Mud Season

Chapter 8

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Ch 8


I kept waking up that night.  The dinner may have had something to do with it, but I think it was mostly my own anticipation about meeting Elenora’s parents, the other side of Dana’s ancestry.  Despite Hector’s hopes for them, I feared a confrontation.  I worried about that on behalf of Dana and Elenora, not myself, because I’d been prepared to not like them from the get-go.  Hector had impaired my feelings somewhat, but not completely.


Elenora never said much to me about her early life, but it didn’t take a genius to infer things, and there was one fact that stood out.  These were the good Catholics who tried to force Elenora to abort Dana when she didn’t want to.  They were the good Catholics and fine, upstanding citizens who forced their own daughter to run, and when she was only fourteen.  They were the family who, through their actions, forced Elenora to scratch out a living, and Dana to grow up with breakfast cereal his only meal some days.


I respect Hector, and on his advice I was willing to give Elenora’s family the benefit of my doubt, but only until they got out of line.


I was honestly mad at them in advance, and probably hoped, somewhere in the back of my mind, for one of them to say something stupid or hurtful.  I didn’t have to plan anything in advance.  I felt well prepared to start slinging my own arrows at their first hurtful word.


I got out of bed for ten minutes around three, to get DFWM tee-shirts ready, and wished I’d thought to go back and get a few smaller sizes to fit Gretchen and her brothers.  I thought that, if worse came to worse, I could find some black tees in the gift shop, and cut off the part with the letters from some big ones and glue them to smaller shirts.  Then I decided I wasn’t thinking clearly, and went back to bed.


Dana didn’t wake me up, and I had left the alarm unset, so it was eight by the time my eyes opened, and when I realized that I had overslept, I jumped right out of bed.  I hit the bathroom right away, where I think I eliminated properly, took a quick shower, wasted time shaving perfectly good whiskers off my face, decided on a hat instead of a comb, and brushed my teeth, sans floss.


Back in my bedroom, I pulled on a bathing suit, navy-colored shorts over it, and a clean white shirt.  I stepped into my sandals while I pulled the black tee over my head, got my arms in it, and looked in the mirror to pull it down straight.  It was big on me, but that was fine.  Nobody would notice, because they’d soon all be wearing the same thing.


I took a deep breath, pulled on a no-logo baseball hat, picked up the pile of shirts, and headed out.  Hector surprised me at the bottom of the elevator.


“Hector!” I said, and smiled because he was smiling.


He held out a bag and said, “These are on me.  They’re for Gretchen and the two little guys.  You take these, and give me the ones you don’t need.”


That made me think:  My father, Elenora, Dana, Mr. and Mrs. Kromer, and Claire of the many towels.  I knew other people in the hotel by then, but Hector knew them better.  Even if he didn’t know someone, they would put a shirt on if he said he wanted them to.  I had Elenora’s hanging from my back pocket, because it was the only different size.  I took five others from my pile and gave Hector the rest.  I was nervous for some reason, but grinned at Hector. “Thanks, amigo.”


He nodded and turned, and I cried, “Hector?”  He turned back around, “What time do you pick them up?”


“Flight’s due at nine forty-five, so we should have them here at around eleven if things are on time.  They’re already in the air.  Let me get these shirts out, else I’ll be late.”


I grinned, “Go, then.  Don’t stand here and talk to me.”


Hector gave me a one-of-these-days look and hurried off.  I turned to the pool, and all the Kromers were seated there, relaxing in the early sun.  I walked over, said hello, and started handing out tee shirts, which surprised them.  The boys were delighted of course, and didn’t ask questions.  Gretchen gave me a curious look, which I returned with my sincerest smile, “A little gift.  Take it.  Wear it in good health.”  Good grief, I actually said that.


I turned to the parents, a shirt in each hand, and they reached for them.  I sat on Gretchen’s lounge near her feet and said, “Let me explain, and you translate, okay?”  She nodded, clearly wondering what I was up to.


“People are coming here today to meet Dana, and he doesn’t know them.”  Gretchen nodded, but said nothing, so I went on, “These people are part of the reason Dana lived a life of poverty until now.”  She nodded again, and spoke to her parents and brothers in German, and got some questions from them.


She looked at me seriously and said, “My own question is when was Dana poor?  My father wants to know who these people are.”  She smiled, “My brothers want to know if they will have guns.”


I snickered.  “Tell your brothers no guns.  Tell your parents that it’s Dana’s grandparents coming.”


She looked shocked, “Grandparents?  Dana fears them?”


My empty stomach growled loudly enough to make all of them look at me, and I asked Gretchen, “Sit with me at breakfast.  I’ll tell you, but I’m really hungry.”


She started to stand, disappointed her brothers when she told them not to expect guns, and confused her parents when she told them it was Dana’s grandparents that everyone was chary of.


I told her to wait a second while I delivered shirts to Dad and Elenora.  They smiled when I skidded to a stop under their palm, but I overrode their greeting with, “Put these on.  We’re all wearing them.”  Then I ran back to where Gretchen was waiting, and continued into the restaurant.  She’d already eaten, and wanted to sit outside, so I told her to get a table on the deck and I’d find her.


I went through the fruit table like a pirate through plunder, and had a small mountain of food on a plate, plus a large cocktail of juices when I found Gretchen.  She wanted to talk right away, but I needed to eat, so I asked her to bring me a coffee and order my eggs and, if it wasn’t too much, to toast me an English muffin and bring a pat of butter back with it.


Her willingness to appease me seemed very polite at first, until I realized she really wanted to learn more about Dana. Helping with my food would speed things along.


After I had some food in me, and hot things in front of me, I tried to explain what was going on to Gretchen.  It wasn’t easy with the language barrier, and when I actually tried to act out an abortion, the people next to us got up and left their meal, giving me very dirty looks as they stalked off.  I called after them, “Hey, she’s German.”


I heard the guy mutter, “That’s her problem.”


When I turned back to Gretchen she seemed to be totally shocked.  She had finally realized the abortion bit, which I had probably represented as more of a disembowelment.  She looked after the people from the next table with shock on her face, but she didn’t try to put voice to her thoughts.  It didn’t matter, because I could tell she knew totally useless and uninformed people when she saw them.


She understood what I’d been trying to tell her, and that brought on a different problem.  I could see in her face that Dana’s grandparents angered her, but she was also upset, and reached across the table to put her hands on mine just when I was ready to dig into my eggs.


I really wanted her on my side, and needed to commiserate, but I also wanted to eat my food while it still resembled hot stuff.  I guess I’m not all fluff, because I raised my right hand some, hers still on top of it, and kissed hers.  Then I slid that one hand out from under hers, and picked up my fork.


I gobbled my food down like the hungry oinker I was, and finally sat back, picked up my coffee, tried to act nonchalant, and talked everything out with Gretchen.


She is a looker for sure, but by the end of our talk I learned that she was also an intelligent, insightful, and very thoughtful person.  After I told her the things Hector said, she leaned close and studied my face for a long moment.  “Hector is right,” she said.  “We must all wait before we decide.  It would be so high school to be …”   She looked at me and giggled, “Sorry, I need an American word.”


