Thursday, May 11, 2017

Chapter 52

The last day of school before Christmas vacation the kids at the high school spent their time making hand made cards for their parents and otherwise talking and laughing, and sharing their wish lists with each other, some smacking themselves on the head for not thinking of one thing or other, some boasting that they'd gotten it the year before.

With a large family, even one that was well off compared to the majority of families in the town, the Rossi's kept the wish list to the top three per child, although the lists were waived in the cases of the grand children who received things their parents hadn't even considered putting on the lists, which the grandparents demanded be written and presented by no later than November 1st.

Amadeo had, on November first, startled his father by asking for one thing. 

"Absolutely NOT!"  said Johnny, firmly.  He was seated at his desk and had welcomed the intrusion into his study in the hopes that he'd get a happy break from his work. 

"But dad..."  the supplicant tried to argue. 

"No buts!  You are not getting a motorcycle."

"Its not a motorcycle, dad, it's just a scooter."

"Which is?"

"Just basically a bicycle with a motor on it.
"
"If it's a bike with a motor it's a motorcycle."  his father maintained.

"Dad!  It's..."

"No!"

"Dad..."

Johnny Rossi put his hand out in a familiar gesture, "Devo fare il mio punto sul tuo posteriore?"  he asked.  (Do I need to make my point on your backside?)

Amadeo's jaw had clamped shut.  "No sir."  he'd replied through his teeth.

"Do you think an attitude is going to make me change my mind?"

Amadeo relaxed his jaw.  "No, sir.  Sorry sir,"  he'd said respectfully.  "May I go now?"

"Go on,"  he said, “And don't bother trying to go over my head and ask your mother because we discuss all matters of this magnitude!" he called as his son left the room.

Amadeo was a little put out. He really hadn't thought that a scooter was that big a deal, especially since he'd found one that needed a little work and it would cost as much as three reasonably priced presents, but his father hadn't even let him get that far. 

'Deo had gone to the living room and sat on the couch to sulk.  He wasn't normally one to engage in such a pastime but he felt that this was an appropriate occasion.  If his father had at least listened it wouldn't have been so bad, he'd thought, but he hadn't gotten past the words motor scooter before his father had said no. 

Terri had sympathized when she'd found him in the living room several minutes later, but she'd agreed with their father, citing all sorts of horrible things that could happen on a scooter.

"I could step off of a curb and get hit by a truck.  Should I avoid curbs too?"  he'd asked sarcastically.

"No," she'd replied mildly, "Just use your head and look both ways before you cross."  Then she'd gotten up and walked away.

<<<<<<<>>>>>>> 
  
" 'Deo?  Dae?!  Madman!"

"What?"  Amadeo groused at Milo first for breaking into his thoughts and for calling him Madman again.  He was just glad that they were in the gazebo and not at school where anyone and everyone could have heard and started calling him that just to get under his skin.

"I asked you three times, what were you hoping to get?"

"What I want and what I'm going to get are two different things."  he grumbled.  "What I want is cool and fun.  I mean, I'll be grateful for anything I get, but I really wanted that Lambretta this year."

Milo rolled his eyes.  "Me too.  All I got was a lecture on how expensive they are, and how dangerous they are, and did I think my parents were rich enough to afford a motorcycle and hospital bills and who was expected to pay for the gas..."  he sighed deeply.

"My dad didn't get past 'NO!'"  Amadeo said.  "And once the Drill Sargent has spoken his words are carved in stone and can't be broken even with a jackhammer."

So how much was the scooter you wanted?"  Angelo asked.

"It was only $150.00."  'Deo complained.

Angelo's and Milo's eyebrows shot up.  "Only?!"  Milo asked in shock.  "Do you realize how long I'd have to work to earn that kind of cash?"

"Yeah, working for your parents.  But in a real job...  I wonder if I could get a job somewhere and earn the money, then they can't say no."

"You're sixteen, I think they can still say no."  Angelo said quietly.  "I mean, I'm not sure but..."  he shrugged.

Amadeo let out a huge sigh.  "I'm being an idiot anyway, it's not like I'll die if I don't get a scooter.  I'm just acting like a spoiled brat, I guess."

"You guess?"  Milo laughed.

Amadeo smiled and shouldered his friend, who made a show of trying to stay upright on the stone ledge.
  
"What do you do for Christmas, Ange?  Anything?"  asked Milo, knowing that Angelo's family wasn't religious and didn't attend any of the local churches, though they'd been seen dressed casually, driving through town in their car early Sunday mornings and coming back in the early afternoon.

"Not much, really.  Mom makes a fantastic dinner, as usual.  Sometimes Matt and Mark come over, sometimes not, it depends on the year, they switch between our house and their wives for holidays.  This year they're both going to be with their in laws."

"Anyway, we do gifts.  Usually little hand made things.  Letters to each other. Books or candy.  We keep the store-bought stuff to a minimum though."

"Can't stand the crowds?"  Milo asked knowingly. 

"Crowds?  You haven't seen a crowd til you've lived in New York."  Angelo laughed.  "Nah, it's not the crowds.  Mamma and pop say that Christmas is too commercialized, and that people forget the real reason for the holiday.  So we just have a small tree, and give each other little gifts."
  
He didn't mention that they normally didn't exchange gifts with friends, but Angelo had picked several of his better artworks to give as gifts to his friends.  This would be the first Christmas that he had real friends to give gifts to.

"Mamma does this thing I love, when she sets up the manger." he said, gazing peacefully at nothing in particular, "She's very secretive about it, but she'll go around the week before Christmas and gather up little things." He measured about a half inch between his fingers to show the size. 

"No one knows what because we've all been forbidden to ever look, but she wraps them up, and on Christmas day there they all are in the kresh at the foot of the manger with the statuette of the baby that she hides somewhere until early that morning."

"That's a great tradition."  Milo said admiringly. 

"I like that."  Amadeo said thoughtfully.  "Would you mind terribly if I adopted it?"

Angelo smiled shyly.  "No, I don't mind." 

Amadeo wanted so badly to kiss his boy at that moment.

"Go ahead."  Milo said.

"What?"  Amadeo asked, coming out of his reverie. 

"I can see that you want to do it, so go ahead."

"What are you talking about?"  Amadeo asked, hoping that he was hearing what he thought he was hearing.

"Kiss him!"  Milo yelled, smiling.  "If you're self-conscious I'll turn my back but I can tell you want to kiss him, so go ahead."

"How did you know? How long have you known?  Who else knows?"  Amadeo asked. 

"I knew..."  Milo looked up at the roof of the gazebo thoughtfully.  "The day Angelo nearly got run over by that car and you chewed me out.  As far as anyone else knowing, other than Steve and his band who, if I'm right are the same way, I'm pretty sure it's still a closely guarded secret.  But..."  he shrugged, "as far as how I knew?  Man, you're my best friend.  I've known you since we were five.

 We're like brothers, closer than most brothers."

"And you're OK with it?" Amadeo asked softly, "When did you first suspect?  I thought I was really good at hiding it." Amadeo asked, stunned.  Judging by the expression on Angelo's face he was feeling the same way.

"Yeah,I'm OK with it. I suspected a couple of years ago, when all the guys were talking about this or that girl and you just stood there with a smile and didn't say anything.  The other guys just thought that with so many sisters you had more respect for girls and wouldn't talk about them like that, but I saw the way the other guys looked at the girls and how you looked at them, and it wasn't the same look."

Milo looked embarrassed for a moment and then continued,  "When I first suspected about you and Angelo I wasn't happy and I wasn't sure I could handle it.  But what you said about Mikey held for you as well.  If anyone treated you badly because you're a little different... would I stand by let them hurt you?  The answer was no. I thought to myself, if I'd been like that, and you found out... I know you'd never have hated me for it. You know?"

"You got that right, Tonto."  Amadeo said quietly with a gentle smile.  "I know it's not the easiest thing to say or admit to but... it's what we are. I appreciate your understanding and not.... well, turning your back on me. Calling me names and such. And I've heard some really despicable things said about people... like us."

"Yeah, me too, which is why I couldn't stand the idea of someone doing it... saying those things to you.  Your secret is safe with me, all right?  Wild horses and all that junk.  OK?"

"Jerk."  said Milo, shouldering his friend.

"Idjit."  Amadeo said, returning the gesture.

"So, get to it.  I'll close my eyes, just don't do what my older brother does and make all those smoochy sounds, that's just gross."  he said, closing his eyes and humming tunelessly. 

Amadeo looked around to see if anyone was nearby then looked at Angelo who had apparently been struck dumb by the entire conversation.

"Well, you heard the man.  Kissing but no smoochy sounds."  he said, leaning in toward Angelo and kissing him soundly but soundlessly.
  
******************************************************************************

NOTES:
Lambretta was a line of motor scooters originally manufactured in Milan, Italy by 
Fernando Innocenti, 1947



Chapter 51

Shandon Liam Cobrane was not having a good day.  Actually, that was putting it mildly.

Shandon Liam Cobrane was having an absolutely lousy day.  It seemed to him as though the student population had gone insane.  He'd checked to see if 'the stoners' had lit another pile of pot in the ventilation ducts again.  He'd even had the gas lines checked surreptitiously to avoid panic, because he just could not figure out why the students were behaving as they were.


To be sure, Thanksgiving was coming up, and then Christmas, but that did not explain why students were seemingly, suddenly, inexplicably, breaking rules up, down and sideways.  He'd handed out eight detentions that morning alone, and ten more in the afternoon.  On a regular day he'd average five at most.


The night before, some students had broken into the school and spray painted graffiti in the gymnasium.  If one boy named Mekhi hadn't cleverly painted his name on the wall they would never have known where to start looking for the culprits.


Mekhi, unwilling to take the rap alone, quickly gave up his fellow conspirators, who were all sentenced to a paddling and suspension.  The duration of their suspension would be spent repainting the gym with a color chosen by the school with paint paid for by the culprits.


Misters Barnes and Cobrane knew that the boys didn't have the money to pay for the paint and that their parents would have to split the cost between them, which did not please their parents, who described to their children in great detail what would happen to them once they were home.


Between the aftermath of several pranks that went wrong, a student who was so nervous that he threw up on Cobrane's shoes, students who'd been referred to him for repeatedly not handing in their homework or acting up in class and the school nurse walking off the job because one of the boy's had pulled up her skirt, that was the only pleasure Shandon Liam Cobrane had experienced all day.


By the time he got home that evening he was frustrated, and so angry that he was grinding his teeth.  His jaw hurt from the constant pressure.  He kicked his shoes off on the porch and took off his socks, even though he'd cleaned up at school hours before.


"Welcome home, Shan."  Said Elias, understandingly,  "Bad day, huh?  Come here, let me help."  he said as he took his lover bodily and sat him down at the table, where he began to massage his shoulders.


"Don't." complained Cobrane, pulling away.


"Come on, hon, you'll feel better once you relax a little.  Can I make you some tea?"


"Whiskey."  he replied.


"That bad, eh?  Well, you know we don't keep liquor in the house so it'll have to be tea.  A little honey and lemon, the way you like it?"


Cobrane got up and went to his room without answering.  He picked out comfortable clothes and fresh socks and went to take a shower.  He felt as though no matter how often he washed today he'd never get the smell off.  He scrubbed himself three times head to toe before he was satisfied.


When he was done he found that Elias had put his dirty clothes, including the soiled socks, in the washer, and dinner was on the table along side a cup of tea which had obviously just been poured.


"Feel better?"  asked Elias with a little smile.


"Why do I do this?"  Cobrane complained as he picked at the food.  "Why do I put myself through this every day?  What on earth made me decide to take a position as a Vice Principal in a high school?  Teenagers are ******* insane and they're taking me to the asylum with them!"


"Language,"  Elias reminded him.  "At least you're not with them eight hours a day like you were when you were still exclusively teaching."  Elias offered.


