Mud Season

Chapter 5



Rhod’s parents showed up the next day, and were settled into the room my dad reserved for them before they called to introduce themselves.  I was out for my surfing lesson with Dana, and not really aware of what time they’d come or anything.  Dana and I only knew they were expected.  Dana said he wasn’t nervous, but he was a total fuck-up surfing, so I knew he really was nervous.  For once, I did better than he did, and he gave up early, before he drowned himself.


He’d already ordered lunch for himself by the time I approached him at a poolside table.  I was still drying myself, and Dana grinned when he saw me. 


“You need a shirt to sit here,” he said.


“The hell I do,” I said, pointing at him.  “That’s my shirt you’re wearing.  It doesn’t say I have to be wearing it.”  I plopped into the chair opposite him.  “I’m golden.”


Dana said, “I already ordered.  Don’t wait on me.”


I waved to a waiter who was looking in our direction, and he came over with a menu.  “I don’t need that,” I said.  “Just bring me the tuna sandwich and a small fries.”


He nodded.  By then they knew I drank water, so I didn’t have to mention it.  That place made the best tuna fish sandwiches anywhere.  There was like a whole can of tuna, a ton of mayo, another ton of onions and celery, and they stuck it all between these huge slices of wheat bread with lettuce and tomatoes.  I mean huge in the acreage sense, because it wasn’t fat bread, just wide.


The waiter said, “Sorry, you need a shirt.”


I pointed at Dana and said, “That’s my shirt.  Is that a problem?”


The guy thought for a second and grinned, “Not a problem.  I’ll bring your water, and then put your order in.”


He disappeared, and Dana laughed.  “You have this all figured out, don’t you?  I mean, jeez.  Like I’m wearing your shirt for you?”  He made this stupid little bowing motion and laughed, “At your service, master.”


“Whatever,” I said.  “It worked.”


I changed the subject.  “What’s it like being tutored?  You don’t say much.”


Dana looked a bit pained.  “It’s okay, I guess.  I mean, it’s good because I don’t get left hanging on something I don’t really understand.”  He grinned suddenly, “I’m the smartest kid in my class, and that’s a first.”  His grin turned into a glare right away and he added, “Don’t be a douche and tell me I’m also the dumbest kid, either.  I already thought of that one.”


I shrugged, “So there’s a downside?”


Dana looked away and pointed at the water.  “Look, pelicans!  I love to watch them!”


I turned because I like to watch pelicans myself.  They’re neat, at least as far as birds go.  They can fly really fast just inches above the water, then dive in and come up with a fish to eat.  Sometimes they just sit in the water and gobble their catch down, but most times seagulls are trying to steal their lunch, so they fly up onto some perch where there’s just room for one bird, like a mooring pole or something.  I swear, they sit up there and gloat while they enjoy their catch, and then they go right back to it.  You’ll see a whole flock of pelicans skimming the water, when all at once they’ll sploosh underwater head-first, like diving fools.


I watched eagles once, up off the coast of Canada, and they could swoop down from a tall tree into the ocean so fast it’d surprise me, but they went after big fish like salmon.  If the fish was bigger than the eagle, a guide told us one day, the eagle would drown before letting it go, and all the other eagles up in the trees would cheer like if they were Romans at the coliseum, watching Christians play with angry elephants and lions.


The bald eagle is our national symbol, where the pelican is mentioned nowhere in the Constitution or anything, and they don’t appear on money.  Pelicans have these huge beaks, and they catch itty-bitty fish that they can fly away with, even doing evasive maneuvers around gulls.


Eagles have little beaks and big talons.  They’re mean-looking beaks for sure, and I’ve heard that they kill sheep and the like, even carry babies off in those talons, but what kind of brain does it take to try to fly off with a thirty-pound salmon when you weigh twenty pounds yourself?  A bird brain, maybe?  Huh?  Huh?  Yet our national symbol nearly extincted itself, while dumb-old pelicans thrive and thrive.


“It’s not fun,” Dana said, interrupting my bird thoughts.  I looked at him.


“It’s just me, maybe.  If I get a long lesson, there’s nobody else there except me.  I mean, in real school there’s lots of reasons to not pay attention too much.  It’s not like I ever flunked anything, but to listen to old Russell go on and on about all these wars, and I’m the only one there … I don’t know.  I mean, it’s interesting and all that, but I’m the only one there to raise my hand.”


He smiled sadly at me. “In Stockton, there’s this girl Janice in my class in history, and she always has her hand up.  The thing is, every time she says an ‘s’ she kind of whistles it, and it makes me crazy.  And I don’t think she knows a word without an ‘s’ in it.  What’s sick is; I kind of miss that.  I mean, Janice would make the teacher shut up for a minute to answer her, but that damn whistle made me wish I was deaf sometimes.  I mean, I like the tutors and all, but it’s just me there, all alone.  That’s kind of sucky.”


I tried to tease, “Yeah, but …”


Dana cut me off.  “But nothing.  There’s nobody else there; that’s what’s hard.  Nobody to talk to, nobody to laugh with, just nobody.”


“Lonely, then?”  I asked.


Dana smirked, “No, not really lonely.  I’m just not used to it.  It’s too quiet is what it is.”  He looked a question at me, “Do you know silence like that?  It’s not like school at all with nobody else there.  I’m used to more noise, even guys making fun of my answers.  It’s not … it’s not … what’m I trying to say?  It’s not normal!”


