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Second Time Around

Chapter 11 - "And they're off!"

By Arli J

Edited by Radio Rancher
Based on Characters from Pinochle, by E Walk

The sun was shining in my face, as I rose from the depths of a peaceful, dreamless sleep. I rolled over and looked at the clock on the bedside table. 8:30! I haven't slept this late in years! I managed to sit up on the edge of the bed and waited until I felt a little more functional before I got up and went into the bathroom. A shower and shave brought me almost back to life. I went back into the bedroom, got dressed, and headed downstairs. The house seemed really quiet.

Gregg was sitting at the kitchen table when I walked in. He grinned and pointed to the coffee pot on the counter behind him. "Maid's on strike. You have to get your own coffee this morning." He turned his attention to the cup in front of him. "And, as long as you're up, would you mind giving me a refill?"

I got a cup from the cupboard and poured myself a cup of coffee. I reached over his shoulder and refilled the cup in front of him, then set the coffee pot back and took the seat across from him. "How come you let me sleep so late?"

"No reason for you to get up. The boys left early; Ben picked Grant up, so that they could go for breakfast and get over to the shop to show Lash and Paul what to do. They've decided to spend their last day here, in the shop, and then they leave in the morning for England."

I couldn't think of any reply, so I just nodded. The coffee was doing its magic; I was actually beginning to wake up and get into the world around me. We sat there for a few minutes, just enjoying the morning, the coffee, and the company—at least, I was enjoying the company. I had no idea what was going on in his mind. But it felt good, just being here with him. Finally, he roused. "I think I've got most everything packed that I want to take. We can drive down to the UPS store later and ship out the bigger boxes. Oh, that reminds me, I forgot to get shipping labels yesterday when we were there; don't let me forget!"

I had to grin. "We have to go there to ship the boxes. Do you think you'll forget, when the clerk refuses to take them without labels?"

He was chuckling now. "Well, there isthat!" He stood up from the table and set his cup in the sink. "I'm not trying to rush you; I'm just going to look around again and see if there's anything I've missed. Whenever you're ready, we'll wander down to the diner and have some breakfast." He disappeared into the living room, and I got another cup of coffee and settled down to enjoy it. When I finished, I put my cup in the sink with his and went into the living room. He was just standing in the middle of the room, looking around. The expression on his face was impossible to read. As I came up beside him, he turned to me. "You know, I thought it was going to be really hard to leave this place. I've lived in this house for over thirty years. But it seems right somehow; it's time." He smiled at me. "You were right about the memories. There area lot of wonderful memories here. But it's time to make a change." He tapped me lightly on the shoulder with his fist. "But I'm getting really hungry. Are you up for a walk, or should we take the car to the diner?"

"It's hardly far enough to bother getting the car out, and it's a beautiful day. I'd just as soon walk, if your leg's OK."

"I'm feeling fine this morning. Let's go!"

As we set out on a leisurely stroll to the diner, I was enjoying the warm sunshine on my back, and the gentle breeze that seemed to caress my cheeks. It felt so good, so right, just being here with Gregg. I glanced over at him just as he looked at me. We both grinned. "Good idea you had, Harley. It's really a beautiful day, just right for a walk. But I think we'll go back and get the car to take the boxes to UPS. I don't want to have to listen to you whining if you have to carry them." I just barely resisted the urge to stick my tongue out at him. I can be childish at times.

When we walked into the diner, I noticed that the same waitress was there. As soon as we sat down, she was at the table with glasses of water. "Good morning, guys! Coffee, to start? Black, isn't it?" She was apparently pleased with the tip Gregg left for her yesterday. Still, I was amazed that she remembered how we liked our coffee. This was only the second time we'd been there.

"Yes, please!" Gregg grinned at her. "Can I get that in a five gallon pail?"

She didn't hesitate. "I'll see if they've finished mopping the kitchen. If they have, I can get you the bucket." She was giggling as she hurried to the counter to get our coffee. She brought our coffee, and set the cups down carefully. "Do you know what you want for breakfast, or should I give you a few minutes?"

"I'd like to check the menu, I think. I don't really know what I want this morning." Gregg smiled at her. She nodded and went back to the counter and began picking up dirty dishes and washing off the counter.

Gregg grinned at me. "I likethat girl!" I just shook my head. He was in a mood this morning that I had never seen. And I liked it!

We finally made up our minds and ordered our breakfast. When it arrived, we ate silently; we were both hungry and we just focused on our food. When we finished, the waitress came with a coffee pot and refilled our cups. She picked up the dirty dishes and disappeared into the kitchen.