"No.  Now I have to deal with the worst of them throughout the day and then sit and watch them for two hours after school because their parents don't do anything to control them at home.  If it weren't for detentions half of them would never do their homework."


"Well, the worst of it is over for the day, so sit back, relax, take some deep breaths and have your dinner before it gets cold."  Elias said with another smile, giving his lover a kiss on the cheek before sitting down to his own dinner.


Cobrane ate his dinner silently, not joining in any of Elias' attempts at conversation, or commenting on the good news of his promotion and possible partnership at the law office where he worked.


When he finished dinner he got up and nearly threw his dish and utensils into the sink.  Elias winced at the sound but didn't comment until his lover drank off the last of his tea and threw the cup into the sink, cracking the handle off of the cup and splitting the plate down the center.


Cobrane let lose a string of invective and kicked the door of the cabinet beneath the sink.


"Shandon Liam Cobrane, I've had enough now!"  Elias said sharply, "Everyone has bad days and I realize you had a less than stellar one today but we don't take it out on the dishes or the cabinets, and we certainly don't use language like that.  Get the spatula."  he said, moving his chair away from the table.


"Elias, that's not necessary, honestly.  I'm sorry.  I'll throw the pieces away and I'll see if I can find..."


"You can't replace those pieces, Shandon, if that's what you were about to say.  This set is over ten years old, it's the first thing we bought as a couple.  Now go get the spatula."


"Eli..."


"Now, Shandon."


Cobrane stood silently for a moment, debating on whether to refuse or not.  Elias had always told him he could say no if he felt he didn't deserve it.


Elias tilted his head forward and looked up at his lover.  "Do you really believe that your behaviour, actions and language have been appropriate tonight?"  he asked simply.


Shandon opened the drawer and took out the wide wooden spatula they kept for these occasions and handed it to his man.


"Over my knees, Shandon."


Cobrane licked his lips and began to put himself over Elias' knees.


"No!  You know the drill."  Elias scolded.


Cobrane sullenly unbuckled his belt and undid the fastenings on his slacks.  He pulled them down to his knees before placing himself over Elias' knees.


Elias tugged his lover's underwear down until it was just below his cheeks and began spanking.  He didn't say anything throughout the punishment.


Finally, judging by his lover's squirming and the deep red of his backside, Elias stopped.


"Now, do you want to tell me what's going through your head?"  Elias asked with Shandon still over his knees.


Shandon tried not to but he couldn't suppress a sniffle.  "I... I don't know."  he tried.


Elias put the spatula aside and used his hand to deliver a quick, sharp smack to his lover's backside.



"That's not an acceptable answer."


"Ow!  I... I just... why didn't I finish studying for my law degree?  Why did I take a teaching job?  Why did I take the position as Vice Principal?  Is this where I'm going to be for the rest of my life?"  Shandon said, unable to prevent a couple of rogue tears and wiping his eyes with a hand.


Elias helped his man up, readjusted his clothes and gently sat Cobrane on his lap.  He wrapped his arms around his lover and Shandon rested his head against his lover's forehead, feeling spent and much calmer. It felt good to let someone else take charge for even a little while.


"You took the job as a teacher because you felt you could do some good for the kids that kept popping up in the court system, so many of whose parents you felt were failing them."


"You took the job as Vice Principal and DOD because you felt you could help the kids straighten out before they ever got into the court system."


"Look how much good I did there."  Cobrane said, wrapping his arms harder around himself, causing Elias to do the same.  "Two kids just this year put in prison."


"Two, Shan.  Two out of how many hundreds? And you've been Vice Principal there for three years.  Think about it Shandon Liam." he said sternly,  "Two boys out of hundreds over the course of three years.  According to what you told me they were trouble since grammar school.  Some kids just can't or won't be helped no matter how hard you try.  Maybe the detention center will succeed where no one else could.  Maybe not, but it's not because you didn't try."


"You tried to get those boys involved in school activities, you tried to get the parents involved with their children.  You'd have succeeded with one if it hadn't been for the influence of the other, Shan.  Remember that."


"And what about that boy you told me about just a few weeks ago?  One child, alone and abused by his peers.  Because of a gut feeling you had, this child now has more friends than he knows what to do with and he's blossoming.  He arranged a fund raiser? Presented it to the board when just a few months ago no one except his tormentors knew he existed?  That's pretty amazing, Shan, and it's all because of you."


"You are doing good where you are."  he said gently,  "And if I have to use this spatula every day to remind you of that, I will."


Shandon smiled tiredly and kissed Elias' forehead.  "Thank you, 'Li.  I can always count on you to keep my feet on the ground."


"And you remind me that life doesn't have to be taken so seriously all the time, Shandon Liam Cobrane."  Elias said softly as they stood and hugged.  Their kisses became deeper and deeper.  Shandon's slacks, which Elias had tugged back into place began to fall southward again.


"I can't.  Not yet."  Shandon said breathlessly,  "I have to clean up the mess, and it's my day to do dishes."


"They're not going anywhere."  Elias said, kissing him more deeply, cupping his hands around still warm cheeks.





"So what was all that about kids today?"  asked Amadeo, once they'd reached the relative seclusion of the gazebo.  "I mean, I don't mind the idea but we're only sixteen first of all.  We have years to worry about things like that... but what on earth made you start talking about that in school?"


"You were telling me about how Carmie felt about Beth Ann spoiling the kids and it just made me wonder if... you know... we'd ever have any?  What kind of parents we'd make.  If we'd spoil him.  He could call you daddy and I'd be papa." Angelo said with a wistful smile.


"Ange,"  'Deo said with a sigh,  "I don't believe we'd ever be allowed to adopt.  Even if only one of us went there pretending to be a single man, I think we'd be turned down."


"But then there's surr..."


"I know that."  Amadeo said testily.  "I'm sorry to interrupt hon, but... which one of us do you suppose is going to approach a girl with this idea?  How many girls do you suppose would be willing?  And which one of us would... which one of us would... I mean, I'm not sure, but I think that in order to have legal guardianship of a baby, one of us would have to be the biological father, so which one of us do you suppose..."


Angelo was quiet for a while.  "I always said that I'd only ever do it for love, and after Paulie explained how it worked...  We promised we'd wait til we were adults anyway."  he replied, trying to deflect the subject, sorry now that he'd brought it up.  He couldn't imagine having sex with a girl and he hated the idea of Amadeo being intimate with anyone but him.


"We still have two years yet before we're adults, and then there's college, and finding jobs, and a place to live.  We'd have to be financially stable before we could even think of children, and then, as I said, we'd have to find a woman willing to... well, you know."  said Amadeo, rationally. 


He also disliked the idea of having sex with a woman even if it meant a baby for him and Angelo, and disliked even more the idea of Angelo doing it.  The idea of being that intimate, without love, without any real pleasure, mechanically.  The image that came to mind was unpleasant to say the least.


He wondered what the odds were of finding a woman willing not only to have loveless sex but to carry a child only to give it up.  The idea seemed less and less possible the more he thought about it.


"We could ask Ethel..."  Angelo said tentatively.


Amadeo laughed out loud and immediately apologized when he saw the look on Angelo's face.  "You could ask her, but I have the feeling you'd end up buried in a wall somewhere after she punched you out.  Personally, I like you in one piece."


Sobering he took Angelo by the shoulders and pulled him into a hug.  "Look, hon, we have several years yet to even worry about that, OK?  In the meantime, lets just practice and be great uncles.  After all, it's all right if we spoil the kids.  As a matter of fact it's expected.


"That reminds me!"  Angelo shouted happily.


"Ow! My eardrums!  What reminds you of what?"  'Deo asked, smiling, theatrically rubbing his ears.


"My brothers are coming for Thanksgiving!  All of them!  Matty and Iggy with their wives and kids and even Luke with his new girlfriend.  We'll get to be the doting uncles for the long weekend!  I can't wait for you to meet Matty and Iggy, and the kids are little angels, really, they're sweeter than Squirrel Nut Zippers!"


"Than what?!"  'Deo demanded, bewildered, completely forgetting to ask how they planned to get everyone into the tiny kitchen.


"Awww, they're the best candies!  Mamma would give Luke a nickle and he'd take me to the little corner store and I'd get a whole bagful of Squirrel Nuts for a penny.  The caramels were even better 'cause you could actually see the little bits of nuts in them.  I haven't seen them since we moved here."   he added, dejectedly.


Amadeo made a mental note to ask Mrs. Di Marco to ask her sons to bring Squirrel Nuts with them when they came to visit.  He very much looked forward to meeting Angelo's older brothers and their families.  Plus he really wanted to see for himself how good these candies were.


"Well, Thanksgiving Day I'll have to spend with my family.  My oldest sisters, Vani and Rene are coming with their families, and Rene is due in a few months too, so she's going to have Christmas with us, but they have to leave on Saturday night, so it looks like we're all good for Sunday dinner at my place.


Angelo opened his mouth to protest that it was too much for Mrs. Rossi to handle when Amadeo reminded him that it was his mother's idea in the first place.  "Mostly to get rid of all of the left over turkey, so don't get a big head."  he joked.


Angelo doubted that with eight grown kids and grandkids there'd be little if anything of the original holiday dinner left.  He also knew that no matter what Mrs. Rossi cooked it was going to be great.  He also knew that his mother was not going to show up empty handed either. 


Also, apparently Angelo and Amadeo's father's had been 'sampling' the wine in the Di Marco cellar and found, so far, that they were quite tasty and each had been unique.  Joshua had gone so far as to have a wine connoisseur come in as well.


Each of the bottles had been meticulously labeled with the type of grapes or fruit that that particular wine had been made from. The type of wood it had been aged in, and the year it had been bottled. 


The connoisseur had been salivating for more than one reason by the time he'd tasted the open bottles and seen what was left on the wine shelves.  He'd made offers on several of the bottles, all of which Joshua declined.


Angelo knew that at least five of those bottles had the Rossi's name on them and even though they were teenagers, Angelo hoped that he and his brothers would get to taste a little.  He wasn't taking bets, but 'hope springs eternal', as the saying went.  And if his mother and father didn't allow them just one little taste, there was always the possibility that they could sneak just a little bit when no one was looking.  Right?





    
*********
NOTES

Hope Springs Eternal
Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man


Chapter 50

There were class clowns galore, certainly.  Some told jokes, others did prop comedy, the best one was Milo Jablonski who did startlingly realistic imitations of the male teachers, the best of which everyone agreed was Mr. Cobrane's 'I'll see you in detention at three o' clock.'  "I hear it enough,” he’d joked, "There's no way I could get that wrong!"  to the laughter of the audience.


Amadeo and Jim sang 'Save the Last Dance For Me' while Adam Krahe played the guitar in accompaniment, which had many of the girls starry eyed as they imagined being Amadeo's prom date.  Girls who had til that point overlooked Adam had their eyes opened when they realized what a stellar guitar player he was, and even Jim, who had always been considered something of a lunk by the girls was getting looks and a few smiles as his deep bass echoed through the auditorium


Angelo wouldn't sing anything solo despite the fact that he'd pulled off the presentation for the fund raiser without a hitch, but he agreed to get up with Amadeo, Jim and Felix to sing Sam Cooke's, 'Wonderful World'.


Sharon Parker, Amadeo's friend from the school office, and her boyfriend, Scott, entertained the audience with their rendition of 'There's A Hole In The Bucket' beginning with Scott downstage right, his back to 'Liza', stealthily drilling a hole in the bucket with an awl while her back was turned.


Over six hundred dollars had been raised and divided between the two widows.  They'd been stunned when they received the checks and the offers for free babysitting.  The change that couldn't be split had been used to buy penny candy for the kids.  The left over coupons from the balloons had been gathered up and ironed out to be given to the widows, with the stores' permission, for them to use when and if they needed.  Coupons for diapers and services had been somehow been found as well and given to the women.  Enough, apparently, to last the children well into their twenties.


