ATWD – Chapter 004

All That We Dreamt ~ On Fire

Children Of Thunder: Part 5?

 

[ This is an excerpt from my extremely serious ‘Great Un-Amerikan Novel’: “Children of Thunder” which follows several close friends through their experiences and changes from Junior High School in the mid sixties to young adult-hood in the mid seventies. I hope I can stop there, with just a kind of ‘tie it all together’/ ‘where are they now?’ anti-climactic post script chapter at the end. I began writing this epic in 1968. Every time I tried to gather it all together I lapsed into re-writing, realizing that, for instance, among other things, there were five incidental background characters named ‘Chuck’. In 1976 I had well over 5,000 pages of double spaced typing paper. – I became more than slightly overwhelmed by what I still had to do there, and I kept getting deflecting from working on this full time, because people kept trying to convince me that I had to work for a living and nobody I sent any chapters and outlines to wanted to advance me enough money to keep me alive while I worked on it. In the early seventies most publishers had at least verbal mandates to their editors, they did not want any manuscripts along the theme that “The Hippy Culture will save the world” or “The Hippy Culture will be the death of all of us.” They’d pretty much burned out on counter culture novels. I dream about these characters. I lived some of the stuff I put them through, AFTER I’d written them through it. Sometimes I think they actually live in a parallel dimension and one of these days I’ll get to sit down and talk to them and find out how much of their lives I actually got right – Jim Wellington August, 2015 ]

Children Of Thunder

( Excerpt from the beginning of Part Five? )

Jack and Mitch in Southern Vermont.

Jack Harrison was twenty one years old through most of 1970.

Just under six feet tall, light brown hair to his shoulders. The mustache came and went, he usually ‘sported’ severals days of unshaved beard.

A few of his ‘closest friends’ knew he was “living somewhere in the hills of Vermont. He bought some property up there – Sent us a photograph of him standing alone beside a delivery truck, a pickup, and a brand new Harley XLCH with an electric blue tank. There was a ‘house’ in the background, looked more like a fallout shelter. Somebody’s large black dog – I think it was a Labrador – was peeing on a bush maybe ten feet behind him. In the short note he said the dog belonged to the photographer.”

Fewer of his ‘closest friends’ knew for sure that he was the guy in the group photo of the ‘Progressive Folk & Rock Group “Mongoose”-‘ who always had his back to the camera. The songs they knew he wrote were credited to some guy named ‘Butch McFender’.

Early Saturday morning, late July, 1970. Brattleboro, Vermont.

Jack was a shadow, walking carefully around an apartment he was not familiar with. The cat’s name was ‘Ms Kitty’. The cat’s owner’s name was Brenda. Brenda was asleep in the bedroom while he tip-toed around in the half light of the living room, found his pants, found his boots. Found his shirt- found his knapsack with the keys still in it- The apartment was close to spotless. The furniture was probably not anything Brenda went out and bought, except for the record player. The last record she’d put on the turntable was still turning. He raised the arm carefully, almost reverently, moved it back to its ‘off’ position.

Ms Kitty Meowed. She was a long haired, not quite white – more like very light grey cat. Not the kind with the flat face. She purred the second he stroked her chin. She meowed every time he took his hand away long enough to try to get dressed as silently as possible. When he had both boots on, and his leather riding jacket in one hand, the knapsack with the helmet and a few other things inside – in his other hand, the cat plopped on her back between him and the door and looked like she wanted to have her belly, or her chest – rubbed.

He paused just long enough to take the note he’d written in the washroom before she’d just about ripped his clothes off him and all but dragged him into her bedroom – took the note from his shirt pocket and set it on top of the album she’d insisted they make love to – “I told you I had this album – My favorite was cut number 4 on side 2 -” the one in which the returning Viet Nam vet is trying to explain to his sweetheart that he has to get the hell away from everybody and everything and sort things through if he ever wants to be worth anything to anybody- As a friend, as a partner – But he didn’t write that on the note.

He didn’t admit that he’d written that song and sang harmony behind the lead singer. He didn’t admit that it was very strange to hear himself, and his music with somebody who thought it put her in the mood to make love, or that he was listening to it on somebody else’s stereo for the second time – or that he was remembering every mistake the group made while recording that, and how the recording engineer was ready to strangle somebody before everybody compromised and agreed that this ‘take’ was about as good as they were going to get it.

He glanced at the note on top of the empty album cover and glanced at the record, that had finally stopped spinning. He shuddered. It looked like a perfect idea for another album cover. He wondered if he could get a reflection of a guy sneaking out on the woman who’d loved him the night before and the cat blocking the door, looking for affection – into the same photo with the album cover and the ‘Dear Joan’ note.

He leaned down, set the knapsack on the floor and stroked the cat’s chest. He heard Brenda roll over in bed and thought he’d been caught. But then she began to snore. He smiled and relaxed, considerably.

Ms. Kitty caught his hand and took a light nibble out of the back of his index finger’s knuckle. She drew blood. When he nearly jumped and pulled his hand away before she could cause any permanent damage she jumped, rolled over, ran to the couch and jumped up on the arm of the old overstuffed, deep purple velvet ‘davenport’ – The tags were still on the cushions, “Illegal to remove!” – faded and hard to read, no date of manufacture, and he couldn’t read the Company name, but it was ‘[Somebody] & Sons Davenport Manufacturing Company’ Headquarters in Boston, Factories in Boston; New York City (with a pre-zip-code address); Grand Rapids, Iowa; and [Someplace he couldn’t read] in Ontario, Canada. From that ‘safe’ height, the cat looked around as if he’d alerted her to some sign of danger and she wanted to know what it was.

While the cat looked around, nervously, he easily picked up the knapsack with his left hand, the hand that already held his jacket, – unlocked the door, – stepped out into the hall, – the landing at the top of her private stairs, – set the knapsack and jacket down and used both hands to almost silently close the locked door and made sure it caught. It was closed, it was locked. He grabbed his stuff and winced at the stairs. He knew some of them squeaked, he didn’t know which ones. But he approached them cautiously and slowly, took a lot more time to climb down the one flight of stairs than he would have liked to- Unlocked the outside private entrance at the bottom of the stairs, stepped out, set his stuff down again, just as carefully, but not quite as silently, closed the outside door, and tested it, and – yup, it had caught, yup, it was locked.

His bike was there, leaning on its stand, looking like it wanted to congratulate him for ‘sleeping’ with a beautiful woman, looking like it might want all the details. He frowned, almost whispered, “She’s a teacher-?” -Reached into his pocket, pulled the keychain that was linked to his belt, found the key, unlocked the padlock, unwound the chain- smiled at the hill. He could easily hop aboard, give himself a slight push, roll silently down the driveway, out into the road, down the road’s hill, pop the clutch a block or two away — and not wake anybody up.

He gazed at the sky. Rain was a possibility – he frowned and pulled the helmet out of the knapsack – set it on the seat while he coiled the chain and lock and quietly put them inside the knapsack, checked the other ‘pocket’ to be sure the notebook and the mileage log book were still there, were still okay- Then he climbed into his jacket, put his arms through the straps of the knapsack, shrugged it into a comfortable spot, zipped the jacket part way up, opened the helmet face plate, set the helmet on his head. Snapped the chin strap in place, left the face plate up, climbed in place over the seat, and looked back.

Brenda rented her three room apartment in a huge old Victorian house. The house was mostly white, with two bands of fancy wooden shingles – like horizontal stripes around the house – both stripes were painted a bright red. The roof was a rustier red, probably asphalt shingles. There was a hexagonal tower on the other side of the house, not the side her apartment was on. She’d said she would have killed to get an apartment with a room in that tower, but – no such luck.

He winced when he imagined her waking up and looking for him, finding him gone, sighed and turned back to raising the stand, inserting the key, finding the gear, holding the clutch in, and pushing himself forward. Almost every time he started the bike he remembered the bittersweet look on the features of the guy who sold it to him, and explained everything he’d ever done, ever change in hardware he’d ever considered and all the changes he had made, and all but explained the cost down to the penny. That guy loved this bike. And he hated to let it go. But, he’s said, he really didn’t have a choice in the matter.

