Dog Days

Chapter 6


Gil’s father was due to visit with his lady friend on Sunday afternoon and Gil was on edge from the moment he came down for breakfast.  His mother made pancakes and bacon along with a fried egg for each of us.  That was one of Gil’s favorite meals and he just picked at it for a long time before he said he’d eat later, and took Daisy outside to play.  I went to my room when I finished breakfast and started putting gift tags on packages after I removed the temporary stickers from the gift wrap place. 


My room was badly cluttered so I spent some time picking up clothes and straightening things out.  I put the clothes in a basket that I left in my bathroom.  I’d bring them downstairs to be washed after the company left.


I turned the computer on to look at my email and was delighted to see a note from Kiril Karmanazov, my friend from Moscow.  His English had improved a lot since I first knew him, but he still managed to let me know that he now had six feet.  I realized that he was referring to his height because he put the centimeters in parenthesis.  I also knew that it would be pointless to make fun of him in my reply because he had a hard enough time interpreting me with no sarcasm involved.


His note was newsy and entertaining, and he saved the big news for last.  He would be coming to the States the following fall for a year as an exchange student, and would live with a family in New York.  He didn’t say where in New York, but hoped we could get together.


He ended by saying he’d seen a real, live Lamborghini on the streets of Moscow—a yellow one—and wondered if they were cheaper in the United States than Russia because he’d really like to have one.  Well, no shit, comrade.


A picture was attached and he looked good.  Kiril is blond, his hair not far from white, and his eyes are bright blue.  He was wearing the most battered Yankees hat I’d ever seen.  It looked like he’d worn it all day, every day since Ally gave it to him, so in my reply I said I’d be sending him a new one.  I noted that Lamborghinis were probably expensive everywhere on Earth, and he should look into getting a Fiat instead because they’re also Italian.


I told him about the wedding, about Gil and his mother, Daisy, and our upcoming ski trip.  I asked him to write back with the name of the city in New York where he’d be staying and promised that we could get together.  Then I attached photos of me, Lisa, the ski trip to Chile, Daisy, and a few others before I sent it off.


The rest of my mail was a combination of forwarded jokes that I didn’t have to respond to and holiday greetings that I did respond to.  I was doing that when I heard Daisy on the stairs.  I didn’t react right away and he was in my room heading straight for the Christmas gifts before I knew it.


“Daisy, NO!”  I made a feeble attempt to jump in front of him and only managed to bang my knee on the desk.  I reacted by rubbing my leg for the second it took for Daisy to get through the selection process and back away from the pile with a nicely wrapped gift in his mouth.  I dove for him and managed to get my arm around his neck while I went after the present with my other hand.  I was screaming for Gil all the while, but it was hopeless.  When Daisy finally sat down he had a halfway unwrapped CD in his mouth and a huge doggie grin on his face.  “Daisy, give me that.  You don’t want to eat plastic; you’ll get a cavity and need a root canal, and that tooth will turn green and rot.  Gimme that!  Give. It. To. Me.  Gil!  I’m warning you, Daisy … don’t you dare eat that.  Oh hey, you want a cookie?  GIL!”


“What?” Gil asked peevishly from the door.


“Bottom left drawer … get a cookie … get the whole box.”


He stood beside me and held his hand out, “What’s the matter with you, Daisy?  Give me that.”


Daisy’s eyes turned to little slits and he lowered his head while Gil took the CD and handed it to me.  “Bad dog.  Get in your bed.”


Daisy left with his tail between his legs and Gil followed him while I grumbled, “Thanks.”


I wiped the drool off the CD and brought it downstairs to get paper to re-wrap it.  Dory was in the dining room with wrapping supplies spread on the table.  “Do you have some paper that will fit this?” I asked.


She held her hand out and said, “I’ll wrap it,” so I gave it to her.


She looked at the CD and turned her question to me, “Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros?”


“It’s for Shea.”


Dory giggled, “Oh, so that explains it?”


I shrugged, “It should.  What time are people coming?”


“Two o’clock.  I can hardly wait to taste that roast beef.”


I grinned, “You’re gonna love it,” and headed back upstairs. 


Instead of going into my room I went down the hall and found Gil’s door shut.  I tapped on it and heard, “What?”


“You busy?  Can I come in?”


“It’s your house.”


I opened the door and Gil was sitting on the floor with Daisy’s head on his lap.  He was stroking the dog and looked up.  I asked, “What’s wrong?”


“Nothing.  Why?”


“Why?  If something’s bothering you, tell me.  If not, then something’s bothering me.”




“Which what?  What’s bothering you?”


“I said nothing.”


I looked at him and said, “Okay,” before I turned to leave.


“Wait a minute!”


I turned, “You need something?”


“You didn’t say what’s bothering you.”


“That’s because I don’t think you care what’s bothering me.  If you did you’d tell me what’s up with you.”


He looked down and mumbled, “It’s nothing.”


“Well, your father’s coming over.  I hope you get over your nothing by then.”  I waited for a moment, and when Gil didn’t respond I backed out of the doorway again.


“Wait.  Don’t go.”


“You’re making me dizzy, Gil.”  I walked over to the bed and asked, “Mind if I stretch out?”


I didn’t wait for him to respond before I flopped down on the bed and rolled on my side to look at him.  “I’m here.”


Finally, finally Gil smiled.  Then the smile went away and his eyes started wandering around the room, looking everywhere but at me.  I rolled onto my back and looked at the ceiling, “No rush, Gil.  I can wait.”


“Don’t look at me, okay?”


“I’m not.”


“I know that; I mean don’t.”


“Not ever?”


“That’s not what I said.”


“Okay, I’m looking at the ceiling and I’ll keep on looking at the ceiling.  Will you please tell me why you’re so out of it today?”


“I … um, well … my dad’s coming to visit and I …”


He just stopped talking and I finally asked, “You what?”


“What if … what if you don’t like him?”


That’s what this was about?  “Your father?  Why wouldn’t I like him?”


“I don’t know why, but what if you don’t?”


“Oh man, there aren’t a lot of people I don’t like, and I don’t even know most of the ones I don’t.  The people I do know and don’t like, well that takes a long time before I don’t like someone and there’s always a real reason for it.  I don’t just look at someone and decide I don’t like him or her.  The truth is that I like most people.  I really do.”


“You didn’t like me at first.”


“Don’t even go there, Gil.  I didn’t know you, and what I didn’t like was what you were doing.  You were shooting your mouth about hurting gay people and that … that’s kind of a sore spot with me.”


“Why?  You’re not gay.”


“You’re right; I’m not, but some people I love a whole lot are gay and it’s nobody’s business but theirs.  I see enough gay bashing in the news and there’s not much I can do about that, but when someone right there in front of me starts up I can say something, and I do.  Anyhow, I have this thing I inherited from my mother where I like to get to know interesting people … such as you.”


“Yeah, sure … like I’m interesting.”


“Oh, maybe not to everybody, but the first time we met I saw a midget threatening to murder someone with a rock and I thought to myself, now that’s different; very interesting.”


Gil wheezed out a laugh, “Oh, sure you did.  I saw death in your eyes.  My death.”  After a pause he went on to say, “I guess it worked out.  If I wasn’t so friggin’ scared I never would’a said anything, and I’d still be …”


“I guess maybe you would.”


