Mud Season

Chapter 7


Dinner was great with the Kromers, and Hector sat with us as translator.  The only real surprise was that Hector was a relatively small eater.  He ate his salad and a full rack of baby-backs, but barely touched his potatoes, and didn’t order dessert at all, settling for a coffee.


He was a great translator, though, and only lost it a few times when the one of the Kromers used a colloquialism, or when Dana or I did, and there was no simple translation.


I was a bit chagrined when the Kromers got wine, with glasses for even the little ones.  I asked the waiter for a bottle for myself and Dana, and he asked for ID first.


“What?  You serve ten-year-olds, and not the responsible fifteen-year old who’s paying the bill?”


“Sorry, but the parents are serving the wine on that side of the table.”


I looked at Mr. Kromer and said, “Dad?  Did you hear that?  You have to order the wine for us, too.”


A laughing Hector translated, and a delighted Mr. Kromer ordered another bottle, and two more glasses.


Our waiter nodded curtly, and was back shortly with a bottle of wine.  Dana smiled at our success, but decided immediately after his first sip that he didn’t like it, and I didn’t really like it either.  The bottle soon ended up with the Kromers after all, but I felt victorious in some stupid way.  Like big deal!  I beat out a waiter and it made me feel good?  I apologized and thanked him for following the law the next time he came around.  When I asked if I could specify a wine, he pointed at Mr. Kromer and said, “Specify to him.”  He smiled broadly and walked away.


I didn’t.  It wasn’t important to have wine; it was important to make sure all the Kromers had a nice time, and I do okay with that.  I first suggested that Gretchen sit on our side of the table so the rest of the family would have more room, and she ended up right beside a beaming Dana.  Then I tested Hector by telling one of my father’s old jokes, and he was funny. 


Hector laughed at the first line, like the opening premise, and he was in hysterics that threatened the building by the time I got to the punch line.  In the end, everyone laughed merrily, but I’m not sure if they were laughing at the joke itself, or the huge mass of humanity beside me who had found it so funny.


Hector finally gasped, “That’s the best joke …and he started laughing again.


Then I realized that everyone in the room was laughing, and I didn’t know if it was because I’d been loud with a good joke, or if Hector’s reaction set them off.


I learned soon enough when a guy at another table said, “That’s a great joke, kid!  Got any more?”


I said loudly, “I might, but it’s your turn.”


That raised the temperature in the room, because the man stood and told a funny story, then nodded to the next table and said, “Your turn!”


That’s how it continued.  Our food came and we ate it, but we laughed straight through the meal.  Hector translated where he could, but he would have never finished dinner if he tried to keep up.


Most of the jokes were clean, but a few were kind of over the line, at least family-wise, yet those got the best laughs.


In the end, to me at least, it was like the dinner that wasn’t, because I don’t remember a thing about the food, and don’t even remember what I had, though I’m sure it was fine.  I was laughing too hard to pay attention to the groceries, and hilarity was the theme in the entire room.


Then Dad showed up, Elenora’s hand in his, and the Daniels right behind them.


I stood up and did the introductions.


“This is my father, Franklin, and this is Dana’s mother, Elenora.”  Then I introduced the Daniels, and sat while they were all shaking hands and getting acquainted with the Kromers.  Rory Daniels looked around the room and asked, “Who turned this place on?  It’s comedy night?”


I realized then that people were still telling jokes, one at a time, and our table was the quietest in the place, which wasn’t right.  I looked at Rory and said, “Got a good joke?  You’re already standing.”


He did, and when a lady finished hers, he held up his hand.  “I have one!”


His wife smote him on the back, which he ignored while people turned to look his way.  The receptionist from the lobby was standing there with menus for them, and she’d obviously been bringing them to a table when they saw us and started talking.  I think Mr. Daniels noticed, and he told a very short joke, which brought loud laughter anyhow, then my father’s little group went to their own table while the hilarity continued.


Mr. Kromer leaned to me during a lull and, hand beside his face as if to hide his words from onlookers, said something in German, which Hector translated.


“He just realized who your father is, Paul, and he is very impressed.”  Hector listened, then told me, “Curtis is with Daimler-Benz, and works in their Internet marketing program.  He says he adopted your dad’s model years ago, and that made his career.”


Really? I thought.  That was the second time I’d heard that in the same day.  Maybe I needed to get out more, or possibly spend more time in Florida, but I’d never connected Dad with fame like that.  I was learning what a visionary he really had been, and still was, and I was duly impressed.


I looked at him over there, sitting with Elenora and the Daniels, and nothing was different about my father.  Well, it was clear that he had feelings for Elenora, but I knew that.  My father’s fame wasn’t that of a celebrity.  He’s a modest man who lives a nice life, more satisfied with his accomplishments than the financial rewards.  The money is there, and if we hadn’t decided to give it away it might be there for a long time, and do absolutely nothing for anyone.


When it was their table’s turn to tell a joke, Rory stood and told the best one of the night, and the raucous laughter from that restaurant must have been heard both on the beach and on the mainland.


After dinner, back at the hotel, Dana and I sat on the deck, and it was our second time making small talk.  Jellyfish and a wild storm had introduced some stress into our holiday, and Gretchen clearly interested Dana, though the Kromers were leaving for Orlando and Disney in just a few days.


“Sucks,” Dana ended his thoughts with.


“Yeah.  Well, you get to go home,” I said, stressing home.  “That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”


“I guess,” Dana mumbled.


I looked at him, and he looked more bored than forlorn or anything.  “What?” I asked.


Dana shrugged his shoulders and looked right at me. “I never did anything like this before.  Never.  You all treat it like a week or a month in Florida is just a different place to be.  It’s more to me than that, can’t you see?  I never saw the ocean, and I never saw a palm, and I’ve never been so hot in my life.  I never went to a place like this hotel, either, not even to sneak in.  I’m all … I can’t think of a word.”  He glanced at me, “I’m just beyond, is all.  I …”


Dana stopped so suddenly I did a double take.  I wasn’t sure, but I thought so much new for Dana took him out of his comfort zone.  “Don’t worry. Dad wants to leave this weekend.”


Dana looked at me warily and asked, “Really?  I can …”


He left another thought unspoken, and I tried to calm his nerves, or worries, or whatever was bugging him.  “Dana, don’t start to think all this is normal.  It’s not.  We’re only here because Dad didn’t want to recuperate at home in mud season.  It’s as simple as that.  Dad’s getting better now, so we can go back.”


Dana turned to me, and I explained the feelings I got when returning home from any absence longer than a school day or a weekend up north.  I knew the experience, the feelings, from many times away.  I got tears in my own eyes when I tried to impart the things I felt to Dana, and he seemed really surprised to learn that I attached so much good feeling to wherever I called home.


His voice was soft when he asked, “What was your house like on Cape CodIt must’a been nice to spend all summer at the beach.”


I smiled, thinking back.  “It was nice.  I mean, the house wasn’t much, just an old cottage.  I really had fun there, though.  There were a lot of kids every summer, and we did stuff all day, every day.  We played games on the beach, rode bikes, shot hoops and played badminton, and we played into the dark after dinner.  There was this farm just after you left the neighborhood, and they had a ton of kids.  They had a barnyard with a floodlight, and at night we played things like kick-the-can till we got yelled at to go home.”  I was getting warm feelings just remembering for Dana, and he was leaning in close, so I kept going.


“This one kid, his grandfather was some folk singer, and whenever he came he had a guitar, and we’d sit in their yard at night with a fire. He’d sing to us, and he was really good.  Then he’d teach us some words and we’d all sing, and those were the best nights.”


I snickered, “When it rained, we’d hang out on somebody’s porch and play this card game called Bullshit, and we’d laugh ourselves foolish.  The whole point of the game is to cheat and lie so you get rid of all your cards.”  I started laughing just telling it.  “Oh, God, we’d laugh at that game.”


Dana was grinning, “What, no poker?”


“Oh yeah, we played a lot of games.  When we were smaller it was things like War and Go-fish, but we grew into Poker and Setback, Casino, let me think.  Oh yeah, the big one was Hearts.  Cutthroat Hearts.”  I looked at Dana and asked, “You know the best thing?”


“What?” he asked, smiling.


