Mud Season

Chapter 16


The week blew by.  There was homework, but not a lot.  We were given time to prepare for exam week two weeks hence, so whatever load we had was to finish up the required studies.  It wasn’t a lot, and there was plenty of time for play with the days getting longer.  I spent private time with Lisa when I could, and it was never enough, and I spent time with the guys.  We shot some hoops, shot the shit sometimes, and generally goofed off.


I made the mistake of going fly-fishing with Gary, Roger and Shea on Thursday afternoon.  I’d been fishing a lot of times: on lakes, ponds, streams, and from boats out on the sea.  I sometimes enjoyed it, but only as a way to pass time on a nice day.  Fly-fishing in the West River was something different.  It was personal and passionate, and I loved it from the get-go.  I had always thought it looked silly, those people out in the water with their boots and funny hats, and the way they whipped their line around before actually casting it out.


Actually, Gary and Roger showed me how to cast, and left me downstream from them till I figured it out.  When I finally landed a fly in the water where I meant to, a fish hooked onto it before the ripple even reached me, and I tried to remember what to do.  I started reeling in the fish, and it was literally dancing on the water out there.  The other guys saw it and came running, and Gary went out with my net to take the fish.   That was the part I forgot.


It didn’t matter.  Gary scooped the fish into the net so there was no way out, and left it in the river.  It was the only fish caught, so when we left we set it free.  I hooked a fish, but I was the one hooked.  I knew it was dumb luck getting a fish on my first try, but if I never caught another I’d be a fly fisherman forever.  It was just so beautiful:  man, stream, tasty looking fly and yummy trout all coming together in one place.  I was the one who needed a trip to Orvis, and I’d go when someone could get me there.


The river by our place up in Stockton always has fly fishermen, fisherwomen, and fisherkids in it.  And the West River is just across the street from us in BrattleboroParadise was right on tap; all I needed, really, was a rod and reel as well as some flies.


Lisa didn’t understand my sudden ardor for fishing, but her brother, Aldo, did.  We got along fine since we met, but he was older and we had completely different interests … until I announced that I’d been fly-fishing and loved it.  When he learned that, he wanted to monopolize me when I was there to visit Lisa, and when he learned our house in Stockton was just up the hill from the Tweed River he was just about orgasmic.


My mother liked to cook and eat fish, but she turned her nose up at the idea of actually catching and cleaning them.  Ally was intrigued, though, and asked Gary if he’d get her started after we were back.  Gary seemed thrilled at the prospect.  Roger was thrilled.  I was thrilled.  Shea was thrilled.  I suspect the only ones not thrilled were the trouts out there in the rivers.


Plans made, Dad arranged for the security people to get a van.  They didn’t need a special one because it was the six of us and a driver.  Dan dropped Jim at our house so we wouldn’t have to go the other way to get him. That made Gary’s and Roger’s houses pretty much on the way.  We ended up with a fancy van anyhow, a motor home actually, and Darius was driving.  He was out of uniform and dressed like a camp counselor or something, with a gray sweatshirt and tan cargo shorts.


Roger’s and Gary’s parents asked who he was, and he said he was a friend of my father’s, just doing a favor.  That was close enough to the truth, and I was right there with the hatch to a side compartment open, showing first Roger, then Gary, where to put their bags.


When we pulled out of Gary’s driveway, Jim pumped both fists into the air and announced, “We’re free!  This is gonna be so great.  Two days to do what we want, when we want, how we want.”


That set the tone for an hour and a half of excited chatter, that hadn’t diminished when Darius pulled over and called for me to come to the front.


“I can’t find your road on the GPS.  You’ll have to show me the way.”


I looked around and didn’t recognize anything, so I looked at the GPS screen.  “We went too far.  Turn around; it’s back on the south side of Stockton.”


Darius said, resignedly, “That’s what I figured.  Is it a private road or something?”


“I don’t think so,” I said.  “The town plows it.”


We hadn’t gone too far astray, and when we came back to town I asked Darius to park behind the Danamat building.  He pulled into the lot out back, and I asked the guys to come in and see the family business.


Roger seemed confused when he looked out the window.  “Are we there?”


Everyone was looking out the windows, and I don’t think that even the guys who had been there already recognized the place.  To be fair, I probably wouldn’t have myself if I hadn’t just seen it the week before.  It didn’t look much like it had in the winter.  I said, “Come on and look.  This is where my father makes his living.”


I saw Tom roll his eyes, and both Shea and Jim showed that they understood.  I knew they’d play along.  It didn’t matter a whit to Roger and Gary.  They were someplace new to them.  I led them out of the RV, and asked Darius to come along.  We walked around to the front first, and then across the street so they could see the whole place.


It really was nice looking, and late on a Friday afternoon there were a lot of people inside.  I didn’t know if we should go inside or not, and nobody seemed very eager to, so I told them to have a look around town while I went in to see my father.

Inside, it sounded more like a busy restaurant than a laundry.  People were loading clothes into machines, taking them out, folding, or just waiting for a cycle to finish, but most of them were talking.  It was gossip, probably, but the cheerful kind. A handful of little kids were having fun in the play area while two ladies had a game of pool going, and there were some people at the tables with coffee and pastries or ice cream.  I waved to Russ who was working at the counter, and to Janie who was wrapping something for a customer.


I opened the office door.  Elenora was on the phone, while Dad and Dana were looking at something on the desk.  I walked up behind them, and when Dad sensed me he turned in surprise.  He smiled, “Oh, hi Paul.  Where are your friends?”  Dana looked at me too, and smiled his welcome.


“They’re looking around town.  Our road didn’t show up on GPS so we kind of went right through town.  I just wanted to stop to say we’re here.”


Dad asked, “How many?”


“Six, plus our driver.  Lisa’s family is coming tomorrow, so six more.”


Dad opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a small handful of brochures.  “These are the things I found around here that you might do.  There’s a map of hiking trails, too.”


I started thumbing through them and Dad said, “If you don’t mind, Elenora and I won’t be joining you tonight, but Dana invited Russ so I’ll bring them up when we’re done here.  You try to figure out bedrooms, and if you run out that sofa in the den folds out, and I know you can sleep two in the TV room if it comes to that.”


Wow!  We’d be alone for the night in a big house on the mountain where there was … not much to do.  I had a sudden practical thought and asked, “What should we do for dinner?”


Dad smiled and said, “You’re covered.  I made a reservation at the Mendon Inn, and it’s all paid including tip.  They’ll give you unpriced menus, so have what you like.  You’re set for seven-thirty.”


“That’s down on Route 4, right?  Why there?”


Dad shrugged, “It’s kind of a rowdy place on weekends.  You can have a good time kid-style and possibly not get thrown out.”


I pointed at Dad and grinned.  “Good thinking.”  I glanced at the desk and asked, “What’s that you’re looking at?”


Dad turned and said, “Oh, it’s the Rutland Herald from yesterday.  This article is about our opening.  I’ll give you a copy to take with you so you don’t keep your friends waiting, and we’ll be up in about two hours.”


I took the paper he held out to me and said meekly, “Hi, Dana,” because I hadn’t yet spoken to him.


He socked my arm and pushed the newspaper on the desk my way.  “Lookit!”


He was pointing at a picture of him and Elenora in front of the Danamat, and it was captioned, “Elenora Morasutti, co-owner and manager, and our own Dana Morasutti, downhill champ and namesake of the enterprise.”


That sank in rapidly, and I was really surprised that the Rutland paper considered Dana one of their own, which I suppose meant the entire area.  It was a nice picture, too, with Dana in a Danamat hat and shirt, and Elenora looking pretty, with the shirt but no hat.  They were close together with good smiles, and the little ‘Coin Laundry’ sign was clear just over their heads.


I said, “This is great.  Is the article good?”


Dad said, “It’s about a new business.  We haven’t had time to do anything bad yet, so yes, it’s all good and hopeful.”


I said, “It looks pretty busy out there.  Is it always like this?”


Dana said, “Not always, but it’s ten times more than the old place used to do.  Kids even come in after school for an ice cream, and people come in all the time because they like the coffee.”


I bopped his arm and said, “You’re doing a good job then,” and looked at Dad.  “Seven-thirty, you said?”


He nodded, and I looked at Elenora, who was still on the phone and looking exasperated.  I turned back to Dad and Dana and said, “Somebody help her, will you?  Or I will.”