All set to ride, with the key on but the engine off – Jack abandoned his reverie and looked out at the morning as a hint of a breeze cooled his face. He wouldn’t be able to see the road for a while, so he looked as far as he could- both ways, from the ‘top of the driveway’.

On a work day the road at the end of the driveway might have been full of cars whipping past, carrying people to their jobs at this time of the morning. But it was a Saturday – not a car in sight. He rolled down between the stone walls somebody had built a long time ago to hold back the hill while giving the driveway a slope that might be difficult in the rain, tough in the snow and impossible in an ice storm – but no problem on a cool enough July morning. He pulled hard on the brakes as he neared the end of the driveway, leaned forward, looked both ways again, pulled the face plate down, let go of the brakes, rolled out into the street, leaned into the turn- and rolled in neutral for what would have been two blocks down the hill, but the intersecting streets did not connect here- before he shifted and let go of the clutch and gave the throttle a bit of a twist and smiled to himself inside the helmet as the engine purred happily to life.

He knew enough about Brattleboro to know that Brenda lived in a section that was about as far down one of the main roads with all the biggest, oldest houses – as far as she could go and still be inside the city limits. He knew another hill was coming, an even steeper hill down to Route 5, the main pre-interstate highway from New Haven, Connecticut – all the way to Canada – At least he was pretty sure it went all the way to Canada – and he also knew he could veer off to the right and down a winding side road, that curled around and past”The Hippy Mechanic’s” garage,where Brenda’s car would probably be for most of today, and maybe even tomorrow before the Zen and Yoga Philosopher-Mechanic would get it back to her before she needed it for summer school lessons in sign language- Jack knew that route would avoid the steep hill, which is why he usually went that way. Then he made a left turn onto Route 5 and rumbled quietly up into town until he saw the Dunkin Donuts parking lot and decided on the spot that he did need coffee and a donut, or something to chew on-

Jack eased to a stop in the parking lot, turned the bike off, set it on its stand, climbed out of the knapsack, pulled out the chain, wound it around through the back wheel and the frame, locked it, climbed out of his helmet, put that in the knapsack, carried the knapsack inside, extended his senses far enough to feel like the place was safe and almost welcoming- The way it usually felt. He had already recognized the cluster of about five guys and two girls who were probably tripping their brains out- sitting at one end of the counter, closest to the washrooms, close to the back door- They were talking quietly, and burst into cackling laughter every now and then – worried a couple older customers into leaving early-

Jack waved to the one guy who usually acted as a combination ‘social director’ and ‘Hippy Security Officer’ – the guy who sized up everybody – and knew just about everybody – and smiled through the dazzled, tripped out expression on his face when he recognized Jack, “I want that bike, man-” he grinned and looked half crazy, then turned to the woman he was with as she needed to cuddle right there at the counter for a second or two.

The young, blond all-night waitress smiled when she recognized Jack, scraggly beard and mustache beginning to look like he might keep it – “Regular coffee and an apple and cinnamon donut?” she grinned. He nodded, took a seat, not quite halfway down, or up?, the counter from the ‘hippies’. There were at least three seats between him and them.

Somebody gasped and Jack glanced over toward the trippers to see one woman almost ready to go into a panic attack. He glanced out through the windows and saw two policemen climb out of a patrol car. State cops-

“It’s all right, we’re cool, you are doing nothing wrong- don’t worry. If they say anything, you let me do the talking.” The group’s social director said and the woman looked stunned, entranced, visibly relaxed, and then smiled.

The waitress brought Jack his coffee and donut and leaned down to whisper, “I’m glad you’re here – they seemed to almost sober up when you pulled into the parking lot, and now they’re on their best behavior-”

Jack smiled, “Who are you today?” – he pointed to her name tag, “Isn’t Priscilla, like, that sixty year old afternoon lady?”

She smiled, almost blushed, “I usually grab any badge that’s back there- I’m not sure I want any of the local characters to actually know my name, darn it-” She looked up and looked slightly shocked, “Joe- didn’t expect you here this morning-”

Joe was the shorter of two state troopers, wearing their slightly silly cowboy like hats and creaking as they leaned against their holsters with their big old semi-automatic -looked like .45 caliber shiny nickel plated pistols.

Joe gave Jack an extra long look, made sure there was no ‘outlaw’ insignia on his jacket, nodded with a half smile when he spotted the helmet that was not quite hiding inside the knapsack that sat on the stool beside him.

Jack counted seats, and as the two state troopers gravitated toward him, between him and the trippers farther down the counter, he picked up his knapsack and moved it to the floor between his feet.

Joe at first seemed to appreciate the gesture, then smiled at the waitress, “Two regular coffees and two usual donuts to go, we’ll take our break outside in the cruiser- There was a multiple vehicle accident on the other side of the state line earlier. They asked the guys covering this area to cross the border and give them a hand, and they called us down here just in case they needed backup-”

The waitress who had grabbed two ceramic cups put them back and went for the take-out cups instead.

Joe turned to Jack, “Nice bike. What is it? A Sixty Seven?”

Jack nodded, “Bought it from a guy who loved it, but he developed a pretty bad case of diabetes. He was afraid he might go into sugar shock, or insulin shock – and lose control.”

“Ethan Carpenter? His tank was red.” The trooper grinned.

Jack nodded, “You know Ethan? – real nice guy, I told him I didn’t like red – he told me he knew a painter.”

Joe smiled, “Yes, he is a real nice guy – goes to the same church I do – Shame he got sick like that.”

Jack frowned, “I hate to think my good luck was because of somebody else’s bad luck-”

Joe looked slightly more suspicious for a moment, “You don’t live around here -”

Jack shook his head, “Up the Dummerston Road-” he pointed, took a bite of his donut, “Last night I saw a woman on the side of the road, car broken down. – Told her to stay in the car, asked her who her mechanic was, she said she didn’t have one. She was new here, just started teaching at the school for the deaf – I told her I knew the hippy mechanic guy, who has a sliding scale and might be too honest for his own good, and she said okay, I went and got the mechanic and he followed me back. I gave the woman a ride because the mechanic said it wasn’t safe for her to ride inside the car he was towing-” Jack shrugged, “Then I gave her a ride home, I told her I lived a lot farther away than I actually do, she insisted on giving me dinner, told me I could sleep on her couch-” shrugged again.

“Brenda-” Joe looked away, trying to remember her last name, “Brenda Sherwood-”

Jack nodded, “Another nice person.”

Joe nodded.

The waitress handed Joe one bag with coffees and another with what looked like at least half a dozen donuts.

Joe smiled at the waitress, “Thank you-” tipped his hat and followed the other state trooper out the door.

Jack realized Joe hadn’t paid for that.

The waitress looked glum, sighed, “Ya know, there’s been a couple nights when you were the only one through here that left a tip?” she frowned, “Local cops usually give me a dollar for their coffee and donuts – that the boss writes off as a freebie – I get to keep the dollar as a tip, but not these guys.”

When he’d finished the coffee and the donut and paid her, he slid two folded dollar bills under his saucer as he picked up his knapsack and headed for the door.

As he finished his routine of unlocking the lock, setting the helmet on the seat, putting the chain away, climbing into the knapsack and helmet and getting ready to kick start the bike, he glanced through the window and saw the waitress pick up his cup and saucer and do a double take. She looked right at him, shook her head and laughed, smiled, then made a big deal out of picking up the two dollars, and pretended to stuff it demurely inside her bra, then laughed again and waved.

Ordinarily, he would have charged up the steep hill and gone to the nearest entrance to Route 91, but he was feeling guilty about running out on Brenda and didn’t want to go even a little bit of the way back toward where she was. So he rolled out the other way and turned left again on Route 5 and rumbled quietly through town. The next entrance to Route 91 was a couple miles up that way. He rode for several blocks with the faceplate up, then stopped for a red light, pulled the faceplate down, rolled ahead and wondered if it was going to rain when the light changed.

Before he got more than halfway to the entrance, he saw a car with out of state plates pulled over in the deserted parking lot of a diner that had burned down last winter. There was a man standing there, looking frustrated, looking like somebody on vacation – But there was something about the guy –

Jack slowed down, pulled over, rolled to a stop. He recognized the guy before he came to a complete stop.