“You know my friend’s coming over tonight don’t you?”


“Yeah, you told me.  I forgot his name.”


“It’s Tyler.  So I don’t have to worry that you won’t like him either?”


I sat up on the edge of the bed.  “Don’t worry, and tell your friend not to.  Just remember that he’s your friend and I’m not here to entertain him.  If I’m lucky I won’t be here at all.”


“Are you going out with Lisa again?”


“Not out, but maybe visiting if she gets home early enough.”


I stood, and when I was at the door I asked, “Do you want this closed?”


“You didn’t tell me what’s bothering you.”


I had the doorknob in my hand and jiggled it.  “It’s this door.  When it’s closed I knock, and when I knock you can tell me to come in, you can tell me to go away, you can say you’re busy, you can ask what I want – there’s all kinds of things you can say, but you can’t tell me this is my house because it’s not.”


Gil stared at me in bewilderment and I said, “This is my father’s house. This is your room and mine’s across the hall, and we have to respect each other’s space.  That’s why I knocked, and when my door is closed you better knock too.  All the bedrooms are private; everything else is shared.  When we’re in this house we’re on equal footing.  Got that?”


Gil’s mouth was open as he nodded, and when I asked if he wanted the door closed he shook his head slowly, his mouth still hanging open. 


I went back to my room and was looking for something to change into when Gil marched in and punched my arm.  “What do you mean midget?”


I said, “Ow!” and bopped the back of his head.  “You looked smaller then.  I can tell now that you were so dirty that day that I only saw part of you.”


Gil lowered his head and said threateningly, “Oh, you’re gonna get it.”


I looked toward the door and replied, “Really?  Where’s your army?”


“I’ll show you my army.  Daisy!”


I put my hand over his mouth and kicked the door closed.  “No dog.  That’s not fair.  If you want to duel we’ll do it the right way … with guns … or … swords.”


He eyed me, “You don’t have any guns or swords.”


“I do too.  I have a gun and a sword.  What do you have?”




“Nothing?  You have nothing?  It’s probably not a good idea to go around starting fights then, not that it matters now.”


“What’s that mean?”


“It means that now I’m honor bound to shoot you, or … or … or I’ll sword you instead.”


“Sword me?” he almost smiled, but managed not to.


“What do you think you do with a sword?  You know … it’s like making a shish-kebab.  The sword is the shish and you’re the kebab, or is it the other way around?”


Gil grinned, “I think you’re losing it.”


“Oh, I know that.  In fact, I lost it a long time ago so let’s just stick with the gun.  I’ll blow your ass off and we’ll call it even.  How’s that?”


“I’ll be an assless wonder?”


“More like an assless runt, but let’s not quibble over semantics.”


Gil shook his head, “I don’t know what you just said.”


“I’ll buy you a book.  Let me get changed and you should too.  Company’s coming.”


Gil laid a heavy stare on me before he said, “Tell me what runts wear for company and I’ll change.”


I grumbled, “Maybe I won’t buy you a book.  Just get outta here.”  I turned away but smiled when I heard the door open, thinking Gil was a keeper for sure.  I didn’t know if he meant to be funny, but he was definitely quick, which is a great predicate to being funny.


I brought my change of clothes into the bathroom so they’d be ready after my shower.  When I was finished I found the CD that Dory had wrapped sitting on my desk.  I put it with the other gifts and took my shoeshine cloth out to give my shoes a swipe before I put them on.  I looked in the mirror before heading downstairs, and I had my foot on the bottom step when I heard Gil in a loud whisper, “Paul?”


I turned around and he was at the top of the stairs with a towel around his waist and wet hair.  “Are they here yet?” He asked.


“No,” I whispered back.


“Oh, good.  Can you put Daisy out?  I have to get dressed.”


I went back up and called Daisy when I was at Gil’s door.  “Where’s your ball?”  That was one sure way to get Daisy to move, and he knocked me right out of the way in his rush to get down to his toy box.  I hurried after him and had to keep kicking the ball away from my feet while I put my coat on.  Daisy kept bringing the ball back, and when I finally picked it up and opened the door he went past me like a bullet.


The snow had continued through the night and we woke up to find about four inches of it on the ground.  The sky looked like it might give us some more.  Daisy sure liked to run in the stuff, and by the time he stopped chasing the ball to lick some snow off the fence my arm was getting sore.  I heard a car pull in around the other side of the house and two doors slammed shut, so I gave Daisy a cookie and said, “That’s it, boy.  Don’t worry, I’m sure Gil will be out to show you off in just a minute.”


I was right, too.  Gil hadn’t even let his father take his coat off, and the back door opened just as I reached for it.  He grinned, “Paul, this is my father,” which is where the introduction ended.


His father was an average sized guy, but he had one of those voices that worked about an octave below most men and it surprised me.  He smiled and held out his hand, “Hi Paul.  I’m Rick Gilman.”  It came out sounding like he had control over the acoustics in the yard.  I knew he was a civil engineer, but he could have earned a second living as an announcer.


We didn’t belabor the introduction because Gil was anxious and my hands were cold, so I went in while Mr. Gilman met Daisy.


I met his girlfriend, Matilda (call me Mattie) Thorne.  She didn’t remember me, but she was one of the gift wrap ladies from the day before.  Mattie seemed down to earth with an easy laugh and the typical Vermonter’s gift of gab, so the little edge I’d felt over Gil’s worries left me.  I turned the tree lights on, started some music playing, lit a fire in the fireplace, and then I helped Dory by bringing out her hors d’ouevres tray and getting drinks for everyone.


Rick took a beer and Mattie had a glass of Ally’s favorite Chianti, while Gil and I were served hot Orange Bishops minus the booze.  The snack tray had an interesting mix of dates, nuts, grapes, crackers, and various cheeses, and we settled in the living room to talk while Dory got the meal ready. 


Gil’s father was a good story teller with some really comical tales about things that went wrong with different projects he’d worked on.  When Gil mentioned that I’d been skiing in Chile that summer they wanted to hear about that, and I talked through the short time before Dory called us to the table.


Rick raised his eyebrows but didn’t say anything when I poured a glass of Nouveau Beaujolais for Gil along with everyone else.  That beautiful roast was in front of Dory, but she asked me to carve. 


“Me?  I don’t think so; not unless you like bloody fingers in with your meat.”


Rick offered, and I think Dory asked me as a kindness when she wanted him to do it all along.  Rick knew what he was doing, and as he handed us plates of meat cut as we each liked it Dory dished up chateau potatoes, green beans and creamed onions.  When we started eating, the food was so wonderful that all conversation was put on hold until we began to feel full, at which point the wine and good feelings took hold and we yakked away happily until long after the table had been cleared.  We held off on dessert and moved into the living room with the last of the wine.  I chunked up the fire while Gil went out to get Daisy.


The dog hadn’t had a chance to satisfy his curiosity for the tree so Dory distracted him into oblivion with a nice roast beef bone.  She put it down on top of newspapers and he gnawed on it there, blissfully unaware of everything around him.  Rick gave Gil a gift of a sixteen gigabyte iPod that looked nice in charcoal and black.  Gil didn’t know how to work it and I told him I could show him the basics, but to ask Tom if he wanted to actually use it.


