Mud Season

Chapter 9


We broke up, agreeing to meet later in the lobby.  Everyone went into the hotel except Dana and Gretchen, who were going to walk the beach, and those two headed off through the palms.  I knew Dana liked it there, because palms were new to him, and he said that was true for Gretchen as well.


I think they liked being underneath them because from above, say from a hotel balcony, palms worked just like giant umbrellas to hide them from prying eyes. Of course, from ground level they provide precious little privacy, which was not a concern right then.


I had an hour once I got upstairs.  I’d already had a shower, so I sat out on the balcony and called Lisa.


“Hi, Paul,” her mother answered.  “Lisa already left for babysitting until about nine. She said she’d call you later on, when she’s home.  Are you enjoying your time at the beach?”


I smiled as I said, “Yeah, it’s fun here.  I took surfing lessons with Dana, and I love it!”

“Oooh,” she said dreamily. “I always thought I’d like that myself.  Is the ocean lovely where you are?”


I laughed, “It is now.  There were jellyfish the last couple of days, so not too nice.”


“Well, I’m in the middle of getting dinner ready.  I’ll tell Lisa you called.”


I thanked her and folded the phone


I opened it again and called my mother.  Ally answered, saying, “Hey there, loverly.  Your mom’s in the shower, and we’re going out.”


“Anywhere good?” I asked.


“I honestly don’t know.  I want to do a series on healthy restaurants, and there are plenty who advertise themselves as such.  We’ll try a few a week to see who’s true and who’s rue.  How are things in the sunny South?”


“Sunny.  And warm.  You know, Dana can probably sit with you now, if you still want.”


Ally had once asked Dana about doing a story on him in her magazine, but Elenora didn’t like the idea at the time because they were still essentially in hiding.  I hadn’t heard anything different since we came to Florida, but I figured the terms had probably changed.  Dana was really excited before when Ally asked him about it, and very disappointed when his mother said no.  I still didn’t know what Elenora would think, but her old reasons for not allowing the story were gone, and I thought if anyone could convince someone to do something, then Ally was right up there with Hector.


“Tell me more,” Ally said, so I spent ten minutes talking about the sudden emergence of Elenora’s family, and Rhod Daniels and his family, into Dana’s life.


“That’s outstanding for Dana, Paul.  I’m honestly happy for him, and I hope to meet his family soon.  Still, the story I have in mind will end before this came about, because I want to portray the Dana it took fifteen years to produce, not the boy it took a few months to change.  I want to talk about the poor boy who managed, and learned to shine.  I want to focus on the programs that prodded him along and helped him find his talent.”


“You still want to do it?”


“Absolutely.  Do you think Dana would like an all-expenses weekend in Boston, the caveat being that he sits for a few hours of interviews, and does a photo shoot?”


“I can’t talk for him, but I think he’d probably love it.  I’ll ask, okay?”


“You’re a sweetheart.  Do you want your mom to call you?”


“Not if you’re going out.  I just wanted to say hi, and you can say that for me.”


“You’re coming home on Sunday?” she asked.


“I am for sure.  I think probably we all will.  Dad hasn’t called?”


“Oh, he calls, but it’s always about keeping this apartment when they talk.  We have Bernie Sutton handling the technical end, and he had a big hand in writing our lease to begin with.  I don’t think there is a real problem, but you know your mom.”


“I know her.  I know you’re getting ready to go out, so I’ll let you go.  Don’t lose that apartment, okay?”


Ally’s voice softened, “Don’t worry, Paul.  We’ll be fine.  You look after yourself and that father of yours.  Make sure he mends properly before he takes too much on.”


I blinked and asked, “Why would you say that?”


Ally’s voice filled with humor.  “He’s a man, Paul.  He’ll say he’s fine before he is, and he’ll hurt himself all over again, no thugs required.”


I snickered, “I’ll keep an eye on him.  Promise.”


After I closed the phone, I immediately decided to call Tommy to see what was up with him.  When his mother answered, I disguised my voice.  “Thomas Timeck, please.  This is Doctor Bowmeow from the veterinary clinic.  We have his test results.”


Mrs. Timeck wheezed out a pretty good laugh, and said, “That’s good, Paul!  It might have worked, too, except we haven’t had Tom to the vet since we learned that he isn’t an Irish Setter.  I’ll get him after you tell me how your father is doing.”


“He’s pretty good,” I said honestly.  “One hand is kinda weak, but it doesn’t really bother him much now.”


“And mentally?” she asked.  “How is he taking this?”


“Good, I think.  He never really said much about it yet, and I doubt he will.  I know those guys pissed him … I mean, made him mad.  I didn’t really ask.”


She said, “You should talk to him about it, Paul.  It had to be horrible.  Hold on, here’s Tom.”


I could hear her telling Tommy that it was me on the phone, and in a moment I heard his voice.  “Paul?” Tom asked when he picked up the phone.  “Hold on, how does this go?  Okay.  To what do I owe the pleasure of this verbal encounter?”


I laughed.  “You owe yourself the service of asking what the heck I want.  This is my first free hour since I got here.  That’s your pleasure.”


“Yeah, Lisa said you were learning to surf.  What’s that like?”


“I’ll be home Sunday.  I’ll tell you then.  There’s more news than that.”


“Oh, good.  Make it interesting, okay?  Like jazz things up so I’ll get excited listening to you.”


I rolled my eyes: only Tom.  I told him about the week’s events, starting with Hector, and I tried not to omit anything important.  There was Dad’s health, of course.  Then I told him that Dad and Elenora were getting pretty close.  I filled him in on Dana finally meeting his father, and his grandparents on both sides, and said quite a lot about Gretchen.  Tom seemed genuinely happy for Dana when he learned how well things were going.


“You know what I think?  I think what your family is doing for Dana and his mom is really great.”


“I hope so,” I said.


“Be serious.  It’s not a hope-so thing.”  Tom’s voice softened, “I don’t know, Paul.  It’s not something I ever thought about, because we don’t have your  kind of money.  For you, and especially your father, to adopt Dana the way you did just goes way beyond what I think of as helping people out.  I mean, we do things.  We buy tickets to fund-raisers, give to charity, and things like that.  We don’t get up-close and personal, though.  What’s that like?”