Gretchen was cute right then.  I could see her working out her thought in German, then thinking of the translation to English, and finally she said, very slowly, “It is stupid to act on the words of another.”  Her eyes lifted to find mine and she smiled.  “I see what you see, and we must wait.  Am I correct?”

“You’re beautiful,” is what I said, and I wasn’t talking about Gretchen’s looks.  Dana was ahead of me with this girl, because she was a beautiful person.


I think I embarrassed her, so I looked away for a moment, and noticed people in the water.  I turned back to Gretchen, “Want to see if the jellyfish are gone?  People are swimming!”


She nodded eagerly, so I stood and held my hand out to her, and we walked down to the water hand-in-hand.  It made me smile to find that I could hold her hand like that without becoming all hot and bothered like I would with Lisa.  I can’t deny a bit of attraction to Gretchen, but who could?  She was a good-looking and shapely girl in a pink, two-piece bathing suit, and she was my age.  I think it was more appreciation than any real attraction, and we held hands as friends and nothing more.


The warning signs were gone from the hotel’s beach, but I could still see them a short distance up the beach to the north.  I fully intended to look on the Internet at some point to learn more about jellyfish, because I found myself wondering if they actually migrated, or were just drifting. 


I asked Gretchen if she wanted to go in the water and she said, “Oh, yes, very much.”


“I’ll get towels, then.  I’ll be right back.”  I hurried over to Claire’s towel hut and she scowled at me.


“Aren’t you the young Lothario?” she asked, making it sound like an accusation.


That caught me off guard, and I asked, “What?”


“Oh, nothing,” she said while she bent to get some towels.  When she handed them to me she said, “It’s not nice to move in on your brother’s girl.”


I sighed.  “Claire, Gretchen likes Dana, not me, at least in the girlfriend-boyfriend sense.  Me and her?  We’re just friends.”


Claire snorted, “Pretty close friends, if you ask me.”


“Are you talking about us holding hands?  If that’s it, it’s because I need to hold hands if I think I’ll see jellyfish.  I’ve been all insecure for two days now thinking about those things in the water.  Gretchen only dragged me down there to show me I’d be safe.  That’s why she had my hand!”


Claire lifted an eyebrow in a very skeptical look, and finally smiled. “Okay, I can buy that.  Why don’t you take a couple of rafts while I still have them?  They’re all inflated and ready to go.”


I smiled back, “Great idea!  Thanks.”


I walked back to Gretchen with five fat towels on top of my head, held there by the two purple, pink and yellow air mattresses I had cradled in either arm.  I didn’t care that I probably looked like a pyramid for Barney, because I didn’t want to make another trip.  It was simple expediency.


Gretchen tittered when I reached her, but she was quick to help me lay out the towels.  Then we just pulled off all but our swimsuits, lathered up with sun block, ran into the surf, and jumped head-first onto our air mattresses as soon as we passed the breakers.  From there, we paddled out until we were just in the swells, where we idled around, not really talking.


It was beautiful to me.  There was a little haze over the water, but it only served to make a lazy day feel even lazier.  I floated around out there in a kind of hedonistic trance, only alternating between showing my back or my front to the sun.


I knew I couldn’t keep it up without turning to toast crumbs.  I don’t know how long we’d been in the water when I said to Gretchen, “I should get out of the sun.”


“Good,” she said.  “I burn, too.”


We paddled toward shore for a little while, then the swells, and finally the surf, brought us the rest of the way to the beach.  I was once again left with a bathing suit full of sand, so while Gretchen started putting on more sun block, I went to shower off by the pool.  When I felt clean enough, I noticed Hector’s counterpart, Ron right there, looking at me.  He smiled, if you can call it that, when I noticed him, and said, “They’ll be here in fifteen minutes or so.  I have a message from Hector.”


“What’d he say?” I asked, wondering if I should feel excitement or dread.


I don’t know if Ron actually owned a real smile.  Right then, his mouth stretched out a little, into a kind of thin line across his face.  He had his ever-present shades on, and said, monotone, “He said to keep your mouth shut.”


“That’s it?”  I asked.


Ron nodded, and walked off toward the hotel building.


I watched him go, and wondered about Hector’s message.  I said out loud, not to anyone in particular, “Just keep my mouth shut?  What happened to amigo?”


Fifteen minutes!  I had to get people to put their shirts on, and I had to remember where mine was.


I ran over to Dad’s palm, only to find him and Elenora already wearing the black shirts, and Elenora held mine out to me.  “Here you go, Paul.  Is everyone ready?”


I looked at the shirt to decide where the front was, and pulled it on.  I said, “I don’t know,” to Elenora’s question as I raced off to find the Kromers, and they already had their shirts on, as did the few hotel staff that worked the beach.  I looked in the lobby.  The guy at the desk, and the one serving a couple at a table both wore them, so I slowed down.  Hector and company had done enough that I didn’t really need to question how thorough they were, so I ran to tell Gretchen that I had to do something.  Then I went out front and sat on a stone wall to wait for the Morasuttis.


Keep my mouth shut?  I could sit on a wall and watch them, and they would have no idea that I was doing it.


I didn’t know what vehicle I was looking for, so when Hector appeared out of the passenger-side front of a big, white car, I was surprised.  Lauren, who had driven me from the airport, got out of the driver’s door, and opened the back one. 


Hector was holding the back door on the other side and waiting, and after looking inside, he reached in there.  I don’t know what for, but possibly a stuck seatbelt or something.


The man who emerged was smiling brightly.  He wore a gray sport jacket, but no tie.   I don’t know how to say sizes, but he was like my dad, kind of medium, so maybe five-ten or so.  His hair was straight and neat, and looked like black going to gray.  He wasn’t overweight or anything, but the moment he took a step, I noticed he had a limp.


By the time he came around the car, the limp had either disappeared, or he knew how to overcome it.  It might have been a cramp.  He looked around at his surroundings, which seemed to please him because he smiled again, and said something to Hector that made Hector smile.


They never came really close to me, but I could tell in passing that the Senator wasn’t what I pictured.  He wasn’t dashingly handsome, nor was he ugly with a veiny, bulbous nose.  He looked like a regular person, who might have been a preacher, a teacher, a mailman, or anything else.  If anything at all distinguished him, it was that he seemed to do things with a sense of purpose.  Of course, he just got out of a car after an hour ride, so maybe his purpose was to find a toilet.


The driver had opened the passenger door behind her, but Mrs. Senator Morasutti stayed in the car, in the shadows where I couldn’t see her, until her husband got there and offered his hand.  When she emerged and stood up, I could immediately see who Elenora resembled.  Her mother isn’t what I’d call plump, but she’s not exactly thin either.  She looked around and smiled brightly, shook hands with the driver, and looked around some more.  She was wearing dark gray pants, a light blue top, and had a jacket in her hand that matched the top.


