Sunday, April 10, 2016

Chapter 23

Amadeo had passed his finals, as expected, with flying colors, and was looking forward to a summer of nothing much to do when his father woke him up most unpleasantly on June 28th with a list of chores to be done before he could get around to his nothing much plans.  He rolled his eyes but didn't complain.  It was just as Johnny had told his children many times over the years, the chores will be completed faster if you don't take up a half hour whining about it first, and much faster if you don't have to do it with a sore backside.

He didn't really mind doing the chores.  He usually took the time to meditate and think, imagine things, make up stories in his mind.  Sometimes he would hum a marching tune, or sing the latest song he'd heard on the radio and complete the chore in time with the beat.  Sometimes he wouldn't do any of those things but would merely relax into the repetition and lose himself in the sounds and smells, keeping only enough of his brain power on the job at hand to avoid accidents.

His first chore was mowing the lawn.  He groused about it a little for appearance sake but privately cheered.  He loved to mow the lawn. He loved the smell of the freshly cut grass, the way the color changed behind him compared to what was ahead, the faint impression of his treads, changing the color even more.  

Today he reveled in the feel of the sun on his face and the faint breeze that blew, cooling the mild sheen of sweat which had been forming on his forehead and upper lip.  With a smile and a glance around to see if he were alone, he snorted, lowered his head and 'charged', grinning as he reached the edge where the grass met the front walkway and turning to make the next pass, pretending that the whir-shush of the blades on the push mower was the sound of the matador flapping his red cape, and the clacking was the cheers and clapping of the audience.

Imagining the chore as a bull fight made it go that much more quickly.  His father had recently been discussing buying a gas powered mower but Amadeo hoped that didn't happen.  The things smelled terrible and sounded worse.  He'd seen neighbors struggling to get theirs started, tugging the starter until they were exhausted and sweaty. 

He rinsed the blades, carefully wiped them down and oiled them, then he put the mower back in the shed.  He went inside, washed his face and hands and mixed up a cold glass of Tang before beginning his next chore.

"Amadeo?" his mother called.

"Yes mom?"

"Did you finish the lawn?"

"Yes mom." he replied, taking a long cold drink and preparing to make another glass.

"I need you to bring the wash out for me so I can hang it up on the line."

"Yes mom.  I'm just having a drink.  I'll be right there." he called.

"Take your time, hon.  Finish your drink, bring the laundry out, and then I'd like you to sweep up this trail of dust and grass cuttings you left on the floor." she said as she followed the trail into the kitchen, looking appraisingly at her son who still had cuttings stuck to his trainers and the cuffs of his jeans.  "Next time you forget to dust yourself before you come in here I'll do the dusting for you.  Got it, ragazzino?"
(little boy)

With an innocent smile, Amadeo replied, "Ah, but you see I *did* dust!  You said yourself that I left a trail of dust, therefore I did exactly as you asked, I dusted!  So you have nothing to be upset about.  Now, if on the other hand you wanted me to *un*dust, then you should have said that!" he quipped.  He'd read the book Amelia Bedelia to Con's girlfriend's six year old sister one night when he'd been asked to baby sit, and he'd been as amused and enchanted with the character as little Jo Lynn had been.  They'd read it twice before he'd tucked her in.

Preparing to make a third glass full, he put down the pretty blue tinted tumbler and nearly knocked it over in surprise as his mother gave him a swat on his backside. He turned back toward her, throwing his hands back to rub even though the smack hadn't really stung that much.  "I was just kidding mamma!" he protested.

"Nobody likes a smart alec, il mio Amadeo."  His mother replied easily.  "Now finish your drink and bring those clothes out for me, please, honey." she continued, giving her son a quick kiss on the forehead.  "Then you can sweep the floor and get started on the dishes."

Amadeo scowled as he went into the laundry room and moved the wicker laundry basket closer to the ugly pink washing machine. He opened the door and began scooping the wet laundry out.  They'd only recently gotten rid of the old washer because the mangle had broken for good and all, and his mother had happily picked out this eyesore to replace it.  