“Not social,” I suggested.


“That’s it.  It’s not social.  I mean, I probably can’t flunk because these guys won’t let me not learn, but damn!”


Our food came right then, and we only grunted out generalities until we were half done.  Then I asked Dana, trying to sound casual, “So, ready to meet the relatives?”




I waited, and finally asked, “No?  That’s it?”


Dana, who’d ordered some creamy looking pasta thing, was struggling to not get the entire bowl of it wrapped onto a single forkful, and without a lot of success.  He finally took his knife and cut it all up.  He took a big mouthful and looked at me while he chewed it.


I made a face, of course, which made Dana smile.  He said, “I’m not afraid of them, I just don’t know where this is gonna go.  I want to meet them, especially Rhod’s side.  I mean, I’m their grandson, but I don’t want them going all gooey on me, because I don’t know who they are; I never heard of them before.  Mom says they’re nice; I just hope they’re not pushy nice.”


I looked at Dana, and judged that he was concerned more than afraid.  “And your mother’s side?”  I asked.


He looked right through me.  “Mom says I don’t have to if I don’t want.  I guess I’ll wait and see.  She says her mother is okay, but her father is kind of a big if.”


I thought Elenora was giving her father a huge amount of credit he didn’t deserve.  An if?  Maybe she said oaf, and Dana misunderstood.  I didn’t know the man, and maybe he’d change, but I wouldn’t bet on it.  Nor would I try to sway Dana one way or the other, so I said, “Best to wait and see.”  I tried to warm to the whole deal, because finding his ancestry had been important to Dana, and I totally understood that.  I just didn’t think he’d be too happy with half of it.


“You know,” I said.  “It’s neat that you’re finding everyone all at once like this.  I just think it might be…,” I wanted to say overwhelming, but changed that.  “Put it this way.  If you need to get out, just say something like you have a surfing lesson, and we’ll disappear.  Okay?  I’ll agree with you, and we’ll go.”


Dana said seriously, “This is all weird, you know.  I mean, I met my real father, and he’s okay.  Now my mother says his parents are both nice, but her father is this dork from Hell.  How do I handle that?”


I smiled and said, “Hector.  Don’t go near that guy when Hector’s not there.” 


Dana’s look showed his confusion, so I said, “Dad will have Hector at your side around the clock when that guy’s here.  If he says anything bad, he’ll wish he didn’t.”  I smiled a grim smile.  “If I could have my way, it would be the last thing he ever says.”


Dana turned a curious little smile to me.  “You sound like you already know him, like you already don’t like him.”


“I don’t like him,” I said, smiling.  “If he had his way, I’d still be an only-child.  I don’t like what he stands for.”


Dana just looked at me before turning his attention back to his lunch.  He ate some more, then looked over at me.  “Hector, huh?”  He grinned, “I like that.  Think we could dress him up all in black?”


“I’ll ask,” I said, and we finished eating in silence, and then Dana left for his afternoon lessons.


I’d come up with an idea, but I had to get to the pier to work it out.  I walked out to the street and waited for Hector to show up beside me, which didn’t happen until I actually stepped into the road as if I intended to cross it.


“Where to, boss?” he asked when he materialized on my right side.


“I have to go up to the pier.  Can we get a ride, or should I call a cab?”


Hector said, “One ride, coming up,” and talked into his shirt collar, “We need wheels, and quick.”


I heard some sound that I couldn’t make out, and Hector said, “The pier.”  He listened,  and then said, “I don’t know.  Maybe we’re going fishing.”


“Shopping,” I said.


“The boy wants to go shopping.  We’re not supposed to get personal you know.”


He looked at me and said, “We’ll have a ride in a second.  We shopping for anything special?”


“Not really special,” I said.  “I need guns for me and Dana, and some rope.  We also need underwear.”


Hector said, sounding serious, “You can’t buy a gun in this state; you have to be twenty-one, and you need a permit and a background check.”


I shrugged, “Okay, you get the guns; I’ll find the rope and underwear.”


Hector said, very seriously, “I can’t help.  I haven’t been twenty-one for seven years.”


Instead of laughing I asked, “Where do you get tee-shirts your size?”


Hector showed his surprise, “What you talkin’ about?  We go from guns to tee-shirts?”


“Yeah,” I said.  “Will they have your size on the pier?”


“Man, they don’t have my size in this state.  I use mail order.”


“How fast can you get a plain, black one?” I asked.


“What are you doing, Paul?”  Hector asked in exasperation.  “I have a drawer full of plain black shirts.  I don’t need to order one!”


“Good,” I said, grinning at him.  “Can you pick one up on our way to the pier?”


He glared at me and said, “We can pick one up if you give me a good reason to.  I don’t live on the way to the pier.  My place is down by the air base.”


I said, “Okay.  Do you know a tee-shirt shop near there?”


Hector kind of snorted, “I told you I already have shirts.”


“I don’t,” I said.  The Escalade I’d been in before pulled up in front of us, and I asked Hector again while we got in, “So, is there a shirt shop down that way?”


Hector made sure I was belted in, and then told the driver, “My place first, amigo.”  Then he switched to Spanish, and the only word I could make out over the din was loco, which Hector repeated more times than seemed absolutely necessary.