Okay, here’s my first impression.  They looked like nice people, plain and simple, and younger than I expected.  Younger even after I’d adjusted my thinking from meeting Rhod’s parents.  I started in earnest to rethink my automatic pre-dislike of them, and figured I’d give them a foot instead of an inch, but I’d hold back on more than that until I met them.


When a man from the hotel, wearing his DFWM shirt, had their bags on a trolley, they followed him into the lobby, and I got a wink from Hector before he went after them.  To the world, I was just a bump on a wall, in the shadow of heavy vegetation beside a hotel driveway.  Hector knew I was there, though, and he knew why.


I walked through the lobby and out to the pool area while the Morasuttis were checking in.  I went over to my father’s favorite palm, and he wasn’t there, nor was Elenora.  I scanned the beach without seeing them, and checked the bar area.  I looked around for the Kromers, too, and didn’t see them either.  It took a hollow sound from my stomach to remind me that it was time for lunch.  I looked around again, thinking that sensible people would be eating outside on such a nice day.  People were, too, but not the people I hoped to see.


There was a table near the middle of the patio, so I decided to set a useful example for others, and sat down by myself, in a seat where I could see the entry to the lobby.


A waiter came and asked if anyone would be joining me.  I didn’t know, and told him that, but said to leave the other settings there just in case.  He brought me an ice water and the specials menu, which I read with one eye to the lobby.  I expected to see Dana, at least, and I did in short order.  I stood and waved, but he was looking around, so I called to him, but I wasn’t loud enough.  I ran over to him, returned his smile when he noticed me, and said, “Over here.  I think I got the last table.”


Dana was excited.  “Are they here?  Did you see them?”


“They’re here,” I said. 


“You saw them?  So?”


I could have told Dana anything, but decided not to tell him that I recognized them right away from America’s Most Wanted.  Instead, I shrugged as I sat down.  Then I noticed that Dana didn’t have his special shirt on, and asked, “Where’s the shirt?  You can’t be the only guy without one!”


He looked at what I had on then, and said, “Oh, jeez.  I’ll be right back,” and he ran off.


I looked around again, and all was serene, so I picked up the specials menu and took a look.  One thing caught my eye:  lobster ravioli.  Ordinarily, I wouldn’t dream of ordering something Italian outside of the coastal Northeast, or Italy itself, but this said the sauce was a light, sweet blend of tomatoes and onion, with just a hint of garlic.  That sounded like the way it ought to be, and I was only waiting for Dana to come back before I tried it. 


Nobody in our family would buy Italian sauce in a jar unless it was a New England product with an Italian name, because it seemed that everyone else thought marinara should be overpoweringly strung stuff, but they’re wrong.  The word means seafood sauce, which might give you a clue, but a lot of people don’t catch it.  To me, a good marinara tastes like an August tomato, with onion cooked in for sweetness, and a little fresh garlic for tang.


Jar sauces, at least brands without a double-z in the name on the label, just don’t get it right, and add what looks like every spice they ever heard of, plus a ton of salt.  That’s not right.  Marinara should be plain and simple to complement the fish, not overpower it.


Listen to me, huh?  Mr. Martha Stewart or what?  I don’t care.  I grew up where ethnicity means a lot, and neighborhoods were French, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, and a lot of other nationalities.  The neighborhoods are distinct, and so is the food.  If you want a decent kielbasa, you buy it in a Polish neighborhood.  It’s the same deal for a baguette:  you buy it in a French bakery.  You get your paella in a Spanish restaurant.  It’s stuff that you don’t find in the supermarket, and wouldn’t like a supermarket’s take on it if you could.  I’m just talking about the real thing, and not Wichita’s interpretation of it.  For once, I don’t even have to talk like a rich kid, because the ethnic places will fill you up for the price of a Burger King meal.


Dana was back shortly, looking troubled.  Before I could say anything, he said, “Dad’s coming down, so don’t order yet.”


“What’s wrong?” I asked.


He shook his head, “Mom’s yelling already.  I didn’t hear what set her off, but she’s not happy.  Dad says they’ll work it out, but he doesn’t want to be there either.”


“Where is Dad,” I asked.


“He’s in our room, ordering lunch for them.”  He smirked, “He says maybe they’re just hungry, or maybe not.  If they shove something in their mouths, they have to quiet down.”


I saw past Dana, and my father had just emerged from the lobby and was looking for us, so I stood and waved, managing to catch his eye just when he looked our way.  He nodded, smiled and made his way between the other tables.  He smiled broadly before he sat down, and said, “My two sons!  I haven’t said that.  How’s it sound?”


Dana and I were looking at him, and Dana said, “It sounds good,” while I said, “It sounds right,” at the same time, and we all laughed.


Dad saw I had the menu, and asked, “What looks good?”


I said cautiously, “They have lobster ravioli, and it says it’s in delicate, sweet marinara.”


Dad said, “Hmm, let’s have that!  It won’t be Maine lobster, you know.”


On my raised eyebrow he said, “Maybe rock lobster, but most likely langostino.  It won’t be claw meat.”


I picked the menu up again, and didn’t see anything much better, so I decided to get some pasta with that delicate sauce and no lobster at all.


Dad would eat most anything, and Dana would surely order a burger of some sort, so I’d just go off-menu to get something I wouldn’t choke on.


Dana ordered a bacon cheeseburger and fries, Dad chose the lobster ravioli, and I got simple linguini with the same sauce.  The Italian dishes came with a bowl of crisp-crusted rolls and another bowl of butter, so I filled up just fine.


I watched Dana gobble down his food like he’d not had anything in a week, and when I asked about that he explained that he had one last quiz, so he’d be back a half-hour after he left.  He wanted to get there, so he could get back and not miss too much.


We watched him guzzle down the last of his lemonade, and then he burped out, “I’ll be back,” and tore off into the hotel.


I looked after him until he was out of sight, and turned to Dad, who lifted an eyebrow exactly when I did.  We’d just watched Dad’s second son, and my first brother, head off to face his educational fate.  Dana was eager, not afraid, so there was no real need for comment.


I turned my thoughts to upstairs, and asked, “They’re fighting?”


Dad sighed, “I guess you could say that.  Her parents are trying to be nice, but Elenora is bringing up a lot of old grievances.  I just left them to it.  It’s family matters they’re talking over, so not my business or concern.”  He looked at me glumly, “I hope they can calm her down.”


“Elenora?”  I asked in surprise.  She always seemed so docile to me.”


Dad stared at me for too long, then said, “Docile is the perfect word, Paul, but it’s clear to me now that Elenora and her parents were into it many times before she got pregnant.”  His face took on an odd expression, and he said, “I believe that, in her earlier life, Elenora may have been something of a brat.”  Then he smiled.


“Makes no difference now?” I asked.


“Not to me,” Dad said, and laughed, “You might take note.”


“I’m a brat?”


Dad smiled and put his fingers on my hand, “You try, I’ll give you that.  I don’t think it’s really in you, though.  You can irritate, and that’s when I ship you off to your mom, but she always sends you back.”  He smiled again, “You don’t want much for yourself, and you want fairness for the whole world, so I’ll never say you’re a brat.”  His look became sterner, “You are loud with your opinions, though.  You might want to work on that before you frighten the rest of the Western world.”


