I looked around at the Board members. There were a few familiar faces. Ithaca is a small town, if you don't count the students, and you get to know the people, by sight, at least, very quickly. I was still feeling distinctly nervous about addressing these people, but I glanced at Becca, and she was giving me an encouraging smile.
"I don't know how many of you are natives of this town, or have been here for long enough to know some of the local history, but that's what gave me the idea to come and talk to you. Do any of you remember the scandal of the investment company about twenty years ago? The one where the owner skipped town with all the money, leaving the investors holding the bag?"
A couple of faces lighted up, and one man spoke up. "I sure do! My folks lost almost all their savings in that mess."
"Mine, too. That's why it's still so vivid in my mind. And that's what I wanted to talk to you about. If you remember that, do you remember what happened afterward?"
He frowned. "Not really. My parents were so discouraged that they gave up and moved back to Binghamton. I was working here, so I stayed, but I never really paid much attention to local politics."
"Well, it was something like this. The courts seized all his real property, just as they did here, but there were a group of really angry investors, and they formed a committee and approached the court to see if there was any way they could get back some of their investments. The judge turned over all the real estate belonging to the investment company to the committee, and they managed and liquidated all the property and divided up the proceeds among the investors. We got back almost half of the money my parents had invested. It was too late for my Mom; she had planned on those investments to support them in their old age, so that they wouldn't be a burden on me, and when the money disappeared, it broke her heart—literally. She died about a year later."
There were a few sympathetic murmurs from the group. I realized that I might have gotten a little too personal in my recollections.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be so blunt. It's still a very uncomfortable memory for me. But the point of the whole story is that the committee was able to get possession of the property, so that they could help the investors. "Does the Association have a lawyer?"
Ms. Bittner spoke up. "We don't really have a regular lawyer. We've never had the need for services, except on rare occasions."
"There is a lawyer here in town whom I would personally recommend, Henry Dolan. We've done business with him recently, and I think he would be a good man to help you in this situation."
One of the ladies in the group spoke up. "Is he any relation to Kate Dolan?"
"Her brother-in-law. Does that make a difference?"
"Well, it's a strong recommendation for me! Kate is a good friend, and if he's anything like her, he's got to be good." She was smiling.
"We met him through Mrs. Dolan. Gregg, here, bought her building on the Commons, and Beau and Becca bought her house. Mr. Dolan handled all the legal details for both purchases."
"Oh, these are the people who bought Kate's house? It's really beautiful, isn't it? I'm going to miss her, but I know she's anxious to be with her children in Florida."
Marcia Bittner spoke up now. "Well, it looks as if we've got a lot to think about here. I wasn't aware of the other mess, but if we could do something similar here, it could save the Commons."
Beau stood up. "Yes, it cansave the Commons, and since you already know that we have a sort of vested interest in the project, through our friend Gregg, who is anxious to start a new business on the Commons, you can count on us to help in any way we can. Harley Gordon is the local representative of our consulting firm, and I'm sure that he will be glad to help the business owners get reopened and in business as quickly as possible. And Becca and I will gladly come in to help, if needed. It's a terrible thing to see a town die, and if the Commons dies, Ithaca will have lost its heart and its will to live. We can't let that happen!"
One of the men at the table gave him a rather quizzical look. "That's your 'vested interest'? Is that it?"
"Well, no. Gregg's son and our oldest are planning to come to Cornell in a couple of weeks as freshmen. We'd like to see them coming into a safe and secure environment."
Marcia Bittner spoke again. "I'd like to thank the Bensons, Mr. Gordon and Mr. Garrison for taking the time and the interest to come and talk to us. They've given us some really good ideas, and I think we need to talk them over. So, if the Board can stay for a while longer, maybe we can get this plan moving. Thanks again, Harley, and all the rest of you, for bringing us a little hope. We're going to get on it and see if we can't make it a reality."
The Board members all stood up, and we shook hands all around. Ms. Bittner walked with us to the top of the stairs. "I can't thank you all enough for coming tonight. This is the first ray of hope we've had in this disaster. I'm sure the Board is going to find your ideas very useful, and we'll keep you informed on our progress."
We said good night and left. Out on the Commons, we just stood and looked around. Becca sighed. "This is such a pretty town. It would be a shame for it to just die like that."
Beau had that determined look again. "It's not going to die. If we have to, we can pull some strings. I've got a few contacts in the federal government, you know." He grinned, and the mood lightened considerably.
