Mud Season

Chapter 11


When I woke up the next morning I realized that it was our last day in Florida, so I started packing my things as I finished using them, starting with my shaving kit.  For the trip home, I just put dirty clothes in the duffle, and things that were clean in my suitcase.  I glumly put socks on my feet and dressed in the clothes that I’d worn to dinner the night before.  My sandals tempted me, but they would look dumb with blue socks, so I put the shoes on that I’d worn for the trip down from Vermont.  I went around the room a second time, pulling drawers out and looking under things, before I decided I had everything. 


I stepped out on the deck, and it was a beautiful morning with a clear sky, and air that seemed much less humid and a bit cooler than it had been.  I looked longingly at the ocean, which was back to a placid normality, and wished I’d thought to go out for a swim before I packed things up.  I decided it was too late, and my regret wouldn’t last long anyhow.  It was a travel day, and I’d alternate between hurried and bored.


I went through the rest of the rooms looking for things I might have neglected, but nothing was mine.  In the kitchen, I put on a pot of coffee.  I left it and looked at the surfboards in the hallway bathroom.  They weren’t ours; Denny had rented them for us.   I didn’t know what to do with them.  I really didn’t know what to do with the wetsuits either, because they wouldn’t pack well, but were really new.  I decided to just leave them out.  We could bring them as they were, or we could leave them.  If I’d saved the bags from Ron-Jon’s it would be easier, but I never thought to.


I did start to wonder about Dana, because he was more of a morning person than me and I hadn’t heard a peep from him.  I opened the door to his room as quietly as I could, and he was stretched out on the bed sleeping soundly, on top of the bedding with his face in his pillow.


“Dana?”  I said softly, with no response.  “Dana!  Time to get up!”


That stirred him, and I said, “You have to pack up, man.  Don’t you want to say bye to Gretchen?”


He groaned and moaned, and lifted his head.  “Don’t be a dick.  What time is it?”


“I don’t know.”  I looked at his clock and said, “It’s almost eight.  Time for breakfast.”


I wasn’t used to a sleepy Dana.  That’s usually my gig, but he was out of it in a comical way, and it amused me.


“Dana, listen.  This is your last chance for all that food downstairs.  Tomorrow you’ll be back on Rice Krispies and school lunch.  It’s your last chance to lock lips with Gretchen for who knows how long.”


He groaned again, thought things over, and said, “You’re right.  Get out and I’ll get ready.  You don’t have to wait.”


I said, “Ooh, grumpy.  Don’t forget to dress for Vermont.”


He sighed and finally looked at me, from my shod feet to my buttoned-down neck.  He frowned, “Oh, God, can’t we just stay here?”


I didn’t answer because he already knew the reply to that.  I walked through the suite one more time to see if anything belonged to us, then turned the television on and sat in front of that.  Even on Sunday morning before all the politicians came on, people were selling junk.  “Call in the next five minutes, and you’ll get not one, but two of these unique, genuine stainless steel spleen grinders.  And that’s not all!  The first one hundred callers will receive a free recipe book, regularly thirty-nine-ninety-five.  It has all the mouth-watering ground spleen recipes you’ve seen on this program and dozens more.  And there’s more!  Call now and you’ll be entered into a contest for the grand prize of a trip to beautiful Akron: hotel and a festive dinner included.  Just think!   You can view the ruins of three of the largest tire companies in American history, learn about the riot of 1900, and thrill to the largest blimp hangar in the world.  Transportation not included.”


And blah-blah-blah.  No channel was better than the one before it, and I was thankful when Dana showed up ready to go.


“All packed?” I asked as I withdrew my hotel card from the slot.


“I didn’t pack the wetsuit.  I don’t have room for it.”


“Me either,” I said, and then I had an idea.  “I know.  We can use a couple of those laundry bags in the closet.  All we have to do is get them downstairs.”


Dana asked, “What about the boards?”


“I don’t know.  Denny said he’d be here today, so maybe we can leave them at the luggage room downstairs.  I’ll ask at the desk.”


When we were in the elevator, Dana said, “I’m kind of nervous.  I never had to say goodbye like this before.”


I was trying to think of what to say when the elevator stopped at the fourth floor, and when the door slid open Gretchen was standing there. 


I was surprised, and surprise came over Gretchen’s face while she stood in the hall and stared.  I had to stick my foot in the door when it started to close on her, and she stepped in quickly.  She went right to Dana and took both of his hands in hers while he kissed her.  I looked away when Dana’s ears went red.


We were at the lobby level in a few more seconds, and when the door opened Dad was there.  He smiled when he saw us, and said, “I was just going up to get you.” 


We stepped out of the elevator and Dad said to Gretchen, “Will you excuse us for just a moment?”  and beckoned Dana and me to the side.  He had a small leather bag in his hands and reached into it.  “Tips,” he said, as he handed me an envelope and gave two to Dana.  The one in my hand said ‘Denny Price’ in Dad’s careful handwriting, and I looked to see that Dana had one for Denny and another for Claire.


Dana looked a question to Dad, who said, “Tips.  We take care of our friends, Dana.  Denny taught you to surf in just a week and,” he pinched Dana’s cheek, “Claire has kept that grin on your face for a solid month.”  Dana found the leering smile one more time, and Dad added, “Just give them the envelopes when you say good-bye, and don’t forget to say thank you.”


He put his hand on my shoulder and asked, “Don’t you know that three’s a crowd?  Let’s eat.”  He looked at Dana and said, “We’ll save you a seat.  Don’t lose those envelopes.  They have real cash-money in them.”


Dad was charged up, and I guessed why easily enough.  He and Elenora were all lovey-dovey when they left the party the night before.  I was finally to the point where I was genuinely happy for both of them.


Dana and Gretchen didn’t seem to have any complaints either, and instead of going out to the beach they headed toward the gift shop, hand-in-hand and heads close as they talked to each other.


Dad led me to our tables where people were gathering.  The Kromers were there, as were Elenora’s parents and Rhod’s parents, but Rhod wasn’t in sight.


I stopped to say hello to the Kromers, and sat down with them for a coffee.  I grinned when they asked where Gretchen and Dana were, and walked the first two fingers of both hands across the placemat, trying to make them look cozy.


They understood, and we had a somewhat disjointed conversation about who was going where next.  I decided that I should learn German, because I should know more, and German would help me with a lot of other languages as well.


Language barrier or not, the Kromers were a close-knit and fun family, and they had become a happy part of my stay in Florida.


I was suddenly aware that Rhod had entered the room, because there was a sudden hush, and I was sure I was right when Mr. Kromer raised his hand and waved Rhod over to our tables.  When I looked, Rhod appeared to be ready for a good time.  He was dressed in navy-blue slacks, a white shirt with epaulets, and a navy-blue captain’s cap with white piping around the brim.  It was clear that he liked to indulge his fans, and I stopped paying attention when Rory spoke to me.