He groaned inwardly as he remembered that his father had promised to buy a matching dryer which could be placed beneath the washer to save space, rather than placing them side by side.  He supposed he could live with the color if that meant he didn't have to go out in the winter and hang clothes which would sometimes freeze on the line, although he had to admit to himself that he would miss stacking the towels on top of each other and carrying them in like boards.

He lugged the basket out into the back yard for his mother and turned back toward the house to begin his other chores singing 'Yakety Yak' under his breath.  The lyrics made him smile despite himself.

" 'Deo!  That reminds me," his mother said, as though they'd been having a conversation that had been interrupted.  "Did you invite Angelo and his family over for the Fourth of July weekend?  You're always over there and I only ever see Julia at the grocery store.  I keep meaning to ask them over for dinner or game night but there's never been the time.  I'd like to show them a little Rossi hospitality."

"Ma," Amadeo said slowly, trying to choose his words carefully.  "The Di Marco's are really quiet folks.  I don't know how they'd be with a house full of..."

"Nonsense honey!  It's the Fourth of July!  There's no such thing as quiet on the Fourth of July!  Now, you invite them!  I asked you to do it two weeks ago! It's been far too long. Understood?"

"Yes mamma."  Amadeo replied reluctantly.

"I know Milo and his parents are coming, and the Young’s, the Allen’s, the Shelsher’s and the Mitchells.  Gage and Glen are coming with their wives and kids, and they said they'd bring their portable grills and help with the cooking so that people aren't waiting for their food all day.  Brandon and Haley Silsbury said they could only stop by for an hour or so because they have other plans..." 

"Mamma, where are we going to put all of these people?"  'Deo asked, stunned at the expected turnout.  

"Don't worry honey, Casper James and Kirk Southway are going to bring and set up canopy tents in the back and side yards.  Virgil, Travis, and Marcus Lee are going to erect picnic tables.  Wayne Bell and Tyler Watts are going to scrounge up as many chairs as they can and bring them over in their trucks.  Father Ryan volunteered the fold up chairs from the dining hall on the provision that he gets the first slice of Martha Jackson's triple layer, strawberry-chocolate cream cake."

"The Kinlan's, the Thompson's, the Davis' and Mrs. Witt are going to bring fried chicken.  The Cabrera's, the Wilson's and the Clayworth's are bringing potato salad, and... oh, well I can't remember exactly who all else is bringing what but we're gonna have plenty of it." she laughed.  

"Your buddies from the wrestling and track teams are coming.  And Mr. Perdue, Mr. Morgan, and the Ravensdale's said they'd bring the fireworks.  Oh!  And don't forget to invite Eddie, Jim, Charlie, Dennis, and their folks, if you haven't already.  And those other two boys you've been hanging around with lately, what are their names again?"

"Felix Garruson, and Aiden Johannson." he replied.  

Once he'd gotten over his initial anger at the lot of them, and taken the time to talk and get to know them, he'd found them to be pretty decent guys. After hearing their stories, he'd thanked Dennis for kicking the knife away, and Eddie for trying to keep Freddie from picking it up again.  

He'd thanked all of them for coming forward, regardless of the reason, and testifying against Freddie and Brice.  He'd thanked Felix repeatedly for running for help.  Felix had blushed, shamefaced, and said that it was the least he could have done, he only wished he'd done it sooner.  Aiden admitted that he'd felt so badly for not doing anything that he'd gone home and told his father, who had in turn given his son a good hiding. 

The longer they talked, the more they found they had in common, and they'd become friends.  They did worry though, how Angelo would react to 'Deo being friends with the boys who had stood by and watched as Freddie and Brice played volleyball with him starring as the ball. Amadeo had been gracious enough to accept their fervent apologies, but they knew that Angelo was one of his best friends, and if it came to a choice between them or Angelo, there was no contest.