Tommy had me off-guard, because I wasn’t used to him being so serious, or so interested.  “I … um … I don’t know.  I mean, it’s nice.  I have a brother now.  Dad is who Dana really needed, and they’re pretty close.  I guess … I don’t know.  I had a blow-up with Dana the other night.  Want to hear about that?”


Tom wanted to hear every word, and it took me fifteen minutes to explain an argument that lasted all of four minutes in the first place.  Tom had questions and made comments along the way, so it wasn’t a long dissertation on my part.  When I couldn’t think of more to add, there was a silence for several seconds.


Tom said, “Wow!  I never saw you get mad like that.”


I thought about that, and said, “I don’t think I ever did, except with my mother and father.”


Tom snickered, “Heh, me too.  Maybe it’s a family thing, huh?”


When I was thinking about that, Tom said, “I think that’s it.  You just said that Dana’s your brother now, and I think it’s part of natural selection or something.  Kids fight with their parents all the time.  They fight with their brothers and sisters, too.  Then they go to school and they’re just normal with the rest of the world … unless they’re still mad from home.”


I laughed, “Okay, Sigmund. Do I ever make you mad?”


“I guess, but you’re you, and …”


“And you don’t have to live with me.  Is that what you were going to say?”


Boy, did I leave myself open with that.  “I would love to live with you, Paul.  You have an unending supply of Cheez-Whiz.  According to the authorities here, it costs three times as much as roast beef, so I only get it on my birthday.”  He added, authoritatively, “My parents will understand if I leave.”


I was laughing, which is my usual condition when Tom is around.  “You’d leave home for Cheez-Whiz?”


“Wouldn’t you?  You’ve left for lesser reasons.”


“I have not!  I leave when I’m not getting the care and attention I deserve.  Or the Corvette.”


Tom giggled, “You don’t have a license yet.”


I explained, “That matters not.  You only need a license to drive a car, not to possess one.  If that car had been here for the last two years …”


“You’d have an old Corvette.”


I sighed, and admitted, “Well, there’s that, but I might like that better.  I mean a real old one.  Do you ever see that blue one in town, with like a silver scoop on the side?  That’s from Nineteen-Sixty-One, and I love the look of that car.”


Tom said, “I know that car.  I like it, too, but jeez, it’s like fifty years old.  That’s older than Dana’s skis.”


I thought for a second before I replied.  “You speak the truth, but so what?  Look at what Dana does on those skis. I’m not looking to be a car racer, anyhow.  All my experience is in a Grand Cherokee, and let me tell you something.  It’s not so grand.  Sedate comes to mind, and even that’s a pretty high compliment.”


“At least it starts when you want it to.  Look at that big thing the McNaughtons have.  Jim said his dad paid like seventy-five K for it, and it’s never run right.”


“I know,” I replied.  “It’s too bad, because it’s really nice to ride in when it works.”  I paused, “Um, Lisa says you’re getting laid these days?”


There was silence, followed by a loud laugh.  “Dunn, don’t tell me that!  And don’t go blaming those words on Lisa, either.  Tell me what she said.”


“You just told me not to.”


I heard Tom swallow.  “She’s talking about Bridgette, right?”


I nodded, and then realized Tommy wouldn’t know that I did.  “Yeah: Bridgette Fournier.  She’s cute.”


“You think so?” Tommy asked, his voice a notch higher than it had been.  “I think she’s pretty.  I always thought so.  I mean … I know she’s Canuck and everything, but … but …”


Canuck.  That’s French-Canadian in Vermont-speak, and the prejudice against them is really old and forgotten, but the label remains.  There was a time, decades ago, when a lot of them migrated south into New England, mostly from New Brunswick.  I knew this from my Boston years, where the same prejudice still lingers in certain neighborhoods. 


My father had explained the resentment to me years before, and it was like any other prejudice.  The Canucks came across the border looking for opportunity.  They offered real skills in certain construction trades, and were willing to work for relatively little money.  Lots of others came to work in factories, too, and they were also resented for what they considered good pay, but they worked for less than the going rate, so they tied up jobs that would have traditionally gone to the sons of the older factory workers.


That was a long time ago, when parts of Canada were not exactly the land of opportunity.  Things have since tipped in favor of the Canadians, so there has been no new influx of people across the border in years, but somehow the old resentments, or at least the labels, tend to linger with the older generation, who spread them un-tempered to their children and grandchildren.


It doesn’t matter to the French-Canadians, who cheerfully call themselves Canucks anyhow.


I don’t care, and neither does Tommy.  My experience, both in Boston and Vermont, is that the Acadians are fun-loving bunch, who love good food and music.  Good, of course, is in the eyes, ears, and taste buds of the beholder. 


With them, it seems that there will always be a guitar, a fiddle and an accordion around, and the music they make is lively, not mournful.  I think my father’s love of dancing, and his propensity for being the first one on any dance floor, or even any non-floor, came from his close association with a lot of Canucks where he grew up in Maine.  I know I have that bug myself, and can dance a little no matter where I am, partner or not, if I like what I’m hearing.


The only thing unusual at all about Tommy having a little French girl on the line is that she’s female, and he seemed halfway serious.  Tom has dated before, and he’s not shy with girls like I am.  He just never really hit it off with anyone of the opposite sex.  To his credit, he never pissed anyone off, either, so his disconnects were simple things, and didn’t lead to any gossip that I ever heard.


I asked, “Will you and Bridgette still be an item when I get back?  Huh?  I’ll be there day after tomorrow.”


Tom said, “Shut up.  Or lend me your magic wand, if you have one.  Sunday is a long way off.  Give me my ‘druthers and she’ll be with me at Prom next year.”


I smiled.  “This is it?”


“I hope so,” Tom said seriously.


I smiled, that same feeling new to me, too.  “Be good to her, then.  If she likes you, she’ll probably hang around.”


Tom started to say something, and then said, “I gotta go, okay?  I’ll see you when you get home.”


We hung up, and I sat back, happy for Tom’s turn of luck.  I’m nobody to be giving advice about women, because I’d been the shy boy until just recently.  It took the death of a schoolmate, a surprise blizzard, and a girl named Lisa to change me.  Even I recognized the change as a forever one.  I think Tommy had just come to the same realization, which is that all the tip-toeing, dancing and skating around that kids call romance changes all of a once when two people feel something more than a distant crush between themselves. 