We took our time with our coffee. When we got up to leave, I reached for my wallet. Gregg stopped me. "We've got a deal here, remember?"

"Fine, but I'd like to at least leave the tip."

"Well, all right." He went over to the counter to pay the bill, and I fished out a ten and laid it in the middle of the table. Then I followed him out the door. He stopped on the sidewalk. "You know, I think I'm going to need a couple more small boxes. You've convinced me that I need to take some things that I didn't plan to take with me. But I think you're right. They aremy memories, but they wouldn't have any significance to Grant, or to anybody else who might be living in the house. They're mine." He was smiling now, the beautiful sunshine smile that I loved so much. I was getting in, deeper and deeper. I just didn't know what I would do, if he really wasn't interested in me. But I didn't want to think about that now. It was a beautiful day, and I was with a beautiful person. There are moments when life is absolutely perfect, and this was one of them.

We went back to the house and began filling the larger boxes, which we intended to ship. I figured that the small boxes would fit in the car. As we went from room to room, taking things from shelves and drawers, I noticed that Gregg's mood seemed much lighter than it had been yesterday. He was even humming as he wrapped things and packed them carefully into the boxes.

Suddenly, the door slammed open, and the boys rushed into the house. Grant ran over to Gregg. "Dad, plans have changed! We have to leave for Omaha this afternoon! We're flying out for London today, instead of tomorrow!" He gave his Dad a quick hug, then sprinted up the stairs. Ben was standing there.

"We were at the shop, showing Lash and Paul what had to be done, when I got a phone call. We have to be in Omaha at 1:30, in order to make the flight from New York to London. I don't know why they changed the plans, but I really don't care! I'm so excited about going to England! And we're going to be spending a week with Mr. Peters and Mr. Cox. They're just the neatest people!" I was amazed; I don't think he took a breath during the whole explanation. It appeared that he might be just a little excited about his trip.

Grant came rushing down the stairs with his suitcases. He dropped them by the front door and came over to give his Dad a big hug. "I'll miss you, Dad, but I'm really excited about this trip. This is going to be a whole new experience for me!"

Gregg chuckled. "Son, everything'sa whole new experience for you. But have fun, and learn all you can about this crazy world. And I'll miss you, too, boy. But you'll be coming back, and we'll see each other in Ithaca." He hugged Grant tightly; his eyes were a little misty. Ben came over and joined in the hug.

"It's going to be a great experience for both of us. I've got my digital camera, and we're going to be taking lots of pictures. We'll try to get as many as we can, so you can share the trip with us, when we get back."

Grant broke free from their group hug and came over to me. He hugged me and whispered in my ear, "Goodbye, Dad Harley. Take good care of Dad for me. I know you will. And take care of yourself, too. I don't want to lose any of my new family." He kissed me on the cheek. Then he turned and picked up his suitcases. "Come on, Ben! We don't want to miss that plane!"

Ben came over and gave me a quick hug. "'Bye, Mr. Gordon! We'll be seeing you soon, in Ithaca. This is going to be a year of new experiences, I think. I can't wait!" He followed Grant out the door, and it slammed shut behind them.

Gregg and I stood there, just looking at each other. There was an awkward silence; the house seemed so empty now, with the boys gone. Even when Grant was out somewhere with Ben, his presence was still in the house. Now it seemed completely empty, and I admit, I was feeling a little uncomfortable. I didn't know what to say, what to do around Gregg. From his expression, he was having some similar feelings.

He shook his head, like a man coming out of a trance. "Well, that was a sudden change of plans! But it's good; it will give them a little more time in England." He went back to his packing. I helped as much as I could, handing him things and taping boxes when he had them filled. We worked in silence; each of us seemed to be wondering what would happen next. At least, I know that's what was going on in my mind. It's funny; when he was staying at my house in Ithaca, we had no problems being alone together, but now there was a strange atmosphere, a sort of pause, a feeling of waiting for something, but what?

By the time we had the big boxes filled and ready to ship, it was lunch time. We took a break and went back to the diner. The day was a bit warmer now, but not unpleasant. When we got back to the house, Gregg said, "Well, now that that part is finished, why don't we take these to the UPS store and get them shipped out. I think I'm going to need a couple more small boxes, though."

We took all the larger boxes out to the car and stacked them in the back seat. Gregg went back in and closed up the house; then we drove to the UPS store. Gregg went in and returned shortly with a pack of labels. He fished around in the glove compartment. "Damn! I thought I had a pen in here."

"Never mind, I've got one." I handed it to him. I don't know why, but I've carried a pen in my pocket for years. I never know when I'm going to have to sign something or write a note. It's just one of those foolish habits that people develop over the years.