Gil gave Rick a nice, heavy Carhartt hoody that was lined and weighed about twenty pounds.


Mattie offered to help Dory with the cleanup and I took that as my cue to excuse myself so Gil could have some time with his dad.  When I stood up I saw that it was snowing outside and went back into the dining room to look through the big window.  It was just getting dark, so I switched on some outside lights and stood there watching the snow fall for several minutes.  Before I went upstairs I wanted to see what Daisy’s fence looked like with the lights on and snow coming down, so I pulled my coat on and stepped out back.


It was prettier than I expected, and the falling snow hid all but the nearest sections of fence so all the only things visible at any distance were the lights themselves.  The low voltage bulbs didn’t even melt the snow on the fixtures, so each one looked like a little six-inch square tower with an equally square stack of snow on it.  I felt for my phone to take some pictures.  I’d left it upstairs and decided it was worth getting, so I went back in and ran up to my room to get the phone and a hat.  The lights might not melt snow, but my head did, and my hair was dripping wet.


When I went back through the kitchen the ladies were sitting at the table with cups of coffee, and I suggested they look outside before the snow stopped and got all trampled.  They didn’t.  After I took some pictures I told Dory I’d be in my room and to call me when it was time for dessert.


Lisa had gone with her family to visit relatives in Bellows Falls, a short distance north of Brattleboro.  I called her cell phone and they were just going to sit down for dinner, so she couldn’t talk right then.  I switched on the television and stretched out on my bed without even looking to see what was on.  I was full of food and wine and fell asleep without any effort.


It didn’t seem like much time passed when I heard Gil’s voice sounding faint and saying, “He’s sleeping.  Go get him.”


I hadn’t even opened my eyes yet when Daisy landed all four paws on my bed.  Then he balanced himself by stepping on my shoulder with what felt like his entire weight concentrated in one paw.


“Ouch!”  My eyes opened and Daisy’s mouth was right there, and he drooled on my chin before he licked my face from chin to forehead.  “Oh God, Daisy, get off of me.”


Gil said, “You have to get up.  The snow’s getting deep and my father wants to say goodbye before they leave.”


Daisy gave me another lick and I asked, “Who taught this dog to French kiss?  Daisy, get off!”  I tried to push him, but he wasn’t having it.  “Get him off me, Gil.”


Gil said, “Come on boy.  He’s awake.”  After Daisy hopped off the bed he added, “We’ll be downstairs waiting.”


“I’ll be there.  Give me a minute.”


When I came downstairs Gil’s father was coming in from outside.  He stomped his feet and said, “I’ll let that truck warm up a little.  Who does your driveway?”


I had to think.  “Some guy comes and plows it.  I think his name is Dennis … something like that.”


“Ryan Ennis?”


“Yeah, that’s him.  He usually comes when the snow stops unless there’s really going to be a lot.  How much is out there?”


“About eight inches now; it’s all fluff.”  He looked at the others and back at me, “Do you have a second?  Is there somewhere we can talk?”


Dory, Mattie and Gil were all standing there and they made themselves scarce.  I smiled, “I guess we can talk right here.  What’s up?”


Mr. Gilman looked around and suddenly voices piped up in the kitchen, making him smile.  He lowered his voice anyhow and said, “I just want to thank you for being a friend to Gil.  He told me you’re like a big brother to him and Lord knows that’s what he needs most right now.”


“I like having Gil around too, but I don’t really do much,” I said, feeling a little embarrassed.  


“Well, maybe it doesn’t take much, but he made it sound like you’re there when he needs to talk to someone.  That’s important by itself, and you’re close to his age so I think it’s easier for him to tell you things that he might be afraid to tell his mother or me, or that doctor he’s seeing for that matter.  Whatever you’re doing, it’s appreciated.  If there’s ever anything you need from me just say the word.”


I said, “I don’t know what that would be, but I guess I know who to call if I ever need a bridge.”


He grinned and held out his hand.  While we shook he said, “When that day comes you call me first.”  He looked toward the kitchen and raised his voice, “Come on, Mattie!  I don’t want to scrape the windows a second time.”


The phone rang just as they were leaving and Dory picked it up, so I went into the living room to goof off.  Gil came in a few minutes later looking all dejected, so I asked about what was wrong.


“Tyler can’t come because of the snow.”


“It’s that bad out?”


“I don’t know.  He said they don’t have four-wheel drive so he’s stuck there.”


“Well, it’s better to be safe.  What if Hector picked him up with the Jeep?”


“You think he would?  Oh man, that would be excellent!”


“Have your mother call his parents and ask.  If they’ll let him come you can go with Hector to show him the way.”


Gil danced out into the kitchen and I picked up the new National Geographic.  Gil was back before I opened the cover.  “Call Hector!  Tyler can come if he has a ride.”


I took my phone out of my pocked and asked, “Did you have dessert?  Never mind, of course you did.  What was it?”


“Ice cream sundaes with Mom’s sauce she makes with maple syrup, walnuts and raisins”


I nodded and called Hector.


“What’s up, amigo?”


“Why don’t you come over for a maple walnut sundae?  Dory made the sauce herself.”


“Ouch!  Don’t twist my arm like that.  When?”


“Now would be good.  Oh, and you don’t mind taking Gil down the street to get his friend, do you?”


“Oh, I don’t know about that.  How much money does Gil have?”


“Don’t put me in the middle of that.  You can make your best deal with him when you get here.  Just remember that he wears runty clothes with little pockets, and they don’t hold much.”


“I’ll try to remember that.  I have to change into my ice cream eating clothes and brush the snow off the Jeep.  I won’t be long.”


Gil was glaring at me when I got off the phone.  “Now it’s runty clothes?  What’s that all about?”


I sighed, “I’m just trying to save you some money.  Go stick a couple of quarters in your pocket and tell Hector that’s all you have.”


“I have to pay him?”


I shrugged, “You don’t have to do anything, but it’s his day off and it’s snowing out.  He’s probably watching a movie about someplace warm and wishing he was in it.  Now he has to go out in the cold and pick up your pal.  You don’t think that’s worth something?”


Gil’s eyes narrowed and he said, “I know what you’re doing.  You’re trying to make me feel bad.  Well okay, I feel terrible and I think I should give Hector however much he wants.  Don’t you think that’s the right thing to do?”


I nodded and Gil said, “Good.  I’ll have to borrow it from you for now, but I promise I’ll pay it back.”


I stared at him and grumbled, “Somehow I think you’re already paying me back.”


Gil smiled brightly, “You catch on fast.  It’s a bitch too, ain’t it?”


Gil was close enough, so I reached out and dug my fingers into his sides just above his belt.  He let out a screech that they probably heard downtown and tried to twist away from me, but ended up turned around while I still had him with my finger tips.  He squirmed and screamed until Dory came in to see what was happening.  I pulled my hands away and put them behind my head just when she came into the room.


Dory asked, “What’s going on in here?”


“I’m not sure,” I said sweetly.  “It’s pretty scary.  Does he have these fits often?  I never saw anyone dance and holler like that.”


Dory’s face expressed disbelief so I said, “Well, Hector should be here any minute.  I have to run upstairs.”  I got up and when I passed Gil I whispered, “I hope you have meds for that.”


I could swear that Gil growled at me, but I was in a hurry and might have misunderstood.