“Paul, what are your plans for the summer?  School isn’t out yet, is it?”


I said, “No, I still have a few weeks to go.  I guess I’ll be getting my learner permit and saving up for a Corvette.  I’ll be working up in Stockton with everyone else, and I’m going skiing in South America in August.”


Rory grinned, “So this Laundromat really is a family business.  What will your part be?”


I looked at Dad, who was no help, so I shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I hope it’s something I can get my mind around, like refilling the vending machines.”


Rory’s eyebrows went up, and Dad looked annoyed.  He got me back by saying, “Paul, you know those machines require both technical knowledge and keys.  We’ll probably start you with a mop, and maybe you can work your way up to an ice cream scoop.”


I wasn’t about to get into it, and left for the buffet.  I’d taken about three steps when I spotted Denny by the door, so I went over to see him.  He smiled when he saw me and said, “Oh, good, you’re here.  I can pick up the boards now if you have a minute.”


“Sure,” I said.  “They’re in our bathroom.  You want to come up?”


Denny said he’d go with me, so we took the elevator up and went into the room.  The bathroom was right there to the left, but Denny’s eyes were wandering and he let out a low whistle.  “I’ve never been up here.  Mind if I have a look?”


I showed him my room, Dana’s room, which he’d tidied up, the main room with the two-sided sofa, the deck, and we walked back through the dining area, the kitchen, and to the bathroom where the boards were stored. Denny said, “They sure give you a lot of space here, and wow!  Look at this bathroom!”


That bathroom was the smallest one, but it really was kind of neat.  Everything was shiny black marble, mirrored, or painted beige.  Well, the faucet and shower handles were chrome, but the overall effect was very contemporary and minimalist.  Wetsuits draped on the vanity and surfboards in the shower stall added some color and made it look at least a little bit lived in.


Denny asked, “Aren’t you taking the wetsuits?”


“Oh, yeah, we’re going to use laundry bags when we leave.”


We rode the elevator back to the lobby and I asked Denny to join us for breakfast.  This time he accepted, and we brought the boards to a storage room he had the key to.


On the way to the dining room, I took the envelope Dad gave me and held it out to Denny.  I looked at him and said, “This is for you.  It’s something extra for giving me something brand new to do.”  I caught his eyes and held out my hand, “Thanks, Denny.  It’s been great.”


Denny looked surprised and shook my hand. He held the envelope near his ear, wiggled it, and grinned, “Not just your two cent’s worth?  You’re certainly welcome; it’s been fun for me, too.”


I laughed, “Fun for sure!  I think Dana has something for you too, so don’t let him forget.”


Denny’s smile brightened, and I made a general introduction when we reached the table.  Everyone knew of Denny, but few had actually met him, so it took a few minutes.  He put his things at the seat beside me, but we didn’t sit down.  We picked up our plates and headed to the buffet.


Dana and Gretchen were sitting when we got back, and they were both wearing new silver necklaces.  Gretchen pulled hers out from her blouse to show me, and it had half a heart on the chain.  The heart looked a bit ragged where it ended, and Dana pulled out his chain to show me the other half.


I just looked, thinking it was cute.  Denny spoke up, though.  “A broken heart.”  Dana reacted with a start, and Denny went on, “Or a heart apart.  It’s hard either way.  It can be done though.  My wife was modeling in New York and Europe before we got married, and I was surfing my way around the world.  We stayed in touch mostly by mail back then, but everything worked out.”


Dana looked at Gretchen, and both of them seemed on the verge of tears, but the tears never came.


We ate our breakfast, and half an hour later we were in front of the hotel saying goodbye to the Kromers.  I wondered about Mr. Kromer’s popularity within Daimler-Benz when he pulled up in a pearlescent pea-green Mercedes minivan, but managed to keep my mouth shut.  Maybe he liked that color.


Our good-byes were heartfelt but not prolonged.  I got hugs from all the Kromers and a kiss on the cheek from Gretchen.  Mr. Kromer re-checked his directions, set the navigation system for Orlando, and they were off.


We stood there until they were out of sight, then headed back inside to get our own property in order.  In the room, I asked Dana how he felt about Gretchen leaving.


He shrugged and smiled kind of glumly.  “I don’t know yet, I really don’t.”  He looked right at me and said, “This was the best time of my life.  I mean, there are girls I like at home, but this was the first time I didn’t have to back off because of money.  I could never do anything before, because I was too poor to fit in.  I couldn’t dress nice for anything.  Hell, I was lucky sometimes to be able to button my shirt, or zip my pants.  Now all I have to do is sign for things.”  His smile brightened, “This is better than robbing banks.”


I laughed, and there was a tap at the door, which Dana opened.  It was a guy from the hotel who’d come for our luggage.  While Dana showed him where things were, I rushed to cram our wetsuits into a laundry bag, and hefted that up on the shiny brass cart.  The guy went down the hall to my father’s suite, and Dana and I took one last walk out onto the deck to see what we were leaving behind.


It was basically a day like all the preceding ones, although a bit cooler.  The sun was up, the breeze was gentle, and the sea seemed particularly pretty.  Dana and I didn’t speak until he said, “Ready?”


I nodded and stared out to sea for another minute, thinking it would be nice to have a little sailboat like the ones dotting the horizon.  I finally said, “Let’s go,” and we did.


Hector and Rhod were in the lobby, so we stood making small talk with them.  Rhod’s parents joined us after a few minutes, then the Morasuttis, and finally Dad and Elenora.


Hector went to get Ron, and they led us outside to our vehicle, which was a bus.  A bus limousine, or a bus RV, but a bus; it was black with dark windows and a bit of gold pin-striping on the side.  Inside, it was a living room.  The carpet was thick and gray, and the seats were big, and covered with darker gray leather, in sets of four, two facing the rear and two forward.  There were elegant-looking wood tables between the seats.


Being a schoolboy, I instinctively went to the back end, and was joined by Dana and Rhod opposite me.


There was a warm, damp facecloth for each seat resting in a dish on the table in front of it, and bottled water in each cup holder.  The vehicle started moving with a slight jolt, but otherwise the movement was almost imperceptible.  A voice came from nowhere, but of course it was the driver speaking. 


“It’s an hour to Melbourne Airport.  The weather there shows low clouds with showers predicted, and it’s a cool seventy-three degrees.  My name is Jeff, and our porter today is Neil.  If you need anything, press the service button on the edge of your table.  For now, just sit back and enjoy the ride.”


I smiled at Dana, then at Rhod, and then the three of us broke out laughing.  Talk about the lap of luxury.  This was a bus, for Pete’s sake, but light years from anything I’d known as a bus before.