“This ice cream truck came every morning and every afternoon, and it had the biggest ice cream menu you ever saw.  It stopped right in front of my house, too, because that was kind-of the middle of the neighborhood, and he sold about a hundred ice creams there, then went on down to the beach to sell more.  He gave credit and everything, at least in front of our place, ‘cause he knew somebody would pay him.”


Dana was clearly charmed, and he broke my mood when he asked, “So why’d you sell that place?”


I frowned, upset by the reminder that the house on the Cape was no longer ours.  I stared out at the ocean long enough that Dana put his hand on my shoulder.  “Sorry.”


I snapped out of it and mumbled, “It’s okay.”  I looked at Dana, “Dad sold it that winter after Mom left.  He never said why, but I think I know.  He bought that house just before they got married, and they even spent part of their honeymoon right there.  Then every summer after that was mostly there.  I’m not positive, but I think selling that house was like closing a book you like, but won’t likely read again.  I think Dad just didn’t have it in himself to go back there, so I never said anything.”


“You could always buy it back,” Dana offered hopefully.


“Nope,” I shook my head.  “I went out to P-Town with Mom and Ally last summer, and we stopped to look.  That whole neighborhood is gone … seventy-five or eighty houses, even the farm.  Now there’s just a handful of rich-shits’ mansions.  Every place is uglier than the place beside it, too, and they’re all empty like the pyramids.”  I looked at Dana and smiled, “I hate rich people, I really do.  I mean, for a hundred years, hundreds of kids and their families spent summers there.  Now it’s all gone, and there’s no point except to inflate the egos of some seriously defective people.”


Dana just looked ahead for a long moment, and snickered.  “When I get rich, remind me not to tell you, okay?”

“I won’t ask if you won’t tell,” I said, and we both laughed a little.


I added, “When you’re rich, if you ever decide you’re better than someone because of money, I’ll …” I had a funny thought and said, “I’ll hire Hector to come talk to you.  You’ll keep that in mind?”


Dana nodded solemnly, “Yeh, when you put it that way.”  He grinned, “We think the same things, Paulie.  What’s up for tomorrow?”


I thought and said, “That’s right!  The grandparents are leaving, and the others don’t come till Friday.  I don’t even know if we can go in the ocean.  Maybe I’ll just sleep, and you can have your way with Gretchen.”  I wiggled my eyebrows at Dana.


He laughed.  “I don’t think so!  Do you want to ask her for me?  I think she’s cute and all, but the last thing I want is to mess up more lives if I get some girl pregnant.”


Elenora’s voice came from next door.  “Way to go, baby!”


“Oh, Jesus!” Dana mumbled, and then he got loud.  “Mom, will you please not listen anymore?  We don’t listen to you over there!”


There was no response, and Dana finally said, “We could listen, you know.”


When there was no response again, Dana said, “Have it your way.  From now on, when you talk over there, we listen over here.  Paul will be sure to let you know what he thinks.  Okay?”


My father’s voice came back, laden with mirth.  “Oh no, not that! I’ll give you five bucks to not listen.”


I whispered to Dana, “Tell him to get real.”


Dana said, assertively, “Get real, Dad.  Get real!”


Dad came back with, “Don’t you have school in the morning?  Why don’t you ask your teacher for ten reasons you shouldn’t let Paul put words in your mouth?”


Dana grinned at me before he responded.  “Only ten?  Shouldn’t that be thirty, or even fifty?  What are you paying those guys for, anyhow?”


I was having a silent fit of laughter right then, impressed again with Dana’s shiny brass balls, and his sometimes surprising way with words.


I could tell that Dad was speechless and laughing himself, because I could hear him trying not to make noise over there


”See what happens?” I asked Dana loudly enough so that everyone could hear.  “I bet if we listened in on them, we’d be going away with Hector, destination unknown.”


Dana snickered and Dad said, “Cut it out, Paul   I laughed hard enough tonight already.”


I was about to say something when I heard a noise, and it took me a moment to realize the phone in the room was ringing, so I hurried in to get it.


“Hello,” I said.  “This is Paul.”


“Hi, Paul.  Rory Daniels.  I’d like to speak with Dana if it’s not too late.”


“Hi.  No problem, I’ll get him.”  I turned around and Dana had followed me in, so I just held the phone up and said, “It’s your grandpapa.”


Dana grinned and took the phone, and I went back out on the balcony.  I announced my presence to Dad and Elenora, but they’d gone in, judging by their silence.


Dana’s cell phone was on a table there, so I took the opportunity to call Lisa, even knowing that it was late.  She picked up on the first ring, but said she could only stay on for a minute, so I told her to call me the next afternoon after school, that I’d be home Sunday night and that was about it.  It was still nice to hear her voice, and get the feelings that her voice invokes in me.


Hanging up, I thought I was probably becoming hopeless when it came to Lisa, and thought at the same time about how good that helplessness felt.  Just a few words on the phone could set my mood for the rest of the night, and I couldn’t wait to talk to her again.


Dana was still on the phone, so I called Mom in Boston, who was in a bit of a state when she answered.


“Paul?  Oh, I’m glad you called.  The miserable … … so and so next door has put a bid in on this building, when I’ve had an offer of first-refusal in for two years now.”


I grinned.  “That was a long pause between miserable and so-and-so, Mom.  I’m fifteen now, almost sixteen.  Can I fill in what I think you meant to say?”


“You certainly may not!” but she’d lost her edge.  “I don’t want to hear that kind of language from your mouth.  Not ever!”


I felt for my mother.  She and Ally rented half of a side-by-side on Beacon Hill that was probably one of the nicest places in the city.  The building had been restored most recently inside and out in 1996, but not modernized any more than the building code called for.  The place had been built in the late 1700’s, and had the classic red-brick, white-trim, black-shutters that it shared with half the city.  It was big for a duplex:  four stories tall, with really high ceilings and huge rooms, and each side had a grand staircase kind of thing from the ground floor to the main floor.  Mom and Ally had done their entire apartment in off-white, which was offset with shiny wide-plank floors that were stained dark, and exposed brickwork around the many fireplaces, which had wooden mantels.  Color came from the furniture, the rugs on the floors, and the curtains and drapes, which were all a color to accent that worked off the carpets in each room.  There was a former ballroom that was the only non-white room in the house, because it had huge murals that were original to the house painted on the walls.  They weren’t really nice, just people who were probably famous once, and typical old, brownish art where the only real color was in the mens’ clothing.


Mom and Ally use that room for entertaining, so there are lots of sofas and places to put things like drinks and snack plates down, but they have their exercise equipment in there most of the time, and it may be the most elaborate workout room in the country.


In an old movie, that place would look horrible, because it would be all over-decorated with brocades and big, gilt picture frames around Edwardian art, and seriously overwrought and over-sized furniture everywhere.


Not Mom.  She and Ally travel a lot together, and my mother used to travel a lot with my father, while Ally traveled separately.  They have enormous piles of great artsy things that they’ve picked up, and that’s what they decorate with.  Mom’s one big indulgence in fine art is a smallish Vermeer that cost as much as a waterfront house.  She loves it, and so do I, although it doesn’t get much prominence in their house.  It’s just one of many objects on the wall along the main staircase. It’s a pretty picture, and always stops me on the stairs, coming or going.  It’s a landscape, or more honestly a cityscape, and it’s the kind of thing I’d paint if I could: just parts of a building and an alley, and not in a nice part of town.  Still, that alley invites me to explore every time I see it, and I think that’s the genius of the painting.  It’s not just the skill of the brush, but the eyes behind that brush.


It’s a colorful, playful painting too, not all brown and dark.  It even depicts a sunny day.


I was absolutely spaced out, and finally heard my mother’s voice coming from the phone.  “Paul?  Are you there?  Did you hang up?”

“Sorry,” I said abruptly.  “I was just thinking about your house.”  I thought quickly, “If you have first-refusal, how can the other guy get the house?”


“He won’t get this place,” my mother promised.  “He’ll hang by his ankles in a meat locker before that happens.  I just don’t believe his gall for even trying.”


I said, “I wouldn’t like it if you lost that house.”


“That won’t happen, Paul, trust me.  The idiot has decided, after two years, that he has gay women living next door, so there’s a sudden problem.”


“I thought you told me he’s gay.”


“I thought gay, but I think the word is pedophile.  I don’t keep track, but I don’t believe that Mr. Thomas has had a female visitor ever, and not a male over eighteen or twenty since we’ve lived here.”


So, what’s that mean?”