A few of the gnomes had found their way to the women's lawns and seemed quite happy to stay where they were.  The others, tired of being shunted around, had apparently run off and found a home of their own somewhere else.





September quickly changed to October and before they knew it everyone was getting ready for Halloween.  Angelo and Amadeo had both been warned that if they went out on Mischief Night and anything at all happened while they were out they'd be held responsible, so it would make sense to simply stay home that night and have a little quiet fun.


At first the boys had been disappointed until Angelo's mother told him that he could have Amadeo and the rest of his 'gang' over for dinner.


Being intimately associated with Mrs. Di Marco's cooking, none of the kids said no.  They were told to wear old clothes that they didn't care about, and to bring a change of clean, comfortable clothes along. 


The directive got some raised eyebrows but everyone did as they were told, showing up in their tatters and tears with their grubs in bags of one sort or another, which they put aside. 


The boys all blushed as Mrs. Di Marco greeted them in her usual exuberant way, and Ethel's eyes sparkled when the woman gave her a kiss on each cheek and called her beautiful in Italian.


The main topic of conversation had been Amadeo's nephew, who had had the surgery and whose bandages had come off only recently.


"Well, he can track it when you take a toy and move it left to right or up and down, and when you smile at him he smiles back.  But the doctor says there's no way to be sure exactly how well he sees until he's old enough to talk, then we can find out how clearly he sees, and if he can see color.  But everyone is thrilled that he has any vision at all."


The other fourteen children were happy to hear the news but no one asked about Beth Ann's parents and brothers, and Amadeo didn't mention them.


They began the night by baking cookies, cutting out skeletons and ghosts, cats and pumpkins with special cutters that Mrs. Di Marco had. 


While the cookies baked, they made popcorn which Mrs. Di Marco drizzled with melted toffee and shook in a bag.  The kids had never had anything like it before and couldn't get enough of it.  When the cookies were cooled they decorated them with homemade orange, green, black or white vanilla flavored icing.


Afterward, they went down into the wine cellar to Angelo's 'Hobbit Hole'.  They gasped in surprise when he turned on the lights.  There were paintings stacked against the walls, covered in a tarp, and another on the easel which was obviously of Mrs. Di Marco washing dishes, head tilted.  Her face could only be seen in profile but it was serene and happy.


"Wow, Ange!  Way to hide your light under a bushel!"  Ethel said admiringly, moving the tarp and looking through the pictures on the floor.


"NO!  Don't!"  Angelo begged.


But it was too late.  Ethel pulled out a painting that could be none other than her.  She was seated at a desk, pencil eraser pressed to a lip as she contemplated her answer before writing it down on the paper in front of her. 


Another was of Bruce on his blue Vespa, head down as he checked his throttle.  A close up of Amadeo.  Jim swinging a bat.  Felix and Aiden flying multi colored kites in a cloudless sky.  Ralph, Steven, Carlos, and the others seated in a line, tallest to shortest, left elbow on the shoulder of the one next to them, right leg crossed.


"We never posed for this!"  Steven said, impressed at the detail.


"It's nothing, I'm sorry."  Angelo said, blushing darkly.  He'd wanted to hide the pictures but there hadn't been anywhere to put them except on the back porch and he'd known that they'd be going out that way eventually.


"When did you take the pictures?  We never saw you with a camera."  said Ralph with a smile.


"I didn't take pictures, it’s just from my head."


"You did these out of your head?"  Carlos asked, awed.


"Look at this!"  Aiden said, picking up something that fit into the palm of his hand.


Everyone looked.  It was the stone from Mrs. Christoff's class.  It had been chiseled into a perfect ball.  The center had been carved out at an angle, leaving a smooth empty space.  He put it on a table and rolled it gently, perfectly, looking like a large marble with a bite taken out of it.


"Look!  Look!  If you hold it this way it looks like a turtle with his head sticking out!"  said Felix excitedly, "But if you hold it this way, it looks like a dove about to fly!  How did you do this?"


"It was an accident." Angelo admitted blushing.  "A chunk came off and I just went with it."


"How'd you get this shine?"  Milo asked.


"Car wax.  Look guys I didn't mean for you to see this stuff, I wanted to show you this so we could have some fun!" he said pointing to a barrel of what looked like muddy water, effectively getting their attentions off of the other things as he covered them back over.


"Stick your hand in there, nice and deep, and pull out a hand full."


Amadeo was the first one brave enough to do it.  "Ange, man, I can't tell you what this stuff makes me think of."  he quipped, wrinkling his nose as he pulled up a slimy looking mass of mud.  Milo, Charlie and Dennis had a few suggestions as to what it could be, making Eddie and the others even more reluctant to stick their hands into the mess.


"Clay, guys.  Clay!  Come on!  Go wild!  What have you ever wanted to see that you never did, what thing did you ever believe should have been made but never was as far as you know?  Make a vase, make a dragon, make an ent!  Just make!  It's clay, it can take it!"


The kids worked feverishly for over two hours making the most outlandish things they could think of using sculpting tools that Angelo provided.


Ethel created a very realistic looking tree.  Each leaf was hand cut and 'slipped' onto her tree after Angelo showed her how to use the more liquid 'mud' to use as glue.


Jim created a very realistic... something... that was out of a fascinating nightmare.  It had feet like a chicken, the hind legs of a jack rabbit, the front end looked like a beaver with the horns of a ram and the front legs of a t-rex.  He'd carved fur on the body with a small blunt knife.


"That has to be the coolest thing I've ever seen."  the usually quiet Bruce said admiringly as he worked on a finely shaped vase for his mother.


Mrs. Di Marco's voice wafted down the cellar.  "Are you kids nearly done down there?  It's almost dinner time."


"Just in time!"  said Jim.  "I was about to topple over from hunger!" 


"You could always eat your critter, there."  Ethel quipped.


"You kidding?  In real life, this thing is as big as a rhino, didn't you know that?"


"Thanks for the warning."  She said with a grin.


"Oh yeah, and if you see one, don't bother to run."


"Why not?"


"You'll never get away from it.  Just say your prayers and shake a little salt on yourself."


"Idiot."  she laughed, shouldering him gently.  He smiled back.


"Come on guys, put your things in the kiln, then lets go out back and rinse off, then we can change into our clean stuff."  He lead them out the back door, turned on the hose and they washed as much of the clay off of their hands and out from under their fingernails as they could.


Mrs. Di Marco allowed Ethel to use her bedroom to change.  The boys took turns in Angelo's room and the bathroom.  They were all clean and dry and their mouths were watering as they smelled the roasted chickens and potatoes with onion and herbs that Angelo's mother had made for dinner.  The kitchen was packed. 


Even though it was October it was still around seventy-eight degrees outside, so Mr. Di Marco set up tables outside to accommodate the fifteen teenagers and also give the rest of the family space to have their own dinner. 


Angelo and Amadeo brought the food out and set it on the mish mash of tables, Felix and Aiden set out mismatched chairs from the barn, Jim and Dennis helped bring out utensils and napkins, Ethel and Bruce juggled glasses, Steve and Carlos brought out jugs of lemonade and iced tea.


There was some discussion as to a prayer over the meal since they weren't all the same religion.   Finally, one had been successfully made up and Angelo sat respectfully by as Dennis intoned the prayer and then they all dug into the food.  His mother had gone all out tonight and the food was, as usual, magnificent. 


After they'd brought in, washed, dried and put away the dishes and utensils Mrs. Di Marco set out plates of still warm chocolate cake, filled with still soft chocolate chips, drizzled with hot chocolate sauce and glasses of milk, which the teenagers brought back out to the impromptu picnic tables.


"I have died and gone to heaven!"  said Ethel.  "Think your mom would give me the recipe for this cake?  Oh, my word!" she said between bites.


"Ask her, she probably has it written down for everyone already."  Angelo laughed.


After they finished their dessert, they brought the plates and glasses back in and everyone pitched in, washing, drying, putting away, folding the tables and putting them and the chairs away before settling into the kitchen for another large pan of freshly made pop corn, pulling in more chairs, but even then there wasn't enough room in the kitchen for all of them to have a seat, so no one thought twice about Carlos sitting on Steve's lap, or Parker on Bruce's.


"You know," Carlos said suddenly,  "This is the coolest house."  as Paul came in through the back door to the kitchen.


"It is.  Did you know that there's a long history of this house before my uncle even came to live here?  It was only one level back then, just a little farm house in the middle of nowhere."


"Really?  When did the second floor get put in?" asked several voices.


"Same time as they installed the plumbing I think, about thirty or so years ago.  Before then it was just this kitchen, the living room and bedrooms.  And the cellar of course.  When my uncle expanded and added the bathroom and alcove he expanded the cellar as well.  There's a great story about the cellar if you want to hear it."  he said conversationally.


"Sure" said Milo.  "Of course, this place is so fascinating anyway, nothing would surprise me now."  he smiled.


"Well,"   said Paul, "It was always a farm house, but for a long time the only people who lived here was a boy named Johnny, and his parents, on this one floor, no electricity, no heat other than the big stove like we used to have, no running water.  They'd have to go out to the spring and wait an hour for the pail to fill, or when it snowed they'd gather pails of snow to use as water to wash and cook and melt them on the stove.


"Anyway, despite that they were really happy. But then the mother got really sick and died.  It was a really bad winter and the ground actually froze. so they put her in the crypt to keep til spring and then they buried her.  In the meantime, one of the neighbor ladies, a widow, had been coming round, bringing food, washing and cleaning and doing for the widower and her son, and the man fell in love with her, and he married her the next fall."


"Well there was a lot of scandal about that but they two didn't pay any attention to it.  The boy was upset but he didn't say anything, you know?  He didn't make any secret about the fact that he didn't like her, and she wasn't as obvious, but she didn't like him.  She knew that if her husband knew she'd be alone again, since the man loved his son so much."


"Anyway, the following winter the father had to go off on a trip and left the boy and his step mother alone in the house.  Well once the father was gone she showed her true colors and would beat him, and make him do any nasty chore she didn't want to do herself. One night she heard noises coming from the cellar and she told the boy to go down with a candle and check the noise out.  The boy said it was probably just rats or mice, or maybe even bats, and not to worry about it because they were down there and he and his step mother were up here."


"The woman beat him about the head and shoulders but he wouldn't go down, so finally she lit a candle and started going down herself.  Her foot caught the hem of her long skirt and she went tumbling down the stairs and broke her neck."


"So the kid was alone in the house with a dead body?"  Eddie asked with a shiver.


"Yep, and he was scared.  Everyone knew that he didn't like the woman and he was afraid that that when his father got home he'd think that his son had done it, so the boy waited til the next morning to go down the stairs when it was lighter, and there she was.  All cold and pale, with her neck at an angle and her eyes all open and glassy, and staring right at him.  So, he got a shovel and dug a deep hole in the dirt floor, and he buried her deep down as he could, figuring he'd tell his father that she'd run off when he got home.


"That night the wind was blowing and he was trying to stay warm next to the stove when he heard the voice." Paul said, lowering his.  " 'You would leave me down here in the cold while you warm yourself by the fire?  Let me join you.'  came the voice from the cellar.  Then he heard the first stair creak.  'Johnny, I'm on the first step,’ she said in a low voice.  Then the second stair creaked and she said 'Johnny, I'm on the second step.'  the voice came again."


"Three more creaking sounds, three more stairs and she announced each as she was on it.  'Johnny, (creak) I'm on the sixth step.  Johnny (creak) I'm on the seventh step.'  he said dangerously.  "Closer and closer she came as the stairs creaked and she announced in a dead voice which stair she was on.  Finally, she said 'Johnny, I'm at the door.' and the door began to creak open,"  he whispered, making the creaking sound slowly,   " 'Johnny...' "  he said almost inaudibly... the teenagers leaned forward to hear his voice.


The door to the hallway leading to the back hallway slammed open and a white faced apparition screamed "I'm here!"


