Mud Season

Chapter 4



Dad asked me and Dana to join him and Elenora on the patio on their side.  We used the adjoining door that went between dining rooms, and were out there in just a minute after being asked.


I smirked at Elenora, “Eavesdropper.”


“I am,” she admitted.  She smiled innocently, “I hope you’ll forgive me.”


“So, what happened today?”  I asked.  “You went to see Rhoderick Daniels?”


“Sit down, Paul. Both of you.”  I sat and Dana sat, and she said.  “Rhod was at this store opening, so I went.  I just wanted to look at him, and ended up in a line of people who were shaking his hand and getting autographs.  I thought I’d shake his hand and see if I could work up the nerve to say something.”  She brushed her hair back with her hand, which I’d noticed was a nervous habit she had.


She looked down and smiled at her hands, which she was just folding on her knees.  “I didn’t have to say a word.  Rhod recognized me before I even turned to face him, and I don’t think he would have looked more surprised if I had a gun pointed at him.”


We all snickered.  Elenora could be descriptive sometimes.


“Anyhow, he was doing this meet-and-greet, and he had to stay for all of it, so I waited.  Then we talked, and we talked for two solid hours, and after I called here we talked some more.”  She looked around, “Most of it was me learning the things that happened after I left home.”  She paused for a moment, “I left a bigger mess than I imagined I would, but Rhod knew why I left, and he finally stood up to his parents, and to my father.  I was gone by then, and my naïve ways must have helped me stay away.  It sounds like they were searching for someone a lot more resourceful than I was, and Rhod almost fell through the floor when I said I’d been in Vermont every day since I left.  Well, until I came here.”


“Why’s that?”  I asked.


“He said they looked as far as Bennington and Rutland, but figured I would have gone back home right away if I ever even saw those places.”  She giggled, “They all thought I’d head to a big city or South.  They never paid attention at all to Vermont.”  Her look soured a little, “That’s like them, though.  They would expect me to be just like them, just like I was supposed to be.”


“So your parents …?”  I didn’t finish the question.


She looked at me.  “Oh, they’re still alive, and everyone is well.  Rhod says that Englewood Place hasn’t changed much.  His people are still there, too, in the same house.”  She looked wistful, “It’s that kind of street: old money, old people.  You get the house in a will, not a bank deal.”  She rolled her eyes and sighed, “It’s not the place to be if you get knocked up at fourteen.”


Then she laughed, and I was glad, because I didn’t want to respond to her last remark.  She looked at Dana, “I’m sorry, baby,” she said with a big smile.  “I didn’t mean to say that.”


Dana looked sufficiently indignant for a second, but cracked a smile.  “Knocked up, huh?  Is that an Englewood Place term?”


Elenora snorted out a quick laugh, “Only when you’re fourteen, baby.  Only!  At all other ages, you are expecting or with child.  Only young, unwed girls get knocked up.”


I looked at Dana and said, “That explains it to me.  You got that?”


Dana smiled weakly and nodded.  I asked Elenora, “Did you happen to mention Dana somewhere in there, or did the guy just guess?”


Dad said, “Paul, let Elenora finish her story.  It’s all important.”


Uh-oh, I’d been rude, and I didn’t mean to be.  “Sorry.”


Elenora just looked at me.  “I’m not leaving that out, Paul,” she snickered, “I’m just telling this as it happened.”  She looked at Dana, “There were other things we talked about first, and I think Rhod was really kind of afraid to ask about a possible child.  He told me what he knew of kids we grew up with.  Most are what you’d expect, but Rhod’s an actor, and there are some others who went their own way, both good and bad.  I guess it’s like any place.  A few exceptional people stand out, and a surprising number didn’t live very long.”  She smiled, “My brother is a doctor: an internist and my sister is a happy homemaker, married to a newspaperman.”  She looked at us and added, “Like you care, but it interests me.”


“And me?” Dana asked.  “I mean, you already told me, but Paul wants to know, too.”


Elenora smiled at Dana, and then turned that same smile to me.  “Of course you do, and I’m not trying to stall this.  I don’t want to get myself confused.”  Her smile held, “When I told Rhod about Dana, he was just beside himself with excitement.  He skis himself, which he didn’t when I knew him.  He’s driven right through Stockton a lot of times.  I told him that Dana resembled him in some ways, and his look was really precious!”  She looked at Dana, “You’re not a clone, baby, but you have his wavy hair and … just a resemblance, I guess.  I see it around your eyes and your mouth when you smile.  I’m just … I should just shut up, huh?”


I stared at her.  Dana stared.


“Well,” my father finally said.  “Someone should make the call to Rhoderick Daniels before he dies of old age.  I’ll call the kitchen and have something sent up.”  He looked at Elenora, “Is he a vegetarian or anything like that?”


Elenora smiled and shrugged, “No idea.”  She looked at Dana with a mother’s look.  “Don’t worry, baby.  He was a nice kid, and now he’s a nice guy.  There’s nothing bad here, if you can deal with him being gay, because he is.  I told you I thought that before, and it’s the truth.”


Dana shrugged.  “I don’t care.  I don’t know gay, so maybe now I’ll learn.”  He sat up straighter, “I’m … I think I’m kind of scared.  What should I say?  What should I wear?  He looked at his beach attire and turned a bit white.  “Jesus Christ!  I’m wearing yellow pants!”


