Grant invited me into his room, shut the door and sat down on the bed. He motioned for me to join him, so I sat down beside him. Once again, my eyes strayed to the front of his briefs. The sight was unbelievable, and I couldn't help commenting on it. He didn't seem upset, but he clearly didn't want to pursue this topic.
"I'm sure you didn't come in here to talk about my endowment."
He was right, and I felt terrible for even mentioning the subject. I apologized and got to the questions I had wanted to ask when I came in. What I really wanted to know was what, if anything, Gregg had said to him about me, but I couldn't think of a way to say it without sounding silly. So I compromised. "How would you feel if your Dad and I became more than housemates?"
He looked at me in surprise. "I thought I made that clear when I started calling you Dad Harley. I'll be in Ithaca, but I'll be living with Ben, and Dad needs the company of someone his own age."
Well, that was clear enough! I thanked him and went back to my room. I had one member of the family on my side, but I still didn't know how Gregg felt. This was getting really frustrating. Everyone around us seemed to assume that we were developing, or would develop, a relationship. The only one who hadn't said anything was Gregg, and until, or unless, he did, I couldn't say anything. Talk about Catch 22!
I finally fell asleep, and slept well until there was a knock on the door. It was Gregg. "Harley, we've got to think about getting ready. We're supposed to meet Beau and Becca in a little over an hour. Coffee's ready, whenever you are."
I got up and went into the bathroom. A shave and a shower helped to make me feel almost human again. Then I went back into the bedroom and pulled out some clothes to wear to breakfast and the bank. I didn't want Gregg to be ashamed to introduce me to his friends.
When I got to the kitchen, Gregg was sitting at the table with his coffee. There was another cup waiting for me across from him. He smiled. "The boys have already left. They knew we were going to breakfast with Ben's parents, so they went out for breakfast before they open the shop. It will probably be their last chance to spend time there, and it gives the other guys a day off."
We sat quietly, enjoying the bright, sunny morning and the hot coffee. Gregg wasn't just being polite in Ithaca; he has Colombian coffee, too. When we finished our first cup, Gregg got up from the table and reached for the coffee pot. "We've got time for another, if you want it. We'll have to drive to the Club, because it's on the other side of town, but that won't take long."
It sounded like a good idea to me, so he poured us each a second cup. As he sat back down at the table, my curiosity got the best of me. "I know that Beau is planning to buy your shop, but what about the house?"
"I thought that they were buying that, too, but he's said a couple of things that make me wonder. I may have to put it into a realtor's hands before we leave."
"You have to go to the bank, too, don't you? Beau mentioned something about that last night. And who is Chip? I heard you mention him to Andrea at the Trust Company."
"Chip Weaver has been Beau's friend since forever. Even though he's several years younger, they've always been close. Beau and Jeff helped him, I think, to get his position at the bank, but he's a real whip! He's made the bank a very profitable institution, and they love him there. Everyone loves Chip, but it's not a good idea to get him mad at you!"
"OK, I'll remember that." I grinned at him. "Anyone else I need to be careful with?"
"No. The people here are sort of like a big family. If they take you in, you're part of the family. But don't hurt one of them, or you have the whole family on your back!"
"I'll be on my best behavior, I promise."
He chuckled. "See that you are!" We were both grinning now. He looked up at the clock. "Maybe we should think about leaving now. Beau hates to wait, so I always try to be a few minutes early, if I'm meeting him for any reason."
We went out through the kitchen door into the attached garage. Gregg's car was sitting there, a late model sedan, very plain, actually perfect for him, I thought. He reached into the front and pulled out the door opener. Then he looked at me. "I really hate to drive, and I hope you will plan to drive on the trip to New York. But I think I'd better drive today. It's a small town, but you can get lost, if you're not familiar with it." I just nodded.
He pressed the button on the opener, and the garage door began to move upward. Gregg walked around to the driver's side and opened the door. I could tell that getting into the car was not easy for him. He leaned over and grinned at me. "Are you going, or did you decide to stay here and miss a really good breakfast?"
