Thursday, July 21, 2016

Chapter 41

Even though Angelo would have much sooner preferred to spend his birthday on August eighth at the A&W with his friends he was told that the family was going to celebrate it at the Drover, since sixteen was such a special birthday.  Keeping in mind his promise to behave more maturely, and what had happened the last time he'd gone to the Drover with his family and he'd fussed about going to the A&W, he smiled wanly and thanked his parents. 

The smile became more genuine when he was told that he was going to be allowed to wear his best jeans and a button down rather than a suit, even though he still had to wear his dress shoes.  It was only two o' clock in the afternoon, so there was a good chance that he could arrange to meet with his friends afterward.


He tried to call 'Deo and Steve, but there were no answers.  He estimated that a luncheon at the Drover would take an hour, an hour and a half tops, no, make that two hours to be on the safe side, which would get him out of there by, let’s see, if they got there by three then that would make it around five they'd get out.  Yeah, there was time but he had to get a hold of everyone.  He hadn't wanted to make a big deal about his birthday so he hadn't told anyone, but he did want to spend time with them and spend some of his hard earned money, which, other than offering some to his parents to pay for food and electricity bills he'd been saving up.


Two more calls resulted in Parker telling him that he was grounded and wouldn't be able to make it, and Ethel telling him that they had a family gathering to go to before Joshua told him to get off the phone and get going.  Disappointed, Angelo dressed and got into the car with his brothers and parents.


"I need to stop at the Elks Club for a few minutes, Pazzo asked the guy in charge of membership when I could sign up and today was the only time he was available till next month.  You guys want to come in with me and get out of the heat or stay put and wait?"  Joshua asked.


"I'll go in!"  Johnny said excitedly.  "I've always wanted to see what the inside looks like."  Paul agreed that he'd like to see the club as well, while Julia and Angelo decided to stay put.


"It shouldn't take long, keep the windows open or just stand in the vestibule if you get too hot."  he said, parking in the front under a line of Sugar Maples which provided shade in the mid-day heat.


Angelo and his mother whiled away the time, chatting and joking, occasionally wiping away sweat.  Angelo's leg began to jitter as he slowly began to lose patience.  What had begun as 'a few minutes' had turned into nearly ten by his watch, and even in the shade of the maples it was still hot.


Before long he and his mother noticed Paul waving his arms from the doorway of the club.  He walked quickly over to the car with an apologetic look and leaned down into his mother's window.  


"Pop says he's making it a family membership cuz it'll cost less for all of us than just him, so he needs you to come in and sign the form, ok?"


Angelo was all for getting out of the heat, and frankly, the longer they'd sat outside in the car the more he wondered what the indoors looked like. He could just make out the entryway through the bank of glass doors and he could just make out what looked like a fountain.  So, getting out of the car and flexing his shoulders and tugging in a gentlemanly way at his jeans to get them to unstick from the backs of his legs as his mother flapped the skirt of her dress for the same reason, they walked into the club.


Paul led them into the entryway and they were immediately struck, not only by the cooler air but by the grand marble and brass fountain which bubbled and sparkled in the center of the foyer.  The walls and floor were made of white marble streaked with grey.  Several sturdy wooden chairs and a couple of items of furniture that his mother had once told him were called fainting couches sat along the walls, flanked by real, growing, vibrantly green albeit small trees.  A large, filigreed, antique looking bronze framed mirror took pride of place above one of the couches.


Paul led them into a room which suddenly burst out in cheers and shouts of "Happy Birthday, Angelo!"  


A throng of smiling people advanced on him to shake Angelo's hand and pat his back.  His friends from the track and wrestling teams, the supposedly grounded Parker, and Bruce and Ethel whose family gathering seemed to have been suddenly cancelled so that they could attend his birthday party.  

Parker, Ralph and Steve all stood by, waiting for their turns, smiling and wishing him a happy birthday.  Dennis, Charlie and the others contented themselves with throwing confetti at Angelo, getting it into the hair and eyelashes of everyone around him.  Jim jokingly took bets about who could get it into Angelo's mouth first.


Behind the main table, which was covered in a bright red cloth, sparkling goblets and silver, flanking cream colored china, was a beautifully hand painted banner proclaiming "Happy 16th Birthday, Angelo!"