The ride was smooth, too, and I just eavesdropped while Dana and Rhod talked about things, and I watched what passed for scenery go by.  When we got near to where Hector lived, the clouds showed up overhead, and in another ten minutes it was pretty dark.  Vehicles had their headlights on and storefronts were lit up.  Then the rain came.  It wasn’t anything to speak of, but it did mess up my view.  I opened my water bottle and sipped some, then looked at Rhod and Dana because they weren’t talking anymore.


Rhod was asleep and Dana was looking through a magazine he’d found somewhere. I startled him when I asked, “Where’d you get that?”


Dana pointed under his table, and I looked under mine to find a shelf with several magazines there.  Instead of Playboy, I found Fortune, Money, Small Business, and others like that.  I looked to see what Dana was reading, and it was Money Magazine.


I asked, “Why are you reading that?”


“Why not?  Now I have some money.  Shouldn’t I learn what to do with it?”


I folded my arms, “I guess.  I don’t see Dad reading stuff like that.”


“He has Bernie,” Dana huffed.  “I need to know things myself, don’t I?”


“Yeah, but ...  is that really interesting?”


Dana slumped and closed the magazine, “Boring, if you ask me.  The ads are the best part – all the neat things you can have when you get rich.”


“It’s just things, Dana.  I’ve had them all my life and never paid much attention to what cost a lot and what didn’t.”


Dana looked at me and asked, “Do you really not like the nice things?”


“No, it’s not like that.  It’s just that anything that works is good enough.”  I thought for a moment and added, “I have the same textbooks as everyone in my classes.  They work for me like everyone else.  I don’t need custom printed ones with gold bindings to do better.  I need to read the ones I have, listen to the instructors, and study on my own to do better.  It’s no different for you.”


Dana didn’t say anything for a moment, and then he put his two first fingers on the table in front of him and slid them to either side.  “Maybe it doesn’t matter,” he said quietly, “But things like this are sure nice to feel, and this is a bus.”


I snickered, “I know, but I’ve eaten at your table, and the food made the table go away.  Do you get what I’m saying?  It’s the people things that count: what we’re doing, what we’re thinking is important, not where, or on what.  The food is important too, and the warmth, and the shelter.”


Dana had a gaze on me that I couldn’t figure out.  “I don’t know you, Dana.  I mean, I don’t know what it’s like to have no food or no anything.  I know you went without, but you didn’t starve to death.  I mean, when you were hungry, really hungry, wasn’t whatever you ate the best food on Earth?”


Dana smiled and said in his softest voice, “You can shut up now.  I get it, and you’re right.  I got fed, and the stupidest things tasted good when I was hungry.”  His smile brightened.  “There’s a black walnut tree out back, and in the fall I picked up the nuts that fell.  Did you ever see one?”


I shook my head.


“They’re in this pod kind of thing, and you have to break that apart to get the nut, and then you have to open that.  That’s where the black comes from, because it makes your hands black and that black don’t come off with anything … but time.”  He smiled at the bus ceiling.  “Those are good nuts, though.  You can just eat them, but Mom makes cakes and cookies with the walnuts, and they’re the best things.”


I looked out the window and saw we were passing the airbase.  Dana had told me that Air Force One was parked there when they came down, but all I could make out were military jets, and the dark sky seemed to make them nearly invisible.


I looked back at Dana who seemed to be gazing absently at me.  I asked, “Are you excited to meet more relatives in Albany?”


Dana didn’t reply immediately, and finally said, “‘I guess.  Maybe not excited so much as curious.”  He gave me a little grin.  “I think it’s you, Paul.  You show up for a week, and I meet more family than I ever thought I had; and they keep coming!”


“What’s wrong with that?” I asked, and then added, “Your mother started this, not me.”


“I guess.  It’s just so much, so fast.  I hope I can remember everyone.”


Suddenly Neil, who was our porter, was beside us saying, “We have some nice cookies, and coffee, tea, milk.  Anything for you gents?”


Dana grinned, “Chocolate chip, I hope, and a big glass of milk.”


I was a bit stunned by being portered on a bus, but said, “Coffee, okay?  Cream on the side.  And cookies.”


Neil looked at Rhod, who snored in response, and said “Coming right up.”


“What’s with Rhod?”  I asked.


Dana said, “He was out late.  He met some of his fans in the bar and stayed till they closed.”


“You were right, you know,” I said.  “That music was great last night, and I don’t remember when I ever ate so much.”


Dana grinned.  “We went on some other nights and it’s always good.”


Neil came just then, with my coffee, a goblet of milk for Dana, and a platter of good looking cookies.  We thanked him. I put a drop of cream in my coffee, took a sip and thought it was very good, and I reached for a cookie.  My hand hovered over the plate for a second, but they all looked good, so I just snatched one up and took a bite.  It was warm and soft, with raisins in it, but I didn’t know what the rest was.  It was gooey and good, though, so I looked for another of the same.


Dana was grabbing them up, too, and after a minute or two we laughed at each other, and went on downing cookies until the plate was empty.  I rubbed my tummy and said, “Good.”


Just then the bus swayed and the driver’s voice came over the speakers.  “This is it, folks.  We’ll be at general aviation in about two minutes.  I’m told that your plane is ready and waiting.”


I looked forward and Dad was looking back at us.  He smiled and I smiled back. 


With the dark windows in the bus, it looked like twilight outside, and all the service vehicles were running with their lights on, and the lights were reflecting off the wet pavement.  I’ve flown enough times where we had to take off or land in the rain to know that I shouldn’t be concerned, but I was a bit worried that we might be delayed.


We pulled up to the little general aviation terminal and hurried inside, although the rain was no more than a sprinkle.  When we gathered together in the terminal, Hector and Ron approached us and led our group to what they called a security checkpoint.  What it consisted of was a lady who, when she determined that my father was the head of our group, asked him if he knew us all, and if we were invited to board the aircraft.  Then she asked us to identify our bags before they were loaded onto the plane.


The bus driver and porter were standing by our bags, which they’d unloaded from a hand trolley.  I pointed out my suitcase and duffel, and the laundry sack with the wetsuits, and they went back on the trolley, as did everything else.  The lady smiled at us and said, “Enjoy your flight.”


I asked my father, “When did they start that?” because the last time I’d been on a private plane there was no security at all.  This had been a minimal check, but it still surprised me.


“It’s new,” Dad said.  “It’ll probably get more intrusive.  So far it’s only been implemented at general aviation airports that are connected to commercial fields.  There was no check in Keene.”


I heard a voice calling my name.  “Paul?  Paul Dunn?”  I turned and looked around, and a big kid was grinning at me.  He had a familiar look to him but I only recognized him when he walked up to me with his hand out to shake.  I couldn’t believe it.


“Percy?  My God, what are they feeding you?”


It was Percy Paynter, my longtime roommate from Barents Academy.  He’d sure grown.  He used to be shorter than me and kind of too thin, but after two years he had me by several inches and looked to have a very athletic build.