The teens jumped the proverbial mile and screamed as the gaunt, white faced, grey haired thing jumped out of the doorway with blood on its lips.


Paul and Johnny began to laugh, holding their sides as they saw the looks on the faces of their little brother and his friends.


"You... you!  Bas...!  You... sons of... you... you... ass..."  Angelo yelled brokenly, stunned and startled as his heart tried desperately to jump up his throat and escape through his open mouth.  He felt Amadeo's hand putting pressure on his shoulder so he managed to maintain enough control of himself to avoid getting into trouble in front of his friends.


Mrs. Di Marco came out of her bedroom just as suddenly, startling them again, and told her boys firmly and thoroughly off.


"You're lucky you controlled your mouth, ragazzino!"  she scolded Angelo. Then she turned to her older sons who were still laughing, "And you two!  Look at what you did to my refrigerator!"  she yelled when she saw the indentation where the door handle had slammed into it.  They immediately stopped laughing and began to apologize.


Amadeo and Angelo used all of their will power not to laugh as Mrs. Di Marco switched to Italian, ordering them to get upstairs to their rooms and threatening the two older boys with a bottom warming they'd never forget.  The other kids didn't need to know or understand Italian to know that Angelo's brothers were in for a rough time.


John and Paul scurried upstairs, apologizing for all they were worth.  The other boys stifled giggles as they heard the tiny little woman delivering smacks to the two older boy's backsides as she followed them up the stairs.  Ethel bit the inside of her lip and shook her head.


"That really was a great story though."  Said Eddie, laughing and causing the others who'd been holding their breaths to laugh as well.


Jim looked at the refrigerator and leaned down to ask Angelo a question.


"Why, is it backed up?  No one's been in there for hours."  he replied, a little embarrassed that the clog hadn't been dealt with immediately.


"No man, I just think I can get that dent out of your mom's door, or at least make it less noticeable."


Angelo wrinkled his nose.  "With a..."


"Yeah, unless you think she'd be OK with me taking the door apart and doing it from the inside?"


"How long do you think she'll be up there with those two jokers?"  asked Parker, catching on.


"A few minutes anyway."  Angelo said, "There's the two of them and if she does what she said she was going to do..."


"Get me a couple of screw drivers quick, we can get this done before she even gets back down. We'll surprise her.  Someone clear out the door fast."


Working feverishly the teens cleared out the refrigerator door, and took it apart.  Angelo refused to use the plunger that stood out in the enclosed front porch even though it had been treated with bleach and had been standing in the porch for weeks since it's last use, so Jim used a dish towel as a cushion, and the handle of the larger screw driver to bang out the dent from the inside. 


There was one little ding that he couldn't do anything about without possibly chipping the enamel so they left that and put the door back together, replaced the items and closed the door just as Mrs. Di Marco came back through the hallway door, muttering under her breath.  She looked at the refrigerator door and then did a classic double take that had the teenagers grinning.


"I could have sworn there was a large dent in this door!"  she exclaimed.  "Who did this?"  she asked, looking around at the smiling teens. 


Seeing Jim with the screw drivers partially hidden behind his back she reached up and took him gently but firmly by an ear, pulled him down to her level and soundly kissed both of his cheeks several times, making him turn bright red.


"È dolce ragazzo! È intelligente ragazzo! È bravo ragazzo! Grazie!"
(You sweet boy! You smart boy! You good boy!  Thank you!)


She looked around to see who else she had to thank but Angelo spoke up and said quickly, "It was all Jimmy, mom!  He was the brains and the brawn."  he announced.  He knew his mother well enough to guess how they'd spend the night as she praised and kissed the rest of the fourteen teenagers who were now in the kitchen.  Besides, it had been Jim's idea and work, so he should get full credit.


She kissed Jim on each cheek again and proudly and happily said, "Grazie!"


"You're welcome, ma'am."  he said, trying unsuccessfully to stop blushing and grinning.  "Happens all the time at my house.  It was nothing."


"Do you like lemon?"  asked Mrs. Di Marco out of the blue.


"Ummm, yes, ma'am.  I do."  he replied, uncertain of where the question was leading.


"Good!" she said, turning back toward her bedroom.  "Oh," she said, turning back, "Your folks will be coming for you soon, so get your things together.  Angelo, call me when they're ready to leave."  she said, pulling him down much as she'd done Jim and giving her son a sound kiss on the cheek, causing him to blush and grin and the others to smile.  "OK mom."


"What was that about lemons?"  Jim asked Angelo quietly after she'd gone.


"I think you're in for a treat."  was all Angelo would say.


"Hey!" protested Ethel jokingly, "We helped!"


"Don't worry, I'm pretty sure mom knows that.  I'm telling you, I can't wait now!"


"For what?"


"You'll see when you see."  Angelo said mysteriously.  "Ah ah ah!  No punching the guy in the know or I tell mamma and then no treat for beating up on her baby boy!"  he said, smiling and not the least bit worried, as he saw Jim advancing on him with a fist and a threatening grin.


"Not now, but later.  I know where you live."


"Then no goodies for you!"  Angelo said smugly.


Jim wondered, not for the first time, how someone so innocent looking could be such a brat.





The next night was Halloween and everyone was excited.  A lot of the families didn't celebrate Halloween because of it's ties to pagan holidays and their strong Christian beliefs, but some people loved it and just had fun with it, despite their scowling neighbors. 


The Rossi's were the second kind.  Johnny Rossi would rig his house up with trip wires that would cause things to jump out of the bushes or fall from the trees, or set off recordings of screams and howls.  And every year he held a party to which even some of the scowlers would come and have a great time.


With three infants to worry about, he toned it down quite a bit, much to the teenaged population's dismay, but they were still happy with the candy he handed out that year with the savings.  Some folks bought bags of penny candy and handed those out.  He handed out full sized candy bars, some of which shocked the recipient who didn't notice the joy buzzer around the bar, eliciting grins or frowns which turned into grins when Johnny Rossi told them a joke or added another candy bar to the bag by way of apology for the trick.


Amadeo and his friends all decided to stick around the neighborhood, Bruce and the others came on their bikes and parked them in Amadeo's driveway around the corner so that there was no chance of a car hitting them.


"This is going to be great." Steve said. "We've never been out this way for Halloween.  The kids back home are starting to notice we're not around and have been calling us snobs." he laughed.  "They never noticed us before unless they had some stupid comment, so it's kind of funny."


"Any chance of you guys transferring to our school?"  Eddie asked.  "We still have our share of jerks but not so many as we used to."


"They live in the whole next town over, numb nuts," said Jim.  "They'd have to move here to go to our school."


"Numb nuts?" the others asked, staring at Jim until he blushed.


"It's what my big brother Jonah calls me sometimes, so lay off."  Jim said, shrugging.


"Numb nuts."  Eddie repeated, and then laughed.  "Numb nuts."  he laughed again.  "That really is kind of funny.  Not that I wanna be called that all the time, but it is funny."


The other kids looked at each other with understanding looks. They all loved Eddie but it never ceased to amaze them what little thing would take his fancy and give him hours if not days of amusement afterward.


Mrs. DiMarco followed through on her promise and baked little round cookies with lemon flavored frosting and sprinkles on top. She'd made several dozen, all of which disappeared in a short time.  She growled a little bit at that but everyone could see she was trying to hide a broad smile.





After the party was over everyone bid their goodbyes and left, but not before the 'oldsters' spent another half hour shaking hands and talking some more about what they were going to do the next day.


Carmie and Amadeo had been asked to finish up in the kitchen where they washed and dried the last of the glasses.  Amadeo nearly fell when his foot came down on a half sized basketball.


"Holy crow!"  he said as he and Carmie struggled to get his balance back and keep the glasses he'd been about to put away from falling.  "What the heck is that?  A basketball for the garden gnomes?"


"No!  It's another toy that Bethie bought for Nate!  I swear those kids are going to be spoiled before they're a year old!"  she complained.  "She spoils all of them, but especially Nate.  There's not one day she doesn't go out grocery shopping or to a club meeting and she doesn't bring them something back.  Some toy or other, but the other day she brought back a ball and bat for Nate.  A couple of days ago she brought him home a football!"  Carmie exclaimed. "And today it was that little basketball."


"It bothers you that she's buying gifts for the babies?"


"It bothers me that she buys them stuff all the time!  Every day nearly, as though she has something to make up for!  And there's no proof that Nathan has his full sight back or that he'll ever be able to use any of those things she's bought for him."


"They're three months old." Amadeo protested.  "And the doctor did say that he was positive that Nate had some sight after the operation."


"But no one knows how much!"  Carmella said, frustrated.  "I mean, I'd love it if he had full sight too but I'm watching him compared to the girls and he's not like them."


"Carm," Amadeo said, putting an arm around his older sister,  "He is different, for one thing he's a boy." he joked.


Carmella batted at her little brother but smiled for a moment before becoming serious again.   "I don't think he's ever going to be like them as far as sight goes.  And it bothers me that she's trying to treat him like any other sighted child."


"We won't know til he's older how much sight he has.  The fact is he's seeing something.  Doc said there might be more that can be done once he's older if it's needed."


"Dae,"  Carmie said as though Amadeo were a little dense. "She's going to get this little boy's hopes up when he's older.  She's going to make him think he can do the same things we can and he can't!  He's going to end up being hurt and I don't want to see that!  I swear it's like she's trying to make up to them for being born early, or for Nate being born blind, like she had anything to do with it!"


"She doesn't, Carm.  She knows she doesn't."


"Then why are they three months old and they have more toys than... the toy store!  I mean, honestly, Dae, what is a three-month-old going to do with a baseball and bat?!  Chew on them?  Poor little Nate might not ever be able to do more than that!  She's just setting him up to get his hopes dashed."


Amadeo personally thought that his sister was being overly pessimistic, and that it wasn't any of her business if his sister in law wanted to buy a baseball team for her kids, but he wasn't about to say that to her.


In an effort to disarm the situation he said, "Carm, maybe mom can talk to her OK?  I'm still a kid so I can guarantee you she would tell me, nicely, to mind my own business, but mom she'd listen to."  He thought wryly, hoping that he'd be around to hear what their mother had to say about Carmie's ideas.





Amadeo was relating that conversation and his frustration with what he called his sister's nosiness to Angelo before classes the next day, when he noticed that Angelo looked pensive.


"What's wrong?"


"I just wondered something," he said quietly, looking around to see who was nearby before breaking into soft Italian, "Do you think you and I will ever have kids?  What they'll be like? What kind of parents we'd make?"


Amadeo gave his boy a look but Angelo continued with a slightly sour look at his man, "I know all about biology, smartie, but I also know there's something called adoption,” he said, still in Italian and even more softly.  "I knew this woman in New York, a neighbor of ours.  She wasn't married, but they let her adopt a little girl.  She had to jump through all sorts of hoops to get the baby but they did let her adopt.  And then there's surrogates?  Surrogacy?  Is that the right word?"


"What?!"  Amadeo nearly shouted, forgetting Italian all together.  Then he lowered his voice and switched back to Italian before hissing,  "And who do you suppose we'd get to give up their baby to a couple of homosexual men, or let us adopt?"


"There's any number of girls here who'd sleep with you as soon as look at you,"  Angelo said, innocently, still in Italian.


"Look, this isn't..." began Amadeo in English before switching to Italian and keeping his voice low,  "This isn't the place or time, OK?  Let's talk about this after we get home.  We can talk in the tree house, or better yet, let's meet at the gazebo at the park."


"Fine," Angelo said in English, slightly put out and unwilling to admit that that conversation really wasn't meant for a crowded school corridor, even if the other students didn't speak Italian.


As an act in front of anyone who might be looking, Amadeo grabbed Angelo by the arm as though he were angry but didn't grip tightly.  He leaned down slightly and whispered in gruff Italian, “I'm not mad or upset, you just caught me off guard.  If we weren't here in school I'd kiss you senseless.  Now let's get to class."