The man was about an inch shorter than Jack, built like an athlete. Several years older, this guy’s hair was shorter, not exactly a crew cut- he also ‘sported’ several days’ unshaved beard. He looked like hell. He also looked like he didn’t know whether to trust anyone on a bike with a helmet and a darkened face plate, whether they looked like they might be stopping to help or not.

Jack reached inside his jacket and pretended to pull out an invisible gun, aimed it and pulled his finger back on the invisible trigger, made a couple strange noises that he knew the guy could hear, then reached up, flipped the faceplate up, grinned, “You look like hell-”

The guy relaxed considerably, let his head hang down and shook it, “Jack! What the -bloody hell- are you doing here?”

“Stopping by the side of a road to try to scare the shit out of an old friend before I ask him the same question? — Mitch! What the plus perfect hell are you doing here?”

Mitch made a face, “Staring at a flat tire – the spare’s flat- I’m not even sure I have a jack with me-” he shrugged widely and let his arms flap against his sides, hands slapping his jeans.

Jack saw the cops’ flashers reflected on the chrome around Mitch’s windows before he saw, heard or felt them approach. He turned his head and recognized the state police car, laughed, “The shorter guy’s name is Joe. They were at the donut place when I left. They just might be following me.”

Joe climbed out of the passenger’s side door and approached slowly, hand near his gun, then relaxing and tipping his head to one side as he recognized the problem, “Flat tire?”

Mitch grimaced and nodded, “Flat tire, flat spare, no jack.” He reached into his hip pocket, pulled out his wallet, took a step toward Joe, effectively blocked Jack’s view of what he had in his hands. Whatever he showed Joe, the trooper seemed impressed, “Uh, why don’t you walk back here with me, and I’ll call somebody to come give you a hand here-”

Mitch turned to Jack with an authoritarian, “You stay here,” look in his eyes.

Jack nodded, almost laughed again, set the bike on its stand and leaned forward, arms relaxed, hands almost hanging on to the handlebars.

Joe glanced back a couple times, spoke when he knew Jack couldn’t hear, “Are you on a case?”

Mitch shook his head, “No- my wife and daughter were killed while they were visiting relatives in Israel- I’ve taken a bit of time off to try to deal with that.”

“Are you Jewish?” Joe sounded like he thought that wasn’t quite beyond the realm of possibility.

Even Mitch had a hard time guessing what a difference that might make in the conversation that would probably follow- He didn’t say no, he made a face, “Armenian-” he nodded, “My wife was Jewish. Got me to donate like crazy to some kibbutz near the Golan Heights-”

Joe could easily see the pain in Mitch’s eyes, twitched his head back up the road a bit, to indicate Jack sitting there on his Motorcycle, “Is he a suspect?”

Mitch almost laughed, “Jack? I’ve know him since he was fourteen years old. Before I was DEA I worked for, um, another National Security Organization. And they put me undercover working in a little company in Connecticut where my job was to ask this creative electronic genius who owned the company – leading questions that would have him spending weeks, and months developing new gadgets that had nothing to do with his company, but turned out to be really useful. He miniaturized the bugging microphones and cameras we’re using now- Jack was that guy’s daughter’s boyfriend. The girl died in a medical mishap – the guy divorced his wife, sold his business, bought a yacht and went sailing. With the owner gone – I lost my job, got transferred to DEA – Jack lost the love of his life and moved up here into the hills. He just happened to pull over to help me out because he’s like that.”

Joe nodded, “Yeah, he’s done that, stopped to help out damsels in distress and old ladies with flat tires – a couple times – The thing is, he gets this hippy guy to work on their cars cheaper than a real garage. We were watching that guy for months, thinking he might be a front for a drug pusher or something, but no – the guy does yoga and would fix cars for free if he could afford to, because he likes doing that. I’m going to have the dispatcher call the hippy and ask him to come out and fix your flat, and we’ll wait here, long enough to make sure they get him and he makes house calls on a Saturday morning-”

Mitch nodded, “-Appreciate it-”

Joe looked like he still wasn’t quite sure he trusted Jack, “Tell your friend I called his hippy mechanic and we’re waiting to make sure he works on Saturdays. He doesn’t know you’re with DEA?”

Mitch shook his head, “He thinks I’m an electronics technician.”

“Without the pocket protector?” Joe gave him a wry grin.

“He thinks I’m on vacation- Why else would I be up here. I live in New York, out on the island-” Mitch shrugged, “We’ve got some catching up to do-”

Joe grinned as he picked up the cruiser’s microphone and called the switchboard.

A woman’s voice squawked back, “Yep, we’ve got that guy’ number on file. I’ll give him a call-”

A couple minutes later, the two radio squawked again, went through the routine of calling Joe by some silly code and then, “Yes, we were able to contact the mechanic and he will be out there, he says in less than ten minutes-”

Joe picked up his microphone and pushed the button and, “Thank ya, dearie -” laughed off mic, smiled, waved to Mitch and signaled to his partner who turned on the blinker, turned the steering wheel, waited a moment and then pulled out onto the road and probably sped away at least ten miles over the speed limit.

Mitch walked back to Jack, sighed and groaned a couple times on the way, thought he probably looked as bad as he felt and, “Your buddy Joe called your friendly neighborhood hippy mechanic and the guy said he will be here in less than ten minutes.”

“My what?” Jack turned to watch the cruiser’s tail lights disappear around the bend-

“Yeah he wanted to know if I was undercover, and was I investigating you for anything-”

Jack winced, frowned, shook his head, shuddered, “So you told him you’re a spook?”

“Showed him my damned ID card.”

“How could you be undercover and walking around with an ID card?”

“Exactly- and no, I’m not on the job – and no – I’m not investigating you for anything.”

“And – Yes, our buddy, Joe – takes himself a little too seriously, don’tcha think?”

Mitch nodded,glanced around with a pained expression. Then he pulled his door open, sat sideways with his feet on the ground, “Other than that, how the hell are ya?”

Jack shrugged, “I stopped to help a pretty young damsel in distress last night, went and got the same hippy mechanic, he thinks her car might need about a week’s worth of work. She just bought it, um, two months ago, used – five years old. The mechanic thinks the jerk who sold it to her never changed the oil or the air filters or anything – the transmission’s cooked. I gave her a ride home, she insisted I come inside with her and let her cook me dinner. After dinner she asked if I wanted some wine or anything, I said no – she said, well I can’t just let you go – I said, why not? And she said, ‘Well, you just pretty much saved my life-” and I said, “No, it wasn’t anything that drastic-” and she said, “well dammit, I’m lonely and horny and I’ll get down on my knees and beg if I have to, but will you please stay the night and make love to me?” And I almost went into shock. I mean, she was a knockout – still is. She told me she’s a teacher- works at a special school for the deaf. I mean, I had one or two teachers in high school who were almost in her league, and they were always language teachers, young, gorgeous, sexy as hell. I never bothered believing I could take one to bed, hell, they probably had thousands of guys twice my size and three times as rich who would kill to take her out on a date. And that line was so unique – and so honest – I was starting to think I really got lucky, here, so then she pulls out a record album and says she wants to make to love to the music on side one, and you’d probably believe this – It was my record, the one we were recording the last time I saw you down in the dirty old big city. She thought it was the sexiest thing she’d ever heard and all I could hear was everything that went wrong while we were recording, and all the arguments since and how we all came up here and bought the property and everybody else couldn’t stand the quiet and had to leave and go back to the noise and the air pollution, and then she started to plan my life. But the pisser is, here we were, going at it – and I looked at her and she was freakin gorgeous, I mean shit – she was perfect – but she wasn’t Lori. It’s only been what, four years? And I’m still a freakin basket case?”

Mitch tried to laugh, nodded instead, sighed, “You’re secret hideout is around here somewhere?”

Jack pointed, “About twenty minutes that way-”

“Want some company for a couple days?”

