Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Chapter 37

"Are you gonna come home with me and talk to my parents?"  Angelo asked about a half hour later as he sat on Amadeo's lap on the log, sipping at the soda his man had bought him as Amadeo gently pressed several layers of ice filled napkins to Angelo's face and neck.

"Not today.  One of the reasons I took so long earlier was to call our folks and ask permission for you to sleep over tonight.  You and I have some more talking to do, all right?  Your mom is going to have Paul bring over your pajamas and a change of clothes."

"I thought we were all right."  Angelo said with some trepidation.

"We're good, Angelo, don't worry about that." Amadeo reassured him.  "We need to talk about what you're going to say when you do go back home.  We're going to practice how you're going to approach your folks, the tone you're going to use, the words.  Understand?"

"Yeah, I get it.  Thanks, 'Deo."

Suddenly Amadeo realized that Angelo hadn't been talking in questions as frequently lately. Statements were statements.  Questions were questions, but very rarely did he answer a question with a question or phrase a statement as a question.  He pondered that for a while as he continued to comfort his boy.

"Now, I wanted to call Milo and ask him to come over too. First, for you to apologize to him, and I need to also, for just walking out without waiting for him.  My only defense is that I was upset and not thinking straight myself.  Second, to explain what's been bothering you. He's your friend and he cares about you.  He deserves at least that.  Lastly because he could be handy for this drill.  He's got a talent for imitation and he does a great one of your father, so it'll be a good walk through for you to talk to him and use him as your practice dad."  'Deo said with a grin. "Afterward I'll ask him to do one of my father... he's got Pazzo Rossi down to an art.  But I'm not going to call him unless you're comfortable with that idea.  I do think you owe him an apology at the very least, even if you don't like the rest of the plan.  What do you say?"

"Yeah, you're right.  I did treat him badly... pretty shoddy actually.  I hope he's willing to talk to me at all."  Angelo said, sadly.

"Milo's good folks.  He's put up with me for years, and he likes you.  He'll forgive you.  Just don't be surprised if he socks you one on the shoulder first."  Amadeo said with a smile.  "All right then, how do you feel?"

"How do I look?"  Angelo asked uncertainly.

Amadeo grinned, that glint that Angelo loved so much back in his eyes.  "If I answer that we won't be getting out of these woods for another hour at least, and we'll have to hose ourselves down when we get back to my house, so for propriety's sake I'll just say delicious and completely off limits for the time being... especially since we promised Paul we'd hold off on anything too intense."

Angelo's grinned shyly and happily.  He knew he had to look like he... heck, and he loved that 'Deo loved him enough to consider him desirable even now.  "All right, Dae.  I'm ready."

Amadeo stuffed the soggy tissues into the empty drink cup and put his arm around his boy's shoulders.

"Really, Dae. Do I still look like I just got my backside roasted?"  Angelo asked, thinking other words but determined to be more careful of his mouth from now on.

"No, your eyes and nose are still a little red, but you're not going to see your folks any time soon so they won't see.  Johnny or Paul probably won't be there by the time we get back.  I'm pretty sure that by the time we get to my house you'll be fine.  We can call Mi from the Mom and Pop to meet us at my place, and you should be more or less back to normal.  If anyone asks I'll just say you had a reaction to something in the woods, which is technically true.  We just don't tell them what you had the reaction to, and we're not precisely lying.  See?"  Amadeo laughed, “Just be prepared to be babied by Carmie and Terri if they're there."

Angelo laughed as well.  He had no idea how Amadeo did it but no matter how badly he felt, his man always managed to make him laugh.

They went back to the Mom and Pop and bought a few bottles of Ni-Hi, called Milo to meet them at 'Deo's house and headed there shortly afterward.

Milo was on the front porch when they arrived, looking uncertainly toward Angelo.  Amadeo gestured everyone to remain quiet and lead the way into the house.  Wordlessly they went up to Amadeo's room, where he closed the door and turned on his stereo.  He put the volume up to what his parent's deemed fit for human hearing and gestured for the other boys to sit.  He nudged Angelo with his shoulder and nodded toward Milo.