The tables surrounding the main table were all covered in the same bright red cloth and set similarly.  The brass backed chairs shone as though they'd just been polished.  He was led to the lead table and nearly sank into the comfortable cushion.  Once he was seated, everyone else found a spot.  


Goblets of non-alcoholic, sparkling cider were at every setting.  Mr. Di Marco stood up and picked up his goblet, raised it and said simply, “To my son, Angelo. Happy Sixteenth Birthday, and many more to come."


To that everyone shouted "Cheers!", saluted Angelo and drank up.  Angelo, after getting over his initial shock, picked up his glass and saluted them all back, resulting in a roar of approval that nearly deafened him.


The rest of the day was spent singing, eating and dancing.  The adults, most sitting back indulgently while their children enjoyed themselves, some joining the wild gyrations that were considered dancing by their children during a song called *The Hippy Hippy Shake*.  The children in turn, rolled their eyes but grinned as 'the rents' had their turn and danced to Tommy Dorsey and Louie Armstrong.  Some of the braver boys escorted their mothers out onto the dance floor when Louie started singing Wonderful World, Amadeo and Angelo among them.


For appearance sake, and at the prompting of their parent's, Angelo and Amadeo danced with some of the girls who were in attendance.  The boys smiled and laughed, and behaved in a perfectly gentlemanly manner, much to the obvious disappointment of many of the girls, and imagined that they were dancing with each other instead.


Amadeo finally got the chance to dance with Sharon and he smiled broadly.  "Share!  It's been ages!  How are you?"  he asked, giving her a little kiss on the cheek by way of greeting, eliciting a little blush and a wide smile from Sharon, and a poker face from Angelo that Doyle Brunson would have been proud of.


The poker face became harder and harder to mask as 'Deo and Sharon shared several dances, leaning further and further in as they talked.  When he saw them dancing "Twilight Time" by the Platters, holding each other close and talking into each other's ears, he excused himself to the men's room and went back outside into the midday heat.  He went into the back parking lot where all of the guests had parked and walked into the woods beyond, wishing desperately for a cigarette or even a bottle of booze.  He'd never liked the smell or effect of either of them but at this moment he didn't care.  All he could see whenever he closed his eyes, was Sharon and Amadeo dancing cheek to cheek and whispering.


"Hey, birthday boy!  What's wrong?"  Called a female voice from the right.


Angelo stopped, much as a deer scenting danger, until he recognized the voice.  Ethel.  And where Ethel was, Bruce couldn't be far behind.  The smell of cigarette reached him and he followed the scent to the brother and sister.


"Gimme some of that, would you?"  Angelo asked, startling both of them by reaching over for it.


"First tell me what's going on with you, or no." said Ethel firmly.  "We all know you hate this stuff, so what's got you wanting some now?"


There was no way Angelo could tell them so he said "Fine, don't give me any.  I can just go to the store and buy my own."  he groused, turning to leave.


"Got somethin' to do with 'Deo?"  asked Bruce quietly.


Angelo stopped in his tracks.  "What?  No!  Why would my being upset have anything to do with him?"  he asked, trying not to panic.


Ethel motioned for Angelo to sit down, and reached into her pocketbook to take out a bottle of coke.  Fishing round a bit more she plucked out the bottle opener and passed the fizzing bottle to her friend.


" 'Cause,” Bruce said, still quietly, "A friend watching another friend having a good time doesn't usually look like he's carved in stone.  Plus, I thought there was something going on between you two.  Is there?"


"We're friends.  Good friends."  Angelo said, looking at the rich loam on the floor of the woods.  "Nothing more than that.  Just really good friends." he repeated quickly and with little conviction.  He took a quick swig of the Coke and choked slightly.


"Methinks he doth protest too much."  Ethel said with a grin.


"F*** off you two.  What do you know about anything?  I'm outta here."  Angelo said, beginning to rise.


"People who are just friends don't talk about each other nonstop."  Bruce said quietly, as always.  "People who are just friends don't look at each other the way you and 'Deo look at each other.  And honestly, every guy we've ever met takes one look at Ethel and starts either mooning over her or tries to hit on her.  You and Dae didn't even give her a second look.  Not like that, anyway.  So I ask again.  Is there something going on between the two of you?"