He looked at me. "I can't remember your address. Would you fill out the labels, please, so we get it right, and I'll stick them on the packages as you finish them."

It didn't take long to label the packages, and then we carried them into the store. It took us a couple of trips. Once they were paid for and ready to go, Gregg looked around. "Where are those little boxes? I don't think I need more than a couple, but I'm going to have to get some more bubble wrap. I used up what we had." He picked up the things he needed and brought them to the counter. As the clerk was ringing up his purchases, I had a sudden thought.

"Gregg, we're going to be on the road a few days. I'd hate to have the packages arrive before we do."

"Good thought! Sir, could we arrange to have the packages delivered to this address no earlier than Wednesday of next week? That way, we'll be there to receive them."

"That's no problem, sir. I'll just put a note on the shipping order."

"Thank you. Well, Harley, I guess we don't have any more excuses for not going back to our packing." He grinned at me. We walked out of the store and just stopped on the sidewalk by the car. It was such a beautiful day, and there was such a peaceful feeling about it. I'd only been in Fremont a couple of days, and I was almost dreading leaving it. I could only imagine what Gregg must be feeling, leaving his home of some forty years.

Gregg tossed the boxes and the roll of tape into the back seat, and we got in. We went back to the house and got back to the job of packing his memories to move them to a new town. I opened the boxes and taped them; Gregg began pulling things off shelves and wrapping them to pack. Together we finished the downstairs in a relatively short time. Then we went upstairs. As we moved from room to room, Gregg was gathering small things, wrapping them and putting them into the boxes. His bedroom took the longest and filled one box. We were so engrossed in what we were doing that we lost all sense of time passing. As we taped the last box shut, Gregg looked over at the clock on the table beside his bed. "Good night! Do you realize that it's already 6:00? No wonder my stomach's rumbling!" We carried the last box downstairs and set it on the little pile in the living room. We looked at each other and sighed. He gave me a little, lop-sided grin. "I'll bet you're going to be glad to get home and away from all this!"

"What do you mean, get away from all this? If I'm not mistaken, we're taking it all with us!"

He laughed then. "Oops! You got me there! Well, one nice thing, I've got a whole big building where I can store my junk. At least, I won't have to clutter your house with it." He yawned and stretched. "Don't know about you, but I'm ready for a break, and I definitely want food! Where would you like to go for dinner? Are you up for Chinese again?"

"As tempting as that sounds, I noticed that they had a fish fry listed on the menu at the diner. That sounds really good to me, if you want to go back there. If not, I'm willing to go anywhere you suggest."

"Fish fry, hmmm. I can't remember the last time I had one, and I really like them. I'm glad you noticed that. I didn't see it on the menu."

We strolled down the street to the diner. I had to fight the urge to reach out and take his hand. It was such a beautiful evening, and it just felt so right, being here with him.

I think there must be a "diner owner's guide" somewhere, with "standard meals" listed. The fish fry was a standard diner dinner, a fried filet, French fries and cole slaw. But they gave big servings, and the food was delicious. We both enjoyed it. When the waitress, our new friend, came over to see if we wanted dessert, we looked at each other. Gregg smiled at her. "Are your pies home made?" She nodded enthusiastically. "I'm trying to learn to make pies; my boy friend loves apple pie. But I can't seem to get the crusts right, so I buy one here and tell him I made it myself. He hasn't figured it out yet, and I hope he never does." She grinned, and we laughed. Gregg said, "I think I'd like a piece of apple pie, and if you have it, I'd like a chunk of sharp cheddar cheese to go with it. My Grandma always used to say, 'Apple pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.' I've come to believe that she was right!"

The waitress laughed. "I don't know if we have any sharp cheddar. I'll check; but if we don't, I'd be glad to give you a squeeze with your pie!"

Gregg laughed, but he looked a little embarrassed. "That's all right. I can tough it out, if there's no cheese. What are you having, Harley?"

"That lemon meringue pie looks really good to me. I think I'll have a piece of that. And I won't need any cheese, Miss." She laughed and went to get our dessert.

She was back in a couple of minutes with the pie. Then she went to the counter and came back with the coffee pot. She refilled our cups. "Will there be anything else, guys?"

Gregg grinned at her. "I may need a wheel chair to get me out of here, after this meal, but otherwise, no, thank you." She smiled and went back to the counter. She was back in a couple of minutes with our check. She laid it on the table and disappeared into the kitchen.

When we finished our pie, Gregg reached for his wallet. I spoke up. "I've got the tip—not negotiable!"