"Mi... Milo.  I-I'm sorry, man."  Angelo said quietly, gaze on the floor, face very red, fingers tangling and untangling nervously.  "I was a total jerk. I was mad.  Mad a being grounded.  Mad at mom finding more chores for me to do after she told me I could go out. Mad at everything." he said lamely.  "I was embarrassed at the stuff she was saying and...  I was afraid you were gonna tease me whenever we finally got out of the house.  It's no excuse for being... for saying..."  He took a breath and looked up at Milo, fearing that Milo would stay angry and that he'd lose a good friend.

Milo stood silently and looked at Angelo as he stammered through his apology.  "You are a jerk!" he said angrily when Angelo paused, startling both Angelo and Amadeo.  "When did I ever tease you?  I mean, yeah, I tease you but when did I ever tease you about stuff like that?"

"Never." Angelo said, softly.

"You bet'cher rump never, so what on earth made you think I'd start now, Angelo Di Marco?!  D'ja ever hear the saying 'Treat people the way you want to be treated.'?"  he demanded.

Amadeo wanted to intervene but he decided to let Milo say what was on his mind.  If things got out of hand he'd step in but right now it was only Milo speaking his mind, albeit a bit too loudly. Amadeo's brow furrowed as he listened to Milo rant.  A memory of something nagged at him.  He could feel it knocking on the front of his skull but his brain refused to let it in.

Angelo, head bowed penitently, nodded and trained his gaze on the ground again.

"Well that's what I try to do. Yeah, I tease, and I expect people to tease back.  But I'm not mean about it.  I know those jackasses at school gave you a hard time and treated you like dirt..."  he paused.  He'd been one of those people.  He'd laughed afterward with his friends, and he'd even bragged to Amadeo about it, going so far as to get angry with his best friend for standing up for the younger boy against him.  His shoulders sagged.  It was his turn to turn red.

"Jeez, Ange.  I-I-I'm sorry.  Man, I'm- I'm really sorry."  Milo stammered, pressing his thumbs into the corners of his eyes by the bridge of his nose.  "I'm a fraud. If anyone should be mad at anyone you should've been mad at me.  Should be mad at me.  I'm the jerk.  Jeez man, I'm sorry!"  he said, looking at Angelo with sad eyes.

At first, the two other boys were startled and confused.  Then the memory broke through and hit Amadeo.  He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the conversation between he and Milo on the street.

It took Angelo a little longer to remember what it was that Milo felt he had to apologize and be sorry about.  Quietly he said, “Milo, have you ever heard the saying, 'Forgive and forget.'?"

Milo laughed ruefully.  

"I haven't forgotten, not entirely."  Angelo said quietly, “I never understood why people treated me the way they did, and for the longest time I was hurt and angry, but at some point I forgave them.  None of them knew and the majority of them wouldn't've cared if they had.  So, Milo?  I formally forgive you.  Can you forgive me back?"  Angelo asked.

"Jerk."  Milo said, holding out a hand to shake.

"Dipstick."  Angelo replied, solemnly shaking the proffered hand.

"Idjits."  Amadeo said, shaking his head.  

That evening was spent rehearsing.  Milo did indeed do a very good impression of Joshua Di Marco, surprising Angelo several times not only with spot on expressions and replies, but with the occasional swat and the word, "Whining,"  when Angelo would begin to do it, knowing that Joshua hated whining nearly as much as he hated lies.

Angelo rehearsed his 'lines', practicing his delivery, avoiding whining and cussing at the risk of being smacked by either 'Joshua' or Amadeo if he relapsed.  While Milo and Angelo went over their give and take, Amadeo considered his next moves.  He still hadn't offered himself as free labor for the summer and was trying to figure out a way to get Mr. Di Marco to allow him to work for free, and had to think very hard about how to make his proposal without getting Angelo's father mad at him and saying no before he finished.

"I think he's got it."  Milo said, tired but happy, worn out from his efforts.

"Excellent!"  Amadeo replied, equally tired.  "You guys hungry?"

"I could go for something."  Milo answered.

"Oranges."  Angelo suggested.

"Ice cream." countered Amadeo.

"Let's see what's there, whadda ya say?" Milo asked, remembering the bowl of Jello in the refrigerator and making his plans.

Everyone agreed and trouped down the stairs as quietly as they could, as it appeared everyone else had gone to bed.

Milo picked up a spoon, opened the refrigerator door, and began to rummage around.  "Hey!"  he said, surprised.

"What's wrong?  Bug in there or something?"  Amadeo asked.