His place certainly wasn’t on the way to the pier, and the car didn’t stop until we we’d gone twenty minutes in the other direction.  When we reached his building, he told the driver, indicating me, “If he tries to leave, shoot his foot off.  I’ll be right out.”


This driver was new to me.  I don’t think we ever got the same one a second time.  He was thin with black hair, and when he turned to look at me, he looked young.  He had a bright smile, anyhow.  “Hector must like you.”


“You think?”  I asked.  “He just told you to shoot my foot off.”


“That’s why I know he likes you.  Anybody else, he’d tell me to blow his head off.”


“Oh,” I muttered.


“You can always get a fake foot.  Only the undertaker gives you a fake head.”


I smirked at the guy.  “You have a good sense of humor.  I like that.”


“Oh, no,” he said.  “I never laugh.  Not ever.”


He faced forward and changed his mind, I think, because he started snickering like crazy.


Hector came back then, and tossed a plastic grocery bag over the seat at me.  It hit my stomach like a basketball, and I went, “Oof!  What’s this?”


“My shirt,” Hector said simply, and when I looked in the bag, that’s what was there: one shirt, Hector-size.  The collar was at the open end of the bag, so I looked at the tag.  5XL is what it said, and I had no more questions.


Hector had the driver going up and down cross streets looking for a shop he knew was there somewhere, and the guy found a place just down the street to park once Hector spotted the store.


It was a shirt shop, but nothing like a pier store.  It was neat just the same.  There were no beach-logo shirts, nor any from the Space Center, or anything else touristy.  I guessed that the clients were mostly from the air base, which was right there, and maybe a biker gang or two.  There were a lot of Harley shirts with sayings like, Don’t run with the big dogs if you can’t piss in the high grass, which apparently meant something tough.


A lot of the shirts were covered with sexual innuendo, and some of that was actually funny, but I knew what I wanted.  I didn’t see anything, but I was hopeful because a lot of the shirts had started out black.


I approached the counter, and an old guy was back there with an old-fashioned, hand-operated, wood-frame silk-screen, laying patterns on shirts.  He was about as typical as a beach bum could be, too.  His hair was gray and kinky, and very long.  His skin was all red and wrinkly, and his arms had tattoos running up and down them.  He wore an ancient and greasy-looking khaki-colored baseball cap, and when he caught me looking at him, he turned the most bloodshot eyes I ever saw to me.  “Whaddya need, kid?”


I said, “I need a lot of shirts, all the same.”  I saw that get his interest, and I went right on.  “You know the ones like SWAT teams use, that say SWAT on the back in big yellow letters?  Or like the letters on FBI jackets?  Can you do that here?”


His gaze never changed. “You said a lot of shirts, right?  How many and how soon?”


I got excited, “You can do it?”


He stuck a cigarette between his lips and lit it with a wooden match.  “I asked first,” he said simply, a cloud of smoke escaping with his words.


“I don’t know; twenty.  No, twenty-five.  I have one shirt here already; you just need to letter it.”


He said, “I letter what I sell.”


I tossed the bag with Hector’s shirt in it to him and said, “That’s fine.  You sell these?”


He pulled Hector’s shirt out and let it unfold, and it actually touched the floor.  His expression didn’t change from bored, but he muttered, “Man.  The guy who wears this can drink some beer.”  He looked at me.  “You want this one and twenty-five others?”


I nodded eagerly, and he asked suspiciously, “You want them soon.  Explain soon.”


“No later than tomorrow night, okay?


He let out a puff of smoke and said, “Oh, gee.  I thought you wanted them in like an hour.  Tomorrow is no problem.  Tonight is no problem, but I gotta tell you.  Custom work you pay in advance.”


“That’s fair,” I said.  “How much?”


“How many letters?”


“Just four,” I said.  “DFWM”


He wrote that down on a piece of paper and looked back at me.  “Maybe you want a B at the end?”


“Why a B?” I asked.


He grinned at me, revealing horrible teeth.  “Oh, no reason.  Lots of folks, a sentence like that, they end it with a B word, that’s all.”  He took another pull on his cigarette and expelled another cloud of smoke.


I said to do it the way I asked.


“No problem.  All one size?”


I should think things out in advance, and that question caught me.  “Um, I think all but one can be men’s large.  One’s for a girl …a lady.”


He wrote that down, saying, “Good thing.  I have these all in stock.”  He looked at me, “We haven’t talked about price.”


“Your sign says all shirts are ten bucks, and three for twenty-five.”


“Custom work,” he said with his elbow on the counter and his head against his hand.


“Fine,” I said.  “How much?”


“Twenty if you need them tonight.  Fifteen if tomorrow’s okay.  The big one’s on the house, okay?”


I said, “That’s okay, and tomorrow is okay,” while I held my father’s credit card out.


I say it’s my father’s card, and it is, but the one I carry has my name on it, and I’m legal to sign. I don’t use it around home or anything, and don’t even carry it with me there, but traveling is different, and things go wrong sometimes.  I was in Florida, so I was traveling, so spending almost four-hundred bucks on tee-shirts was allowed.  It would go unnoticed, anyhow.


The guy smiled when he gave me the receipt.  “I’ll do you up good, pal.  You’ll see.  I’ll wrap the woman’s one separate, too, so you won’t have to look for it.”