Feeling a lot better, Angelo shrugged out of the grasp, stuck his tongue out and his nose in the air before walking into their next class.


********************************************************
NOTES


Save the Last Dance For Me ,  The Drifters, 1960
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-XQ26KePUQ

Wonderful World , Sam Cooke,  1960
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNO72aCnVr0

There's A Hole In The Bucket
Based on the version by Odetta (Holmes) and Henry Belafonte, 1960
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yD-ffhvefsw&list=PL2F58E0DA1A400F5C

grubs - comfortable clothes


downstage right - would be front, left to the audience

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Chapter 49

That Saturday, the two men had been buried and most of the people in town had shown up to offer the families their condolences.  TechCorp NY, the company that Angelo's father worked for, had paid the burial expenses, caskets, funerals, hearses and limousines for the families, so some of the students and parents who showed up for the meeting felt that they, the families, had been more than compensated.


Darren St. Martin, one of the students, got up and reminded the audience that while the funerals had been paid for, there was still the matter of widows with young children to consider.  Mrs.  Molina had the new baby and two other children, ages five and three, and would need help until she could find a job and a reliable baby sitter.  Mrs. Scheffield also had two young children and worked part time but had counted on her husband to be home nights so that she could work at her job as a waitress, which, even including tips, was not going to make up the loss of her husband's income.


Many of the people in attendance applauded. Some held out, refusing to be convinced.  It was at this time that Angelo was asked to present his ideas.


"I'd like to add to Darren's comments," Angelo said, trying to remain brave in front of so many people,  "That it's not just taking care of the children, but helping to pay their bills until they can get on their feet."


"One of my ideas had been for the students who like kids to offer to baby sit and then donate their fees to the project, but now I'm also wondering if there are any folks out there willing to baby sit for free while Mrs. Molina looks for a job, and if there are any adults out there who have jobs open where they work where they can refer her."  he said, licking his lips nervously and wondering if there were going to be cries of protest at his first idea.  No one spoke.  He could see that people were really considering his words so he continued.


"Some of my ideas are run of the mill, some of them, some might consider funny although a rather unpleasant word was used for one of them in jest, but we have to remember that these ideas are for a good cause, and are meant in the spirit of fun, not mean spiritedness.  All right?"


"What have you got for us, young man?"  Mrs. Haver, one of the board members, asked kindly.



"Well, there are the usual bake sales and lemonade stands.  I wrote out copies for all of you with the prices I thought people would find affordable and reasonable, such as cookies for five cents and brownies for ten.  Whole batches of brownies or whole cakes for a dollar.  Lemonade would be five cents a glass except for the special lemonade my mom makes with strawberries or raspberries in it, which, while it might sound strange tastes really good.  We could charge ten cents for a glass of the specialty lemonade."


Again, hearing no immediate protests he continued down his list.  It wasn't until he got to the idea that the students loved that the adults protested.


"That's extortion!"  or,  "That's blackmail!"  or,  "And who gets to clean it up afterward!?"



Angelo tried to smile.  He'd known that this one was going to be a harder sell but he'd already spoken to the football team, who had, with Coach Young's permission, been more than willing not only to do the deed but to do the clean up afterward.


"Well," he agreed, "Yes, it could be thought of that way, but remember it's for a good cause, and the cost for either service isn't that high."


"So if I paid for Burt's house to be... treated, he'd be warned and able to pay to avoid it?"  asked one man, with wide grin.


"You'd receive the same consideration, Mr. Greene, in case Mr. Carlton decided to ask us to TP
your house."  Angelo laughed, which got the audience laughing as well.


"Where do you plan to get all that toilet paper?"  asked one interested parent. 


"A... place... that wishes to remain nameless... has offered to donate as much as would be needed, but the hope is that people would be willing to pay the... fee... to protect their house from being TP'd which would make the offer of the donation unnecessary."  Angelo grinned.


"What other ideas do you have?"  asked Mr. Peters, another of the board members.


"Lots, sir.  Donation jars in each classroom.  The class that collects the most money gets a School Sanctioned Hooky Day."  The announcement of that idea was met with cheers from the student population.  "We already talked to Mr. Cobrane and Mr. Barnes about the idea and they said it was up to you, so please, consider it?" Angelo asked politely.


"A bunch of us have already approached businesses in town about this next idea, ladies and gentlemen,"  Angelo continued, hoping to follow the apparently unpopular idea with a more acceptable one.  "One is that they will match whatever we raise, and some have donated items in lieu of matching donations."


"The sporting goods store has agreed to donate darts, and Kregees has agreed to donate two hundred bags of balloons.  Georges' Barber shop, the A&W, Grammarcy's and several other places have offered coupons for free or discounted services.  We would put the coupons in the ballons, blow them up and mount them.  We'd sell five darts for twenty five cents and people would throw the darts at the balloons and win which ever prize or service that was printed on the coupon."


That was met with applause and Angelo took a breath to calm himself.  He'd never spoken to an audience before but the more he did it the easier he found it.


"One idea that was brought to me by Mr. Cobrane was a talent show.  We would charge ten cents for students and twenty five cents for adults, and volunteers would put on a variety show.  Mr. Cobrane says he knows several clowns in the school who would be worth the money to see."


The audience laughed heartily at that and Mr. Cobrane smiled and bowed genteelly toward the people who turned and saluted him.


Angelo went down the list, hearing no more complaints or protests from the audience or the school board, even when he suggested allowing students to wear inoffensive tee shirts to school for a week provided they paid ten cents per day and didn't violate any other school rules with them.


There were ten more ideas which Angelo had either thought of or had been given to him, and he credited each person with their idea


The only other idea he didn't present to the audience but which every student in the school knew about and looked forward to was 'the invasion of the Garden Gnomes'.  


Morkey's, the store which had anonymously offered the donation of the toilet paper, had also donated the stock of Garden Gnomes which hadn't sold the year before.


The students would, sometime during the evening hours, leave the Gnomes on a lawn with a number to call for their removal, for a fee. The fee would be lowered if the person calling gave the address of another lawn which would be happy to host a party of Gnomes.


**********************************************************************************************************
NOTES

Other ideas for fund raisers:

car wash   .25 cars, .50 pick ups,  1.00 for large vehicles (No 16 - 18 wheelers)

donate portion of birthday money or allowance

offer to babysit and donate earnings

Garden Gnome invasion - A large number of garden gnomes will be left on someone's lawn,
they will have to pay for removal, and if they want the gnomes 'relocated' to a different
neighbor's house, that will cost a little extra.
(Make sure it's a house where they don't *like* garden gnomes or might not get them back.)

Communal tag sale where everyone donates something for sale

Silent bidding - tables/chairs, donated crafted items

Tee Shirt Day - anyone wanting to wear a tee shirt must pay .25 per day (with restrictions)

Halloween in September - door to door wearing Halloween costumes and asking for pennies, nickles or dimes instead of 'candy'

Arrest and Bail - Pay to have someone arrested and then bail must be raised.

Sale of better art projects from Mrs. Christoff's classes

Cook Book - collection of favorite recipes made into booklets and sold,  2.00

woven bracelets and necklaces made from embroidery threads with bead clasps, the more intricate ones cost more

Ideas for Fundraisers by Sign Up Genius 
http://www.signupgenius.com/nonprofit/50-creative-and-easy-fundraising-ideas.cfm



Chapter 48


Angelo, despite the events of the night before, was motivated in Mr. Young's gym class and overexerted himself to the point where the teacher sent him to the showers early.


"I appreciate your efforts, Mr. Di Marco but I can't have you passing out on the gymnasium floor.  You're beet red right now.  Take a lukewarm shower and get dressed.  Go to the fountain and get a drink.  Drink slowly!  You're done here for the day."  the man ordered.  "I expect you to take things more slowly on Friday.  Understood?"


"Yes sir.  Thank you."  Angelo replied, walking quickly toward the showers.  Once in the locker room he glanced around, then turned his back on the large mirror above the sinks and gently pulled down the back of his gym shorts.  There weren't many of them but he couldn't help but notice the round, spoon shaped bruises.  A couple were crescent shaped where the rim of the bowl had caught him rather than the bowl itself.  He gently pressed one of the bruises, wincing as the muscle twinged.  He'd been very concerned that the bruises would be exposed during gym, and everyone would know what had happened.  While he was exhausted and sweatier than usual, he was glad that his plan had worked, and that Mr. Young took such good care of his boys.


He took a quick shower, keeping his shorts on as he soaped up and washed his hair just in case anyone else came in early, and then dried off and dressed in one of the bathroom stalls.  He was doing a more thorough dry of his hair by the time the other boys filed in.


"What got into you today, Angelo?  You made the rest of us look like snails in there!"  joked Marshall Jakes, one of his classmates.


"Did you get your drink?"  asked another boy named Kevin.  "Your face is still kind of red."


"Hey, Angelo," called a boy named Adam Krahe as he entered the locker room, "Boss says he wants to see you in his office when you're done in here."


"You might want to drink more water from the tap there and go see him."  Kevin suggested, nodding toward the faucet.


"Did he look mad?"  asked Angelo, looking at Adam worriedly, sipping some cool water and patting the rest on his face and neck, using the sleeve of his shirt to dry his face.


"Not particularly, no.  I'd say more worried.  I think you're OK."  Adam replied.  "But honest, Ange, what was with you today?"


"Just hyper I guess."  he hedged.  He took a breath, “OK guys, wish me luck."


"Luck!" the boys chorused, watching Angelo leave the locker room.


"He's toast."  quipped Kevin when his class mate was gone.  The other boys laughed uncomfortably.  They didn't want to change places with Angelo if the coach was mad at him.  Coach Young was the only other person in the school who would paddle the boys if they acted up in his class.


"Come in."  said Coach Young amiably when he saw the boy standing uncertainly at his door.  "Don't worry, you're not in trouble.  Yet.  I just need to understand what was going through your mind today?  I've told you boys before to monitor your pulse.  You had to have felt yours racing.  You had to have felt the heat in your body and I know you were aware of how much you were sweating; you could barely keep it out of your eyes.  So tell me what was going on today?"  he asked, casually approaching the boy to put a cool palm on the boy's forehead before turning toward the cooler at the back of his office.


"I guess it was just nerves, Coach.  I'm not really good at sports, you saw that last semester, and I think I just got a lot of adrenaline at once. I couldn't seem to stop myself."


Coach Young handed Angelo a bottle of water.  "Here.  Drink it slowly."  the man said, looking at the boy thoughtfully.  "All right then, Angelo, I’ll accept nerves as an excuse this time, but this is a onetime only thing.  If I see you overworking yourself and not monitoring your pulse and breathing again, you and I are going to have a different kind of meeting after class.  Do I make myself clear?"


"Yes sir."  Angelo said, taking a careful sip of the wonderfully cold water.  He knew that if the coach hadn't been watching he'd have swallowed it all in one go.  "It won't happen again."


"Everything is all right, Angelo?"  the coach asked, gently, concerned.  "I heard about what happened.  I know it had to have effected your father, being so close to the situation and the men who died.  It had to have effected your whole family.  Are you all right?"


"I'm feeling a little sick over it, sir, but I feel worse for dad and the people who got hurt... and killed."


Mr. Young nodded silently.


"Coach?"


"Yes, Angelo?"


"I was going to ask Mr. Barnes, I mean, I'm not sure who to ask but... Do you think there's a way to have a raffle, or... a rally or... something we can do to raise money for the families of the men who died?  It was an accident and all but... I mean, no one had to have expected that and dad said that Mister... uh..., Gus's wife just had a baby.  She's gonna need stuff for him... uh, or her.  I don't even know which it is."


"That's a great idea, Angelo.  If you like I'll talk to Mr. Barnes about it, or go with you.  I think the school board is going to get the final say, and then of course we'll have to get a lot of people's cooperation, but it's not impossible."