“Never mind, Paul.  I could use some good news.  How are things there?”


I filled her in, and my news was cheerful enough, except the jellyfish and thunderstorms.


She was more interested in the grandparents than when I told her about Rhod, and I told her that Dana was talking to Rory as we spoke.  “And Dana likes them?”


“He does,” then I thought and added, “I think Dana likes most people.”


“I can see that,” Mom said.  He’s like you in that respect, isn’t he?  You give people room so you can like them.”


“I do?”


“I think you do.  You don’t automatically flinch at people who are … different, and you back away and give new people you meet time to settle down when you don’t meet under great circumstances.”


I said, “Yeah, maybe.  But I need a constant stream of new people.  It gets boring teasing the same-old, same-old all the time.”


“Oh, you’re not so bad,” she said dismissively.  “About this place, I doubt that Thomas even knows about my right of first refusal, and I seriously doubt the place is for sale to begin with.  If it happens to be, I don’t know who’ll want to meet the asking price.  I’m sure that will be in the stratosphere, because this is one of the finest examples of Eighteenth-Century architecture in the city.  Much of the original is intact, while most of these old places have been gutted and rebuilt with modern construction inside.”  Her voice softened, “Our beautiful staircase and banister are as they were when the artisans crafted it by hand, way back when.”


“I love your house,” I said.  “You don’t have to tell me.”


I heard a beep and Mom said, “Hold on.”


She was back in a few seconds, “Goodnight, Paul.  It’s the landlord’s agent.”  She made a kissy sound, “I love you.”


“Good luck.  I love you too,” and she was gone.


I sat back, tired by then, and looked out at the sea until Dana sat beside me.


I looked over at him, and couldn’t decide what his expression meant, so I asked.  “You okay?”


Dana nodded.  “Yeah.”  He looked at me and added, “Before I forget, I’ll get you up tomorrow so you can eat breakfast with us.  They’re leaving.”


“Okay, that’s fine.  They’re going home?”


“No, to that place in Daytona they went to look at.”  He grinned, “Grandpa says they want to try it on for size.”


I snickered at the words, but waited for Dana to say something, and found him looking at me.


“What?” I asked.


Dana didn’t say anything at first, and he didn’t really look troubled either, so I waited.


“They like me.  They say they love me.  Can you believe that?”


I looked at Dana, surprised.  “Why wouldn’t they?  Of course I believe it.”


Dana turned a confused face to me.  “It’s just been two days.  How can they decide things like that so fast?”


I was kind of taken off guard by that question, and looked at Dana for a moment while I thought that out.  “Not two days, Dana.  Jesus, they’ve been looking fifteen years!  I think … I think that, for all that time, they wanted to find you, wanted to love you.”  I grinned at Dana and laughed, “I guess it’s complicated, but look at it this way.”


“What way?”


I considered my reply, and spoke slowly, letting my actual brain guide my mouth for once.  “Dana, this is your chance to fill in the blanks.  You met Rhod, and I know you think he’s more than a sperm donor now.  And you met his parents, and they’re nuts over you.”  I leaned close to Dana and said, “This is what you wanted, isn’t it?  The family … the heritage?  What’s left?”  I was about to shut up, but had one more thought.  “You can’t change it, anyhow.  Look at it this way.  Six months ago it was you and your mother, just like always.  Then me and Dad come along, and pretty soon you had a father.”


“Not really, though,” Dana said, and I was instantly mad at him for the first time.


“Don’t you dare, Dana!  I mean it!”  I pointed at his face, “We never fucked around with you, me and Dad.  It was you who wanted a father, and it was my dad, who said okay that day, and you’ve been happy ever since.  So, don’t you dare ever say not really, or you can fucking walk back to Vermont!”


Dana looked shocked, and his eyes filled with tears.  I thought he was going to cry, but he didn’t, although tears leaked out and down his cheek.


I felt bad and softened my tone.  “Dana, when you wanted a father you found one, and a damn good one.  Don’t go telling me it’s not real, because it is real, and you know it is.  Dad has gone all out for you, and you can’t say your life isn’t better for what he’s done.  You can’t, can you?”  I started crying myself, envisioning a meltdown. 


I looked at Dana and attempted a smile, but I quit when I realized my lip was quivering.  I swallowed my pride and stood with my back against the railing, looking at Dana.  He was looking away, and I said as softly as I could, “Hey.”  He looked, and I got my smile working, if a bit sadly.  “I’m sorry, okay?  I have to work on that flying-off-the-handle thing.”


Dana swallowed, making a sound.  His eyes never left mine, and his look was curious.  “I was out of line.  I’m sorry, too, because I should never have said that.”  He looked away and added, “I upset you, and I didn’t mean that.”  He smiled when he turned to look at me again.  “You know, it’s still hard to believe you’re serious when you say we’re brothers, and that Dad is my father, too.”


“I’m serious,” I said.


Dana grinned, “I’ll say you are!” and that was the end of it.


It wasn’t finished though, because I wanted to say something more.  I pushed my toe around the fancy tile floor for a moment before I looked back at Dana.  My voice didn’t work on the first try, so I tried again, with a bit more force.   “You’re my brother, Dana.  I always wanted a brother or sister, and I guess you’ll do.”


Dana smiled, and I went on.  “Brothers fight sometimes.  I think it’s the law or something.  I mean, otherwise we’d be angels, and I don’t want to be an angel till I’m good and dead.”  I took a deep breath and finally got out what I meant to say.  “You mean a lot to me, Dana.  If … if I get mad again, or if you do, just don’t get that look on your face again, okay?  I don’t know what I’m saying here.  I mean, if I’m mad at you, that’s what I am, just mad at you.  It doesn’t mean I want you to go away, even if that’s what I say.”  I smiled, “You know I’m full of gas by now, anyhow.  You’re my brother, Dana, and I’ll always want that.”


Dana’s eyes filled with tears, but he smiled this time, his turn for a quivering lip.  He stood and came to me, arms out, and we fell into a hug that lasted a good ten seconds before we backed out and looked at each other.  Dana’s voice was soft most of the time, but he came out loud and clear right then.  “I believe you now,” he said, brushing a tear from his eye.


I had the companion tear in my own eye, and wiped it with the back of my hand.  I couldn’t hold my grin in, though, and when I let it out, Dana came back full-force with his own, and we hugged again.

Brothers for real!


I looked at Dana, smiled, and said, “This is the best day for me.  You?”


Dana just smiled, and we gently punched fists.


“Best ever,” he agreed, and he couldn’t get rid of that grin of his any more than I could.


Dana sat back down and I stayed leaning on the railing.  “You should take the day off tomorrow, Dana.”


He smiled curiously, “Play hooky?  I never did that.”


“You know, sometimes you have to cheat a little.  The other grandparents will be here Friday, and Rhod on Saturday.”  I smiled at him, “You don’t meet a girl like Gretchen every day, either.”


Dana smiled, but kept his thoughts to himself.  I said,   “I don’t know about jellyfish, but odds are we won’t be able to go in the water.  It could be your last free day here, so I say screw it all and spend it with Gretchen.”


Dana looked worried.  “What would I do?   What would I say?”


“Don’t say anything, just do it.”  I laughed out loud, “You don’t explain hooky, man; you just do it and hope you don’t get caught.”  I looked Dana in the eye, “You owe it to yourself, Dana.  You’ve been good, so take the last day on your own, and go boogie!”


Dana’s look right then seemed kind of frightened, so I added, “It’s a normal thing to do.  You’re probably a mile ahead of your class anyhow, so screwing off for a day won’t get you flunked.”


Dana looked at the floor, “I can’t.  I need to at least see if I have a test or something.  I can’t just not go.”


Dana had a point.  “Yeah,” I said.  “But thank them, and leave right after.  Either that, or think about this:  The Kromers are still kind-of on Germany time, so they’ll probably be up really early.  You can set your clock to three, and call just when they’re waking up, and suggest a walk on the beach or whatever to Gretchen.”


Dana looked at me for what seemed a long time.  “How about I just go to bed, go to school, and I’ll see what happens?”


I laughed, “That would be the adult thing to do.  You’re there already?”


Dana shrugged, “I don’t know about adult.  I should finish with these tutors, though.  They have to tell the school I did what I had to, else I just get zeros.”


I said, “Makes sense.  I’ll try to make sure Gretchen knows you like her.  I’m going to bed, okay?”