“Thanks,” I said.  “Not a big deal?”


He shook his head and turned back to his silk screen, so I left with Hector.


“They’re paid for?” Hector asked on the way out.


“All set,” I said.


“Give me the receipt.  I’ll pick them up.”


+ + + + + + + +


When I got back to the hotel, I realized that I’d once again forgotten my card.  I tried to call the room I shared with Dana and got no answer, so I called Dad’s room.  He wasn’t there either, and I went out back and looked around by the pool.


They were there: my father, Elenora, Dana, and a couple who could only be Rhod’s parents.  They didn’t look very old, and that reminded me how very young Elenora and Rhod were when they … got together.


I envisioned other people’s grandparents to be like my own.  Not ancient necessarily, but they at least have the grace to let their hair go gray and have children already in their forties.


I stopped thinking about it and approached the table.  Elenora was the one looking my way, and she stood, “Here’s Paul now.  This is Franklin’s son, Paul Dunn.”


Everyone stood, and I shook hands all around.  The Daniels family seemed really genuine to me, especially the Mr.  He held my handshake for a long time, and really looked at me.  He finally said, “I’m really pleased to meet you,” with a smile.  I had the feeling that he was looking for something else from me, and wondered what he’d been told.


Mr. Daniels was acting like a very proud grandfather, and he could hardly keep his eyes off Dana.  When I looked, neither could his wife, and if adoration could be spelled out in an expression, they shared it.  It made me smile, and I smiled more when they said they were taking us all out for dinner, wherever our favorite place in town was.


That’s when you know people are real.  They don’t say the most expensive place or the fanciest place.   They trust you to bring them to a place you really like, even if that’s a hamburger joint or a clam shack.


Elenora protested, but when the Mr. Daniels pressed, she acquiesced right away.


Dad stood up almost as soon as I’d sat down, and said to Mr. Daniels, “Rory, how about you and I take the boys for a walk on the beach, and let the ladies have some private time?”


That request was a hit, and I said, “I need to change.  I’ll just be a minute.”


They nodded, and as soon as I turned around I remembered my forgotten card.  I turned back around, grabbed Dana’s shoulder, and said, “Come with me.”


He jumped right up, and we walked to the elevator.  I said, “I forgot my card again.  Got yours?”


He did, and on the ride up he asked, “Where’d you go?”


“Shopping,” I said.  “With Hector.”


“For him or with him?” Dana asked as he opened our suite and walked in ahead of me.


“Both, kinda.”


Dana looked at me and asked, “So what did you get?”


“Undies,” I said.


Dana was funny, and I think the word for his reaction is blanch.  That’s what he did, and he said, “Stop there.  I know enough already.”


“Yeah, you do,” I said as I pulled off my clothes and got into a bathing suit, pulled a shirt on, and announced, “I’m ready.”


Dana said, “I’m going to the bathroom.  Don’t forget your card this time.”

Five minutes later we were walking on the beach, four-abreast, me closest to the water.  Conversation was just little comments at first, but Mr. Daniels and Dana fell behind us soon enough.  The few times I looked back, they seemed to be getting along, so I turned my attention to the world around me.  We were in the sun, but there was an ominous looking cloud ahead of us, and offshore.  I said, “Storm coming,” and pointed.


Dad said, “Not here; not that one. Look behind you.”


I thought he meant for me to look back, and it was all blue sky that way.  He bopped my shoulder and said, “I mean they come up from the Southeast.”  He pointed at the clouds I’d seen and said, “That one will probably hit land around Daytona.”


I was about to say something when I realized that he’d just held his arm straight out to point, and I said, “Do that again!”


“Do what?”


“Point where you did, Dad.  Your arm really worked that time!”

He pointed again, looked at his arm, and grinned himself.  “It did, didn’t it?”  He chuckled, “Next thing you know, I’ll be mud wrestling with Hector.”


I paused, then said, “That would be the sudden-death match?” and we both laughed, because it surely would be.


We walked in silence some more, and I could only hear voices from behind me, not words, but Dana seemed to be having a real conversation with his grandfather.  I walked off to the right, into the spoon, so I could take a look at them, and looked out to sea until they passed.  They were walking along the beach in their own world, looking at each other and not where they were going.


I could see more of Mr. Daniels’ face than Dana’s, and he was an expressive man.  He’d be grinning one moment, his eyebrows up in surprise the next, then he’d find a kindly smile.  I couldn’t see Dana’s face, but I had the sense that he was really having a nice time.


I stopped watching, and eventually stopped walking when I saw a couple of dolphins.  I like to see dolphins.  These two were far out, but I knew I saw them, and they soon jumped again, or whatever they call it when it looks like there are underwater hurdles out there.  They were closer to shore the second time, and I nearly jumped out of my skin when I felt a hand on my shoulder. 


It was Dana’s voice.  “Wow!” he said.  “I never saw them that close.”


I was startled, and I think that surprised Dana.  He laughed, “Easy, boy, I was just talking.  I didn’t mean to scare you.”


I caught my breath and said, “Don’t do that!  Jeez!”  Then I laughed at myself, “Shit, you jumped me!”  I looked at Dana and asked, “So, how is it?”