"Worse."  came Milo's muffled reply.

"What's goin' on?"  Angelo inquired.

"You have elephants in the refrigerator!"

"What?" Amadeo asked incredulously, wondering if his friend were a little giddy from sleep deprivation.

"Yeah, look,” said 'Pazzo' Jablonski, “They left their foot prints in the Jello!"  he deadpanned, showing his friends the bowl of orange Jello with three large 'elephant footprints' visible across the top.

"All right, smart guy,” ‘Deo remarked, "How do you know there are two elephants in your refrigerator?"

"You can hear giggling when the light goes out!"  Angelo nearly shouted, happy that he knew this one.

"Pft!"  Milo said, “'K guys, how do you know there are three elephants in your refrigerator?"

"Easy peasy!"  Angelo crowed again, “You can't close the door!"

"Spoil sport."  groused Milo jokingly.

Amadeo snorted a laugh.  "Come on guys, what do you want to eat?"

"You guys want elephant, or peanut butter sandwiches?"  Angelo asked.

"Elephant.  It doesn't stick to the roof of your mouth."  'Pazzo' Jablonski replied.

"Guys, forget the snack.  Let’s go back to the bedroom and listen to some music.  I'm in the mood for some Elephants Gerald."  Amadeo offered.

"I'd rather listen to Harry Elephante."  countered Angelo before the three boys broke up into laughter.

"Hey, guys,” ‘Pazzo' Jablonski asked thoughtfully, “How do you shoot a blue elephant?"  

The two other boys looked at each other, then at Milo and shrugged.

"With a blue elephant gun,"  he said as though the answer should have been perfectly obvious.

"Ok smart alec, how do you shoot a yellow elephant?"  Amadeo asked.

Milo and Angelo gave up very quickly.

"You can't!  There's no such thing!"

"Aww that's bad!"  "No fair!"  the other two boys protested.

"How do you shoot a red elephant?"  Angelo asked, brow furrowed in thought, trying to remember all the elephant jokes he'd heard.

Amadeo and Milo got into a huddle, broke and 'Deo replied, "Put him next to the blue elephant and have a cross eyed guy do the shooting?"

"No, nimrods!  You hold his trunk shut until he turns blue, and then shoot him with the blue elephant gun!"

"All right!  All right!"  'Pazzo' Jablonski cut in, “I got one for you.  How do you shoot a purple elephant?"

"Purple.  Purple.  Purple."  Amadeo said, trying to figure it out.  "Put a red elephant and a blue elephant next to each other and let a nearsighted hunter have a go at 'em?"

"Ugh, that's as bad as the other one, Dae!  It's simple!  You simply paint him red, hold his trunk shut until he turns blue, and then shoot him with the blue elephant gun!  Sheesh!  This is kindergarten stuff, guys!" 

"What happened to the elephant when he painted his toenails red?"  Milo asked next.

"What happened to the three boys who were up at three o' clock in the morning and woke the rest of the family up?"  Johnny Rossi asked from the doorway.  His wife casually leaning against the door jamb, arms crossed, fighting off a grin and a yawn.  Carmella and Teresa contented themselves with scowls aimed at the boys before turning back toward their bedrooms.

The three boys snickered, looking at each other with guilty smiles.

Pazzo the Elder rummaged through the snack cabinet and came up with a box of crackers which he then placed on the table.  

Mrs. Rossi opened the refrigerator, raised her eyebrows at the gouges in the Jello, and then took out the half empty container of juice and a block of cheese. "Glasses."  was all she said while her husband gently placed a knife and cutting board on the table.

Amadeo quickly took three glasses out of the cabinet where they were kept and put them on the table.  "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die?"  he prophesied.

"Eat, drink and be quiet.  Then go to bed or else."  Pazzo said before turning back toward his bedroom.

"Thanks mom and dad."  Amadeo smiled, pouring out the juice.

The next morning, Saturday, Angelo called his parents and asked if they had time to sit down and have a talk.  The Di Marco's were a little concerned by their youngest son's serious tone until he reassured them that it wasn't a life or death situation, merely that he would appreciate them hearing him out and discussing what he had to say afterward.

Milo, having done all he could for the time being and still being worn out from the night before, chose to go home and sleep.  Amadeo accompanied his boy to his parent's house and sheepishly explained that he too, would appreciate some of their time afterward if they were available, since he had a proposition he'd like to put by them.