“What’s the problem?” I asked.  “If you’re worried, put on the pink ones.”


Dana looked at me as if my head had just disappeared from my shoulders, but he burst out laughing right after. 


“Asshole,” he mumbled.  “Lend me your Vermont pants.  Never mind, I have some here somewhere.”  He looked at Elenora earnestly, “You gonna call him?”


She said, “Right now.   Right away; I’ll call.”


Dana turned to leave, and stopped short.  He looked at my father, who had been pretty quiet, and asked nervously, “This is really okay?


Dad held out his good hand and said, “Dana, come here.” 


When Dana did, Dad took Dana’s hand and said, “This is more than okay, son.  It’s what you’ve wanted all along, and it’s what you need.”  He wet his lips and looked at Dana, “Dana, you’re part of this family, and don’t forget that.  We can offer what we can, but that’s not all you want.  Go learn your history, your heritage … your family.”  Dad narrowed his eyes and smiled.  “Don’t start believing for one second that you’re abandoning us.  We won’t ever think that, nor will we let it happen.” 


Dad’s hand slid up to Dana’s elbow, which he bopped, and Dad smiled wide.  “It’s a good thing, son.  Go ahead and learn where you came from, and maybe find more people to love.  You’ll be back.”


Dana’s eyes glistened, but he didn’t cry or anything.  He looked at my father, then me, and Elenora in turn, and said, “I love you guys.”


I smiled too, because we knew that.


* * * * * * * *


Rhoderick Daniels didn’t show up in a limo or anything.  He drove himself in a Jaguar, which was most likely rented, unless he drove to Florida in it from New York, which I doubted.  It took him some time to get upstairs, even though I’d gone down with Elenora to meet him.  He is something of a celebrity, after all, and a lot of ladies in the lobby wanted his autograph and to pose for pictures with him.


I would hate that kind of attention on me, and the guy seemed like he only tolerated it himself, more than liking it.  He was polite and kind, and let his teeth and eyes sparkle for the ladies, but he also knew how to get away pretty quickly.


When the elevator doors closed on us, he put his hand on Elenora’s shoulder and smiled at her.  “That wasn’t too bad.”  He looked at me and added, “Sorry.  It comes with what I do.”


“I understand,” I said.  “I was Raggedy Andy in our church play when I was six, and absolutely every lady in that place wanted to hug me after.”  I smiled, “I haven’t sought fame since that night.”


He smiled at me, and the door opened, so he didn’t have to actually respond.  I didn’t have the feeling that he was sneering at me, or scorning me, so I decided to wait before I made up my mind whether I approved of him or not.


Dana didn’t have that luxury, and we all gave the two of them the freedom to meet for the first time on the deck, alone.  Elenora led Rhod out to meet Dana, and came right back inside.  We all sat to wait, but Dana was there before I was even comfortable.  “Paul …” he made an enormous hand gesture that told me he wanted me out there with him.


I looked at my father, who nodded, so I stood up.  Dad said, “Wait,” and when I did, he poured a glass of wine and held it out to me.  On my expression of surprise, he laughed, “Not for you, and you know it.  It’s for Rhod.”


I went outside, wine in hand, and offered it to Mr. Rhoderick Daniels.  He accepted it, put it down on the table, and I noticed that his hand was trembling.  I took that moment to get a good look at him, and I could kind of see Dana, but not a lot.  Rhod is tall, where Dana isn’t really.  I don’t know, I’m never really good at saying somebody looks like his parents or not, but everyone else I know has that ability.  Rhod’s this thirty-year-old guy, about as tall as my father, and he’s very handsome, with wavy hair. 


Dana is fifteen and a little shorter than me, and he has wavy hair, too, but it’s more blond.  If wavy blond hair equals a resemblance to wavy dark hair, then I could see it.  Otherwise, the only resemblance I noticed was that they were both scared to death of each other.


They looked at each other.   They didn’t really stare, but they looked each other over top to bottom, then they started again.  I finally decided it was my duty to break the ice, so I asked, “Have you been introduced?  I’m sorry.” 


I didn’t give them a chance to answer.  I stood beside Dana and put my arm around him while I looked right at Rhod.  “This is my brother, Dana.  He’s the best skier in the world, and he knows how to clean a washing machine like nobody’s business.  In between, he’s a nice guy.”


Rhod gave me a look that could have meant anything, and he cracked a smile.  “Best skier?”  He looked at Dana, “Elenora told me that.  I mean, your mother did.  It’s true?”


I could tell that Dana was still checking Rhod out, and his face gave nothing away.  “My mother is Elenora,” he said simply.  “Are you really my father?”


Rhod stared, then looked at me and asked, “Leave us alone for a few?”


I was ready to agree, but Dana said, “Stay, Paul.”  He looked at Rhod benignly.  “You can say it in front of Paul.  Are you really my father?”


