Mud Season

Chapter 6



There was nothing to tell me it was morning.  The drapes were closed, the alarm wasn’t set, and Dana didn’t wake me up when he left for his classes.


That seemed righteous, since I was on vacation, and when I looked at the clock beside me it wasn’t really late anyhow: just before nine.  I picked up the control for the blinds, pushed buttons until they opened, and it looked like a beautiful day, although the bright sun hurt my eyes for a second.


I made a face, because those delicious ribs the night before seemed to have died somewhere in my breath-making equipment.  It’s bad when you can smell your own breath, and I could taste it too. 


I brushed my teeth straight away, and again after my shower.


I pulled on a bathing suit, shorts over it, a button-up shirt, and my sandals, then went down for the breakfast buffet.


My routine set by then, I sat down with my plate of fresh fruit and glass of juice, and started to enjoy breakfast.


“Hi, Paul.  Mind if I sit with you?”


I looked up to see Rory Daniels with a hopeful look on his face and a coffee in hand.  “Sure,” I said.  I had a chunk of pineapple on my fork, and held it out a bit.  “The pineapple here is the best I ever had.”


He smiled, “I had some earlier, and I agree.  It’s wonderful.”


I looked at him, and he said, “You go ahead and eat.  Don’t mind me.  I’m just enjoying my coffee.”


I believed him, and excused myself when I went for hot food.  There was no line, so it didn’t take long to get some eggs, sausage and toast.  I carried it back to the table, with a coffee of my own.  When I was set up, Mr. Daniels said, “Eat.  Don’t worry about me; I had a great breakfast.”


I was convinced that the grill guy never made mistakes, and I’d tested him.  I asked for soft scrambled eggs that morning, and that’s exactly what I got.  Perfect; and I scarfed them down before I ate the rest.  I’m used to Vermont sausages, which tend to be big and fat, and one is usually enough.  These were skinny little things, but tasty, yet I don’t think my three equaled one Vermont job.


I was sipping coffee and nibbling on toast when Dana’s grandfather spoke again.  “You know, Paul, there was a time where your father really spoke to me.”


My head filled with questions, and I looked at him.  “Really?”


“Yes, for sure.”  He grinned at my expression and said, “I don’t mean he spoke to me personally.  I was just taking on responsibility at our own company, and I read everything I could find that your father wrote.  It was like …” his eyebrows went up.  “It was like he gave me a blueprint for success.  Like, do this, Rory, just this way.”


I grinned, “Sounds like Dad.”


“I’ll never complain,” Rory said.  “I put his ideas into practice, and the company flourished.  We computerized a lot of things, and earned more with less.  We’ve had twenty years of solid growth.”  He smiled and folded his hands on the table.  “There was no magic, of course.  We still had to work, and work hard.  We shared your dad’s vision, though; more aptly we followed his path, and he had it right.”


I thought, wow, to myself, and wondered if Mr. Daniels had been one of the people we hit up for money to fund Jamie’s party, but I couldn’t remember his name on that list.  Maybe next year.


When I didn’t say anything, he went on.  “I told you that so you’ll know that I have a history with your father that goes back twenty years, even though we never met before.”  His eyes sparkled, and he leaned closer to me.  “When Rhod called the other night to say he’d found Elenora, and that we have a grandson I …” he took a napkin and dabbed at his eyes.  He went on, a sudden thickness in his voice.  “That is something we had despaired of hearing many years ago.  Both things.  Elenora left no trace.  Rhod never gave up hope, nor did my wife or Elenora’s mother.  I still wondered, and I guess there was a little spark of hope in me, but I stopped leaving the porch light on six or seven years ago.”


“I don’t think anyone would blame you,” I said, just to say something nice.


He grimaced, “No, they wouldn’t.  In the meantime, of course, Rhod told us he was gay, which was kind of a difficult thing to learn.”  He wiped his eyes again, and his lip began to quiver a little.  “Rhod’s our only son, and our only hope for continuing the line.  We thought that was all lost until the other night.  Rhod’s call gave me the single best thrill of my life when he told us about finding Elenora after all these years, and that he has a son named Dana.”  He found a smile and became a bit animated.  “I don’t know that I have words for that, Paul.  Then your father called to ask us down here, and I thought it couldn’t be that Franklin Dunn, but lo and behold!” 


I started to say something, but Rory started first, so I held my thought.  “You know,” he said, “When I found what your father and you have done for Elenora and Dana, I was pretty much overwhelmed.  You … perfect strangers … have done what we dreamed of doing for so long.  You had no idea, of course, and neither did we, but this meeting here has renewed my faith in a lot of things.”  He choked out, “I swear, it had to be designed in Heaven.”


He kind of lost it there, and put his napkin into full time use, and I hurried to get a bunch of them.  When I sat back down, I found I needed one myself.


Dana had been right the day before: exactly right.  He could have had family and love all along, and I found myself questioning Elenora’s wisdom back then.  I couldn’t fault her, though.  Rhod’s parents didn’t know he was gay at the time, and according to Elenora, they also encouraged an abortion and even offered to pay for it, as well as any cover-up involved.


When I thought about Dana, though, I knew Elenora did something right.  The man sitting across the table from me seemed contrite, so I tested him.  “I heard you wanted Elenora to have an abortion.  Is that true?”


He breathed in and out heavily, his eyes down.  “Guilty.”  He looked up at me and said, “Honest, I only thought that for a few days, and not because I thought it was the right thing.  Anthony Morasutti had me more worried about my reputation than the kids involved.  They were just kids, too, barely into their teens.  That dent in my common sense was all it took though, because Elenora disappeared, and she disappeared darn well.  Anthony’s politically connected, and I have a cousin who was with the FBI at the time.  He couldn’t involve himself, but he gave us advice, and we put up a really intensive search.”


I asked seriously, smiling inside, “You didn’t find anything?”


He shook his head.  “Nothing.  Elenora just vanished one day, and never came back.  We put resources into finding her, but it was worse than finding a needle in a haystack.”  His smile was grim.  “At least with a haystack you have a place to start, and we had nothing.”  He took a sip of his coffee, which had to be cold by then.  “Over time, our search just seemed less and less hopeful.”  He smiled again, weakly, “You know, at first we just knew she’d show up somewhere … with some friend or relative, or at least someplace she was familiar with.”  He shook his head, “Didn’t happen.  Can you imagine our surprise when we learned she was in Vermont all that time?”  He smiled, “Elenora is one resourceful little lady, she is.  Is that your opinion, too?”


I laughed, “Yeah, I agree.”  I wanted to get back to happy, so I asked, “How do you like Dana?  I mean, so far?”


It was his turn to laugh.  “Don’t ask me that.  I’ll bend your ear for the next year.”  His gave me a bright smile.  “Dana is a delight, an absolute delight!  I couldn’t ask for a nicer grandson.”  His tears came back, and he mumbled, “Sorry,” while he wiped his eyes yet again.


He finally said, “I already love Dana; we both do.  I watch how he is with people, and how they react to him, and it’s a beautiful thing.  Dana seems friendly, open, and honest.”  His look became serious again, “Rhod has those same traits.  Elenora may, too, but it’s wonderful to see Dana the way he is.”


