


Elenora was taking cooking lessons with the hotel chef, and she made dinner when she learned something special.  She did pretty well with main courses, but undercooked vegetables had been her norm at first, until Dad and Dana both complained one night.


Dad told her the carrots weren’t done, and Dana backed him up.


Elenora argued that the chef told her they were healthier when cooked al-dente.


That may be, but my mother is a great cook, and even she swears that al dente is Italian for break your teeth.  I cook sometimes, and my ziti is done when it’s about the size of cut-up garden hose.  I know that’s wrong, wrong, wrong, so sue me:  I’m Irish.  But Lisa and her family like their pasta soft, too, and they are actual and factual Italians.


I’ve been to Italy, and my parents have gone many times. I’ve never once heard of crunchy pasta there, so it’s an American thing, just like Pizza Hut and Olive Garden.  If you have no clue, advertise.  You’ll fool half the population into believing that your food resembles something Italian.  Most of my Brattleboro friends are totally convinced that pizza is white on top, not red like it should be.  They also take at face value that all-you-can-eat bread sticks are a substitute for fresh-baked Italian bread and real butter, and that tomato soup is a genuine Italian marinara sauce.


Lisa’s mother stuffs her own manicotti, and her father makes his own sausages.  They start their sauce by peeling tomatoes, and sweeten it with onions, not sugar.  They boil it down, then freeze that basic mixture in quart packages, and add things like garlic, peppers, herbs, spices, and salt based on what they’re making with the thawed sauce.


I’ve never had a less than wonderful meal in that home.  It’s sure not Pizza Hut, and it’s absolutely, positively not Olive Garden.  Real Italian food is actually very edible, and olives grow in orchards anyhow.

* * * * * * * *


We had our surfing lesson in the water earlier in the afternoon that day, and it was a good day for a first try.  I was afraid of looking like an idiot.  Dana was afraid of being so far out in the water, so he wore a life vest after Denny assured him that the world’s most extreme surfers use them.  Of course, our swells were two to four feet, not twenty to forty, but Dana felt better with the vest on.


When we entered the water, we spent a half hour just paddling while Denny showed us what to look for, then we rode several waves without trying to stand on our boards, just to feel the ocean dynamics at work.  I surprised myself by managing to stand up on my first try, but I was too slow, and missed the wave.


After that, I didn’t get up again until Denny announced the lesson was over, and we should head in.  I didn’t get all the way up even then, but managed to ride a wave on all fours.


Dana didn’t do a lot better, but his problem wasn’t balance, it was unfamiliarity with the water.  He took a lot of dunkings, and was still apprehensive about being underwater, so he lost nerve rather than gaining it.


Dana and I had fun though, and we talked about things when the day was done and we could stretch out and relax.  That first Sunday, only my second day there, we were both on the deck, legs stretched up to the railing.  Dana was wearing pink, knee length shorts with a floral pattern, and a NASA tee shirt with a brand new dollop of chocolate ice cream drizzled down the front.


”Paul?”  Dana asked.


I made a grunt and looked at him.


“Do you like my mother?”


I looked at Dana, wondering what he had in mind.  “Why wouldn’t I?” I asked.


“No reason,” he said.  “I guess I already knew.” 


I looked at Dana and wondered what he was thinking.  “Problem?”  I asked.


Dana was leaning back in his chair, feet on the deck rail like mine, and his hands were behind his head.  He didn’t look at me.  “I just think that my mother might be your mother.  I mean your stepmother.  I just wonder how you’d take that.”


“You know something I don’t?” I asked.


“No,” Dana replied, still looking out at the beach and sky.  “I don’t know, really. I just think.”


“That’s a surprise,” I said.  “I mean, that you think.”


Dana looked at me like he was going to say something, but when he saw my smirk he gave me the finger instead.  “You don’t see something there?” he asked.  “I do.”


“I can see it too, Dana.  I mean, from that first time in the restaurant at Killington, I thought I saw some interest.  I mean, Jesus!  Rocks look twice when your mother goes by.  Palms twist themselves out of shape to get another look.  Dad’s all normal with the boy-girl thing, and I’m glad.  I mean, he’s too young to not try again.  I like your mother a lot.”