Rhod sat down abruptly, looked at the floor then back at Dana.  “Listen, Dana.  I just learned about you today.  As far as I know, yes. I’m your father.  I knew I was somebody’s father a long time ago, but Elenora is a strong-willed girl.”  His expression softened, and he looked right at Dana.  “Our parents got this feud thing going when Elenora got pregnant.  I was the bad guy, of course, but Elenora couldn’t handle it, and she took off.”  His expression took on a pleading look.  “That was fifteen years ago.  Half the town thinks Elenora is dead, and the rest of us kept looking.” 


Dana put one knee on a chair and leaned into the back of it.  “Really?  You said us.  You kept looking, too?”


Rhod said, “I’ve been looking all this time.  I’ve seen people I thought were Elenora, too.  Lots of people look like other people, and with no new point of reference, you still have this old picture in your mind.  When your mother showed up today, there was no mistaking.  She looks exactly like she always did.”  He smiled, “She was always the prettiest girl on Earth.”


“Woman,” Dana corrected.


“That’s what I said,” Rhod grinned, and he suddenly got tears in his eyes.  I stood and turned to go, but not before I heard him say, “Oh … I don’t know what to say.  This is the most beautiful …”


I closed the slider behind me.  Dana would tell me what happened; I didn’t have to be there.  I didn’t want to sit and speculate with Dad and Elenora either, so I went back to our own suite and turned on the television.  I guess that meant that I was apprehensive myself, because I don’t often turn the television on.  This place got like nine-hundred channels.  Even bopping through them fast, I’d never finish, so I took a closer look at the sound setup, and there was a port for my iPod, which I got from my bedroom and hooked it up.


I never knew who to like, musically, so I let my friends load the iPod for me, except for TSO.  I didn’t really care what I heard right then, either.  I just wanted a little noise, so I let things play in whatever order was the last one I selected.  I wasn’t really listening.  I never really listened, but when I saw color patterns on that huge television screen, I got interested.  I turned up the volume, and they sharpened, and got softer-looking when I lowered the music.  The patterns were stupid, like colored spitballs landing in time to the music, then they’d rotate, but I wasn’t that interested in rotating, colored spitballs.  When I tried to turn the picture off, the whole system shut down.  I gave up, and decided to go out to the beach.


I suck with remotes, I really do.  When anyone else on Earth wants to watch Hannah or something, they know how to go right to it.  Me?  The show’s over before I figure it out.  It might be a day later before I figure it out, and then I forget all the steps I took anyhow.


The beach doesn’t come with a remote.  You’re there or not, and if you’re there, so is the ocean. 


I went to the beach the way I had dressed to meet Rhoderick Daniels, the actor, and that meant long pants and a button-down shirt, so I immediately felt stupid.  I opened my shirt to about my belly-button, took off my shoes and socks, and pulled my pant legs up to my knees.  I thought I’d feel less stupid, but I actually liked how that combination felt, and thought I might look pretty cool if anyone happened to look at me and notice.


Just as that thought had me thinking it, Hector plopped down on the sand beside me.  He was dressed in his dark shorts, white shirt, and he wore sandals.  I guess that was his beach uniform, and my immediate reaction was to feel intimidated.  Forgive me, but the man is the size of a sequoia tree, and if a sequoia tree suddenly sat next to you, you’d get the idea.


I didn’t say anything, and he eventually asked, “Problem?”


“No, not a problem.”  I didn’t know what I should tell him.  Hector was looking out for us, me in particular, but I didn’t think he had to know everything that was going on.


“I saw Rhoderick Daniels get in the elevator with you.  I wish my mother could be here.  She loves that guy.”


I smiled.  Hector was good at getting me to smile.  “Call her up,” I said.  He’ll be here for a few hours, anyhow.  We’re waiting for dinner.”


“Nah,” Hector said.  “I’ll tell her I saw him, and that’s enough.”  He chuckled, “If I saw Rhod Daniels in person, that’s prob’ly good enough for immortality.”


“That’s not his real name,” I whispered, trying to sound conspiratorial.




“Uh-uh.  His real name is Sidney Guptah.”  I looked at Hector, and almost gave up, but I persevered.  “He was born in India like thirty years ago.  He’s been a suspect in a lot of assassinations and things, and might have blown up a train.  I’d be careful if I was you.”


Hector looked more amused than suspicious, but asked, “Then why’s he upstairs in your apartment?”


I shrugged, “He’s not.  He’s in my father’s place, and he came for dinner.”


I think the earth shook under me when Hector laughed.  “You are a pisser, man!  We checked this guy out, and he’s an actor from New York.  He’s gay, and he’s been looking all over the world for someone for years.  That someone is your father’s girlfriend and your brother’s mother.”


I just looked.  “You know all that?  I …”


I was stunned, truly.  Dana had hoped all his life to find his father, and it had just turned out that his father had been searching, too.  Hector and company learned all this in an afternoon, and put it all together, or at least they had a lot put together, and they just needed me to confirm it.


Instead of responding I said, “You play nine-ball, right?  Want a game?”


Hector grinned, “You got cash?”


“Do you?”


Hector grinned, “Like I need money. Let’s go!”


I went with him, and the pool table was vacant like it always was.  It was a nice one, too, with leather pockets and a beautiful green felt.  I racked.  Nine Ball is a simple game.  You play with the first nine balls, and have to put them away in order, or hit them in order.  If you sink the nine-ball on any legal shot you win.  The nine-ball sits in the middle of the rack when you start, and I gave Hector the honors.