“Me, too,” Dana mumbled.  “I’m tired.  Don’t forget the morning, though.  I’ll wake you up.”  We both had doors to our rooms from the balcony.  Dana’s was first, but he followed me down to my room.  Dana stopped and patted my shoulder as I turned to go inside.


“G’night, Paulie.”


“You too,” I smiled.  “Sleep well.”


I went in, closed the door, and got ready for bed.  When I pulled the covers up, I felt bad all over again for yelling at Dana the way I did.  It took until then, but I saw Dana’s face in my mind again when I’d yelled at him, and his expression had been fear, plain and simple.  I’d scared Dana, and scared him good.  I’m sure he wouldn’t worry about getting beat up, so he’d been afraid we’d leave him.  I had to make up for that somehow.


Dana woke me the next morning, and I stepped out onto the deck to see what the day was like.  It was beautiful, if a bit cool at that hour.  When I looked down to the pool, I knew I’d been right about the Kromers being up early, at least the men.  Mr. Kromer and the two boys were in the pool having a good old time, the kids using their father as a bouncy diving platform when they weren’t madly splashing each other.


I went in for my shower, pulled on a bathing suit with shorts over it, and added a button front shirt that I didn’t button all the way up.  My sandals completed the wardrobe, and I went through the living area to the kitchen for some juice.  Dana was at the counter with his back to me, and I could tell he hadn’t heard me at all.  I suppose I could have frightened him; instead I backed up into the living room and turned the television on.


When I again got to the kitchen, Dana was watching the door, and smiled when he saw me.  “Why’d you turn the TV on?”


I shrugged, “Oh, I don’t know, thought you might have your back to the door.  I just didn’t want to frighten you, okay?  I think you had enough of that last night.”


Dana blushed a little, but kept his gaze on me.  He nodded, “Thanks.”


“The Kromer guys are at the pool.  Gretchen’s not there.”


“I saw them,” Dana said.  “I hope they sit near us at breakfast.”


I took the juice out, shook it, and drank a few swallows from the carton before putting it back.  “Listen, Dana.  Don’t worry too much about breakfast.  Spend that time with your grandparents, and try to learn things.  Gretchen will be here at lunch, and they won’t.  Do you even have their phone number and address?”


Dana nodded, “I wrote it all down last night” He sighed, “You’re right, I need to think of them right now, and Gretchen later.”


I said, “Let’s go, then.  Wait while I turn off the television.”  I ran into the other room, shut the thing off, then looped back into the kitchen, where I ceremoniously removed my hotel card from its slot and put it in my shirt pocket, which I patted with my hand.


“Mine,” Dana said, rolling his eyes.


I stared at him until I realized he meant the card in the slot was his, not mine.  “Really?  Where’s mine then?”


“I can’t know that,” Dana said, holding his hand out until I gave him his own card.


I hurried back to my room and looked everywhere I could think of without finding the card, and heard someone knocking on the door while I looked.  On my way back to the kitchen, I thought to look in the clothes I’d worn the day before, and went back to find card tucked safely in my shirt pocket.


“Found it!” I yelled, and met Dana at the door to the outside hallway. 


He had a package in his hand, and held it out to me.  “It’s a phone, I think.”


It was, and if Hector didn’t cut it out I’d start thinking I was special or something.  It was a new phone, more-or-less like my old one except the color, and there was a note attached saying the battery was charged and all I had to do was insert my SIM card.  If there was a problem, I could call Richard Mansolf at AT&T.


I sat at the table in the kitchen, and used a butter knife to pry the card out from my old phone.  I put it in the new one, turned the phone on, and it lit right up, looking familiar.


I looked up at Dana and said, “Ready.”


Dana sighed, and picked my hotel card out of the packaging on the table and held it out to me.  “You’re not good at keeping track of things.” 


We went out and waited for the elevator.  “I’m not,” I admitted.  “I’m kind of an airhead that way.  It’s not that I really lose things, like leave them somewhere, but I do forget about them.”


The elevator came, and as we stepped in.  Dana said, “You should be poor sometime.  That would never happen again, because when you’re broke, everything you have is important, and everything you don’t have hurts.”




“I’ll be more careful,” I said, remembering how many times I’d said that before.  I felt kind of pathetic, because from the first, everyone had told me that the card in my pocket was my key to happiness in that hotel, yet I’d forgotten or misplaced it more times in just a few days than the others put together, and their errors still totaled zero as far as I knew.


We went to the dining area and found our table.  The Daniels were there with coffee, but Dad and Elenora hadn’t shown up yet, so Dana and I just got coffees, and we made small talk.  Well, I made small talk, while the Daniels and Dana became fully engaged, including me out of politeness.


I excused myself on the pretense of needing the bathroom, and wandered around looking for the Kromers.  The father and boys were at the pool, no longer in the water, but drying off on lounges.  I didn’t stop, but walked across the beach to the water.  The sea was calm, and even my cursory look told me that jellyfish were still there in numbers.  I was curious, because these were pinkish-white in color.  I was used to blue or purple jellyfish in New England, and remembered mustard-yellow ones in Monterey, California, and snow-white ones north of there.


There were a lot in the water in front of me, and I wondered that only Dana managed to get stung the day before.  Then I noticed a sign that read, “Beach closed” and it went on, “Per order of blah blah blah.”


“No shit,” I thought, and turned back to the hotel and my breakfast.


When I got there, everyone was waiting on me, so I didn’t even sit, but led the way to the buffet.


I got my usual fruit appetizer, and was back to the table first, and enjoying a fat strawberry when Mrs. Daniels sat down. 


“My, the fruit here is wonderful, isn’t it?  I’m pleased to see a boy your age enjoying it.” 


I looked at her, and before I could say anything she added, “The key to good health is proper elimination.  You eat that fruit, and then get some Grape Nuts.  Not the flakes, they’re not the same thing.  Get the real Grape Nuts, and sprinkle them on your Special-K, or whatever you prefer.”


I had a really hard time holding in my laugh.  My own mother was blunt most of the time, but not even she ever suggested the tools for taking a proper crap, and she would never think of saying that at the breakfast table.


When I couldn’t stand it, I ungraciously excused myself to get out of sight, where I leaned against a column and laughed until I cried.  I think it was stuff I knew, but in new terms that struck me as hilarious, especially coming from someone new in my life.  Proper elimination.  Well, I think that means shitting normally, which I’m already pretty good at.


I remember when I was little; my mother had to collect bits of my turds, and she said they were stool samples, and that really frightened me.  I won’t go into this too far, but at the time I knew stools to be big things we sat on around the island in our kitchen.  My ass wasn’t even called my butt back then, but my ‘little hiney’ and the thought of anything coming out of it that was anywhere near the size of a stool was both fascinating and too frightening for me to even question.


When I had myself back together, I stopped in the bathroom to wash my face before I went back to the table.  One look at the back of Mrs. Daniels head made me turn around, and I decided it was time for hot food.  I ordered a coddled egg and two pancakes, and then went down the buffet line for a little bacon and sausage.  There were beans that morning, so I put some on my plate for future amusement, then collected my egg and pancakes before going back to the table.


I was going to have a hard time, and I knew it, but I figured if I could just stuff my face and not look at Mrs. Proper Elimination I’d be okay.


I was, too, at first.  She was yakking away happily with Elenora, and didn’t even notice my return.  I put my egg on the plate with everything else, and it was perfect.  I didn’t break the yolk for once, and I cut it up with my knife anyhow, and dipped a corner of toast in the yolk before tasting anything else. 


My fruit was still there, so I alternated between chunks of fruit, my egg, the meats, and the pancakes, saving the beans for last.


When Mrs. Daniels noticed the beans on my plate, though, she cooed loudly, “Paul, you must be the healthiest boy on the planet. You didn’t get the grape nuts like I suggested, but beans are the very next-best things.  You’ve been well …”


I didn’t hear the rest, because I was on my way back to the buffet.  I had enough food, but I needed to hide where I could laugh.  I could almost picture myself at fifty, explaining to anyone who would listen that the key to good health is proper elimination.  I don’t know why that struck me so funny, but it did, and still does.  Maybe we should have a national Proper Elimination day to celebrate the creative use of toilets.  Wouldn’t that make a great Monday holiday?  People with the stomach for it could photograph their efforts, and maybe compete for prizes from the grape nuts foundation.