“Can I ask you something?” I asked, interrupting.


Mr. Daniels smiled.  “Ask what you like.”


I took a breath, hoping to word things right.  “Elenora’s father, the Senator … is he okay in the head?”


Rory Daniels stared at me for a moment before he erupted into laughter that lasted long enough that I started snickering myself.  He finally choked out, “Okay in the head?  I like you, Paul.   You just asked the perfect question.”


I looked and he didn’t say anything, so I asked, “Is he?”


Mr. Daniels looked at me for a long moment, and sighed softly.  “Anthony isn’t a monster, he really isn’t.  He’s done a lot of good for people who really need it. It’s just that ….”


“Just what?” I asked when he paused.


Rory looked at me, and gulped, “I don’t want to say anything, Paul.”  He gave me a quick, small grin.  “Anthony knows people in a general sense.  I mean, for years I thought of him as a liberal thinker.  He always took up the causes of people who he thought were disenfranchised.


“Then, when Elenora was pregnant, he went for Rhod’s throat.  I had to get in the middle of that.  I mean, I didn’t disagree with him on the basics, but the deed was done, and it takes two to tango.”


Rory smiled somewhat grimly.  “Tony wasn’t having it, though, and he tried to portray Rhod as a rapist.  That went too far for me, and we had words.  He never made charges, and I think he didn’t because he knew they would just add noise to the situation, and charges weren’t warranted anyhow.”


He reached over and touched my hand.  “Don’t pre-judge, Paul.  I know Elenora has ill feelings toward her father, and I don’t blame her.”


“What are you saying?” I asked,


Rory grimaced, “I’m saying that Elenora knows her father.  You and Dana don’t.  We all know what he did, or tried to do fifteen years ago, but give it a chance.  Give the man a chance to meet Dana.”


I stared at him, and finally said, “It’s not really up to me, but I’ll listen if he has something to say.”


“Let Anthony and Dana meet; see what happens.  Then make up your mind.”


I smiled, feeling better.  “You know something I don’t?”


“I hope so,” Rory said, somewhat wistfully.


I got another coffee, and brought one back for Rory, and we carried those outside to sit by the pool.  I asked where everyone was, and Rory said, “Your dad is out on the beach.  The ladies are indulging themselves with a morning at the spa.”


When we were seated, I said, “I’m glad.  I don’t think Elenora has indulged in much at all for fifteen years.”


“So I understand.  It’s all better now, though, isn’t it?”


I looked at him.  “That’s what I try to tell Dana.  They say you can’t miss what you never had, but I don’t think that’s so.  They had it really hard sometimes.  They both make jokes about it, but being hungry isn’t funny, and being cold isn’t funny.  Dana came up with the idea for Dad to carry people’s credit at the market during winter.  He doesn’t just worry about himself.”


Rory looked at me sadly and said nothing for a little while.  He tapped his fingers on the table while he looked at me, and finally asked, “You’re really doing that?”  I nodded, and he said, “That’s really something.  For the whole town?”


I shook my head.  “Just people who run out.  Dad thinks they’ll pay it back.  It doesn’t matter.”


“Doesn’t matter?” he asked, sounding surprised, but his look mellowed.  “I suppose it doesn’t really matter, does it?  Elenora told us about your desire to use your money to help others.”  He smiled, “I like that; I really do.  Do you have other ideas?”


I told him about also covering people’s fuel bills, and our latest idea for funding non-college types of education, and the man seemed fascinated.


When I stopped, he scratched his head, which was covered in wavy brown hair just like Rhod’s, except there was gray mixed in.  “You know, Paul, I think I’ll share your ideas with my sisters.  We’ve been talking about a charitable foundation for some time now, but only half-heartedly.  I like your idea of direct help for the people who need it.  I suppose funding research has its place, as do new buildings on campuses, but the benefit of those things is vague at best.”


“Dad says promise is a beautiful word,” I offered helpfully.  “Everyone is different, and everyone can learn something.  If it’s what they want to learn, they’ll learn better.”


Rory replied, but my attention was caught by a new family sitting down near us.  They must have just come in because they were still in cold-country clothes.  There were the parents and three kids: two boys younger than me, and a girl around my age who I thought was really pretty.  She had blonde hair in a ponytail, and was dressed in a long-sleeve blouse and jeans, with socks and sneakers on her feet.  She’d slung a sweatshirt and jacket over the arm of her chair.


She seemed uncomfortable in the heat, with sweat beading on her forehead.  When I looked closer, the whole family looked overheated.  I figured their room wasn’t ready for them, took pity because I knew what that was like, and summoned a waiter.




“I’m Paul.”  I indicated the family at the table and said, “Bring them something cold, like sherbet or something.  Don’t say it’s from me.”


“Okay … um … Paul.”


Rory turned to look where I’d pointed, and looked back at me with a smile.  “Pretty girl, huh?”


“I’ll say.”  I smiled, sweetly I hoped, and said, “I think she’s Dana material.  I’m hoping to wean him off older women.”


Rory looked at me quizzically.  “Can you explain that?  Dana is involved with an older woman?”


“I didn’t say involved.  He just likes them all grown up.  Have you met Claire at the towel hut?”


He cracked a guilty little smile, and said tersely, “Yes.”


“Then you know what I know,” I said cheerily.  “I think Claire is Dana’s ideal, and you’ll have to admit that she’s older.”  I looked around and asked, “Where did you see my father?”


Rory didn’t talk anymore; he pointed instead, and I walked over to find Dad.  My father was on his usual lounge under his usual palm, with a pad in his hand, and a fancy-looking calculator on his tummy.  He didn’t notice me, and I sat on the lounge beside him to watch what he was doing.  I’d learned years before that when Dad was thinking, he was best left alone.  He’d notice me in time, but if I said something abruptly, his reaction might not be a good one.


I didn’t mind, and could tell he was figuring something out.  Sometimes he’d scribble madly on his pad, but he was playing with numbers right then.  He’d tap on the calculator, write something on the pad, and do another calculation.  I sat there in silence for five minutes before he sensed my presence and looked at me.  He smiled brightly, “Hey, Paul.  Why didn’t you say something?”


“I think I know better,” I said.  “What you working on?”


Dad looked at his pad and said, “Just figuring rates of return, things like that.  Where’s Dana?”


“School,” I said.  “He’ll be here.  Our lesson with Denny is in an hour.”


Dad was busy with whatever he was doing, so I went to get towels from Claire. It was her day off, and this guy Joel was there.  I’d met him, and he was okay, but I wouldn’t get a show that day, so I just asked for two towels. 


“Going surfing?”  Joel asked.


“Pretty soon,” I replied.  “We have a lesson with Denny.”


Joel smiled, “You got the best teacher, dude.  Denny might be old, but he can kick the pants off anyone else around here.  I saw you guys out there, and you got the right moves already.”


I grinned, “Thanks.  It’s fun.  Come join us sometime.”


He gave me a thumbs-up and turned to another customer.  I went to sit by my father, where I applied sun block, then took a towel out onto the sand close to the water.  I sat there idly for a few minutes, and then ran out into the water.  I dove into the surf, and spent the next half-hour splashing around, body surfing back in when a good wave came.