For me and Lisa, it took working on something together, and learning the other’s strengths in the process.  I can’t speak for Lisa, but in her I saw a girl who could reach within herself for the nerve and poise to pull off a fund-raising campaign that she didn’t think possible at first.  But she did it, and she grew ten feet taller in the process.


What she learned about my family when my father was kidnapped may have put her prowess to question in her own mind, but she kept the new confidence and poise just the same.  I would admit that we were set up to win if she ever asked, but I didn’t anticipate the question.


I’d barely disconnected from Tom when my phone went off again.  This time it was my father, who sounded a bit impatient.  “Paul, aren’t you coming to dinner with us?  We’ve been waiting here for fifteen minutes now.”


“Sorry, Dad.  I lost track of time.   Let me wash up and I’ll be right there.”


“We’re going ahead, Paul.  Come down when you’re ready and you can ride over with Rhod.  He just got here himself, so you have about fifteen minutes.  Okay?”


I smiled, “Great, Dad.  Where are we going?”


“The fish restaurant on the pier.  They’re the only ones who could take all of us tonight.”


“Good.  See you there.”


Dad hung up, and I hurried through the bathroom.  I just had to wash up, and my hair finally, sort-of decided to behave itself, so I only spent two minutes getting ready.  My card was in the slot by the door.  I pocketed it and rode the elevator down.


I walked to the front doors, where I was intercepted by a lady who displayed her security-company badge and asked me to wait inside for Mr. Daniels, who appeared after just a few minutes.


He grinned when he saw me, and approached with his hand out to shake.  I took it and said, “I didn’t know you were coming tonight.”


“Better connection,” Rhod said.  “I hear that everything has gone well?  I know my parents are thrilled beyond words with Dana.  I trust the Morasuttis are, too?”


I snickered, “Well, I can say that Anthony was speechless when he first saw Dana,” and hastened to add, “That’s because Hector had him in a strangle-lock.”


Rhod said, “Cut it out,” kind of dubiously.




“Gents, your ride is here,” said the lady who’d held me at the doors.  She pointed outside, “It’s the silver BMW right there.  Your driver is Ivo, and your chaperone is Sasha.  If you’ll follow me?”


We followed her out to the SUV, where Ivo was holding the driver-side back door open, and Sasha the right. Ivo had straight black hair and a hard stare, which softened as I approached.  He looked like some video-game character, dressed in a glossy black, tight fitting, jumpsuit.  He was tall and slim, and seemed ready to dive right into any kind of mirror-world that might present itself.  Sasha was a blond guy with hair that looked crazier than mine, though I suspect he may have kept it that way on purpose.


As soon as we were belted in, Ivo took off.  He drove purposely but not fast, as traffic wouldn’t allow it that night.


Rhod leaned toward me.  “Let me ask you something, Paul.” I looked to him and he went on, “I have to find a half hour alone with Elenora and Dana tonight.  Can you help me with that?  It’s important to me; possibly to them.  I have some money with me – quite a lot of money.  Ever since my first role, my agent and attorney leaned on me to set aside money against the day that Elenora might show up demanding child support.  That was good advice on many fronts, so I started putting away just enough to support the highest claim the court could approve.”


My mind said wow, but my mouth said, “That’s really nice.  I’m sure they’ll want to talk to you.”  I pursed my lips, “Tell you what.  I’ll talk to my father as soon as we get to the pier, then you can ask Elenora when you have a chance.  I don’t think Dana will want to miss time with you.”


Rhod smiled, “Thanks.  Now, about this money.  I don’t suppose that it will sound like a lot to them anymore, so what if they don’t want it?”


I stared at Rhod for the longest time until a smile started playing with my face, and I couldn’t deny it.  I stumbled on my words trying to say something.  “You mean?  I mean, do you really think?  You, um, I’m sorry.  You don’t really think Elenora is demented, do you?  Deranged in some way?”


Rhod was staring with his mouth open, but he quickly found his smile, which turned into a grin.  “They’ll take it?  You think so?”


“Oh, they’ll take the money,” I said.  “Dad has them covered and they know it, but you’ll give them the first money that was ever their own.”  I grinned and touched his arm, “Oh man, this is great.  They’re gonna so love this!”


Rhod seemed happily surprised.  “Oh … well okay then.  Good.  I envisioned some kind of resistance.  Er, do you think they’ll spend it wisely?”


I smiled, “That’s not my business what they do with their own money.  I can tell you that Elenora dries out paper towels so she can re-use them, and Dana can make like-new things from old with a toothbrush and a squirt gun.  I really don’t think what you give them will end up in the bottom of a wishing well.”


Rhod looked at me evenly, then cracked a smile and tapped my knee.  “Thanks, Paul.  Thanks.”


We both sat back, and I tried to envision the looks on Elenora and Dana’s faces when Rhod gave them the money.  I hoped I was right about how they’d take it.


We arrived at the pier shortly, and I was only a little surprised when Ivo opened my door and said to go on in, and have a nice time.  It only meant that our security already was in place, so we could go right in.  The second I dawdled at a vendor, Rhod said, “Where are we going?  I’ll run on ahead.”


I said, “Follow me,” then started marching with my arms and legs all stiff until Rhod laughed behind me.  “Okay, okay, Generalissimo Dunn!”


I stopped and turned, laughing at my own nonsense.  I held my hands against Rhod’s chest and snickered.  “Sorry.  Sometimes I just have to.”


Rhod said, “I know what you mean, I think.  I hope Dana is his own man.”


I laughed out loud.  “He is if anyone is.  Don’t worry about Dana.  He runs on batteries!”


Rhod looked confused, and the entrance to the restaurant was right beside me.  “Come on,” I cajoled.  “They’re waiting.”


I walked backwards a few steps while Rhod caught up, and then things started happening that I had no control over.  A woman stepped up to Rhod with excitement in her eyes.  “Rhod Daniels!  Oh, I can’t believe it.  I’m your biggest fan!  Can I get your autograph?”


Rhod smiled and reached for the lady’s pen, which she was holding out along with a piece of paper.  Before that pen touched his fingers, there were another dozen fans leaning in close, and what looked like a small sea of women closing in around us with outstretched hands.


Rhod, clearly accustomed to being noticed and accosted, stayed within himself, taking pen after pen, smiling, asking the ladies’ names.  This time the crowd kept growing and drawing closer.  Rhod seemed not to notice, keeping his focus on one fan at a time, but I was getting nervous.