I really didn’t have any reason for being in my room, so I changed into jeans and a sweatshirt and went back down to shovel the walk.  I waited until I saw Hector drive up before I pulled on my boots and a heavy coat and went outside with a snow shovel.  Hector was almost to the house by the time I stepped out so I held the storm door open for him and said hello.


“You’re going to shovel now?  It’s too late, amigo, because I’m already here.”


I shrugged, “It’ll be nice when you get back then.”  I opened the door and called, “Shake a leg, Peewee; Hector’s here.”


Gil was fuming when he came out.  He gave me a really nasty look, but didn’t say anything.  I grinned at Hector while I patted Gil’s shoulder.  “Bring him back safely, Hec.  I want him in one piece when I shoot his ass off.”


Hector looked at Gil, then at me, and shrugged.  “Let’s get out of the Twilight Zone, kid.”


When they drove off I shoveled the walk.  The snow was light and easy to move, but I had to get used to the rough stone work that made it impossible to get everything.  When I finished there I went through the house and out the back door where I cleared the area that went to Daisy’s place.  He stuck his head out from his doghouse when he heard me and must have realized I wasn’t there to play because he backed inside where it was warm.  I brought him in the house with me when I finished shoveling, and I had just shed my coat and boots when Hector brought Gil back with his friend.


Gil made a point of introducing Tyler to Daisy before me, and when I did shake hands with Tyler he turned to Gil and said, “He doesn’t look like a dangerous maniac.  Are you sure?”


Gil’s expression was dead serious when he nodded and said, “Just watch your ass around him.  He shoots from behind.”


Tyler grinned at me and I said, “Don’t worry; the only person I murder is Gil and he doesn’t have the sense to stay dead.  He keeps coming back for more.”


Tyler exhibited some good sense when he changed the subject.  “This sure is a nice house.”


Before I could respond Gil pulled his arm and said, “Come on before he calls you fatso or something, and I’ll show you the tree that me and my mother decorated all by ourselves without any help from anybody, especially Paul.”


They moved fast and were almost out the door when I said, “He’s not fat.”


After they turned the corner I heard Gil yell, “And I’m not a runt!”


Hector held his coat out to me and asked, “What’s going on with you two?”


I took his coat and my knees bent from the weight of it.  I used both hands to hang it up and said, “Nothing, really.  Gil started the day out in a bad mood and I’ve been cheering him up.”


“Oh,” he said as he sat at the table.  “I see.  It must be a Yankee thing, because where I come from people get a little nervous when someone comes after them with a gun.  Add a sword and it’s cause for genuine alarm.”


“Well, yeah; I can see that in the South where people actually have guns and swords.  I keep forgetting they never got over that war.  Around here mostly hunters and policemen have guns, and practically nobody has a sword, at least nobody I know of.”


“So these are just idle threats?  I feel better already if that’s the case.  I’ll remember it too, if it really worked to cheer him up.”


I sat across from him, “Go ahead; I don’t think it’s patented.  Do you want coffee?”


Hector asked, “Can you make tea?  I had a lot of coffee today.”


“I can if you don’t mind tea bags.  We have the other kind, but I don’t know how to work it.”


“Tea bags are fine, amigo.”


I looked in the cupboard and said, “We have Irish Breakfast tea from England and, let’s see, Russian Caravan tea from … China, and, um, Earl Gray from New Jersey.”


Hector chuckled, “The wonderful world of tea, huh?  I’ve never had Russian tea; let me try that.  I don’t care where it’s from.”


I put some water on to boil and asked, “What do you take in it?  We have milk from cow, sugar from cane and lemon from … tree, I think … yeah, there’s that song …”


I started humming.


Hector groaned, “What got you going today?  I don’t need anything with my tea except a little peace and quiet.”


I put teabags into two cups, put the cups on saucers, and brought them to the table.  “I don’t know; I’m a little stir crazy I guess … been inside all day.”


Hector raised his hand and pointed, “There’s the door.  Don’t let me stop you.”


“Really?  Can I take the Jeep?”  The kettle whistled before he could answer, and I brought it to the table.  “Watch out; this thing is tricky to pour from.”


I filled my cup first, and sure enough the little flapper that lets the water out didn’t open until I had it pointed almost straight down, so the boiling water sloshed over the rim of the cup and some splashed out onto the table.  Hector backed away when I poured his, so of course the kettle worked perfectly.


While we waited for the tea to brew Hector asked, “How are things really going with Gil?  I know you had some concerns before and it looks like you’ve broken the ice.”


“I still wonder how he’s dealing with the things he went through, and he hasn’t said anything.  Today he was worried about what I’d think of his father, and he didn’t seem to know how he fit in here.  I think we worked all that out and got past his doubts.  I’ve been teasing him and he takes it pretty well.  He fights back the same way and that’s what you’ve been seeing.  The kid’s pretty quick, too.”


The tea looked ready so I took my teabag out and tried a sip.  I probably made a face because it had an odd taste.  I watched Hector when he tried it and could tell that he also thought it was strange.  “Maybe some milk would be good.  What’s that taste?  It’s kind of like what a cigar smells like.”


I said, “That’s a good description.  Want to try the Irish Breakfast tea instead?”


Hector nodded so I dumped our cups out in the sink and turned the heat up under the kettle.  I put new tea bags and hot water in the cups and carried them to the table.


Hector sighed, “Ah, that’s much better,” after he took a sip.  “Didn’t you say something about dessert?”


“Yeah, I did.  Let me see if I can find it.”


The ice cream was in the freezer and there was a second, unopened carton of it.  I wasn’t sure what I was looking for with the topping so I went to find Dory, who must have gone to her room.  Gil wasn’t downstairs either, and I went upstairs to find him.  He was in his room with Tyler laughing at something on television.  I rapped on the door jamb and when Gil turned I said, “Quick question.  Where’s that maple topping you had on your ice cream?”


Gil held his finger up for a moment and then stopped the video.  “I don’t know.   Ask my mother.”


“I think she’s in her room.  What was it in?  I don’t know what I’m looking for.”


“Um … oh!  It was in a pitcher, like a metal pitcher.  It was warm, so it’s probably near the stove or maybe not.”


It may sound scary, but I found myself understanding Gil’s logic.  “I’ll look.  What are you watching?”


“Christmas Vacation.  You want to watch?  I can start it again.”


I like that movie so I thought about it, “Nah … Hector’s here.  You guys go ahead; I can see it any time.”


I went back downstairs and looked for the pitcher Gil described.  Not finding it I asked Hector, “How does chocolate syrup sound?  Or we can have it with just maple syrup.”


Hector said that either was fine and I had a thought right then.  Sure enough, I went into the dining room and my place at the table was set for dessert.  There was a pewter pitcher sitting on a matching tray and it was heavy with the weight of the contents.  I brought the pitcher to the kitchen to warm it and got another dessert setup out for Hector.  I heated my tea in the microwave and when I finished drinking it the sauce was warm.


Neither of us wanted more tea, so we moved to the dining room and enjoyed giant sundaes that were almost as sweet as baklava.  The sauce was maple syrup loaded with raisins, nuts, chopped dates and currants along with specks of what I thought looked like vanilla bean, although Hector said it might have been nutmeg.  It was delicious and I was stuffed after eating.