Angelo was stunned.  He'd never heard Bruce say more than four or five words at a time and even then he was sure he'd been under pain of death from his sister if he didn't contribute at least that much to every conversation.  To get what amounted to several hours, if not days, worth of conversation from him in a short amount of time was unheard of.


Angelo began to get up and leave again.  He had no idea how chatty Ethel and Bruce were at their school, or their neighborhood, or who might hear and pass the word on to someone else or how long it would take for it to get back to his town, his school.  He'd only just found acceptance; he wasn't willing to lose it so soon.


"If it makes you feel any better, Carlos and Steve are a couple.  We're all kind of that way except for Parker and Ralph, at least not for each other."  Ethel said quietly, but loudly enough for Angelo to hear across the several steps he'd taken away from them.  He turned and looked disbelievingly at the brother and sister, sure they were going to start laughing.  "It's why we have our own little group.  We can be ourselves with each other."


"I never saw you... uh..."  Angelo said, uncertainly.


"We weren't sure about you at first, we thought you were just a lost boy like us, with folks who didn't care, then, well, like I said, but then all you did was talk about Dae so... well."  Bruce said looking shyly at Angelo.  "I'd been hoping that we had a chance," he said in his quiet way, "But all you did was talk about Amadeo, so I just figured..."


Angelo looked at Bruce with an equally shy grin.  "It was purely by accident, but if I hadn't found 'Deo..." he said, holding his hand out for the cigarette.  


Ethel hesitantly gave it to him.   "So which guy is he making eyes at?  The beast. He should have at least not done it in front of you, and certainly not on your birthday."  she empathized with him.


"It wasn't a he, it was a she."


Ethel and Bruce shared a look.  "I'm sorry man, we thought we had the two of you pegged.  So, you like him... but he doesn't know?"  Bruce asked.  


"No, he knows!  That's what I don't understand!  He said I was his, more than once but now he's dancing with Sharon and he danced three dances with her and the more they danced the closer they got and the third dance was a slow dance and..."


"Easy, Benny.  Who's Sharon?  Maybe it's a cousin of his or someone?" asked Ethel.


"I'm pretty sure she's not a cousin.  I recognize her from somewhere but I can't place it.  And he's dancing with her."  he said, near tears.


"Benny, look.  It's probably just for appearance. I mean, you and he can't exactly get up and slow dance together any more than me and Parker can."  said Bruce.


"That makes sense, I guess."  said Angelo, trying hard not to get rid of the food he'd eaten.  He took another swig of Coke and his stomach felt a little better.  Ethel walked into the woods and then came back with her handkerchief wet and dripping. 


"I'm not sure if you'd want to drink this water,” she said, wringing out the piece of cloth, “It's from a spring a little further in, but it smells clean and it might make you feel better if you run it over your face."  she said, taking what was left of the cigarette back from him.


Angelo tentatively took the cloth, sniffed it and dabbed it on his forehead.  He had to admit he felt much better.  He put it on the back of his neck and let the cool seep in.


"That's probably all it is, man.   When you're alone just talk.  I'm sure he can tell you what was going on, and it wasn't what you thought. OK?" Bruce offered.


"Bruce, can I ask you a question?"


Bruce shrugged, "You can ask."  he smiled.


"Why are you always so quiet when we're in the group?  Getting you to say more than a few words...  What's up with that?"


"I get a little tongue tied around groups of people, even people I like." Bruce explained. "Besides, I prefer to listen."


"You like us, so you can't talk?"  Angelo asked, trying to understand.


"Just in large groups, which is why we're out here." he said, gesturing between his sister and himself.  


"Why didn't the others come out?"  he asked casually.


"They gave up smoking.  They said it was next to impossible to stand next to someone who was smoking and not want one when you were only just kicking the habit yourself.  Not only that but Steve said it's hard to go up and down the ladders without getting winded, so it was just as well." the girl said.


"Aren't they going to smell it on your breath?"  Angelo asked.


Ethel flashed a pack of mint gum with a grin.  "Got that covered too." she replied.


Bruce looked at Angelo with a pensive expression.  "Maybe you can help me?"


"I can try,” Angelo replied with a shrug, "What's up?"