When they turned horrified looks to Elenora I went outside, and didn’t see anyone I knew.  I walked around back and the motor home was still locked up, so I went back out front and sat at a table on the unoccupied deck and opened the paper to read the story about the new business.  Not surprisingly, I found it on the business page, right ahead of all the gloomy predictions of financial doom and the countering stories that predicted an up-tick the day after tomorrow.


The story about the Danamat was probably typical for any new business.  They only said good and promising things, described the place, and had lots of quotes from Elenora and a few from some employees and customers.  They were all upbeat, of course.


What intrigued me was a line at the end that said, ‘Learn how a laundry goes green:  Protecting our Resources in Sunday’s Magazine’.


“Hah,” I thought.  Ally was right to pin Heinrich on the waste treatment system that he dismissed as an afterthought.  It was important, especially in a place like Vermont, a state that had stunted its own growth with strict environmental laws long ago.  Then it occurred to me that the recovery system might be required by law, which would explain Heinrich’s nonchalance about it.


“There he is!” I heard someone shout, and the guys were just across the street. 


I jumped up and waited for them to get to me.  Darius asked, “Are we leaving now?” and I said yes.  He went to open the motor home and I grinned at the guys, “We have a free night!  We can do what we want.  We’re eating at a saloon, and after we can find something on pay-per-view if we want, and,” I held out the brochures, “These are the things we can do tomorrow.”  I grinned even brighter and said, “It’s time to party!”


That was met with happy smiles, and we hurried back to our ride.  I sat up front with Darius, and we made it to the house with no problem.  Darius’ eyes went wide when we went down the long driveway and the house came into view, but he didn’t say anything.  The other guys couldn’t really see it until we were out of the vehicle, and we had our bags out of the storage bin before they really saw anything.


When Gary turned around his jaw dropped, his bag dropped, and he stared.  “Holy cow!  This is your place?”


I said, as matter-of-factly as I could, “This is my father’s house.  I’m no relation.”


Gary turned and looked at me while Tommy busted out laughing.  I smiled and shrugged, “What can I say?  Clean clothes are big business, especially these days.”  That made no sense at all, and I knew it, but Gary just nodded dumbly, accepting my words as stated.  Tommy socked my arm and I elbowed him in return.


I led them up to the door, which wasn’t locked, and we went in.  Then I had to think about sleeping arrangements, and realized that I had to think ahead for the Mongillo family.  And Darius was there.  I told everyone to drop their bags, and hoped there would be at least snacks and drinks in the kitchen.


There were.  There were twelve-packs of iced tea, lemonade, root beer and Pepsi in the refrigerator, as well as a shelf half-full of bottled water, and another shelf loaded with tubs of various dips.  There was a drawer with about a dozen hunks of cheese stacked on one side, with packages of sliced snack meats beside them.  The counter beside it was lined with boxes of crackers, and bags of all kinds of chips, and when I opened the cabinet above it I slammed it shut immediately.  It contained what had to be a case of Cheez-Whiz, the big jars.  Tom would never leave the house if he knew they were there, and if he got at them he’d leave dead.


I pulled things out: chunks of cheese, crackers, dips and chips, a jar of Cheez Whiz, salami and pepperoni, and set them out on the deck, where I raised the umbrella over the table not so much because it was hot out, but to make it look festive.  Sue me.  I grew up learning all about festive from my mother, and I’m a quick study.


I looked, and it didn’t seem very festive, so I went back to the vegetable drawer and discovered red and green grapes, a tub of blueberries, and a big baggie of cut up veggies.  I brought them out, along with some wooden cutting boards, and in just a few minutes I had festive.


Just in time, too, because the guys were done washing up and exploring.  I directed Shea and Roger out to the deck after they chose something to drink, and Jim followed, with Gary and Tom close behind.  I sat down beside Tom with a bottle of water, and discovered immediately that I’d neglected utensils.  We didn’t need individual ones, but a cheese slicer, some spoons, and some knives for the meats were needed.


The big jar of Cheez Whiz was in front of Tommy, and already a third gone when I came out with the knives and things.  I sat back down beside him and said, “Oink.”


His mouth was full because he’d just stuck a corn chip loaded with Cheez Whiz and a chunk of carrot on it into his mouth, so he elbowed me in the ribs.  I screamed bloody murder for effect, trying to make it sound like he’d pushed a rib right through my aorta and on into my lung.  Tom ignored it from his long familiarity with me, but nobody else did.  Roger and Gary were right there beside me, holding me upright when I already was upright, and Shea, his cell phone out, asked in a panicky voice, “What’s the number for 9-1-1 up here?”


I was too proud to start laughing right away, so I let Tommy make me.  He set in just below my ribs with his skinny fingers until I cried uncle, and then he went right back to his Cheez Whiz concoctions.


After that, I had to calm down before I could eat any more.  I said I had to go to the bathroom, and then found a pencil in the kitchen junk drawer and took a sheet from the grocery list pad on the counter.  I went upstairs to figure out sleeping arrangements, and started remembering things I’d forgotten about the house.  There were two suites next to my father’s room, both with bedrooms, sitting areas, and bathrooms.  They adjoined each other and shared a deck that looked off to the West.  Lisa’s family could use them.  Each would sleep four, six if they used the fold-out sofas, but they could figure that part out for themselves.  There was plenty of room, and two bathrooms.


The rest was easy.  There were two rooms with two bunk beds in each, and two rooms with single bunk beds.  Shea, Tom, Roger and Gary could decide their own arrangements.  Jim liked to sleep alone so he could take a room with a single bunk.  Dana and Russ could find something when they got there.  I would put Darius in the room beside mine.


I went back on the deck hungry for more snacks.  Everyone there was engaged in quiet talk, and there was no food in sight, not a single chip, veggie, or anything.


I cried, “You guys ate everything?”


Tom said, pointing around, “It wasn’t me.  These guys ate the packages too.”


I guess it takes a bullshitter to recognize one, but I knew I was being conned.  Nobody eats cellophane, not even as a joke.


I conned right back.  “Doesn’t matter, I got us all girls for tonight.  Gary, you’re sleeping with Mary.  Tom, it’s Lulu for you.  Shea: Andrea.  Roger, you get Roberta.  She’s Italian and I just know you’ll find a common language.”  I smiled a sunbeam at Jim and said, “You get Mim.  She’s a school teacher, a little older, but I know you like that.”  I looked around, “Sound good to everyone?”


It didn’t sound good to them.  They all stared, and finally Roger asked, “Are you nuts or something?  Why’d you bring us here?”


I held up my hands and said, “I’m just hungry.  Show me what you did with the food and I’ll be normal again.”


Tommy said, “Paul…” and I looked at his sad face, “It’s gone.  You gave it to us and we ate it.”


“All of it?”


Tom nodded, and I said, “That’s great!  Waste not, want not.  That’s my motto.”  I stood up, “So we can consider ourselves a green group?” 


I didn’t believe all that stuff could be gone without these guys being out in the yard puking, so I kept at it.


“Does this mean we won’t have to go out tonight, and pay big bucks for a restaurant meal?”


Tom was good, and I knew that.  Even though he looked like he needed a good burp or something, he kept a straight face.  “You don’t want to feed us now?  I mean, we’re eighty miles from home.  Let’s not be heartless here.”


I said, hands on hips, “You ate three days worth of snacks in an hour and I’m heartless, and owe you another meal?  You’re the heartless ones.  I have to starve for three more hours, and then go eat a dozen paid-for meals   I’ll puke for the rest of the weekend … and beyond!”


Tommy seemed to shrink at that, looked at the others and said, “I give up.  Cough it up, guys.”  He gave me a weak smile.


The guys grumbled as they retrieved, from behind themselves, from under tables, from around the corner of the deck, the remaining snacks, and brought them back.  The only things truly empty were the soda cans and water bottles … and the empty Cheez Whiz jar.  I held that up between my face and Tom’s and said, “By all rights and everything that’s Holy, you should weigh three hundred pounds right now, but you’re still skinnier than a stick of Swedish salami.  You defy the laws of nature, and should be studied by … well … I don’t know by who, but you should be studied.  Maybe at Yale,” and I added, “or Harvard or the Mayo Clinic.  Your secret must be worth millions, man, maybe even billions.”