Or not.  I hurried back to the table when I saw Dana standing up, and everyone else stood and started shaking hands, wishing each other well, and all that.  I joined right in, and got a pat on the back from Rory and a kiss on the cheek from his wife, and they hurried off to finish packing.


I glanced at Dana, and he was watching them go, with an odd expression on his face.


He gave a sudden start, and said, “I gotta get going.”  He kissed his mother’s cheek, bopped both my father’s and my arms, and ran off, headed for school like the good boy he was.


I told my father and Elenora that I’d see them later, because I needed a coffee, which I carried out to the pool.  I didn’t see the Kromers there, but I wasn’t really looking for them.  I had told Dana that I’d ask Gretchen to have lunch with him if I saw her, and if they didn’t go somewhere out of the hotel I probably would see her.


I was in my chair and comfortable when I noticed Denny on the other side of the pool.  He was at a table talking with a guy, probably about surfing lessons.  I just looked until Denny noticed me, and he smiled and waved, then I pointed at myself to let him know I had a question.


That question, of course, was about the possibility of a surfing lesson.  With all the jellyfish I was pretty sure of the answer, but if there was a safe place, Denny would know it.  I glanced over there a few times, but they were still talking.


Denny, in his clothes, is possibly the last person you’d picture as a guy who taught surfing.  He wears these tan things, like cargo pants and cargo shirts, too.  The guy has a million pockets.  He has like a skipper’s cap that’s also tan, and wears prescription glasses with big, fat, black frames.  He wears a short, gold chain on his right wrist, and has a wedding ring on his left hand.


I don’t know how old he is, but I’d guess he’s pushing forty.  Let him show up on the beach in just his trunks, and that changes to twenty-five.  He’s short, no taller than me, but the guy is ripped like I’ve never seen, and has a tan so dark it looks like it goes right through him.  He should, of course, because all he does is surf, and teach kids like me and Dana to surf, and endorse surfing products.  I didn’t know before, but when ESPN does surfing events, he’s often there as a commentator.  I would probably watch those events in the future, but never had before.


I was done with my coffee, and Denny was still engaged with the other guy, so I gave up.  I stripped down to my bathing suit and headed to the towel shack, planning on getting some sun.


“Paul?”  I heard, and looked to see Denny with his hand up.  “You wanted something?”


I trotted over.  “I just wanted to know if we could surf with all these jellyfish.”


He stared at me and said, “Jellyfish can’t sting a wetsuit.”


“I don’t have a wetsuit,” I said.  “I don’t think Dana does, either.”


Denny’s shoulders sagged.  “Okay, here’s what you do.  Ron-Jon’s is right up the road.  Go up there and get wetsuits, then you will have them.”


“What do they cost?”  I asked.


Denny looked annoyed, but maybe he was just thinking.  “They start around fifty bucks.  You can pay up to a hundred, maybe a little more.  You don’t need one for diving, so stay at the low end.”


I asked, “Are you mad at me for something?”


Denny suddenly looked dismayed.  “Mad at you?  No!  Why?”


I shrugged, “I don’t know, you just seem grouchy.”


He smiled, “Grouchy I’ll give you.  It’s not you, though.  Trust me on that.”


“Okay, I will,” I said.  “What size wetsuit should I get for Dana?”


“Men’s medium,” he replied.  “Same for you; there’s some stretch.”


“Regular time?”


“Sure, if it’s not all thunder and lightning.  You’re leaving when?”


“Sunday, I think,” I said.


Denny suddenly smiled brightly.  “I’ll miss you two.  It’s been a trip, it really has.”


“For me, too,” I said.


“And Dana?” he asked hopefully.


“For sure,” I said.  “You should see him on snow skis.”


“Yeh,” Denny muttered.  “Too bad he didn’t grow up on the coast.  He’s not afraid of speed, and he already has good form.”  He looked at me and smiled again, “It’s a shame he’s so edgy around the water.  Work on that, will you?”


“Sure,” I said, “as soon as global warming gives us a shoreline in Vermont.”


Denny grinned and said, “See you later,” and I looked around.


I figured that if I was going to get wetsuits, I may as well go get them.  I pulled my clothes back on and started into the building just as Dad and Elenora emerged, so I told them where I was going.


“Make sure you tell Hector,” Dad warned.


I grinned.  “Hector knows.  Hector always knows.”


Dad smiled and nodded, and he headed toward the towel shack with Elenora, while I went in and up to the room for my credit card.  When I went down I didn’t even look for Hector, because he was probably disguised as an elevator button or a blade of grass or something.  What I did was walk right out the front door, and turn right at the road, where Hector appeared at my side.


“Ron-Jon’s again?” he asked.




“Let me guess: wetsuits?”


I laughed, “You’re too good!”

“No, amigo, I grew up in Florida.  I know the deal with jellyfish all too well.”


We walked along at a moderate pace.  There’s not a whole lot to see on the beach side of the street on the road they call A1A.  It’s mostly apartments that used to be military housing..  All the businesses were across the way.  They are generally businesses for the people who live there, not tourists: things like various repair shops, doctor’s and lawyer’s offices, and a liquor store.


To make conversation I said, “You sure had fun last night.”


“I did.  I sure did.”  He bopped my shoulder, which sent me stumbling forward ten feet, and I had to wait for him.  “Sorry, Paul,” he said when he was beside me again.  “That was a very fun evening.  The food was good, the people were nice, it was fun translating, and I don’t remember when I laughed so hard.  Then I was up to midnight calling my friends to tell them your pig joke.”  He bopped me again, far more gently.  “That’s the best one ever!”


I smiled smugly, liking that Hector liked my joke, and we were at Ron-Jon’s.  The wetsuits were harder to find than to choose, because there weren’t a lot of different ones.  I chose their basic full wetsuit, black for Dana and gray for me.  I got booties too, on Hector’s suggestion, so no little jellyfish would nibble at our feet.  I don’t like comparing prices because there’s not much point, but it didn’t escape me that two entire wetsuits, plus boots, cost about what three pairs of short pants did just a few days before, in the same place


When we were walking back, I asked Hector, “So.  Did my father ask you to look at Senator Morasutti?”


Hector sighed.  “I shouldn’t say this, Paul, but yes.  We can generally only find information that’s public, but he’s an honest man, and there really isn’t a hint of stink from anywhere.  If you want something to chew on, it’s that the people who dislike him do because he’s so honest.  If he has a hidden private life, then it’s well hidden.  He’s been married thirty-eight years and has three adult children.  One’s a doctor, one is a housewife, and the third is Elenora, who he’s been trying to find for years.”


I heard that, let it sink in, and asked, “Is that true?  He’s been looking all this time?”


Hector said softly, “He’s a man who loves his family, Paul.  I’ll explain to him that Dana is also his family on the way from the airport.  That’s all I can do.  The man pays his parking tickets, which are rare to begin with.  He’s had a couple of moving violations, but there’s really nothing to even hint at criminality or corruption.  He’s a man of honor, and there’s no reason for me to lean on him.”


“He’s been looking, though?  All this time?”


“Yes he has.  If there’s a problem, it’s that Dana was born out of wedlock, but I think I can promise you one thing.”


“What?” I asked hopefully.


Hector snickered, “One look at Dana, and this guy’s gonna be putty.  Why?  Because Dana is almost an exact duplicate of Morasutti’s brother at the same age, except the hair color.  It wasn’t even me who picked up on that, but someone in New York saw the similarity, and it’s more than just casual.  I saw the pictures, and they could almost be identical twins.”


I stopped walking and grinned at Hector.  “Really?” and he nodded.  “Where’s the brother?  Maybe he should come, too.”


Hector said, “He died, Paul.  It was ten years ago: pneumonia, not an accident.”


I looked at the ground for a moment, then turned and started walking.  “That’s sad.”  I looked up at Hector and asked, “Dana’s twin?”


Hector chuckled, “I’ll say.”  We walked along, and he added, “It’s not just a resemblance.  It’s like a Xerox: a duplication.”  “What’s funny,” Hector added, “Is that if the Senator knew that, he probably would have found Elenora years ago, just on that resemblance.”


“They didn’t know about Dana, though,” I said.


“You’re right.  They were looking for Elenora at first, then Elenora and a baby, then with a child.  They had no idea.”