He asked, “With Rhod’s father?” and on my nod he said, “Good: real good.  He says he wants a place in my life, and wants me in his life. God!”  Dana laughed, “I think he’s surprised I’m not a baby.  He keeps telling me I’m so big, and I keep saying I’m fifteen.”  Dana looked off for a moment, and came back with a benign smile.  “He’s a nice man, like a television grandfather.  I like him.”


“Can’t do better than that,” I said.


Dana made a funny sound, and when I looked at him it seemed he might cry.  “What?”  I asked.  “Is something wrong?”


He shook his head no, but there were tears in his eyes, and he took a step toward me so he could steady himself with his hands on my shoulders.  I could tell that he was struggling not to cry, and he blurted out, “I could‘a had this all along!”


I said, “Dana, don’t!  Don’t do it, man.”


He looked at me with a question on his face and I had to think fast.  “Listen,” I said.  “You’re you because of who you are, because of how your life is.  If you had all that all along, you’d probably be a bored brat in prep school just like I was.”  He stared at me, and I kind-of glared back at him.  “All that ain’t the world, my brother.  It’s just money and position, and it doesn’t mean a royal thing to real people.”


“What are you saying?  I should like my life?”


I shook my head, “Not all of it, probably, but look at you now … right here.  Could it be better?”


Dana stared at me with a blank expression, like he didn’t understand what I was saying.  I started walking, and when he fell in beside me I put my hand on his arm.  “Dana, listen.  Believe this or not, but I’d trade your life for mine any day of the week.”  He looked at me like I was crazy.  “I mean it,” I said.  “Everything I have was given to me.  You had to learn and earn your own way since you were born.  We’re in the same place now, but you know way more than I ever will, and you understand more about things, too.”


Dana looked sad, “Maybe we are.  Maybe.  But you found me, and that’s why I’m here.”


“No,” I said.  “We found you on the road for sure, but you’d be here someday anyhow, in your own way.  You can ski your way to money, maybe even act your way.”  I blinked, “We’re just a convenience for you right now.”


We walked in silence for probably five minutes, and I had no idea what Dana might be thinking.  I was alone with my thoughts, watching my father and Mr. Daniels talking ahead of us.

“If you met me some other way, like in town or something, would this all be different?”  Dana asked suddenly.


“I don’t know what you mean,” I said, although I did have an idea.


“What I mean is,” Dana said, “You found me in a blizzard when I fell down in the road.  I can see why you brought me home there.  If you saw me in a store, or on the street, would you even notice me?”


I thought first, and said, “That’s not a fair question.  I mean, why would I?  Why would you?  Why would anybody?”  I laughed, “I don’t go to stores with my father and carry people home.  It doesn’t happen!”


Dana laughed, “No, I guess you don’t.  Let me think.”


We walked, and he eventually asked, “I’m sorry.  You and Dad have been really good to me.  I think I was wondering why it took you so long to show up in my life, and that’s a stupid thing to think about.”


I couldn’t think of anything to say, and thankfully Dana went on.  “You did show up; that’s the big thing.”  He looked at me and stopped walking, so I did, too.  “When doesn’t matter.  I don’t know what I’m talking about.”


I smiled, “I don’t, either.  Listen, Dana.  I’m glad we found you.  Can we leave it at that?  I don’t want to analyze my life or your life or anything.”  I looked at him.  “Are you glad, too?”


Dana nodded, a bit dumbly, and I said, “Good!  Don’t look back, okay?”


“Why?” he asked.


“Hector’s there somewhere, probably disguised like seaweed.  Anyhow, you have a future.  I have a future.  I don’t want to think about it too much.”


We walked along, in apparent agreement.  I can sit all day and analyze other people, but I don’t like to think too much about why I do the things I do.  I don’t feel like I have motives, at least not ones that benefit me beyond having fun.  I like people or I don’t, and I’ll goof on you either way.  If I like you, I goof to make you laugh.  If I don’t like someone, I try to make them laugh anyhow and hopefully at themselves.


I don’t think I’m snotty because we have lots of money, and I hate that in other people.  Still, when someone looks at me like I smell bad, especially when I don’t, I just like to push them off their mountain top a little.  I don’t ever want to be the kind of person who says something like, “I can buy and sell you.” 


Is that the stupidest line in any movie you ever heard it in?   I mean, if I was actually for sale, I could reduce my value to zero simply by performing some bodily functions while on the auction block.  Take that!  Who’d buy the kid whose pants are soaked in front and have a visible lump in back, and smells the way he looks?  Nobody, that’s who!   If you can buy me, you’ll have to keep me, plain and simple, and I won’t make it easy for you.


I was amusing myself with my thoughts, but Dana was there, and I wanted to stay connected.  “So, what do you think will happen?”  I asked him.


He shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I don’t know what this all means, even if it all works out.”


“Meaning?”  I asked.


“What I mean is, I’m just getting a real life, and I’m liking it, and now it’s all complicated.  All I wanted to do was get Dad put back together, and then go back home and work on that business.”  He touched me so I’d look at him.  “It seemed simple there for awhile, and I had something to really look forward to.”


“Explain the problem,” I said, certain that I knew what it was, but I wanted to hear it from Dana.


“The problem … I can tell you the problem.  Suddenly I have another father, and I have a family with grandparents and all, and I like all of them.  Tomorrow I get even more family, and I think I’m not supposed to like them.”  He looked at me earnestly, “Where does this leave me?  Just when everything was getting good, I have all this new crap, these new people, and I don’t know where to go with it.”