Tom said sadly, “I don’t suppose there’s any more Cheez Whiz, then?”


I laughed.  I actually had Cheez Whiz in mind when I came out there, so I said, “There might be.  Look in the top cabinets beside the fridge.”


Tom went in to do that, and I asked, “So Gary, Roger, what do you think?  Did you look at those brochures?”


They said yes at the same time, looked at each other and back at me, and started talking at the same time.  Gary stopped and said, “You first, Rog.  Then it’s my turn.”


Roger looked at me and shrugged.  “I don’t know, everything sounds good.  Maybe the alpine slide if everyone wants; that’s the only one I have enough for.”


I looked at Gary and asked, “You?”


He looked down and said, “The alpine slide is good.  I wouldn’t mind some fishing either.”


I was stumped.  I hadn’t thought they’d think they had to pay for everything, and didn’t want say something lame and tell them not to worry about the cost.


I was saved for the moment by Tom, who yelled, “Someone open the door!”


I jumped up and reached for the handle, and Tom said, “Wider,” then came out with eleven jars of Cheez Whiz in his arms.  He hurried over to the table and managed to get most of them to land upright, and caught the few strays before they could roll very far.


I sighed and asked, “What are you doing, Tom?  You already ate a whole jar of that stuff.  Are you trying to set a record or something?”


He stared at me with an astonished look on his face.  “What am I doing?  What am I doing?  He swept his arm to indicate the jars on the table and said, “This is precious stuff.  Anybody could go through the kitchen and steal it, so I’m putting it in…protective custody.  Yes.  Protective custody.”


I laughed, “Yeah sure.  Are you saying that my Cheez Whiz is safer with you than with me?”


Tom said, “That’s right.  With you it’s just stuff to be hidden away in a cabinet in a shack in the mountains.  With me it would be treasured … cherished … cared for.  I would guard it with my life.”


Everyone was snickering, me included.  I pointed to the orange jars and asked, “How long will it take you to eat that?”


Tom looked at the jars and said, “I don’t know.  Five days, maybe eight.”


I shook my head in wonder.  “Tom, those are forty ounce jars.  If you eat fifteen pounds of Cheez Whiz in five or eight days you might just pay with your life.”


Everyone laughed, and Tom seemed shocked, but he came back with, “At least it wouldn’t end up in the wrong hands.”


Shea said brightly, “Sure Tom, or the wrong tummy either, right?”


I was glad that Shea said something because Tom and I could carry on with the nonsense for hours, and these guys weren’t here for our standup act.


I clapped my hand once and said, “Well, I’m glad that’s decided.  Let’s help Tom put the cheese away, and then we can talk about tomorrow.


Jim, who had been silent said, “And let’s hurry.  Come on guys.  Everybody take two jars and we’re done!”


We brought the Cheez Whiz and everything else back inside, and I put it away.  When it was done I said, “Get your things, and I’ll show you upstairs.”


Right then it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen Darius since we got there.  I asked, “Does anybody know where Darius is hiding?”  Jim, Roger and Gary gave me blank stares, so I looked at Tom and Shea.


Shea said, “He’s in that RV we came up in.”


“He didn’t come in?” I asked, mentally kicking myself for not noticing something so basic.


Shea shook his head, and I said, “Never mind.  Let’s go up.”


I showed them the four rooms, and there were twelve beds altogether.  I said, “You can figure it out.  I’m going to get Darius.”


I went out front, and sure enough Darius had a canopy out on one side of the vehicle, and he was sitting there in a lawn chair reading something.  I made a little noise with my feet on the gravel when I came close, and he looked up. 


He smiled when he saw me, and stood up.  He looked past me and said, “That’s um … that’s quite a house.”


I said, “Yeah, it is, and you’re staying in it while you’re here.  Come on man.  Only the FBI sits out in the cold.”


He glanced around and said, “Well, I’m good out here, but if you’re serious …”


“I’m serious.  You can’t live in our wheels; we’d make you crazy.  Get your things and I’ll show you around.”


Darius said, “Give me a minute to roll this canopy up, and I’ll be right with you.”  I leaned against a tree and watched while he moved his chair, removed the posts holding the tarp, and stowed the chair and posts in a storage thing behind a hatch on the side of the camper.  Then he went inside, and the canopy began retracting, which was neat to watch.


When he came back out he carried a duffle in one hand and wore a little backpack.  I led him to the house and right upstairs to the room beside mine.  I opened the doors to the bathroom and the closet so he’d know which was which, and found the remote for the television.


Darius was clearly impressed, but still businesslike.  He had set his bag down and shrugged off the backpack, and he said, “These are very nice quarters.  We should leave by seven to make your dinner reservation.”


I said, “There are two more guys coming, but we’ll be ready.  You’re eating with us, you know.”


He nodded, “I know, and I appreciate it.  Will you show me where everyone is staying so I’m ready if anything happens?”


I understood and said, “Sure.  They’re right down the hall.  I don’t know who’s where yet.”  It was a good time to find out.  We walked down the hall and turned the corner into the big hall.  I pointed at doors and said, “They’re somewhere in these four rooms.  I suppose you want to know which ones?”




I knocked and opened the first four-bed room on the left and it was empty, so I left the door open.  The one beside it contained Gary, Roger, Tom and Shea.  The television was on and the stereo was giving it competition with some rock music.  Tom, Shea and Roger were sitting cross-legged on the floor while Gary sat on the end of one of the lower bunks.  They were all engaged in a major yak session and never noticed our intrusion, so we backed out and closed the door.


I went to tap on the door across the hall, and it opened almost before my hand landed.  Jim was there, looking as surprised as I felt, and he glanced at Darius behind me.   “Doodler!  I was just going over to sit with those guys.  What’s up?”


I said, “Nothing, really.  I just wanted to see where everyone was, so go ahead.  I’ll be there in a minute, or we can go downstairs.  I just have to call Dad.”  I backed out of the doorway and Jim came out and went into the other room, leaving the door open.


I pointed at the next door and said, “Dana and Roger will probably end up in here or the TV room.”  I had a sudden thought and added, pointing to the two doors on the left at the other end of the hall, “Friends are coming up tomorrow: a family.  They’ll be staying in those two rooms.  Dad’s room is that double-door at the end of the hall.”


Darius said, “Thank you, Paul.  I know the layout of the house; they had me study it.”  He smiled, “You can go have fun with your friends.  I’ll clean up and change and I have to check in, so seven o’clock, okay?”


I agreed and watched him walk off.  I wondered how they trained these guys, because all of them seemed able to convey that they knew they were paid to serve you, yet were in charge at the same time.  Like Hector and Ron, Darius was very good at it.


I went back to my room where I unpacked quickly, washed up and used the toilet, grimaced at my hair, and changed out of my school clothes.  I noticed the clock said it was already six, so I called my father.


He sounded amused, “We’re here, Paul.  I just turned into the driveway.”


“I’ll be right down,” I said, and hung up.  I raced down the stairs and opened the front door just as the car doors were opening.  Elenora and Dad got out of the front doors while Dana and Russ came out from the back seat.  Dad opened the back so Dana and Russ could get their things, and they all walked up to the house together.


When they were on the steps I held my arms out wide and said, “Velcum to my Kostel.  Please come in one at a time and allow me to bite your necks, and you, too, vill know the secret to eternal life.”


Dad walked past me and said “Can it,” out of the side of his mouth.


Elenora said, “You’re so funny,” as she walked by.


Dana told me I was weird, while Russ gave me a funny look.


I looked at Dad and Elenora and asked, “You’re going with us?”


Dad said, “Not a chance, but we won’t be far.  We’re having dinner just up the road at the Mountain Inn.”


I took that at face value for about half a second, and asked, “Isn’t that like way, way up the road?”


Dad smiled, shrugged, and said nothing.


I gave up and turned to Russ and Dana, then glanced back at Dad and Elenora, who I told to have fun when they went out the door.


Dana and Russ were already going upstairs when I turned around, and I cried, “Wait up!” and chased after them.  At the top of the landing I said, “We never got to say hi so, hi!”


Dana held his hand up and I whacked it.  Russell held his hand out and I shook it.  I smiled and asked, “Do you two want bunk beds or bunk beds?”