Dana stared ahead for another minute, and then turned to me.  “You don’t think my mother’s after your money, do you?  Because she’s not.”


I sensed a problem, and stared at Dana.  “I never thought that.  Not once: not for one second.  Dad doesn’t think that way either.  We started out just trying to help.  I … I don’t know what to say here, Dana.  I don’t think any one of us ever thought we’d end up this close, but I also don’t think anyone `started out wanting something, either.  I talked with Dad months before we met you, about helping people with our money.  Heh, I guess that, in a way, you were my Christmas present when we found you in the storm.”


I saw Dana’s confused look and added, “Here’s how it goes.  We have this pile of money: a mountain of it.  I have everything I want and more.  I think I’ll be able to earn a living when I have to, so I don’t need to start out with a bank account like that.  Last Christmas, when Dad asked what I wanted, I said we should start helping people.”  I shrugged, “That’s harder than it sounds when you don’t really know people who need help, so when you showed up in the road, you were like our own personal natural disaster there, right at our feet.”


Dana was staring at me, his eyes wide, and his mouth open a little.  He nodded, as if to tell me to keep going, so I did.


“What I’m saying is, we decided to help you and your mother while you were still asleep that first night, and before we ever saw your mother.  We didn’t want anything from you.  We didn’t expect anything from you.  I never once thought that you or your mother expected something from us, either.”  I narrowed my eyes and looked at him, “It’s all good, isn’t it?”


Dana held my stare for a moment, before his expression softened and he smiled.  “It’s good.  It’s really good.”  He lost the smile, “I’m sorry I asked.  Now you think I don’t trust you, and I do.”


“I don’t think that, Dana.  I never did.  It was me with the mistrust at first; because the first thing I heard was that you stole and lied.”  I snickered, “Well, I guess you did, but not with me.”  I grinned, “Any other issues?”


Dana snorted, “Nope.  Well, just one.  You never said what you think of all this.”


“I did too,” I asserted.  “You’re already my brother in my mind.  If Dad and Elenora get married, that will just make it official.”  I looked at him, “You think they will?”


Dana shrugged, and our talk became less serious, centering on the Ron-Jon shop where Dana got his beach things.


Dana, for some reason, didn’t look weird in pink pants, and he had the same ones in yellow and pale blue.  That made my logical next step a trip to Ron-Jon, where I could pick up some appropriate beach attire.


Dana had tutoring in the morning from eight until eleven, then again in the afternoon from three to five.  Our surfing lesson was set for eleven thirty, and we planned to goof off on the beach until three, so I figured I’d go to the surf shop while Dana took his afternoon lessons.  That way I’d be there during the heat of the day, and be better able to judge the weight of clothes.


I was in Florida for a week, so I didn’t need tutoring, and I didn’t really need anything new to wear. I wanted to go anyhow, and hoped I could escape the watchdogs to go on my own.


Dana went to bed early, and I sat outside again talking on the phone.  I called my mother first, and she was in Boston with Ally, which was no surprise.  My mother tries valiantly to like Vermont, and she does sometimes, but she’s a city girl at heart and Boston is more her style.  New York is her ideal, but Boston is her home, and I could almost hear the comfort she found there in her voice.


I called Lisa after we hung up, and she was just out of the shower on a school night, so we didn’t talk very long.  When we were saying goodbye, I heard her father in the background.  At first I thought he was enforcing her bedtime, but he wanted to talk to me.


“Paul,” he said.  “Did nobody tell you that I’m being featured in a magazine?”


“Uh-uh,” I said, surprised.


“Well, I am,” he said.  “It’s a magazine for architects and builders, and they’re doing an inset about my tiles.  A photographer comes next week.  They already wrote the article, now they want some pictures.  I used your name for the tiles, but translated to French, so it’s s-e-n-s-u-E-l-s, with a second e.  Sexy, huh?”


I was grinning, but he couldn’t see it.  “Yeah, sexy,” I said, thinking of Lisa there with him.  I liked that word, and it applied easily to Lisa, so sensuel it was.  Lisa was sexy in a way that left me wondering if it was natural or if it was an effect she tried for, and sensuel gave me my answer.  Lisa was a natural: a girl born sexy.  Sensuel.