"You said it was kind of an accident?  That you found Dae?"


"Yeah, I was upset, and we were talking and I just couldn't hold it in anymore and I told him everything.  I was sure he'd hate me and walk off, but... well, you know.  So how can I help you?  You said you all are... well, like me and Dae... and you know it, so..."  he said, looking back and forth between Bruce and Ethel.


"So," Bruce said looking at Ethel, who nodded.  "I've always liked Ralph but he doesn't show interest in me.  I'm so afraid of saying something stupid, or he'll laugh, or be disgusted.  I mean, I know he's one of us, like us I mean, but... so rather than say something I shouldn't, I just don't talk. Like I said, I like to listen better, anyway.  'Better to allow others to think you a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.'" he quoted.


"It was like that for a while with me and 'Deo."  Angelo tried to reassure Bruce.  "I liked him, but neither of us could come right out and say it.  So I figured I missed my chance.  But then he said it first.  And it turns out he was just as afraid as I was.  Did you give it a chance?"


"What if the thought disgusts him?  What if he turns and walks away?  What if he says..."


"What if he says yes?"  Angelo asked.  "There's only one way to know. The question is, if he says no, and I doubt he'll be nasty about it, can you be friends still?  There aren't many like us as far as I know and we need to stick together."


Ethel gave a wry smile, "If 'Deo turns out to be chatting up the ladies, are you gonna stay friends with him?"  


Angelo flicked his fingers on her arm.  "That's different!  I supposedly have a commitment from him!"


"Yeah, I know.  And yeah, if he's willing I'm willing, to stay friends I guess."  Bruce said shyly.


"All right then.  Ready to go back?  Ready to give it a try?"  Angelo asked.


"Wait." said Ethel, passing around the gum.  "There we go.  Let's head out."


Amadeo met them halfway in the parking lot.  "Where were you?!  You just disappeared!  Are you alright?"


"I'm fine, but there's something I need to talk to you about."  he said, looking at Bruce and Ethel in a silent plea to leave.  They understood and went back to the party, Bruce in search of Ralph.


"What's wrong, Ange?"


"Tell me the girl was your cousin."  Angelo said, stomach fluttering.


"The girl was my cousin."  he said woodenly.


"She was not!"  Angelo shouted, smacking Amadeo on the bicep, wincing a little at the impact of his fingers on hard muscle.


"Why did you tell me to tell you she was?"


"I wanted to know who you were dancing with so closely?  Who is she?"  Angelo asked, keeping his voice down in case anyone else was nearby.


"That's Sharon from the office at school.  I had some questions I wanted to ask her.  Besides, even if I were interested in her, Bull Ravinovsky would have had a problem with me making moves on her."


"Who's Bull Raven... uh."


"Captain of the football team, and not fond of sharing.  No more than I am."  he said sternly as he casually walked back toward the woods with Angelo following closely behind.


"What did you have to talk to her for so long for?  You guys were practically licking each other’s ears while you were talking."  Angelo said, becoming more brave the further they got from the festivities.


"The music was too loud and I didn't think Bull would like it if I left the dance with his girl.  We were safer in plain sight.  I had to, as you say, lick her ear, to be heard over the music."


"So what was so important for you to talk to her about?" Angelo asked, guiding Amadeo back to the little clearing he'd just been in with the brother and sister.


"I had to ask her a question."


"About what?  What question could result in you dancing three dances with her?  And a slow dance?  And where was Bull while you were dancing up his girlfriend?"  Angelo asked, unable to conceal the jealousy in his voice.


"He came over and asked us what was going on.  We reassured him we were just talking and it was about school.  That's when he invited me to sit with him and Share at their table rather than continue dancing.  That's when I realized you'd disappeared.  I finished up my conversation with her as quickly as possible and started looking for you."  'Deo said with an edge to his voice.


"So what did you talk about?  Can you tell me that?"  Angelo demanded.


"You."


"What?!"


"I'd seen you one day, walking with your nose in a book and nearly getting hit by a car.  I asked Sharon about you.  She couldn't tell me anything about you except that we had lunch at the same time."


"You were asking around about me?"  Angelo asked, unsure whether he was flattered or insulted.