He broke, and smacked the one-ball as much on the nose as was possible.  No balls dropped.


I looked at the one ball, and decided I had half a chance at the side pocket, and I dunked it.  Hector’s crummy break shot had the two-ball behind everything else.


In pool, as in billiards, if you hit nothing or lose the cue ball in a pocket, you have scratched.  When you scratch, your opponent can place the cue ball anywhere behind the dot at the starting end of the table and take his best shot.


I had no shot at all on the two, so I tapped the cue against a cushion that would leave Hector in an even worse position than me, and watched it bounce into the huddle of balls his lousy break left.


Hector stood and looked, and he also called, “No pocket,” and attempted to bind me up as badly as I’d left him.  His shot was too light, and the cue ball never touched another, so it was a scratch.  However, where the cue ball sat gave me a better shot at the two than I could manufacture.  I had a shot that might happen on a good day, and I called it with little confidence, and I impressed Hector to no end with my close miss, and the fact that I still didn’t leave him anything to go on, either.


“You’re good, Paul.  Now watch a master.”


With that, he broke up the mess of balls that had huddled together, and managed to not sink a one of them.  He also left me a slam-dunk shot where I played the two-ball into the nine and got both of them.


I gloated, my hand out with the palm up.  “Pay me, man!”


“I forgot my wallet.”  He grinned at me.


“Figures,” I said.  “All right, let’s play again, double or nothing this time!”

“Fine.  I’ll rack.”


Hector was smart to have forgotten his wallet.  By the time Dad found us, I’d have had control of all Hector’s future earnings, and any earnings his kids would have into the next century.


I shook his hand when I had to leave, and promised him a next time.  That brought a fearful look to old Hector’s face.


When we were walking to the elevator, I asked my father, “How are things going up there?”


He put his good hand on my shoulder and said, kind of mysteriously if you ask me, “The way they should.  Things are going as they should.”


I think that meant Dad had an opinion, but one he wasn’t ready to share with me.  I also knew it meant that nothing had gone wrong, and that was a good thing.


There were two waiters in the apartment with a big, shiny cart that smelled good.  Dana and Elenora were at the table with Rhoderick, and I sat in the empty chair beside Dana.  I touched his elbow and said, “I just killed Hector in nine-ball.”


Dana snickered, “Really?” then he leaned close to me.  He pointed at Rhoderick and said, “I just showed this guy a skiing video.  He said he’s going to update his portfolio with my bio.”


I looked at Dana, then at Rhod, and I laughed out loud.  That was funny no matter how you looked at it, and I could tell that Dana and Rhod had hit it off to some extent just from the familiar way Dana said things.


The waiters served the dinner, and it was wonderful:  Wiener schnitzel, buttered spaetzle and lentils, asparagus with hollandaise, and applesauce.


I’m not usually one to talk when I’m enjoying a meal as much as I enjoyed that one, so I was looking across the table at Dana’s real father, and trying to decide what I thought of him at the same time I ate.  That detracted some from my enjoyment of the food, but not a lot.


I could and should have left my assessment to Elenora, who had already said that Rhod was and is a nice guy.  It didn’t take long for that truth to become clear.  I’m not one to take other opinions as my own, but in this case there was nothing to sway me against him.


He was a genuine nice guy.  He had his celebrity, yet kept his personal life both quiet and private.  He was gay, but not involved with anyone at the time, and said he’d never been promiscuous.  He played tennis, golfed, liked swimming, and he skied and skated in the winter.


When he looked at Dana, though, he had a hard time swallowing his food, and this sadness showed in his eyes, like he might be wondering what if.  If he’d been a couple of strokes luckier when Elenora ran away, and he found her then, I honestly think he would have been a dad to Dana, at least as much as a fourteen-year-old could.


Then again, that could have all gone to hell too.  I was trying to picture Rhod and Elenora as younger than me, and I couldn’t do it.


I generally kept my thoughts to myself during dinner, happy to watch my family deal with this latest twist in their lives.  It was all very pleasant.  Rhod had a certain openness about him, and seemed eager to answer whatever Elenora or Dana asked.  They both opened up, too, and I heard stories from them that were new to me.  When they talked about painful things in their past, they both laughed as if they’d happened to someone else.  Watching them interact with Rhod Daniels gave me an expanded understanding of their own closeness.


I had sensed it before, but never spent time where everyone was so focused on the two of them.  It was only natural, I suppose, for Dana and Elenora had gone since Dana was born with no other family members to lean on, no support except what Elenora could provide, and what financial help they could find from the government.


It really pleased me, then, that their memories seemed to be such happy ones.  They didn’t talk about power outages, but rather about when the power was turned off.  They didn’t joke about running out of this or that, but about living off dented cans of soup for days on end.  Dana laughed when he related the story of his first day in middle school.  All he had for new clothes was one pair of jeans and new sneakers.  All his other clothes were both old and somewhat outgrown   He had his first-ever gym class the next day, and was told he had to wear a jock strap, which he didn’t own.  Elenora made him one by cutting down a pair of his old Jockey shorts.  Dana swore his ass cheeks blushed when he had to put that thing on for gym, but that not a soul noticed, because all the boys were equally embarrassed by their own jocks.