“Do you want a brandy, Hec, maybe a glass of sherry?”


Hector hesitated before he responded, “Well, why not?  A little brandy should settle my stomach.”


“Great!  Go get comfortable in the living room.  I’ll clean up here and be right in with a brandy for you.”


Hector left and I brought the dishes out to the kitchen.  I went back to the dining room to see what we had for brandies and sherry.  I wanted sherry and there was a new bottle of Dry Sack fifteen-year-old, so that was a no-brainer.  There were several choices for brandy and cognac so I made note of them and went to tell Hector what we had.  I should have remembered he was from Florida and wouldn’t know to automatically toss logs on a fire, and ours was down to coals.  I stirred the coals while I recited the drinks available and then tossed a couple of small chunks in to resuscitate the fire.


The logs had flamed up when I came back with the drinks.  I put mine down and handed Hector his B&B before I put a bunch of logs on the fire.  I sat opposite Hector and held my glass up as a toast.  “Salut.”


We sat back and had a nice talk while we sipped our drinks.  Hector talked about his childhood in Miami and we compared notes on the things we liked at different ages, which turned out to be mostly the same things.  Miami is vast compared to Boston but, like me, Hector spent most of his time close to home.  I told Hector about our old place on Cape Cod and how much I loved my summers there, and how disgusted I was when I found out that the entire neighborhood had been replaced by a couple of grotesque mansions.


“Rich pricks,” I said.


Hector looked at me and raised an eyebrow, “You’re rich.”


I shook my head.  “My father’s loaded, but he wouldn’t do something like that, not ever.  Our place there wasn’t different than any of them.  It was just a little house on a little lot a few blocks off the beach.  I think the only thing my father ever changed was to have the porch screened in so we could use it for another room.  When he bought it he felt so lucky because those places stay in families forever, until the last one dies off.  Everybody knew everybody else and looked out for each others kids and animals and properties.  We could play right in the road and nobody even honked their horns at us.  They waited or went a different way or just parked and walked.  Now it’s all gone because some bastards had to put their trophies right there.”


“Those people must have got decent money for those places to all sell out.”


“Dad said the town made it tough on them to stay; they came up with regulations or new taxes that jacked the cost of staying way up and made the buyout offers look pretty good.”


“Why you think they did that?”


I shrugged, “Why wouldn’t they?  I’m sure they get a lot more tax money from those new houses than all the old ones put together and they get away with doing less.  They get rid of a few hundred summer people, even more on weekends, for a couple of new mansions that hardly ever get used.”  I smiled sheepishly at Hector, “Let’s change the subject.”


He smiled and held up his empty snifter, “Okay, how about another one of these?”


“Coming up.”


Hector and I talked some more after I returned with fresh drinks, and Hector was in the middle of a joke when Lisa called.  I didn’t want to be rude to Hector, nor did I want to miss the call, and the call won out.  Hector must have seen the indecision on my face because he stopped and said, “Go ahead.”


Lisa said, “We just got home.  We stayed a long time and Daddy wanted me to drive home to get used to snow.  It’s a lot different than I expected, but I did it!”


I smiled, “You seem pleased.”


“I am now, but I was really nervous at first, and before I learned about antilock brakes I thought I broke something.”


We talked for about ten minutes and decided it was late for a visit so I said I’d try to see her the next day.


I opened my mouth to talk to Hector and the phone rang again, Tommy this time.


“Hey, Tom”


“Hey yourself.  McNaughton called.  Skiing tomorrow?”


“Yes!  Where?”


“We’ll get the ski report in the morning.  Do you have a preference?”


“Close is good.  We never made it to Bromley last year.  Who’s going?”


“Dan and Jim for sure.  Shea’s not answering his phone, so maybe I’ll walk over and ask.”


I said, “Count me in.  I’m getting drunk with Hector.  Want to come over?”


Tom snorted, “With Hector?  You mean you’re getting drunk and he’s watching you.”


“Oh, it’s not like that.  It’s a little known fact, but Hector is a devout drinker.  And it’s Sunday!”  I glanced at Hector and his look was a bit darker than I expected.  I told Tom, “I’ll be ending that train of thought now, but come over if you want.  I’ll make you a killer sundae that you can eat first so you get drunk slower.”


Tom said, “Yeah, why not?  I’ll see you in a few.”


Hector’s scowl intimidated me.  “Devout drinker?  Devout?  What’s that all about?  I suggest you make it good.”


“I’m trying to protect your reputation, that’s all.”  I smiled.


Hector didn’t smile.  “Explain, please.”


Uh-oh.  “Look at it this way.  You’re this huge guy, extra large times five if I remember, and you have the look; I mean, the muscle shirts, the big-mama pistol, the dark complexion, and you can disappear … poof … just like that.  It’s perfect, and then you go spoil it.  You pet doggies, bounce little kids on your knee and go all goofy when you see a kitty cat.  That’s all okay to do, but you have to counter-balance it; like carry a big sucker nail for a toothpick, get a fat gold earring, a dagger to clean your nails with, maybe … maybe some pets.  Yeah.  You like animals – get a saber-tooth tiger for one hand and a couple of snarling Dobermans for the other, and for God’s sake drink.  Not that pansy crap either; drink something manly like … like rum!  That’s it; yo-ho-ho and all that …”


Hector’s face was closer to mine than I remembered and had become even less friendly-looking.  I leaned back a hair, “I’m, um … I’m yo-ho-ho-ing myself into an early grave, aren’t I?  Well, let me say this about that.  If you can keep that expression going you won’t need all those other things … the stuff I …said.  No, you won’t need that at all, Hector.  Hector?”


I was saved when Tom made a racket coming in the back door and Daisy came roaring down the stairs all a-woof to meet him.  Tom had figured out early on that a hot dog was the shortest path to Daisy’s heart and he usually stuck one in his pocket when he knew he was coming to our house.  He also knew to give it to Daisy right away or he’d be responsible for mopping up the sea of drool that pooled up on the floor while he teased the dog.


When I went to the kitchen I found that Shea had come with Tom, and we both laughed when Daisy started running crazy-fast circles around Tommy.  Tom made a show of looking for the hot dog in his pockets and Daisy ran faster until he produced it.  When Tom held the hot dog up high Daisy stopped so fast he went skidding across the floor.  When he finally gobbled the hot dog down we were all laughing and I stroked Daisy’s head, “You work awful hard for a hot dog.” 


He ignored me and licked Tommy’s hand hopefully, but Tom said, “Sorry, only one to a customer.”


Tom and Shea were still getting out of their coats and boots when Gil and Tyler came in and Gil announced, “We’re hungry.”


I stood aside and said, “Help yourselves,” and bopped Gil’s shoulder.  “Be a good host and offer something to Tom and Shea, too.”


Gil looked at me like I’d spoken backwards.  He put his hand on his heart and asked, “Me?  I don’t know how to cook.”


“You don’t have to cook anything; just put a bunch of goodies on the table and have at it.  If you want more than junk you can open a jar of pickles.  Here, I’ll help.  You hit the fridge and I’ll look in the cabinets.”


We soon had a pile of chips, crackers, packaged dips, pepperoni, cookies, various nuts, a jar of salsa, a jar of Cheez Whiz and a lot of other things on the table, and the other four guys were sitting around it.  Hector had joined us by then, but we’d just had ice cream and neither of us was hungry so we leaned against the counter.