I slept in the next morning while Dana went to meet his tutors.  They met in a little conference room downstairs, where there would be no distractions. 


When I got up, I took a shower, decided to grow a beard, and ate leftovers I found in the fridge for breakfast, with coffee from room service.  I was still at the table when there was a tap at the door, which I took to be the cleaning people.  I said, “Come on in,” and when nobody did, I went to look through the peephole.  It was my father out there, so I opened the door quickly and asked, “What’s up?”


“Not much,” he said.  “I see the doctor again at ten, and might have to pose for another x-ray.  How’s your morning?”


“Lazy,” I said. “Dana’s in school and I want to go to that Ron-Jon’s.”  I looked at him, “Where’s Elenora?”


We walked out to the deck and took chairs as Dad shrugged, “She went to some store opening in Melbourne.”  He smiled kindly, “I think it’s a big event for her.  She should be back here for lunch.”


I looked at my father while he talked about Elenora, and the look in his eyes didn’t lie.


I smirked and asked, “So, when’s the big day?”


His eyes narrowed.  “What big day?”


“Dad,” I said, “Don’t try to fool me.”


Dad looked at me for the longest moment with a blank expression on his face, and then he came up with a little smile.  “Well, okay.  Maybe.  I think the protocol is that I ask her first, and I … well, I don’t have the nerve right now.  I really don’t.”


I stared at him in my astonishment.  “Why?  Double why?”


My father just looked at me meekly, so I went on.  “Dad, Elenora adores you.  So does Dana.  I never saw you happy like this since Mom left, so what’s the problem?”


Dad looked away, then not quite back at me.  “I don’t know if I can explain it to you, Paul.”


He didn’t say anything else, and after a long pause I asked, “Can you try?  I don’t know what’s going on, and I’m not used to that.  You always let me in before.  Don’t shut me out now.”


Dad looked at me and swallowed.  “Paul, don’t ask me that, okay?”


I nodded, and he said, “When your mother left, it was hard on me.  You know that, because it was hard for you, too, but I lost something more than you did.”  His look turned sad, almost pained. 


“I lost my wife, Paul.  Your mother leaving like she did upset you, too, but she’s still your mother.  I know it’s not anybody’s fault, really, but I haven’t ever shaken the idea that I could have done better; I could have held things together if I only knew what was in her head.”  He shook his head, “I just can’t shed the thought that it was failure on my part.  I know it wasn’t, I know it, but she left just when I was complacent about my place in the world and happy with my family.”  He looked at me, “I missed a lot of cues, Paul.  I don’t think I could ever change your mother’s nature; I know I couldn’t have.  I could have been more attentive, though and I should have been.”


I found myself staring at my father with my mouth open.  “Come on, Dad!  Are you blaming yourself?”


He looked defeated and nodded.


“That’s bull,” I said.  “You didn’t make her gay.  As a matter of fact, you made her a mother … my mother.  It’s just totally not fair if you take your feelings out on Elenora and Dana.  They love you.  I know you love Mom, and so do I, but I have this feeling about Elenora and Dana, like they’re my new family.  You know what?  I love it!  I really do.”  I looked hard at my father, and when his unblinking eyes finally engaged mine I said, “This is the best, Dad.  Mom and Ally will never go away.  We’ll still love them.  Now Dana and Elenora are here, too.  Can you possibly say you don’t love them just as much?”


Dad’s eyes formed tears, and he eventually choked out, “I can’t.”  He smiled, “Thank you, Paul,” then he grinned, “Your life of bullshit has given you a nice way with words, you know that?  If you’re half-serious and willing to give it another go, then so am I.”


I smiled and said, “Yay,” softly, then patted my father’s good arm.  “You gonna ask her, then?”


“When and if I do, we’ll tell you and Dana after I have a reply,” Dad said, trying for a stern note.


“Right,” I said, and I was equally serious.  “Don’t forget, I’m only here till Sunday.”


My father smiled, then focused on my face and asked, “Are you thinking about a beard?”


“Actually, yes,” I said, proud that he noticed.


“Don’t.  When you’re fifty, grow all the beard you want, but they look totally stupid on young guys.”