I was starting to feel soft, then I remembered Elenora crying, and I said, “That guy made Elenora cry just the other day.  I think he called Dana a bastard!”


Hector’s hand found my shoulder again, and he left it there.  “I told you he’s an honest man, Paul, and the honest truth is that Dana is a bastard child.”  He bopped my shoulder gently a few times.  “That says nothing about Dana’s character or anything else, just the ... the circumstances of his birth.  It only means his mother and father weren’t married.  It’s really a stupid old term these days.  Lots of people have kids and aren’t married, and all those kids are technically bastards.  It’s an old-peoples’ term from other days.  Now it’s just a swear-word, and hardly the worst one.”


We kept walking, a question growing in my mind, until it formed and I asked, “You think I’ll like the Senator?”


Hector didn’t reply at first, but after a minute he said, “I don’t know, amigo.  The man has crossed a lot of people, and those people don’t like him.  He’s helped a lot of others, and they all like him.  I’ll tell you one thing I believe, and that’s that all those people know where they stand with him.  And when I say he’s crossed people, I don’t mean in a dishonest way.  I think his political views are personal and pragmatic.”  Hector looked at me and grinned slyly, “You know what pragmatic means?”


On my nod he said, “Good, then. That should make him a centrist, but he’s not.  Fiscally, he’s more conservative than Reagan, and probably has better ideas.  Socially, he’s pretty liberal.  Not exactly another Lyndon Johnson, but not far behind.  He straddles the center and doesn’t join it:  he has one foot on the left, and one on the right, and he never sits in the middle. That’s where his friends and enemies come from, and they can be friends on one issue, enemies on the next.”


“Maybe I will like him,” I thought out loud.


Hector said, “No influence from me, my friend, but the report I read calls him a social charmer.  He’s a good observer, and always has a story to tell, and he’s a good storyteller.  They call him a focused listener, too.”  He gave my shoulder a little squeeze so I’d look at him, and smiled at me.  “I’m expecting to like him.”


Hm.  News that was news.  “Why?” I asked.


“Listen,” Hector said. “What I get from profiles, at least with basically honest people, is kind of a view of how they live their lives, and how others look at them.  I see this Morasutti as a lot like my own father:  an honest man.  He’s brutally honest, and if you don’t like his views you probably won’t like him too much.  The thing is, he won’t think less of you if you don’t agree with him.”


I looked at Hector and he smiled.  “He’s a strong man, stuck in his ways, but he won’t try to change you.”


We were in front of the hotel, and Hector had carried the bag with the wetsuits.  He handed it to me and said, “Voy,” and disappeared around the building.  I smiled after him.


Hector was a good name for that guy, because he loved to tease people.  He was an educator at the same time, and I learned a lot from him.   I knew I’d miss him more than the sunshine and warmth when I went back to Vermont.


I brought the wetsuits and booties up to the room, and used the bathroom before I went out on the deck to see who was around.


I saw pink, and hurried down to talk to Gretchen before she could disappear.


When I got to the beach, I didn’t see her, so I went to the towel shack.  Claire didn’t blink, and tried to hand me five towels, but I said, “Just one for now.”  I was on my tiptoes looking for Gretchen when Claire poked my shoulder.


She grinned, “The girl in pink is over there,” she said, pointing past the pool, and she was right.


“Thanks,” I said, smiling, and hurried in that direction.


The girl in pink.  I liked that, and was pretty sure I’d go to my grave thinking of Gretchen that way.


I caught up with her just when she was pushing a lounge around to have a better view of the beach.  She saw me coming, and smiled.


“Hi,” I said when I reached her.  “Can I sit with you?”


“Please,” she said, and I pulled another lounge beside hers.  There were no cushions on the lounges because they’d hurried to put them away when the rain came the day before.  I looked around until I saw one of the hotel guys that worked the beach, and held up two fingers when he started our way.  He got the message, and nodded.  I spread my towel out for the time being, and sat opposite Gretchen on the edge of the seat. 


“Did you have a good time last night?” I asked.


“Oh, yes.  It was very nice, and so general of you to pay for dinner.”


I smiled at her misspeak and just nodded.  “Dana likes you very much,” I said, trusting that clarity was more important than tact when there’s a bit of a language barrier.  “He would like for you and him to have lunch together.”


Her face had taken on a dreamy look when I said Dana’s name, and she smiled kind of demurely, and looked at her fingers.  “I would …” she started, then looked at me.  “I would like that very much.  Where is Dana?”


“He’s in school,” I said, omitting all detail.  “He’ll be here at eleven.”


The guy came then with our cushions.  We stood out of his way and waited while he attached the cushions, not saying anything.  I thanked him when he was done, and he tipped his cap to Gretchen.  I smiled because even the landscapers at that place had class.


We sat back down and talked about different things for a while, and things definitely were different in Stuttgart than Brattleboro, but that made it fun for both of us.


Gretchen’s eyes went wide when I told her that Dana was the best skier I’d ever seen, and that a lot of people agree with me on that.


“He skis well?  We all ski!  My grandfather … my mother’s father, was with the Austrian Olympics team in 1964 and again in 1968.  He didn’t win anything, but just to go you have to be among the best of the best in the world.  Wait until I tell mother!”


“Really?”  I asked excitedly.  “Dana wants to get on one of the Olympics training squads in the worst way.  I mean, he should.  They should want him, but I don’t know how it works.  He never had real racing skis, either, but he still wins his races.  He goes down a mountain, and back up and down again before we get to the bottom.”  I realized how fast I was talking from excitement, and saw that I’d lost Gretchen a few pages back.  I smiled, “Sorry.  You have to see Dana on skis to understand.”


“Oh, I would love to,” Gretchen said.


Then I remembered that Dana had a video up in our room.  I didn’t know how proper it was, but I asked, “Want to see a video?  Dana has one in our room.”


Gretchen eyed me, and I put my hands up in surrender.  “Sorry, wrong language. Let me get it, and we can watch it in your room.  We can all watch it.”


That earned a happy yes, so Gretchen went to get her parents and brothers, who were just on the other side of the pool, and I went upstairs for the video.  I knew where Dana kept it, so I was waiting by the Kromers’ door for a few minutes before they showed up.


They all seemed excited about the cassette in my hand, and I hoped they could interpret Dana’s spectacular crash as evidence of how well he could ski.  Well, his entrance was probably all it would take, and his survival should be proof enough of his experience.


Their room was the first I’d seen outside of the suites we had on the top floor.  It was pretty much the same, but on a smaller scale.  Even the television was smaller, but it was still a good-sized screen.  I handed the tape to Mr. Kromer and settled on the sofa between two excited boys.  Gretchen and her mother sat on armchairs on either side, and when Mr. Kromer had the tape ready, he also sat on the sofa, making a tight squeeze.


When he started the video, I realized it was a real race, not Dana’s mishap with demo skis, and it was of an event that had been televised, so the photography was professional, and from a lot of cameras.  At the start, the subtitle announced, “Dana Morasutti – Vermont.”  That’s all it said, but we could see Dana at the top of a racecourse, his goggles up on his forehead, and nodding at a man who had to be his coach.  Then he pulled the goggles down, smirked, and in a moment he took off downhill.  I looked at Mr. Kromer and asked, “Is there sound?”


He tried a button, and there was, but he let the tape run.  It had the announcer saying Dana’s statistics as he disappeared down the hill, then another camera picked him up, and the announcer said, “Holy … look at his time!”


The screen had a leader board, and Dana was a half-second ahead of the fastest time only fifteen seconds into the race.  When he went past that second camera and it followed him, he disappeared so fast that it was hard to believe he’d really been there.  Then another camera picked him up, and I realized I’d skied that very course with Dana, and he came airborne into the shot, his turn starting in mid-air.  He looked out of control on his landing, but he wasn’t.  Where most would crash, Dana corrected, and it cost him nothing.  He was a third of the way down, and held that half-second lead.  I should mention that a second is huge in a sport where winners and losers are normally hundredths of a second apart.


Dana was killing that course, and he did all the way down.  At the bottom, where he turned out, he looked at the board, and after a minute his arms shot straight up when it showed him that he was the leader by almost a second.


Dana’s joy was evident, and I realized that I was cheering out loud with the Kromers at his performance.  I ski with Dana, and I know how good he is, but this was surprise evidence that he was a winner, and a winner by a mile in skiing terms.