I looked up just then, and the Senator was approaching our table, staring at me as he came.  Dad saw my apprehension, and turned just as the man got there.  He put his hand on Dad’s shoulder when he reached us, and said, “I’m sorry, Franklin.  Elenora was dredging up rubble from long ago, and I’m sure you didn’t want to hear it.”


He turned to me, and smiled brightly, “You can’t be Dana, so you must be Paul.  I’m Anthony Morasutti.  I’ve just heard a lot about you, all good, and I am very pleased to meet you.”


I stood and shook his hand, which was warm and dry, and noticed that he didn’t try to break my fingers.  “My pleasure,” I said, as I sat back down, and he took the place that hadn’t been used.


He looked at me, then my father, and said, “I know it sounded differently up there, but this is the best day I’ve had in fifteen years.”  He frowned suddenly, “To be honest, from our family’s side, we’ve all acted badly.  Even in the context of the time, we acted badly, especially me.”


He didn’t continue, and my father didn’t say anything, so I said, “Okay.  I think Elenora and Dana need to hear that, not us.”


The Senator’s eyes softened.  “That’s a good point.  Do you think Dana will want to talk to me?”


I looked at Dad, and he indicated that I should respond.  I said, “Senator, Dana wants to fill a hole in himself.”  I got tears in my eyes and didn’t want them, but they came anyhow.  “That hole is where you belong, and your wife, your parents and grandparents.  It’s where his aunts and uncles belong, his cousins.  I had tears streaming down my face, and said “Dana will probably love the hell out of you if you don’t go calling him a bastard!


Nobody said anything, so I wiped my face with my napkin, only to see the Senator and my father both wiping their own eyes.


The senator asked, “Will you call me Anthony, please?  I don’t need Mr. or Senator.  Can I tell you something about today?”


I looked at him and nodded, as did my father.


“Okay,” he said.  “Elenora was always a tough little girl.  I don’t’ mean a tomboy, because she wasn’t’ that.  She loved to dress up and hated to get dirty.  I mean tough in the sense that she beat up other kids, and mostly boys.  He smiled kind of sadly, “I can’t tell you how many times we had to take her to apologize for a black eye or a loose tooth, or both.”


I looked at him to go on, so he did.  “She was right most times.  The kids she hit were bullying other kids, and she was like an avenger.  We couldn’t really punish her for that, but she was admonished because it’s not the job for a young girl.”   He shook his head, “Elenora always had her own mind, from when she was just a baby.  If we got something right, she would show love in every way that a baby can, but if she felt deprived in the least … well, we’d have another sleepless night.”


Mr. Morasutti put his hands on the table and said, “If there was ever a father’s daughter, then Elenora is mine.  God, that girl has a will.  If I say now, she says later.  If I say later, she says right now.  If I say up, she says down, and it goes on and on.”  He smiled, “I used to love that back-and-forth; I can’t tell you how much.  Contrary as she was, Elenora was a delightful child, and her public face was the perfect little girl, all smiles and pretty.  For all the noise she generated at home, there was always humor behind it.  She brought home good grades, and socialized well, and we were a happy family.”


I was looking at the man, and noticed Dana off in the distance, looking at our table.  Instead of approaching, he started circling at a good distance, apparently trying to get a good look at his grandfather.  I lost some of what the man was saying, but caught up at, “… with this neighbor boy, Rhod Daniels.  It was no concern, because they weren’t old enough to date, and we just looked on them as playmates.  I’ve known Rhod’s father since high school, and we saw his parents socially on frequent occasions.  Nobody thought …”


I saw Anthony’s eyes gazing past me, and he lost what he was saying and started to push up from the table.  I turned my head, and Dana was there by the edge of the pool, then I looked back at Mr. Morasutti and he seemed to be genuinely shaken when he sat back down.


“Are you alright?” my father asked.


Mr. Morasutti shook his head and croaked, “I just thought I saw a ghost.”  He pointed without looking, “Over there by the pool.  I could swear I saw my brother.”


“Ghost?”  Dad asked.


“Gianni died nearly ten years ago.”  He looked up and suddenly seemed older as he pushed the hair on either side of his face backwards with his hands.  “I honestly don’t know if I’ll get over that.”  He smiled weakly, “We were so close when we were kids.  Then I left for Cornell, and by the time I came home Gianni was at Stanford.  He never moved back East, so we only saw each other one, two, maybe three times a year.”


The man was doing a real number on his hair, but I held my words seeing his torment.  “After he died, a guy called me and said he’d been Gianni’s partner for eleven years, and that Gianni was afraid all his life to tell me he was gay.”   He looked up, “Hell, I knew that!  I figured it out when I was fifteen or sixteen.  I never said anything because Gianni didn’t, and I couldn’t bring it up with my parents.  It was a secret that we shared, only not with each other.”


I thought he’d go on, but he stopped talking again and looked behind me with his mouth agape.  I turned around and Dana was there, moving quickly to my father, who he stood beside after saying, “Hi, Dad,” in a quivering voice.  He looked petrified and just stared at his grandfather without another word.


Dad’s hand had gone instinctively to Dana’s back, and Dana at least relaxed a few muscles when Dad stroked him.  Dad said, “Anthony Morasutti, meet my other son, Dana.”


Dana was already standing, and Mr. Morasutti stood on shaky legs, holding his hand out to shake.  “Hello, Dana,” he said in a gentle voice, with a little smile to match.  I must say, you gave me a real start when I first saw you.  Your resemblance to my brother is absolutely uncanny.”


“It is?”  Dana asked.  “Do you know who I am?”


Anthony looked confused and glanced at my father, then back at Dana, who said, “I’m Dana Morasutti.  You’re my grandfather.”


Mr. Morasutti turned kind of pale and sat very heavily in his chair, his eyes fixed on Dana.  They stared at each other until it made Dana smile, and his grandfather said, “Oh, my God.”  He got back to his feet and took a step toward Dana, and instead of shying away, Dana took a step closer himself, then another, and they were in an unselfconscious hug.  I couldn’t see Dana’s face, but his grandfather was leaking tears the size of dimes.


I watched them for a minute, and then turned to my father, who was already getting to his feet.  He put a hand on Dana’s shoulder and said, “I’m going to shoot some pool with Paul, so pray for me.  Your room is free if you want some privacy.”


Dana wasn’t crying, and he smiled at Dad.  Dad patted Mr. Morasutti on his back and said in a whisper, “Kindness will go far today.”  Then we walked away, but toward Dad’s palm, not the pool room.


Dad put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I’m proud of you.  Not a single wisecrack.  Very good.”


I admitted, “I thought of some good ones, too.  If that guy said anything mean … if he says anything mean, I can still toast him.” 


“That’s roast.” 


“Even better.”  I thought for a minute and asked, “Where’s the truth?  Elenora says one thing, and Anthony says another thing.”