He said, “Call me Dan.  I’m using my middle name now: Danforth.”


“Okay, Dan,” I said.  “How are things at Bareass?”


He hadn’t lost the grin, and it brightened if anything.  “I don’t know.  I left there when I found out why you left.  It was a good move for me.  I’m not really interested in business.  I want to get into the engineering end of things.”


His father, who I’d met many times, approached.  We shook hands and he said, “Paul, it’s been a long time.  How have you been?”  He put his hand on Percy’s head and asked, “What do you think of this one?  He’s grown a bit, eh?”


I snickered, “I just asked what you’ve been feeding him.”


“Vigoro, and lots of it!” he said with a chortle, and then he grabbed my father’s hand.  “Franklin!  How are you?  Edmund Paynter, if you don’t remember me.”


I heard Dad say, “Of course I remember you,” and they walked off to talk.


Dana came and stood beside me, and I introduced him to Dan as my brother.


“Brother?  You never talked about a brother before.”


I snickered, “I never had one before.  Now I do.  Dana, say hi to Percival Danforth Paynter, now known as Dan.  Dan, this is Dana Morasutti, now known as my brother.”


Dana shook with Dan and said, “Don’t listen to him.  I’m not his brother; he’s my brother!”


I wanted to talk more, but Dad’s hand landed on my shoulder.  “It’s time to go, boys.”


I said, “Give me one second,” and then turned to Percy.  “Give me your phone number and I’ll call right now.  That way I’ll have it and you’ll have mine.”


He did, and I did.  We shook hands smiling at each other, and promised to call.  I turned around, only to almost bump into Hector.


He smiled and said, “I guess this is it.  Goodbye amigo, my friend.  If you keep yourself in one piece, I’ll see you in August.”


I was full of anticipation and excitement about the flight and getting back to Brattleboro, but I felt sad to say goodbye to Hector.  I held my hand out.  “Thanks for everything, Hector.  It’s been real.”


He smiled and nodded, dropped my hand, and turned to Dana while Ron held his hand out to me.


“It’s been a pleasure, Paul,” Ron said with the first real smile I’d seen from him.


I said, “Same here.  What’s next for you?”


He shrugged, “I don’t know.  I hope it’s something like this last month, but I’m never that lucky.”


My father was gesturing for me to hurry up, so I smiled at Ron and said, “Good luck with it, anyhow.  Dad’s calling me.”


Ron took a step back and I hurried to catch up with my family, who were already going through the door to outside.  When I reached them, it was still dark and gloomy, but the rain had stopped.  The tarmac was wet and puddled, and I stopped to gawk when I saw the plane we were headed to.  It looked more like a small-scale airliner than the little private jets I was used to.  It was sitting there painted in shining white, the lights blinking on the wings and reflecting off the wet pavement while its engines whistled.  Its three engines whistled – each wing had an engine, and there was a third on top


I hurried to catch my father and asked, “What kind of plane is it?”


Dad looked at me and smiled.  “Like it?  It’s a Dassault something-or-other.  It’s the only one I could get to fit this crowd.”


I’m sure my mouth was hanging open, and Dana’s was, too.  I passed him and said, “Come on,” and started up the steps.  There was a uniformed girl at the top.  She smiled and welcomed us aboard, and gestured with her hand to the cabin, which made me draw another breath.  If the bus was luxurious, then this plane was something else altogether.  The seats were heavily padded armchairs covered in beige leather.  The carpet was darker beige, and thick and cushy underfoot.  There were tables and matching woodwork, all lacquered to the hilt, and there were windows.  The windows were big, and there were lots of them.  Everyone got a window seat, or a two-window seat.


I was duly impressed, and turned to Dana to see where he wanted to sit, but he was already sitting.  There were four seats up front, two on a side facing each other, with tables between them.  Then there was a little setup in the middle where the seats were two together looking each way, with a larger table between them.  Behind that, there were sofas on each side facing each other.


Dana had claimed the forward-facing window side of the four-place table, and I didn’t know why.  It didn’t matter, so I went to sit beside him.


“Why’d you sit here?” I asked.


“Because it’s over the wing.”


I looked out the window, and he was right.  “Um, most people don’t like being over the wing.  You can’t see anything.”


Dana got a stubborn look on his face and said, “I know.”


“That’s it?  What, you don’t like seeing out the window?”


Dana shrunk into his seat a little, looked out the window and mumbled something.  I asked, “What?”


“It’s kind of scary,” he said.  “After we get up there, I can change seats.  I didn’t like taking off last time.  That plane was going up and sideways at the same time, and it …”


“Made you sick?”  I asked, somewhat amused that fearless Dana had qualms about flying in a plane, but not about going off cliffs on skis.


“Not sick.  It just didn’t seem …” he snickered, “normal.  It’s not normal.” 


I grinned.  “It’s been going on for a long time, brother.  Flying is normal enough, and it gives you another perspective on the world.”


Dana smiled, “I guess.  Where do you want to sit?”


I looked around and saw that the adults were in the sofas behind us, so I pointed to the table just ahead of us.  Dana unbuckled his belt and we went forward.  The seat on the right side was also vacant, so I said, “I’ll sit over here for takeoff so we can both see out.  We can still talk.”


Rhod was in the next seat forward, and when he saw that the seat opposite Dana was vacant, he quickly moved over there.


We all buckled up, and the plane started moving toward the runway moments later.  The hostess walked through checking seat belts, and then went forward while the pilot told us about flight time, the weather conditions both aloft and in Albany, and that we would have clear views once we were just a bit north of the Melbourne area.  The hostess appeared again and gave the standard talk about safety, noting the exit in the rear as well as the one in the front.


The pilot maneuvered the plane onto the runway, ran the engines up, said “Here we go,” and then we were hurtling down the runway.  After just a minute we were in the clouds that had so darkened the airport, but it seemed like no time at all before we reached blue sky.


The pilot had said we’d be cruising at thirty-six thousand feet, so we stayed in a steep climb for another ten minutes before we leveled off and the power was cut back.  When the plane settled into cruising mode I felt some tension leave me.  I’m not a nervous flier, but takeoffs seem to lead me to build up tension that I’m not aware of until it goes away.


I glanced out the window and saw that we were leaving the clouds far below us.  We were flying north over the ocean, so Dana and Rhod had the view of the land.  We were too high to see much anyhow, and we’d end up over land before long anyhow.  I stood up to stretch and looked for the bathroom, which I didn’t see in either direction, so I sat back down to look at the safety card.  The toilet was behind curtain number two, the one in the back of the plane, and I headed that way.


Going between the two sofas felt a little weird to me.  The senator was on my left, flanked by his wife and Elenora, while Mrs. Daniels was sitting between Dad and Rory.  They all looked at me when I approached, and I could feel a blush rising when I smiled and pointed at the curtain, and then hurried up.