Truthfully, I’d never seen Dana more animated, and Elenora wasn’t far behind.  It wasn’t that Dana was showing off or anything, but he got adamant about a lot of things.  When he described big, his hands shot right up, and he leaned halfway across the table when he told Rhod, very earnestly, about when things were bad.


Rhod listened intently when any of us talked, but he seemed to hear Dana with a separate and dedicated pair of ears.


It was neat for me to watch, because those two were hitting it off, and I didn’t know if they would or not when they met. But after some stilted moments up front, Dana and Rhod both seemed to find a pace that suited them, and my dad and I learned a lot about both of them.


I think Dana had some of Rhod’s acting ability, and could inject both drama and humor into his stories.  At the same time, he never once made himself the focal point of his tales, so he wasn’t really bragging; he was just telling about how things were where he grew up.  He was great, and I nearly applauded few times.


I was impressed with Dana, but not really surprised.  I’d seen him in action enough times, adapting to a new environment at first, then he’d gradually adapt that environment to his own comfort level.  I mean, the first time we ate in a restaurant he nearly panicked at the menu prices, but that was the only time.  Once he knew it was fine to order what he wanted, he stopped looking at prices.  He doesn’t generally order expensive anyhow, because his taste in food is pretty simple, but he doesn’t check the price first, either.


Dana and Elenora live in a tiny little addition to a larger house up in Stockton.  It’s little for sure, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a cozier place, and I can promise that a cleaner, neater one would be impossible.  Yet, when Dana first stayed at our place just outside town, he was impressed for sure.  He moved right in, felt at home, and enjoyed my mother’s whimsical decorations as much as I do.


Now he’d come to this place in Florida before me, and it seemed like he cast his own will with a wand or something.  Everyone knew Dana, and everyone seemed to want to please Dana.  How cool is that?


Just at nine, Dana said he really had to do his homework.  Rhod said he should leave, too, because he had an early flight.  “It’s best with an early one,” he explained.  “People are all grumbly at six in the morning, and they stare at their tickets ten times.”  He smiled, “I’ll go unnoticed.”


He said he’d be back for the weekend, then he talked privately with Elenora for about a half-hour, and I was in my room by the time he left.


I’d heard Rhod tell Elenora that he couldn’t not tell their parents, but he’d leave out details about where if she wanted.


She said, “I don’t know.  Go ahead and give them the cell phone number, I guess.”  Her voice became stern.  “Tell my father to call the Pope in Rome before he calls me.  That bastard wanted my baby dead.”


I couldn’t really hear what Rhod said to that, but I think he begged off politely.


Dana was studying at the kitchen table when I went back to our place.  He wanted to study, not talk, so I just went to bed.


* * * * * * * *


The next day was interesting.  Dana had gone down to his classes by the time I got up, and I ate breakfast downstairs, alone.  Someone was usually there to eat with me, but I didn’t really need company.  I filled a plate with fruit first, and sat to eat it.  This lady next to me, not really old, probably Mom’s age, said, “I saw you with Rhod Daniels last night. Is he really as nice as they say he is?”


I was all set to make some fun, but I didn’t at the last minute.  “I just met him,” I said.  “He seems real nice.”

She just about swooned.  “Ooh, I just knew it.  You can try to fake nice.  Look at that Tom Cruise.  He has this smile that’s as phony as a three-dollar bill.  He says he’s not gay, but everyone knows he is.  Rhod Daniels, though, he’s a real man.  He can put his shoes under my bed any day.”


I had a sausage on my fork right then, and put it down on my plate.  I looked at the lady and said, “Funny you should say that.  I was just thinking the same thing the other day: that almost all actors are most likely gay.  I mean, look at the news; there’s one after another.  I think it applies to weathermen on TV, too.  Have you noticed?”


“Oh yes, and you’re very observant,” and she was off, and I got about a ten minute dissertation on the professions that were absolutely filled with gay men.  I heard about flight attendants with my pineapple, bartenders with my strawberries, and Las Vegas performers with my peach.  Let me tell you, she was hilarious, but I felt I couldn’t laugh, so I held it in, and had this huge laugh built up in my head that I’d use later.


Thankfully, she was almost finished with breakfast when I got there, and was gone when I came back from the hot buffet.  I ate my bacon and French toast alone and in silence, which is the best way to have breakfast.


I lazed away the morning with my five towels and a rubber float.  When Dana showed up for our surfing lesson, we were both wired because the waves were big that day, and Denny pretty much let us have some fun.  Dana got better than me pretty fast, I think because he skied so well.  Water put him off, but when he figured out that the dynamics of surfing and skiing are similar, he improved in a hurry.


Good in surfing is different, because it’s the rare wave you can ride right up to the beach, where in snow-skiing you expect to reach the bottom still standing.  Still, balance and nerve are what count in both sports, and Dana has both in spades.


When Dana went back to his lessons, he was as wired as I’d seen him.  He was still way up about meeting Rhod, and absolutely tickled that he had become a surfer after just a few lessons.


I wasn’t doing badly myself, and went up to the room to relax after lunch.  I was stuffed on a hamburger and fries.  The burger was huge like one of Dad’s, and the basket of fries I shared with Dana was too much for the both of us.  We had both tried, too.