We got to my fathers lounges and sat.  He said, “I don’t think what they say is that far apart.  People with fifteen-year-old memories just tend to find favor with their own recollections, and little differences seem bigger over time.  I trust that Elenora and her father are both honest people.  Just think of yourself a year or so ago.  You could whine with the best of them, and you took great pleasure in disagreeing with every word that escaped my mouth.  I can’t claim discrimination, because you treated your mother just as poorly, and still expected us to see things your way.”


I started to open my mouth, and Dad said, “Stash it this one time, Paul.  I’m trying to tell you what I see here.  I can see Anthony from Elenora’s eyes because I know how you’ve seen me over the years.  Elenora’s problem is that there have been sixteen years of disconnect from her family, and she can only see them now as she remembers from then.  Um, look at it this way.  She’s acting like the girl who took off, not the woman who just came back.  She has to show them that she really is grown up now, and they have to stop looking for that little girl they lost.”


Dad didn’t often talk with passion about people things; it was usually computers or the Internet.  Right then, though, his eyes were piercing.  “You saw Anthony and Dana.  That’s not where there will be any problem.”  He smiled, “I like the guy.  I had no idea what to expect until I got the report.  I only had Elenora to go by, and I can read between the lines.  No matter the things she says, I know that she adores that man:  her father.”  I gave Dad a curious look and he grinned, “Don’t ask me to explain, but her adoration for the guy annoys her.”  He shrugged and smiled again, “So she yells.  I mean, whaddaya expect?  She’s Italian!”


Dad chortled away.  We’re Boston-Irish, and the other half of Boston that isn’t something else is Italian.  Half the jokes in that town end with what my Dad had just said, and that line could have just as easily ended with ‘She’s Irish’.  It was just a matter of who was talking and who might laugh, but I did right then because it was appropriate.


We decided to go for a swim, and I discovered after I had my shorts partway down that I didn’t have a swimsuit underneath, and I pulled my pants up with rapidity.  I excused myself and started to rush to the room, but the table where Dana and his grandfather had been was now vacant.  I went back to my father and said I could swim with what I had on, and he didn’t argue.


We stopped at Claire’s shack for a couple of floats, and then headed toward the water with fresh towels.  Just when I was kicking off my sandals, I heard a girl’s voice crying, “Paul!  Wait for me!”


I knew it was Gretchen by her accent, and turned a smile her way as she hurried up to us.  She smiled to my father and grinned at me, “I’ll go with you.”


I said, “Sure.  You want your own raft?”


She shook her head.  “I’ll ride with you.”


Dad was already wading out toward the surf, so Gretchen and I followed behind.  I saw Dad turn sideways when he got to the breakers, and I wondered idly if girls had to do that, too.  I didn’t imagine they did, and the first breaker to hit us knocked Gretchen over backwards, but she had braved it head-on.  It nearly took me down, too, and the raft I was carrying headed toward shore with a definite sense of purpose, so I chased after it with Gretchen’s laughter in my ears.


She was out in the rollers when I got back to her, and trying to get both of us on the raft in water up to our chests was a comedy of errors.  No matter what we tried, we couldn’t manage more than one of us on that thing, and were just tiring ourselves trying, so we settled for taking turns, one on the raft at a time, and the other one hanging on, and providing propulsion with kicking legs.

It was fun, and we had a nice time for awhile, then decided to do some body surfing.


We brought the raft in, and sat for a few minutes to renew our sun block.  Gretchen said, “I saw Dana with his ancestor.  I was introduced, and he was a gentleman.  Dana was not afraid of him.”


I handed her my bottle of lotion and turned my back so she could put it where I couldn’t reach.  “I think we had some bad information there.  I like him, too.  I think he’s a nice man.”


“I’m happy for Dana,” she said.  Her voice softened, “He told me how he has had no family except his mutter for so long.  I think that you and your papa are wonderful people for taking him in like you did.  And now he has the rest.  He’s very happy, you know.”


Gretchen stopped spreading lotion on my back, handed her own lotion to me, and turned around so I could return the favor.  I was only nervous touching her for about one second, and then I rubbed the cream in while we continued talking.  A year earlier, I would have been a nervous wreck doing that, so maybe a year was all it took, or maybe it was feeling a non-sexual affinity with Gretchen that made it all seem so natural.


I hadn’t seen my father come back, so when I handed Gretchen her tube of sun screen and turned around, I was surprised to see him stretched out on his towel.  He had his arm over his eyes, so I said, “Hey.  It was tough with two people on one raft, so we’re gonna do a little body surfing.”


He kept his eyes covered and said, “Go ahead.  My arms have had it.”


I’m a dolt, I swear it.  Dad only had his cast off for a couple of days, and I’d completely forgotten his injuries.  “We’ll be back,” I said, and stood, holding my hand out to Gretchen.


Body surfing I knew, and I was body surfing in some of my earliest memories.  We stood out past the breakers looking over our shoulders until I saw a promising wave, then said quickly, “This one,” before I pulled Gretchen into it beside me, and it took us all the way to the spoon.  We got up laughing, and Gretchen said, “That was fun!”


I agreed that it was fun, and we did it again and again until we were both pooped, then plopped on our towels one last time.  Dad had gone, and we only sat long enough to feel dry from the sun and the breeze.  Then we picked up our things and returned them to Claire before showering off the salt and sand at the pool.  I had my eyes closed and my hair under the water when I heard Dana’s voice say, “Hey.”


I looked up blindly, wiped my eyes with my hands, and saw him there smiling.  “Hey,” I said.


“We’re at the bar,” Dana said.  “When you’re ready, I’ll buy you a shot and a beer, how’s that sound?”


I laughed, “You and whose ID?  And why do you want to kill me?”


Dana grinned, “Oh hi, Paul.  Sorry, I was talking to Gretchen.”


I gave him a dirty look and said, “I have to find my clothes and change.  You’re really at the bar?”


“I’m right here.  Everyone else is at the bar, and they’re having a good old time, so bring your drinking hat.”


I laughed, “Okay, just remind me which hat that one is.”


By then, Dana had Gretchen’s hand in his, and replied, “I forget.  You’ll know when you see it.”


I shook my head hard enough to get Dana in the face with water from my hair, then just waved and laughed him off, and he walked away hand-in-hand with Gretchen.


I still had to get my shirt from where I’d left it and go upstairs to change clothes, but I had time; it wasn’t late.


I walked back to Dad’s palm and retrieved my DFWM tee shirt, then wondered idly where the pocket was that held my card key.


Well, damn, and damn again, and dammit all!  I had put that card carefully in my shirt pocket that morning.  Then I remembered to wear the tee shirt and took the nice blue button-down off and tossed it on the bed.  I, Paul Dunn, am an idiot:  an imbecile, when it comes to remembering the simplest things, and I’d left the room without that card again.  When I stood up, I looked at the building, wondering if I could pull a Spiderman and climb up the outside, but there was no way.


I wandered over to the bar, where Dad, Elenora, her parents, and the Kromers were all having a loud, good time.  Dad saw me and called, “Paulie,” and he was holding up a card-key.  I went over to him and he held it out, saying, “Dana said he forgot to give this back to you.”