I resented that.  “Yeah?  Well, what if I just want to know if it will look as stupid as my hair?”


Dad laughed, “It will.  Trust me, Paulie.”


Later on, Dana and I had our surfing lesson, and we both did much better.  For my part, the apprehension was gone, and Dana seemed more comfortable in the water.  We both got up on our boards for a few short rides, and Denny applauded us like we were superstars.  Surfing was definitely more fun without the huge fear factor of first-timers, and fun was the point of surfing, after all.


When Dana went back to his lessons, I tried to sneak out to Ron-Jon’s, but a huge hand grasped my shoulder before I made it out to the road.  Only Hector had hands that size, of course, and I deflated when I turned to him.  I smiled, “I’m just going out to the street to find the address, so people can send me mail.  I’ll be right back.”


Hector smiled benignly.  “No problem, I need the address myself.”


I looked at the guy.  God, he was huge, and I knew he could bend me to his will from sheer fear.  “What if,” I asked, “I want to go to the surf shop for some clothes?  I can just walk there, can’t I?  It’s not that far.”


Hector attempted a smile, “We can walk if you like.  I just have to call in.”


He made a quick call, and we started walking.  To make conversation, I asked, “Would you wear pink pants like Dana’s?  Or baby-blue, or canary-yellow?”


Hector coughed, and spit on the lawn we were passing.  “I have a Hawaiian shirt,” he confessed.  “An old girlfriend bought it for me.  It’s bright blue, with all these day-glow flowers and fishies on it.  One of the fish has kind-of pink stripes, and I think that’s enough pink for one lifetime.”


I grinned at him, “What kind of Cuban are you?”


He scowled, “I’m no kind of Cuban.  I was born in Miami, but our family originally came from Panama.  Our last dictator, Noriega, wore a lot of pink.  It clashed.”


When he didn’t say anything else, I asked, “Clashed with what?”


Hector looked at me solemnly and said, “It looked funny with all the green money he stole from the people.  We had this brown pile of crap swimming in our green money, and the ass wore pink!”  He looked at me curiously, “He’s in jail here in Florida, you know.  He gets out this year sometime.  I don’t think he can go back to Panama; the people don’t want him there.  He’s an old man now, anyhow.  I was just your age when the Americans took him out.  He’s been in jail all this time: twenty years.  He fools lots of people, but he’s still a yellow snake who slithers on stolen money.”


I asked, “Have you been to Panama?”


“Only once.  A couple of years ago I accompanied my mother when her aunt died.  Now I’m saving my money to spend some time there.”


“It’s nice?”  I asked.


Panama is beautiful,” Hector said.  “Gorgeous.  My grandfather moved here after they finished work on the Canal.  My father was born here, and my mother was born there.  My dad died before he ever got to visit home.  I was only there for a few days for a funeral, but my feet did not want to leave.  Every time I stopped moving, I felt like I was taking root.  It felt like I was where I belonged.”


I looked at him, and he was serious.  “You should go back, then.  You’re not married or anything, are you?”


He grinned, “I’m not, but I’m working on it.  Pretty soon.”


We were at Ron-Jon’s then, and standing there the place seemed both cartoonish and vast.  The building was yellow, orange, and a couple of shades of blue.  The architecture?  Hector said Moorish, but I thought excremental.  I’m no expert, but the point is it’s one building that’s impossible to mistake for anything else.


Inside, the displays were also immense.  They had a long row of surf boards racked eight-deep in one place, and hundreds of others lined up vertically in other places.


I was there for clothes, but I was fascinated by what the store considered to be so-called accessories.  They even sold logo glassware.


I saw the board shorts Dana had, but they were next to others that I liked better, and I picked up three pairs.  One was really tame, with only black piping for a design, on cream-white shorts.  One was in the middle:  red and black plaid, with a white rising-sun design that started on one side, worked across the back, and took shape on the other leg.  The last ones were pretty wild, but very well done.  The shorts were off-white again, and had a navigation chart of the Hawaiian Islands as an underlayment, and variously appliquéd and embroidered flowers and palm leaves over the charts, mostly in orange and black.