I went up to our room when Dana went to meet his tutor, and dozed off on the deck.  The place was heaven to me, and I just nodded off almost as soon as I sat down.  It was a nice day, the view was relaxing, and I felt that I’d learned to surf.  I’d learned the basics, anyhow.

Sometime later, I awoke hearing Elenora from the deck next door.  “Daddy, you can take your important, big man act and stick it where the sun don’t shine.” 


I could only hear the Elenora side of what was going on, and next came, “No!  Not ever!” then some silence.  “Listen, old man; listen to me.   Stop it!  Your grandson is Dana, and he’s as good as I could do, and one heck of a lot better than my father.”


There was a pause, and Elenora yelled, “Don’t give me that!  You wanted me to kill my child right inside my own body!”  She was silent for a moment before going off again.  “Daddy, it was you who said I had to be Catholic!  It was you who made me go to church and learn communion.  You taught me all this, but when I had Dana growing in me, you wanted him dead!  Where exactly, dear old father, does that fit in with your religion, or anybody’s, for that matter?”


I felt bad.  I couldn’t tell if Elenora was alone, or if my father was with her. 


She sounded more stressed than she would if Dad was there, so I tried to think of something, and decided to whistle, just to let her know I was there.


I’m not a good whistler, but I can make some noise, which is what I did, and I could tell that Elenora heard me when there was a little hiccup in her talk with her father.


“Listen,” she said.  “Come down if you want for Friday and Saturday.  I’ll talk to you, and if you can keep your mouth from spouting off, I’ll let you see Dana.”


“Shut up and listen to my rules, or just stay home.  Dana is my son, and if you once call him a bastard, I’ll get a gun and blow your brains out.  Got that?  I hate to say this, but we don’t need you.”


Elenora’s voice finally broke.  “I needed you once.  I really needed you to be my father and do something, but no.  You’re the politician and the man-about-town, and my getting pregnant sent that all to Hell.”  Elenora’s voice took on a dangerous tone.  “You wanted me to kill my baby.  After everything, after all the church, after all your phony morals in the Senate, you wanted me to kill Dana!”


She sobbed then, and quieted.  “Well, I didn’t, and it’s you who can rot in Hell for ever wanting that.  That was for you, Daddy, nobody else.  You will rot in Hell when God gets around to you.  Your own grandson!  You wanted to kill him!”


Man, that was hard for me to hear.  I understood every emotion that Elenora expressed, and I felt them myself.  Her father sounded like a creep who should be murdered, especially if he was still arguing his case fifteen years later.  I’d only heard the one end of the conversation, but what Elenora’s father said on the other end seemed obvious enough.  I wanted to kill the guy myself.


He was like a happy graduate of Barent’s Academy.  Freshmen learned how to become insufferable bores.  The sophomores learned how to be pricks, and juniors picked up on the nuances of superiority.  Given the basics, the seniors went on to learn how to be absolute idiots in society, and how to continue the idiom that rich guys are absolutely and totally bored and boring. 


They are boring if their money is old, like someone else earned it, and that covers almost everyone at Barent’s.  Their mission in life is to protect the assets, not enjoy them. I don’t know where you’d find a bunch of sadder kids than at a school for the rich.


I mean, everyone’s born the same, right?  Well, no they’re not, but we’re all born with the same possibilities out there.  I mean, I’m me … Paul Dunn … and my father is loaded, like way beyond what’s normal.  I get along in the world just fine.  I have friends, and make new friends without much strife.  I don’t think about that money, and I think that’s why I bailed out of Barents.  That money isn’t mine, it’s my father’s, and we’re trying to get rid of it.  It’s a big pile for sure, but it doesn’t rule our lives.


My allowance is twenty bucks a week, which seems about average where I live.  I also get lunch money for school, which is also normal.  I like the way we live, and I like that I have to borrow a dollar now and then, when I want something I don’t have enough for.  I pay back every penny I borrow, too.


Dana’s my brother now, which is the point I’m getting to.  Dana has been poor all his life ‘til now, and you might think he’d take Dad’s money and do something, but he doesn’t.  He takes it, don’t get me wrong, and he takes it happily, but dollars, not big bucks.


I’m trying to compare, so stick with me.  I grew up in a rich family.  Like any kid, I didn’t understand rich until maybe the age of ten or so, and even then it didn’t really make me feel different.  What I knew was that I never lacked for anything, and that I was never hungry, and never cold, except by my own doing.


Dana didn’t grow up like me, and wishing it for him won’t make it so.


Dana grew up in poverty, like the kind you read about. Elenora worked to support them, but always in marginal jobs that paid minimum wage.


Given Dana’s humble beginnings, he manages to surprise me at almost every turn.  From the first night we met, when he was a mess physically, he still showed this friendliness that seemed built-in.  Dana’s not so much forward as he is open, and if he has ever hidden something from me, I don’t know what it might be.  He doesn’t hem and haw like most people when asked an embarrassing question.  He might blush like a raspberry, but he’ll answer just the same.