I was surprised to see Mr. Daniels wading into the sea with a wide smile on his face, and shocked when my father showed up right behind him.  I hurried over to Dad and asked, “It’s okay to go in the water?”


He shrugged, “I hope so.  If it hurts, I’ll get out, but I’ve been sitting and watching for a month.”


Dad looked good.  He always stayed in shape, and one idle month had no visible ill-effect on him.  Mr. Daniels, who I figured to be early or mid-fifties, also looked like he stayed in shape.  He winked when I passed him, and pointed out to sea.  “It’s about fifty miles to the Bahamas.  Want to try some laps?”


I laughed, “After my surfing lesson, maybe.”


Dad was careful not to do too much, but he really enjoyed a bit of wave jumping, and stayed out with us for about twenty minutes, at which time I saw Dana on shore with our boards, and we all went in.


Dana was grinning like the Cheshire cat when he realized Dad was in the water, and ran up to hug him when we were close to shore.  I glanced at Mr. Daniels, whose expression seemed like approval tinged with a bit of envy, but he was smiling.


Denny was there by our boards by the time we got back on the sand.  Dad and Mr. Daniels sat on their towels to watch, and we got right into our lesson, which was more like practice by then.  The biggest problem I was still having was getting up into a standing position on the board, and I missed more waves than I caught.  Denny watched several attempts by me, then pretty much said I had to put more effort into it.


‘You have to be quicker, like much quicker.  Don’t go to your knees first like you’re doing, but get right up on your feet as fast as you can.  You’ll have time to balance, but not if you’re still on your knees when you’re in the wave.  Here, watch me.” 


He took my board and paddled out some, then turned back to face the shore.  “Watch my feet!” he yelled  Then he went from straddling the board to crouching on the balls of his feet in about a half second, all scrunched down with his arms out for balance.  After that, he pushed up gracefully with his legs, with plenty of time to get in position for a ride.  He didn’t take the wave in, but dropped into the water beside me. 


“See what I did there?  Just hop up like that.  It’s not so hard.  Try that a few times.”


I nodded, took my board and paddled out to around where Denny started from, and began paddling in with no wave under me.  I tried to hop to my feet like Denny did, but they went out from under me, so I paddled back out to try again.  I got one foot on the board, and somehow found the strength to push myself up with just the one, and I was upright just like that.  I planted my other foot and found my balance quickly, satisfied that I’d have time to catch a ride if I was on a wave.


The next time I paddled out I waited on a wave.  Since the one-foot technique worked once, I tried it again, and it worked, so I was in position to catch the wave, and had another second to get it just right.  I took off on the crest like I imagined I should, but got too low and tanked early. 


I was encouraged, though, and caught about double my usual number of waves.  I had a good time there, feeling I’d gotten over a big stumbling block.  My thinking was that double the waves caught would give me twice the time to work on riding technique, and riding waves is the part of surfing that’s actually fun.


When Dana said he was hungry, I went to shore with him, and I left my board on the beach so I could go back out after eating.


Elenora and Mrs. Daniels were there on towels beside my father and Mr. Daniels.  Dad smiled, “You look good out there, Paul.”  He looked at his wrists in turn and said, “Maybe next year I’ll try it.”


Mrs. Daniels suddenly looked stricken, and said in a thin voice, “Dana?  What’s wrong?


I turned to look, and Dana was hopping toward us on one foot, a pained look on his face.  He plopped down in the sand and grabbed his left foot, which he held up.  “I stepped on something, and it hurts!”


Elenora scooted over and pulled his foot onto her lap, where she could look.  “Oh, my,” she said.  “It’s all red there.  What do you think it is?”


Dad and Mr. Daniels knelt to look, but I got to my feet and started jumping up and down, waving my arms.  Sure enough, I saw Hector running our way from one direction, and Ron from another.


“What is it?”  Hector asked as he knelt and looked at Dana’s foot.  He looked at Ron and asked, “What do you think?  I don’t see a hole, so not a stingray.  Jellyfish, maybe?”


Ron said, “I don’t know, maybe.”  He looked at me, “Go ask at the bar for some ice and a wet cloth.”  He looked back at Dana and said, “I know it hurts.  Do you feel anything else?”


I didn’t hear Dana’s response because I was running to the bar.  “I need some ice!”  I announced.  “A wet cloth, too.”


The bartender didn’t question me.  He scooped ice quickly into a bucket, and soaked a clean, white cloth under the tap.  “Stingray?” he asked.  “Is there a hole in him?”


“I don’t think so,” I said hurriedly.


“Jellyfish then.  Ice is the right thing.”


I was twenty feet away when I yelled, “Thanks,” and got back to the others in just seconds.


Ron took a handful of ice cubes and wrapped them in the cloth, then held it to Dana’s foot.  I couldn’t see the injured side because there were already five people there, so I looked at Dana’s face.  Truthfully, he seemed to be more interested in what was going on than in pain, but his entire body tensed when Ron first applied the ice pack.  He relaxed soon enough, and before long he sighed, “Good.  Oh, that feels good.  Oh, man.” 


The last came out almost a moan, so I asked, “You okay?”


He breathed deeply and let it out.  “I am now, I think.  That really hurt, like I stepped on a needle or something.”


Hector asked, “The ice feels good, amigo?”


“It sure does,” Dana mumbled.


Ron looked at me and said, “Paul, listen carefully.  Run up to your room and get your razor, a new blade, and your shaving cream.  You have all those things?”


I nodded dumbly, and he said, “Do it, then.”


Ron had been in the car on the way from the airport.  He didn’t say much then, and I hadn’t laid eyes on him since we got back.  He’d told me that they would always show me an ID, but it wasn’t the time to ask for one.  Instead, I said, “I expect some ID when I get back, then pulled my card from my shirt and took off running.  I was back in just minutes with a throw-away razor and a can of Barbasol. 


Someone saw me coming, and Ron and Hector both smiled brightly at me, their ID cards in hand for me to inspect, which I did after I handed Ron the shaving things.  I had no idea what he would do with them, but Ron told Dana not to kick if it tickled, then spread shaving cream all over the bottom of his foot, and proceed to shave it off.


Dana wiggled a little while Ron explained, “Jellyfish leave tentacles when you step on them.  This is a quick way to get rid of them.  Otherwise, your next step might hurt as much as your last one.”  He kept talking, “You’re breathing okay?”  Dana nodded, and Ron said, “I can see you are.  Some people are allergic, but you would’ve shown it by now.  How’s it feel?  Better?”


“Yes, better,” Dana said.  I guess I’ll know when I stand on it.”


Hector said, “Let me,” and took Dana’s ankle in one hand while he pressed the bottom of his foot with the other.  “Hurt?”


Dana shook his head, “Not really.  Put the ice back.”


Hector chuckled, looked at Ron, who nodded, then let Dana’s leg go back on Elenora’s lap, and slapped his thigh. “You’re good to go, my friend.  Good thing it wasn’t a man-o-war.”


Ron handed back my shaving cream, covered what he’d shaved off Dana’s foot with sand, and stood.  The two of them walked off in the opposite directions they’d come from.