I don’t know why, but I kept looking to Hector for approval.  He didn’t like a lot that I liked, but he approved of the pants I chose.  Then I went to look for sandals, which I actually needed.  Mine were tight, and there was no more loosening them. 


As big as the place was, they didn’t sell actual sandals, but the things I always called flip-flops.  That wasn’t what I wanted, so I just poked around looking at things.


I think if I actually lived there, I would have found more that I wanted, but I left with just the three pairs of shorts.  That still left a hundred-fifty dollar dent in Dad’s credit card, which I doubted that he’d mind if he ever even noticed it.


I didn’t usually spend money like that, only sometimes.  The clothes I wear everyday aren’t exactly bargain-basement, but they’re not from Saks, either.  There are a couple of local stores in Brattleboro.  One has clothes for working men, and that excludes me with an exclamation point.  The other is a prep place for local bankers and the like, so I get most of my clothes across the river in Keene, where there is a J.C. Penney store.


I’m not a fancy dresser, and I take after Dad in that area.  I wear jeans and blue shirts around the house, blue pants and blue shirts for school, although that’s not a strict rule.  I have some plaid shirts, too: even red ones.  I don’t have any red pants, though.


I goof off and sleep in sweats, and I like gray best, though I always get sweats for Christmas so I have every color.  Even that’s not exactly true anymore, because now I have Dana.  I keep the gray ones, and he gets all the other colors.   Dana doesn’t mind; he likes them all. Now that I think of it, there’s a distinct possibility that Dana is color blind, and I should probably discuss that with my father before Dana starts driving lessons.


Walking back, plastic bag in hand, I talked idly with Hector, and he gave me a quiz that was kind of fun.


“Paul, when you were looking for sandals did you notice a big woman there?”


“The one with the straw hat?”  I asked.


Hector’s face registered mild surprise, and he asked what I remembered about her.  I told him that she looked to be around thirty, had good-size boobs, wore a white tee shirt with no design, and jeans shorts.


He smiled.  “Not bad, amigo.  You think she had a gun in her pocketbook?”


I thought for a second, and said, “She didn’t have a pocketbook.”  I grinned, “She was security, too?”


Hector nodded, “You’re good.  I figured her for store security.  She’s not with us.”


I snickered, “Maybe KGB?”


Hector glanced at me, a serious look on his face.  “You know about the KGB?”


“Sure,” I said.  “Right after my folks got divorced, I went to Russia with Mom.  Dad made her hire security, and we had these two guys kind of like you.  They stayed out of our way, but if something happened they were right there, and they had these red books that could clear a street when they showed them.”  I had a thought and asked, “Do you have a red book?”


Hector snickered, “I don’t.  I can only wish.  You know what happened if the KGB put your name in that red book?”


I grumbled, “Nothing good, I guess.”


“Exactly,” Hector said.  “Nothing good for you, nothing good for your family, and nothing good for your descendants.  It was the official rule book for the USSR, and I’m not surprised that people are still afraid of it.”


I was going to say something, but we were in the hotel walk by then, and Hector only touched my shoulder before he seemed to vaporize.  I looked around, and he was gone.  I wondered how he managed that every time, given his size.


I went upstairs to put my things away, then changed into a new pair of shorts with my bathing suit underneath, and went out to the beach to wait for Dana, stopping for a five-towel look at Claire on the way.


Claire knew.  That was for certain; I could tell from her demeanor that she knew.  I think she might have preferred young perverts to old ones; I don’t know.  She gave me a good show and a cheerful smile when she handed me the towels.  Then she flicked another brochure to me, just like my first day.


“You should try other things, Paul,” she said kind of seductively.  “Kayaks are fun.”  She showed her tongue when she touched her lower lip with a finger, “So are private massages.”


I got nervous, and said, “Sounds good.  I have to ask my father, okay?”


To her credit, Claire didn’t look at me funny or roll her eyes.  Instead, she said, “Do that.  The kayaks are included.  Massages are extra.”


I smiled, embarrassed.  “Thanks.  See you.”


Claire gave me a little wave like she might have been ten years old.  I’m sure she felt sorry for me, or I don’t know what.  I decided not to think about it, and to see if I could get some color without losing too much skin.  I had smeared myself all-over with SPF-50 sun block, jut like always.  I’m a paleface by my Irish heritage, and can shed skin better than most snakes.  My father is the same way, whereas Elenora and Dana both brown up like biscuits, and never feel any pain.