Russ looked at Dana, and Dana said, “Don’t worry.  If you don’t want bunk beds, Paul will let you use his room, which has the most comfortable bed you ever met.  I mean, you sit on it and you’re asleep.”


Russ snickered, “I don’t mind bunk beds.  I just wondered if I could have the bottom in case you fart all night.”


I announced proudly, “You can both have bottom bunks if you want.  Let me show you,” and I led them to the first door on the left, where there were bunk beds against each side wall, and big windows out to the developing sunset.  They seemed satisfied, and I left them there after telling them where the other guys were, and that we’d meet downstairs at seven.


I went back to the room next door and greeted everyone.  It was crowded with six of us there, so I said, “Let’s go downstairs.  There’s more room.”


Jim said, “You’re the boss,” and everyone started getting to their feet.  I looked back at Jim to see if there was animosity behind that remark, but he just seemed to be relieved to be moving to a larger space.


I poked my head in next door and told Dana and Russell that we’d be downstairs, and had to leave in about twenty minutes.  They hadn’t had time to wash up yet and said they would be right down.


We just hung around in the front hall listening to Roger compare the merits of canoes and kayaks.  The sum of his diagnosis was that kayaks were more fun by far, but only good for paddling.  You could carry things in a canoe, and fish from one.  His own preference was a rowboat with a trolling motor.


I asked if anyone had ever ridden an ATV before, hoping I could get enough of them interested that we could go.  Shea said, “I was on one once, but just riding with my uncle.  I didn’t get to drive because I couldn’t reach the pedals.  It was fun, though.  My dad has a picture, and I look like a statue.  I was all covered in mud, but it dried on me when we were going back.” He snickered, “I could hardly move because it weighed so much.”


When Dana and Russell came down, I started making introductions.  Russ didn’t know anyone from Brattleboro, and they hadn’t met him, so I made that introduction first, and then introduced Dana to Gary and Roger.  The guys were all friendly types, and we just mingled until Darius came down the stairs.


He said, “I see you’re ready to go.” and we followed him out to the RV.  Gary was ahead of us, and Russ and I were in the rear.  Russ asked, “What’s the matter with that guy?  Does he have a wooden leg or something?”


I said, “Shh.  There’s nothing wrong with Gary.  Just forget the walk and get to know him.  He has a thing called ataxia.  I’ll write it down so you can…”


Russ interrupted, “Ataxia?  That’s what my father has.  He always talks about his weird walk when he was younger, but I never saw it.  He had an accident when I was too little to remember and now … well, you saw how he walks.”  He put his hand on my shoulder to slow me down and said softly, “I think I get it now.  Most people, when they first meet Dad kind of only see that limp.  I mean, you can’t not notice it.  But you just said hi like he was anyone else.  I wish more people would be like that.”


I said, “You could start with yourself,” I said, grabbing his side beneath his ribs to make it a joke.


He laughed and edged away.  “Don’t worry, I’ll be good.”


When we climbed into the camper, Jim said, “I saw you goose Russell out there.”


I stopped.  “I didn’t goose Russell.  I didn’t goose anybody.”


Tom said, “I saw it too, Paul.  You’re walking along and all of a sudden he’s a foot in the air and you’re laughing.  Was it fun for you?”


I said, “Oh, for God’s sake.  Okay, it was fun, and the rest of you can only wish to have what Russ has hanging.  Show ‘em, Russ.”


Russ was a quick study for sure.   He was blushing, but said, “Naw, they’ll just gawk like everyone else.  You describe it.  I’ll be interested myself.”


Darius turned around and said, “I’d be interested in seeing you sit down and buckle up so we can get going.”


Oops.  I sat at the little kitchen table, and had to look for the seatbelt, which pulled up from the floor.  I felt stupid because I was facing backwards looking at a wall, so as soon as Darius started down the mountain I looked around and spotted an empty seat beside Roger.  I unbuckled, squatted as low as I could get, and started sneaking over there. 


Darius tapped the brakes just enough to make me fall on my side and start to roll forward, then he hit the gas and I went backwards, ending up at Roger’s feet.  I looked up and Roger looked down, while Darius bellowed, “That, gentlemen, is why we wear our belts at all times in a moving vehicle.  Don’t make me play kindergarten teacher and have to inspect you every time.  I wouldn’t like that, and if I don’t like it, I promise you that you will not like it even more than I don’t like it.”


I scrambled up into the seat and buckled in, and looked at Roger.  I said, hoping I was loud enough for Darius to hear, “I wish he said that before.  I don’t drive yet, so how would I know?”


When we got to the restaurant we were brought right to our table and handed menus, and our water glasses were filled.  Most of us were talking while we looked over the menu.  The place was quite busy and there was a lot of noise from the taproom, which was kind of a sports bar with televisions everywhere.  Dad was right, it was rowdy, but not with the type of people out looking for fights.


Gary looked nervous and I asked, “What’s the matter?”


He pointed at his menu and said, “It doesn’t say what anything costs.”


Shea piped up, and said cheerily, “If there’s no price, that’s what it costs.  You got the lucky menu.”


Gary’s eyes narrowed and he looked at Darius.  “Is that true?”  Darius shrugged and didn’t respond.


I saw a waiter go by with a tray for another table, and thought I spied a prime rib on it.  I looked back at the menu and there it was:  king cut, queen cut, or junior cut.  I hadn’t had rib roast in nearly a year, and Dad wasn’t there to tell me it was too fatty, so my mind was made up.  I could forgo the garlic mashed potatoes and ask for a double order of veggies instead, but decided to just forget the potatoes.


I had faded out on the conversations around me, and Gary was still wondering about what everything cost.  I said, “Gary, just don’t worry, okay?  Nobody else is worrying; just get what you want.  I’m gonna have the prime rib.”


Dana was sitting right across from Gary and I could see that he sympathized.  He’d been the same way the first few times he ate with us.  I’m pretty sure Gary never went hungry like Dana had, but he was acutely aware of what things cost, or might cost.  He’d also been raised in a family whose motto seemed to be Take care of your own needs.


Before I knew it, Dana was standing behind and beside Gary with a hand on Gary’s shoulder, and his mouth at his ear.  I don’t know what he said, but after a few seconds Gary turned to him so fast they bumped noses.  They both laughed, and Dana stood up straight and pointed his finger at Gary, looking stern, until Gary nodded.  Then Dana went back to his seat and Gary became engrossed in the menu.


Dana did too, for that matter, and when the waiter came, he came straight to me.  “I’m Marvin, and I’ll be your server tonight.  I know you’ve been here for awhile, and I apologize.  Are you ready to order?”


“I think so.”  The appetizers didn’t really look that good, kind of like bar food, but they had a combo plate with a bit of everything.


“Let’s have two combo plates for all of us to get started.”  I looked at him, “Can I get the queen cut rib roast with a bone?”


He said, “I can ask, but I can’t promise.  There’s always a bone with the king cut.”


“If I get the king cut, will they slice it English-style?”


“Sure.  How would you like it done?”


“Rare, please, and I still want the bone.”


He was writing, and asked, “Garlic-mashed, baked, oven-roasted, or rice?”


“Can I just get a little bun or something instead?”


Marvin looked at the table and seemed horrified.  “You don’t have bread baskets.  I’m sorry.  I will be right back.”


He was right back too, within a minute, and had three napkin-covered bread baskets, which he placed at each end and the middle of the table, and a contrite-looking busboy put crocks of butter beside each basket and hurried away.


Marvin went around taking everyone’s orders, and I was glad when Gary ordered the king cut prime rib with a baked potato.


The noise from the tap room rose dramatically at one point, and Tom went to see why.  When he came back he said, “Man, the Sox are playing the Yankees at Fenway.  I would love to see that game.”


I said, “So go eat in there.  I’ll tell the waiter.”


Tom shook his head.  “They already kicked me out, and there’s no room anyhow.”  He looked around sadly and added, “I guess I’ll know the score anyhow.  They sound like all Sox fans in there.”


Our appetizers came and I only took one stuffed mushroom.  Everything else was stuffed with cheese, buried in cheese, or deep fried.  I had already ordered a thirty ounce hunk of prime rib, and was hoping to have fun the next day, which wouldn’t happen if I was in a cardiac ward somewhere.