We watched that tape five times, listening to the commentary after about the third, and the announcer was excited, possibly stunned, by Dana’s performance.  “Look at that time!  This kid is fast, and he’s slick, too!  I think we’re witness here to future World Cup gold.  Olympic gold!”


I was amazed, and looked around at a Kromer family that seemed to be in shock.


I smiled and said, “Pretty good, huh?  I told you so.”

Gretchen translated for me, and I saw reverence on a bunch of faces.  They were skiers for sure, because anyone who didn’t ski wouldn’t know what they’d just seen.  I didn’t even know the circumstances of that race, but now I’d seen Dana in competition, and he was as unflappable as he was when skiing for fun, and as untouchable.


My brother!


We went back down to the pool and just hung around, the little ones active in the pool.  I jumped in myself with Gretchen when we both wanted to cool off.  We swam a few laps, but mostly stood in the deepest part, which was about four feet, and talked idly about things.  When Gretchen suddenly smiled, I turned, and there was Dana.  He looked tall from our vantage point, which started near his feet.


Dana was smiling, and before he could say anything, I said, “Hey, man.  I got us wetsuits, so surfing is on for later!”


“Good deal,” he said, looking at Gretchen.


I backed out of the picture gradually, so Gretchen wouldn’t know I was leaving.  I did hear Dana ask, “Want to have lunch with me?” and then I was gone: out of sight and out of earshot.  I was happy to eat by myself, but I ended up with a couple of young Turks from Germany.  Werner and Arnold were cranked up, too, probably from their morning in the pool.  I don’t think their parents really thought I was lonely, either.  I think they needed a break from the energy those two put out.


I asked for picture menus when our waiter came, and then it was “Hamburger, hamburger!” from those two.


When the waiter came back, I pointed at the boys and said, “Hamburger, hamburger.”  I said, “I’ll have a Stuttgarter.”


“And what would that be?”  he asked.


I pointed at the Greek salad.  “One of these.”


“Ohhh-kay.  One Stuttgarter, coming up.”  He smiled at the boys, “How would you like those burgers?”


They looked at him, and I looked at them.  When I didn’t foresee an answer coming I said, “Just put everything on the side.  They can make up their own.”


He said, “Very good.  Anything to drink?”


“Water for me,” I said, and looked at Helmut and Arnold.  “To drink?” I asked.


“Oh, wasser, bitte,” they said in unison, and even I understood.


“Water,” I said when the waiter looked his question at me, and he hurried inside to enter our order.


While I looked at him, I noticed Dana and Gretchen going into the indoor part of the restaurant, and Gretchen had put on clothes so they’d be allowed.  I only saw them for a few seconds, and they both seemed happy to be together.


I smiled, and turned my smile to Helmut and Arnold.  They’d seen too, and seemed pleased to see Gretchen and Dana together.


Lunch came, and I’d done the right thing with the hamburgers.  Both boys took the tomato slices and put them on the meat, then put mayonnaise on the top part of the bun, and they left the lettuce, onions, ketchup and mustard untouched.


I attacked my Stuttgarter, and it was great, and loaded with both black olives and feta cheese chunks.


After lunch, I decided to take a nap.  Rather than risk a bad sunburn, for it had turned into a very hot and bright day, I went up to our suite.  The room had been made up, and I plopped down on top of my bed thinking a nap would be nice, which was a rare thought for me.  I zonked out big-time, too.  I was dead to the world when Dana banged on my door, then came in.


“Paul!  Denny’s waiting.  Where’d you put the wetsuits?”


I heard him, but it took time for me to wrap my thoughts around his words, then I sat up with a start.  “What time is it?”  I asked, looking at the clock.


“After three.  Wake up!”


I sat up and hung my legs over the side of the bed, coming back to reality.  “Did you look in the kitchen?”


“For what?” Dana asked.


“The wetsuits,” I said, thinking that would be obvious.


Dana sounded amused.  “Oh?  Wetsuits go with pots and pans?  I didn’t know that.”  I looked at him, and he smiled, “I’ll go look, and you get the hell up.”


Well, I stood the hell up, but was barely awake, and I went into the bathroom to splash cold water on my face.  That works in Vermont, but Florida’s version of cold water doesn’t come as much of a shock.  It did some good, though, and my mind cleared out from sleeping.   I used the toilet, sighed at my hair, and looked off the deck to see that it was still a nice day.


“Find them?” I yelled to Dana.


“No.  Oh!  Here they are.  Which one’s mine?”


I followed Dana’s voice into the living room, and the sack with the wetsuits was on the outbound side of the two-sided sofa.  I honestly don’t know why I left it in that spot, but couldn’t credibly blame anyone else, so I said nothing. 


“I thought black for you, but take your pick.”


“Really?” Dana asked, holding the black wetsuit up.  It had yellow on the shoulders, in a kind-of rounded, triangular shape.  Dana liked yellow, which is why I chose that one.  The gray one had orange in the same place, and color was the only difference.


Dana said simply, “This is nice.  How in hell do I get into it?”


That’s something I hadn’t considered, but it turned out to be simple enough, and we both suited up, ready for the mean seas full of jellyfish.


I followed Dana out, and seeing him in the wetsuit made me wonder again how I ever thought of him as tubular.  I’d seen him wearing less, but somehow that black wetsuit made him look more grown-up, more masculine.


I wondered about myself, and when we were in the hall I stopped by the big mirror for a second, and yes!  The wetsuit did zippo for my hair, but from there down I was pretty pleased.  Dana asked, “What?”


I said, “It looks like you have dead canaries on your shoulders.”


He seemed bemused.  “You were looking at you, not me.  What’s that on your shoulders?


I looked. “Orioles, I think”   I looked back at my reflection and said, “Yeah, orioles!”


Even with the wetsuits and booties on, surfing with jellyfish around was kind of frightening.  Our hands and heads were still uncovered, and the fear of hitting a jellyfish face-first was daunting even to Denny.  We pretty much caught waves and immediately slid off of them so we wouldn’t tumble around in the surf.  It was still a good lesson, and I improved my mounting technique to the point where I was successful almost every time.


For our last ride in, we just stayed on our stomachs all the way in, and were right in the spoon when our forward motion stopped.  Getting up, Denny said, “I think tomorrow we should head up the coast if these jellies are still here.”


I looked at Dana, who had a tentative look on his face, and said to Denny, “I don’t think we can tomorrow.  Dana has people coming to meet him.” 


Denny looked between us and shrugged.  “I can understand that.  Let’s just hope the jellyfish go back to sea, then.  See you tomorrow.”


He picked up his board and started walking off.  Dana asked, “Is he mad at us?”


“I don’t think so.  I mean, I think something’s wrong, but it’s not us.”


We started walking, and we looked around.  Dana looked for Gretchen, and I looked for my father.  Dad, at least, was predictable.  He wasn’t under his favorite palm, so I found him at the pool bar.  Elenora was sitting on the edge of the pool keeping her feet wet, while Dad sat in the shade at the bar proper, a giant drink in front of him.  When I got closer it looked more like a fruit salad, so I asked “What’s that?” as I sat beside him.


“Sangria.  It’s sweet red wine, ginger ale, and a lot of cut-up fruit. He took a sip through his straw and made a satisfied sound.  “Mmm, good on a hot day.”


“Can I have a sip?” I asked, and Dad turned the straw my way. I had to stand to reach it, but it was really good.  With all the things in it, I don’t think alcohol made up any large percentage; at least I couldn’t detect it.  It was just citrusy, sweet and delicious.  It was cold too; cold like ice cream, and it hurt my head the same way a too-big mouthful of ice cream will.


“I like that,” I said, back on my stool.


“You can have one if you like,” Dad offered, but I declined.


“Where’s Dana?” he asked.


“Looking for Gretchen.”


Dad smiled.  “Go find him and tell him to give up the search.  The Kromers went to the Space Center, but we’re having dinner with them at seven.”


“You saw them?” I asked.


“I suggested they go.  They didn’t realize it was such a short way, and left right after lunch.”


I said, “I’ll go look for him,” and I saw Dana as soon as I turned around, across the pool looking around, with his hand over his eyes like a visor.  He’d shed his wetsuit, and I’d only peeled my own down to my waist, so my legs were hot.  Even so, I hurried over there and cried, “Dana!” as I approached.  He turned and smiled, and when I was close enough to speak normally, I said, “They went to Kennedy, so don’t bother.”