We walked back to the car and returned to my house. There wasn't much conversation on the way; everyone seemed to be lost in private thoughts. When we got to the house, Beau turned around and parked, as he had before.
"Hey, guys, do you think you could spare a cup of coffee?"
Gregg grinned. "I think so. Harley lets me play with the coffee pot now, and I can really make coffee. I made what you had earlier, and nobody's died from it yet!"
We went in the house and moved into the kitchen, where everyone sat down, except Gregg, who was busy setting up the coffee pot. Becca was looking thoughtful.
"I wonder if it'll work."
I looked at her in surprise. "If whatwill work? Don't you think that the judge will be just as anxious to save the Commons and downtown as we are? I can't imagine a judge turning down the request of reputable local business people to keep things going."
Beau nodded. "That was my thought, too. It's not just the merchants on the Commons who are involved. This affects the whole town, and I'm sure that the judge is going to realize that. But, we'll just have to wait and see. I think we've done all we can here, for the moment, and we've got things to do at home, so maybe we'll go back tomorrow. You will keep us informed, won't you, Harley?"
Gregg got up from the table and poured coffee for everyone. He brought cream and sugar and set them on the table. Then he rejoined us. We chatted for a while about Fremont and the people there. I was a bit out of this conversation, since I hadn't had a chance to get to know many of the people they knew there. I just sat and listened, and I watched Gregg's face. He was so animated, talking about old friends. He seems so much happier now. I wish Beau and Becca would leave. I'd really like a little time with him, just the two of us together.
As if he had read my mind, Beau stood up. "Well, hon, I think we'd better go and give these poor guys a chance to get some rest." He turned to me. "I think I can find my way up the hill to the Statler, but if I get lost, I'll give you a call." He grinned.
We said good night, with hugs all around, and they left. Gregg looked at me and sighed. "I love those two, but they always leave me feeling as if I'd just run a marathon race."
"I know what you mean! Beau is such a powerhouse that I can't keep up with him."
"And he was relatively calm today! Wait until you see him at 'full speed ahead'!"
"I think I could pass on that!" We both chuckled. I grabbed the coffee pot and poured us each another cup. We sat back down at the table and just relaxed for a few minutes. Then we turned off the coffee pot, put the cups in the sink and the cream in the fridge. Gregg went ahead and went into the bathroom, while I went around, turning off lights in the kitchen and living room. I turned on the light by the bed, just as he came out of the bathroom. He gave me the nicest smile and patted my cheek as our paths crossed.
When I came back to the bedroom, he was already in bed. I stripped to my boxers quickly, tossing my clothes over the chair where his were lying. I slipped into bed and reached over to turn off the lamp. As I turned to face him, he turned, too, and we met in the middle of the bed in a warm hug. I could feel his breath on my face, as he moved closer and pressed his lips to mine. I don't remember ever receiving such a sweet and tender kiss in my life. When it ended, he whispered, "I wanted to tell you how proud and impressed I was with your presentation to the Board tonight. You really gave them something to think about." He backed off just a little bit. "Of course, I shouldn't have been surprised. You've been doing that to me ever since I got here. You're so strong, and you always know just what to say or do." Oh, Gregg, if you only knew! I've been just terrified, all the way! I hate speaking in front of groups, and you! I've been so scared that I'd drive you away!
He put his hand on the back of my head and pulled me into another kiss. Then we settled down and drifted off to sleep.
The phone woke me in the morning. I was wrapped around Gregg, holding him as close to me as possible. I managed to disentangle myself without waking him and hurried into the living room to answer the phone.
It was Beau. He and Becca had decided to get an early start, so they weren't going to take time for breakfast. He was calling from the airport. Their plane was ready for takeoff, so he just wanted to say goodbye. He told me he would call later in the week to find out what was happening. Then he hung up, as abruptly as ever. I looked at the clock. 7:30. Well, I'm up, and wide awake. Might just as well make coffee. I don't want to wake Gregg up. He's had a busy couple of weeks, and he can probably use the sleep.
I wandered into the kitchen and put the coffee pot on. While I waited for it to brew, I sat at the table, just going over in my mind the events of the last couple of weeks. What a change of direction my life had taken! I could hardly believe what had happened. I have a new job, new friends, and then, there's Gregg. Then, there's Gregg. I still don't believe what's happening, but there is this wonderful man, asleep in my bed. Dreams do come true, every once in a while!