Dana, of course, was the subject of attention from Elenora and both the Daniels.  Dad mumbled something about them wanting time together, and led me to the pool bar, where we had lunch.


After we ordered, Dad looked at me expectantly and asked, “What do you think?  About the Daniels, I mean.”


I thought for a moment, and said, “I think they’re really nice.”


Dad smiled and said, “I do, too.  I need the bathroom; I’ll be right back.”


I sat back and looked around for signs of the new family, when the cell phone my father left on the table rang.  He wasn’t in sight, so I picked it up.  “Frank Dunn’s phone.  Can I help you?”


“That’s you, Paul?” Heinrich’s unmistakable voice bellowed.  “What’s it like in the land of sunshine and coconuts?”


I snickered, “It’s beautiful, man.  Are you mired in mud?”


“No, not mired, but I’m sick of it.  Where’s your father?”


“He’ll be right back,” I said.  “How’s Karen?  Is everything good up there?”


“It’s fine,” he said.  “We have to spend some money, that’s all.  The well isn’t going to do it for a laundry.  We need more capacity.”


“Oh,” I said.  “How did it work before?”


Heinrich snickered, “Not well enough; the place closed.”


I didn’t know what to say, but knew that Dad would tell him to go and dig a new well.  “Other than that?”  I asked, trying to sound cheery.


I could hear the smile in Heinrich’s voice.  “It’s good.  People stop already, thinking the place is open.  We’re working upstairs now, so maybe another few weeks, a month tops.”


I asked hopefully, “It looks good?”


“Good, yes,” Heinrich told me.  “It’s like … I don’t know, it’s like they dragged a place off the mountain and put it in town here.  It’s nicer than anything else around, but it still fits right in.  You’ll be proud.”


The waiter came with my sandwich just when my father got back.  “Here’s Dad.  I hope the mud ends soon.”


I held the phone out to my father and said, “Heinrich.”


I started nibbling while Dad talked, and he didn’t stay on the phone long.  When he hung up, he picked up his sandwich and said, “We need a bigger water system.”


“A new well,” I confirmed.


Dad was chewing, and said shortly, “Bigger pumps and tanks.  Heinrich said he tried running ten machines all day, and was sucking air by noon.”


“And there are how many washers?” I asked.


“Fifteen,” Dad replied.  “So now you know the scope of the problem.  We have a hundred-gallon pressure tank fed by a twelve-gallon-per-minute pump.  Heinrich wants to add three more similar systems and split the load, with one being for backup.”


“What’s that gonna cost?”


“About five thousand.”


“Oh.”  That was a far smaller number than I’d envisioned: small enough that I lost interest. 


I noticed Dana at a table across the pool from us, with his mother and the Daniels, and they were being served their lunch.  I watched for a minute to see if he’d notice me.  Dana, with food in front of him, had his attention firmly on his plate, though, and I turned back to my father.  “How long do you think you’ll stay here?”


He frowned, “I don’t know, Paul.  There’s no real good reason to stay any longer.  Maybe we can just go back with you.”  He eyed me, “How would that be?”


“That would be nice,” I said, grinning.  “Very nice.”


Dad smiled and pointed at my sandwich.  “Eat up.  We’ll talk about it.  I think it’s about time.”


“Dana won’t like it,” I said.  “He loves it here.”


My father smiled the particular little smile he has when his insight is known only to him.  “Don’t worry, Paul.  Dana’s having a good time here, but he loves his home, and he misses it.  He’s ready to leave.”  Dad saw the doubt on my face and said, “You’re always happy to get home, aren’t you?  Even from a great trip?”


I smiled my surrender.  I’m always happy to get home from somewhere else, no matter where I call home at the moment.  When my parents were together and we had the summer place on Cape Cod, we’d take vacations from there.  Sometimes they were great driving trips up and down the coast to Maine or Long Island or New Jersey.  Other times we flew off to places all over the globe.  No matter how wondrous or simply nice a vacation had been, it was always the best part when Dad unlocked our own little house, and we were home.  It was wonderful all over again when we got back to Boston at the end of summer, to settle in for another year of school and work.


I think home is in your bones somehow.  I haven’t lived in Boston now for over two years, but to this day, if I’m slightly distracted when someone asks where I’m from, my automatic reply is Boston.  I correct myself if it matters, of course, but leave it with Boston when it’s just idle talk.  Strangers peg me anyhow, owing to my lack of prowess with the letter r which is often superfluous in Boston, more implied than said when it’s near or at the end of a word.  My father’s originally from Maine, though, and Ally grew up in Rhode Island, and they don’t pay much homage to words containing an r either.


When I’m corrected in school, it’s difficult for me to get certain words out of my mouth.  If it reads park I say something close to pahk, and kind of gag on the r if a teacher presses me.  It’s distressing.  I try, I really do, but it often sounds like I’m gargling.


However, Midwesterners, who say their r sounds perfectly, no matter where they occur in language, and who disdain r-challenged people like me, are prone to trying to go through the NI door when they really want to go TUO, and that’s more painful than trying to find a pahking spot, even in Boston.


I glanced over at Dana, and Ron was back, leaning close, talking to him.  I guessed he was simply asking Dana about his foot, but I wondered if the reason I never saw him around was because he was looking after Dana, just as Hector did with me.


Dana saw me that time, and waved, so I waved back.  My father noticed, and since we’d finished eating, we walked over.  We got there just as they were picking up their things to leave, and Dana was a bit tentative putting weight on his jellyfish foot, but he seemed to decide it was okay.


“It’s better?” I asked when I reached him.


Dana smiled, and it turned into a grin.  “Man, I thought I was done.  I didn’t know anything could hurt like that.”


I smiled, and noticed that Dana was looking past me with a lot of interest.  I turned, and saw the family I’d seen earlier.  Now they were in beach attire and heading eagerly out toward the water.  The girl, who when I first saw her looked hot in her travel clothes, had clearly cooled off, but in an outfit designed to bring a certain kind of heat to guys like Dana.  Well, me too, but I’m taken.


She still had her blonde hair in a ponytail, and it now bounced down toward a pink bikini bottom that fit like nothing I’d seen before.  Paint leapt immediately to mind: pink paint. She also wore a little, pink tank top that was nearly as snug, and she had the shape to get away with all of it, or, better stated, what little of it there was.


I glanced at Dana just as he looked at me, and we both smiled.  I said, “Go for it.  She doesn’t look like she’s afraid of jellyfish at all.  Straighten that girl out!”


Dana smiled shyly.  “Really?  I only have about ten minutes.”  Then he looked after the girl again and mumbled, “That’s enough,” and he took off after her, walking quickly.  He didn’t noticeably favor one foot, either.


I watched Dana for a few seconds, then turned around and almost bumped into my father.  He was looking at Dana, and then looked at me.  “You’re not interested?”


I said, “Dana has ten minutes.  I have all day.”  I looked at Dana again, who was already talking to the girl, then back at my father.  “I have Lisa, too.  I can stay honest for another couple of days.”


Dad put his hand on my shoulder, “Good.”  He grinned quickly.  “I never pictured you as a Lothario, but there’s always been that chance.” 


“Well …” I started, but for once I couldn’t think of anything to say. 


Dad asked, “Do you have plans for the afternoon?  Want to look at some real estate?”