We were having a good time, and nobody paid any attention to what I ate anyhow.  The appetizers were gone in short order and our salads came.  I hadn’t ordered one and they looked good, so I asked the waiter for a sliced tomato with onion, and some olive oil.  I thought I should have something at least a little bit healthy to counter the cow I had coming.


That came right out, so I managed to finish it while everyone was still on their salads.


I was glad that I’d asked to have my meat sliced, because Gary was having trouble cutting off pieces that would fit in his mouth from the fat slab in front of him.  Mine was easy.  The meat was good, cooked right, and the au jus sauce was the best I could remember—very oniony and not salty like some places make it.


Our table was pretty quiet while we were eating, and the relative mix of quiet and groans from the taproom told Tom what he needed to know about the baseball game.


By the time I ate half my meat, I was about stuffed.  I picked up the bone and nibbled at the yummy bits on each side.  When I put it down, I knew I was done, and said so to nobody in particular.  I looked at Gary.  He hadn’t eaten much more of his meat than I had, and he was working on his baked potato.  Jim’s dinner plate was empty, and he was half-heartedly picking at his salad.  Dana’s plate looked clean enough to put back on the shelf, while Russ had a little heap of meatloaf and mashed potatoes on his, but he wasn’t having any more.


Roger was eating the last two ribs of Shea’s rack of lamb, and also picking up bits of Darius’ leftover salad.


Good meal!


When the waiter asked if he could wrap anything I said, “This,” indicating my leftover meat, “And that,” as I pointed at Gary’s.  “Same box is fine.”


He said, “Very good.  Dessert for anyone?  Coffee or tea?”


Tom, of course, had been looking at the dessert menu, and said “I’ll try the chocolate, mocha, raspberry surprise.  Can you put a cherry on it?”


He was, of course, compensating for the Red Sox apparent loss, and when we got back to the house he spent nearly a half-hour in the toilet.  The rest of us couldn’t decide on anything, and we ended up in the back yard with all the lights on and played whiffle ball.  It was just silly fun, because the lights all pointed one way: okay for everyone except the pitcher because the hitter was a silhouette and tough on the fielders when they only saw shadows to throw to.


It didn’t matter.  There’s no such thing as serious whiffle ball anyhow. After the last of seven balls had been lost to the dark, we went inside.


We went into the TV room and looked for something on satellite and then at the menu of pay-per-view, which turned out to be a mistake.


“Can we watch a porno?” Tom asked, and everyone chimed in, cheering him on.


I asked, “Why?  Come on, guys.  The things we watch all show up on the bill.  My father’s no prude, but he’ll freak if he knows he paid to show porn to minors.”


Darius, who’d been relaxed in a chair, stood.  He didn’t say a word, but every one of us knew the discussion was over before it got off the ground.  There would be no porn flicks that night.  My expression must have been thanks enough for him.  He winked quickly and sat back in his chair.


I dug through our videos, and by popular choice we watched ‘Independence Day’ and escaped reality four about ninety minutes.  I stayed awake through it, as did Darius, Shea, and Russell.  The others were sleeping peacefully.  I put the DVD away and looked at the guys still awake and shrugged, meaning should we wake the others or just go to bed ourselves?


Darius had the answer.  He went around and shook each of them awake saying, “Fun day tomorrow.  Get up to your own bed or you’ll start it off sore.”


They started to get up, rubbed their eyes, found their bearings and headed off upstairs.  Not Gary.  When Darius woke him up, he acted just like everyone else had – a little confused and bleary-eyed, and he got to his feet.  Then when he went to go upstairs his upper body moved and his feet didn’t, and he pitched forward.


Darius was there to catch him, and he got Gary back upright while kind of hugging him.  He said, “It’s okay, big guy.  Sit back down for a minute and wake up.  We’ll try again when you’re ready.”


Gary looked like he might cry for a moment, but he didn’t.  He just looked at Darius and nodded solemnly.  After a minute he said, “Okay,” and Darius stepped back.


Gary stood with no trouble, and then he lurched one time around the sofa and smiled at Darius.  “I’m okay.  I think I’ll go to bed now.”


He walked of with his normal lurch, and then almost ran up the stairs.  I looked at Darius and shrugged, “I don’t know.”


Darius smiled and said, “Go to bed.  I’ll make sure we’re locked up here.”


+ + + + + + + +


Lisa’s family showed up at around eight thirty the next morning, and her parents were abducted almost immediately by Heinrich and Karen.  They were all clearly surprised by the house, but only had enough time for me to show them to their rooms and leave them to unpack and wash up or whatever.


We spent most of the morning on ATVs at the rental place.  They had an area for little kids, and little bikes for them.  Lisa’s younger brother and sister seemed happy with that, so we left them there and went to meet our own bikes.


I knew exactly what I wanted for Christmas after that, and I think everyone there wanted the same thing.


The ATVs had been an absolute blast: balls-out fun!  We learned how to handle them at an increasing pace, and when we were managing the terrain on our own we were free to ride.  Ride we did, too, each with our own style.  We rode up and down hills, alongside them, which was more fun because we slid sideways downhill, and we found air on minor jumps.


The place made us wear full-face helmets, and at the end when we took them off it was funny.  We had clean heads atop bodies so caked with mud and dust that we looked like mummies.  There were hoses there, though, and we had still more fun getting soaked and de-mudded in the freezing water.  All of the guys’ voices had changed, but there was no telling that right then because we were squealing and shrieking like girls.  I mean boys:  little boys, maybe eight years old, except Lisa.  She shrieked too because that water was seriously cold.


Darius brought us back to the house to change after that, and we stayed long enough to eat sandwiches out on the deck.  When we were ready we left for the kayak rental place on the river.  The lady there asked questions about our experience, and suggested sit-on-top kayaks when that experience turned out to be nil.  She explained that they would be easier to use, and safer because they’re hard to roll, and you can’t get trapped in them if you do manage to roll.  Lisa and Aldo got two-seaters so they could take their brother and sister with them, and the rest of us got singles.  It didn’t sound like enough time, but we decided on a one-hour trip after some discussion.  It was our first time and we weren’t going anywhere other than one way and back again.


None of us had thought of bathing suits, but we all had shorts on, so it was off with the shirts and shoes, on with the life jackets, and onto our kayaks.  Lisa, of course, kept her shirt on even after my protest that she might ruin it.  It was probably her counter-protesting nature that led her to admire Dana’s tan for so long.


There was a guy bringing the boats for us, one-by-one, and another kid held them steady while we climbed on, and then pushed us out into the river.  We had been told to go upstream first and come back on the current, and upstream on the north-flowing Tweed is south.


The water level had dropped significantly since the week before, so it wasn’t as frightening as I thought it might be.  We were all awkward with the boats at first, and a guy yelled from shore saying we were paddling too hard.


After a few minutes we all had the hang of paddling, and stayed in a somewhat close formation.  Other boaters passed us on their way downstream, and a couple of serious paddlers flew by us in the same direction we were going.  There were woods on both sides of us at first, and tree branches were shading us from the sun.  After a while the woods on our right ended at the edge of a field, and a little later there was a field on the left too, so we were in the warm sunlight.


We passed a couple of boys fishing on the bank, and Roger asked if they’d caught anything.  One of them beamed and pulled a stringer up from the water with seven trout on it.  We all said something congratulatory to them, and waved before continuing on.  It was peaceful, the only consistent sound being the soft splashes when the paddles hit the water.  Paddling didn’t take much concentration, and I was watching the birds on shore and in the air, the cows in the fields, and the back end of a deer bounding away from us.


Then Aldo’s voice came from behind us.  “For Pete’s sake, why didn’t you go when we were at the rental place?  Can’t you hold it just this once?”


I didn’t hear Lou’s response, but it became obvious when Aldo said, “Hold up guys.  Lou has to go, and it won’t wait.”


Lisa was at a spot where the field had a swale into the river, so she looked back and said, “He can get out right where I am.  I’ll go ahead as soon as Gary moves up.”


Gary pushed out a little with his paddle, and Lisa moved up to where he’d been.  Aldo’s boat took her place, and he stopped right where Lou could step out.  Lou said, “Come with me.”


Al said, “No.  You know how to piss; just go do it!”


Lou sat back and crossed his arms.


Aldo swore quietly, and asked me to hold his boat.  He leaned forward, picked Lou up bodily, and plunked him on the grass.  “Go pee, and don’t even think about taking off.  Got me?”