When I was washing up, I laughed at myself, wondering why it didn’t bother me to walk past a few hundred strangers on the way to the toilet in a 747.  They all knew where I was headed.  I guess the difference is that the 747 people didn’t care, didn’t see me, or didn’t pay attention.  The lav, like the rest of the plane, was done up in the same polished wood, and the metal fixtures, even the towel holders, were gold.


I took care zipping up, washed my hands and face, and combed my hair to see what I looked like in a gold framed mirror.  Unimpressed, I went back to my seat, where the hostess approached me right away.  “I’ve just taken lunch orders, Paul.  I’m making panini sandwiches, and can probably come up with anything you might like.”


I thought for a second before I started reciting my favorite meats:  prosciutto, hard salami, Parma ham, cappacola.  She smiled and said, “I have all that.  What else would you like on it?”


‘Lots of mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato, a little onion, black pepper … oh, and provolone.”


She grinned, “One Blimpie’s Best.  And to drink?”


“Water, please.”


“Pickle and chips?”


“Just pickle,” I said, thinking I’d already ordered enough salt to last out the year.


I looked over at Dana, who was reading another magazine since Rhod seemed to have dozed off again.


I didn’t say anything, and just gazed out the window now that the coastline was visible on my side.  We were still over some wispy clouds, but the view was pretty good.


When I’d ordered my sandwich I didn’t feel particularly hungry, but when it sat steaming in front of me my appetite came right back.  I ate the pickle first, and that only piqued my appetite further, and I never set that sandwich down again once I started eating it.


Then it was time for a nap.


There was no announcement that I heard, so the plane’s descent must have been what woke me up.  I looked out, and could see that we were over a heavily developed area, but we were still too high to make out any landmarks.  I thought New Jersey at first, but when I couldn’t see Manhattan or Long Island I decided it must be Delaware.


I looked to my left and Dana wasn’t in his seat, and when I looked around he’d moved forward, so I stood and moved up to the seat facing him.  He’d been looking out the window, but noticed when I took the seat.


“Know where we are?”  I asked.


“Yup,” he said, and looked back out the window. 


I thought he was jerking my chain.  “Mind telling me where?”


He looked surprised, “You don’t know?”  Then he grinned, “I thought you were testing me.  The pilot just said we were over Philadelphia, and in a few minutes we’ll have a good view of New York City.  You didn’t hear him?”


I shook my head no.  “Maybe that’s what woke me up.  So, we’re almost there?”


“Uh-huh.  We’re flying back to the coast, and then straight up over the Hudson River to Albany.”


I looked out the window again, and there were no clouds and very little haze.  I looked back at Dana and said, “Wait till you see New York.  It’s freaking amazing from the air, ‘specially at night.”  I glanced back outside, and turned back to Dana.  “Maybe you’ll see the Statue of Liberty.  That whole area is really something to see if we’re not too far up.”


Dana smiled, “That’s why I sat here.  The pilot said we’d get a good view from this side of the plane.”


I smiled, and we both looked back out our windows.  Now that I was oriented, I was better able to trace our path, and once I saw the ocean again, I knew where we were.


The plane was in a slow descent, and we approached Manhattan Island at a much lower altitude.  I started pointing things out to Dana, and we were low enough to recognize Staten Island, the Verrazano Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and some other landmarks before we headed up the Hudson River.


Our descent continued, and it wasn’t long before the pilot told us to buckle up for our landing in Albany.  By then, things below us were mostly green and rural-looking until we reached the Albany area, where we landed at the airport north of town.


I looked at Dana’s hands just before the plane touched down, and they were gripping the armrests as tightly as my own.  I’ve never been afraid of flying, but landing always makes me hold on.  However, our pilot put the plane down as gently as a feather.


When we were slowing down, I looked at Dana’s face, and he was just looking up from looking at me.  I know I blushed, but with Dana it was hard to tell.  We both smiled, though, and our smiles turned into grins.


The pilot welcomed us to Albany, and I said, “More relatives for you.  I hope you stay lucky.”


He shrugged and said, “I’m not even nervous now.  It’s kind of exciting … my first aunt and uncle … my first cousins.”


I smiled at Dana as the plane pulled up to the terminal.  Five minutes later we walked down the stairs to the pavement, and a worker pointed us to the correct door.  I was itching to pull my cell phone out, but my father really hates when other people can’t wait to make their calls in private, so I felt the phone in my pocket and waited for a chance to use it.


When we were all inside, Rhod and his parents said their goodbyes to Elenora and Dana, and stood with me and Dad to watch them walk off with Elenora’s parents to meet her brother and his own family.


We said our own goodbyes, and exchanged invitations to visit one another, and then the Daniels left for home, and they’d drop Rhod at the train station on their way.


That left me and Dad alone, and he asked, “Want to just knock around here?  We have about two hours, so not really any time to explore.”


I looked around, and the terminal sure didn’t have anything to offer.  There were a few vending machines, a newspaper machine, and various magazines left behind by earlier travelers.  There were empty chairs though, so I replied, “Let’s just sit.  I want to call Lisa and Tommy.”


Dad grinned, “Pick a spot, and I’ll sit far away.  I have calls to make, too, and I don’t want you eavesdropping on me.”


I snickered, because that was my line.


The chairs were just loose wooden chairs with padded seats and backs, so I pulled one to a window where I could keep an eye on the plane we came in on.  It really was impressive, though not nearly as sleek as a Lear.


I took my phone from my pocket as I sat down, and was distressed to see that the battery didn’t have a full charge.  That was my fault, but the charger was in my luggage so I had to make do with what I had.


I dialed Lisa’s number.  Fortunately, she answered herself, and I said hi.


I could hear the humor in her voice.  “I knew it was you.  Where are you?”


Albany.  I’ll be in Keene in a couple of hours, and I think we’re going straight home.”


“I know.  I’m meeting you at the airport.”




“Your mother asked if I wanted to come, and I do.  There’s a little welcome-home tonight.”


I was surprised.  “For me?”


Lisa giggled, “No, silly, for your father, but you’re welcome too.”


I said, “I can’t wait to see you.”


She cooed, and we got into a private talk.  It lasted until my low battery alarm started beeping.  I warned Lisa, and we talked until the thing went dead. Then I looked around the nearly-empty terminal again before I stretched out and closed my eyes, trying to picture Lisa wearing not too much.


I didn’t sleep, and in a few minutes I stood up to stretch, and decided to walk around the terminal to see if there was anything of possible interest.


There was.  It was the door to the outside, and it was a fine day.  I walked out on the sidewalk, and there wasn’t anything to see other than the roadway and a parking lot.  There was a nice breeze blowing and the air was warm, so I wandered along the sidewalk with no destination in mind.  When I reached the end of the terminal building, I could see hangar buildings and a number of planes.  Most were tied down, but a few were taxiing around, so I walked on until I could see the actual airstrip, and the tails of the big birds maybe a mile away at the main terminal.