That sure caught me off guard.  “I guess so,” I said.  “We’re not moving, are we?”


“Who, us?  Not likely.  Rory wants to look at a development up in Daytona.”


I decided quickly, “Nah,” I said.  “I don’t think so, but don’t worry about me.  I’ll find something to do.”


Dad said, “I don’t blame you, but I’m kind of promised.  We’ll be back for dinner.”  He pointed at me and smiled, “Watch out for jellyfish.”


He turned to leave, and I called out, “Watch out for loan sharks.”


He kept walking, but said, “Touché,” loud enough for me to hear.


I looked back to the beach, and Dana was headed my way.  “What’s she like?’  I asked when he reached me.


“Un-American,” Dana said.  I think she said she’s Doitch … Doitchland, or something like that.  You think she means Dutch?  How do the Dutch say Dutch?”


“Hollander,” I said.  “She’s probably German.  They don’t speak English?”


Dana shook his head.  “A few words.  I understood holiday and today, that’s about all.”  He looked at me, “Is it like Martin Luther King day or something?  Mardi Gras?   I didn’t think today was a holiday.”


I said, “Dana, I’m guessing, but listen.  Europeans and … well, just about everybody except Americans, call vacations holidays.  I think she told you they’re starting their vacation today.”


Dana can be precious.  He pointed a finger upwards when he said, “Ah!  That makes sense.  I’m glad you go places.”  He turned his best smile to me and said, “Gotta go.  See you after.”


He ran off, and I smiled after him.


Unlike me, I don’t think Dana tries to be funny, and maybe he wasn’t really funny to anyone but me, but he sure knew the way to my own funny-bone.


I soon found myself alone, and thought that was a good thing.  I walked down to the water and looked for jellyfish, and was surprised to see a lot of them.  I hadn’t seen them there before, and when I looked down the beach some guys were jamming signs into the sand.  When they got closer, I could see they were warnings about jellyfish, yellow signs with black words.


I backed up a few steps, decided that the pool looked pretty good when I was there, and turned around.  Then I thought about the Doitch people, and their grasp of English, so I went looking for them.


They were right there, of course, and one of the boys was studying a sign that had just been posted.  I don’t know German, so I got his attention by touching his arm so he looked at me, and indicated that he should follow me.  He did, and I pointed out jellyfish in the water, then made like crab grabs on his arm with my hand, while I said, “Jellyfish!  Bad!  Ouch!”


Well, the kid was probably nine or ten, and he got the message.  He pointed at the jellyfish and looked at me in horror, so I nodded.


He ran back to his family and started telling them, and I went to stand there to make sure they understood the risk right then.  Well, I wanted a close-up of the girl, of course, and I got one.  I was standing, and she was on a towel, all pretty in pink.  She was a looker even close up like that:  a pretty girl with a nice shape and a good smile, which she turned to me.


“Hi,” I said in greeting.  “I am Paul.”


“Paul,” she repeated.  “I am Gretchen.”  She moved over on her towel and patted the newly vacated spot.  “Sit,” she said.  Well, it sounded like, “Seet,” but with her patting the towel invitingly, I got the message.  I sat, and she asked something. 


I heard “Dana” and “bruder” in her question, and nodded, smiling.  “Yeah, Dana’s my brother.”


She smiled, and struggled for words.  “I saw … from upstairs … you surfing.  Surfing is fun?”


I smiled.  Her English wasn’t good, but she managed better than I would in German, and we understood each other.  It turned out that she spoke English pretty well when she got used to it.  She learned it at school, but never got much chance to use the language, so she was gun-shy at first.


I speak Spanish pretty well, and French and Italian less well.  I know words and phrases in other languages, but guidebook stuff.  I think in English, though, and Gretchen thinks in German, so our conversation was stilted, even while it was fun.


She introduced me to her two brothers, Arnold and Werner, ten and eight, and her parents, Curtis and Heidi.  They each greeted me in English, but it was soon clear that their English was on a par with my Swahili.  Tour book phrases:  “Yes.  No.  I’m happy to meet you.  Where is the toilet?  How much is this?  Please put that gun down.”


Dad had taught me since I was about four that knowing how to ask the locations of toilets and train or bus stations were all you really needed to know.  I’d learned since then that it was good to know what the money was called, and if all the zeros on those notes were still relevant.  When countries that have had high inflation revalue their money, they might expect you to know you should ignore the last five zeros on that one million zloty note.  They would get around to replacing the actual money, but that million is now ten, and the old tens are cheaper than toilet paper.


I had a good time with Gretchen, and she and her brothers joined me for a swim in the pool.  That was nice, because the weather had become sticky, the air humid and heavy-feeling.  It wasn’t bad at the pool, though, and we spent a long time just playing around in the water.


We were at a table with ice creams when Dana showed up.  I’d just spent a couple of hours all pumped up, because I thought Gretchen was kind of enamored of me.  When Dana appeared, I had to deflate, because it became abundantly clear that she’d been thinking of Dana all that time.  She stood up when he stopped at the table, smiled, and held out both hands, which he knew enough to take in his, and breathed, “Dana!” emphatically and softly at the same time.


Dana just smiled.  I said, “Dana, this is Gretchen Kromer from Stuttgart, and this little guy is Werner,” I said with my hand on the younger boy’s head.  I pointed to Arnold and introduced him as well.


Dana smiled at the boys, and then brought his full attention back to Gretchen.  I figured it was time for me to bow out, and I poked both the boys and gestured for them to follow me.   “I’m gonna teach these guys how to play pool, okay?”  Dana nodded, and I added, “Watch out later.  Don’t go playing them for money.”


Dana grinned, “What should I do?”


”I don’t know.  Do what we did yesterday with Dad and your grandfather.  Just don’t go in the water till the jellyfish move up the coast.”


Dana said, “There’s a sign in the lobby about that.”


“Really?” I asked.  “What’s it say?”


Dana gave me a look that told me my question wasn’t really needed.  “It says the beach is loaded with jellyfish, and don’t go in the water.”


“Good advice,” I replied, as I bopped the younger kids’ shoulders.  “Come with me.”


I led them to the room with the pool table, and their eyes lit right up.  Arnold said something excitedly in German, and went to look at the selection of cue sticks.  He picked one out that he handed to Werner, then one for himself.  It was clear that they knew something about pool, and I asked, “Nine ball?”


“Eight ball!” they said together, and that was fine with me.  I racked up for the first game, and then taught them to choose who went first by putting out one or two fingers.  Odd man broke, and that was little Werner.  They were playing as one against me.


Arnold stood beside his younger brother, advising him, and the kid made a nice break.  Balls didn’t go all over the place, but he did sink the twelve, and got to shoot again.  He and Arnold circled the table, looking for Werner’s best bet.  Arnold was trying to line up a shot when Werner pushed him off.  Arnold had his eye on the ten-ball, but he was looking at a very sharp cut, and a hard one for anyone.  Werner was still working on basics, and called a simple bank.  I should mention that a simple bank doesn’t mean an easy one; it just means you try to bounce the ball off a single cushion into the chosen pocket, as opposed to two or more cushions.