"I'm going. I'm kind of hungry this morning." He laughed at me. I got into the car; he started the engine and backed slowly out of the garage, then stopped. He grabbed the door opener from the dashboard and pressed a button. The door began its descent, as we backed out of the drive.
Once we were underway, Gregg seemed more comfortable. He drove through the downtown streets, then took a side street leading out of town. In a few minutes we were pulling into the parking lot at the Country Club. It was really quite an impressive building, particularly in a small town like this.
We got out of the car, and Gregg locked the doors. We crossed the parking lot, admiring the landscaping and the flowers surrounding it. When we entered the building, we were in a rather large lobby with comfortable looking furniture scattered around in small groupings. Gregg went directly to the information desk. "Good morning, Susan. Have Mr. and Mrs. Benson arrived yet?"
The young woman at the desk smiled at him. "Well, hello, Mr. Garrison! We haven't seen you here in a while. How are you?"
"Just fine, thanks! We just got back from New York, and we're getting ready to go back there in a couple of days. So, have Beau and Becca come in yet? We're supposed to meet them here."
Yes, Mr. Benson called in breakfast reservations for four. But I haven't seen them come in yet. You could wait for them here, or you could go into the dining room and wait for them there. Mr. Benson is very prompt when he has a reservation, so I'm expecting them any time." She looked past Gregg toward the front door. "Here they are, now! I just saw their car pull in."
"Thanks, Susan!" He turned and walked toward the front door; I followed him. He was on his home turf now, and I was the visitor.
The front door opened. Beau was holding it for Becca, and he followed her into the lobby. "Hey, guys, glad to see you! I don't know about you, but I'm so hungry I could eat the paint off the wall about now!" Becca nudged him gently and we went into the dining room.
It was a beautifully appointed room, very stately and elegant in a restrained way. The head waiter came over to greet us. "Good morning, Mr. Benson, Mrs. Benson. So nice to see you here today. Hello, Mr. Garrison. Good to see you. And I don't know this gentleman, I'm afraid." He looked at me.
Beau introduced us. "Tony, this is Mr. Gordon, my business associate from Ithaca, New York. Harley, Tony is one of the best head waiters you'll find anywhere. He's one of the reasons we like to come here to eat." Tony blushed a little at the compliment.
"Your table is ready, whenever you are, Mr. Benson." He led us to a table in the corner, next to one of the floor to ceiling windows looking out on the golf course. The table had a heavy linen cloth, with matching napkins, and was set with four places of fine bone china and what was obviously real silver, or at least silver plate.
Tony pulled out a chair for Becca and seated her. The rest of us sat down, Beau facing Becca, and Gregg and I across from one another, between them. Tony signaled to one of the waiters, then bowed to Becca. "Enjoy your breakfast. It's a pleasure to have you back with us." He left, and the waiter came over with menus. He opened the menus and placed them in front of us. "Would you all like coffee to start, while you decide what you want for breakfast?" We all nodded, so he went to the serving table and brought the pot. He poured our coffee and left us to decide what we wanted.
Beau was studying the menu. "I'm not sure what I want this morning. I don't think I want anything too heavy. We've got a lot of running around to do today. Becca, what are you having?"
"I thought I'd just have a mushroom omelet, no toast, and a fresh fruit cup."
"That sounds good to me. What about you guys?"
I looked at Gregg. I was a little afraid to order anything here. He smiled. "I think I'll have the same."
Now I had my tip. "That sounds good to me, too."
Beau signaled the waiter, who was waiting at a discreet distance. He immediately came over, and Beau ordered for the four of us. The waiter wrote down our order, bowed and disappeared into the kitchen. Beau looked at me. "The food here is very good. We've been coming here since I was a kid. Grams Tillison usually had the whole family here for brunch after church. Or Doctor Dad would bring us. It was such a change and such a surprise to me that people actually lived this way, after what I had known as a little kid." An expression crossed his face that was half reminiscent, half pain. He stopped speaking for a minute, then quickly changed the subject.
"So, Harley, what do you think of our little town? I heard you had the grand tour yesterday afternoon."
"It's beautiful, and I can understand why people would never want to leave it. It seems so peaceful and just seems to drift, like the river."