The coffee pot finished its cycle, and I got up to pour myself a cup. I sat down again with my coffee, and I realized I was smiling. You've got every reason to smile, Harley! Your dead-end life has just changed, in every way possible. You've got a reason to get up in the morning, a reason to get out and get going, a reason to come home. Your life is beginning to make sense, finally.
I heard a thump from the bedroom. Then the bathroom door closed. In a minute or two I heard the toilet flush. A short pause, and the door opened. Gregg came wandering out to the kitchen. He nodded at me and sat down at the table. I got up and poured him a cup of coffee. We sat and sipped our coffee in silence. He wasn't ready for conversation yet.
Finally he looked up. He still didn't look too wide awake, so I waited. He held up his coffee cup. "Thanks, I needed that. Is there any more?"
I refilled both our cups and sat down again. He was still a bit foggy, so I didn't press him. We drank the second cup, and when I got up for the refills he spoke in his normal tone of voice. "You can't imagine how good this feels to me. It's like I've been broken for years, and then someone came along and fixed me. Just being here with you, having coffee, it's so healing for me; I can't begin to tell you."
"I guess I feel the same way. I've gotten used to being alone, but it never felt right. I always wished there was someone to share things with, but I was always a little scared to try to find that 'someone.' You know the old saying, 'Once bitten, twice shy'!"
"Oh, yeah! That's been my life for twenty years!"
"Oh, Beau called this morning and woke me up, about 7:30. They decided to leave early. Apparently they needed to get back to Fremont. He just called to say goodbye."
"Oh. I never heard the phone. I woke up feeling cold and lonely. I'm amazed how quickly I got back into the feeling of having someone snuggling with me in bed. And I likethat feeling!" He grinned at me.
I returned the grin, then had to get serious. "You know, don't you, that we still haven't been to the grocery store. Beau's arrival definitely put that plan on the back burner."
"Yep. He's like that! So, do you want to go out for breakfast? My treat, today!"
We got up from the table and put our cups on the counter. I turned off the coffee pot and dumped what was left of the coffee in the sink. We went into the bedroom and dressed, and we were ready to start the day.
We went to a little diner just off the Commons and had breakfast. Then we set out for the grocery store. I hadn't bothered to make a list, because I wanted Gregg to help in choosing what we would be eating. I really had no idea what he would like (except for the meat loaf at the State Diner, of course!).
It turned out that our tastes were very similar. It took about half an hour to choose what we wanted. We went through the checkout, and I paid with my debit card from the bank. Then we loaded all the groceries in the car, with the help of the packer, and went home. It took several trips to get all the bags in the house, and another half hour to put everything away. Then we put on a fresh pot of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table. For a minute or so, we just looked at each other.
"Well, Gregg, we've got a whole day ahead of us with nothing to do. Is there anything you'd really like to do?"
"I'd really like to see more of the area here. This is such a beautiful place, and so different from Nebraska. Would you mind showing me some of the sights in the area?"
"No, I'd love to! I've lived in this area most of my life, but I never get tired of the scenery. There are some really beautiful places around here that I'd love to show you, to share with you."
"Well, that's our plan for the day, then. Let's go!"
"Not 'til I get another cup of coffee, Bub!"
He laughed. "Silly me! That could be dangerous, getting between you and your coffee!"
"And don't you forget it!" I growled. We were both laughing now, as I got up and poured two cups of coffee.
We locked up the house and set out to see the local scenery. I had a definite destination in mind, a few miles up the lake, but I wanted it to be a surprise for Gregg. As we drove out the west shore of the lake, he was looking around, admiring everything, the lake, the hills close in on it, the forests covering the hills. Ithaca had managed to expand out on both sides of the lake without destroying all of the original forest cover of its hills, so it made very pleasant driving. The road rose gradually through the woods, with houses scattered among the trees. As we got higher, we could see occasional glimpses of the lake through gaps in the tree line.
We drove on for about fifteen or twenty minutes, and the road began to drop gently downward, until we suddenly came out on an open area at the edge of the lake. It was a large park, and there were quite a few cars parked in the lot. We could see children and adults playing in the water at the edge of the lake. We crossed a bridge over a creek that flowed down from the hillside, through the park and emptied into the lake.
"This is Taughannock Park, and we just crossed Taughannock Creek. Now, I'm going to show you one of my favorite places in this area." I turned the car up the hill and we wound up the rather steep road for a mile or so. I turned into a small parking lot on the left side of the road. "Here we are." We got out of the car. As we looked over the bank at the edge of the parking lot, Gregg suddenly realized that the creek we had seen earlier was a long way down—well over one hundred fifty feet. I heard a high-pitched whistling sound and pointed. "Look, Gregg! A peregrine falcon! They nest on the cliffs in the gorge."