“Don’t,” I said.  “I told you, if you want to just go surfing or something, let’s go.”


Dana looked at me blankly, and his look suddenly became hopeful, “Can we?”


“We can do whatever we want, Dana.  Whatever we want.  Surfing, is it?”


He nodded, and I ran up to my father and Mr. Daniels who had gotten far ahead of us.  I tapped my father’s shoulder, out of breath from running in the sand.  He turned and said, “Paul?”


“We’re going surfing,” I said.  “We’ll be off the hotel beach somewhere.”


Dad nodded, and Mr. Daniels looked back, worried.  I smiled at him, “Don’t worry, it’s our usual time.  You can come watch if you want.”


I took off running back to Dana before anyone said anything else.  As soon as I stopped, he frowned, “What did you say?”


I didn’t understand his expression.  “I said we’re going surfing.  What’s the matter?”


Dana stared past me at my father and his grandfather, so I turned to look.  They were still there, both staring at us, and Dana started walking their way. 


I asked, “What are you doing?”


He looked at me with a kind-of sad smile on his face, and said, “The right thing, I hope,” as he walked away.


I followed him, of course, and Dad and Mr. Daniels both smiled brightly when they saw us coming.  When we reached them, Dana said, “We’re not running away.  Come watch us surf if you want … or not.”  He hesitated, “It’s just that … I guess I need some time.  Will you come?”


Dad and Mr. Daniels both smiled, and we all walked back toward the hotel.  Dana and his grandfather were ahead of my father and me this time.   I knew things were right when Mr. Daniels tentatively put his hand on Dana’s shoulder.  Dana kind of melted into him, and that arm was soon around him, almost a hug.


When we reached the hotel, I asked Mr. Daniels to get five towels for each of us.  When he questioned me, I said, “You’ll see.  Say hi to Claire for us, and watch to make sure she gets clean ones out from the cabinet.”


He nodded kind of dumbly, and when I was turning I think I saw the beginnings of realization on his face, but I hurried upstairs with Dana for our boards.  When we came back out, both Mr. Daniels and my father were talking with Claire, tall piles of towels beside each of them.  We said hi as we passed, and got a bright smile from Claire.  She called after us, “I’ll be watching, guys.  You look better every day.”


We both smiled and waved, then paddled out into the water.  Dana wasn’t nervous any longer, and the surf was cooperative with swells forming fairly far out, so we both caught some good rides.


We’d started later in the day than usual, stayed out for only about 40 minutes, and caught the same last wave in.  We were both laughing until we got dunked, because that surf was customized to make us look better than we really were.  Claire waved and cried, “Good show!” as we walked by, and all the adults were standing at their table as we approached.


Mrs. Daniels clapped her hands happily, and said, “I can’t believe you just learned!  You both look so very accomplished already.”  She beamed at Dana, “And handsome, too. Oh, yes!”


Elenora said sternly, “Please!  Dana already has a fat head about his snow skiing.  Let’s not inflate it anymore.”


We all laughed.  Dana and I left to bring our boards in, and to put some clothes on.  Walking to the elevator I slapped his back and said, “Fat head!”


“Ouch!  So what if I am?”  He grinned at me, “Huh?  Huh?  What’re you gonna do about it?   Put my head on a diet?”


I pushed the up arrow and slid my card into the slot.  “Heh, maybe I will.”  The doors slid open, and I added, “I like that idea:  a dietary head.”


“How do you put a head on a diet?”


“I’m not sure.  Maybe computer graphics?”  Then I got an idea that struck me as very funny.  I pictured Dana going downhill on skis, and his head expanding at a rapid rate, finally bursting his helmet and exploding, then Dana in a classroom, with his head shrinking until it disappeared into his neck, and a dunce cap falls from the ceiling to take the head’s place.


I didn’t even say it out loud, not even when Dana questioned me about what I was laughing about.


When he pressed, I changed the subject.  “So, where are we eating?”


He looked at me.  “You’re asking me?”


I said, “I’m asking because it’s going to be up to you.”  I sat on the bed and said, “Get used to it, man.  You’re the star today.  You have new grandparents, and Dad and your mother are showing you off, kind-of.  I can’t really help ‘cause I haven’t been here that long.  Where’s the best place you ate?”


Dana said, “I don’t know; everywhere was good.  We had really good steaks over on Merritt Island a couple of times.”  He thought, “Well, I had good steaks.  It was kind of a place for ribs.  I got steak.”


“There you go, then,” I said.  “Go to the rib place that has good steaks.  You remember the name?”


He shook his head, and I thought it wouldn’t matter.  If neither my father nor Elenora remembered either, there was a driver who brought them there, and Hector could find out.  It was surely in a computer somewhere.


Dana and I had both, separately, sent our long pants and white shirts to be laundered, and they were ready and waiting when we went to our rooms.  I’d put my underwear in the same bag as the shirt, with instructions to starch and press the shirt, and my shorts were as stiff as cardboard, as they’d clearly gone through the same process as the shirt.  I laughed, and set them aside to show people, because I could hold them by the waist and they’d stay out there, flat as a table.