They had admitted to Amadeo that they were afraid to call Angelo for fear he'd just hang up on them, and they were even more afraid to go in person because if anyone had a right to be ticked off it was Angelo, and if he hauled off and punched the lot of them in the nose he'd have every right to, but none of them particularly wanted to be punched in the nose.  Amadeo had replied that he was sure that Angelo wouldn't become violent, and that most likely the worst that would happen is that he'd decline the apologies and shut the door in their faces.  He suggested that they should at least make the attempt.

A couple of weeks after school let out, Aiden, Felix, Jim, Eddie, Dennis and Charlie had appeared at Angelo's door unannounced.  All of them had looked uncomfortable and they were sweating, although it was hard to determine whether that was due to nervousness, the long walk to Angelo's house, or the mid-June temperature.  Angelo stood quietly as each stammered an apology.  At first 'Deo thought that Angelo would throw their apologies back in their faces as hurt and anger fought for control of his, and he put a comforting hand the other boys shoulder.  

Angelo had closed his eyes, taken a deep breath, released it slowly, looked at the six and said calmly, "I hated you.  I hated you all with a passion for standing there, watching.  Afterward it gnawed at me.  I couldn't eat or sleep for the longest time." he continued, observing the guilt and regret on the faces of the boys before him, "But dad sat and talked with me for a long time one night, and he told me something.  I had to think on it for a while, but the more I considered it, the more it made sense."

"He said, 'Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.' So I'm not going to hold onto the anger.  I'm not going to hate, it takes too much energy." the boy said tiredly.  "I thank you for your apologies, and for the things you did do.  You can go home and tell your parents that you apologized. Now if your consciences are at ease, goodbye."

He'd begun to close the door slowly when Jim put out a hand to stop it.  Angelo, who had been worn out from the emotions warring within him during the conversation, was surprised and a little angry and prepared to slam the door shut in their faces.

"Angelo, wait!"  Jim said earnestly, "I know you're hurt. You have every right to be.  We... we were a buncha cowards.  We were more worried about our own skins than tryin'a help you keep yours intact. I think it's really big of you to accept our apologies rather than spittin' in our faces.  After what happened I wouldn't blame you if y' had." 

"Yeah, I can't say that if it'd been me that I coulda done it."  Eddie said, "But please, Angelo, please believe that we mean what we say.  And honest, our folks didn't make us come here, we came 'cause it was the right thing to do.  We woulda done it a long time ago but word was that...  well, that you didn't want to see anyone.  And I don't blame you for that." he finished uncomfortably.

Dennis interjected, shame plain on his face, "Angelo, you're right, we... well at least I, was really hoping to feel better.  But I don't.  I wish I could go back in time and fix it.  Undo it.  Make it different than it was.  Stop it sooner.  Say something sooner." the boy paused, looking distressed.  "I can't. I wish to God I could but I can't.  Too much happened to pretend it never happened, but if you'll let me, I'd like to start fresh," he tentatively extended his hand, "Angelo Di Marco?  My name is Dennis Granger.  I'm real pleased to meet you, and I'd be right honored if you'd be my friend.  Will you?" he asked, fearful that the other boy's response would be to slam the door shut and that he wouldn't get his hand out of the way in time.

The other boys looked on mutely, hoping for the best and fearing the worst.

Angelo looked at Amadeo.  'Deo returned the look levelly.  He didn't move, or say a word, but that little spark that Angelo loved so much was in his eyes, and the corner of his mouth quirked up just slightly.  That was all the response Angelo needed.  He took a deep breath, put his hand out and shook Dennis' hand solemnly.  Each boy extended his hand and Angelo shook each one as it was offered.

"Well," Aiden said, self-consciously rubbing his sweaty hands on the seat of his jeans, "I guess we'll be going then.  Thanks again for talking to us, and for accepting our apologies."  

The six boys had turned to leave when Angelo cleared his throat and said, "'Deo and I were about to have a snack.  Wanna come in?"  The boys were surprised.  Had they truly been forgiven so quickly, or would Angelo laugh and slam the door in their faces after all?  Charlie smiled uncertainly.  