Lou said, “Don’t let anybody look.”


Aldo rolled his eyes and said, “Everyone look at the other bank.  I think I saw a fox over there.”


“Where’s the fox?” Lou asked.


Al said, “Lou, there is no fox.  You didn’t want anybody to look at you so I said there was a fox.  Now if you have to pee, turn your back and do it.  If you can’t see us, we can’t see you.”


Lou finally complied.  Al had gripped the riverbank to stay in place, but the rest of us had to paddle a little to keep from being towed backward by the current. 

We had really bunched up, so it took a little while to get going again.  Tommy asked, “Is it a half-hour yet?”


None of us had a watch, and we decided that it must have been that long, so we turned around and headed back.  There was enough current heading downstream that we really didn’t have to paddle, but we paddled anyhow because it was fun to go fast.  We were surprised by how soon we were back at the launch area, and doubly surprised that we’d be charged for two hours because we’d been gone nearly that long.  It wasn’t a waste of time or money, though, because it was the kind of thing you could daydream about during a boring class.  It was only exciting at first, yet the rest of the trip would be filed under memorable.


We set off toward Pico Peak and their alpine slide.  That was about fifteen miles from where we were, and I sat at the table with Lisa.  Even with our seatbelts on we were side-by-side and in kissing range.  When we started rolling, I move her hair gently from the side of her face and stroked her cheek with a finger.  “Having fun?” I asked.


She leaned closer and put her head on my shoulder, “Mmm.  Yes, it’s been fun.”  She looked up a little and smooched my jaw.  “I hope you’re having fun, too.”


I turned my head and our lips met.  They stayed met until we heard catcalls from the guys ahead of us.  I showed them my longest finger until they shut up, while never turning my focus from Lisa.  I said softly, “Your tee shirt never even got wet.  It doesn’t seem fair.”


“Why’s that not fair?  What are you talking about?”


I kissed her ear and said, “I don’t feel like talking right now.  Why are you hiding your lips over there?”


She giggled and turned to me, and those were the last words between us until we pulled into the parking lot at Pico. 


Dad and I had skied at Pico a handful of times.  They had a good elevation and some really nice glades, but a difficult lift system.  None of that mattered much that day, and we picked up our half-day Adventure Center passes at the ticket booth.  There wasn’t a half of a day left, but they seemed the best way to go.


We got to the slides on a chair lift, and the skiers took the first ride with non-skiers so they wouldn’t have trouble getting on or off.  I went up with Lisa, who was clearly nervous before we got on.  She did fine, and sat when I said to while the attendant held the chair steady.  I pulled the safety bar down and we were off.  We hadn’t gone far when the lift shut down suddenly, leaving us swinging on the chair.


Lisa asked, sounding frightened, “What happened?”


I said, “Somebody didn’t get on right, most likely.”  I was certain it was Lou, but he was right behind us in a chair with Shea, and they were both looking back toward the loading platform.  I didn’t see anything wrong there, and our group were all in chairs.  I said, “Maybe somebody forgot to get off up top.  It happens all the time.”


The lift started again about ten seconds later and took us the rest of the way up without incident.  Lisa got off the lift just fine, and we stood there out of the way waiting for the rest of our group.  Jim and Aldo were in the next chair after Shea and Lou, followed by Dana and Gary.  Darius had ridden up with Dina.  I watched Gary carefully, thinking he might stumble down the ramp, but he did fine, as did everyone else.


There was a minor line at the slides, but I was glad to see that they were leaving plenty of space between riders.  There is nothing more annoying than when they start people out too quickly, and you end up wedged behind someone slower than you with someone who wants to go faster behind you.


Lou and Dina, Lisa’s younger brother and sister, were big enough for their own sleds, or whatever they call those glorified cafeteria trays.  I had them sit in them off the track to show them how to speed up and slow down, and that there was never a real need to slow down as long as they leaned into the turns, a theory that I had to explain twice by pushing them one way and the other.  “Right turn, lean right.  Left turn, lean left.  Lean before the turn starts.  Show me your right hand.  Now show me the left.  Okay, you’re good.  Get in line, and remember to keep that handle forward unless you see a body in the track.”


When I stood, I saw that everyone else had been watching me, and not just our group.  Dana lifted his eyebrows and said, “You gonna be a kindergarten teacher when you grow up?  You’re good.”


Tom patted my cheek and said, as he passed by, “Maybe daycare, if he can pass the morals exam.”


Before anyone else could comment I said indignantly, “I have higher aspirations.  I plan to be a ski boot fitter at the rental shop.”  I added, “If I can pass that morals exam … and the drug test.”


Lisa stepped up and kissed my cheek.  “Please … say no more.”


That was a sweet little kiss, and I smiled.  “I shall say no more.  Let’s use both tracks so we can race.”


The attendant heard that and said, “No racing.”


I looked at him, probably a college guy, and turned to the others.  “You heard the man.  No racing, but let’s still use both tracks so we get more rides in, and can go faster.”


Jim kind of bowed and gestured me to the far track with a big sweep of his arm.  There were three people ahead of me, all kids so I wasn’t too worried about slowpokes, and they were spacing people about fifteen seconds apart.  When I set my sled down on the track, I was happy to see Gary on the other one.  He was really scrunched up with his long legs, but there was no apprehension on his face, just a wide grin.


When they told me to go I went slowly, and waited for Gary to start down, and when he caught up I said, “Push it!”


We did.  There is really nothing to fear on one of those slides.  Wherever you might get going fast enough to leave the track, the walls went twice as high so you wouldn’t.  That’s why they don’t make you wear any helmets or other safety gear.  Safe is built in, and the only really stupid thing you can do is ride the brake all the way down.  If you don’t get crashed into, you’ll be sworn at or maybe kicked in the ass by the people behind you whose rides you ruined.


It was Gary’s first time, and he braked a few times, and I did to let him catch up.  I yelled, “Nothing can go wrong!  Push it, Gary!  It only feels fast!”


He did, finally, and seemed glad at the bottom.  He wanted to go right back up, and did, but I waited for Lisa, who came down the track I’d been on after a few minutes.  I helped her up and asked, “Fun or what?”


She said, “Oh, it was fun.  It seemed so fast at first, but then it got faster and faster.  I like that, and I didn’t know if I would.”


There is one thing about Alpine slides, and that thing is their ability to break up groups like ours.  On our ride up the lift we saw Lou and Dina sliding down where the lift crossed the track, and nobody else we knew after two more rides.  When we got off at the top of the lift that third time we walked into the woods, which had to be some of Pico’s famous glades.  The trees were mostly evergreens, widely spaced, and the pine needles underfoot were deep and soft.


We held hands and walked uphill for about ten minutes, and sat to sip from the water I’d bought at the bottom, and nibble at a bag of banana chips.  I leaned back against a tree, looked up, and said, “Look at that sky.  Does it get any better than this?”


Lisa sat beside me, and I put my hand on her shoulder.  She sighed, “It’s so blue … so perfect.  Why is there so much trouble in this world when people just have to look up to make it better?”


I said, kind of hesitantly, “I think … I think most religions see their origins in the sky.  Maybe some in the blue sky and some in the night sky, but that’s where they find the gods isn’t it?  Didn’t the Christian and Jewish God give Moses his commandments from the sky?”  I looked at Lisa and asked, “Do you really believe there’s someone up there?”


Lisa said softly, “Can we not talk about this?  It’s a nice sky, so let’s just enjoy it.”


I clamped down on my automatic argument and changed it to, “I’d rather enjoy you,” and kissed her ear until she leaned into me.


We made it back in time for the last ride, for they were shutting down.  There was nobody left in front of us, so we did the whole hill side-by-side and flat out.  Lisa shrieked a few times, and I laughed loudly.  Those slides weren’t dangerous, but they were definitely fun.


There was nobody at the bottom.  Nobody.  We looked in the lodge and the snack bar was closed.  Out on the deck we ran into Darius, who said, “Oh, there you are.”  He looked at me and asked, “Do you really want to be called meester Paul, or is that Tom being cynical?”


I laughed.  “Tommy cynical?  I don’t think so.  He hasn’t even experienced original sin yet, and won’t till he turns Catholic.  Paul is fine though, I only demand the meester from Tom, because he has a huge tendency to act superior.”