I’ll admit to finding hilarity in small things sometimes, but my boxers that day were really and truly funny:  a Kodak moment without the Kodak.


My face was quite red from the sun when I got out of the shower.  It didn’t feel hot, but I didn’t want the skin to peel off, so I found the aloe lotion that Mom had made me bring, and I rubbed that in until I couldn’t see evidence that I’d used it.  Then I got dressed, and waited in the kitchen for Dana.  I usually waited for Dana, because he enjoyed long showers where I just cleaned off quickly.  His excuse is that when he was growing up, his bath or shower was often the only warm part of his day, and I could buy that.


When he did show up, he looked good.  His hair was blonder from the sun, and his skin was darker.  In a fresh white shirt and navy khakis, he looked kind-of newly minted.  He was happy, too.


“Ready?”  He asked excitedly.


“Sure,” I replied.  “I, um …” I smiled, “I get the feeling you like these grandparents.”


We walked to the elevator after Dana made sure I had my hotel card, and while we waited for it, he said, “I do.  I do … I really like them.”  He grinned at me.  “Don’t you?  I mean, my grandfather doesn’t look a real lot older than Dad.  And they’re nice!”


The elevator door opened and I said, “I think so, too.”


Dana said on the way down, “We talked about jerks and idiots before, people that look down on you, like they think they’re better.”


“I’ll say.”  I patted his shoulder when the elevator hit bottom, “I think you’re right, Dana.  I like them, too.”  A question occurred to me, and I asked, “Is Rhod an only child?  I mean, they don’t say anything about him being gay or not.  I think that’s pretty nice all by itself.  I mean, Mom’s gay and Aunt Ally is gay, and so what?  I mean, Ally’s mother calls me her grandson.”


Dana said dryly, “Her father doesn’t.”


I laughed, “He doesn’t trust me, that’s all.  He stayed with us in Boston once, for a week just when the place was for sale. He came to kind-of commiserate with Dad about lesbian daughters and wives.  He had all these pills in the bathroom I used, and when I figured some were suppositories, I put a big glob of Vicks on top of his Vaseline.”


I laughed hard enough at the memory that I had to stop walking.  Dana stopped and laughed with me, and when I could form words again, I said, “He was locked in the bathroom, and he screamed!  Oh, God, it was so funny.  My Dad knew how to open the door with a nail, but it took a long time to find one, so I stayed there to listen ‘til he got in, then I took off.”  I laughed some more, as did Dana.


“What happened?”


I couldn’t stop laughing at the memory. “Nothing really happened, but my father smelled the Vicks right away, and thought at first that Ally’s father used some by mistake.


“I’ll never forget that man screaming the way he did, though.  You’d swear he found himself on red-hot coals while acid rain dissolved his head.  It was a real blood-curdling scream if there ever was one.  That’s the day I became that one.”


Dana laughed once more.  “I heard him say that.  You’re really funny.”


I stood up straighter, looked toward the beach, and said, “Let’s go.  We can laugh later.  Ribs, right?”


Dana nodded, and we pretty much marched out to where the adults were seated, and they all had cocktails in front of them.  My father’s looked old, with the ice melted and the squished lime beside it, but the rest seemed fresh.  Dad didn’t really drink much, and nobody seemed tipsy in the least, so they may have just ordered new drinks because Dana and I took so long.


Dana sat down, and I was halfway into my chair when I noticed Hector motioning to me from the other side of the pool.  I mumbled that I’d be right back, and hurried over.


“I have your shirts, man.  Where do you want them?”


I got excited, “How’d they come out?  Did he do a good job?”


Hector frowned a little.  “It’s letters of the alphabet, Paul.  How could he mess that up?”


I shrugged, “Yellow on black?  They say DFWM?”


Hector said, “They look fine, trust me.  Who’s gonna wear them?”


I realized that it was truth and tell time, so I said, “Take a walk with me?” and headed out onto the sand.


“Hector,” I said.  “Those are Dana’s grandparents with him, and I think you know that.  They’re Rhod Daniels’ parents if you don’t.  They’ seem like nice people.  Everybody likes them.  Dana likes them, and that’s what counts.”


Hector nodded, “I know.  Well, I know who they are, not who likes who.”


“His other grandparents come Friday: Elenora’s parents.  They’re the problem.  Maybe not her mother, but her father sounds like someone Dana won’t like: like a guy who’ll say things to hurt Dana and Elenora.”


Hector looked confused and asked, “So, how does this relate to shirts?”


I grinned, “I want everyone that guy meets here, from the front desk to the maid, to wear one of those.  I want him to ask someone what DFWM stands for.  I want anybody he asks to say, ‘Don’t fuck with me’ just like the shirt says.  I want you to pick them up at the airport and explain how things are, and if that fuckhead does anything to hurt Dana or Elenora, I want … well, never mind what I want.”  I tried a little smile, “I know you’re non-violent, but you can figure it out.”


Hector led me back to the hotel to a room off the lobby and handed me six of the shirts, including the woman’s size I got for Elenora.  That old man in the shop did a great job.  The letters looked almost like they were iron-on, but they were actually silk-screened a bright, vibrant yellow against the black shirts, the edges crisp as they could be.  I smiled at Hector and said, “You can do the rest, right?”


He said, “It’s not my hotel.” Then he grinned, “Got you covered amigo.”


“Really?”  I asked, surprised.