"What are you going to do while Angelo tells us whatever he needs to discuss?"  Mrs. Di Marco asked, perplexed, imagining Amadeo in the gardens flapping his arms around like some demented scare crow.

"I, Milady, will be out in yon garden gathering berries to be put into your next amazing mixed berry pie."  'Deo said with a roguish grin, taking Julia's hand gently and placing a gentlemanly kiss on the back of it, causing Mrs. Di Marco to giggle and blush.

"Get your own girl, knave!"  Mr. Di Marco joked, keeping the theme of the joke.

"As you wish, good sir,” replied a visibly heartbroken Amadeo, who ignored his friend's bewildered expression and bowed toward Mr. Di Marco.  "I will be out in yon berry patch until I'm needed."  he said, glancing at Angelo.  As he left the kitchen, he paused to pick up one of the hand baskets that stood ready by the door, then continued on his way.

"All right.  He's in a good mood."  remarked Joshua with a somewhat addled expression before turning to his son.  "So now, Angelo, what's on your mind?" he asked.  "You sounded so serious. Are you okay?"

"Yes sir."  Angelo reassured him.  He took a deep breath and began his dissertation just as he'd practiced with Milo the night before, pausing and listening politely to allow his parents to ask questions or reply to something he said, repeating points they had made to let them know he'd actually been listening.  Several times Angelo had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling or laughing because Milo had been dead on with his impersonation of Joshua, and it was funny to hear the exact same words and tone coming from his father that had come from Milo the night before.

Joshua and Julia, for their parts, were impressed with their son's demeanor.  Joshua had expected some whining and foot stomping from his son whenever he argued a point, but Angelo remained calm and rational.  Julia had expected frustrated tears and a few words that were close to but not quite swears, but her son didn't cry or resort to 'near' cussing to force his point.  She wondered where her little monello had gotten to and where this changeling had come from.

"You're right, Angelo."  said Mrs. Di Marco.  "I shouldn't have found more work for you to do when you'd already finished your punishment, and I admit I shouldn't have made that threat about the soap in front of your friends.  I'm very sorry."  she said, genuinely.  "Will you forgive me?"

"Always mamma.  Just like you always forgive me.  And thank you."  Angelo said, trying not to show his relief as he got up to give his mother a kiss on the cheek.  She hugged him briefly before he sat back down.

"Well, Mr. Di Marco,” began his father formally, "I'm impressed.  I don't know where this all came from, but you handled yourself admirably during this discussion, and I'm proud of you."

"Thank you, papa."  Angelo replied, waiting for the 'but'.

"If you continue with this new attitude then I'll know that you're truly growing up and maturing, and I'll treat you as such.  Does that sound reasonable?"  he asked his son.

"Yes, papa.  Thank you."  Angelo said, holding out his hand to shake. It was an unplanned action on Angelo's part, but judging by his father's expression, it was the right thing to do at the time. Joshua put out his hand and took his son's, shaking it soberly.

"As far as these other kids go..."  Joshua began.

Angelo tensed up but remained silent.

"You said that Amadeo had something to say in their defense, and I'll wait on that call until I've heard him out.  Agreed?"

Angelo smiled, relieved that his father was at least willing to listen before making a decision. "Yes sir.  Thank you."

"All right then.  Now, if you're willing," his father said, stressing the word, "To help mamma here in the kitchen while I talk to young Mr. Rossi, we'll be one step further toward settling this matter.  What do you say, Mr. Di Marco?"

"Yes, sir, Mr. Di Marco."  Angelo said with a grin.

Joshua clapped his hand on his son's shoulder with a grin and turned to leave the house.  Once outside the door, he paused, stooped to pick up another hand basket and went to join his son's friend.

He found Amadeo in the strawberry patch, carefully picking the berries and filling a second basket.  Mr. Di Marco joined the boy and knelt in the dirt beside him, helping pick in silence for a few moments before clearing his throat and beginning the conversation.

"Now, Mr. Rossi.  My son tells me you have some things of import to talk to me about, and a proposition?"  he asked, resting on his heels and pausing in his work.

Amadeo mirrored the older man's body language and looked him in the eye while speaking.