It was clear that Sunday isn’t a big day for aviation in Albany.  I saw one passenger plane come in, and only some little prop jobs coming and going on the runway in front of me.  I wasn’t bored though, just kind of out of it and lazy.  I was daydreaming and not paying attention to anything.


Suddenly, things poked into both my sides, and a voice said, “Move it, kid.  I’m in a hurry.”


It took me a few seconds before I panicked, but I think my panic, although slow, was done in style.  Then I heard Dana’s voice saying, “Better let him go, else he’ll call Hector.”  Then he wheezed out a laugh, and was joined by two other voices laughing.


I whirled around, my hair probably standing on end, and saw Dana pointing at me and laughing.  I looked at my sides and there was a young kid on each, both looking like they were ready to poke their fingers back into my ribs.


I looked back at Dana, and he grinned.  “Guess what?  I got cousins!”


I think I just gaped, and Dana put a hand on each boy’s head.  “That means you have cousins, too.”


I looked at the boys, who were young and seemed a few years apart by size, and quite different in most respects.  Dana pushed the taller of the two toward me and said, “This is Jonathan,” and then shoved the other boy forward.  “This is Anthony … Tony.”


They were both staring at me like I was at them.  They seemed to have been misnamed.  Jonathan looked very Italian, with olive skin, straight black hair, and dark eyes.  Tony looked almost Irish, with hazel eyes and blond hair cropped close, with tight little curls like a black kid.


He was anything but black, and I stood there looking at the two of them.  It took a moment for me to realize that they wanted me to take the lead, so I poked the two of them in the ribs at the same time.  They squealed and I grinned, and said, “Cousins?  Who said I wanted any cousins?”  I crossed my arms on my chest and looked at Dana.  “You never told me there would be cousins.  All we ever talked about was brothers.”


Jonathan and Tony looked stricken by my words, but Dana knew me.  He pointed at the boys, kind of waggling his finger, and said, “They are brothers.”  He grinned, “They just don’t look it.”


I laughed, and they all joined in.  I asked Dana “Is it time to go already?”


He shook his head, “No, they’re still talking.  We were all restless, so Mom sent us out to run laps around the airport.”


I laughed, and then got serious.  “What are they like?”


“I don’t know.  Nice, I guess.  Mom and her brother got all emotional at first.  It took five minutes before anyone got introduced, then it’s all about how much the wife has heard about my mom, and how much she looks like her mother, and all this yak.”  His eyebrows went up, “Why am I telling you?  You must know all about this stuff.  So then I get introduced, and it’s all friendly, but they forget as soon as they start talking again, so I’m wishing we had a checkerboard or something, or paper to make spitballs with.”


I smiled, “Sounds fun.”


“Yeah, sure.  When Mom finally noticed, she said we should get lost, and we were outta there.”


I looked at Jonathan and Tony and asked, “Is that all true?”


I shouldn’t have asked, because the three of them carried on about boring parents until we walked back to the terminal to get sodas from the machine there.


The soda machine was out of service.  I got a coffee from the machine next to it while Dana and his cousins went to drink from the water fountain between the rest rooms.  They probably made the better choice because the coffee was pretty awful, and I ended up tossing it after a few sips.


I saw my father still on the phone on the other side of the room, and went to ask Dana if he’d introduced the cousins yet.


Dana looked and said, “No, not yet.  Should I?”


“If they’re our cousins, it makes them his nephews I think.”


Dana seemed surprised.  “Really?  Oh, I guess so.  I never had relatives so I don’t know how everything works.”


He got the boys to follow him over to Dad, and the three of them stood there looking at him until Dad got off the phone.  I purposely didn’t go because I wanted to see how Dad reacted.   He seemed a bit confused at first, followed by a surprised expression and a big smile.  They started talking, so I wandered over and said, “I see you’ve met.  It’s all good?”


Everyone said it was good, and we variously talked and looked at planes coming and going until Jonathan said, “Here they come.”



We all turned, and Elenora was approaching us, one hand in her father’s and the other in her brother’s.  Her mother and sister-in-law followed behind, yakking happily.


We didn’t spend much time saying goodbye, and that was a trait of my father’s.  He could spend forever greeting people, but when it came time to leave, he left, usually with a promise to stay in touch.  At least with Elenora’s family there was no ‘someday’ in that promise, so he meant it.


We got back on the plane, took off, and flew low over the Berkshires and then on up to Keene.  We flew right by our house in Brattleboro, and I excitedly pointed it out to Dana, and then to Dad and Elenora.  In just a few more minutes we were landing in Keene, and it was another gentle touchdown.  When the plane rolled up to the terminal and stopped, it was just a couple of minutes more before the door was opened and the stairs let down.  We each said goodbye to the crew and walked down to the pavement, where our little welcoming committee waited.


My mother and Ally, Lisa, Tommy, and Lisa’s mother were all there. I hugged my mother and got a kiss, did the same with Ally, and put my hand on Lisa’s shoulder.  That gave me a shiver because she was wearing a very wide-necked shirt, and it was skin that I touched.  I grinned at Tommy and he returned his own grin.  We bopped fists without saying anything, and then I said hello to Lisa’s mother, who didn’t seem to notice where my left hand was.


I was glad that my father, Elenora and Dana were right behind me because it gave me a chance to take a step aside with Lisa.  I looked her over, thinking I liked her spring clothes a lot more than the winter bulk.  The simple reason for that was her shirt clung tight, as did her low-cut jeans, and she looked fantastic, not to mention unbelievably sexy.


I grinned and said, “You look nice.”


She blinked her eyes and said, “You have a sunburn, but that looks nice, too.”


I didn’t wait, but leaned in and kissed her, and in about two seconds we were going at it in a manner that may have been illegal in some states.


It didn’t last but a minute, because Dana came up and said hi to Lisa, followed by Elenora, who introduced my father.  Dad had never met her, so he started talking and they wandered away from me.  I turned my back to them and was confronted with Tommy, who was looking at my father and Lisa over my shoulder.


“You got it bad,” he said, with a really sappy look on his face.


I laughed, “I think you do, too.  How’s the French girl?”


Tom swallowed, his Adam’s apple bouncing.  He snickered, “You’ll see.  She’ll be in school tomorrow.”


I think I narrowed my eyes.  I know I glared.  “We’re going somewhere?”


Tommy looked suddenly guilty, like he’d said something he shouldn’t have.  “Uh, yeah, I think so.  Ask your mother.”


“For dinner?”  I asked, thinking it was a stupid question as it escaped my mouth.


Tommy looked at me and said, “Dinner?  No, no, no. it’s a whorehouse.”  He grinned, “She said we’ll get it our way.”