Darius wasn’t sure about me yet, and just eyed me.  “Well, alright.  Follow me; your ride is waiting.”


I thought to ask, “Do you know Hector Torres?  He works for your company in Florida.”


Darius said, “I only met him on a video conference.  He briefed us on his time there with your family.”


“Did he happen to mention me?”


“He did.”


“What did he say?” I asked.


Darius said calmly, “That, meester Paul, is company confidential.”


I cried, “Oh, cut it out.  How can you say the people paying you can’t hear what you say about us?  What?   Are our lives like a private soap opera for you?”


Darius said, “Hector did say he liked you.”


I said, “I can get the tape of that conference.”  I thought I might be able to.


Darius chortled, “I don’t mind.  Do that.  At least it won’t come from me.”


I realized what I’d been doing and felt a blush of shame.  “I’m sorry,” I said.  “Kick me if you want, I won’t say anything.”


Lisa said, “I’ll kick you.  Bend over.”  I did, and she gave me a gentle boot.  Then she kissed my cheek and reminded me, “You told me to do that if I ever saw you trying to act superior.”

“I did, didn’t I?”  I looked at Darius and said, “I hope you saw that.  My penance … I’m really sorry for pushing you.”


Darius smiled.  “I saw, and I heard.  I said that Hector likes you, and I’m starting to see why.”


We were back at the house around five o’clock, and nobody else was there.  I called Dad, who said they’d be there soon, and we’d be going to dinner over in Rutland.  He asked how our day was, and I said it was great, and that I was sure he’d hear all about it at dinner.


Like everyone else, I went to my room to take a shower and change, and when I was just dressed enough to be decent there was a tap at my door.  Lisa!


Oh God, I couldn’t believe she was in my bedroom alone with me, and me just in my shorts and sandals because I hadn’t looked for a shirt yet.


I said sweetly, “If I did this to you, you’d have to sock me in the ear, or give me a kidney punch that could make me pee in place.”


She kicked the door closed and kissed the end of my nose.  “Don’t be silly.  I didn’t come for that.  I’m here to see the famous view from your own private deck.”


Somewhat deflated, I said, “Oh.  Sure.  There’s only one chair.”


Lisa said, “One is enough, don’t you think?” and fiddled with the slider until it opened.


I followed her out and stood behind her to her left side.  The valley was mostly in shadow by then, but the opposite hills were still in sunlight, so the view across was still awesome.  Lisa sighed, “Oh, it is beautiful,” and I kissed her neck, and suddenly felt embarrassed.


“Sorry, I’ll go put a shirt on.”


Lisa turned and said, “Don’t, Paul.  I like the feel of your skin.”


We got into a big kiss with temperatures rising and all that, and after I thought I’d burst I summoned the courage to give her ear a light punch, then her kidney, and her ear again.”


Lisa pulled back with a surprised smile on her face and said, “You remembered!”  She kissed me again, not just a quickie, and said, “You better put that shirt on.  You’re yummy.”


I had a smile that probably wouldn’t leave my face for days.  Yummy, she said.  Not big and strong, not macho, but yummy.  That’s Lisa, and I thought she was pretty yummy too, or surely would be when we got around to tasting.


I came out with my shirt on just in time.  Lisa was waving to her parents below us in the driveway, and I waved too, to everyone.


We hurried downstairs to meet them.  Lisa always looked good and she was wearing oh-my jeans.  Oh-my to me anyhow.  They had to be more painful than practical but I loved the view.


Dad and Elenora were already in, and talking to Dana and Gary.  Heinrich and Karen were the next ones in, and Heinrich lifted me bodily off the floor.  “I hope your day was half as good as mine,” he said in the bear hug I would probably never learn the reason for.  He went to hug Dana in the same way, and Lisa’s parents stepped in.


Lisa exchanged kisses and little terms of endearment with them, and her father pulled out a huge pistol, like a Buntline special or something, and pointed it at my heart.  Oh God, he wanted to watch me die and not just blow me away.   I had to blink it away, and the pistol became a broadsword pointed at my throat, but I knew he meant to shove it straight up my ass.


When I blinked again, he was just smiling, his hands at his side, weaponless.  He had just said something that I didn’t hear, so I smiled and nodded.


That reaction appeared to be appropriate because he turned to Lisa and asked, “How’s my girl?”  He bent and kissed her cheek, “Did you have fun today?  I can see you did, so tell us all about it at dinner.  We have to wash up and change.”  He turned to my father and asked, “How long do we have?”


Dad looked lost.  Neither of us wore watches, relying on cell phones and wall clocks.


Aldo piped up, “It’s almost six, Dad.  I don’t know what time dinner is, but you better get a hustle on.”


Dad said, “Our reservation is for seven thirty, and we should figure on maybe half an hour to get there.  Let’s meet down here around seven, okay?” 


Guys started questioning my father about where we were going and what they had to eat there, and I whispered to Lisa, “Lets take a walk.”


She seemed surprised, but followed when I held her hand.  We went outside by the kitchen door and down the stairs off the deck.  I said, “Let’s go out back.  There’s a bit of land here and I hardly know it at all.”


The grassy part of the yard out back wasn’t big at all.  It was reasonably level and had a few trees that flowered in spring and turned colors in the fall, and beyond that the land climbed steeply through piney woods for awhile and leveled off again, then went very steeply to the top of the hill.  Our plot map made the property look like a badly cut slice of pizza, with the point at the top of the hill, and the bottom being road frontage.


When we got to the end of the lawn we turned around so Lisa could see the rest of the house, and that end was the only view that was anything like impressive.  Where Dad’s room was, which was set over the living room, it looked almost like the Luellen’s place in Brattleboro, with a great peaked roof and windows soaring all the way up, and a Hawk deck that went the whole width at the living room level, and again upstairs.


Somehow, the look didn’t match the view of it, and the Luellen’s place up on the crag made better use of their location.


Lisa said, “Oh, nice.  It looks kind of like Shea’s house from here.”


I still had her hand and said, “Come on.  We can go uphill a little and there’s a good view.”


There was a trail up to the little plateau.  It was there in rough form when we got the house and was just randomly removed pine trees then.  There were stumps at least two feet high, and Dad hired a guy to take them out.  Now Heinrich kept it cleared.  It was a steep climb, but one with no hazards, and we took it pretty slow.  Once on the plateau, one end is all rock and goes above the trees in front of us.  It’s a struggle to get there, but worth it, and Lisa was a pretty agile climber.  We were both hot when we reached the top of it, and sat on a rock with our feet hanging free.


Lisa leaned into me and I put my arm around her.  “Oh Paul, that’s a beautiful view.”


It’s a great view.  It’s the same as the one from my little deck, only expanded by another hundred feet in altitude, and enhanced by the lack of trees.  I said, “I have a vista from my deck, but this is a real panorama, isn’t it?”


Lisa kissed my cheek.  “It’s just absolutely gorgeous.”   She leaned in closer, squeezed me a little tighter, and made little sighing sounds while she looked around.


It really was the perfect time to be there.  The sun was low and we were in deep shadows, but where the light found a path between the hills to illuminate areas below and opposite us, it was like magic.  There were white church steeples glowing like polished gold, old red barns looking like they were painted by an illuminist, fields of an impossible green, and the white fences surrounding them were as golden as the steeples.


I was alone with Lisa, out of sight of the rest of the world and everyone in it.  It was an opportunity for a major make-out session.  I think we were both imprinting that scene in our minds instead.  Our grips had relaxed.  We were touching and comfortable, and I certainly felt in tune with her.


When the sun moved enough to dim the effect I said, “We better go.  I don’t want to go down in the dark.”


I got to my feet and helped Lisa up, and we ended up in the sweetest kiss yet.  She murmured, “This was the best, Paul.”  She backed off and grinned, “If sex is better, we’re in for one wild life!” and ran away.


I caught up with her in a second, and we helped each other down the hill, both laughing and talking all the way.  It was trickier going down than up.  I slid once with no harm done, and Lisa stumbled into a tree trunk right at the bottom and scraped her arm.


She just giggled when I tried to look and said, “It’s not hurt, silly.  It’s just a scuff mark.”  She grinned, “I think if you kiss it I’ll be all better.”