"Will you go with me then?  Please?"


"When is your next free period?"


"After social studies, at two."


"I had one appointment for then but I know I can reschedule.  Want to try then?"  asked Mr. Young.


"That would be great.  Thank you, Boss."


Mr. Young grinned at the nickname and clapped Angelo on the shoulder.  "Don't forget,” he said to Angelo as they left his office, "Mr. Barnes' office at two."


"Yes sir."  Angelo replied as he went in the opposite direction toward his next class.


Kevin, Adam and several other boys had been standing about, waiting curiously to hear or see what was going on.  When they heard the words, 'Mr. Barnes' office.'  Kevin once again asserted that their friend was 'toast', and the boys scattered to get to their next classes on time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Oliver’s Heart

Oliver’s Heart


 It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  The sun was shining.  There was a slight breeze that picked up on the scent of freshly mown grass and freshly overturned dirt.  The clucking of hens could be heard intermixing with the birdsong drifting through the air from the local bird population, with the occasional bleat or sneeze from a goat.  Yes, it was definitely a beautiful day.

Caiden sighed as he scrubbed the sweat off of his forehead with the back of his gloved left hand. 

“Again, I gotta ask,” said Oliver, “*why* are we doing this?  It’s too nice of a day to be doing this.  We could be, I don’t know, fishing or something.”

“I know,” replied Caiden.  “I don’t really want to be doing this right now either, but the fencing really did need to be fixed.  I don’t know how the goats keep managing to break the fence, but I can’t let it go or there’ll probably be another ‘Incident’.”  Caiden shuddered remembering when Chris had gotten a little too…playful…with Kathleen.  “I’m not sure my butt could survive another ‘discussion’ with Daniel about Chris’s penchant for playing tag.  Besides, you don’t even *like* fishing!”

“So not the point here.  Fine,” Oliver grumbled.  “But don’t say I never do anything for you.  And you totally owe me.  I’m thinking some kind of dessert would be in order.”

“Sure, as long as you quit grousing and start helping,” Caiden smirked.

“I do *not* grouse,” came the suspiciously grouse-like reply.

Caiden chose not to answer.  He just snickered quietly as he pulled the barbed wire taut and began to secure it to the wooden post.

~*~*~*~

Inside the house, Daniel was working on an upcoming case with his law partner and best friend, Quinn Thacker.  Well, it would be more truthful to say that Daniel was working.  Quinn was looking pensively out the window watching the two younger men as they struggled with the fence repair.

Daniel looked up at Quinn.  He’d noticed that his friend watched the two Brats more and more often these days…Oliver in particular.  He couldn’t help but wonder if Quinn was attracted to Caiden’s best friend.  Actually, he rather liked the idea of his best friend falling in love with his lover’s best friend.  In Daniel’s opinion, it would only serve to make their close little family just that much closer.

“Hey, Quinn,” he said with a quirky grin, “not that I want to interrupt your viewing of ‘Young Farm Studs in Action,’ but the case files are over here, not out there working on the fence.”

Quinn couldn’t stop the slight flush that graced his cheeks.  “I wasn’t watching them.  I was simply fascinated by the mechanics involved in fixing a fence.  I’ve never actually seen it done before.”  He picked up a file and began to study it in earnest, carefully avoiding the amused smirk that was adorning Daniel’s face.

“Just interested in the mechanics of fence repair, huh?  That’s pretty good, Quinn.  Have you been taking lessons from Caiden on avoidance answering?”  Daniel laughed as he dodged the wadded paper ball that Quinn sent his way, and then they both settled back down to work.

Daniel did notice how Quinn’s eyes would flick over to the window every so often when he thought that Daniel wasn’t watching him.  It was becoming increasingly obvious to Daniel that Quinn was attracted to Oliver.  The problem was, it was like pulling teeth getting the stubborn man to admit to it.  Daniel had to wonder just what it was going to take to get Quinn to face the reality that he was falling for the younger man.

~*~*~*~

It was about three hours later when two hot and sweaty young men came in looking rather wilted.  Caiden sidled right up to Daniel and promptly gave him a very sweaty and dust-covered hug, pecking him on the cheek.  “Ugh!  Caiden, really!  You’re a mess!  Go shower!  And make sure that Oliver gets one, too.”

“Love you, too, oh bossy one,” came the mischievous reply.

“Off with you, Brat!” Daniel ordered, with a smack to Caiden’s backside as he turned.

Caiden let out a yip.  “As ordered, oh captain, my captain!” he responding with a crisp salute.  “Come on, Ol.  Let’s go get cleaned up and let these two continue to drown in an unforgiving sea of legal forms.  Maybe we can send the Coast Guard out to rescue them in time for dinner.”

Quinn and Daniel watched with bemused smiles on their faces as the two young men headed to the bathrooms, Quinn already familiar with the lifestyle of his best friend and his best friend’s lover, even if he didn’t understand it completely.  Oliver could be heard as they left saying, “I still demand the dessert of my choice.  No complaining allowed, either!”

“Fine, fine,” came the answer wafting down the hallway behind its owner.  Daniel and Quinn shared a snicker at the antics of the other two. 

“So, are you going to stay for dinner?” Daniel asked.

Quinn looked up as if the idea hadn’t yet occurred to him.  “Oh, I might as well,” he replied nonchalantly.  “That way we could maybe get a bit more work done afterwards.”

“Right…work,” Daniel couldn’t help but roll his eyes at his best friend as they both settled back into their work.

~*~*~*~

Dinner was delicious.  Caiden had wheedled his way into getting Oliver to help him and between the two of them; they’d made a wonderful meal.  They had made apricot chicken served with spaghetti, zucchini, walnuts and raisins (which Oliver was quite unsure of, but Caiden insisted was actually quite good).  The pièce de résistance was the Bavarian Apple Torte served with homemade vanilla ice cream that Oliver had demanded in payment for spending the afternoon ‘slaving away’ with Caiden.

Both Daniel and Quinn were impressed with their culinary efforts and didn’t hesitate to tell them.  “Caiden, Oliver, this is fantastic!” Daniel praised them.

“I couldn’t agree more,” added Quinn.  “This is really amazing!”

Both young men preened under the compliments.  “Well, it was mostly Caiden,” Oliver admitted.  “I just followed directions.” 

“But you followed them perfectly and helped me get it all together.  I couldn’t have gotten it all done on time without your help,” Caiden told him.

“Well, my compliments to the chef and the assistant chef,” Quinn said after swallowing a mouthful of pasta.  “You both did a great job!”

Both young men smiled and Oliver ducked his head, pink staining his cheeks at Quinn’s obvious approval.  Daniel and Caiden shared a look.  Daniel could see that Caiden had come to the same conclusion that he had, Quinn and Oliver were most definitely interested in each other.

~*~*~*~

After dinner, Caiden and Oliver cleaned up while Daniel and Quinn finished the preparations on their upcoming case. 

Later, when they had seen both Oliver and Quinn off later, Caiden and Daniel made their way into their bedroom to retire for the night.

Caiden stripped down to his boxers, leaving his clothing piled haphazardly on the armchair in the corner.  He was about to slip between the sheets when he heard Daniel clear his throat.  He looked over at Daniel with a coy little smile on his face.  “Yes, Daniel?”

“Either the hamper has somehow morphed into a totally different design, or you’ve just tossed your clothes on the chair again.  Pick ‘em up and put them away properly, Caiden.”

“Fine,” Caiden huffed.  “I was just really tired.  I was going to do it in the morning.”

“Sure you were,” came the disbelieving answer.  “We both know your theory on ‘tomorrow’ and procrastination.  Do it now, please.”

Caiden put the offending articles of clothing into the hamper and headed back to their bed with a jaw-cracking yawn.  He slipped beneath the sheets and cuddled right up to Daniel’s side, tucking his head against Daniel’s strong shoulder.  Daniel wrapped his arm around Caiden and pulled him snug against his side.  Caiden sighed.  In his opinion, this was the most perfect place in the world to be.  His heart dropped a bit with his next thought…Oliver. 

He didn’t like thinking of his best friend still being alone.  Oliver was a fabulous person.  He was smart, he was funny, he was loyal, and he was handsome.  It just wasn’t fair that he was still alone.  ‘If I could find Cupid, I’d punch him in face for ignoring Oliver,’ Caiden thought.  He shifted a bit in Daniel’s arms.  The idea of Oliver and Quinn just wouldn’t leave his mind.

“You wanna tell me what’s eating you up, or were you just planning on keeping us both awake all night while you stew on it,” said a soft, deep voice near his ear.

Caiden looked up to see Daniel’s deep blue eyes looking at him in amused concern.  “Sorry, Daniel.  I was just thinking about Oliver.  I hate that he’s still alone.  Honestly, I’d thought he’d have found someone already.”

“I worry about him too, Scamp.  But what else are you thinking?  And don’t bother to lie about it.  I can see the hamster wheel spinning in there.”

Caiden gave Daniel a hurt look, “I’m offended.  I never lie.  I merely…obfuscate sometimes.  Or practice a little bit of ‘creative truth telling.’  But that’s all.”

 “Uh huh,” chuckled Daniel.  “You wanna pull the other one now?  And in my line of work, obfuscation and ‘creative truth telling’ are called lying.  Now stop trying to change the subject and tell me what’s crawling around that magnificent mind of yours.”

Caiden nestled back down onto Daniel and sighed, “I was just thinking that it seems like Quinn and Oliver really seem to like each other.  But it’s like they don’t realize that the other one is interested.”  He let the rest of his thought hang.

“I know there’s more to it, Cai.  What else are you thinking,” Daniel asked.

“Well, I was just thinking that perhaps we can give them, you know, a little nudge in the right direction, just a little subtle hint or two…”

“Subtle?  You?”  snorted Daniel.  “Caiden, I love you, but sometimes you’re about as subtle as a freight train in the living room.  Maybe you should just let nature take its course.”

“You’re kidding, right?” came the incredulous answer.  “We *have* been letting nature take its course and those two are completely blind, deaf, and dumb to the fact that the other’s interested.  If we keep letting nature take its course, they’ll both die old, gray and lonely.  And I really don’t want to face an angry Quinn or Oliver in Heaven.  I’ll just bet that they could do a lot of damage with one of those golden harps!  And just imagine the uncomfortable places that they could shove Gabriel’s horn!  No way, Daniel!  I’m thinking plans here, schemes, plots, the whole nine yards!”

Daniel had to laugh at that, but he also felt the need to deliver a warning, “You just be careful.  You know that every…”

Caiden cut him off, “Yeah, yeah, I know.  Every time I come up with a great idea, I get into trouble.  But it’s all for a good cause.”

“You just remember that when it all blows up in your face,” Daniel warned him.

“Oh ye of little faith,” chided Caiden.

“It’s called experience.  Now go to sleep.”

Caiden gave a small snort, but snuggled down and let himself drift off.

*~*~*~*~

At the same time that Caiden was settling down into a peaceful sleep, Oliver was just walking in the door of his apartment.  He dropped his keys onto a small table near the door with a long sigh.

Sometimes being at Caiden’s was almost too difficult.  It wasn’t that he didn’t like spending time with Caiden and Daniel, he did.  Caiden was like a brother to him, closer even, because he didn’t have the urge to kill him all the time.  But it was hard, sometimes, to see Caiden and Daniel so happy.  It just made him feel all the more alone.  He gave a humorless chuckle.  How stupid is that?  He would feel more lonely when he wasn’t alone than he did when he actually was alone.

He went into his bedroom, stripped off his clothes and padded into the bathroom.  Turning on the shower, he looked at himself in the mirror, but had to turn away.  He couldn’t stand seeing the empty sadness in his eyes.  No wonder he was still alone.  If he couldn’t stand to look at himself because he felt so pathetic, why would anyone else want to?