“Sure – No phone – I have a generator for electricity, don’t run it all the time, I have to have a flush toilet because that’s the law on this side of the mountain, but I use the outhouse more than the bathroom. The place isn’t quite as big a mess as it used to be, we started to dig a basement and it filled with water, I have a cold water stream running through my living room, dug it out and it is now an indoor swimming pool, put in a wood stove, ran copper tubing around the fire box, put a brick wall around that, I now have a heated indoor pool when it’s cold outside and a hell of a clammy air conditioning system when it’s hot- even figured out a way to use the cold water to refrigerate food under a trap door- put stuff in a metal milk crate down in the stream and put stuff I don’t want to get wet on the nice dry shelf beside the stream that runs through there-”

“Sounds like you’ve been having fun up here in the woods-”

Jack shrugged, “One by one all the guys from the band gave up and went back to the city. There was one girl I probably could have lived the rest of my life with, she knew all about Lori and didn’t want to be serious, just wanted to get crazy and have sex and not get attached, and then got more and more attached, and finally when I said I loved her, she screamed, “I know, I love you too, god dammit! That’s not supposed to happen here, I can’t handle this!” and hugged the hell out of me, we made love until neither one of us could move, and two days later she left me a note and told me she was probably halfway to California.”

“The mafia lawyer’s daughter?”

Jack was a little shocked, “Did I tell you that? Wow- I didn’t think anybody knew that.”

“Give me a little credit, Jack, I’m good at what I do- I didn’t know who she was the first time I saw her, but I saw pictures of that family and their lawyer and the lawyer’s kids and there she was, a year younger and just as sassy- Kathleen Ryan, right?”

Jack nodded, “Kathy-”

Mitch noded, “Her brother, Jamie – working as a pro-Bono defense lawyer for people who can’t afford one? He’s been specializing in drug cases, defending addicts and kids who grow their own, and winning too many cases. The DEA has a file on him about this thick.”

Jack shrugged, looked down the road toward where he thought the mechanic would be coming, any time now, “So – other than that, I finally became the last person in my inner circle to experience LSD. Gave some biker a ride when his bike broke down, turned out to be part of a gang who want to be Hell’s Angels – if they grow up. He insisted he introduce me to his friends and they insisted I drive with them to Laconia, New Hampshire where they had a bunch of biker chicks stoned and half naked and laughed and informed me that the wine they’d given me was laced with LSD. And they were assholes. I mean they told me they were going to kill me if I lost a game of knife throwing they made up as they went along. They shined a bike headlight on a tree and told me that was the bull’s eye. One guy threw his knife and hit pretty near the center, somebody gave me a knife and I hit dead center. So they had two huge guys pick up the front end of the bike to move the light so the other guy won? I laughed and the headlight must have been loose, it dropped back to its original position? The two big guys got spooked, I mean they dropped the bike. And then they came after me, like they thought I was a witch and they meant to kill me? I pulled some idiot’s sawed off shot gun from his bike and shot it in the air, jumped in my truck, hit the boat horn, started up and spun around and got out of there alive, drove until I knew I had to be out of my mind to try to drive like that, stopped, felt the most evil rushes I could imagine. Ended up parked at a beach near Boston, I have no idea how I got there. A Hippy woman named ‘Sunshine’, came along, walking her dog on the second day that I was hallucinating out of my mind, recognized the symptoms – Got me in the truck, drove me and her dog back to her house, brought me inside and told me that what they’d given me was laced with some other drug that lasts three days, and it’s horrible stuff and she thought from my symptoms they’d probably given me a little bit of strychnine too – and she stayed right there with me and sang folk songs in some foreign language and I can’t be sure, but I’d swear she got naked, either that or I developed xray vision – and I don’t know whether we actually made love or she just sucked me off or what, but that was an experience- And after the third day I finally fell asleep and when I woke up the drug’s effects were pretty much gone, my nervous system was shot, it was like I’d been torn inside out – we went for a walk, and I realized the storm I thought I’d hallucinated was real. A car went through a puddle and the splash it made turned into a slow motion sparkling rainbow of electric particles that bounced and rose again and spread out for – I don’t know – fifteen yards? And took like ten minutes – but that was interesting, even if my nerves were so bad somebody could honk a horn half a mile away and I’d jump- shake and shiver for – I don’t know – too long.

“I figured anybody who looked at me would know I was out of my mind. My sense of direction was all screwed up- just walking around a corner? The whole world would stretch and compress, and I don’t think I could have found my way around the block if I’d walked there every day of my life – She had to lead me back home to her place. I stayed there for a week, then she told me her husband was coming back from his National Guard training and I better get the hell out of there before he found me. She said she’d taken my truck and bought me a tank full of gas, I got behind the wheel, drove away, I got about a mile away, got hopelessly lost, thought I should go back and ask her where the hell I was and how I could get out of there, but I couldn’t find her, couldn’t find her street, couldn’t tell for sure whether she’d ever existed-

“And then I picked up this fifteen year old girl who was hitch-hiking- who wanted to know if I wanted to have sex with her, I told her somebody had just given me some crazy awful drug and I couldn’t, she looked terrified, then nodded and got me to the highway and told me which way to go, and wrote it down for me, thank God- And I lived to talk about it.

“I got back here, curled up in a ball in my living room, wrapped myself in a blanket and shook and twitched and almost couldn’t function at all for – I don’t know – three weeks? I didn’t think I’d ever be anything like normal again.” He shuddered.

“I still have very weird dreams and I could easily see how people who go through this shit could believe in evil spirits and all kinds of things. Man- I thought I was living in a world where Dracula was the king vampire and we were all his cattle. Everything looked like a comic book version of medieval Romania for crying out loud,” he shook his head, “I also wandered around in a world where everything was tipping, first one way and then the other, I said a prayer and watched the words form in the air in front of me and go sailing off through what looked like a twilight zone landscape on the edge of a darkened universe- at the edge of outer space with no oxygen? I thought I was going to suffocate the whole time I was breathing-” Jack shuddered again.

Mitch pointed up the road, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you are putting yourself right back in that state of mind, reliving every moment, right now-”

Jack nodded, “Pretty much-”

Mitch sighed, “Kinda takes the fun out of going crazy, don’t it?”

“What? Did somebody give you the same stupid drug?”

Mitch shook his head, “No, and for once I feel like I got lucky there – I found a nine year old kid who saved my life on an assignment in the middle east – found him tied to a post with his stomach ripped open and his intestines all around him. I think they strangled him with his own intestines – and somebody told me they do that a lot- Is this your hippy mechanic?”

Jack shuddered, shivered, turned around and then smiled, nodded, “Yup-” (6595 words)

 

* * * * *

 

The vintage 1950’s wrecker, in close to perfect condition: with a bright orange and green high gloss paint job; a cartoon painting of the driver smiling and bright ‘psychedelic’ electric blue lettering on the doors, spelling out “Jayk – The Hippy Mechanic – We make house calls – [and a phone number]” — pulled over behind Mitch’s late-ish model (black) ‘compact’ Dodge.

Before the driver climbed out of his wrecker he was beeped and waved at three times. One of the beeps was unfriendly, and that driver gave him the finger. But the other two smiled and waved enthusiastically at him. He probably couldn’t have missed the angry finger ‘salute’ but he smiled and waved happily back at the other two, one man, one woman-

And then he climbed out of his truck’s cab- He looked to be about six feet – five, quite thin – had a head that looked overly large and round, a large hooked nose, and a wild mane of dark curly hair and a thin fringe of beard and mustache. When he walked, with an awkward step, like one or both feet had fallen asleep, he wasn’t quite six feet – five, more like just over six feet tall.

“Mitch – this is Jake the mechanic, Jake, this is Mitch, a friendly ghost from my shattered youth – Mitch, I don’t try to describe Jake to anyone any more, any time I say anything it turns out not to be the truth, they whole truth or nothing but the truth-”

Jake put out his hand and shook Mitch’s hand almost as soon as Mitch began to extend his- and continued to smile, but closely inspect the wheels on Mitch’s car.

Mitch turned to Jack, “What do you mean – with all that, not the truth stuff?”

“I mean, I once jokingly introduced him to somebody as Jacob and said he likes to use his full Christian name because he’s a Muslim, and I got a twenty minute lecture on never making fun of anybody’s religion and then a short explanation that he never was a Muslim, and he probably could never be described as an average Christian, he’s somebody who had to study and understand everybody’s religions and likes a lot about most of them but doesn’t quite follow any one of them to the letter.”