“You’re yanking my chain,” I said.


Tommy shrugged, “Well, yeah, but dinner sounds so boring, and there’s only that one first time with a lady.”


I smacked his back and said, “I don’t think you’ll meet any ladies in a cathouse, mister.  That’s really a creepy thought.”


Tom looked injured and said, “At least you get to do it with someone who knows what’s going on.”  He smirked, “I was talking about lessons, not getting personal.”


My father’s voice suddenly interrupted with, “Who’s getting personal?  How ya doing, Tommy?”


Tommy was startled, but recovered.  “Oh hi, Mr. Dunn.  Are you all better now?  Paul was just telling me all about Florida.  It sounds nice there.”


Lisa appeared at my side, and took my hand in hers.  My dad replied to Tom, “It’s a nice place, and I think the beach helped my recovery.”  He held up his hands and said, “These were broken just a month ago.  One’s still a little touchy, but I’m back together.  Come on, now, we have to get going.”  He looked at me and said, “Paul, make sure all of our bags are there, will you?”


Mom was there with Dad’s Jeep, and Ally had her Audi.  Lisa’s mother drove a minivan, and we shoved most of the luggage in that.  I rode with Lisa and her mom to our house, where we unloaded the bags.  There was a car in the driveway that I didn’t recognize, but that wasn’t unusual.  If there was to be a party, then someone showed up early.


I hated to let Lisa go home without me, but we both had to change for dinner.  I had to settle for a kiss and another touch of her warm, soft skin.


I don’t know why, but I felt cruddy after a day of traveling.  I had a shower in the morning, and went from clean hotel to clean bus to clean airport to clean plane, yet I still had that sense of grunge, so as soon as everything was in the house, I headed upstairs for a shower and a change of clothes.


Dana took over the bathroom when I was done, and I looked at my phone, but decided not to even listen to the messages until later.  I went downstairs instead, and found myself alone in the kitchen.  I guessed that everyone was cleaning up like I had, or napping, or whatever.  Mom had said we had an early reservation at six.  That was because it was Sunday and it should be an early night.


I wandered outside just to be there.  After a week at the beach, being indoors in Vermont wasn’t a great turn on.  It was nice out, anyhow.  The air was way cooler and dryer than Florida, but it was still warm enough for my short-sleeve shirt.


Our back yard heads uphill, and I snickered walking back there. Where we were in Florida had been absolutely flat, so even our little hill seemed kind of neat.  We have rocks, too.  Everyone in Vermont has rocks, and it’s up to kids like me to get rid of the ones that heave up onto the lawns and gardens every winter.  There was a good crop of new ones, too.


Walking along, I wondered about that.  Hawaii has volcanoes that spew lava, but that’s just lava.  Vermont has earth that maybe doesn’t exactly spew anything, yet it thrusts thousands of pounds of granite into just our yard every year, no fire and brimstone required.  The rocks are bad for lawnmowers, bad for gardens, and bad for backs, while they’re rough on hands.


I wandered around for a few minutes before I went back in the house.  Ally was just coming down the stairs when I came in, and she gave me her best smile.  “I understand you became quite the surfer in one short week.”


“I learned how.  Dana learned better than me.  He had the whole beach watching him go.”


Ally smiled, “My-my.  That’s Dana’s story about you, almost word for word.”


I was startled, “He said that?  When did you talk to him?”


Ally took my hand and I followed her to the kitchen, where we sat at the table.  “Just now.  I asked him about his trip to Florida before bringing up the subject of an interview about his skiing.”


That last part got my interest.  “Is he gonna do it?”


“He sounds excited about it.  He wants you to come with him, though; that’s his only condition.”


“Why wouldn’t you do it here?  I mean, it’s for a magazine.”


She gave me an odd look and said, “We have a room set up just for interviews.  It’s very quiet with no distractions, and the photographer can come and go.  We also video every interview, and can use bits of that on our website.  It’s much easier for me and the staff to do this sort of in-depth interview in our own territory.  It’s not like we’re following him around the ski circuit, which we certainly might do in the future.  This is going to be a study of Dana more than his skiing, and he can provide some ski photos and videos if we need them.  Good answer?”


I snickered, “As usual.  Will we stay at your place?”


She shook her head, “Nope.  We put all of our guests up in a very nice Copley Square hotel.  It’s practically across the street from our offices, and a quick walk to our house.  I’m sure you’ll love the hotel, and Dana wants you to come along so he can see where you grew up.”


That last bit really touched me, and I felt my eyes welling up.  “He really said that?”  I asked.


“He said exactly that.”  She touched my arm, “Don’t worry.  I know that you know the city, so show Dana a good time, and I’ll only bug him for four or five hours out of the weekend.  Does that sound good?  I’ll get you transit passes and visitor cards, so just go where you want.”


I grinned at her.  “You don’t have to sell me.  There’s just not enough days to show Boston to Dana.”


Ally smiled, “You can’t hope to show Boston in a weekend.  Pick a few things …maybe the Freedom Trail on Saturday, the Science Museum on Sunday.  Or, you know, the swan boats, the duck tour.  I don’t know if the Sox will be in town, but we have a box if they are.”  She sensed my uncertainty, “If you want, you can just take him to your old haunts by the harbor:  Faneuil Hall, your favorite pool halls.  He’d probably like the last best.”


I nodded, smiling inside.  “Yeah, that’s good.  Maybe we can get a pizza in the North End.  I don’t think he’s ever had one he likes.”


Ally stood up, touched my shoulder, and said, “You’ll do it right, Paul.  Give him a taste, and he’ll be back for more.”


I stood and asked, “How much time before we go out?”


She looked at the kitchen clock and said, “Another hour and a half.  Go see your friends.”


I did.  I made a beeline from the back door to Tommy’s house, and was breathless when I got there.  His father saw me looking through the window and waved me in.


“Hi,” I huffed.


“Hi, Paul.  We’ve missed you. Tom might still be in the shower, but you can go down to his room.  I heard you had a nice little vacation.”


“I did,” I said.  “I learned how to surf, and it’s way fun.  I’ll go see Tommy now, okay?”


He chuckled and pointed down the hall.


I knew the way and the bathroom door was open when I went past, and Tommy’s door was open, so I just walked in.  I was greeted by his skinny, bare butt.  He was leaned in toward the mirror like he was searching out zits.


I said, “If you find a good one, I want some,” and he jumped a foot.


Tom didn’t turn around, but wiggled his butt and said, “If you want some, come and get it.  You just kiss wherever you like.”


I laughed and said, “I’m stepping into the hall for a minute so you can put something on.”


“Go ahead.”


I went behind, backing out of the room to lean against the wall.