There was only one way to find out.  He took a step toward the door.  Angelo moved and Charlie braced himself for the other boy to slam it shut.  Instead he moved aside, opening the door wider to allow his friends in.  

Angelo's parents walked in later that evening to find the eight boys playing a complicated looking card game that had them yelling good natured insults, laughing, cheering or groaning as they won or lost a hand, while the dinner that Angelo had considerately started singed on the stove.

"So did you?"

"I'm sorry, what was that?"  'Deo asked, slightly befuddled.

"Honestly Dae, where is your head today?  I asked you if you'd invited all of your friends."

"Oh, sorry mom.  Um, I didn't ask Ange or the other guys yet but I will when I get back into the house."

"Don't forget to sweep up that mess, now." she reminded him sternly.  

"Yes ma'am." he replied sheepishly.

"And get to those dishes!"

"Yes, ma'am." he replied, shooting a snickering Con, who was weeding the flower garden, a dirty look.

"Constantin, stop dilly dallying over that garden, now.  You still have to trim the bushes and do the raking, then there's the outdoor furniture that needs to be cleaned."

"Aw, mom!  I thought Gabe was doing the lawn furniture!" he complained.  He hated the smell of the outdoor furniture after it had been in storage all winter.  

"Gabriele is washing the car, then he has to do a thorough clean on the inside." his mother replied calmly, pinning clothes to the line.  Constantin was a good boy for the most part, but he hated to do chores and always felt that whatever she'd assigned to his brothers or sisters were easier than whatever she'd given him to do.  "After that he's taking a run to the store for me."

"What about Carmie and Terri?  What are they doing!  Sitting in their rooms painting their toenails, gossiping and giggling like a couple of guuuurrrrruuulss, I'll bet." he said sarcastically.

"Carmie is washing the windows upstairs and down, emptying the trash and dusting in each room.  Terri is doing the laundry, washing, folding and putting away, and in between loads she's cleaning the bathrooms.  Now, if you keep on complaining I'll tell them to go to the movies and you can do it all.  How does that sound?"

Constantin grumbled something which earned him a warning look from his mother, after which he settled down to his task.

Once inside, Amadeo called the Parkers, Greys, and Barkis', who all happily accepted and asked if they could bring anything.  Amadeo said he'd ask his mother to give them a call but he was pretty sure everything was covered.  When he called the Grangers', Dennis answered.  He called the news to his parents who responded, sounding quite pleased.  He came back to the phone and thanked 'Deo for the invitation, the smile evident in his voice.  

"Felix and Aiden don't have phones, but they only live just a stone’s throw from me, so it's no trouble to stop by and ask 'em and save you a trip." he offered.

Angelo was excited at first and Amadeo could hear him relaying the invitation to his parents.  Suddenly his friend's voice became muffled, but not so much that he couldn't hear as the excited tone turned to one of inquiry, which then turned to pleading which eventually turned to whining.  

Amadeo couldn't hear exactly what was being said, but he did hear Mr. Di Marco's sharp tone which put an immediate halt to the whining.  Angelo put the phone back to his ear, and with a heavy sigh, had to decline.  "Dad made plans for the family to go to the shore a few months ago.  He rented a house and everything.  He said that since he'd done it on the spur of the moment the only house he could get was a little cracker box that'll barely fit the five of us or he'd've asked you to come too.  Sorry, Dae."

"Don't worry, Ange.  It's my fault.  Mom told me to invite you a couple of weeks ago.  Have a good time. Maybe you can all come next weekend? My brothers and their wives and kids can't make it this weekend and were going to come next weekend instead, so you'll get to meet them.  Sound good?"  