Jake grinned, nodded.

Mitch grinned and shrugged, “There’s a lot of that going around these days -” and couldn’t help but smile back at Jake.

Jake nodded, “There was a time when I insisted that everybody call me Jacob, but everybody up here calls me “Jake” so I finally gave in-” there was a bit of some kind of accent there-

Mitch turned his head slightly sideways as he tried to place the accent – “Brooklyn-?”

Jake nodded, “Flatbush- I lived surrounded by people from every corner of this planet, and from what my grandmother said – many who came from other places -”

Mitch grinned, “With a bit of Romanian there -”

“Yes, my grandmother was Romanian.”

Mitch seemed fascinated and relaxed as he made no attempt to hide the fact that he was studying Jake’s facial features – while Jake frowned at Mitch’s wheels. Mitch looked like he figured something out, “Are you of primarily Russian descent?”

Jake turned to Mitch with a delighted smile, then shook his head, “Mostly Lithuanian, a little bit Russian – a little bit white Russian, a little bit Romanian, Ukrainian, Polish, and who knows what else?”

Mitch grinned, “Sounds like me – I grew up in Brooklyn -”

Jake smiled, looked at Mitch for a second or two with his dark eyes unfocused – then focused, smiled and nodded, “Let me see your spare – they told me your make and model over the phone, but it must have been an early manufacture – or a late one – I brought the right tire, but the rim won’t fit -”

Mitch nodded as he walked around to his trunk with his key in hand. He unlocked the trunk and stepped back, “You don’t like like most of the Lithuanians I knew, they were all blonds -”

Jack winced.

Jake scowled, “There is family rumor- my great grandmother knew and liked Rasputin. Too many people think I look a little too much like him.”

Jack almost gave Mitch an ‘I tried to warn you-‘ look.

Jake pointed at Jack and almost laughed, “But if you are good friend of this character- I let you get away with that – once.” He reached into the trunk, moved the spare tire, which was loose in an otherwise spotless trunk, then turned the tire over and frowned, stood up and scowled. “What happened to this tire?”

Mitch sighed, “I tried to get out of the way of a speeding taxi and tore the sidewall up on something sharp at the edge of a curb.”

“I guess so – I think maybe we need to go back to my garage and put new tire on one of your rims. Why don’t you ride with me in cab? Jack, are you coming behind?”

Jack nodded.

“Good – my girls, they want you to sing that song you promised them -”

Jack looked at Mitch and answered his puzzled look with “’Beep- beep – his horn went beep beep beep-‘ His girls almost fall on the floor laughing every time I sing it to them, and want me to sing it again immediately -”

Mitch smiled, thought about something, then frowned.

Jake headed back toward his wrecker, “Be ready to put shifter in Neutral and turn off emergency brake.”

Mitch nodded and Jack jumped off his bike and pushed it around Mitch’s car, set it back on its stand a little deeper into the empty ghost of a parking lot facing the opposite direction, then made sure it was steady before he almost ran back to the front of Mitch’s car.

Jake started up the wrecker, waved to a couple more smiling faces who waved first, then drove around and backed up almost to Mitch’s front bumper. Then he climbed out of his cab and walked around to the controls and began letting the hook’s chain and a rubberized bumper guard down.

Jack got down on his knees and began to help, reaching under Mitch’s car’s front end with one of the smaller chains and hooks, found something to loop the chain around and slid the hook in place, tested it and nodded to Jake, who was busily doing the same thing on the other side.

Whatever it is that wrecker drives did in those days to hook a car up to their winch and pulley, or whatever that thing was, or is, Jake was good at it, and he was quick, and he was thorough. He walked back to the control gear box, “Now is good time to let go of brakes and make sure transmission is in Neutral-” and moved levers as soon as Mitch was out of the car with all the doors and trunk closed- raised the front end of Mitch’s car, walked back, checked everything, “You have slow oil leak- maybe need new gaskets.”

Mitch nodded, “A quart of oil every other week-”

“Some day, maybe oil is not so cheap- good idea you get that fixed.”

“Yeah, but I don’t know any mechanics I can trust in the city, and if I work on it myself somebody’s liable to come up behind me, knock me on the head, rob me blind and steal the car.”

“You maybe noticed? I don’t live in the city no more. We have couple crazies up here, but not like back in city-”

Mitch grinned, nodded.

Jake walked back to his hook’s controls and did something, smiled, nodded to Mitch, “You ready? Is long walk and you have no idea where I’m going.”

Mitch leaned forward and did not run around to the passenger’s door on the cab, but he did hurry.

Jack walked to his bike, put his helmet back on his head, strapped himself in, left the faceplate up, moved the bike off its stand, made sure the stand was up and locked in place, leaned down, turned the key to ‘on’ turned the lever that stopped or started the flow of fuel to ‘let the stuff flow’, got set, moved the starter to where he knew it was caught, gave it a kick and started right away, leaved back, pulled down the faceplate, shrugged and shook his arms, then grabbed the handlebars and was ready to move as Jake was back behind his wheel, and looked around, waved at a car full of happy waving young women, then decided to drive around through the empty parking lot and back out to the edge of the road, where he waited for two or three cars and then moved smoothly out onto the road, glanced at his mirror and saw Jack pull out onto the road behind him.

“You’re a cop?” he asked Mitch with the accent completely gone.

Mitch almost laughed, shook his head, “Worse- I’m with the DEA.”

“And Jack knows this?”

“Jack knew I was spying on the guy Jack thought would be the best darned father in law this world ever saw, way back when he was just beginning high school.”

Jake nodded.

“English is not your second language?”

Jake jumped back into character, “I am thinking maybe makink livink as voice actor- Virked in commercials. Hated everybody I met with power in thet industry- Besides, I have talent with engines and all things mechanical- mechanical dee-wices, dey like me- I understand them, we have happy virkink arrangement. I keep dem happy and they don’t break down so much.” Jake laughed, “I practiced that voice so much it’s almost second nature. My kids love it. You’ll probably meet them. And you, my new friend, have a dark cloud following you around, not quite the long chain like Jacob Marley – but there’s something dark there.”

Mitch almost shuddered visibly as he glanced sideways at Jake, “Yeah, my wife and daughter were tortured and murdered in a raid on their kibbutz near the Golan Heights.”

“And you don’t want Jack to know about that?”

“Jack will know something’s wrong – he’ll probably ask before the day’s over. He’s like that,” Mitch nodded.

Jake jumped back into his character voice, “So, maybe I am right? You are Jewish? Like I was?”

“-‘Was?’-”

“Now I am little bit everything- Mostly Yogi-” he nodded, dropped the accent, “I have the sight – I can see colors and symbols hanging in the air around almost everybody.

Mitch grinned, “And I bet you don’t want Jack to know that?”

Jake grinned, “He’ll figure that out soon enough. He’s still got some heavy shit to get through, but he’s a good one. If what he’s taken on in this life doesn’t kill him – he can have a positive effect on everybody around him.”

Mitch almost hung his head as he nodded, “I used to wish I was more like he was – He is one Lucky guy.”

“But not all of it is luck, and not all of it is good luck.”

Mitch nodded, “Mean alcoholic bully for a father, fell in love in high school and saw this beautiful, almost angelic girl die in front of him-”

“And you were there- with Israeli intelligence officers?”

“Holy shit- you’re good.”

Jake nodded, “And you will ask for my help in the not too distant future. If you stick to your ideals I might help you. I do not want to get involved with politics or black ops or the CIA or any of that, better they think I’m a screwball who probably fries his brains nightly with some kind of drugs than learn I can sit down and close my eyes and tell you what they had for breakfast, who they framed, who they’re planning to screw next and how they intend to keep their wives from becoming suspicious. How the hell did you get mixed up with that lot?”

Mitch did shudder, “I grew up in a rough neighborhood – I had to learn to fight before I started kindergarten.”

“-When your last name was Fleming?”