After a few minutes of this, Hector showed up.  He pushed his way through to Rhod, and I noticed Ron, Ivo and Sasha also blocking people.  Hector said in a loud but very polite voice, “Please folks.  Mr. Daniels is here for an important meeting, and it’s already in progress.  Let him be for now, and I promise he’ll be happy to see you in a few hours time in the parking area.”  The fans seemed to understand that they were being dismissed, and started to disperse while Rhod vanished into the restaurant.  Hector said, “Thank you everyone,” while he took my shoulder in hand and propelled me in and toward the dining area.


Hector led me to our table.  “That doesn’t bother you, amigo?”


“What?  Celebrity?  Nah.  I eat that stuff up.”


When we got to the table, everyone was boisterously welcoming Rhod, so I waited until I was noticed by Elenora, who beckoned me to her.  She smiled when I got around the table to her, and said, “Sit here beside me.  We’ve tried to keep Dana and Gretchen together, so you’ll be right beside them.”


“Thanks,” I said.  I looked to that side.  Gretchen, Dana and Rhod were still in the middle of introductions, so I sat down.  Senator Morasutti was just about opposite me and he held up his wine glass in greeting.  I smiled and waved back.


I leaned to Elenora and said, “I was going to tell Dad, but I’ll tell you instead.  Rhod needs a little time alone with you and Dana tonight.  It’s important … good important.”


Elenora smiled brightly, “Ooh!  I love good news.  We’ll talk to him, so consider your promise kept.”


“Thanks.  You should have seen outside.  Rod was circled by a whole lot of fans.  I got nervous, but he just kept his cool.”


“Rhod told me that it’s part of his job.  It’s not always convenient, but those are the people who keep him working.”


People started to take their places.  Gretchen sat beside me, with Dana to her left, and Rhod beside Dana.  We had menus in front of us, and when my father picked his up everyone else followed.  There was the usual chatter about what sounded good, and who’d eaten there before.


When it came time for me to order, I asked for six oysters on the half-shell for an appetizer, and Gulf shrimp fried in panko.  Gretchen ordered the grouper fillet in garlic that most others had ordered.


To my surprise, Dana ordered clams casino, and the same shrimp I’d asked for.  I looked my question at him and he shrugged.  “It’s about time, isn’t it?  If I throw up, I’ll save it for your pillow.”


“You won’t,” I said, hopeful that I was being truthful.


Just then, a champagne flute landed in front of me, placed there by a server who was making a rapid go-round of the table.  Then another server started with Anthony while another started to the right of my father, and we all soon had champagne in front of us.


Then Anthony stood and held his glass out.  “To the wonderful meal that awaits us!”  He smiled and took a sip, and we all followed.  Once the quiet cheers faded, Anthony picked up his napkin, looked around, and said, “I’m going to need this.  I’m going to need it because this next toast is to the one person in this world, aside from my wife, who I’ve always felt the closest to.”  He smiled, “Oh, you might not have noticed because we often had our daggers drawn.  We were close yes, but close as the wind is to the wheat it blows off the sheaf, close as the snow is to the ground it beautifies, while it freezes the unprepared at the same time.”


Anthony took a breath and looked around, and then cast his gaze downward.  “We’ve had our differences, lots of them.  Most weren’t important, but a few were very important.  I think it’s my problem as a parent when I fail to recognize when things are so very important to our children.”


He looked up and wiped his eyes with his napkin.  He held his glass out, tears in his eyes, and said, “This next toast is to my beautiful daughter, Elenora.  With no resources other than those she could find within herself, she kept herself, body and soul, together, and she single-handedly raised her son, Dana to be a champion on the ski slopes, and as nice a young man as I’ve ever met.”


He made a motion with his hands, and Elenora and Dana both stood, looking embarrassed, while the cheerful and boisterous toast went around the table.


When they sat down, Dana was beaming and Elenora’s lower lip was quivering, so I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek.  That earned me a nod and a smile, and I noticed that Anthony was still standing.  When things quieted down, he smiled.  “Before I sit down, I want to mention all the wonderful programs, public and private, federal, state, and local, that made this reunion possible.  I won’t name them, for that would take too long, so this last toast is for all the programs in this country that get it right, and make a difference for the good in peoples’ lives everyday!”


The toast went around again, then the glasses were removed and dinner was served.


I looked across the table at the Morasuttis, and their eyes were all involved with each other. The Kromers were to their right from where I sat, and they seemed to be cocooning as a family for the moment.  Hector was sitting to their right, and was involved in conversation with Ron. 


My concentration dissolved completely when the waiter put my plate of oysters in front of me.  They were beauties, pink on their white shells, and swimming in their own juices.  I picked up the little dish of cocktail sauce and used my seafood fork to scoop a little onto each oyster, and squeezed generous drops of lemon juice on each one.  I tested the first one to make sure it was fully separated from the shell, then took a surreptitious look around to make sure nobody was looking.  I picked that little beauty up, tipped my head back, and tilted the shell until it slid into my mouth.  I let the flavor get around and, with a single chew, swallowed.  It was the tang of the sauce and the sour of the lemon that made my face red, but that thing was absolutely delicious.


Then I thought to look at Dana, who was already devouring the last of his clams, and the look on his face made me smile.  He clearly loved them, but clam isn’t really the main flavor in clams casino.  There is also bacon, pimiento, green pepper and bits of onion.  If they were called bread casino, or eyeball casino, or artichoke casino the taste would be as good.  I grinned at Dana and said, ‘Good, huh?”


He looked at me and licked his greasy lips.  “I’ll say.  You should have told me.”


“I think I did tell you.”  I picked up my next oyster and held it out, “Ready to try an oyster?”


He looked at it and said, “It does look good ….”


I held that beautiful oyster out to Dana and said, “Billy, this is Dana.  He’s going to eat you instead of me doing it.  I hope you don’t feel bad.”


Dana blanched.  “It has a name?”


Everyone at the table was snickering.  “Of course it has a name.  What’s the matter?  You want a girl instead?  I already gobbled down Joyce, but I still have Jean and Linda, and Linda is a pretty one.”


Dana said warily, “Let me see.” 


I held the plate out, and pointed out the smallest oyster in the roundest shell.  “That’s her.”


Dana reached out tentatively and paused, “Which end is up?”


“Doesn’t matter,” I said.  Just tip your head back and let it slide.  Get all that flavor in your mouth and swallow.”