The trim grey bird with the black hood-like marking on its face flew rapidly up through the gorge, its long, slim wings cutting the air like knives. Suddenly it folded its wings and dropped from sight. "Must have spotted dinner! They live here and hunt the rabbits, birds and anything else that's small enough for them to handle living in the gorge. That one's probably got babies in the nest."
We walked over to the big signboard at the edge of the parking lot, near a low stone wall broken by a flight of stone steps down the side of the gorge. The sign explained the history of Taughannock Falls, showing its development over the centuries. Gregg was amazed.
"Wow! That's something!"
"Wait 'til you see the falls!"
We walked over to the steps and started down toward the overlook platform at the bottom. About halfway down, Gregg stopped so abruptly that I ran into him. "Oh, look at that!" He was pointing to the Falls, the highest single waterfall east of the Rockies, 215 feet straight down into the pool at the bottom. He stood there, open-mouthed, and just stared.
"Impressive, isn't it?" I was enjoying the look on his face.
"I've never seen anything like it! It is just incredibly beautiful!" We walked the few remaining steps to the lookout platform. I held his arm, because he wasn't watching his step on the sometimes tricky stone stairs. He just stared in amazement at the Falls.
We stood there for about fifteen minutes. Other tourists came, snapped pictures and left. Gregg just stood there with a rapt look on his face. Finally, he turned to me. "I just can't believe it! I've never seen anything like that in my life!"
"Well, I don't imagine there are too many waterfalls in Nebraska." He looked at me in disgust.
"The only waterfalls I ever saw there was if someone kicked a bucket of water over. Not quite the same thing!" He leaned carefully over the wall surrounding the lookout. "Wow! It's still a long way down from here, and we're way below the top of the falls. The people down there on the path look like Barbie and Ken dolls."
"Yeah, you're about a hundred fifty feet or so above the creek bed down there. So, you might want to be a little careful. You'd make an awful mess if you land on the stone creek bed from here."
He looked me in the eye. "You have a macabre sense of humor, do you know that?"
We stood a few more minutes, just admiring the Falls. Then I gave him my puppy dog look. "Do you think you could tear yourself away, so we could go get some lunch? I'm getting hungry!"
He reached over and patted me on top of the head. "Down, Rover. I got the message!" He grinned at me. "Whenever you're ready."
We got back into the car, and he gave me a surprised look, when I turned up the hill instead of back down toward the park. I just smiled at him. "I thought we'd have lunch in T-burg."
"Trumansburg. Interesting little town. It was misnamed by the State. It was supposed to be 'Tremansburg.' The Tremans were a very influential family in this area's early history. But, of course, at the time this town was named, the application was written by hand, and some clerk misread the name and spelled it 'Trumansburg' instead. And you know how government agencies are; they never admit a mistake, so everyone around here just calls it 'T-burg,' and ignores the whole issue."
We had lunch in a little family restaurant in the middle of town and drove back to Ithaca by the main route. As we came down the hill into the city, I heard Gregg suck in his breath. I had to grin. It was going to take him a while to get used to the hills.
By the time we got back to the house, we were both feeling the effects of a busy morning. We decided to take a nap, so we kicked off our shoes and stretched out on top of the made-up bed. We pulled a light blanket over us and dropped off to sleep quickly.
When I woke up, Gregg was gone. I folded the blanket, put on my shoes and went in search of him.
He was in the kitchen. "Hi! Thought I'd start something for supper. I don't know about you, but I'm not all that hungry. I've stuck a couple of potatoes in the oven to bake, and I'm making a tossed salad. If you want more, I can fix it, but I think that will be enough for me."
"Sounds perfect. I've been eating more than I usually do, eating out at restaurants all the time, and a light supper sounds wonderful, for a change."
The coffee pot was sitting there full and ready to go. I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Nope! I'm almost finished here." He put the bowl of salad into the fridge, grabbed a paper towel from the rack and dried his hands. Then he got a cup, filled it and joined me at the table.
"I still can't get over that waterfall! What is the name of it, again?"