The one Werner chose wasn’t easy at all, and he didn’t make it.  He just smiled and shrugged, and I liked him for that.  He missed the shot, and that’s all there was to it.  It wasn’t a crooked table, a bent cue, a lack of chalk.  He just missed a pretty tough shot.


He left me an easy one, though, and I grinned as I chalked up.  He left me lined up with the six-ball, which was a duck in a side pocket, and I could bounce into the backside of the balls where the rack had been, and loosen up that mess a little.


Some people try to finesse pool.  I don’t know why; maybe they like showing off more than winning.  To me, the first rule of pool is to always shoot your ducks, where ducks are shots your blind and palsied grandmother couldn’t miss on a bad day:  easy, already-there shots.  Tap them in, and keep going.


I did.  I tapped that six-ball in, and the cue hit the rack, loosening up some other balls.  I had three easy shots in a row before I found myself looking at the three-ball hard up against a cushion as my only shot.  That wouldn’t be too hard if it was at the other end of the table.  It was at the near end, though, and I had to go at it from nearly a ninety-degree angle.


I knew what I needed to do, which was to use a lot of spin on the cue, but trying to find that spin sent the cue ball right off the table.


I chased after it while Arnold and Werner laughed.  I set the cue at the head of the table and laughed myself.  The world’s best players would hate the shot I had.  A lot of them would have made it, though, and I didn’t.


It was Arnold’s turn, and he chased four balls off the table before missing, and it occurred to me that I’d set myself up.  It was two against one, the one being me, and they knew the game.  Still, Arnold’s last shot was fairly easy, and he missed it.  I thought I was home free.


I had two balls left before I could go after the eight, and I made simple shots to put them away.  Then the eight was there, but my last shot left me behind another ball.  I didn’t think I could make the eight, so I did my best to screw up Werner’s next shot, which I did, leaving the cue up hard up against one of their balls.


He couldn’t make a shot despite his best effort, and left me with a long, straight line on the eight ball.  Those aren’t my favorite shots, either.  It’s always been difficult for me to shoot straight-on at a ball that’s far away from me, but I made that one, winning the game.


I was surprised by Werner and Arnold’s happy reactions to my win. They laughed and cheered for me as if I’d been on their side.


That made me smile, and Arnold said something I didn’t understand.  When I made a gesture that said I didn’t understand, he looked at me for a moment, and then pointed at the strung beads you use to keep score at straight pool, and I guessed they wanted to play that.


It was fine with me.  In straight pool, you set a target number of points, and whoever gets there first is the winner.  You can shoot any ball on the table, and only have to call which ball will go in which pocket, not how you intend to get it there.  You get a point for each ball you sink successfully, and there are certain penalties where you can lose points.


It’s a good game, but one I hadn’t played since Boston.  Older men seemed to favor the game, while most people play eight-ball or nine-ball.  In straight pool, you keep shooting until you miss or incur a penalty, and it’s not uncommon for a decent player to plow through several sequential racks before giving up his turn.


The only really tricky rule in the game is the initial break.  You can’t sink any ball, but two balls in play and the cue ball have to hit cushions, otherwise you end up with a three-point penalty, and another point for each ball that happens to find a pocket.  It’s not easy.  We decided to play to fifty points, which would ensure a short game.


This time, of course, I won the break.  I didn’t sink anything, and I did get the cue ball to bounce off a cushion, but no others, so I was down by three.  I left a lot of easy shots, too.  Arnold followed me, and made four quick points, then did what I loved to see.  With several simple shots on the table, he tried a difficult one and didn’t make it.


I hit my stride right then.  I cleared the table except for the last ball.  In straight pool, you leave the final shot where it sits, and rack just fourteen balls.  If the target ball or the cue ball is in the rack area, the rules change a bit, but these didn’t, and I kept going through that rack and the next one, so I was up by thirty-five points before I missed a shot, and it was young Werner’s turn.


For a boy his age, he played with confidence and pretty intelligently.  I’d already figured out that they must have their own table at home.  When I was running the streets of Boston, my mentor for pool was this retired newspaper writer, and he always warned me to beware of anyone with his own pool table.


Werner played a good game, and scored eighteen points before leaving me with only some tough shots.  My best chance looked like a combination, and I almost made it, but left Arnold with some ducks.  Luckily for me, he seemed to disdain easy shots.  He made a tough one, and the cue ended up right in front of a ball looking at the corner pocket.  He ignored that in favor of a long, tricky cut, which he missed completely, forfeiting a point.


I cleaned the rack, and hit the fifty points to win on the next one.  Once again, the boys didn’t seem to mind losing the game, and cheered my win, just when I expected severe grumpiness.


The pool room is kind of in the center of the ground floor of the hotel, and we heard it from there.  It was a crack, then a muffled ba-ba-ba-boom!  We hurried to the lobby to look outside, where it was almost as dark as night, and the wind was whipping out there.  While we watched, the rain came, and it was hard and fast.  People were running inside, while the people already in were crowding the windows to look out.


I looked around for familiar faces and didn’t see any around us, and when I looked back out, the beach and pool areas appeared to be devoid of people.  The storm was simply furious, and it was right on top of us.  Bright lightning was followed with almost-immediate thunder, blast after blast of it.  If anything, the downpour intensified, and the rain looked like it was bouncing back up several feet off the tiles out there.  Palms were bent and losing fronds in a hurry.


I was fascinated, but suddenly realized I had two frightened kids by me.  Their little hands were literally digging into my arms, and when I looked, their faces seemed full of terror.  We were dry and safe inside, and it occurred to me that they were fearful for their family, and I immediately feared for them myself.


The beach was empty, though, so they were probably somewhere in the hotel, or maybe a different hotel if they’d gone for a walk.


Our hotel had the main lobby that we were in, and there was a spiral staircase up to a mezzanine.  I hadn’t been there, because there was only a cocktail bar and nightclub on that level, but the stairs, from about halfway up, would give us a view of most of the lower level.


I knelt down to calm the kids, took a hand in each of mine, and we walked partway up the stairs to the mezzanine level.  We spent some time looking for familiar faces, but didn’t see any.  We went the rest of the way up to check the bar.  Nobody we knew was there, and when we turned to leave, we were confronted with Hector’s presence.


Let me tell you, those two little hands tightened on mine to the point of pain.  I think if you glued Arnold and Werner together, it would take six pairs of them to make one Hector.


Hector smiled at them, and asked me “Who are you looking for?”


“Their family,” I said.  “We left the parents on the beach, and Dana took off with their sister.”


Hector put a huge hand gently on each boy’s head and said, “Don’t worry.  Your folks are up in your room.  Your sister and Dana are holed up at the Holiday Inn.”


I grinned when the boys looked confused.  “Hector, you have to say that in German.”


He rolled his eyes, slapped the side of his head, and said, “My bad.”  Then he proceeded to repeat what he’d said in what sounded to me like good German, which sure surprised me.


The boys obviously understood him, and relaxed their iron grips on my hands, although they didn’t let go.


“Thanks, Hector,” I said, then “Come on,” to the boys.  I stopped to ask Hector which room.  “Four-oh-four,” he said.  It’s two doors to the left of the elevator.  Right side.”