“We all like Dana, my friend.  Somebody wanna mess with him, then somebody gonna change his mind real quick.”


I smiled and laughed.  “You’re good!”


Hector smiled and kind of bowed.  “I get paid to be good.  I watch after you guys, that’s my job.  I like you too; you’re good kids.”  He looked at me, “I’ll get your shirts on the right people.  Now get lost; I’m busy here.”


I laughed, and left without waiting for Hector to vaporize.  I looked back after a second, and there was no sign of him.  Old Hector had to weigh two-fifty, bare minimum, yet he could always vanish like he’d been just a mirage.


Hector knew, though, and he understood.  If Elenora’s father showed up acting like a douche, he’d go home looking like a used one, or worse.


When I went back to our table, my father said before I even sat down, “Dana wants ribs tonight.  Is that okay with you?”


I am, by nature I think, something of a dick.  “Ribs?  What kind?”  I looked and nobody had words, so I went on, “Beef ribs?  Remember that place called Garlic John’s?  They had beef ribs.  Oh, maybe you mean chicken ribs or fish ribs?  Probably not.  What was the question?”


Dad glared at me, “Shut up, will you?” and everyone else kind of snickered.  “I’m only asking if a rib joint is good for dinner.  Maybe you prefer hotel food.  You’re welcome to stay here and eat alone.”


Dad didn’t often threaten, but I was up to the challenge.  “Gee,” I said, my elbow on the table by then, and I leaned my cheek into my hand.  “You mean I could eat in peace and quiet, and drink all the wine myself?”  I smirked my best, “I’m sorry.  What was the question again?” 


Dad glowered at me, but the Daniels and Dana all laughed out loud, so I said, “Ribs sounds good.”


”Yes, finally,” Dad said.  “If we’re ready, I’ll get a car.”  He gave me another dangerous look, but there was humor in it like always.


A half hour later, with daylight fading, we were out front waiting for our ride.  Accustomed to the Escalade and minivan, I was astounded when a stretch limo pulled up, with Hector as shotgun in the front..  He opened doors on that side while the driver got his own side.  The seat directly behind the driver faced to the rear, and the next seat faced forward.  There was a little table between them  I sat behind Hector looking to the rear, beside my father and Elenora.  Dana sat opposite me with his grandfather right beside him, his grandmother at the window.


I’d been in limos before, but only the ones you get at airports, which are usually kind of beat up and bad-smelling, even if they’re shiny and impressive on the outside.  This one was all done up in pale gray-green leather, with all kinds of pale wood trim.  It was really nice, and everything looked expensive.


I felt almost bad that it wasn’t far at all to the restaurant.  I would have liked a longer ride in that particular car.


I was pleased with the restaurant.  It made no pretense to exclusivity or luxury, but was funk all the way.  The walls, what little you could see of them, were paneled in some kind of dark wood.  All manner of things covered them, from street signs to pinned-up photographs in black and white.  There was an old bicycle, some surfboards, water skis, voodoo masks, an ancient-looking diving bell, a fire hydrant, and endless other bits of junk.  I mean memorabilia; I always get the two confused.  There was a wide dining porch that wrapped around the outside, and we chose to sit out there.


The restaurant was busy, but not mobbed, and I marveled at the big plates of food being carried aloft by the waiters and waitresses.  Everything smelled good, too.  The menu was simplicity itself:  one kind of steak: a one pound rib eye, ribs two ways:  baby backs in the restaurant’s own dry rub, and St. Louis style in ‘sauce from heaven’, half a roasted chicken, and two kinds of fish.  They had quite a few salads, but sides were limited to fries or Spanish rice, and beans.  There was also a separate menu for the raw bar.


I decided on ribs before I really read about them, just from how good the ones I saw going by looked and smelled.  I wanted some oysters from the raw bar, too, and they only came by the dozen.  That sounded like a lot in addition to a rack of ribs, so I asked Dana if he’d share a plate with me.


“What’s an oyster?” was his first question.


I said, “It’s sort of like a clam.  The shells are lumpier, and oysters are a little sweeter.  Trust me, you’ll like them.”


“Raw?” he asked, making a face.


“Well … yeah,” I said.  “Actually, they’re probably still alive.  You put spicy sauce on them, and eat them right off the shell.  Dana?”


Honest, Dana had just turned green and covered his mouth like he expected to throw up.


“Are you okay?” I asked when he showed signs of recovery.  He gave me a dirty look, but nodded.


Dad nudged me, and whispered, “I’ll get you some oysters tomorrow, okay?”


Dad was right.  One more look at Dana told me that he wasn’t ready to watch me or anyone else slurping oysters off the shell.


Ribs were the unanimous choice after Dana decided to try them.  He’d actually ordered his steak before he changed his mind, and I think he was happy with his decision.  The waitress brought finger bowls for each of us, and what looked like about a thousand paper napkins.  We had simple salads first, and our ribs came on wide, oval-shaped plates.  Everything else was family-style, served in wooden bowls, and it was all wonderful: a real feast.

+ + + + + + + +


Back at the hotel, I bowed out early.  I was tired to begin with, and I wanted Dana to have all the private time he wanted with his new-found grandparents.  After hugs and handshakes all around, I fell into my bed all full of good food and happy thoughts, and I was out just like my bedside lamp.