I was setting up my chaise under my usual palm when Dad came over.


“Hey, Paul.”  He looked closer at my rising-sun shorts and squinted, “Whoa!  Is that just a design, or is it a commemorative of something?”


I looked at my pants, and they were kind off odd.  “Just a design, I think.  Unless Japan took over Scotland and didn’t tell anybody.”


Dad sat on Dana’s lounge and said, “I doubt that.”


He was too serious, and I waited for the blow, whatever it was.  I just knew something was up, and it was confirmed when Dad said, “Paul, things are changing.”


I thought uh-oh but asked, “What do you mean?”


He looked at me, and appeared to be deciding something.  He finally said, “Listen.”


Dad had my attention.  He said, “I didn’t know it, but Elenora went to that opening because she saw that Dana’s … I don’t know what you call him … his original father … his biological father, would be there.  He is the so-called celebrity attraction.”  He saw my look and said, “I didn’t know, Paul.  I really didn’t.  She called a few hours ago.  I think things will get complicated from here on out.  That’s all I have to go on.  We have to give them time to deal with this, Paul.  When Elenora gets back, she’ll want to talk to Dana, and we should kind-of not be here.”  He questioned me with his look.  “Okay?”


It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, and certainly wasn’t what I needed to hear.  I’d known for some time that Dana had an interest in his heritage, which Elenora had kept from him all his life, and I knew that Dad was right.  Nobody needed the two of us right then, and Dad suggested a visit to Cape Canaveral to review the space program.  I’d been there once, years before, but I was game to go again.


“Okay,” I said.  “Let’s go.  Do they still have that Imax theater?”


“They sure do.  You’re up for it?”


I said, “I am.  How was your x-ray?”


I could tell Dad was distracted and upset when he said, “Oh, it was okay.  How was yours?”


+ + + + + + + +


I’m not really into science, but the Kennedy Space Center is fascinating.  We rode there in the back seat of a black Cadillac Escalade.  The road in has a ditch on one side, and I saw two alligators lazing between the water and the road, and a couple of signs warning about them a few minutes later.  The guy driving and his partner were nothing like Hector; they were all business, and kind of scary men.  I didn’t even try to talk to them, and neither did my father.


The back seat was ours, though, and it was soft and comfortable, which we weren’t.  We attempted conversation, but I kept losing my place, wondering what was happening with Dana and Elenora back at the hotel, or wherever they were.  I had the uneasy, but unsupportable, feeling that I might not see them again, at least not for a long time.


My father was right there, but his distant look kept me from talking about my fears, and he never voiced his own if he had them.


Thankfully, I became engrossed in the displays at the space center.  There is a bus tour there, and we saw a rocket on a launch pad being prepared to take a satellite to space.  The satellite wasn’t significant, just some commercial thing to support television signals.  If I managed to be up at four AM two days hence, I could see it go.  Dana had already seen a launch from the vantage point of our hotel.  He said it was kind of underwhelming in the bright sun, but still exciting, so I looked forward to seeing this one in the dark of night.


The displays hadn’t changed radically since the other time I was there, but I found myself awed by the things NASA did, and the machines they did them with.


If I found distractions on the tour and in the museums, the IMAX movie literally took me into outer space.  I’ve loved IMAX since the first one I went to, and I’d seen a 3-D film in Boston once.  That one was undersea photography, and it really knocked me out, especially when they got the camera into the middle of a school of fish.  I was ducking out of the way, and laughing my head off at the sensation.


The one at the space center was different.  I think a lot of it had to be computer generated, but there were real people in it as well.  The space scenes just blew me away, with stars and planets sitting there looking pretty, when suddenly an asteroid or comet came right at my head!  Dana who?  I was totally involved in that film; captain of my own starship, and aware of only my treacherous path to salvation.


When the movie ended and the lights came up, I pulled the 3-D glasses off, but had to sit there for a minute to find my way back to reality.  I looked at my father and said, “Wow!  Was that good or what?”