His winningest trait as far as I’m concerned, is that he watches people and learns.  He doesn’t watch for their bad habits, but for the good things they do that he can learn from, and he does learn that way.  All of my friends who have met Dana like him just on the surface.  He’s easy-going and fun to be around.  People who spend time with him start to call Dana their friend, no longer Paul’s friend.


Dana has manners, too, and even good table manners.  I’m sure those came straight from his mother, and he’s more conscientious than I am in that department.   If the last bit of something I liked is on my dinner knife, I’ll lick it off every time, and don’t look if you don’t like to see that.


I suppose I’m prejudiced in favor of Dana, so don’t just listen to me.  He has won over my father and mother, Ally, and the parents of all my friends that he’s managed to meet.


And I’d just had to listen to his mother tell her own father not to call her son a bastard.  Honest to God, I was as mad as I’d ever been in my life, and I couldn’t wait for Mr. Senator Morasutti to show up at the hotel so I could tell him my thoughts on the matter.  Maybe I should write to the Pope in Rome myself.  Maybe I should write to Ally, like in a letter to the editor of her magazine, and expose the old creep for what he really is:  a hypocrite!


I heard Elenora sob on the deck next door, and I asked, “You okay?  Is Dad there?”


“No, sweetheart.  Your father is having his cast off today, and they said about eight hours.  It’s kind of elaborate.”


“Oh,” I said.


“I’m sorry you heard that, with my father.  Dana doesn’t need to know, okay?”


“Yeah,” I said.  “Want me to come over?”


She sobbed again, “Please.”


I went straight there, using the adjoining door, and it didn’t take me a minute.  I stepped onto the deck, and Elenora wasn’t a happy person.  She’d been crying, and kind-of still was.  She turned a sad face to me, and I said, “I’ll be right back.” 


I hurried to a bathroom and wet a hand towel.  I brought that to her and went inside to look at their liquor.  There wasn’t much, but I saw a bottle of Dry Sack, and that’s what my family uses as a pain killer, when the pain isn’t physical.  I looked at all the glasses there, and didn’t remember off the top of my head which one sherry would go in, so I poured some in a little snifter thing and held it out to Elenora when I got to the deck.


Her face was dry by then, and she wasn’t crying anymore.  She smiled at me while she accepted the drink, and then took a sip.  She smiled a second time, with a bit of cheer back in her eyes.  “Thanks, Paul.”  She looked at the glass and said, “Oh!  That’s good. You’re really a doll.”


I said, “When your father gets here, why don’t you let me and Hector take him out deep-sea fishing?”


She giggled, “For what?  Great Whites?”


I shrugged, “That’d be good.  But why let one fish have all the fun?  Maybe we could find a school of barracuda or a nice family of swordfish.”


Elenora sighed.  “I don’t know, Paul.  All this time, I’ve thought my father was misguided. Now I think that maybe he’s just a really hateful person.  You should have heard him talk about Rhod.”  She looked at me, “The pity is that he grew up in the civil rights years, and used civil rights as an excuse to get elected to office.  It’s hard for me to believe that he was sincere about that, because at home it was always talk about those people.  There’s a difference.  Other politicians were talking about our people, and all people, which sounds more like it, but those people?  He talked about discrimination like there was a good reason for it.”  She took a sip of sherry and put the glass down, “I’m glad I wasn’t born yet.  He had some really ripe words about gays, too, and demanded to know if Dana is gay.”


I offered, “Deep-sea fishing trip?  It can be arranged.”


Elenora considered that and gave me a little grin.  “I don’t think so … maybe as a last resort.  I think I’ll ask Hector to introduce my father to Dana.”


Her smirk became a smile, and I smiled back.  “Yeah!”


Elenora’s phone rang right then, and when she answered she said, “Mother?”


I tried to disappear immediately, but wasn’t fast enough to miss Elenora’s face while it took on a whole new look, and a new bunch of tears came from her eyes.


The look I saw in that moment told me a lot, though.  Elenora thought differently of her mother than her father, and it didn’t take a genius to realize that they’d both suffered under the man’s rule.


I left them to talk, feeling bad for Elenora for having such a fucked up family.  I wasn’t afraid for her, though.  She’d been away from them a long time, and she’d learned how to fight back.


In my suite, I kind of wandered around thinking about things, and then I went down to the beach with a nap in mind.  This was stressful stuff, but I didn’t have any real role in it, unless it came to protecting Elenora and Dana.  I didn’t think that was likely, and I was on vacation.  A nap atop five towels, under a palm on the beach was the thing to do. I took my hotel card and my iPod and rode the elevator down, then went straight to my lounge.  I didn’t really sleep, but got into this sort-of doze where I wondered about things.  First up was my father, and what he was going through with his hand, and I hoped it would be all better when everything was done.  I was a bit angry that he hadn’t told me he was going, but then I realized he had on my first day there, and I’d forgotten when he said it would be.


I didn’t like the mood that I was in, but when I tried to think of other things, all my thoughts turned dark, and I got madder when that happened.


I took my float and went into the water, and I went way the hell out.  I was far enough that a good swell in front of me could obscure the entire state of Florida from view, including the taller buildings.  In those moments, I could envision myself as the ancient mariner, lost at sea, but that led me to think about sharks, so I rode the tide in.  That was actually a pretty handy mode of travel, and I got off my float long enough to get back on, on my back this time, with my hands under my head.  Then I lazily kicked myself back out toward the deep water, but not seeing when breakers approached was a bad thing, so I had to flip over again just to see what was coming.