Mitch shuddered again, turned sideways and nodded, closed his eyes, – “So when I was about nine years old I got in fight defending a kid who turned out to be Hasidic Jewish, pretty much got my butt handed to me and his father thanked me by paying his cousin to give me judo and wrestling lessons. I also had a gift with languages, not just in learning them quickly, but I was able to speak and mimic the right gestures and inflections well enough to convince people that I’d grown up in their culture.-

“I joined the army between the Korean War and that present mess over there – we all took a battery of tests in basic and I scored high in intelligence, languages and they were impressed with my street fighting and judo and the wrong people approached me with the wrong question, -did I want to make a real difference in favor of serving my country- and stupid me, I said yes. They put me through shit you wouldn’t – well, maybe you would believe- and I came through it with one problem in their eyes. I had this idealistic streak – If they told me they needed me to kill somebody I’d have to ask why – and how they knew – and to the question, if I was asked to kill an American citizen in the name of national security, would I do it? I answered, ‘No, I took an oath to protect and defend the constitution, and that would be contrary to that oath, Sir!’ So they grumbled and shook their heads and decided they had loads of shit work that needed to be done and hoped maybe I’ come to their senses and jump when they said jump and kill when they said kill, but that never happened. And then the wrong high ranking double agent found out I was in love with an Israeli citizen and made sure I got to spend time with her and promised to protect me, because he, like I was, was a natural born US all american spy and had ties with Israel. When Jack learned that there was something peculiar about the psychiatrist that his girl friend’s mother dragged her off to and wrote an article with the man’s photo and published it on the front page of an underground newspaper, in 1967 – the doctor left town in a very big hurry. The guys at the underground paper, mostly Jewish – got calls from Philadelphia and a couple other places, saying the guy was a Nazi and he kept accidentally killing patients who were either Jewish or who he suspected had communist leanings. Jack told me about that. I took the photo and sent it to my protector who told me who to call and how to approach them. The girl’s mother was a freakin idiot who believed Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon and thought her daughter was being duped by communist spies. The Doctor convinced her she was right and the morning after the girl’s senior prom her mother gave her a knock out drug and loaded her into a cab and dragged her on an airplane and flew her to Switzerland where the doctor had ‘friends’ and access to a clinic. The girl woke up on the plane, went to the bathroom in the Geneva airport, got away from her mother long enough to make a long distance collect call to Jack, told him where she was and where she was going, and the doctor’s orderlies found her, knocked her out and carried her out of the airport on a stretcher. Israeli intelligence Identified the Doctor as one of Josef Mengele’s protegees, somebody they wanted to bring to trial, the way they got Eichmann- They got me and Jack tickets and passports and got us to Geneva – Jack got away from me, found the clinic about five minutes before I do, got past the orderlies and found the room where the doctor had just given the girl a lethal dose of something. Jack kicked the door down and kicked the doctor in the head. Israeli intelligence and I got there as Jack watched the love of his life go into convulsions and die, and I figured we blew it- Jack turned to the stunned Doctor and in perfect German, told him the Fuhrer must be proud of his work for the SS- and the Doctor snapped to attention and barked out a line of Nazi propaganda about doing what he could to further the cause of German Purity- Jack asked him how many impure Jews and Communists he’d killed for the Fuhrer and he rattled off a list of several names and then said he’d escaped to the USA with Mengele and continued his work over here- and Jack snapped out of his German and said, Herr Doctor, I’d like to introduce you to the Israeli Secret Service. The doctor looked at us, panicked, raised his ring to his mouth, took a cyanide pill and died right there, looking like it was more painful that what he put the girl through. One of the Israelis had recorded that on a tape recorder. They got me and Jack out of there. On our way to the door, Jack saw her mother and screamed, “I hope you’re fucking proud of yourself, your god damned Nazi daughter just murdered your daughter you stinkin piece of shit!” and the woman fainted, bashed her head pretty good on the way down.”

“Wow-”

“Yeah- So I’m in good with Israeli Intelligence and I’m still under the radar with US intelligence and now that my wife and daughter have been butchered, I have no idea whether I’ll keep on working for either side- but I’m here. I’m every bit as much a freakin basket case as Jack believes he is, maybe worse- but I’m alive, and I suppose that means there’s hope-”

Jake nodded, “You’ll be fine. You’ll go back to work and solve a couple cases they can’t get anywhere with. You will not be able to get any closer to Josef Mengele – he’s too well protected by the wrong black ops US intelligence rogues, he’s given them too much really good stuff that they’re using on US citizens right now – Try to put that out of your mind. You’ve got a couple major busts coming up that will lead your superiors to the truth that US agents are bringing drugs into this country and selling them to US citizens to fund their secret projects and you will be able to ‘retire’ soon enough with a decent nest egg and nobody will know about your connections with Israel. I can see you hiding a lot of automatic rifles in the nooks and crannies of Jack’s basement. After you get those to Israel you will be able to convince your contacts there that you can’t risk any further involvement with them. And you’ll leave them a couple gadgets that somebody over here developed, that they will be able to reverse engineer and they’ll be pretty happy with you and then you will drop out of sight. You’ll be safe, and live a fairly long and happy enough life-” Jake slowed down with his blinker on and began driving through a maze of side streets in downtown Brattleboro.

“I had a rough time in Brooklyn, too, You don’t grow up in my neighborhood with a name like ‘Yakov’ without getting the shit beat out of you two or three times a day. I kept dreaming I became a Karate expert but even in the dreams, every time I went to hit somebody, I couldn’t, my arms were held back, I scared the livin cement outta people in my dreams, but I couldn’t punch them or anything like that.” He shrugged, slowed down and drove around a corner where the road was bad and they bounced a bit. “I was lucky, I earned a scholarship – went to an ivy league college, bumped into some people from India who recognized my ‘gifts’ and taught me to meditate, introduced me to my future wife, made me feel like my life had all been worth it and showed me dozens of options – all sorts of things I could do with my life and I chose this one here, for now anyway. I have a beautiful and happy wife, three charming daughters, good friends like Jack, who might be able to pull together a group of people to start something really positive around here – he just might – I try to help him smooth out his rough edges and he comes to me with people like you and the woman he brought last night.”

Mitch grinned, “Jack escaped from her this morning-”

Jake raised his eyebrows as he slowed down, approaching what used to be a gas station, now painted in wild and vibrant colors with a big sign announcing that it was “Jayk the Hippy Mechanic’s place of business.” – “Don’t let her know that you know that she just about raped Jack last night.”

“What?”

Jake turned into his lot, drove in front of the garage, turned and headed back out toward the road, stopped, gazed at the road with his eyes unfocused again, nodded, “She’s on her way here now. Don’t tell Jack.”

“Aw Jeeze- is that your doing- why would you put him through something like that?”

Jake shook his head, “It wasn’t me – she’ll think it was dumb luck- But everybody will be fine – leave it to me.”

“You got a little bag of miracles somewhere?”

Jake nodded, “A small bag- more than enough.”

Mitch sighed and fell back against the seat.

Jake shifted into reverse and began slowly backing up, lined Mitch’s car up perfectly with one of the bays, whose huge garage door had been painted with a very large, very good painting of a lotus blossom.

Jack and his bike, slowing down to a crawl, came around the front of the wrecker and moved even slower off to the side where he shut his engine off, kicked down the stand and muscled the bike up onto its stand. He stood up and probably went very pale inside his helmet as Brenda climbed out of a taxi and smiled at him.

Mitch leaned forward, reached for the door handle, and prepared to climb down from the cab. He glanced over at Brenda and did a double take, “Wow – They weren’t kidding -” She was not the perfect exotic beauty he’d imagined. He wasn’t even sure why he knew immediately that this was the woman they’d described, or in Jake’s case, just mentioned. She was only slightly above ‘average height’. To Mitch, who’d had a ‘thing’ about his lack of height in high school, that was important. Christ – even Jack’s photo of the girl he wanted to go steady with before he met Lori looked like she was too tall for Mitch. There was nothing spectacular about Brenda, unless you consider the idea that having everything ‘just about all right’ was spectacular. Her hair was a tiny bit darker than ‘medium brown’, her eyes were very blue, unusually blue, but her eyebrows were just the right shade of brown and just the right shape to make her eyes look extra-ordinary. Slightly extra-ordinary. Not so bloody beautiful that every guy in a room would drop whatever they were doing and follow her around with their tongues hanging out – just – well, just right. The shape of her face – and her hair style? Something made her look like she belonged in a previous decade. She was not the typical ‘hippy generation’ “chick”. Mitch almost consciously grasped the idea then and there that nobody had ever grabbed his attention like that since the first time he saw his wife.