I said, “Tom, Hector needs a pet.  Where can we get a saber-tooth tiger?”


Tom gave me a dirty look because I asked just when he was bringing a Ritz cracker with a two-inch deep glob of Cheez Whiz to his mouth.  “Try the museum of Natural History.  They’re extinct.”


“Oh, no!  Those poor things.  What happened?”


“I don’t know, Paul.  They died is what happened.”


I thought about it and turned to Hector, “Never mind, we can get a regular tiger and buy it some Halloween teeth.  I know for a fact that Dobermans aren’t extinct and they put on a great scare act.  Nobody’s gonna mess with you with all those fangs on your side.”


Tom was used to me and paid no attention, but I can’t say that for the other three.  They were waiting eagerly to hear what I’d say next, and when Tom noticed he said, “Don’t pay any attention to Paul.  He gets a supernormal idea sometimes and it’s best if you just wait for it to pass.”  That satisfied the other guys and they returned to their eating without comment.


Hector said, “I didn’t really want a tiger anyhow.  My job isn’t great for a pet owner.”


“I guess.  It could be a service tiger, though, and you could bring it on jobs with you.  I bet you’d be the only private security agent in Vermont with a saber-tooth tiger for an assistant.”


Hector was ready to laugh; I could see that, and he beat me to the punch line.  “I don’t know about that, but I bed I’d have the only one with false teeth.”


We all had a laugh at that, and Tyler spoke up, “Do you always hang onto your ideas so long?”


Tom groaned and said in a loud whisper, “Don’t ask him questions like that unless you want a long, long answer.”  He immediately asked me, “Did you think of where you want to ski tomorrow?”


“Who got the most snow?”


Shea said, “They got more way up north, like at Burke and Jay.  It looked like the rest of the state got pretty much what we did.”


Gil butted in, “You’re going skiing?  I want to learn how.”


“Me too,” Tyler offered.


I didn’t know what to say and just looked at the two of them.  Tom came to the rescue.  “Our car’s full tomorrow, but I’ll take you another day if we can get a ride somewhere.  That’s if you’re allowed to go.”


They both looked disappointed and I felt bad, but there wasn’t anything I could do.  Then Hector said, “I’d like to go tomorrow, just to get in a little practice before we go to Canada.  If I do go I’ll have room in the Jeep.”


That got Gil and Tyler excited, and Hector made Gil get permission from Dory before Tyler even called his parents.  We explained the learn-to-ski deals to Dory when she joined us, and I said I’d pay this time without telling her what it might cost.  She seemed eager enough and she spoke to Tyler’s father when Tyler called home.  I had extra ski hats and mittens, and Tom and I each had spare goggles.  All Gil and Tyler needed were the warm clothes that they already owned.


When they knew they were going they were too excited to eat any more, and so excited they were hard to be with.  Tom suggested, “Why don’t you get on YouTube and learn something about skiing?”


Gil and Tyler looked at each other, back at Tom, and they turned and raced toward the stairs, leaving an excited, “Thanks,” hanging where they’d been standing.


Shea looked at Tom and said, “That was mean.”


“Why mean?  YouTube has learn-to-ski videos.”


That’s one thing I’d never thought to look for on YouTube and it gave me an idea.  “Maybe I’ll make a video of Dana learning to ski when we’re at Whistler.”


Tom got an evil look in his eyes, “Oh man, that could be a riot.  Take him from rank beginner to downhill racer in one lesson.  You need one of those cameras where you can do slow motion and fast motion.  This is something you have to do.”


I was grinning until I looked at the table.  “Are you going to eat any more?”


Tom looked at the food in front of him and shook his head while Shea just looked mortified at the thought of more food.  I started picking up the empties and dirty dishes and came back for the leftover food.  I picked up a half-full jar of Cheez-Whiz and just stared at it.  “What do I do with this?”


Tom seemed puzzled and said, “Maybe it says on the label.”


Hector asked, “What’s the matter?”


“We never had any left … ever.”  I held it out to Tom and said, “Here; you take it home.”


Tom laughed as he reached for the jar.  “This is premature.  Leave those corn chips and a knife.”


That was it.  I stopped cleaning and the four of us sat around the table until the corn chips were gone, and I retrieved a box of crackers.  We ate those until the Cheez-Whiz jar was shiny-clean and we were stuffed.


I called Jim McNaughton while we were together.  His brother had just looked at the snowfall totals and there wasn’t much difference at the ski areas around us.  He had a list of areas and we decided to go through them alphabetically.  Ascutney had closed and Bolton Valley was too far for a day trip, so Bromley Mountain won by default.  It’s not a very challenging mountain, a fact in its favor for our first outing of the year, and it’s only about forty miles up the road.


We broke up after deciding to leave around eight the next morning.  Daisy came down and hung around the back door, so I let him out after Tom and Shea left.  I finished cleaning up in the kitchen and the living room and let Daisy back in before I said goodnight to Hector and climbed the stairs to my room.  I went down the hall to Gil’s room and told them to shut up and go to bed, which is exactly what I did when I got to my room.


I hoped to sleep until at least seven the next morning, but Dory was knocking on my open door well before that.  “Paul, are you awake?”


“Mmmph,” I acknowledged.


“Paul, wake up.  The heat isn’t working.”


That took a moment to filter through my cloudy brain and I grumbled, “I hate when this happens.”  I got up on an elbow and looked at Dory, “Did the oil man come lately?”


“Yes, he was here about ten days ago.”


I sighed, “Then you have to fix it.  I mean I’ll fix it.  I’ll be down in a few minutes.”


“Do you know how?”




“Oh, that’s wonderful.  Does it take long?”


“No, not to reset everything.  It takes a while for the house to warm back up.  Let me put something on and I’ll be right down.  Maybe you can start the coffee.”


She left and I sat up and got my bearings before I even turned the light on.  I put my bathrobe and slippers on and went to the bathroom before I went downstairs.  I looked at the digital thermostat and sure enough it was blinking the signal that lets you know it’s gone insane and has shut everything down until such time as someone in the know comes along and reminds it how to work.  Dory came in to watch and I showed her.  “See this little red light going blink-blink-blink?  When it does it in threes like that it’s rapping, and the words say that it’s a piece of crap, but it won’t ever get replaced as long as it doesn’t play this game when my father’s home.  Anyhow, press this button and hold it till the light alternates between red and green; then you have five minutes to reset the furnace.”


I showed her the furnace reset which is at the top of the basement stairs, and after that the thermostat light was the steady green that means all is well.  Dory started writing that all down, and I brought a cup of coffee up to my room.  I don’t often take a shower before skiing and I didn’t that day.  I washed up and brushed my teeth.  There wasn’t any point in trying to make my hair work because I’d be wearing a wool cap all day, so I was ready in no time.


I went down the hall to Gil’s room to find him and Tyler still in bed.  “Time to get up,” I said as I tapped on the door jamb.


“I’m up,” Gil moaned without opening his eyes.


“You’re not up.  You’re still in bed and if I turn around you’ll be back asleep.”


Gil snaked his hand out from under the covers and wiggled it.  “Okay, I’m up now.”


“Am I supposed to take your hand skiing?  I need more than that.”