I think I learned that the wrong place is the wrong place no matter what your orientation is, and the only way past those breakers was on foot, so I ran back out into deeper water.   Then I couldn’t flip onto the rubber float and land on my back for the life of me.  I was in water up to my chest, and I either never reached the damn thing, or flipped right over it.  I ended up frustrated, and then laughed at myself, imagining everyone on shore saying, “Look at that idiot.”


I floated around until I got tired of doing it, and went back to the beach and my towels.  I stretched out on the lounge to dry off, and the afternoon sun felt fantastic, so I stayed there for about fifteen minutes, until I realized I’d forgotten sunblock.  That thought sent me to the shade of the beach bar, and I got a Shirley Temple because nobody was around to laugh at me, and I like the sweet things.


The truth is, I was still kind of charged up that Elenora’s father had upset her.  If he had the nerve to show up after that conversation, I hoped she’d send Dana off to Peru, or someplace where the guy wouldn’t ever find him.  I mean, how low can you be if you can chase your own daughter away for fifteen years, then have the goddamn nerve to call her son a bastard?  I mean, that guy could walk under snakes without ducking his head.


My problem right then, was that trying to calm down just made me madder, and I couldn’t stop it. 


I never met Elenora’s father, and now I didn’t ever want to, because if I met him, I’d want to murder him in plain view of the whole world, just so everyone else on the planet could confirm that he was dead.


Oh, God.  Then Ally’s voice came into my head saying, “Consequences, Paul.  There are consequences when people do wrong.”


I didn’t know Elenora’s father, and I had this picture of some tall, regal, white-haired guy in my head, all handsome and dignified like that.  What if he wasn’t?  What if the senator was some stooped-over fat guy with a bald head, a giant nose, and false teeth?  What then?  What if he lived on garlic and onions, and had breath you could smell in Tewksbury?  What if it was bad enough that you could tell it was his bad breath over all the other people with bad breath in Tewksbury, because it was that bad?  What if …”


“Hi, Paul.  I’m back.”


My father!  He took the stool beside me and held out the arm that had been in an apparatus for a month, and now it was only wrapped up at the wrist.  I saw that, and I looked at his face, and he smiled.  “I feel twenty pounds lighter.”


A closer look revealed black-looking fingers, a skinny arm compared to his other one, and a tan that stopped dead below his elbow.  I reached out to feel his skin, which seemed normal in his hairy way, and asked, “It’s okay?”


The bartender was there, and Dad ordered a cocktail before he looked back at me.  “It’s going to be fine.  I’ll wear this pad to protect against bumps and the like, but it’s only there for protection, it’s not doing anything.  We’ll see in another week if I even need therapy, because normal activity might be all it takes.”


I grinned, “That’s great!  Welcome back!” and I stood to give him a hug, and I got a whole one in return: my first in a month.


I had tears in my eyes when I sat back, and there was no hiding them, so I didn’t try.  I explained them as I wiped the tears away.  “God, Dad, I was so scared.  Then you were hurt and came down here.” I could hear the extra snot in my own voice, and I gurgled, “I don’t know.  I just don’t always know what to do. You say I’m almost a man, but I’m still almost.  It’s not the same thing.”


I looked at him suddenly and said, “We need to talk. Can we go somewhere?”


Dad touched my hair and said, “Sure.  Where do you want to go?”


I was in my bathing suit, so I said, “Down the beach, I guess.  Or up it.”


“Up the beach?” Dad asked, sounding bemused while he swallowed his cocktail down.  “Sounds like an old movie title.”  He stood, “Let’s go that way.  We tried to go down the beach, but there’s trouble down there.”




“Just a tough bar,” Dad said.  “You have to pass it, and it’s not worth the bother.”


We walked a few minutes in silence before I said, “Dad, Elenora talked to her father today.  Honest, I wasn’t trying to listen, but I heard.”


Dad said, “She told me her parents called.”


“He called Dana a bastard, Dad.”


My father’s voice suddenly sounded tight, and that told me he was angry.  “Elenora called me. I know. I take it you’re pissed off?  I sure am.”


I looked at him, and his jaw was set like you didn’t see too often.  He said, “I think I’ll ask Bernie Sutton to take a look at Senator Morasutti.  Let’s see how clean he is.”


I grinned, and then I thought about my talk with Hector earlier.  “Dad, I don’t think you need Bernie,” and I told him about how much Hector knew about Rhoderick Daniels when we didn’t even ask.  “I think if we wanted, Hector’s firm could tell us what the guy had for lunch on his second day of fifth grade, if he ever tried on women’s underwear, if he smoked pot, or anything else we want to know.”


Dad put his newly-free hand on my shoulder and said, “Good thinking, Paul.  We’ll do just that.”


That hand felt good where it was.  It felt really good to have my father pretty much back to normal, and to have him to myself for a little while.  I put my own hand up on his shoulder, and we walked along the spoon touching like that, talking and laughing together like we always could.


I was a rich kid for sure, and money had little to do with it.