He just nodded and went over to the counter to pay the bill. I left another ten for the waitress. Those poor girls work hard, and they don't make much money. And she's such a friendly girl, funny, too.

When we left the diner, the sun had gone down just enough so that it was a little cooler. The breeze was warm and pleasant. Harley looked at me. "I don't think I can do anything for a while; I'm too full. How would you feel about a little stroll down by the river? It's not far from here, and I think I could use a little exercise right now."

"Me, too! That was a delicious dinner, but I'm so stuffed, I wouldn't dare bend over. I'd probably explode, or at least split my pants."

We walked across the section of town we had explored before, until we came to the river. The Platte was glistening in the late sunshine, with little flashes of light here and there, where the current was disturbed by submerged rocks. We sat down on a bench in the little park by the river. A half dozen ducks, used to being fed by people in the park, waddled over to us, quacking hopefully. When they realized that we had no handouts for them, they wandered off, muttering epithets in duck language. I was rather glad I didn't understand what they were saying.

The warm sunshine, the tranquility of the river, and the big meal I had just finished combined to give me a sense of total contentment with my life at the moment. Being here, seated next to Gregg, certainly helped, too. "This is so nice! I could just sit here forever."

Gregg chuckled. "About the middle of January, you might change your mind! The wind on the river can be really biting."

We sat there a few minutes longer. Then he sighed and stood up. "I'd like to sit here all evening, but if I don't finish with my packing, we won't be ready to leave in the morning. What time did you want to start?"

"I don't know. I figure it will take us about three days. I don't want to push too hard the first day, and by the third day we'll be tired and ready to get there. So, I figured on taking it easy tomorrow, stopping early, then getting up Sunday morning and pushing as far as we can go. That will make it easier on us on Monday. How does that sound to you?"

"Sounds like a plan! So, what time do you want to start tomorrow?"

"Well, if we pack tonight, we can sleep in a little, have breakfast, and be on the road by nine or so. Does that work for you?"

"Great! But, if we're going to pack the car tonight, I'd better get my butt in gear and get things packed up." I stood up, ignoring the pull of gravity on my overloaded stomach, and we set out on a leisurely walk to his house.

When we got there, we found that there really wasn't all that much packing left to do. I started carrying the boxes out and stacking them in the trunk of the car. Gregg went upstairs and began packing his clothes in the suitcases the boys had bought last night. It didn't take too long, and the car was all packed and ready to go. We had decided that Gregg would drive for a while in the morning. He was obviously familiar with the area and he could get us on the interstate. From there, I could easily take over.

Gregg stopped suddenly and looked at me with an expression of panic on his face. "Do you know what I forgot? I never called and asked for shutoffs on the TV cable and the phone. I planned to leave the electricity on; that way there will be heat enough in the house to keep the pipes from freezing. But I need to have the others shut off."

"Can't you call from Ithaca and ask them to shut things off? A couple or three extra days won't make that much difference, and you can give them my address to mail you the final bills."

"Of course! Silly me! I've been trying to remember everything I needed to do, and I completely forgot about calling the cable company and the phone company. I'll make sure I have my little phone book packed, so I have the phone numbers. But that means I'll have to put long distance calls on your phone."

"So what? It's not like you're calling Switzerland to close out your secret account there!" We both chuckled a little at that. He looked at me with a sly grin. "How did you find out about that? Nobody's supposed to know about that account!"

"Oh, didn't I mention that I'm a psychic?"

"Now you tell me! I'll have no secrets from you, will I?"

"Nope." We were both grinning now.

He looked around. The living room looked somehow empty without all the pictures and "break-a-brac" on the shelves. "I don't know about you, but I think I'd like to make some coffee and just sit and watch a little TV until bedtime."

"That sounds like a really good idea. You've been pushing hard, and a long trip can tire you right out. A little rest beforehand is a good idea."

We went out to the kitchen and he made a pot of coffee. When it was ready, we took our cups and went into the living room. We practically dropped on the couch. Gregg set his cup on the coffee table and picked up the remote. "Anything you particularly want to watch?"

"No, whatever you like is fine with me." He flipped through the channels and found a movie that was just starting. I have no idea what it was; I was too caught up in the fact that he was sitting closer to me than before. My mind began its chatter again. Maybe he's getting interested. Maybe there's a chance for me. Maybe…..

We sat and watched the movie, or at least I have to assume that he was watching it. I was looking at it, but I wasn't seeing it. My mind was too full of dreams that were much more interesting than anything on TV. He refilled our coffee cups during commercial breaks, and when the movie was over, he stood up and picked up the cups. "Well, if we're going to get a decent start in the morning, I think I'll hit the goose hair." I looked at him; I'd never heard that expression before. He saw the look on my face and laughed, but he didn't offer any explanation. He just took the cups to the kitchen.