I think Dana was showing off for the new relatives, or maybe for Gretchen.  At any rate, he did what I said, swallowed the little pretty thing, and he looked like he was wondering for a few seconds.  Then he smiled, his eyes looking down toward his mouth, and it was the smile of someone who had just discovered something new and wonderful.  Everyone cheered, and when Dana looked back at my dish I held it out so he could have a second, then a third oyster.


My charity ended there, and I took the dish back and ate the last two myself.


The timing was good, because when I put my oyster fork down a busboy picked up my plate, another dropped a big plate in front of me, and the server came and put my plate of shrimp atop the big plate.


Presentation does count for something when you’re eating. The shrimp I had in front of me wouldn’t be as big in a cardboard box at the beach, but they also wouldn’t be sitting there in all their hugeness posed almost like breaded scorpions.  The dish had a round mirror in the middle, and the side that didn’t contain shrimp was piled with skin-on French fries.  I had both tartar sauce and cocktail sauce, and knew from experience that the mirror was where I’d put the sauces, and then dip or drag those shrimps through either or both.


I looked around, and when the last person was served, Dad said, “Let’s eat!”


Well, we did eat.  Nobody got a bad piece of fish that night, and a most of the dishes were clean to a shine.  Everyone seemed chatty too, and the dessert menus went around almost like extra napkins.


I was already full, but the menu listed Italian ice in a lot of flavors, so I ordered a dish of the blueberry.  It was served with a couple of thin sugar wafers and went perfectly with my coffee.


Things calmed down with dessert, and when Gretchen excused herself I talked to Dana.


“You found the seafood lover in you, after all?”


Dana suppressed a burp and said, “This stuff, anyhow.  The clams were good.  Those oysters, too.”  He smiled, “The shrimp … how did I ever live so long without those?”


I smiled, “Listen, remember when Ally asked if she could do a story about you for her magazine?”


Dana frowned, “I remember.”


“She still wants to do it, Dana.  She just wants it to end before you came to Florida, so it’s all about the old you.  Would you still do that?”


“The old me?”  Dana smirked, “I think I’d like that, before I forget everything.”


“Neat,” I said.  Did I tell you that Rhod wants to talk to you and your mom tonight?”


Dana shrugged, “Did you?  I don’t remember.  What’s it about?”


“Good things.  If you want to use our room, I can just make some calls, okay?”


Dana nodded, but then leaned forward to talk to his mother.  ‘Mom?”


I got up for a needed visit to the men’s room, and when I came back everyone was getting ready to leave.  I didn’t even sit down again, but stood by my father while he argued with Mr. Kromer, Anthony Morasutti, and Rhod about who would pay the tab.  Dad won as usual, and we started walking. 


Hector reminded Rhod that he had a date with his fans waiting outside, and that rearranged our transportation plans.  Dana and Elenora would wait with Ivo and Sasha while Rhod did his thing with the fans, and the rest of us would leave ahead.


There were fans waiting, too, but not the throng from earlier.  When Rhod approached, he smiled, gave a little wave, and walked right into their midst.  I liked watching him, because I was learning something.  If it had been me, I’d have found a curtain to hide behind, which was stupid.  Those people liked Rhod, maybe even loved him, and he knew it, so he gave back in turn.


They stayed, and I was pulled along. 


At the hotel, all the adults went to the mezzanine bar, except Mrs. Kromer, who took her kids upstairs.  I was alone, and went up to our room where I shed the long pants in favor of shorts, and went out on the deck to make calls.


The second I stepped out there, I knew something was different.  The surf, normally a background noise, was really loud.  I stood at the deck rail trying to see, but the night was cloudy and my eyes weren’t adjusted to the dark.  I sat, thinking that waves that could make that noise might be a wee bit bigger than I’d want to surf.  Well, I would find out in the morning.


I took my phone out.  It was just eleven, so I dared to call Lisa, and was relieved when she answered in a whisper on the first ring.


Her voice tingled, or at least it tingled me.  ‘Paul?  Hi.  I thought you’d never call.”


“Sorry, we spent a long time at dinner.  Elenora’s parents are here, and there were lots of stories going around.”


“Don’t be sorry.  I was supposed to be home from babysitting around eight, but I only got here about an hour ago.  So dinner was good?  What’s that noise I hear?”


“Oh, that’s the surf.  There’s a storm off the coast and the waves are up.  We’re going surfing in that tomorrow.”


We talked for more than a half hour, and I cut it off when an obviously excited Dana came out and sat beside me.  I let him talk to Lisa for a moment, then took the phone back to say goodbye myself, and promised to call her the next day.


I thought Dana’s excitement stemmed from his talk with Rhod, but the first words out of his mouth were, “Did you see the surf out there?  Does Denny think we’re both crazy?”


I hadn’t even tried to look since I first came out, but my eyes were now adjusted enough to the darkness to see the ocean, and it was a scary sight.  Where the surf usually ranged between two and five feet, there were walls of water eight and ten feet high pressing in, one behind the other, and crashing down on the beach quite close to the pool area, when they were usually about two-hundred feet farther out.


I think my jaw was resting on the railing, and Dana startled me when he spoke.  “Want to go look?  I think I see what Denny was talking about when he told us about pipes.”


I looked at him, while pointing a nervous finger toward the sea.  “You think this is interesting?”


“I want to see the pipes form,” Dana said.  “If it’s like Denny told us, it won’t be that scary.”


I shuddered, “Maybe, but when a billion gallons of water land on your head you might get a little nervous.”


Dana shrugged, “Well, I’m going to look.  It’s high tide right now, so this should be about what we see in the morning.”


He went back inside, and I watched the door slide closed behind him.  Then I pulled it open and called, “Wait up!”


Dana waited at the door to the hallway.  Dana was still wearing what he wore to dinner, so I asked, “Want to change first?  You’ll probably have to wear those things again Sunday.


Dana looked me over quickly, then at himself.  “Good idea,” and hurried to his room.  I went to my own room and quickly changed my shirt and put my sandals on.  I gave a single knock on Dana’s door when I went past it.


He was out seconds later, dressed similarly, and I asked, “Whose card?”


He smiled and walked by me, tapping his pocket.


While we waited for the elevator, I asked, “So, what was the big deal with Rhod?”