Brenda must have seen Jake climb out of his wrecker’s cab and wave to her. She turned and smiled at Jake, then glanced at Mitch who was inside the cab and felt a real change in gravity. Like when an elevator shoots up a little too fast, then stops a little too suddenly and maybe drops a couple inches and comes back up an inch – ‘thud’. If she believed in fate she knew this was a life-changing moment. Instead of walking over to Jack and giving him a hug, as she intended, she let her legs and feet carry her toward the passenger’s door of the wrecker’s cab, “You too, hey, I guess that’s what Jack does, huh? Rides around the world rescuing people? I’m Brenda -”

Mitch nodded, he almost said, “I know -”, but uncharacteristically, nearly stammered, “I – I’m Mitch.”

Brenda smiled.

There were no violins. At least not physical violins. No trumpets, no thunderclap – But when she smiled at him, he felt it. Not just in his crotch, but in his chest and his head too. Warm water rushed through his chest and warm breezes blew around his head. He did not have his usual total control on himself. The part of him that never let him lose his detachment, remain cool and calculating behind a protective facade, was just not there. He smiled back. He had no choice.

She didn’t have the hippy sense of fashion. She was probably the only woman under the age of thirty in a ten block radius who wasn’t wearing jeans, or cut off jeans – She was wearing slacks. Slacks might have been the most ridiculous word in the English language, but she made them look good. Slacks. They were an odd blue color, something in harmony with her eyes. And she wore a floral print cotton blouse. Not the almost cliché psychedelic colors most blouses came in these days, but something different – more muted, almost oriental – something almost like bamboo leaves and greenish blue flowers that almost didn’t stand out against the pale green leaves around them. One glance at her chest and he knew what her breasts looked like, and knew what they felt like against his naked skin. His stomach entered into the metamorphosis here. Warm wind blew through his stomach and muscles around it relaxed noticeably for the first time – in he couldn’t remember how long.

Jack walked by, “Brenda – this is Mitch – excuse me – I have to go help Jake -”

Brenda nodded, didn’t look at him, “I know you do – thanks.” and she reached out to shake Mitch’s hand, thinking that was the thing to do when you were properly introduced –

Mitch took her hand, didn’t shake it, just closed his fingers around her hand and stood there, the two of them not quite visibly in shock, but in a time and space altered condition – lost to everything around them for several seconds, forgetting to worry about letting the person each was staring at know they were staring.

Jack walked up to Jake.

Jake was almost as stunned as Mitch and Brenda seemed to be.

Jack took a look at Jake and glanced back at Mitch and Brenda, who were still standing there, hands together, not shaking, frozen? – smiling at each other, “There is a God, and she likes me -” Jack grinned.

Jake snapped out of it – he almost told Jack, “Wow – their auras are out to here -” instead, “What? Oh, yes, help me with this door, will you?”

Jake never really needed help with anything. But the two of them went through a normal sized door between two oversized bays – Brenda’s greenish blue Honda was up on one lift and Jake was about to arrange the ‘spider legs’ so he could back Mitch’s Dodge over them. He would then move the ‘legs’ ( his middle daughter’s concept ) and, when they were lined up just right, raise Mitch’s car just enough to get the wheels up to a comfortable height for him to work on that flat.

“I wonder if there’s a stream running underground near here-” Jack looked distracted as he glanced around, almost as if he could see through the concrete and steel of the industrial lifts.

“What? What makes you say that?”

Jack shrugged, “It always feels – um, magical? ‘Blessed’?” he shrugged again.

“-‘Blessed’ would be nice -” Jake nodded, walked to the far side of the garage door. The doors actually had been upgraded so they could be raised and lowered by pushing a button, but they also still had their old chain pulls, one on either side of the door. The electric motor that could raise and lower the doors had a clutch that Jake usually kept disengaged. He actually liked the physical act of pulling those chains. And he liked having somebody – usually the customer – help him with the chains, enjoyed to co-ordinated motion. And Jack was such a natural at offering to help –

“How old is this garage anyway?” Jack wondered.

Jake smiled, “Old – I believe it was a harness and wheel-right shop before they dug under ground out there to put in the gas pumps and inside here to put in the lifts.”

Jack nodded as he pulled the chain on his side of the door, not realizing he was almost perfectly matching Jake’s motions with the other chain. This was almost a synchronized operation, like the synchronized swimming at the summer olympics – where two women make every move together. Same foot forward, same rhythm as they walked. Same amount of energy as they raised their arms the same distance and bent at the same angle, sprang with the same amount of muscle power and hit the water at the same angle at the same instant? Jack shuddered.

Jake wondered what Jack shuddered about, but glanced through the open bay as the door reached the end of its journey – to see Mitch and Brenda, still frozen there, “I hate to break this up, but you two have to move and close that door before I can back Mitch’s car in here and fix his flat –

Brenda blushed. Mitch might have blushed too, but he was struggling to regain control of his cool, un-revealing facade. And he was failing. He smiled, let go of her hand, turned, gave the cab door a push, watched it long enough to know it caught and held- then turned to look into her eyes again and smiled in spite of his efforts not to, reached out and touched her side as if that was something he’d done every day of his life and planned on doing every day for the rest of his life – knew the feel of her arm around him as they walked in a near dream – guided her away from the truck and toward the door to the ‘office’ part of the garage where Jake’s Hindu Indian wife was standing, smiling back at them.

Jake jumped into his cab and easily backed the Dodge into place. Then he and Jack were a precision team, moving the arms of Nalini’s ‘spider’ into place, checking the placement – Jack walked to the back of the wrecker and unhooked the tire Jake had brought with him out to Mitch’s car while Jake raised the lift, stopped, checked again, then raised it some more, grabbed his lug wrench and moved to the flat.

Jack had helped Jake change a dozen tires in this bay – knew the drill, knew where every tool in the garage would always be, knew how to run the more than slightly esoteric power machine that broke the bead on the tire placed in its center and then, once the same specialized pry bar was flipped over and used to get a bit of the tire’s edge up over the edge of the rim, pry bar in the right position, step back and push the button and watch the machinery turn the bar around in a full circle, raising the rubber above and beyond the metal of the rim – and then use the bar to pry a bit of the other edge of the tire up over the edge of the rim, tip the bar back into position, step back and push the button as the bar turned again, raised the rest of the tire’s bead up over the rim and let go of the button when the tire was completely free. Jack grabbed the tire, picked it up over the machine, turned his body, turned the tire, let it bounce, caught it, leaned it against the machine as he spun the piece that held the rim in place, raised the rim, turned it, carried it off to the side, set it down carefully, turned and waited for Jake to get the flat off the passenger’s side front axle.

Jake’s wife, wearing a blue and white sari, opened the door as Mitch, his hand in the middle of Brenda’s back, continued to guide her toward the door and Brenda glanced over at him and smiled after each step forward, happy, almost giddy about being guided like that. Nakshathra – ‘Mrs Jake’ – stepped out of their way as she realized they were barely aware of her existence.

Mitch and Brenda took a couple steps into the office, then turned as one being with four legs, at the door to the bays and stood looking through the window in the door, almost sparkling in their awareness of each other, and staring out at the rest of the world through an almost visible pool of something –

Nine year old Nalini came out of the back room, smiled at the couple, smiled at her mother, took a few steps toward her mother and looked down at her own blue, yellow and gold sari and turned around, raised her arms and beamed as her mother smiled down at her and nodded in approval. Nakshathra put her hand on her daughter’s shoulder and turned her toward the back room where ten year old Nandani and seven year old Narayani were still struggling to get their sari’s wrapped just right.