I took it, looked at it, and said quickly, “Thanks,” then hurried inside without acknowledging anyone else.


I was grateful when the card worked in the elevator, and doubly grateful when the room opened, because wearing board shorts into the ocean for a significant period of time made those pants supremely uncomfortable.  A bathing suit dries off just as fast as the person wearing it.  Board shorts, from what I could tell, never dry of their own volition and their deep pockets hold commendable amounts of sand.  The pair I had on were literally digging into my hipbone, and they weighed a ton.  I shed them as soon as the door closed behind me, and tossed them into the bathroom by the kitchen.


Then I wandered around in the air-conditioning, bare-ass under my big tee shirt, until I felt completely dry.  It felt good to be dry.  It actually felt good to be air-conditioned, which I didn’t normally like too much.  When I got dressed, that felt good, too.  Underpants, shorts, a button-down shirt: I’m me, and that’s me, at least in Florida.  I wear more up north, and way more when it’s winter.  My politics aren’t conservative, but my clothes are both conservative and conventional.


I’ve never tried this word before, but if I’m from Brattleboro, then I’m a Brattleborolian, and those of us who wear clothes at all do pretty well at the J.C. Penney store over in Keene. Keene is in New Hampshire, which we all call Cow Hampshire, anyhow.  When people ask why, I say don’t ask.  It’s like a historical term that I don’t know about.


When I felt nice and dry, I went to the toilet, where my hair frightened even me.  I grumbled, having thought all that salt water might make it lay down, but no.  I did my business first, then wet my hair and tried to comb it, then really wet it and tried the comb again.  No go, so it was a hat day, and I wondered which hat Dana thought of as my drinking hat.  When I looked, it had to be this pink one I got in Key West.  I only got a pink one because I needed a hat one day, and it was the least outlandish one in this rainbow store I bought it in.


It’s a very muted shade of pink, so I didn’t mind putting it on my head.  When I got out of the elevator on the lobby floor, I heard Hector’s voice calling softly, “Hey, amigo.”


I looked around, and he was in an armchair, a glass of water on the table in front of him.  As I approached him, he said, “Can I take it that things went well with the Morasuttis?  It looks like everyone is getting along pretty well.”


I shrugged.  “I only met the grandfather, and I like him just like you thought I would.  I haven’t met his wife yet, but I’m just on my way to.”


Hector smiled.  “Good, make your own judgment.  Just know that the Senator has been telling anyone who will listen what a wonderful grandson he has in Dana, and that Dana’s brother is just as marvelous as Dana.”  He put a thumb up and said, “Good going, Paul.  Oh, Denny is here somewhere, and he’s looking for you.”


I grinned, “Wow, you’re all full of good news.  Did Denny say what he wanted?”


”He didn’t say, but I bet he wants one more lesson in his checkbook.”


I snickered and looked at Hector, who was now my friend.  “We’re leaving Sunday, you know.  I’m gonna miss you, man.”


Hector frowned first, before he smiled broadly.  “Not for too long.  I’m going along when you take your ski trip this summer.”


My phone was vibrating in my pocket, and I reached for it as I grinned at Hector.  “Excellent!” I said, and noticed that it was Lisa calling.


We had a deal that she wouldn’t have to pay to call me, and she didn’t let it go even long enough to ring.  I smiled at Hector and said, “Gotta go!”


He stood and put his hand on my shoulder.  “Heart line?” he asked, and I nodded, because he had that right.  He took off and I sat where he’d been while I pressed the call back sequence. 


Lisa picked up right away, and said, “Hey, handsome.”


“Who you talking to?  It can’t be me; I’m wearing a pink hat.”


“Have you been drinking?” she asked with a laugh.   “Sorry.  How are you?  Are your nerves all calmed down, or was there trouble?”


I put my feet on the table in front of me and stretched back into the comfy chair.  I was calm, and it took Lisa asking to make me realize that.  All of my current fears were gone … out the window, over the balcony, out to sea.  My father was pretty well mended up, and had ditched the bedroom ogre phase in favor of his old self.  Dana had found his family, kind of one-at-a-time, but he’d met the main players in the space of a work-week.


The big thing is that they are all nice people, not the hard-nosed, unbending people we’d envisioned from Elenora’s descriptions.  Dana’s biological father is a gay man.  He is also a very nice guy, with equally nice parents of his own.  All of them wanted to spend more time with Dana.  They wanted to know him, and to do for him.  I’d told Lisa about the Daniels family, but now I had the perspective of a few days reflection.


I hadn’t had time to think about Elenora’s family, and I’d only met her father.  He wasn’t the guy Elenora had me prepared to meet, though, and I liked him when I’d been sure I wouldn’t.  I told Lisa that I had to spend more time with the Morasuttis before I would have a real opinion, but I liked what I saw so far.


Then we talked about other things.  “Are you still coming home on Sunday?” she asked.


“I am for sure,” I said.  “I think we all are, but nobody has said much about it.  Dad’s better, and they all have a lot to do in Vermont, so Sunday’s a good bet.”


“I can’t wait!” Lisa exclaimed.  “Be sure to call me when you know.”


“I will,” I said.  “Anything new happening up there?”


She said, almost dreamily, “It’s springtime.  I think love is in the air.”


“I think I can feel it from here, even on a cell phone.”


Lisa giggled, “You’re a nut.  I’m not talking about us.”  She took on a sultry air, “It’s your neighbors who’ve caught the fever.”


I grinned, not knowing what Lisa was talking about.  She had me curious, though.  “My neighbors?  Plural?  Explain, please.”  The only neighbors I had at all were the Timeks and the Luellens, so Tommy and Shea were the only likely candidates for romance.  I couldn’t picture

Shea with the nerve to talk to a girl, and while Tom dated, nothing ever lasted very long. I was hopeful that there’d been a breakthrough … maybe something in the neighborhood water, or a love potion slipped into the school lunch.


“Oh, it’s so sweet, Paul.  I know you know Bridgette Fournier, and she and Tommy have been practically inseparable since Wednesday.  Well, Bridgette has a younger sister, Cheri.  It’s so cute how it happened, too.  Shea eats lunch with Tommy at your table now, and Bridgette always sat with her sister.  Now they all sit together, and Shea walks Cheri to her bus. It’s all so romantic.”


“This started Wednesday?”  I asked.


“Yes,” she said dreamily.


“Oh, my.  And today is Friday.  Do you think it’ll last the weekend?”


Lisa giggled, “Who cares?  At least it happened … is happening.  Two couples are together, testing the water, trying to find a fit.  That’s what’s important, because they’ll try again.  They’ll find the need to keep trying, and they will.  That’s … I was going to say that’s human nature, but it’s just nature.  Can’t you hear the song now?  Everybody’s doin’ it, doin’ it, doin it’…”


I joined in, “Pickin’ their nose and chewin’ it, chewin’ it.”


Her raspberry hurt my ear. “You’re horrible sometimes, Paul Dunn!  Don’t you even care that your friends are finally taking their first timid steps into the world of love, like you did just a few months ago.”