Dana shrugged, “It’s, um … it’s kinda private, okay?”  The doors slid open and we stepped into the elevator, where Dana inserted his card.  “It’s not a big secret, Paul.  I just don’t want to say anything until Mom talks to Dad, ‘cause I don’t know what they’ll decide.”


“It’s good though, right?” I asked when we walked into the lobby.  Dana just smiled and nodded.


We watched the surf from the beach-side deck of the pool, and those giant waves were crashing down about a hundred feet in front of us.  The spume was almost reaching the deck.  We were rapidly getting wet just from the spray.  It was at once frightening, invigorating, and annoying to me.


Dana was fascinated.  He had backed up to the pool’s edge and was looking at the waves as they rolled in.  After a few minutes he called, “Paul, come and look.”


I knelt beside him and he said, “Wait, you’ll see it.  A few waves tumbled in, and then he cried, “There.  Look, look!”  I followed his pointed finger, and saw it.  Instead of just falling in over itself, one wave was curling over the top, and as I watched it formed an almost perfect circle back on itself.  There was room for a person after a second, and I suddenly grasped the idea of the pipe, or pipeline.  If you could catch that pipe, you wouldn’t ride the wave straight in, but you’d ride inside the pipe from right to left, for as long as you could hold it.  By then most of the wave was gone into spume, along with the forces behind it.


I still feared messing up, but knew that I could surf those huge waves if I did it right.  I grinned at Dana and made a noise like a war whoop.  He was already grinning, and we got up and moved to the other side of the pool where we could talk.


“I can do this,” I announced while sitting at a table.  “Now I can’t wait!”


“Me too,” Dana said excitedly.  “We gotta remember to dream surfing tonight like Denny said. Oops.”


The oops was because Dana’s cell phone was ringing.  “Mom?” he answered.  He explained that we were at the pool watching the waves.  She said something that made him stand up and yell, “Yes!” with his free fist in the air.  “It’s really okay?  Alright, alright, alright … we’ll talk about it.  I’m gonna tell Paul, okay?  Okay, love you.”


Dana, when excited, is often fun to watch.  Right then, he leapt straight up into a perfect ‘x’ shape in midair, landed and dropped to one knee, and became almost incoherent for a minute.  “I don’t … I do not … I can’t … it can’t,” and he sprang to his feet again, hands together as if in prayer.  He said, “I’m rich!  I have a piggy bank.  I never had a piggy bank.”


He wore himself down after a few more seconds and flopped down in his chair, from where he eyed me seriously.  “I can tell you now.”  Then he grinned and a fit of giggles took him over.  In a minute he said, “I can’t,” and he was lost in hysterics.


I finally gave up waiting and asked, “Got a little money, did you?”


His head was in his arms on the table, and he was still heaving with mirth.  He shook his head.


“Got a lot of money, then?”


He nodded, still laughing.  “A lot of lotta.”


I thought of Denny and said, “You know, we’re supposed to think about surfing tonight, not about money.”  I leaned closer until I was almost nose to nose with Dana, and grinned.  “How much?”


Dana smiled, “Why?  You need a little loan?”


“You’d give me one?”


“I didn’t say that.  I just asked if you needed one.”


“I don’t think so,” I said.  “Let me sleep on it.”


Dana nodded, and we both stood.  I couldn’t get over the look on his face, and I started snickering again, which got him going.  We were still giggling when we got to the suite, and Dana walked into his room while I continued to mine.


In just seconds, before I even had my shirt off, Dana knocked on my door and walked in.  He had an envelope in his hand, and held it out to me as he approached.


He looked apprehensive, but I took the envelope, which was heavy stationery stock.  It wasn’t sealed, and it contained a two-part check drawn on Bank of America, folded in the middle.  I opened it, and the top half was the information stub, but the check was made out to Dana A. Morasutti.


Now, I grew up with money and had a good idea what my father was worth.  For all that, I’d never actually seen much money in one place, so Dana’s check was a shocker.  It was made out for Four Hundred Fifty Thousand & 00/100 Dollars. 


“Wow,’ was all I said, and Dana had come to look at the check himself.


“Yeah, wow,” he said.  “That’s twenty-five thousand a year for eighteen years.  Rhod says it’s the high end of what a court judge could award in New York.”


I handed the check to Dana, who folded it and slipped it back in the envelope.  “So, what now?” I asked.


Dana shrugged, “I don’t know.  I really don’t.  I guess I’ll ask Dad.”


I smiled, “He’ll find you a hidey-hole to put it in, but that’s good thinking.  I mean, you’ll have a job when you get back to Stockton and you can earn your own money.  Save this for something big.”


Dana yawned suddenly.  As sometimes happens, I yawned too, and we both giggled.  I pointed to the door and said, “Good night, Dana.”


He nodded and took the door handle, but before he opened it he smiled at me.  “G’night, brother.”


I returned his smile and said, “Bye.  Better keep that envelope under your pillow.”


“Yeh,” he replied, “and you better remember to think surfing in your dreams.”


Dana closed the door quietly, and I finished undressing and climbed into bed.  I did think about surfing, too.  I pictured the pipes we’d watched forming, and thought back to Denny’s words about how to actually catch a ride ahead of a pipe.  I had the technique, if not the feel of it, down pat in my mind before I drifted off to sleep.


+ + + + + + + +


It was the roar from outside that woke me in the morning, and the clock said it was still early: just after seven.  The noise was a combination of wind, rain and surf, and I poked my head out onto the deck to see what was going on.  In a nutshell, it was pouring, the wind was blowing fiercely, and even with limited vision I could see the surf.  It was pretty much low tide, but wave after wave seemed to rush in on tippy-toe, the tops of them straining to see over the building I was in.  Well, they were really big and dangerous looking, and I was fairly certain that Denny wasn’t certifiable, so our lesson would be called off.


I was also certain that Dana would still be in bed, so I walked to the kitchen in just my underpants to start coffee, only to hear Dana’s voice when I neared.  It sounded like he was talking to Gretchen on the phone.  Luckily, before I turned into the room I heard Gretchen’s reply, and it was clear that she was in the kitchen with Dana, so I ran on tiptoe back to my room.


I looked at the clock again and decided it was way too early to be awake on a rainy day, and climbed back under the covers.


I don’t know if I really slept or not, but I opened one eye when Dana came into the room and announced, ‘We’re having breakfast at eight thirty.  You want to sleep?”