"Just Sharon, no one else.  It's not like I walked all over the school asking everyone, OK?" 'Deo said gently.


Angelo nodded, slightly mollified. 


"The thing is that afterward I found out that all student records are held under lock and key.  Only Cobrane, Barnes and Mrs. Jennings have keys to the files.  So I asked Sharon how she'd gotten into the records room to find out our schedules."


"What did she say?  Did she break some rule or other?  Did she get into trouble?"  Angelo asked, concerned.


"No, she didn't break any rules, which is what I was worried about.  She told me that Cobrane heard us talking.  She told me that she asked him permission to give me some information about you.  Nothing that would break confidentiality or student safety, just a little something, such as when we had free time in common.  She said that Cobrane looked it up himself and gave her the information."  He didn't mention that she wasn't supposed to tell Amadeo his name, less said the better, he felt.


Angelo looked thoughtful for a moment.  "What if you'd met me and you didn't like me?"


"But I did meet you.  And I did like you. I do like you.  A lot."  'Deo said with that little smile and that glint in his eye.  "Except,” he said, turning Angelo to the side and smacking the other boy's bottom several times, "When you smoke!"


"Ooooowwwwwww!  Hey!"  Angelo protested loudly.  Then in a softer voice asked, "How could you tell?  Ethel said the gum would get the smell off my breath!"


"Because number one, you don't chew gum.  You told me yourself you don't like the texture.  And two, I can smell it on your hair.  I suggest that if you don't want your father to give you more than a few smacks that you head directly to the men's room, wash your face and hands and use a little of one of the colognes they have in there.  You got two bits to tip the attendant?"


"No,” Angelo said, flushing, "I thought we were going to the Drover and I didn't bring any pocket money."


"Don't worry, I have some.  You owe me later though, plus interest."  Amadeo said in a businesslike manner.


"What kind of interest?  You know I'll pay you back as soon as we get home so what kind of interest are we talking?  Per minute?  Per hour?"


Amadeo looked around to be sure they were still alone then bent down to kiss his boy on the lips.  "One of those.  For every fifteen minutes I have to wait for repayment."


Angelo immediately began calculating how many kisses he'd owe Amadeo by the time they got home.  "I agree to your terms."  he said, putting out his hand to shake.


"Wait!"  said Amadeo, “We still have to discuss the terms if for some reason you can't pay.  But let's hold off on that until we get back inside, you still need to wash up."


"Spoilsport." muttered Angelo, which earned him a slightly lighter whack on his backside, to which he grinned and wiggled his butt, then hastily tucked it in and ran when Amadeo raised his hand again in a clear threat.


When they got inside Bruce and Ralph were sitting on one of the fainting couches in the entryway, smiling and talking softly.  They waved when 'Deo and Angelo walked in.  Bruce winked at Angelo and blushed at Amadeo's puzzled expression.  Angelo raised his eyebrows in a question to which Bruce gave a faint nod.  Amadeo, looking between the two of them and figuring he'd get the story when Angelo was ready, nudged him into the men's room.

After a thorough scrubbing with soap and water, including a quick wash and dry of his hair, 'Deo paid the attendant fifty cents for a towel and the use of a bottle of English Leather.  He poured a little into Angelo's hands, made him rub them together before patting his neck, hair and a little on his shirt to hide any residual smell.


When they came out of the bathroom, Bruce and Ralph were gone, presumably back to the little clearing to celebrate their new level of friendship.  "That reminds me, let's go outside, there's something I need to tell you."  Angelo said as he began to guide Amadeo back outside.


"There you are!  Where have you been?  You've been ignoring your guests, Angelo."  came his father's voice from the doorway leading into the ballroom.  "Get in here right now!"


Angelo blushed, “Sorry, PapĂ .  I didn't mean to."


"You're lucky it's your birthday, ragazzino."  Joshua scolded, landing a light smack to his son's backside.  "Now get in there and behave yourself." he said before turning and walking back into the crowded ballroom.


Angelo and Amadeo shared a guilty grin and walked back into the room.  Angelo looked at his watch and began calculating how much he would owe Amadeo once the party was over, and contemplated the penalty he'd incur if he weren't able to pay up, with a grin on his face.


*******
NOTES:


Doyle Brunson - Poker legend

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