“Or what,” Dad said.  “You know, I wonder if anyone has tried 3-D over the Internet.  Bandwidth keeps growing.  I can picture a new Buick zooming past your head, or popcorn popping the old fashioned way … maybe even a ship coming to port or a plane taking off …”




He seemed surprised and looked right at me.  “What?”


“Go for it.”


Dad smiled, and I could tell his mind was going a mile a minute.


We stopped in the gift shop, and I bought a NASA tee shirt like Dana’s, and got one for Tommy Timek, who I was missing.  Then I bought a bunch of them, thinking of my other friends.  If we all wore them at once, we could make Brattleboro, Vermont look like a branch office of Houston.


That’s actually the big thing that’s changed for me since Dad and I went ‘normal’ in Vermont.  I grew up traveling a lot, and when summer or school vacations came, I just went wherever my parents were going.  I never, ever thought of people who I lived near, or went to school with.  They either traveled, too, or went to camp or something.  I had my life and they had theirs.


In Brattleboro, though, I made real friends: people I care about, who care about me.   It’s where I learned about friends, really, or maybe where my age caught up with me enough that I realized that other people were important in my life.


From my first day there, when Tom showed up all excited that I was his age, I learned.  What I really learned is that it’s not hard.  I didn’t have to be anything special, I just had to be there, not actively spitting hawkers at people, and I made friends.


I can be sarcastic sometimes, but only briefly, and only with people I don’t know, or people who I do know who are idiots.  I like to be a pain and to try people’s patience, but not in a mean way.  I just enjoy it when I can keep other people a little off-balance.


I was in line to pay, and Dad tapped my shoulder.  I looked and he held up his cell phone and hurried outside to answer it.  The line became annoyingly slow when a lady ahead of me kept trying credit cards, because she’d apparently overspent her vacation.  It took ten minutes for me to reach the register, and the lady there kept miscounting my shirts.  I had twenty of them, and she kept coming up with other numbers, so she finally scanned each one of them, and didn’t seem very pleased when it turned out that I was right to begin with.


Dad was still on the phone when I made it outside, and I got nervous when I realized he was speaking reassuringly to Dana.  I suddenly felt like a creep for not waiting to see what Dana thought before we just took off on him.  Dad apparently felt like me, and I overheard things like, “That’s not the case, Dana.  You’re not going to hurt me if you see him.  I really think you should go.  Listen.  When will you get another chance like this?  The guy’s right here.”  Dad shook his head, “Don’t worry about Paul, either.”


Dad noticed me right then and said, “Here’s Paul now; talk to him.”


He held the phone out to me and said, unnecessarily, “Dana.  He’s going shy.”


I took the phone.  “Dana?”


I heard him let out a heavy breath.  “You know what’s going on?” he asked.


“Only what I can figure out,” I said.  “I mean, I know basically that … what do I call him?  Your father?  I know he’s there in town.  Why don’t you tell me?”


Dana was clearly very upset, and didn’t say a thing.  I said, “I don’t know what happened.  Did you see him?”


“No,” Dana said quickly.  “He … Mom saw him.  It was the first time since … well, you know.  I … I don’t know what to think here, Paul.  I don’t know what I want … what to do.”


I thought for a moment and said, “Listen, why don’t you just go sit on the beach until we get back.  We can talk, man.  We’ll figure this out, okay?”


“You’re coming right now?” Dana asked nervously.


God, I felt so bad for Dana.  What the hell were we thinking by taking off like we did?  “We’re on the way.  See if you can find Hector.  He’s good to talk to.”  I gestured to my father that we should get to the car, and he understood.  We were halfway there before I hung up, after telling Dana to call me on my own phone.  I thought, correctly, that Dad would want to talk to Elenora.


We were almost immediately joined on each side by the guys who brought us there, and when Dad said it was a hurry they seemed to like it.  The guy who drove took off running, and picked us up before we made it to the parking lot.  When we were in the car, Dad asked him, “Can you drive fast?”


“Absolutely, sir,” was the response, and he was correct.  He drove very fast, but he drove like Ally.  Our only cue to the speed was the blur out the side windows, not any sensation of a wild ride.