Dana shrugged, “I figured they must have left.”  He pointed at me and asked, “Aren’t you hot in that?”


“Yeah, I am,” I said as I pulled it off, and the warm air actually felt cool on my legs.  The pool looked good, too, so I dropped the wetsuit on a lounge and jumped in, with Dana right behind me.


I didn’t swim, just floated on my back, idly kicking my feet to keep moving around.  I heard Dana sputter, and stood up to look at him.  “How do you do that?”  he asked.  “I try it, and I sink.”


I couldn’t keep it from coming out.  “I think you’re pretty dense.”


Dana gave me a dirty look, which I didn’t blame him for.  “If you’re denser than water, then you sink.  Take a breath, and try to lie on the bottom and see what happens.”


“Go ahead,” I said when Dana hesitated.  “Try to stay on the bottom.  If you can do that, you’re really dense.”


Dana did try, and the laws of physics and nature didn’t even let him crouch on the bottom; he came right back to the surface every time, sputtering for air, and a little more cross each time.


After he tried three times, I said, “Now float on your back and try to sink.  Keep your arms out and your feet moving a little.  If your head’s full of rocks, use your neck to keep your face up.  The rest of you won’t go anywhere.”


Dana eyed me suspiciously, but the truth doesn’t always sound all that true.  “Try it,” I said.  “You’re not gonna drown in this pool.  If you start to, just stand up.”


When he hesitated, I said, “It’s water, Dana.  It’s heavier than you are.  Just stay flat and calm, and you’ll float.”  I held up two fingers, “Scout’s honor.”


Dana looked at me with suspicion, then nodded, took a breath, and fell backwards.  He started to roll sideways, so I got my hands under his back and said, “Stay flat.  Kick your feet a little and keep your head up.  Use your arms if you want to move.”


After a little struggle, I felt Dana relax on my hands, and I pulled them away. He floated off slowly, albeit with a very doubtful look on his face.  I walked beside him until I was sure he was comfortable, and then floated off in the opposite direction, content in the cool water.


I didn’t stay long, no more than ten minutes.  I was enjoying myself, but getting restless at the same time, and I seriously needed something to munch on.  Dad had left, so I went to get my towel, which was still on the lounge at the beach, and sat at an umbrella table near the pool.  I signaled the first waiter I saw, and ordered nachos and ice water, then watched Dana as he floated around the pool, looking very pleased with his new skill.


My nachos came, and I dug in.  I surprised myself with how hungry I was.  They weren’t even that good, but I finished them off in no time.  I considered ordering something else, but decided not to.  When Dana got out of the pool he came over and took a seat.  Seeing my empty plate, he asked, “What’d you get?”


“Nachos,” I said.


He made a face, “The nachos suck here.”  He turned a sudden and hopeful look to me and asked, “You didn’t like them, did you?”


I snickered at his earnestness and said, “No.  They suck like you said, but I was hungry.”


He looked at my empty plate and said, “You must have been if you ate a whole bowl.  I stopped after four of them.”


I still had the menu, so I pushed it over to Dana and asked, “What is good?  The nachos upstairs were okay.”


Dana pushed it back.  “I don’t know.  I tried the nachos that one time, and that was it.”


I thought about it, and even the best hotels I’d been in had quirks like this place.  I mean, if the mezzanine bar can make a decent nacho topping, why wouldn’t the pool bar serve the same thing?   Lunches at the pool were fine, and I asked Dana, “How was your lunch with Gretchen?”  I’d eaten breakfast and lunch in the hotel every day, and Dad had that one meal brought up when Rhod was there, but all I’d eaten in the main restaurant was breakfast.


Dana thought I was asking about how things were going with Gretchen, not how the food was.  He got a faraway look in his eyes and said, “It was nice.  Real nice.  We ate, and we talked.  She told me you showed her my ski video, and she was all excited about that.  Did you know one of her grandfathers skied in two Olympics?  That’s incredible, you know, because he didn’t medal the first time.  Maybe he’s the kind of guy who chokes at a real race, I don’t know.  Austria must have thought he had it if they sent him a second time.”


I was grinning, but interrupted anyhow.  “What was that race on the tape?” I asked.


“Oh, that was Northeast Regional last year.  Did you see it?” he asked with excitement in his voice.  “I murdered that downhill.  That was my first run, and my second was a tenth faster.  I came in second overall, because I took a header on the first giant slalom run, and came in fourth at slalom.  My skis are really too long for slalom.”


I asked, “You don’t mind losing after a run like the one on tape?”


“I want to win,” Dana said, “but take a look.  I busted the downhill by a mile, and I did it on forty-year-old skis.  I screwed up on the Giant.  That was my own fault, and I just need another pair of skis – some shorties – to do slalom.  Anyhow Northeast covers ten states, and I won the downhill with no contest.  I was the only guy there with just one pair of skis, and the only guy with skis that weren’t brand new.”


“And?” I asked.


“I know you don’t like when I brag, but give me a break here.  Everyone else there had thousands of dollars in equipment, personal trainers, even people to put the right wax on.  I had me, Paul!  And I was lucky to even get there.  Coach found me a sponsor just the week before.” 


His eyes suddenly seemed to reflect trouble, “I didn’t even hope to win, just to look good and make some good times.  Downhill is my best race, and when I made that first time I didn’t know what to think:  like, was I lucky and everyone else had a tough day, or could I really beat everyone like that?   The second run gave me that answer, but then I tanked in GS and slalom.  I’m telling you, that was because of the skis.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my skis, but they’re discards from long ago.  If I didn’t have them to show me that fast is fun, I probably would have gave up before I even got good.”  He grinned, “They’re good for downhill, though.  It’s like point them and shoot.  Lots of turns?  Forget it.”


I smiled at Dana and said, “Next year you’ll have what you need.”  Then I remembered and said, “You should get new skis now!  If we’re going to the Andes, you should get new everything!  It’ll be on sale by now, and maybe there’s still some snow up north so you can get used to new things.”


Dana smiled and said softly, “Dad said the same thing.  I could use some new clothes.  My boots are good, and Dad says I can have his old Stratos. They’re twenty years newer than mine, and hardly used.”


“Good skis, huh?” I asked.


Dana nodded, “Probably the best cruisers ever made.  I don’t think you could even find an instructor or patroller that doesn’t have a pair.  Everything’s wider and shorter now, cut more.”  He stared right at me, “Stratos are amazing.  If you do anything wrong, it’s your fault, plain and simple.  You can never blame the skis.”


We yakked the rest of the afternoon away, and went upstairs when Dad and Elenora said they were going to clean up and change.  Dana and I retrieved our wetsuits from their different positions, and rode the elevator together.


There wasn’t a lot to say, so we didn’t talk beyond courtesies, and upstairs we had our own bathrooms and showers.


We met the Kromers in the lobby at a little after seven.  They had their own car by then, a Mercedes of course, and Dana rode with them while we followed in the limo.  Hector was with us again as translator, and I now looked on him as laugher-in-chief.


The place the Kromers took us to was in an impressive building, and it was nice inside.  They’d found it highly recommended on the Internet, but it was kind of disappointing once we were there.


The service was slow and indifferent.  I had some wonderful shrimp, so I enjoyed my meal, but everyone else except the younger Kromers found their food kind of blah.  It’s not the kind of thing people come out and say, but I saw disappointment on face after face.  Gretchen ordered the same shrimps I had, and she enjoyed them, and the boys had hamburger, hamburger.  Everyone else, including a daring Dana, ordered the coconut-encrusted tilapia.  It looked wonderful when it arrived, and I almost regretted my shrimp.  Nobody finished that fish, and I didn’t ask why because I could smell it.  The moment that someone broke that delectable-looking crust, I smelled old fish. I don’t know if it was a day old or two days, but a place pretending to be a seafood restaurant shouldn’t have been selling it.


My meal was good, and it was a nice time for everyone despite questionable food.  The people who didn’t finish their fish got big desserts and more wine.  Hector had an easier time translating because he wasn’t translating jokes, and also because when someone used a colloquialism, they put it in better terms for him to translate.


At one point, Dana and Gretchen excused themselves at the same time, and headed to the restrooms.  I thought it a coincidence until I had to go myself, and saw them kissing behind a divider.


I only smiled.  My brother.  All the way my brother.  Dana!