I didn’t laugh out loud, but I did find it amusing that Hector already knew that.  I don’t think his company kept tabs on everyone in the hotel, but they sure bothered to learn about anyone we interacted with.


I asked flippantly, “Should Dana be stocking up on condoms?”


Hector said, “Background checks take longer overseas.  Ask again in an hour.”  He smiled, “The men’s room at the bar has a vending machine.”


I know my jaw dropped, but my brain kicked in early enough to prevent words escaping my mouth.  If Hector could learn in a few hours if little Gretchen Kromer from Stuttgart was putting out, then he could learn anything about anybody.  Gretchen looked to be fourteen or fifteen, so anything she might have done would be on the sly, yet Hector sounded like the truth would out.


I’d come into this visit thinking security people would majorly mess it up.  Now the opposite was true.  Hector had become a person I really admired, and also something like a friend to me.  I could tell that he cared for me the person as well as me, the client or subject.  I liked him, too.  He had a wacky sense of humor that wasn’t unlike my own, and he was smart enough to use it at just the right times, to keep me sensible.


He interrupted my thoughts by saying, “We sent a car for Dana and Gretchen.  This storm’s supposed to hang around.  You should bring these kids home, and then come back down.”


I smiled at Hector.  “I’ll do that,” I said softly, looking at him.  “Tell me, though.  Can you find out about anybody on this planet?  How does that work?”


Hector gave me a stern look and said, “I can’t say, and I won’t say.”


I didn’t expect him to tell me, so I smiled.  I had a bigger problem, and asked, “Can you come with me to bring Werner and Arnold?  I can’t speak German, and they’ll wonder about Gretchen.”


Hector asked, “Got your elevator card?”


“I don’t need it for the fourth floor,” I said.  “Got your ID?”


He whipped that out fast enough, and held it in front of my face, so I went ahead and inspected it.  It was a good thing, because I learned Hector’s last name was Flores.  I guess that shows how observant I am, but I think I have a trait that makes me not wonder a lot about other people.  Barents, my old school, was kind of a last-name place.  When more than one student had the same last name, then it was last-name, first-name.  If there were two, they’d add the middle name.  If everything still agreed, then even a typically lofty Barents teacher might find some humor, and say, “Everyone named Eliot Richard Michaels, please stand up, and I will choose the one I’m addressing by sight.”  In Brattleboro, I knew my friends by their full names, but lunchroom acquaintances might stay on a first-name basis for the duration if all we had in common was our table.


Hector rode up with us, and stood behind all of us while I knocked on the door.  Gretchen’s father answered, and smiled for a millisecond before his sons assaulted him with hugs and a barrage of German boy-talk.  Their mother called from inside the room, and an amazing bolt of lightning lit my field of view right after, and there was an immediate blast of thunder.  The lights inside the room went out, as did the lights in the hall, but the hall lights came right back on.


Even Hector was startled, but he began talking to Gretchen’s father in German, and had the guy nodding, then shaking his hand and thanking him.  Then the man smiled at me and said something else to Hector.


Hector put his hand on my shoulder and said, “He told me to thank you for your brilliant welcome to America, and for showing his children such a nice time.”


I looked at the man and said, “No problem.  I had fun, too.”


“Danke,” he said, and I gave him a little wave before backing away from the door.


I looked at Hector and asked, “What now?  Will the elevator work?”


“Sorry, amigo, but we walk this time.”  He touched my arm and grinned, “Unless you want to learn to rappel!”


“Not in this weather,” I mumbled, so we walked to the emergency stairwell, which was already hot and sticky.  It probably always is, I thought.  Air conditioning a space like that would be a total waste of energy.


I was sweaty by the time we got to the lobby, and Hector was sweating as well.  We both sat heavily into a couple of empty chairs.  I wiped my forehead with my hand while Hector did the same with a tissue, and when a waiter came to ask if we wanted anything, I said, “Two ice waters, please.  Big ones!”


I glanced at Hector for confirmation, and he gave me a grateful look.


“How long before they bring Dana back?” I asked.


Hector talked to his collar for a moment, then smiled, “I think about right now.  They’re out front.”


“Really?”  I got up and hurried to the entrance, so Dana wouldn’t miss me in the crowded lobby.  He was there, holding Gretchen’s hand, running for the door while someone behind them tried to block the rain with a giant, black umbrella.  It didn’t do a lot of good because the wind was blowing the rain sideways, and also trying to do an Aunt Em on whoever was holding that umbrella.  Dana and Gretchen were wearing identical windbreakers that were big on them, and obviously provided hurriedly by the security people.


Storms excite me, they really do.  I don’t want to be in a hurricane or anything like that, but violent nature makes for a better thriller than any gory movie ever will.  Brattleboro’s location, with the river and surrounding hills, brings on some exciting summer thunderstorms, but they pass as quickly as they come on.


This storm was an hour old already, and it hadn’t weakened at all.  The lightning out there wouldn’t quit, and the thunder was loud even in the lobby.


I opened a door when Dana and Gretchen got there, and they were both wet and breathing hard.  It was Ron who followed them in, folding the golf umbrella.  His greeting was a curt glance my way, but Dana was all over me.  “Man, what a storm!  The water on the road is a foot deep.  Even the red lights are out.  Whoa!”


I glanced at Gretchen, but she was all Dana.  If the weather bothered him, it didn’t seem that she noticed.  Her focus was Dana himself, and not some silly little rainstorm.


I felt good that a girl Dana seemed to like also seemed so enamored of him.  We found a table and sat.  I told them about playing pool with Arnold and Werner, and they described their walk on the beach, and their dash to safety at the Holiday Inn.


Hector had disappeared, of course.  Gretchen wanted to tell her parents she was safe, but there was no way to call.  Dana offered to walk up with her, but she didn’t think it was that important.


I called Dad to see where they were.


“We’re in a crazy storm, Paulie,” he said.  “We’ll sit it out here.  Don’t worry.  If you get hungry and we’re not back, just get something on your own.”


“Okay,” I said.  “We have the same storm, and the power’s out.  We’re all here, though, so no problem.  Dana said the power’s out everywhere.”


There was another humongous thunder crash right then, and I dropped my phone on the marble floor in surprise. When I picked it up, I’d lost the connection, and when I looked at the phone it was black.


“Oh, no!”  I said.  “I broke the phone.”  I kept fiddling with it, pulled the battery off and slid it back in place, but it was a done phone.


Dana said, “Use mine,” and handed me his phone.


I called my father back and explained that he should use Dana’s number because my phone was now broken.  When we hung up, we sat and watched the storm, and it was a lulu even after all that time.  The windows on the beach side were opaque with wind-whipped water, and lightning showed through all too frequently, though the ensuing thunder came later than before.  That meant it wasn’t right over our heads anymore. 


A waiter came around and asked what we’d like.  I was more hungry than thirsty, and asked for a snack menu.  The guy said, “The bar upstairs has happy hour now.  They have hot snacks.”


I said, “We’re not exactly twenty-one.  I don’t think we’re allowed.”


He seemed surprised.  “There’s a family area.  You can’t order alcohol, but you can get a soft drink and something to eat.  There’s no law.”


God, I like it when there’s no law!  I thanked the waiter and said, “Let’s go!”