He had to slow for traffic several times, but then we’d be flying low again, and the transition was all but undetectable.  Most fast drivers scared me, but pros just kind of amazed me with how comfortable a fast ride could be, and I had a new respect for the man driving.


We were at the hotel in about a half-hour.  Dad had been talking to Elenora most of the way, and I’d talked to Dana, who didn’t sound a lot calmer.


I tried to picture Dana’s situation, and his frame of mind.  He’d had a fatherless life until he met Dad, and was just adjusting to having a man in his life.  I knew he loved that, too, like really loved it.  Dana and I talked, and we talked a lot, but not usually about anything too serious.


When my father talked, though, Dana hung on his every word, and I loved being there when that happened.  I’m sure my father did, too, but we didn’t say much about it between us.  That was him and Dana.  I didn’t see it that often, but the feeling of mutual affection and admiration they shared was impossible to miss.


The only thing I had to do, over and over, was to assure Dana that my Dad was shareable, because Dana had this constant niggle that I’d get jealous.  I wasn’t even a little jealous.  I liked watching them together; it made me feel good.


Now Dana had this new guy, who had a pretty legitimate claim on him, and I didn’t know what would happen any more than Dana did.  I was nervous myself, and glad when we got back to the hotel.


I took the time to smile at the driver and say, “You’re good,” which got something like a smile from him, and we hurried inside.  I noticed Hector in the lobby.  He was reading a paper, but he saw me over the top of it and nodded, so I walked over to him.


“Have you seen Dana?” I asked.


“Yeah.  What’s going on?”  Hector asked in reply.  “He seems kind of excited; maybe upset.”


I grinned, “I guess he would.  He took a Viagra instead of his vitamin by mistake.”


Hector didn’t believe me.  He didn’t say that, but just shook his head and turned back to his newspaper.


Give me credit for trying.  I turned around, and Dad had disappeared, so I took the next available elevator upstairs and went straight to the suite I shared with Dana.  What I needed was the bathroom, and I went to the nearest one, which is in the entryway.


Dana must have heard me, because he was standing in the door to the kitchen waiting when I came out.  His face was as serious as I’d seen it, but he didn’t really seem upset or anything.


“What’s up?” I asked, trying to sound cheerful.


“You know,” Dana said solemnly.


“Well, yeah.  I know what’s on your mind, but I don’t know anything that happened.”


Dana nodded, and backed up into the kitchen, then walked through the dining area and living room to the deck.  We both sat, and as soon as our bums were on chairs Dana said, “I don’t know what to do.”  He started making gestures with both hands, which wasn’t like him, and he added, “I’m scared.”


Oh, no.  He didn’t say what scared him, leaving me with a big hole to find my way through.  “I, um … I don’t think I’ll get this ‘til you say what you’re scared of, Dana.”


“I know,” he mumbled.  “I just don’t want to mess up here.  My birth father, or whatever you call him, is here.  He’s only a few minutes away, and he wants to see me.”  Dana looked over at me, the worry clear on his face now.  “I want to see him, too, Paul.  I really do, but I don’t know how to be with him.  I mean, it’s not like he’s a new teacher or something.  He’s part of me.”  He shook his head quickly, “That’s not the all of it.  I don’t want to hurt Dad by going.  He’s been…”


“Cut it out,” I interrupted.  “Don’t worry about Dad.  He would never, ever want you to miss this chance if it’s something you want.  I’m sure he’ll go with you if you want.  I’ll go with you.  We can all go.”


Dana looked at me hopefully, “Really?”


I thought for a moment and said, “You know, you can invite him to come here, and he can see you in your own element.”


Dana frowned, “This isn’t exactly my element.”


“It sure is!” I said.  “Will it do anyone any good if you tell him your past up front?  That’s not exactly his fault, and you might make him feel bad enough to just leave.  If you guys connect, you can talk it out some other time.  Don’t forget that he was your age … younger even … when you came along, and he never knew you.  He never really knew you were even born.”  I smiled, “Ask him to come over, Dana.”


Dana’s expression was curious.  “Really?  Okay!”  He started to stand, “I’ll tell Mom!”


Elenora’s voice came from the deck next door, which a concrete wall kept hidden from us, and she sounded merry.  “Mom knows, baby.” 


She added, “Nice going, Paul.”