I did.  I kissed her arm just below the elbow where the scrape was, and continued kissing up her arm, across her shoulder and neck.  When I reached her ear I turned my attention south and found her pretty mouth.


After a minute I asked, “Better?”


She smiled, and seemed to look at me in a new way, a way that I liked.  “All better.  You’re a good doctor.”


We both snickered and went inside.  We just made it in time, because everyone else except Dad and Elenora were downstairs waiting to leave.  We said hello in general, and Lisa talked about the view from the hill.  Heinrich came up behind me and pulled me away.  We were back against the wall, and he leaned down to say, “Paul, you have to change your pants before we go.  I don’t know where you were, but it looks like you sat in some kind of crap and then rolled around in pine needles.  Lisa, too.  You tell her, that’s not my job.”


Oh God.  I couldn’t see my own butt, but Lisa’s was right there in front of me, and if mine looked like hers we were both gross and disgusting and scummy.  Her rear end, still wrapped in very tight jeans and shapely as they come, was coated with something that had to be from the same end of a moose or a bear or something.


I edged forward even though I didn’t know quite what to do.  I didn’t want to do anything that would cause her to turn around, and I certainly didn’t want to present my own butt to everyone, aware of what was on it.


When she paused, I grabbed her and pulled her straight back to the door, while I said over her shoulder, “We’ll be right back!  This is just a drill.”


There were a lot of astonished faces, but we were out of there.  When Lisa started to protest I said, “Look at my ass.  Yours looks just the same.  Hurry!”


I turned my back to her, heard her gasp, and she joined my dash around the house.  We went in through the front door, tip-toed quickly up the stairs, and ran to our rooms to change.  I changed everything, just in case, washed my hands and face, and looked at my hair.  I wished it was on someone else’s head, but there was no time right then.  I waited for Lisa at the top of the stairs, and when she came down the hall it was clear she’d changed and washed up too.


She smiled when she got to me, and said, “How embarrassing.”


I said, “Thank Heinrich, because he told me.  I had no idea we were sitting in that … shit.”


Lisa came close so that we were almost nose-to-nose.  I could see the smile in her eyes.  “It does kind of detract from things, doesn’t it?  I don’t mind.  It was so beautiful there.”  She shook her head so her hair kind of flipped around, and grinned, “Shit happens, you know.”


I gave her hand a tug and said, “Let’s go.”


We ate at a nice place in Rutland.  It was in an old renovated brick building downtown, and had classical music playing softly.  It looked nice, and nobody blinked at our casual dress.  The service was good, the food was good, and from what I could hear the wine was good.  The desserts were spectacular.  I ordered a Strawberry Surprise, which was listed with no description on the menu.


It was a surprise when it came.  A strawberry shortcake, basically, but with the strawberries piled into a pyramid about eight inches high, and topped with not whipped cream, but their own strawberry yogurt.  I shared berries with anyone who wanted them, because there must have been about fifty of the little local strawberries on it, and more in the yogurt.


I tasted Lisa’s chocolate and Heath Bar parfait, Dad’s carrot cake, and Mr. Mongillo’s tiramisu, which was the best, and so sweet I sensed that my hair was curling.  My trip to the bathroom later belied that notion.  I looked like I was fresh off the electric chair, as usual.


+ + + + + + + +


We had decided as a group to go horseback riding the next day.  Not everyone was keen on the idea, but when Dad explained that trail rides were simple, and no experience was required, everyone agreed to give it a try.  I talked up horseback riding on the way back to the house with the other kids, mainly because Lisa really wanted to go.  It was Gary, Aldo, and of course Lou who were averse to the idea.  They had already said they’d go, but I wanted them to be looking forward to it, so I kept at it, and they gradually came around.


We got back to the house just ahead of the adults, and found things to drink in the kitchen.  Everyone took soda except me, and by that point in my life I didn’t even like fizzy sweet drinks.  A sip of beer is something, but I don’t think I could finish a bottle of it.  Water was my usual, a little wine when it was allowed, and always more water.  If I was really thirsty, a little can of tomato juice took care of it best, and at the same time managed to quell my taste for more of it.


We spread out.  Tom called me to the TV room to figure out the remote so he could watch the Red Sox game, or at least find out the score if it was over.  I showed him how the system worked, and he stayed there with Aldo and Shea.  He was looking for the right channel, but if anyone else asked he would have said he was seeking knowledge.


When I went back to the kitchen, the adults were there, all of them seeming a little buzzed from their cocktails, wine and aperitifs.  None of them seemed even close to drunk, but they were certainly animated and kind of funny.  Lisa’s mom and dad seemed as loose as the rest, and I turned my attention to Lisa, who was standing off by herself.


I went to her and asked, “Take a walk?”


She smiled, “I’m tired.  Can we just sit down somewhere?”


I was concerned for about two seconds, before I thought back over the day, and she had every right to be tired.  We had done a lot … used up the day as Bernie Sutton had put it.  I think I’m a die-hard who doesn’t want a good day to end, but Dana and Russ had already gone upstairs to bed, and Lou and Dina had done the same as soon as we got back.  Gary and Roger were still there, looking kind of bored, but half-interested in what people were talking about.


I took Lisa’s hand, and touched Gary’s arm when we went past him.  “Follow us,” I whispered, and went to the living room.  I had neglected to show

Gary and Roger the house when we first got there, and they were kind of stunned.  It’s a big room, with a high ceiling, a giant stone fireplace with the stone front going right up through the ceiling.  The floor and ceiling are wood, the walls are white, and there’s all kinds of nutso artwork in there.  And there are burros, including a stuffed burro I’d come to know as Mikey.  It was Daisy at first, until I noticed some details.


When I looked, Gary was standing by Mikey stroking his neck like he was a real animal, and I didn’t think it was funny.  I’d cried the first time I saw Mikey, thinking it was really a stuffed animal, and that I was supposed to live with it.  It took my mother and Ally half the night to convince me that it was a fake burro, made as a movie prop, and they got it at auction.


I didn’t have the heart to tell Gary, and instead turned on the outside lights.  There was nothing to see, but when they were on they made the room look even bigger than it was.


We sat down, Lisa and I on the floor in front of the sofa, and Gary and Roger in armchairs opposite us.  As soon as I was comfortable I yawned kind of hugely and realized we shouldn’t be there.  It really was time for bed, and I said so.


Nobody disagreed.  I killed the outside lights, took Lisa’s hand, and followed Roger and Gary out through the kitchen, where we said good night.  When we turned to leave, Dad called, “Hey Gary, can you give me a hand for about ten seconds?”  He looked at the people with him and smiled at Gary, “I need someone tall who hasn’t been drinking all night to help me lift something.  Do you mind?”


Gary stood straighter, smiled, and said, “No, sir.  I’m happy to help.”


Dad smiled and looked at the rest of us.  “The rest of you can go on up to bed.  Paul, make sure that Lisa finds her own room before you leave her.”  His smile brightened, “Sleep well, kids.”


On the way upstairs we were all snickering.  Roger said, “You’re father’s pretty slick.  At least he didn’t tell Lisa to lock the door after you leave her.”


I said gloomily, “He had to put that leave her part in there didn’t he,” and then I brightened, “Lisa, if you feel afraid or anything, you know where my room is.  I never lock the door, so don’t be afraid to wake me up no matter when it is.”


We stopped when Roger went into his room, and he whispered, “You’re slick like your old man.”


I walked Lisa down the hall to her room and asked, “Is there anything you need?”


The door was open, and she yanked me in and closed it behind me.  It was dark, the only light coming from the distant stars through the big windows.  Lisa grabbed the front of my shirt in both hands and yanked me to her almost violently, but we ended up in a very tender kiss.  It was the kind of kiss that should never end.  Our alarms went off at the same time and we backed off and started snickering.


We both knew what we wanted to do, but once again just smiled at each other.  Some day.


The smile still working, I said, “I better go.  Sleep well, okay?”


Lisa was smiling like I was, and said, “You too.  And thank you.  Today was a lot of fun.”


“It was.  It was a ton of fun.  I better go.”


“One more kiss?”


Of course, and it was fifteen minutes later before I left, still a virgin.  I could still hear the adults downstairs and could have stayed longer, but I really was beat.  I got to my room, took off my clothes and brushed my teeth, and collapsed in bed.  Before I fell asleep, I snickered at the thought.


I had really and truly used up the day.


… more