My face was pointed to the clock, and it was just a few minutes before eight.  I rolled over and aimed my opened eye to Dana.  “Why are you up so early?  I thought today was cancelled.”


Dana stared at me for a second before he asked, “Are you awake, or still dreaming?  How do you cancel a day?”


I growled, “You start with a big storm.”


Dana grinned, “That’s all done.  It’s nice out.”


I groaned, and opened my other eye, then pushed up with my elbow.  Dana was wearing his pink beach shorts and nothing else that I could see.  “I don’t have to get dressed up?”


“It’s Saturday.  Who gets dressed up on Saturday?”


I yawned, “Not me.  I’ll be right out, just let me get cleaned up.”


Dana said, “I’ll meet you down there.  Don’t forget your card.”


“I won’t,” I promised.


“Right?” Dana laughed.  “Don’t forget it.”


I threw a pillow at him and climbed out of bed.


I’d had several showers the day before, and hadn’t broken a sweat since the last one, so I just washed up and shaved before putting some clothes on.  It had been a late night, and I was still groggy.  I pulled shorts on over my bathing suit, slipped into my sandals, and put a shirt on.  My hair looked like it might be okay if I didn’t touch it, so I headed downstairs with my magic card in hand.


I looked outside when I got to the lobby, and the scene drew me out through the door.  The landscape was a little roughed up from the wind and rain, but it was the surf that had me fascinated, and I walked right down to where the sand was wet.


I suppose the scene would have me mesmerized if I was an experienced surfer, but I was still fascinated.  There was just enough blue in the sky to allow the sun to accent the backsides of the swells as they formed far out, and the breakers looked enormous to me, but not nearly as wild as earlier.  Those waves were rolling in, one after another, as orderly as you might hope for waves to be.  A few people were out there surfing already, and I watched as they misjudged several times, but they just paddled back out to the swells and tried again.  After a few minutes, someone caught a pipe where I wasn’t looking, and went past me at full tilt, balancing for whatever he or she was worth, and rode that wave until it petered out.


I grinned.  I wanted to do that, and the people who tanked weren’t getting hurt.  They just popped up, got their bearings, and paddled back out to sea.


I went into the restaurant, spotted our table, and went to the buffet before talking to anyone.  I put fruit on a plate, mixed a glass of various juices, and walked back to the table.


Everyone greeted me with smiles, but the only empty seat was between my father and Elenora’s mother, so I excused my way into that one, smiling at Mrs. Morasutti.


She touched my hand and said, “Good morning, dear.  Are you feeling better this morning?”


“I’m fine,” I said, wondering what she was thinking.


She went on, “You were so quiet last night at dinner.  I though you weren’t feeling well.”


I smiled, “I felt fine; I was just listening.  There were new people there, like you, and I was trying to hear everything.”


She giggled and touched my hand again, “Ooh, you got an earful then, didn’t you?”


My father leaned against me and whispered in my ear, “Claim the Fifth, Paul.”


I knew what he meant, and put my fork in a chunk of watermelon, which I held near my mouth.  I smiled at Mrs. Morasutti and said, “It doesn’t matter.  It’s all family now, isn’t it?” and filled my mouth with watermelon, then poked at a strawberry while a poke from my dad’s elbow let me know I’d handled it well.


Then I heard Dana calling me from across the table and I looked for him.  He was grinning and pointing behind me, and I turned to see Denny there, a bright smile on his face.  I got up and asked him, “Eat yet?  Join us, I’ll find a chair.”


“No, no,” he said.  “I had my breakfast.  We’re still on for eleven?”


“Eleven and four,” I said.


He took his glasses off and looked at me.  “You’re not nervous?”


I thought for a second and said, “I’ll give you nervous.  I’m not afraid, though.  We watched the waves last night and again just now.”  Denny smiled and I added, “I know what to do, just not what it’s gonna feel like.”


Denny put his glasses back on, grinned, and poked my shoulder, “It’s a rush.  Go eat, we’ll talk before we go out, and I’ll show you what people are doing right out there, so you’ll know better.”


He held his palm out and I gave him five, and went back to my breakfast.  I’d met Denny just a week ago, and this was the happiest I’d seen him.  Maybe it just took a few big waves to make a surfer giddy.  I was about to find out.


We spent a long time at breakfast.  Well, Dana and Gretchen left soon enough, and they were kind enough to take Gretchen’s brothers along. Everyone else stayed, and the conversation was fun, but kind of general.


Then the Senator said, “Tell us about yourself, Paul.  We’ve heard a lot about you, but you’ve been quiet.”


I tried to hold in my laugh, but couldn’t manage it.  Even the Kromers laughed with my father and Elenora.  Dad reached around me and bopped Mr. Morasutti on the shoulder, laughing. 


“Quiet is not what Paul’s about, Anthony.  He has an opinion on everything, and if you happen to touch on something he knows nothing about, he’ll come up with an opinion on the spot anyhow.”


After everyone had their chuckles, Dad said, “Sorry, Paul.  Go ahead, tell them about yourself.  I’m interested, too.”


I hated being put on the spot like that, but nearly all eyes were on me.  I tried to think of where to start, and couldn’t come up with anything. I looked around and finally said, “At eleven o’clock I’ll be on the tippity-top of one of those big waves out there.  Dana will be with me, and there is a fair chance that we won’t survive the morning.  It’s not the time for me to brag about all my accomplishments in life.  Instead, I hope you’ll join me in a moment of silent prayer.”


I bowed my head, put my hands together, and started moving my lips to a mute version of ‘Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary’.  To my surprise, there was silence.  After what seemed like a minute, I raised my head and said, “Thank you very much.”


I looked up to see that Dana was back, and strove to maintain a serious look.  “We should go and get ready now, brother.  Denny has prepared the sacrifice.”


My father looked like he’d explode.  His face was bright red and his cheeks were puffed out with his attempt to suppress his laughter.  Elenora busied herself with an in-depth study of the restaurant ceiling, while Rhod hastily excused himself to go to the men’s room.  Most everyone else just stared at me until Mrs. Morasutti put a reassuring hand on my shoulder.


She didn’t speak to me, but to my father.  “Franklin, dear, I’m sorry that I scorned you when you said we’d never meet anyone more full of shit than your son.  He is truly one of a kind.”


I lost it then, and started laughing out loud, as did everyone else at the table.  Those were words I never have expected to hear from that proper little lady, which made them twice as funny.