Dana and Gretchen shared my enthusiasm, and we tore up the stairs to the bar area, which was glowing from a whole lot of burning candles.  We saw a long table with many steaming serving trays on it, warmed by blue flames underneath.  Dana and Gretchen sat down in a nearby booth while I scouted out the goodies, and there was some good looking food there.  I walked down the line finding ribs, hot wings, barbecue wings, meatballs, cocktail franks, and all kinds of dips.  There were nachos with cheese beside them, and a picante sauce.  There were also cold munchies, like pepperoni and sliced cheeses, cut-up carrots, celery, broccoli and peppers, with another grouping of dips.


I approved.  The only problem was the plates were paper and flimsy, and only about five-inches in diameter.  That didn’t matter to a veteran scrounge like me.  I’d get a plate of each thing, and damn the number of trips I had to make.


I went to sit with Gretchen and Dana and told them what was available to eat while we waited for a server. 


They seemed eager, and when our waitress came I ordered iced tea, Dana ordered a Seven-Up and Gretchen asked for Moselle.  I was a bit shocked, but the waitress only asked where Gretchen’s parents were seated.  When she realized they weren’t in the room, she apologized, and explained that only Gretchen’s parents could give her wine.  Gretchen was more surprised than upset, and asked for a Coke.


Dana looked at her and said, “You can’t drink.  You’re fourteen!”


Gretchen shrugged and said, “I drank wine since I can remember.  This is a strange place.”


At the buffet, Dana was methodical.  He put ribs on a plate, a plate atop the ribs, on which he put wings, and atop that he put a plate of meatballs, followed by nachos, before he feared disaster and hurried back to the table.  I think he had it under control balance-wise, but the bottom plate was burning his hand.


I just got one thing at a time.  We were ten feet from the buffet table, so it wasn’t a chore to go back, and back again.


Our drinks were on the table the first time we came back, and they looked pretty in the candlelight with beads of sweat forming on the outsides of the glasses.


Dana bit into a wing, which he spat out immediately, and grabbed his drink, which he guzzled down.  Then he held his throat and croaked, “Geez!  Hot!”


Dana has had a tough life, so I don’t always tease him when I should, but this time he’d begged for it.  “The sign on the tray said it was hot.  Why didn’t you get the barbecue?”


“I thought barbecue was hot.  No?”


I said, “Barbecue is usually kind of sweet.”  I grinned, “Hot is quite often hot, though, just like the warning.”


Dana ordered another Seven-Up along with a big glass of water.  He looked at his other food and said, miserably, “Now I’m afraid of my nachos.”


I laughed, dipped my finger in his cheese sauce and sucked it into my mouth.  It had a little zing, but nobody would ever call it hot.  “Don’t be,” I said.  “Don’t eat too much, anyhow; you’ll spoil your appetite for dinner.”


Dana looked over what had looked so good to him a few minutes before, and said, “Maybe I’ll just save my appetite for dinner.”  He looked up at me, “Are we going out?”


Just then, the lights came on, and we were surrounded by sudden sounds of appreciation from every direction.  It occurred to me that it had been ten or fifteen minutes since we’d been startled by a big boom of thunder, so I got up to find a window and look outside. 


It was still raining out there, but the storm had clearly passed by that time.  The raindrops were just falling straight down, and the sky was much lighter.  The windows had cleared enough to let me see the mess on the beach side of the hotel.  There were chairs and lounges overturned everywhere, their cushions blown all over the place, umbrellas taken who knew where on the winds.  A lot of the landscaping had been torn up, too, and there were palm fronds, leaves, twigs and flower petals everywhere.


Dana appeared beside me, and I turned.  “Where’s Gretchen?”


“Girl’s room.  It’s a mess out there, huh?”


“I’ll say,” I said.  “I wonder if it squished all the jellyfish.”


A moment passed before Dana snickered.  “How you gonna squish a jellyfish?  They come pre-squished, like just add water.”


I laughed, thinking he was right.  When I was little I bought this toy that said it would become a puppy if you put it in water.  Well, the thing was about as big as a good-sized vitamin pill, but sure enough, when I put it in the kitchen sink and filled the sink with water, it turned out to be a puppy-size sponge puppy, and the sink was half-empty after I picked it up.


Dana’s observation was pretty astute.  A jellyfish only really existed in the water.  You never saw one dried out on the sand, because the corpse disappeared before you got there, if you can call a flimsy shadow a corpse to begin with.


I turned to Dana and asked, “You taking Gretchen to dinner?”


He turned to respond just when there was a loud and jovial burst of Germanity behind us, and we both turned around.


“Allo, allo!” Mr. Kromer shouted, and he and his wife, and the two boys were all there with wide smiles.  Mr. Kromer’s smile faded fast enough.  “Gretchen?  She is not with you?”


Dana pointed past the four heads looking at us, and said, “Here she comes now.  She was at the, um, toilette.”


I thought it was funny when, as a group, the family smiled and said, “Aah!”


Dana elbowed me and asked, “Maybe I should ask all of them to have dinner?”


“Ask away,” I said, liking Dana’s initiative.  “Where you thinking about?”


He looked at me and said, “That’s up to you.”  


I grinned, “Don’t do this …”


“Up to you,” Dana said, like it was the last word.


I whispered, “McDonalds” in Dana’s ear, which made him blush, but I asked the Kromers, “Will you join us for dinner?  There’s this place Dana told me about.  It’s not fancy, but they have good steaks there, a raw bar, and some really great ribs.”


“It’s distant?”  Gretchen asked, after her father asked for her translation.


“Nope,” I said, smiling at her words, “And we have a car.”


Well, I thought we probably had a car, but didn’t have an official way to contact Hector.  “Excuse me,” I said, and ran down the stairs to the lobby with both arms straight up, hands flapping in the air.  Sure enough, Hector was waiting at the bottom, a stern look on his face.


“Don’t bait me like that, amigo.  What do you want?”


I put my left foot back up on the step behind me and said nervously, “A ride, mostly, but maybe a translator?  We want to take the Kromers to that place on Merritt, but I hope you’ll eat with us.  They have really good ribs,” I added as enticement.  I turned my eyes to Hector with a hopeful look.


Hector looked at me, pointed an absolutely gigantic finger right at my face, and said, “I don’t fraternize.”  Then he grinned.  “I do translate.  You want the limo?”


“That would be nice,” I said meekly.




“Um, soon, I guess.  Don’t go to any trouble.”


He said, “I won’t.  Did you invite them already?”


“Sort of, I think.”  I smiled hopefully at Hector, “We can take them?  We can go?”


Hector listened to his collar and looked at me.  “Did you lose your phone?” he asked.


I pulled it out of my pocket, wondering how they could already know it wasn’t working.  “I dropped it,” I said.  “It broke.”


He rolled his eyes at me and mumbled something into his collar.  He looked at me again and asked, “You want the same model?”


I nodded kind of dumbly, put off once again by just how much this company knew about me.  I might have enjoyed looking at new phone models, but not on vacation.


When Hector finished talking to his collar he looked back at me, so I asked, “Are you coming to dinner with us?”


Hector licked his lips and smiled.  “I love ribs.”



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