When he came back, he said, "I'll have to wash up our cups before we go for breakfast in the morning. I'd better wash the coffeepot, too. Lord knows when someone is going to be living here again. And, if Beau's agent finds a rental for the house, I sure don't want them to walk in on a pile of dirty coffee cups. I want to change the beds, too. I don't need to do the laundry, but at least everything will be neat and ready, if someone wants to move in."

He got an evil look on his face. "Let themdo the laundry!" I had to laugh at him. He looked so serious.

We went around the house, turning off lights. We didn't need to leave one on for Grant tonight. Then we went upstairs. I wasn't expecting the hug he gave me, at the top of the stairs. "Thanks, Harley! I don't know how I would have gotten through all this without you. Good night." He disappeared into his room, leaving me standing there in a state of shock.

I went on into my room and got ready for bed. I was still in shock over Gregg's unexpected hug. I got into bed and fell asleep quickly, but my dreams were all about him, and they were mostly more erotic than I would have imagined.

When I woke up in the morning, I went into the bathroom and did the shower/shave thing, then got dressed and made sure that all my clothes and toiletries were packed. I stripped the bed; Gregg had said he was going to remake them this morning. I took my suitcase downstairs and set it in the living room. When I got to the kitchen, Gregg was already sitting there with a cup of coffee in his hand. "Good morning, sleepyhead! Are you ready for coffee?"

"Always. What time did you get up, anyway?"

"I was up about six. I just couldn't sleep; I'm too excited."

I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. "What can I do to help you this morning? I've already stripped my bed, but I didn't know where you kept the sheets."

"In the hall closet. I've already stripped and changed mine, so all we have to do is make yours up and change Grant's bed, and we're ready to go—after I do the dishes, of course."

"I can help with all that. It goes a lot faster, if you've got two people working on it."

We finished our coffee, but didn't have a second cup. Gregg got up and started washing the dishes. I dried them and set them on the counter, since I didn't know where everything was supposed to go. After he had finished and put the dishes in the cupboards, we went upstairs. It only took a few minutes to finish changing the beds. Gregg gathered up all the sheets and pillowcases and shoved them down a laundry chute in the hall. He checked the upstairs, making sure all the windows were closed and then closing the door to each room as he went. Then we went downstairs. He brought his suitcases and set them with mine. While he went through the house, checking everything, I carried the luggage out and stowed it in the back seat of the car. I was still in the garage when he came out, shutting and locking the door to the kitchen. He looked at the luggage in the back seat. "That's a good idea. It will be easier to get at, when we stop at a motel." He walked around the car and got into the driver's seat. He didn't seem to be having as much trouble today with his leg. I got into the passenger's seat, and he started the engine. He reached for the garage door opener.

"Oh, damn! I didn't get batteries for this thing!"

"Never mind. They're cheap, and the next user can buy them when he needs them."

"True." He backed the car out of the garage and handed me the door opener. "Would you mind closing the door? Just set the opener on the shelf inside the door before it closes."

"Got it covered!" I got out of the car and pushed the button on the opener. As the door started to descend, I reached in and laid the opener on the shelf. I got back into the car, and Gregg began backing out of the driveway. He stopped just before we got to the street and sat looking at the house. "I thought this was going to be painful," he said, "but it's really not. I've said goodbye to everything that was important to me in Fremont, and this is the last goodbye. I'm ready to move on now. But first, I want some breakfast."

Editor's Notes:

Well, that was an interesting chapter. It cleared up a lot of things and gave a us little glimpse into how the two guys are feeling about each other.

Gregg has managed to move on beyond his leaving Fremont. It looks like he really is beginning to care about Harley. Of course, we already know that Harley cares about Gregg. The more time they have to be together, the more chance there is that they will be comfortable admitting to each other that they really do care about one another.

I have always wondered why people don't tell each other how they feel. It happens to relationships as well as families. People have feelings about other people, and the things the other people do or don't do, whether good or bad, and they keep those feelings all bottled up inside, and then they wonder why the people around them don't do what they want them to. Well, guess what, if the people around you don't know that you want them to do, or not do those things, because you never told them, you can't really expect them to follow your instructions, can you? Well, for some reason, I always seem to be ready to spout off on some subject or another, don't I? I had better shut up and send this off. I can hardly wait for the next chapter.

Please take the time to let us know how you liked the chapter. It really does make a difference. Thanks.

Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher

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