Amadeo thought that that would be a better arrangement anyway, all of his brothers and sisters and their kids alone would take up the entire kitchen and living room.  His sister in law, Beth Ann, was very, very pregnant and would take up quite a bit of space all by herself.  The doctor had told them that they were expecting twins and she was due in three weeks.  Gabe had joked that it looked as though she were trying to smuggle watermelons underneath her dress.  Con dared him to say so to her face.  Gabe had laughed and replied, 'No way!  I enjoy my life!  If she didn't kill me then Dan would.'

Angelo covered the mouth piece to the phone and then came back moments later, "Mom and dad say yes! Next weekend will be great!" he replied excitedly.

"Super." replied Amadeo with a grin.  "Uh, I should warn you though that my family can be a little loud."

Angelo made a derisive sound and said "That's the price of having a big family.  So I'll see you next weekend!  Have a happy!"

After they hung up Amadeo looked around the kitchen.  Taken as a whole it was a daunting project so he decided to treat it as an archeological dig and divide it into sections.  Dishes first, he decided.  Focusing intently on them, he finished in record time.  Picking up one of his recently washed glasses he decided to make himself another glass of Tang, and then decided that peanut butter on toast would tide him over until lunch.  He was tossing back a second glassful of Tang when the smell of burnt bread reached his nose.  He jumped up and manually pushed the lever up to get the bread out faster.

The bread was just warm.  Amadeo frowned at it, then smacked himself on the forehead.  He unplugged the toaster, brought it over to the kitchen door and dumped all the burnt crumbs that had accumulated on the bottom into the back yard for the birds.  When he returned to the kitchen he sighed as he saw crumbs on the counter and floor.  

He quickly smeared peanut butter on his half toasted bread, washed it down with the rest of his drink, rewashed the glass and knife and then proceeded to clean the toaster and counters.  He took the Electolux out of the closet in the living room and vacuumed up the trail of grass and dust he'd dragged in earlier, doing the entire kitchen floor and hallway leading to his parent's and sister's rooms as well since his mother had been going to sweep and mop them when she came in anyway.  

Feeling silly for leaving an obvious streak in the center of the living room he did the entire floor, going so far as to move the furniture, hunting the dust bunnies which were hiding beneath, and finding forty cents for his troubles.  He took the brush attachment and attacked the furniture, tossing the cushions aside to vacuum under them.  He grinned when he found two more dollars in change.  

When his mother came back into the house she stood in the doorway, shocked.  Amadeo had vacuumed and straightened out the living room and kitchen and was in the process of sorting expired food from good in the refrigerator.  He'd taken out some beef to thaw for dinner and it was on a plate in the sink.

"All right, young man.  What do you want?"

Amadeo looked up at her, confused.  "Huh?" he said, without thinking.  Mrs. Rossi seriously disliked what she considered to be 'cave man' speech, and she gave her son a look.

"Oh, sorry mom." he said with an embarrassed grin.  "I mean, 'What was that, ma'am?'"

"Smart alec." she said with an affectionate smile.  "Now, I'm going to ask again.  What do you want?"

Amadeo shook his head, a puzzled expression on his face.  "I really don't know what you mean."

"No one does extra chores without being asked unless they want something.  So... what do you want?" she asked, giving him the look that all mothers seem to be adept at.  That look, passed down and improved upon from generation to generation.  That look which seemed to see right into their children's heads and straight out the back.

Amadeo paused for a moment, considering.  "I want a castle carved from ice." he said quietly.  "I want to live in a place where it's always sunset in Autumn.  I want to wake up every morning and see the sun rising over the ocean.  I want to lie down on thick green grass and watch the clouds moving across the sky. I want to travel the world.  I want to fly like a hawk, with the wind lifting me.  I want to ride on the back of a porpoise.  I want to drive a race car.  I want to ride a horse."  He looked up at his mother who had a soft smile on her face.  "And if I can't have any of those things then I want Con to come in here and finish cleaning out the refrigerator."

Taken off guard, his mother let out a burst of laughter.  "Now that I can give you."  she replied, bending down to kiss the top of his head.  "You're a smart alec, little boy, but you're my smart alec, and I love you."

"Ditto."  Amadeo said with a smile.

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