Oliver shook his head and climbed into the shower, washing quickly.  When he was finished, he quickly toweled off and headed back into his bedroom.  He flopped down onto the bed, not caring in the least that his hair was still basically dripping wet.  He just wanted to fall asleep, fall asleep and not have to think about how dismal and sad his life was.

*~*~*~*~

Several weeks passed by and Caiden spent them watching Oliver and Quinn intently whenever they were together.  He was one hundred percent certain that they were head-over-heels, utterly and completely in love…or at least really attracted to each other.  Now he just had to plan the perfect scheme to get them together.  The question was…how? 

He had a few plans, he just couldn’t decide on the right one.  Now, he could ‘accidentally’ lock them in a room together.  But that was sort of cliché and overdone in his opinion.  He felt that such a simple plan was beneath him.

He didn’t like watching Oliver look longingly at Quinn and vise-versa.  To Caiden it was simple; I love you, you love me, I tell you, you tell me, and, voi la, happy family.  He didn’t see the need to drag it out.

By the time a month had passed, Caiden decided to attempt a more direct approach, he confronted Oliver.

~*~*~*~*~

Caiden and Oliver were grocery shopping.  It wasn’t a chore that either man particularly enjoyed; rather they considered it a necessary evil if they wanted to eat.  Caiden was pushing the cart whilst Oliver meandered along beside him, perusing the shelves for anything that looked particularly appetizing.

“Ol?” Caiden casually addressed his friend.

“Huh?” Came the slightly distracted reply.

“You need to ask Quinn out,” Caiden blurted.  As Oliver looked at him, jaw scraping the floor, Caiden could hear Daniel’s voice in his head, ‘As subtle as a freight train in the living room.’

Oliver’s face flushed pink as he stammered, “I-I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.  Me ask Quinn out?  Why would you even suggest it?  Tha-that’s just ridiculous!”

Caiden stopped pushing the cart and turned to his best friend, “Look, I’m sorry I just sprung it on you like that, but I’ve seen the way you look at him.”  Oliver’s blush deepened, but before he could open his mouth, Caiden continued, “And I’ve seen the way that *he* looks at *you*, too.  You like him.  He likes you.  I’m really not seeing the problem here, except that neither one of you seems to notice the other one…notice, ya know?”

Oliver looked at him, hope glinting in his light green eyes, making them look like Chinese jade.  “Do you really think he’s interested?”

“Remember last week when you helped me build those extra roosting boxes for the hens?”  Oliver nodded.  Caiden smirked, “You took off your shirt when you got hot, remember?”  Again Oliver nodded.  “Well,” Caiden leaned in conspiringly, “I noticed him watching you.  He could hardly take his eyes off of you.  I swear, if he’d drooled anymore I could’ve dug a pond and he would’ve filled it!”

“He did not,” Oliver said disbelievingly.

“Oh yes he did!” Caiden replied.  “You can even ask Daniel.  He saw it, too.  He’ll tell you, and you know that he won’t lie to you.  It goes against the Top Code, or whatever it is they have.”

Oliver just stood there, not sure what to say or what to think.  It was almost too much to hope for.  He was tired of being alone.  He hated it.  He envied what Caiden shared with Daniel, even the discipline aspect of it. 

He, Daniel and Caiden had spent quite a bit of time discussing it after the first time Oliver had accidentally walked in on Caiden getting a spanking.  He understood the fundamentals behind a discipline relationship.  He’d even received minor discipline from Daniel when he and Caiden did something that Daniel called reckless or overly impulsive.  Unlike Caiden, however, Oliver wasn’t spanked.  Daniel said that it wasn’t his place to spank Oliver since they weren’t partners, but Oliver had been given lines to write, or spent weekends at Caiden and Daniel’s doing chores after being grounded.  He’d even spent time with his nose firmly planted in a corner.  But that was as far as Daniel was willing to go.  He understood why, but still it made him feel…well…lonelier for a partner, a Top, of his own.

Oliver couldn’t help but feel hope blooming in his chest.  He’d realized that he was falling for Quinn eight months ago; it was hard not to.  Quinn was a walking, talking dream in Oliver’s opinion, all six feet, four inches of him.  He loved the way his light blond hair looked almost like white gold in the sunlight, and how his gray-blue eyes would darken like storm clouds when he was upset or excited.  He even liked the soft, slightly out-of-shape roundness of his stomach.  Sure, he wasn’t some chiseled Greek god, some perfect male specimen, but to Oliver it didn’t matter.  To Oliver, it was his imperfections that made him perfect.  He was well matched to Oliver’s own 5’7 ½” frame and dark blond hair, at least in Oliver’s opinion.

“Daniel noticed, too?” he had to ask.  He had to be sure.

Caiden rolled his eyes and said in exasperation, “Yes.  Do you want me to call him and have him tell you himself?” Adding under his breath, “You’d think the word of his best friend would be good enough…”

“Okay, I believe you,” Oliver capitulated.  “But what am I supposed to do about it?”

“Ask…him…out!” Caiden said slowly, as if to a small child.

“Says the one who tripped over his tongue when he met Daniel,” Oliver shot back.

“Shut up,” snapped Caiden.  “We aren’t talking about me, we’re talking about you.  I think you ought to do it.  Just take a deep breath and *do* it.”

“I don’t know,” Oliver hedged.  “Let me think about it, okay?”

“Fine, but don’t think too long.  You’ll just end up creating a problem that wasn’t even there in the first place and never do anything.”  Caiden gave Oliver a sly smile, “Or I just might have to do step in and do something about it myself.”

Oliver’s face paled in horror, “Don’t you dare!  I mean it, Caiden!  Don’t you dare!”

Caiden just gave an evil cackle, then smiled innocently, “Not to worry.  I’d come up with a plan.  It would probably be a bad plan, and would probably fail spectacularly, but it would still be a plan.  Which is more than *you* have!” 

Oliver looked entirely unamused.

“Oh!  Look at the time,” Caiden said, looking at his watch.  “We’d better hurry up.  Daniel has this whole ‘artistic culture’ night planned out.  He’s making me watch some musical movie called Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and some movie called Casablanca with some Boogie guy in it with him tonight.”  He grimaced at the thought.  “I’m not so sure if I’d consider old movies to be art, but Daniel says if he has to watch American Ninja Warrior and Mythbusters with me, then I have to watch his ‘classic’ films with him.”

“It’s Bogart, dumbass, Humphrey Bogart.  He’s a famous old guy actor.  Even *I* know that,” laughed Oliver. 

“You know, you could be, like, the best friend in the world if you came over tonight and watched them with us,” Caiden said with a slight tinge of begging.

“You can’t be serious,” came the incredulous reply.

“Oh, come on, Ol!  It’ll be great.  Really.  We’ll have snacks.  We’ll have drinks.  You can stay over in the guest room.  It’ll be fun,” Caiden pleaded, adding under his breath, “You’d *have* to be drunk to watch this stuff…”

Oliver looked at his friend and sighed.  He didn’t really relish the idea of an evening of old movies, but he supposed that it beat the heck out of the alternative, another lovely evening of wallowing in his own loneliness.  Rolling his eyes, he smiled and agreed to “suffer through the trauma of Daniel’s movie night” with Caiden.

The rest of the shopping trip went smoothly…well, as smoothly as any shopping trip of Caiden’s and Oliver’s could go.  But as they only ran over one man’s foot with their cart and only offended one elderly woman’s sensibilities by talking too loudly about certain noxious bodily functions, and managed to walk out with everything on their lists (plus a few extras), they considered it a successful trip.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Oliver dropped Caiden off at his house and proceeded to drive back to his apartment in the city.  He wanted to grab a change of clothes and whatnot for the overnight movie fest.  While he was looking forward to it, a small part of him dreaded it, too.  He felt like a first class heel for being jealous of their relationship.  It wasn’t that he wanted them to break up, not even close.  He just wanted what they had.  He wanted to have someone of his own.  He wanted to stop feeling like the odd man out.  Three wheels were fine for a tricycle, but completely wrong when it came to friends and lovers.

Oliver could feel the tears prickling behind his eyes.  He slammed his fist into the steering wheel in frustration.  Why did it have to be like this?  Why did he have to be alone?  Why did it have to get to him like this?  He hated feeling like this.

His thoughts drifted to Quinn.  Was Caiden right?  Did Quinn like him?  Or did he just feel sorry for him?  What if Daniel talked about him to Quinn?  What if he told Quinn how sad it was that Oliver was still alone?  What if all Quinn felt was pity for the pathetic little friend of his best friend’s lover?  What if he *did* tell Quinn that he liked him, and Quinn laughed at him…or worse, was disgusted that the wretched little friend mistook the pity that he felt for him as something else?

The more Oliver thought about it, the less he wanted to say anything at all to Quinn.  During the drive home to get an overnight bag and back to Caiden’s, he’d managed to convince himself that he was being incredibly stupid and that saying anything to Quinn would be suicide.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Oliver was just coming out of the guest room after putting his overnight back away, when he heard a familiar, deep voice call out, “Hey, Daniel?  Caiden?  Where do you want me to put these drinks?”

Oliver froze.  What was Quinn doing here?  No one said anything about Quinn being here!

Daniel walked out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a small towel, “Hey, I didn’t know you were coming, too.”

“Really?  That’s odd,” replied Quinn with a confused look on his face.  “The way that Caiden talked, I thought it was your idea…something about movies, culture and male bonding over shared suffering.  And what did you mean ‘too’?”

“It would seem that Caiden’s taken it upon himself to make this into some sort of mini movie party,” Daniel explained.  “He’s apparently invited you and Oliver.”

“Ah,” was the only answer.

Oliver turned and walked quickly to the sliding door leading to the yard.  ‘This had better not be that epically bad plan he mentioned,’ he growled internally.

He sought out his ever-so-helpful friend out at the chicken coop.  Sure enough, there was Caiden, watering the chickens.

Oliver leaned against the nearby oak tree and glared at Caiden.  “This wouldn’t be some pathetic attempt at matchmaking, would it?”

Caiden gave him his most wide-eyed, innocent look, “I have absolutely *no* idea what you’re talking about.”

“You invited me *and* Quinn over tonight,” snarked Oliver.  “You don’t really expect me to believe that you just decided to invite Quinn on the spur of the moment, do you?”

“I’m wounded!” Caiden grabbed at his chest.  “I can’t believe that you have so little faith in me, your best friend!  I’m not planning anything, nothing at all.  I just figured that the old cliché was perfect, ‘misery loves company’.  If I had to suffer through tonight’s so-called entertainment, then I might as well drag others down with me.  I’ve no other motives, none at all.”

Oliver didn’t look convinced.  But he supposed that it had to beat sitting home alone indulging in self-pity.  No one likes a downer, after all.

He pushed himself off the tree and sighed, “Fine.  But if I find out you did this as some sort of pathetic scheme, I just may have to hate you forever.”

“Moi?  Scheme?  Nope, I’m just sharing the misery of an evening of culture and sophistication.”

“I’m hurt that you would even accuse me of such a sad little transparent plan,” Caiden sniffed.  “Honestly, don’t you think that I could come up with something a hell of a lot better than that?  I am, after all, the king of schemes, the master of manipulation, and the lord of obfuscation.  Such petty plotting is far below my particular expertise.  I could come up with a better strategy in my sleep!  Honestly, grow up with a guy, live with a guy…dude, I was even there when you had your first wet dream, and this is the way I get treated?  That’s wrong, man, that’s just wrong.”  Caiden shook his head with a mock look of disappointment and dismay on his face.

“Geeze, Cai, relax!  You’re such a friggin’ drama queen!”

Caiden just smirked at his friend and gestured toward the house, “Come on, dude.  Let’s go see what the ‘cultured’ and ‘sophisticated’ men have to offer us poor little plebeians for our ‘artistic enlightenment.’”