“I don’t recall being timid,” I said.


“Oh?  Oh?  Then tell me why the first sentence you completed in my presence was this last winter, after Jamie Jenks died.  I’d been trying to talk to you since you moved here.”


My throat was suddenly dry.  Lisa was exactly right.  I’d admired her for her looks from the first time I saw her, and she’d always been friendly to me.  She had me, though.  By the time I came to Brattleboro, fresh out of snot-laden Bareass Academy, a boy’s school, the only girls I knew my age either lived in my building or nearby in Boston, or were beach friends on Cape Cod.  I had girls as friends growing up, but when I started high school, I looked at girls differently, and they frightened me. 


That’s the wrong way to put it, because what frightened me was how they would react to everything about me.  I had the Boston accent and the bad hair as obvious negatives, and I myself viewed what might have been positives as possible negatives.  I’d been in private schools for eight years, and I had traveled to many places by then.


That didn’t necessarily translate to sophistication in a town where most hadn’t left the state … ever.  I met guys easily enough, and had earned a few good and sincere friends, but until that day on the bus with Lisa, I never knew where I stood with Brattleboro girls.


I learned, though, and Lisa showed me the way.  She showed me by not caring about things.  She didn’t care that I was the son of Paul Dunn, billionaire.  She didn’t care that I’m the son of Necia Dunn, lesbian.  Lisa didn’t even seem to care about my bad hair or my worse jokes.


She was taming me for sure, and I loved it.  I loved her for doing it, too.  Because of Lisa, mostly, I was blending into the fabric of Brattleboro, Vermont, and the more I felt that I was part of the place, the more I loved that little town.  I had liked our condo in Boston just fine, and I’d really loved the little cottage on Cape Cod.  I still liked the grandeur of our place up north in the mountains, and I liked the hotel I was sitting in right then, in Florida.


I’d liked Brattleboro from the very beginning, but the feelings I had for the town were new ones.  It’s probably simple, but I’d embraced Brattleboro, and over the space of two years, the town had its arms around me.  I had always felt welcome, and had come to feel at home there.  Over time, I began to feel … cherished is a good term.  The town, the whole town seemed to look at me as an asset, an asset in the making, or at least a potential asset.  My dad could have all the gold of Croesus, but my own personal value was as me: Paul Dunn.  I’m not just Paul, I’m more like just Paul: citizen and contributor  At almost sixteen years old, only the fact that Lisa Morasutti was on the phone with me kept me from wider thoughts of my home town.


Lisa was more important than all of it, and we talked and talked, until I thought I should be somewhere else.  I finally said, “Listen, let me call you later.  I need to go sit with family, and they’re right around the corner. I … I’ll call you later, okay?”


God, I came that close to saying I you love, and didn’t get it out.  I guess if I couldn’t say it, then I wasn’t ready to, so I let the worry go, and stood to face another one.  I had no idea how things were going with Elenora and her parents.  I’d met her father, and I liked him.  My father liked him, Dana liked him, and even Hector liked the man.  I hadn’t yet met Elenora’s mother, although I’d seen her to know what she looked like.  I didn’t know what to expect, and was hesitant to turn that last corner to exit the lobby onto the pool deck.


They were all there, except Dana and Gretchen, who I didn’t really expect to see.  Elenora was between her parents, an arm around each of them, and her parents each had an arm around Elenora.


I smiled, thinking all must be well.  The Kromers were at the next table, and the parents leaned into the conversation while the boys apparently played a game that was hidden from my view.


When I approached, my father, Elenora, and Senator Morasutti all stood.  They all said, “Paul,” almost in unison, and I felt good.  It was Elenora who spoke.


With a smile she said, “Paul, you’ve met my father.  I’d like to present my mother, Isabela Morasutti.”


Holy cow!  I’d been presented to people before, but not at the beach, and not by my father’s girlfriend, who Elenora would be until Dad got up the nerve to propose.  I felt like I should bow or something, but Elenora’s mother smiled and told Elenora to move aside so I could sit there beside her, and tell her all about Dana and the plight of young people these days.


I was nervous, but sat there.  Thank God she wasn’t serious about the plight of young people, but she had a lot of questions about Dana.  Easy enough, but after a few minutes I got the feeling that she was trying to find something wrong, like fallibility.  I resorted to reticence when her questions bothered me.  I used I guess and I don’t know enough times that she stopped.  “I’m sorry, Paul.  I sound like an Inquisitor, don’t I?  I’m … I didn’t mean to be that way.”


I smiled feebly, and Dad changed the subject when he said, “Here comes Dana now, with Gretchen.”


I didn’t turn, because I’d just seen them, but those with their backs to the beach all craned their heads around, and they said things like how precious and what a cute couple.   Honestly, even people I like sometimes make me want to puke.  I mean it.  Precious should describe diamonds and emeralds, things like that.  It’s not a word that should ever be applied to a championship-class skier.  And cute.  That’s a good descriptor for puppies, kittens, maybe even little kids, at least certain ones.  It works with Lisa, too, and Gretchen, but I think calling Dana cute is an invitation to a black eye.


Still, Dana and Gretchen approached us, smiling unnaturally I thought, and I wished I’d gone with them on their walk.


They were clearly happy, and forced two seats together when Dana picked Werner up bodily, and put him on his leg after he sat where Werner had been.


With Gretchen there, the Kromers got more fully into conversation with the other adults.  Gretchen was doing a lot of translating before long, as her father talked to Dad and Mr. Morasutti about his job with Daimler, and her mother went on about social conditions in modern Germany, where a lot had changed since the Berlin wall came down. 


I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned to see Denny standing there.  I smiled and stood up so I could face him, and Dana followed my lead.  Denny said, “Hey, gents.  They’re calling for some weather about two hundred miles out overnight, so tomorrow’s conditions should be the best of the week.  You guys up for some real fun?”


“I’ll go!” I said automatically.


Dana looked around first, probably wondering if he should stay with everyone, but the lure of surfing some bigger waves won out, and he grinned, “What time?”


Denny smiled, “You tell me.  A storm like this, we should get decent surf for ten or twelve hours straight.  He looked around at the people we were with and said, “You’ll probably be out late tonight, so how ‘bout you pick a time between eleven and four.”


“Eleven and four sounds good to me,” I said.


Denny rolled his eyes, “Which one?”


“Both,” Dana and I said together, and I elbowed him, laughing.  Dana poked me back, and we started going at it. 


Denny muttered, “To think, I was your age once.  I’m surprised my father didn’t do me in with his sword.  You want to go twice?”


“Uh huh, oof,” was Dana’s cheerful reply


Denny smiled, “I’ll see you at eleven, then.  Think surfing when you go beddy-bye tonight.  Dream all the things you’ve learned, and tomorrow should be a day to remember.”


He walked off and I looked at Dana.  “Was Denny just all philosophical with us?”  I watched Denny disappear into the hotel and smiled after him.  “I like that guy.”


The adults were still all involved with one-another, and had poor Gretchen’s head just about spinning, so Dana and I moved to a nearby table.