Finally, Dana tugged on my sleeve.  “C’mon.  It’s ten-thirty.”


I stood and excused myself, and followed Dana to the room.  He was silent all the way, but just before he turned into his own room he said, “Thanks.  It was nice to have those eyes off me for a few minutes, and even better to learn that my grandmother can be a funny lady.”


I grinned, “She sure made me laugh.  I just need a minute to change.”


We went into our respective rooms and changed into our wetsuits.  We’d taken to keeping our boards in the little bathroom by the kitchen, and met there.


On the elevator down, Dana asked, “You ready for this?”


I shrugged, “I think so.  I watched people before breakfast.  Not many caught a wave right, but nobody got hurt, either.  It’ll be okay.”


The door opened and Dana breathed deeply.  ‘I hope so.”


“Nervous?” I asked, and Dana nodded.


“Me, too, but I’m not really afraid.  I think that once we catch a pipe you’ll do way better than me because of your skiing.  I’ll be glad to just get a good ride.”


We walked out to the pool area and looked around.  Where there had been several surfers earlier there were none, which increased my nervousness.  Then Denny caught our attention.  He was down by the waterline, which wasn’t all that far from the pool deck right then.  He had his board in hand and was waving furiously until we saw him, and trotted over.


He was beaming when we got there.  “Good news, guys.  The local surf club is here with a couple of rescue boats, so let’s go.  Everyone is a couple hundred yards up the beach.”


We started walking and Dana asked, “Why rescue boats?”


Danny said, “It’s just a precaution.  If someone gets in trouble, they’ll pull him out.  They’ll look for rips, too, and flag any they see.  If you see a red flag, don’t go there.  If you can’t help it, well I’ve told you what to do in a rip.  Do you remember?”


“Swim parallel to the beach,” I said in unison with Dana, which made us both snicker.  In just a week, we’d probably had Denny’s riptide lesson ten times.


Denny started walking up the beach with Dana and me right behind him.  “Don’t we need to get towels?” I asked.


With his eyes on the surf, Denny said, “Nah.  The water won’t be wet today.”


I looked at Dana and we both rolled our eyes.


Denny finally stopped walking and faced the sea.  I could see quite a few surfers in the water, and every new swell let us see more of them.  Denny said, “Let’s watch for awhile.  Let me know when you see someone catch a wave and I’ll tell you what they’re doing right.”


It wasn’t long before we’d seen a dozen good surfers riding in, and they were really moving fast.  Speed, Denny explained, is the key to success in the big waves, for it’s the only way the surfer has to tap the power of the water.  After several minutes of watching, Denny took his glasses off and put them in his belt pouch, and then pulled up his prescription goggles.


He turned to us, bowed his head and smiled, “C’mon gents.  This is the good stuff.”


We walked into the surf, and I wondered what I was getting myself into.  I guess it’s called mixed feelings.  The waves crashing in front of us looked even bigger from ground zero, and the sound of the crashing surf was almost deafening.  Still, I felt a thrill to be moving purposely into the powerful surge in search of some fun and excitement.  The fun part is what I tried to concentrate on, and I jumped on my board and started paddling out as soon as Denny did.


When we got into the surf itself, I did what I’d learned and paddled through the breakers.  I was relieved to find that going through an eight-footer wasn’t all that much different than the smaller waves I was used to, and in no time I was out in the swells.  I had totally lost sight of Denny and Dana, and every one of the people I could see looked the same.


I sat on my board for a long time out there, watching others, and paddled back out when the motions of the sea brought me too close to the breakers. Looking behind me, I saw a promising swell and got up my resolve.  Yes!  It started to curl over, and I paddled quickly to catch the top, and watched to my left as it began to curl over.


I did what I’d been taught, and only dropped down when that curl was right there, and I felt the shelf that Denny had told us would be there.  I made a cruddy right turn, but kept my balance, and suddenly I was flying parallel to the beach, and I crouched down low on my board, much like getting into a tuck skiing.


It was a ride!  I didn’t last very long, losing my balance after maybe five seconds.  I should have dipped down a little lower to keep my speed up, but the wave came over my head before I could make the adjustment.


Didn’t matter.  I gurgled around underwater for a bit, and gasped in some air when I was on the beach.  As soon as I found my feet, I ran back out into the surf, and tried again.  I wasn’t waiting on the perfect wave anymore, and my fear was gone.  This was a rush and it was fun, and I was doing it all on my own.


I did finally catch a wave that I rode all the way in, but it was a small triumph.  I wanted to do it again and again.


Surfing is similar to skiing in the moves and balance required, but water is far more fickle than snow.  If you muck up skiing, you can be back to try the same spot again in ten minutes.  You’ll never get the same wave twice when surfing. 


I went back out and missed more waves than I caught, but I was at the point where it was the water and not me that wouldn’t cooperate.  I did catch another perfect ride, and it took me all the way to the beach before the wave crashed over my head to humble me.


I got to my feet and did a little dance with my hands high.  It was for me and not anyone else, because I hadn’t seen a soul I knew in the last hour.


When I finally walked ashore, Denny was there beaming at me, and I grinned back.  As I approached him, he said, “You’re the man, Paul.  I thought you’d stay out till I starved to death.”


“You?  What time is it?”


“Almost one.”




I looked around and asked, “Where’s Dana?”


Denny smiled, “Eating, where else?  He had a few good rides too, but he’s really got to get over his fear of water.  I said you wouldn’t get wet today.  Did you?”


He was funny, but maybe not all that funny because I didn’t feel wet at all.  “Not me,” I said.  “Dana got wet?”


“For sure,” Denny said.  “I sent him to Claire for towels, and to get a last look at her fine ass.”


I giggled, “You noticed?”


“How would I not?   Claire’s a sweetie and a showoff.  She might own this state someday based on tips alone, but she doesn’t give out more than a hint.  She’s a nice girl.”


I agreed silently, and walked back to our hotel beside Denny.  I didn’t really know him as more than a surfing instructor, but I felt pretty close to him.  He had taught me in a week to surf, and I was at the point that I thought I’d surf all afternoon.  I knew I’d never be any great shakes as a surfer, but I did feel confident and fairly competent, if not proficient.  Like all good teachers Denny had given me the basic skills, and also showed me the thrills and fun of the sport, and that’s what it’s all about.


… more