"Yes sir.  First, my father told me you're looking to hire people to work for you for the harvests, and I'd like to be one of those people, if you'll have me."  he said, hesitating, afraid that Angelo's father would come right out and say no, but the man remained silent and listened to the boy beside him.  "I feel badly for frightening you and your wife, for that day that Ange and I disappeared, so the first thing that I'd like to propose is that rather than paying me, the money would go to the charity of your choice."  he said, once again waiting for the man to say no.

Instead Joshua looked appraisingly at the boy and said "I couldn't have you working for me for nothing, no matter how guilty you felt about what happened or for your part in it."

Amadeo bowed his head, wanting to respectfully disagree and press his point, but before he could do anything more than take a breath, Mr. Di Marco continued.

"What I'd be willing to do, Amadeo, is pay you for your work, and then if afterward you still don't feel that your debt is paid, that you be willing to take at least half for yourself, as fair payment for your hard work, and the rest I would donate, as you suggested.  Do you find that a fair compromise?"

Amadeo thought about that for a few moments and then nodded.  "Thank you, Mr. Di Marco. Yes, that sounds fair." deciding that he could just donate the other half if need be.

"All right then.  Just promise to keep your half.   Now, what is the second thing you wanted to discuss?"

"How did you know there was a second thing?"  Amadeo said with a puzzled little smile and blushing a bit at Mr. Di Marco's comment.

"Well, you said 'First, my father told me...'  so I had to assume that there's a second thing on your mind."

"Yes sir, I guess there was.  And please, Mr. Di Marco, hear me out before you make a decision?"  Amadeo gently implored.

"Agreed, Mr. Rossi.  Tell me your proposition."

"Well sir, I know that you don't approve of Angelo's other friends, but I wanted to tell you that I've met them, and they seem to be decent kids.  They may have bad habits sir, but I think that's more due to lack of guidance than because they're bad, if you understand what I'm saying."  he asked, looking at Mr. Di Marco's face for a reaction.

"All right,” he replied dubiously, "Continue."

"Well sir, it seems to me, and I may be wrong, but it occurred to me that they act the way they do because they have nothing else to do.  They're not the sort of kids who have daily chores. They strike me as the sort of kids whose parent's give them things rather than their time.  My idea, sir, is that, since Angelo, myself, Felix, Dennis and the others, are going to be involved in the trial that's coming up in just a week, we're not going to be able to dedicate as much time to helping as we could and... well... those other guys, Angelo's other friends, could be willing to help harvest.  They would have something productive to do with their time, they'd be earning their own money and learning responsibility."

"If they were willing to work at all, which I seriously doubt."  Mr. Di Marco said frankly.  "I'd be more concerned that they'd spend more time fooling around than working.  There would be strict rules in place.  There would be no drinking before, during or after working here.  I'd need them dedicated and sober, I can't have them climbing ladders and reaching for the fruit that's high up if they're drunk.  And there would be absolutely no smoking allowed on my property or on the street in front of it.  Do you think his friends would be willing to agree to those terms?  If they don't then I'm afraid my opinion of them will stand and Angelo will still be forbidden to 'hang around' with them.  If they did agree, it would be on a trial basis, and they would have to earn not only their pay but my trust as well."

Amadeo smiled.  "Thank you sir.  We know Steve's number and can call him with the idea.  If he's on board he can call the others and we can get an answer to you within a day or so.  If it worked out, then you could have five or six full time workers at your disposal.  Then of course, you also have Johnny, Paul, and between trials, myself and Angelo, Eddie, Jim, Felix, Aiden, Milo, Dennis and Charlie who all said they'd be willing to work part time, so we'd still get your harvest done. So sir, are you willing to give these guys a chance?"

"As I said, if they follow the rules, yes.  If not... well I don't want to be the bad guy but if they can't stay tobacco and alcohol free for a couple of weeks, then I just don't want them here.  Tell them that before anything else.  Agreed?"

"Agreed, sir.  Thank you.  There's another perk I hadn't thought of before, if Steve and the other guys are willing to do the work."  Amadeo said with a smile.

"What's that?"

"They'd be too tired afterward to have enough energy to get into trouble." 

Amadeo and Mr. Di Marco shared a good laugh and continued to pick the ripe strawberries.


Elephant Jokes from 'Odd Jokes of the 1960s'
Elephants Gerald - Ella Fitzgerald

Harry Elephante - Harry Belafonte

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