Gil cussed under his breath and his covers suddenly went flying, leaving him in his sweat shorts and a tee.  “Jesus, cold!  What’d you do, open a window?”  He grabbed hold of the covers and pulled them back over his legs and about halfway up his chest.


I looked at Tyler, whose eyes were open but a bit dull looking.  “Are you up?”


“Who can sleep in this kind of weather?  What do I have to wear?”


“Do you have long johns and snow pants?”




“You need those.  Everything else, just dress for the weather.  I have hats, ski mittens, and goggles you both can use, so get moving.  I’ll be downstairs having breakfast, so one of you can use my bathroom if you want to.”


Daisy was looking at me from the floor and yawned hugely when I noticed him.  I said, “Come on, boy.  You want to go outside?”


He continued staring, so I shrugged my shoulders and left.  Dory was frying bacon when I got to the kitchen and asked if I’d like an omelet.  That sounded good, and I sat down to a nice breakfast.  I finished eating just when Daisy trotted into the kitchen followed by Gil and Tyler.  They continued on their way outside with no jackets.  I knew they wouldn’t be long and cleaned up my place at the table before I left to search for mittens and hats.


Shea came in while I was looking and I heard him decline Dory’s offer of something to eat or drink.  When he found me he was grinning from ear to ear.  “I got skis for Christmas and I have them with me!”


“Hey, great.  What’d you get?”


“They’re Elans.  I got an upper-intermediate model.  That’s good, right?”


I smiled, “You’ll make them right.  It’s good to have something you can stay with for more than one season.  You should have seen Dana go through skis when we were in South America.”


“What do you mean?  He didn’t wear ‘em out, did he?”


I laughed, “He might have; he sure didn’t show them any mercy.  What I meant was he kept getting faster and faster ones.  How’s the snow look out there, anyhow?”


“It’s nice.  We have about ten inches at our back door.”


I said, “Excellent,” just as Tom walked in and a horn honked outside.  I looked out and it was Dan’s car, so I went to the door and waved them in.  They were early and Hector wasn’t there yet.  I picked up the hats, mittens and goggles for Gil and Tyler.  Tom added his spare goggles and we put them on the counter.  I told Gil not to forget them, and turned around when Jim and Dan stomped the snow off in the hall.  Dan had a coffee while Shea, Tom and I put our skis in his ski rack and our other gear in the cargo area.


Hector was ready to get going as soon as he arrived, so we were soon on the road up to Bromley.  The ski area is only about forty miles from the house, but the road takes a lot of twists and turns and parts of it hadn’t been cleared that well.  It was a holiday week to boot, so there was considerable traffic and the trip took an hour and a quarter.  The area itself was busy too, with a long line of cars ahead of us looking for parking spots, and more lines at the ticket windows.


I gave Tom the money for my ticket and went with Hector, Gil and Tyler to find the ski school.  I should have thought to call ahead; they only got into the day’s program because of a cancellation, and I was facing another dilemma.  The package for one day was a hundred and nine dollars and a second day only added thirty dollars more.  Hector said he’d be happy to bring them the next day, so they both called home to ask permission.  I had to speak with both Dory and Tyler’s mothers, and they both protested the expense, but since I was paying it didn’t take a lot of convincing to win their approval.  We left them at the school’s meeting place after asking when and where we could find them later.


Hector had to rent equipment, and I went to find the other guys in the base lodge where they were filling their pockets with goodies for the morning.  When Hector showed up we went out to go skiing just after the lifts opened.


One nice thing about Bromley is that it’s simple to find your way around.  There is a top-to-bottom spine straight out from the lodge, with easy cruising trails right under a quad lift.  To the left side are the easy trails and the hard stuff is to the right, with intermediate trails mixed in all over the place.  There isn’t any expert terrain, but there are some steep glades that had always intimidated me.  I was looking forward to trying them, although skiing in Chile didn’t prepare me for trees in the middle of the trails.  There were a lot of woods at Whistler, though, so the practice would be good for me.  It would be good if I didn’t crash into a tree.


We had a good time.  The day was crisp and clear, the snow was beautifully fast, and it felt great to be out on skis again.  We ran the middle cruisers a couple of times to warm up and then headed over to the steeper trails.  I was disappointed to find the glades trails closed, but there were ski tracks leading into them.  After a few runs I saw two guys coming out of one of the glades and chased after them.


I caught up with them at the lift and they were laughing when I approached.


“Hi.  Do you work here?”




“I saw you coming out of the glades and I want to ski them.  Is there enough snow?”


They looked at each other and turned back to me.  One said, “Barely, but enough to keep you out of trouble if you’re a good skier.”


“What happens if I get caught?”


They both snickered, “You get yelled at the first time.  After that they can pull your ticket, but I don’t think they will for just skiing on a closed trail.  Don’t worry today; there are a lot of people here and I don’t think you’ll even be on their radar.”  He laughed, “That’s what we’re counting on.  See you in the trees!”


They turned into the lift line laughing again.  Tom had appeared beside me and I said, “Let’s go in the glades.”


We did.  The trails weren’t well covered at first, but the snow was falling from the trees and each run gave us better conditions.  They weren’t really bad to begin with, because the bad spots were mostly iced-over leaves that didn’t do a lot to change the dynamic of the surface.  After all our wild skiing in Chile trees were still intimidating things, so we never did ski really fast.  I managed a good spill anyhow and had the wind knocked out of me, but didn’t hit anything so no harm done.


We probably wouldn’t have stopped for lunch, but we all went to meet up with Gil and Tyler at the ski school where they were waiting for us.


I asked, “How’d it go?” as we approached.


Tyler smiled, “That’s fun!”


Gil growled, “It sucks.  I just don’t get it.”


I said, “Okay … let’s eat and you can tell us all about it.”


The skis they had for the day didn’t come with locks, so Tom and I wormed them in with ours and we went inside.  The food lines were long.  I didn’t want to wait at the checkout so I gave Gil and Tyler each twenty bucks for food, and asked Hector what he wanted because he was going to scout out a table for us.


When we were at the table with our food unwrapped I said, “So Gil, are you going to tell us about your failings?”


Boy, that earned me a hateful stare.  “My failings?  Do you mean those crappy boards on my feet, or the crappy boots, or maybe you want to hear about my crappy instructor?”


I grinned, “Um, what I really wanted to hear about was the crappy snow, but you’re cute when you blame everything and everyone but you.  You’re just not very good at it.”


Tom grinned, “Listen carefully.  The master is about to speak.”


“Thank you, Tom.  Crappy doesn’t cut it, Gil.  That’s a word for the rank novice.  You didn’t have crappy boots; they were two sizes too big and your feet wobbled all around in them.  And your skis; don’t call them crappy; say somebody must have put glue on the bottoms instead of wax.  As for the teacher, this is a piece of cake.  Say he spoke six languages, all with a lisp, and none of them were English.  How am I supposed to know what some guy is saying in Azerbaijani with a lisp when I don’t even lisp?”


Gil was smiling, “Why don’t I just say I don’t know Azer-whatever you said?”


“Gil, Gil, Gil, I’m so disappointed.  That would be admitting to yet another failing of your own.  Of course you speak Azerbaijani, but you speak the Queen’s Azerbaijani.”


“The Queen’s?  But that would be with a lisp, wouldn’t it?”  Gil smirked.  The runt smirked at me!