Becca smiled. "You have just described the town to a 'T.' It is beautiful and peaceful, and now you can understand why I never want to leave. It's 'home,' and I don't think I would ever be happy anywhere else."
I stole a quick look at Gregg. He was listening intently to Becca, and I tried to read the expression on his face. Was he having second thoughts about leaving Fremont? After all, he had lived here almost forty years. Did I have the right to try to entice him away to what must seem like an alien world to him?
The waiter brought our breakfast, and we enjoyed it in silence. When we were finished, Beau caught the waiter's eye and held up his coffee cup. The waiter came to our table with the coffee pot and refilled all our cups. "Was everything satisfactory, Mr. Benson?"
"Is it ever unsatisfactory here?" Beau grinned at him. "I've been eating here at the club since I was a boy, and, if anything, the food and the service have improved."
"Thank you, sir! I'll pass that on to the manager. I'm sure she will be happy to hear it." He took the pot back to the serving table and disappeared into the kitchen.
Beau picked up his cup and turned to Gregg. "Well, are you ready to do some business this morning?" He looked at his watch. "We have an appointment with Chip Weaver in a little less than an hour."
Gregg hesitated a moment, then asked, "Beau, I thought that you intended to buy the house, as well as the shop, as an investment. Is there some reason you decided against it?"
Becca smiled at him and spoke. "We were talking it over, and realized that, although you are starting a new life in Ithaca, Grant might decide to return to Fremont with Ben. Besides, college students always have expenses and things they want to do that cost money. It seemed like a good idea for you to sign the house over to Grant, so that he has a home to return to, if he decides to return to Fremont. If not, he can always sell it and use the money to start out on his career, whatever that may be."
Beau nodded. "You're not getting any younger, you know. I realize that you have enough money to take care of Grant, but young men always want to feel that they are independent, so, while he is in college, he can rent the house, and use the rental income for his financial needs. They shouldn't be too large, since he and Ben will be living in the house in Ithaca, and I would hope that at least one of the two girls can cook. Ben can't, unfortunately. His mother tried to teach him at least the basics, as he was growing up, but he was simply not interested. Now, Brian, on the other hand, is right at home in the kitchen. I wouldn't be surprised if he decided to become a chef."
He turned to me. "So, are you eager to get home? This must seem strange to you here. The Midwest is really quite different from the Atlantic coastal states."
"Actually, I'm feeling very much at home in Fremont. It's a small town, like the ones around the area where I grew up. And the people seem very friendly here—which is not always true in New York."
He grinned. "Maybe we can make a Midwesterner out of you, and then we won't lose our Gregg."
I paused; I wasn't sure how to approach this subject. "Beau, you introduced me a couple of times as your local representative in Ithaca, but I'm ashamed to admit that I don't even know what your business does, or how I might fit into it."
"We're a consulting firm. We contract with businesses that are having problems, and we go in and analyze their operations. Then we make suggestions on how they can improve in different areas. Gregg can tell you how we worked with his business, and how the business picked up and flourished when he put the changes into effect."
"OK, I can understand that, but I don't see how I fit into the picture."
"What I need from you is for you to contact new businesses, explain our services, and see if you can get them to contract with us. Then we go in and do the analysis. I think you should start in the Ithaca area. If we are successful there, we can spread out. I don't expect you to travel, the way Becca and I do. In fact, Ben has been hinting that we travel too much, and we are talking about backing off and letting some of our younger associates do more of the traveling. We have a number of businesses in the Syracuse area, so it's easy to get to Ithaca, or even Binghamton on one trip. Of course, we have one less business in Syracuse, now." He grinned and shook his head. "We showed them a number of ways they could improve and become more profitable, but these guys were definitely not businessmen. They didn't know an audit from an Audi!" He grinned again and shrugged. "Some people can, and some people can't! The best advice we could give them on our last trip there was to sell the business and get what they could for it. At least they wouldn't lose everything, and that's the way they were headed."
"I probably don't know any more about running a business than those guys did! How am I going to be able to help you?"