Oliver snickered at that and turned to go back into the house, Caiden trotting up beside him.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Once the snacks were ready, they all settled into the living room and Daniel put in the first movie, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  Daniel and Caiden snuggled on the loveseat whilst Oliver and Quinn took the sofa, Oliver stuffing himself into the corner, making himself appear as small as possible.

Caiden looked at his oldest and best friend and heaved a frustrated sigh into Daniel’s chest.  Daniel looked down, “Something chewing at you?”

“No,” came the slightly sullen answer.

“Then pay attention.  The movie’s about to start,” Daniel said, wrapping his arm more snuggly around Caiden’s shoulders.

With another exasperated glance at Oliver, Caiden looked back at the screen just as the beginning credits began to roll.

The first movie swept by, faster than either Caiden or Oliver thought it would.  As it turned out, it wasn’t that bad of a movie; although Caiden did have to laugh uproariously at the choreographed dance/fight scene.

When asked by Daniel what he thought of the movie, Caiden answered, “It’s not something I’d choose, but it was pretty good.  Ol, what’d you think?”

Oliver’s eyes snapped up to meet Caiden’s and Caiden could see that his friend wasn’t exactly thrilled about having his presence called to attention.  “Well?” Caiden prompted.

“Well,” replied Oliver, “Firstly, I think that if someone had me named Frankincense, I’d be pretty pissed a lot, too.”

Caiden snorted at that and Daniel gave Oliver one of his ‘no gratuitous cursing’ Looks, although Oliver could see the smile trying to pull at his lips.

“Secondly, seems like women were pretty hard to come by if you had to fight for ‘em like that.  They’d have been better off gay.  Besides, some of those city boys weren’t too bad looking.  So were the brothers, but it’s kinda hard to take a guy seriously as tough-guy-lumberjack type when he’s slow dancing with an axe,” Oliver delivered with a straight face.

The other three men just stared at him for a minute, until Caiden let out another indelicate snort of amusement.  Suddenly all three men were laughing wildly.

As soon as the mirthful mood eased a bit, they all took a quick break bathroom/snack-fix break before Daniel started movie number two.

As the movie began, Caiden looked up at Daniel petulantly, “Black and white?  Really?”  Daniel’s only response was to give him a light swat to the hip and told him to shush.

The mood watching this movie was a little bit more sober than it was during the first movie, but there were still a few snickers from Oliver and Caiden at, what they considered, cheesy lines.

As the movie ended, Caiden leaped off the couch, threw himself to his knees in front of Daniel, grabbed his shirt front and pulled him toward him saying overly dramatically, “Of all the coffee joints, in all the towns, in all the world, you walked into mine.  Kiss me, Daniel!  Kiss me like it’s the last time!”

Daniel grabbed Caiden by the upper arms and drew him into a hard kiss.

Caiden laughed as they pulled out of the kiss.  “I don’t know if I’ll ever like these movies as much as you do, but once in a while…maybe…they aren’t *too* bad,” he grudgingly admitted. 

Oliver watched their interaction trying to push down his loneliness and envy.  He glanced over at Quinn with a hint of longing in his eyes.

Caiden noticed the quick look and huffed in frustration, “Oh puh-leese!  Just kiss him and get over with already, Ol!”

Oliver’s face blanched.  He looked at Caiden and then Quinn in absolute horror.  Then suddenly jumped up off of the sofa and ran out the back door, grabbing his car keys as he went.

“Caiden, could you, just once, try to engage the filter between your brain and your mouth!” Daniel said in complete exasperation.

“Daniel?” Quinn said, looking completely confounded by what was happening.

“Sorry.  Caiden noticed that Oliver seems to have some feelings for you and took it upon himself to try and jump start a relationship between the two of you.  A decision that he’ll soon be regretting.”

Now it was Caiden’s turn to go pale.  “Go find your corner, Caiden.  I’ll be in to ‘discuss’ things with you shortly.”

Caiden just stood there, wondering how things had gone so bad so quickly.  Daniel simply turned him towards the door and sent him on his way with a rather firm swat to his hindquarters.  Caiden squawked, but high tailed it to his corner.

“Daniel?” Quinn still looked completely baffled.

“Quinn, sit down, please?  I think we need to talk,” Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose and sat down.  “Here’s the deal…Oliver likes you.  He’s been interested for some time now.  But he seemed reluctant to do anything about it.  Honestly, I think he was worried that you wouldn’t like him and he didn’t think he could handle the rejection.  He hasn’t had the easiest of times when it comes to relationships.  He’s a great guy, but let’s face it, he’s a Brat, just like Caiden.  None of the men he’s been with before have been Tops, so they didn’t really know how to handle him.”  Daniel paused, wiping his hand over his face.

“You mean like you handle Caiden,” inquired Quinn.

“Exactly,” said Daniel.  “In fact, I’ve disciplined him a number of times along with Caiden in the past for one crackpot scheme or another.”

“Did you ever spank him like you do Caiden?” Quinn wanted to know.

“No,” Daniel sighed.  “I didn’t think it was right.  Oliver isn’t my Brat.  And I don’t want to foster false feelings in him.  Since you aren’t in a discipline relationship, you don’t realize that there’s quite a bit of trust and love that goes with spanking.  In some ways, it’s more intimate than sex.  Caiden has to trust that I’m disciplining him out of love and trust that I know how far to take it without it becoming abusive.  And I love him enough to know when he needs it and when it would do more harm than good.  While sex can easily be a one off and purely physical, a discipline relationship is much deeper.  It may not seem like it to most people, but Caiden and I *are* equals in this relationship, even if I do discipline him.”

Quinn looked at his hands thoughtfully, twining his fingers.  “And you think that Oliver needs a relationship like that, too.”

Daniel nodded, “I do.  I’ve seen his responses when I discipline him.  He responds to it just like Caiden does.  But like I said, it’s not something to jump into lightly.  You need to be sure you can do it.  And you need to be sure how you feel about Oliver, date him first, get to know him.”  Daniel stopped suddenly and looked at Quinn.  “Are you trying to say that you really *might* be interested?”

“Uh…yeah…I guess I am,” Quinn replied.  Then he smirked at Daniel, “What’s with the surprised look?  Come on, if Caiden knew Oliver was interested, you had to know that I was.”

Daniel grinned sheepishly, “Okay, you got me.  I did know.  Especially when you were ogling and drooling all over him through the windows.”

Now it was Quinn’s turn to sigh, “So what should I do now?  You know Oliver better than I do.”

Daniel cocked his head thoughtfully and then said, “Go after him.  He’s probably gone home.  Go talk to him.  Tell him how you feel.”  Daniel then stood, “And while you’re doing that, I’m going to go have a ‘discussion’ with Caiden.”

Quinn got up and fetched his car keys.  As he was leaving the house, he heard the low rumble of Daniel’s voice followed by Caiden’s, “Daaannnielll, it was an accident!  It’s not like I did it on purpose!”  Quinn just chuckled, he had a feeling that a certain Brat was *not* going to weasel out of that discussion.

*~*~*~*~*~*

Quinn spent the entire drive to Oliver’s apartment thinking about what he wanted to say to the young man.  He knew that he was definitely developing some deep feelings for him.  It was easy.  While he was just as fun loving and witty as Caiden, he also had a quiet, pensive side that Quinn found enigmatic and adorable.

When he reached Oliver’s, he knocked on the door.  He heard a thick voice say, “Whoever you are, I’m not interested, I don’t care, I’ve found God, I’m too poor, and it’s too friggin’ late to be bothering me anyway!”

“Oliver, it’s Quinn.  Can I come in?”

There was only silence behind the door for a bit.  But then he heard the rattle of a chain being removed.  The door opened a mite, and there was Oliver…with suspiciously reddened eyes.  “Can I help you with something?” he asked cautiously.

“I just want to talk.  I really think we need to talk.  Don’t you?”

Oliver just stared at him uncertainly for a minute, then he pulled the door open and said apprehensively, “Okay, you can come in.  But if you’re just going to pat my back or ‘let me down easy,’ don’t waste your breath and my time.”

Quinn sighed, realizing that this wasn’t going to be easy, but he just knew that it would be worth it.  “Can we sit down?” he asked.

Oliver eyed him warily, but gestured toward his battered, secondhand, but well-loved sofa.  “Go ahead.  You thirsty or anything?”

“No.  I just want to talk,” Quinn told him.

They both sat.  Oliver worried his bottom lip and stared at the floor while Quinn tried to formulate his thoughts.  This was *not* a discussion that he wanted to go badly.  “Oliver, look at me, please?”  As he looked into Oliver’s light green eyes, he realized, for certain, that this was a pivotal moment in his life.  This was someone that he could really let himself fall in love with.  He couldn’t let himself mess this up.

“Oliver, I know that you’re embarrassed by what Caiden said,” he told him. 

Oliver opened his mouth to respond, but Quinn cut him off before he could.  “I just need you to know that you have nothing to feel embarrassed about.”

Oliver’s face crumpled in pain, “How can you *say* that?  He just up and said…he told you that I…he…”  Oliver’s voice broke off and he slumped back onto the sofa, his face turned away from Quinn.

“What?  What did he tell me about you?  Can it really be that bad?”

“Yes,” Oliver spit back.  “Yes, it can!  He wasn’t supposed to tell you!  It wasn’t any of his damn business to tell you!  But no, he just had to open his dumbass mouth and blast it to the friggin’ world!”

“Not the world, Oliver.  Just Daniel and myself, and apparently Daniel already knew.”  Oliver looked up at him, a shocked look on his face, he had still been unsure that Caiden had been completely honest about that.  “That’s right, kid.  It wasn’t such a huge secret after all.  Seems the only two who weren’t in the loop were you and me.”  He tapped Oliver on the end of the nose with his index finger and said, “And I really would rather not hear any more curses come out of that mouth.  You’re far too intelligent to have to rely on those four letter words to express yourself.”

Oliver’s face darkened in a blush.  He looked down and stammered out an apology.

“It’s okay.  Just file it away for future reference, eh?” Quinn said with a grin.

Oliver looked up at him, a tentative smile lighting his features.  “Does this mean that you aren’t angry, upset or disgusted by this…me liking you, I mean?”

“Look at me, look at my face.  Do I look upset, angry or disgusted?  Because I’m not.  As a matter of fact, I’m flattered.”  He put his fingers under Oliver’s chin, keeping the younger man’s gaze on him as he continued, “To be honest, I feel basically the same about you.  I think I have for a while now, I just didn’t realize it.  You kind of snuck into my heart when I wasn’t looking.  And I would really like it if we could explore this and see where it leads.  If you want to, that is?”

He could see the hope building in Oliver’s eyes.  “Are you sure?  You’re not just saying this because you feel sorry for me or anything…are you?”

“Didn’t you hear what I just said?  I’m interested, very interested.  I wouldn’t be sitting here with you if I weren’t.”

Oliver cleared his throat.  “Um…okay then.  I think that sounds good.”

“I’m glad,” murmured Quinn.  He leaned forward and pressed his lips against Oliver’s.  He could feel Oliver’s body stiffen and then gradually relax as he wrapped his arms around the younger man and pulled him closer.

As they came apart when the need for air presented itself, Oliver looked up at him shyly, “So…what now?”

“Now?  Now comes the fun part.  Now we get to know each other…and probably kiss a lot, too.”

Oliver smiled, “I think I can handle that.”  Then he paused, looking down at Quinn’s chest.  “Um…what about…you know…like Caiden and Daniel…are you…”  He broke off his thought uncertainly.

Quinn pulled him close again, encouraging Oliver to lay his head on his shoulder.  “Why don’t we spend some time really getting to know each other first, and then see where that takes us, hmm?  We have a whole lifetime to work out the rest of details.”

“Yeah,” Oliver agreed quietly.  “That sounds like a plan I can live with.”


Quinn had to smile.  It may have taken a while, but he finally realized that he’d hit the jackpot.  He’d won the universal lottery.  He’d begun the journey toward winning Oliver’s heart…and he was going to treasure it forever!