We all laughed and I asked around, “See how fast he learns?”  I turned back to Gil, “But!  As good a comeback as that was, it smacks of homophobia and I’ve already told you my feelings about that kind of talk.  You get to walk home.”


Gil rolled his eyes and said, “My hamburger’s getting cold.  I need energy if I’m supposed to hitch a ride home.”


Hector said, “He’s riding with me, Paul.”


“Oh yeah, I forgot.  Alright, I give up.  Let’s eat and go skiing.  Who wants to teach Gil?”


Hector asked, “Who do you want to teach you, Gil?”




“Um,” Tom said, “Paul’s not very patient.”


“Neither am I, so Paul can teach me fast and we can go skiing for real.”  Gil looked at me, “In English, right?  No lisp.”


I looked around and asked, “Isn’t anyone going to question that logic?”  I was met with silence, shaking heads, and a big grin from Gil.


“Alright, alright, I’ll tell you what.  I’ll show you how to ski backwards so you can see what you should have looked like, then you can turn around and figure it out yourself.”  I took a huge bite of my hamburger so I wouldn’t be able to talk while everyone considered that.  If they didn’t have a problem with Gil’s bad logic, they shouldn’t worry that my logic was worse.


Dan said softly, “I’ll teach you, Gil.”


“No, I will,” Shea said.


“You just learned last year yourself.”


“That’s better, isn’t it?  I remember how to learn.  I bet you don’t.”


Even with a mouthful I managed a smile.  Leave it to Shea when logic is in short supply.


Shea went on, “Do they get nicknames before or after they ski?”


Jim said, “Go ahead; put me on the spot.  Gil’s easy because he burns Paul up, so he’s the Torch with the Touch.  I guess we can go with Torch for short.  I don’t know Tyler, but he’s kind of an arbitrator; he tries to keep things calm.  I got it!  Silky Sam!”


Shea, Gil, and Tyler were all grinning and Shea asked, “How do you do that?”


Gil was more to the point.  “We don’t have a say in this?”


Tom patted Gil’s shoulder, “If you have a problem with your name bring it to Silky Sam for arbitration.  He can  be the one to tell you to take a long walk off a short pier.”


Dan said, “I have an idea.  Let’s go skiing before they close the lifts.”


Dan was right, and we gobbled up the rest of the food, cleared the table, and headed back out into the snow.  We all followed Shea and Gil over to the beginner’s lift, then Dan and I took Tyler to a chair in a novice area.  That’s when we found out that the ski school tickets were only good for the lifts in the training area.  Tom, Jim and Hector were still with us and I said, “Let’s do this:  I’ll ski with Tyler over there first, and we can take turns.  So go take a run and decide who will relieve me, and we’ll go like that for the afternoon.”


I turned to Tyler and said, “You go first.  Show me what you got.”


He didn’t have much, and I wouldn’t have expected him to after a single lesson.  We weren’t on enough of a hill to even think about cutting turns, but Tyler made it standing up and stopped by sitting down in the snow when we got to the lift.  I hadn’t seen Gil and Shea so I was surprised when Shea pulled up beside me and stopped Gil’s forward progress by grabbing his arm.


Gil smiled a little and said softly, “It’s easier to ski in English.  Why are you here?”


“Your tickets are only good here.  Is there someplace with a little more hill than this?”


Shea said, “Yeah.  Take the lift up and go off to the left.  That’s a little better, and there’s a t-bar over there that goes up a bigger hill.  I want Gil to stay down here for a few more runs, but he’s getting it.”


Shea had been right.  Hills and lifts that were so painfully slow to me now had been intimidating and frighteningly fast the first day I’d skied.  When I started, every part of skiing was at once unfamiliar and terrifying, and it took several lessons before I had any confidence in myself.  It was that confidence that allowed me to develop the competencies that helped me to keep advancing.  My first few times out were in ski school, and I learned the basics there.  After my lessons I’d go out with my father and learn more by skiing with him while I probably bored him to tears.


Well, I’d made the offer and I had fun skiing with Tyler while he got the hang of it.  It hadn’t been long when Dan showed up and I headed up the mountain.  That half hour plodding along with Tyler made the upper trails all the more fun when I was free to ski fast and loose, and it seemed like no time at all before the lifts were closing.


We met up in the base lodge where we bought drinks and got out of our ski things.  Nobody got hurt or lost anything, so it had been a good day.  Gil and Tyler were both excited and trying to out-talk each other; I could picture Hector explaining the term shut up to them about ten minutes into the ride home.


Maybe he didn’t, because they were still yammering when we got to the house, and the unfamiliar car in the driveway was explained when Tyler told the world that his mother or father was there.


It turned out that they were both there and had brought him some clean clothes and pocket money.  Dan and Jim headed out, and I brought my things in through the back door accompanied by Tom and Shea.  Gil and Tyler still had their mouths spinning like prices on a gas pump while Daisy danced around and woofed us welcome, so it was a crazy scene in the kitchen, made crazier because Dory had a big tray full of snacks set out for us.


I sort-of met Tyler’s parents, but I was deaf by then and didn’t hear their names.  We just smiled and shook hands.  I patted Shea on the back and hoped he’d recognize that as thanks for cranking Gil up to such a level of excitement.


Tom and Shea left to go home and I went up to my room and shed a few layers of clothing before I called Lisa.  She announced that she was ready for Christmas and had the next day free.  She wondered if I was still busy, which was a hint, and asked me to lunch if I wasn’t.  I wasn’t busy, but if I had been I would have become unbusy when she said she was baking stromboli in the lime kiln.  Their kiln was made to fire ceramic tiles, and it brought them up to about twenty-five hundred degrees.  When they weren’t making tiles the kiln continued to run at its banked temperature of seven-hundred degrees.  That’s hotter than a normal kitchen oven will reach, and it’s perfect for baking Italian breads and for making pizza.  I knew I’d be in for a real treat of the Strombolian variety.


I was tired from being outdoors and skiing all day, and my persistent yawning made Lisa feel enough pity to tell me to have a nice nap.


I did.  I snoozed from the time I closed the phone till Gil woke me up two hours later.  He rapped on my open door, “Paul?  Mom’s making roast beef sandwiches.  Do you want to eat now?”


I was hungry so I said, “I’ll get up.  Just let me wake up and wash and I’ll be right down.  Where’s Tyler?”                                                                                                                            


“He’s in the bathroom.  We were sleeping too.”  Gil came over and sat on the edge of my bed.  He spoke softly, “I want to say thanks.”


That surprised me, “You’re welcome.  I’m glad you guys had a good time.”


“I don’t mean the skiing.  Well, I do mean the skiing, but I mean thanks for everything—for all you do.  You told me you’d fix things and now I know what you meant.  I don’t know why you bothered with me, but I’m happier than I can ever remember.  I don’t mean to embarrass you; I just wanted to say that.”


I smiled at Gil as I stood up, and I beckoned him to stand.  I said, “There’s something we need to do once in a while,” and pulled him into a gentle hug, which we held for several seconds.  When I backed off he was smiling and I patted his shoulder, “I’ll see you downstairs.”


I watched Gil walk to the door, where he turned and looked at me.  When he saw me already looking at him he smiled and nodded before he left.


… more