"I don't expect you to help in the consulting end. We have some excellent young men in our organization who can handle that very well, if we aren't able to do it. You will be the front man, the one who interests the businesses in what we can do for them, gets them to sign up for our services. We take it from there."
"Well, I guess I could handle that."
"I have no doubt whatever that you can handle it. That's why I decided to offer you the position. It isn't physically straining, and it doesn't require a lot of travel, other than occasional trips to nearby cities. Harley, I'm aware of the fact that you are even older than Gregg, but your age and experience with people is exactly what we need. People trust you instinctively. They will listen to what you say, and they will accept it much more readily than they would from some young hotshot who sounds to them like a snake oil salesman."
Becca smiled at me. "You don't need to worry, Harley. You'll get full training before we throw you to the wolves!"
"Oh thanks! That makes me feel somuch better!" We all laughed. Beau checked his watch again. "I think we should be heading out to the bank. Chip can be a bear if he's kept waiting! I don't know where he developed this attitude he has!"
Becca looked at him, then winked at Gregg. They both burst into laughter.
She reached over and patted Beau's hand. "Neither do I, dear; neither do I."
She was still laughing when we went to the cashier's desk. Beau glanced over the check, added a sizeable tip, and pulled out his credit card. The cashier processed it, and he signed the slip.
When we got to our cars, Beau called over to Gregg, "You doknow where the bank is, don't you?" Becca punched him in the arm. "Beau, he's been gone less than a week. I don't think he's forgotten where the bank is!" She shook her head and got into the car. Beau shrugged. "Just asking!" He got into the car, and they drove off. Gregg looked at me and shook his head. "Some things never change!" He unlocked the car, and we got in.
We drove back into the main part of town, and Gregg pulled up behind Beau's car in front of the bank. We went in and found Beau and Becca talking to a very handsome young man in a tailored three-piece suit. Beau waved us over and introduced me. "Chip, this is Harley Gordon, from New York. He's accepted the job of keeping Ben and Grant on the straight and narrow while they're at Cornell University. Harley, this is Mr. Charles J. Weaver, president of the bank, and better known as Chipper."
"Beau, you know you're the only person, except Grams Tillison, who ever got away with calling me that! And now that she's gone, I don't have to put up with it from you any more, either! Harley, I'm glad to meet you. If you're trying to keep an eye on those two hooligans and keep them out of jail, you have my deepest sympathy. They're good kids, but Ben is just too much like his Dad for his own good!" He was grinning at Beau, as we shook hands.
I turned to Beau. "Do you have any idea how long you will be here? Since I'm really no part of this whole thing, I thought I'd go out and wander up and down the street, and just look at things. I think I'm falling in love with Fremont."
"It's easy to do! We'll probably be about half an hour. We'll hunt you down when we're finished, if you're not back." They headed toward an office in the back of the bank, and I went outside and stood looking up and down the street. For no particular reason, I turned left and strolled down the street, looking into the windows of the stores I passed.
About halfway down the block, I saw a window full of toys. Prominently displayed was a puppet that looked amazingly like Ben. I looked up at the sign over the window: Garrison's Toy Shoppe. So, this was his toy shop!
I opened the door, causing the bell mounted on the inside to jingle.
Ben and Grant came out of the back room, apparently expecting to see a customer. Their expressions changed to surprise when they saw me standing there.
"Well, hi there, Mr. Gordon!" Ben hurried out and shook my hand. "I see you've found us. Want to look around for a while?"
"Hi, Dad Harley! How did you get away from the bosses?" Grant was grinning, as he came over and hugged me.
"They're at the bank down the street, finishing some business for your Dad, so I thought I'd just wander around and see a little of the town. I didn't realize that the toy shop was so close to the bank. I just sort of stumbled onto it."
"We're just here for the day, to give the other guys time off. And it will be our last chance to spend time here, with Dad moving to Ithaca and opening a new shop there. It's kind of neat, don't you think?"