I pronounced the name slowly and carefully: "Taw-GAN-nock. You'd be surprised how tourists pronounce that! And the lake! We can always tell someone from elsewhere by the way they pronounce the name of the lake! Outsiders pronounce it correctly: Kah-YOU-gah. The natives all call it "Kyooguh" and get it mixed up with "Kyootuh" (Cayuta) and "Kyookuh" (Keuka). And you'll really love what we do to the name of the little town off to the northeast of here. It is properly pronounced "Skane-ee-AT-tell-ess," but people around here call it "Skinny Atlas." And it is spelled 'Skaneateles.'
Gregg was laughing now. "I guess there's no hope of me ever being mistaken for a native, huh?"
"Probably not!" We chuckled together and went back to our coffee.
When the potatoes were ready, I set the table, and Gregg pulled the salad out of the fridge and set it in the middle of the table. Then he grabbed a potholder from the rack above the stove and pulled the potatoes out of the oven, one at a time. He put one on each plate, closed the oven and made sure that it was turned off. He reached back into the fridge for the bottle of salad dressing. Then he sat down. I refilled our coffee cups and joined him. We carefully unwrapped the foil wrapped tightly around the potatoes. Then Gregg jumped up from the table. "Damn! I forgot the butter! You can't have a baked potato unless it's dripping in butter!" Then he looked at me in alarm. "You don't have a cholesterol problem, do you?"
"Not that I know of. Of course, it's been a while since I had a checkup, so I really don't know. But for tonight, the answer is 'No!'"
He set the butter dish on the table and sat back down. We busied ourselves, splitting and mashing the potatoes and covering them liberally with butter. While it was melting, we helped ourselves to the salad, putting it into the little bowls I had set out, and pouring dressing over it. We ate in silence, enjoying the simple meal and the good company.
We finished our supper and Gregg looked at me with a mischievous grin. "I sneaked something into the grocery cart this morning. I really enjoy something sweet to finish off a meal." He got up from the table and cleared away our plates and salad bowls. He took the knives and forks, but left the spoons. After he set the dirty dishes on the counter by the sink, he reached up into the cupboard and brought out two more small bowls. He took them to the counter next to the fridge, set them down, and opened the freezer. He took out a big round cardboard container. Then he went over to the drawer and took out a big spoon. "I hope you like sherbet. I couldn't decide on a flavor, so I got rainbow." He opened the container and spooned two or three big scoops of the multi-colored sherbet into each bowl. Returning the container to the freezer, he brought them to the table. "I really hope you like sherbet. It's one of my favorite desserts. It's light, and it really tastes yummy!"
"I don't get sherbet often, but I really like it." He grinned in pleasure.
"I'm glad to hear that! Something else we have in common!" He sat down and we enjoyed our dessert. Then he got up, took the bowls and spoons to the sink and refilled our coffee cups. "I'll do the dishes, as soon as we finish."
"Why bother? There aren't that many. We can wait and do them all tomorrow morning, after breakfast."
"I guess I can live with that." He was grinning. I'm so happy to see him feeling more at home. He's so much more relaxed than I've seen him before. Maybe, just maybe….
We decided to take our coffee to the living room and see what was on TV. Neither of us gave it any thought; we just sat down side by side on the couch, and Gregg picked up the remote. "Anything you particularly want to see?"
"I don't really care. Let's just see what's on." We flipped through the channels and settled on a program about cheetahs on the Animal Channel. Those are some awesome animals! When that was over, we watched a music special from Branson, Missouri, the new capital of country music. Well, I've discovered something else we have in common!
When the special ended, we turned off the TV and went to bed. Us old folks need our sleep, ya know!
Well, this was a very nice chapter, might I say a really great chapter, full of nice little poignant moments. I can feel the two of them falling in love. It is nice to see all the little things they are discovering about each other and all the new things that Gregg is learning about the town and the area as well as becoming more familiar with Harley's habits and ways of thinking. The fear factor for both of them is slowly fading and they are becoming closer to each other and more comfortable being together. I really love this story. If you started reading this story and don't already know, the people in this story have appeared in some other stories. Gregg is Grant's father, sort of. I know that is vague, but for it all to make sense, you would need to read the story that this story is derived from, namely, Pinochle, which is a fantasy story written by E Walk, which in turn was based on some characters in a story by Will B. The early chapters were much more closely connected, but once the young boys left for England and Gregg and Harley went back to Ithaca, the two stories split off from each other, at least for a while. You don't need to read the other stories to enjoy this one, but if this story grabs you as much as it does me, then I suspect you would enjoy reading E Walk's stories as well. I highly recommend any and all of the stories by E Walk and those by Arli J.
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