Tommy can whistle, and when I heard some tune coming out, I went back in. Tom had his pants on by then, and was looking through his closet for a shirt.  He wore gray pants, and held out a lighter gray shirt.  I shook my head, and he pulled out a white dress shirt.  No again, and I looked into his closet  I pulled out a shirt with a tiny red plaid, held it next to his pants, and nodded that this was the one.


Tom smiled, and put the shirt on, tucking it in.  It looked good to me, and he looked happy when he checked himself out in the mirror.


“Thanks.  You made me buy this shirt.  Remember?”


I didn’t remember, but I nodded anyhow, and a few minutes later, with Tommy properly clad and shod, we headed outside to find Shea.  We’d just started up the hill when we heard, “Over here!”


We looked, and Shea was standing at our back door, waving to us.  Then the door opened and my father appeared.  Shea turned to him for a few moments, then pointed to where we were.  My dad waved, and Shea came running over with a great smile on his face.


“Hey, man,” I said when he was near enough, and put my hand up for five when he reached us.  “Miss us?”


Shea shrugged, “I guess.  How was it?”


We talked for awhile before Dana joined us.  After a month in Florida, he had the most to say, and pretty much held court until the folks came out.  Shea and Tom ran off because they were riding with their own parents.  Lisa’s family was coming, too.


The Mongillos were on the sidewalk in front of the trattoria when we got there, and I introduced Lisa’s parents to my father, said hi to her younger brother and sister, and asked her where Aldo, her older brother was.


She rolled her eyes.  “He’s fishing, of course.  He’ll try to be here if he doesn’t get home too late.”


We leaned against the building holding hands, and the others showed up in family groups soon enough.  We wandered in and found that they’d set aside about half the dining room for our group, and with no big tables.  I liked that, and found a table for two against a wall.  There was a four-place table right beside it, and I waved Dana and Tom over, and they brought Shea with them.


We settled in, and I liked the place when I looked around.  It was pretty, with muted colors of rust and mustard and shiny wood stained brown.  The copper lamps shone, and the glassware on the tables sparkled clean.  There was taped classical piano playing muted from somewhere, and the place had a friendly buzz from both customers and staff.


I excused myself to go to the bathroom, and noticed that the table next to the little hall that led to the restrooms was occupied by a huge man in a wheelchair.  He looked up when I neared, and he didn’t seem that old, but he must have weighed well over three hundred pounds.  There was another big guy, though not nearly so big, sitting opposite him.  He gave me a friendly smile so I smiled back, and went to do my business.


They had their meals in front of them when I came back by, so I mumbled, “Looks good,” and went back to our table.


They sent two waitresses to take our orders, and they left plates of cubed salami and cheese for us to nibble on.  The conversation picked up, and a few people were already table hopping when there was all-at-once a lot of noise from the kitchen area, and the noise soon turned to yelling and the banging of pots.


It stayed noisy for a couple of minutes before the man who’d seated us came out sweaty and nervous looking.  He already had the attention of the diners, so he clasped his hands.  “I have to ask you to please step outside.  I’m sorry.  There is a small fire in the kitchen.  It’s nothing, I assure you, but for your safety, just until we get it out.”


I guess nobody had to hear that twice.  We were all up and moving in a few seconds, and things were orderly.  It was probably less than two minutes before we were gathering on the sidewalk.  I had Lisa’s hand in mine, but wasn’t sure if I was providing comfort to her or if it was the other way around.


Then a loud yell came from inside, and it sounded like Dana’s voice.  Sirens were already in the air, and we heard the yell again, this time almost a scream calling clearly, “Somebody help me!”


Mr. Mongillo was the first to rush in, followed by Tommy, me, Shea, Mr. Timek, my father, and Mr. Luellen.


The fire was in the kitchen, and the staff was still back there yelling and banging things.  The sirens were coming louder, and we could see the cause of Dana’s distress.  The man who’d been in the wheelchair was on the floor crying, his companion staring helplessly, while Dana was trying to separate the man from the chair so he could right one or the other, or both of them.


The look of relief on Dana’s face when he saw us turned immediately to tears, but he stayed right where he was when Mr. Mongillo said to the man on the floor, “Hello, Douglas.  Are you hurt?”


The man shook his head and said, “I don’t think so.  I’m scared of fire.”


Mr. Mongillo said, “Alright.  Let’s have a look.”


He looked at the positions of the chair and the man in it and said, “Alright, Doug.  We’ll hold the chair, and you roll to your left.  If you can’t, just say so, and we’ll have to push you over.  Okay?”


Mr. Mongillo looked around and said, “Tom, Paul, Dana, come over here and hold this chair by the back edge.  Don’t let it flip on you.”


Shea asked, “What about me?”


Mr. Mongillo said, “I have a job for you, just wait.”  Then he went around and positioned the other men so they could help the guy roll out of the chair without hurting himself.


He looked at Shea and said, “This is Doug’s partner, William.  I want you to sit beside him and just …” he shook his head a bit, “Pat him on the back or something.  Got that?”  On Shea’s nod he said, “Okay, Doug.  Let’s roll.”


We all snickered at that, even Douglas through his tears.  He did roll out onto the floor, too, earning a quick cheer, while Tom, Dana and I set the heavy chair upright.  William came to his senses and put the chair in position behind Doug, tilted the seat forward, and gave instructions to the men, so that Douglas was soon back in his chair and smiling broadly.


It was only then, when I turned to go outside, that I noticed a fire hose across the floor, and several firemen at the kitchen door.


Dad went outside and there was a policeman right there.  “We have a man in a wheelchair inside.  Can someone hold this hose to the side so we can get him out?”


The officer used his radio to talk to the fire department, and two firefighters came running up.  One held the hose around the inside of the jamb and the other held the outside so there was enough room to wheel Douglas out, and the rest of us followed.


I was next to Mr. Mongillo when Dad came up and shook his hand.  “You’re a fast thinker.”


Mr. Mongillo grinned, “I like that.  Tell my wife; she says I’m a hothead.”


Everyone who heard that, including Lisa and her mother, laughed.


Then the bad news came.  The owner came outside and said, “I’m sorry.  The fire is out, but we have to close until we can clean up and get a new inspection certificate.”  He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out what looked like a pad.  “I’ll give you each a coupon for a free meal.”


My father said, “Don’t include us.  You took enough loss tonight.”


Other people agreed, and William, the friend of the man in the wheelchair, said, “We had our usual great meal.  Tear two of those up for us, please.”


The owner grinned, flipped his fingers up off his chin in an Italian gesture, and said “You gots!”  He tore two of the coupons in half, handed one half of each to the guys, put the other two pieces in his pocket, and said, “I got proof now!”  He swept his hand in front of the rest of us and said, “I got witnesses, too, so don’t come freeloading.”


After a quick session between the parents, they decided on a steakhouse for dinner, and I won’t bring you there, but we had a nice enough dinner and a very good time.


There was school the next day, and the parents hadn’t forgotten that, so we were home just after ten.


… more