"Yes, it is. I guess little boys never grow up. I see you have quite a display of model trains. When I was a kid, my Dad and I used to spend a lot of time playing together with my train. It had been his, when he was a boy, and he loved it. We expanded it and added a lot of stuff—little houses, streets, cars, stores—it was almost a whole town, you know, and all built around the railroad, the way a lot of towns grew up in this country."
"It sounds as if you miss it." Grant smiled at me almost sympathetically.
"Actually, I don’t miss it; I still have it, put away. I keep thinking that I'm going to get it out and set it up, but I just never seem to get around to doing it."
Ben grinned at me. "Well, look at some of the trains we have here. They might motivate you to get your own up and running, when you get back home."
"Hey, I've got to ask you something that might sound a little silly. That puppet in the window, your Dad made him, didn't he Grant?"
"Yes, he made all the puppets here. That one's Poker; he's sort of special."
"Is it just my eyesight, or does he really look a lot like Ben?"
"In a way, he is Ben, just like Pinochle was me, before things happened."
"That is probably the most bizarre story I've ever heard in my life. Not that I doubt a word of it! But you have to admit that the whole story sounds a little like a fairy tale."
"I suppose it would strike me the same way, if I hadn't been there to see the whole thing happen." Ben smiled at Grant, and slipped his arm around Grant's waist.
"You aren't planning to try that again, with this one, are you?" I was beginning to be a little nervous. Being here in the shop, where the whole story started, talking to a teenager who, only a couple or three weeks ago was a puppet just like the one I was looking at, it was all a little spooky for me. Grant seemed to sense my feelings. He chuckled. "No, Ben's Dad told us that one of him was more than enough!"
I couldn't understand the wave of relief that flowed over me. It was just a story, right? Still, here stood Grant, right in front of me. I really needed to change the subject.
"I would like to look at the trains! I might find a car or two to add to my own—whenever I get around to getting it out again!" I started toward the model train display on shelves on the far wall. As I walked past the window where the puppet was displayed, I noticed the prominent bulge in his pants, and unconsciously reached out and stroked it. Ben laughed.
"Another one for our tally sheet! The guys have been keeping a record of how many people touched Poker like that. Would you believe that almost all the customers, men and women alike, old and young, have touched him the same way you just did?" I could feel my face getting hot with embarrassment.
Grant laughed. "I'm not laughing at you, Dad Harley. It's just that it's like everyone has to be sure that they're seeing what they think they're seeing."
That didn't help me; I still felt like an idiot, a perverted idiot! I hurried over to the train display. There were a number of different cars that I didn't have on my train, and I was wondering whether to actually buy one or two. If Gregg's shop in Ithaca was anything like this one, he'd certainly have a lot of these cars there. Well, not these cars, because he had told me that he was selling the store and all the merchandise to Beau, but I figured that the new store would carry most, if not all, of the same toys. He was already thinking about making new puppets.
I put the cars back on the shelf and was looking around at all the different toys on display, when the bell jingled, the door opened, and I heard Becca say, "See, I told you! I knew we'd find him here!"
It seems to me that Harley is falling in love with Fremont. I can't say as I blame him. I fell in love with it a long time ago when I first started reading about it in E Walk's stories. I am sure that Ithaca is a nice place to live as well, and I suspect it will have its own charm and personality. I know that both Harley and Gregg really like each other. I also know that they are each scared to admit to the other that they have started the process of falling in love. I don't expect either of them to instantly make a pass at the other. I do hope that they can somehow find the proper words to say to each other to start them both on the road to becoming much closer than just good friends.
As Arli has said, this story is built on the foundation of Pinochle, which is a very strange and interesting story, written By E Walk. Like Arli's, E Walk's characters are very real and very soon you come to love them like family. I have been editing for E Walk since shortly after he started posting his first story. I believe that he and Arli both have wonderful talent. They tell stories somewhat differently, yet they both tend to convey the same real emotions. Every story from either of them deals with real life issues. I say that, knowing what kind of "real life" issues were involved with the beginning of Pinochle, and I have to laugh. Oh well, so be it. No matter how the story started, the people in it are now very real, and I love them all, just as I love the people in Arli's stories. Thank you, Arli, for another wonderful chapter.
Please hurry with the next chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher
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