“When does Gretchen leave?” I asked.


“Sunday.  They’re leaving in the morning.”


“Are you sad?” I asked.


Dana said, “Not really.  I mean, yeah; I’ll miss Gretchen.  I just never got my hopes up, ‘cause there was no hope.”  He smiled at me, “I like her and she likes me, but there’s three thousand miles between us.  We can email when you show me how, and maybe we’ll see her next winter.”


“She’s coming back?” I asked.


Dana shrugged, “I think Dad and Mr. Kromer are talking about skiing next winter, like getting together.”


“I think I like that idea,” I said.  “They say where?”


“I think they’re just talking.”  He looked up toward the sky and continued, “I’d like to ski some really big mountains.  Maybe out west, or in the Alps.”


“The Andes aren’t big enough?”  I asked.  “Aren’t they about the biggest mountains going outside of Tibet?”


Dana didn’t turn to me, but continued to look off in space.  “They’re big mountains.  The ski areas aren’t really that big.  The big areas here are out west, in Colorado and Utah, even California.  The biggest of all is in Canada somewhere … Whistler.”


“We went to Whistler once,” I said, and wished I hadn’t spoken.  Dana was just daydreaming out loud, and I’d stepped right in with my ‘been there, done that’ in the middle of his reverie.


He didn’t seem to mind, and looked at me.  “Really?  Did you ski the glaciers?”


I nodded, “Yeah.”


“What was that like?” Dana asked.


“The skiing wasn’t hard at all.  They’re not steep or anything.  I mean, there are scary things on those mountains, but glaciers aren’t scary.  They’re not even steep, just nice cruisers.”


Dana smiled, “So, what was scary?”


“Fog,” I said.  “The first time we went to the top, it was snowing and foggy at the same time.  Dad was looking at a trail map, and I was wondering what I was looking at.  There was this line of little circles on top of sticks, and I had to get right up to one to see what it was, which was a sign that said cliff, and they were lined up there, about four feet apart.”


“Jesus!  No fence or anything?”


“Nothing,” I said.  “I mean, I just got curious and took a look, but what if I didn’t?  You’d think they’d have a skull and crossbones or something instead of a piece of paper.”


“So, what was it like?”


“Oh, it was great, at least after we got used to the size of the place, and how things fit together.  That first day it was foggy up top, but after that it was just scary.  They have all these chutes that go straight down, and they’re really just snow on rock.  We didn’t try ‘em.  That first day we did a bunch of trails that went top to bottom.  It was so foggy that I crashed into a ski rack at the summit lodge.  I never even saw it.  After that, we got under a lift so we’d know the way down, but we even lost that, so we just tried to follow other tracks.  When we finally got out of the fog, we were in some forest, and there were no tracks, and that snow was deep.  I don’t know powder, and Dad kept telling me to keep my tips up, but then I couldn’t steer, and kept stopping on trees.”


I looked at Dana, and he was rapt, so I continued.  “When we finally hit a cross-trail, we waited a good fifteen minutes for someone to come by, but when we tried to ask where we were the guy just shrugged, and said something in another language.  A couple of kids came by a little later, and they told us the trail name, and pointed it out on Dad’s map.  We were way far from where we thought, but not too far from the base, so we just took this bunny trail down.”


“That was it?”  Dana asked.


“No.  It was raining at the bottom, raining hard.  I was all pissed at Dad, and I had to take a piss.”  I smiled suddenly, remembering.  “You would have loved it, Dana.  We went into the first place we came to, and the name was Nasty Jack’s.  It’s like a restaurant and bar, and it has a big deck outside.  After we used the toilets, we sat inside with cocoas to dry out, then the sun came out, so we sat on that deck.  It’s like it was built just to catch that last sun of the day.  It seemed hot out, and I kept taking clothes off till I was naked from the waist up, and I got a sunburn!  Unbelievable.  Talk the Kromers into going there for their ski trip.  They’ll love it.”


“I can’t wait!”


I don’t know how Gretchen pried herself loose, but she came to join us, sitting across Dana’s lap.  He put his arm nonchalantly around her back and gave her a quick kiss on the lips, then smiled brightly.  “All done translating?” he asked.


“Hector fired me,” Gretchen said with a little grin.  “What are you talking about at this table?”


“Skiing,” Dana told her.  “Paul was telling me about Whistler.  Ever hear of it?”


Gretchen shook her head, and I started again, this time with useful bits like the actual location of the resort, which is actually made up of two interconnected mountains, the other being Blackcomb Mountain.  Dana’s eyes glowed when I talked about seeing the Couloir Extreme, which is one of the steepest slopes in the world inside the bounds of an actual ski area.  I never tried it, nor was I ready yet, but I watched it for a little while every day and lots of people did ski it.  I never saw one of them even look bad, much less fall.  It was obviously steep enough that even the most foolhardy, macho guys stayed clear, and only those who knew they could do it would even try.


Dana would do it, though, and he’d do it in the style that is naturally his.  Dana says he’s not a daredevil, and that’s an honest statement.  Dana skis fast, and he can because he’s actually super careful, and astonishingly accurate.  I’ll say fearless here, too, because the way Dana skis with friends is only about six-tenths of what he’s capable of, so he’s just relaxing and having a good time.  He’s told me himself though, that in a race situation he skis very close to what he considers his limits, and it’s a healthy dose of fear that keeps him from pushing those limits.  He knows just where he can make up a tiny fraction of a second if he finds himself just behind other skiers after practice runs, and he can push a little harder in the same places to widen a narrow lead.


Downhill racing is a game of both concentration and calculation, and every racer knows when a certain move cost them, as well as when they feel a little boost from a microscopic change in edging or stance.


Sitting next to Dana, nobody else would know I was with a master, and most probably wouldn’t care if I told them.  I knew, though.  Dana didn’t even think he’d do a lot better on real racing skis than on the antiques he was used to.  His fear was that his old skis would just suddenly give up and delaminate one day, and that thought was enough for him to retire them.


Dana knows what he’s capable of on skis, and he’s certainly not modest about his prowess.  Yet when he talks himself up, it’s never at the expense of anyone else.  I don’t think anyone could excel at something like Dana does and not realize it, and I think it’s their prerogative to celebrate their own talent or not.  Dana looks at his skill and success as if it surprises him somehow, which comes across as a perfect assessment.  He surprises everyone.


It was a nice, lazy hour there for all of us.


My thoughts were interrupted by a visit from Hector, who told us they were deciding on dinner arrangements at the next table, and if we wanted any say in the matter we’d best hustle, which we did. The Kromers were going back to Dana’s favorite rib place, and I voted for that myself. I liked the place to start with, but I didn’t think it would be right to keep Dana and Gretchen apart when it was their last chance to be together.


Nobody argued, so it was decided, and Hector set out to line up vehicles. We’d need more because Dad insisted that Hector, Ron, and Lauren, at least, join us for a night out. I knew it was going to be a good time just from the fun we were having already, and I couldn’t wait to see who could make Ron laugh.


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