Jake handed Jack the wheel from Mitch’s car and its misshapen flat tire as soon as it was free. Jack caught it just right and started to turn back to the machine when he caught a glimpse of Mitch and Brenda looking back at him through the door to the office. Mitch smiled at Jack. Brenda smiled at Mitch. Jack smiled back at Mitch and thought about letting go of the tire long enough to wave, or sort of salute with two fingers, but he turned instead and set the tire down, grabbed it by its sides, picked it up, tipped it and dropped it in place, grabbed the locking bit and spun it easily, made sure it was in place and locked down tight – reached for the lever of the bead breaking mechanism, turned that into place and pushed the lever down until the bead popped- then moved the lever out of the way, un-spun the locking gizmo, picked it up, moved it – grabbed the tire, picked it up, spun it end over end and let it drop back into place. Reached blindly for the locking gizmo, got it, moved it, dropped it in place, spun it, reached for the lever, swung it over and down, caught the bead, pulled the lever – smiled at Jake.

The mechanic watched the musician move and thought it looked like a dance, like remembered muscles moved just right to get the tire work done without a hitch.

Jack used the pry bar, got the tire off the rim, tossed the tire aside, grabbed the new tire, reached sideways, painted a solid ring of ‘gorp’ around one side of the tire’s inner edge, put the brush back, bounced the tire once, caught it, turned it, dropped it in place, used the pry bar to get this tire over the edge of the rim- reached for a red closed tube and moved it around the tire, adjusted a strap to pull it up tight, took a step sideways, picked up the air hose, brought it to the red thing, connected it- filled the tube while holding the tire just right, checked to be sure the edge of the tire was tight against the part of the rim that would ensure that it would slide into place when the air hose was held in place. Then Jack took a step back, reached for the oversized artists brush in the pail of ‘gorp’, picked the brush up, painted the gorp around the inner edge of this side of the tire, put the brush back, un-spun the locking gizmo just enough, reached for the air hose, put it in place and held it there while the compressor did the work.

The tire popped into place with a loud pop, almost a bang. Jack stepped back, waited a second, stepped forward, held his thumbnail over the valve thing that released the air in the tube, loosened the tube’s strap, pulled the red tub off the tire, stepped back with the air hose and blew the tire up. Reached for the tire gauge as Jake handed it to him- nodded, added a little more air, checked again, smiled, dropped the hose, un-spun the locking gizmo the rest of the way, picked that up and moved it to the spot where Jake kept it when it wasn’t in use, picked the tire up by its edges let it spin in the air, dropped it to let it bounce, rolled it over to the sheet metal trough full of water where he set the tire inside, checked both sides bubbles that would indicate air leaks, turned the tire slightly, watched for bubbles again on both sides, turned it again, then again and again, always checking, until he’d checked the whole tire and found no bubbles rising from where the bead was snug against the rim. Then he picked the tire up, bounced it twice to let most of the water fly away, and rolled the tire, released it in Jake’s direction. Jake caught the tire, picked it up, turned set the wheel in place over the thick screws the lug nuts went on, picked up a lug nut, placed it on the screw, or bolt, or whatever you call that thing, spun it until it was almost tight, reached for the next lug nut, placed it two posts away from the first, tightened it to almost tight, reached for the third lug nut, spun that down to almost tight, and in that manner hand- tightened the lug nuts, until he reached behind himself, grabbed the lug wrench that he couldn’t see, picked it up, chose the right end, put that over the lug nut, held it with one hand and spun it with the other, tightened the lug nuts most of the way while the car was still up in the air, then pulled the tire to make sure it was both in place and almost fully tightened and pointed just right. Then he let the lift down just until the four tires were in solid contact with the cement floor of the working area inside the bay, grabbed the lug wrench again, and spun, then grabbed opposing ends of the part of the “X” shaped lug wrench and twisted with all his strength – then continued around until all five lug nuts were as tight as he could get them, and then he went all the around again, this time pulling the wrench up with both hands while pushing down with one foot and all his weight.

Then he handed the wrench to Jack who walked it to its home on the back of the work bench while Jake picked up the hubcap and the rubber hammer, put the hubcap in place and banged it a few times.

Jack stepped up behind Jake and watched until Jake stepped over to the lift controls and let the lift all the way back down, walked around Mitch’s car and reached under to slide Nalini’s ‘spider legs’ out of the way, lined up parallel to each other, pointed straight at the door, while Jack was doing almost the same exact thing on the other side.

“Jack and Jake -” Mitch mused, “Quite a team.” It felt like it was time for the two of them to turn toward each other and listen to somebody say, “And now you may kiss the bride -” and he almost did that, but saw the seven year old walk out of the back room in her now perfectly draped sari and applied just enough pressure as he tapped Brenda’s back to get her to glance around to see what he was looking at and watched the girl take a step forward, place her arms and hands in a gesture that looked like it came from a thousand year old Hindu story-dance and turn around to show off her very red and gold sari –

Jack watched the lift disappear into the floor, stepped forward, moved the arms of the lift into the formation that Jake liked to keep them, then stepped back, looked at the new tire, glanced at the older tire on the back, tipped his head to one side – Jake finished straightening out the arms of the lift on the other side and came back, looked at both tires in almost the same way Jack had looked at them, “What-?”

Jack shrugged, “Every time I tighten a lug nut I worry that the people driving away will get a couple miles up the road and their tire will come loose and cause a nasty accident.”

“Has that ever happened?”

“Not yet -”

“Do you think it ever will?”

“I don’t know, maybe not if I keep being so vigilant about it.”

Jake nodded as he glanced toward the door to the office, saw Brenda and Mitch with their backs to the window, Mitch’s hand still in the middle of her back, little flashes of Narayani in her red sari visible around the couple, “And, speaking of vigilance, the girls got up this morning and told me they were going to wear their sari’s to lunch and then we were going to go swimming somewhere they’d never been before.”

Jack turned and glanced outside, could see just enough sky to see that the cloud cover had broken and large areas of blue were showing. He shrugged, “You still want to see my house, right? I still have that nicely on designed natural pool with it’s nicely sifted, very much designed hint of sandy beach on the south side of my domicile, which is beginning to look like a natural hill formation with a very strange deck and a patio door into that hill- and no topless, or sometimes naked eighteen year olds have been around since early June, when I think they came to the conclusion that I had gotten just a bit too weird for them to think they could spend their summer trying to screw each other on my deck.”

Jake laughed, “That has got to be the weirdest invitation I’ve heard in years.”

Jack turned to Jake and grinned, shrugged, “I’m full of weird conversations with myself, might as well share them with somebody.”

“My cousin is with us,” Jake sounded like he just remembered that.

Jack glanced through the window into the office saw a bit of blond, or almost blond hair on somebody wearing a sari in the office, “I was going to say, ‘He can come along too,’ but it looks like ‘he’ is a she.”

“Yes, Natasha – she was born a ‘she’ and looks a lot more Lithuanian than I ever did.”

Jack turned to look at Jake, “I give up- where did that come from?”

“Your friend, Mitch, thought I didn’t look Lithuanian.”

Jack shrugged, “Nobody I know who’s met him thinks Mitch looks Jewish, either.”

“Did I look Jewish to you?”

Jack shrugged, “Sometimes I think you don’t even look human, you’re an extra-terrestrial whose human disguise doesn’t quite fit.”

Jake laughed.

Jack shrugged, “Like, we’re all multi-dimensional angels trying very hard to believe we’re two dimensional enough to fit into human definitions of who we are or should be if we’d had our souls removed.”

“Wait a minute, hold that thought, it might be profound.” Jake laughed, thought for a moment, then nodded, then laughed again, “Sounds good to me-” Then he sighed, “Are you going to invite Brenda to come along?”

“At this point, I think Mitch would kill me if I didn’t.”

“You handled that little let down well-”

“Didn’t I tell you I tried to sneak out on her this morning? Last night she all but knocked me out and dragged me into her bed with just enough emotional blackmail – and then she started telling me what the life she was planning for us looked like – I cannot handle stuff like that.”

Jack didn’t glance sideways to notice that Jake was intent on something that was going on in Jack’s aura, which was probably a good thing, because Jack still had no idea that Jake ‘had the sight’.

Jake squirted some of his sweet smelling hand cleaner into his hands, rubbed them together, pulled a brown paper towel from his dispenser, watched Jack head for the hand cleaner, knew he’d be stepping up to the paper towel dispenser in a couple seconds, walked toward the office door and smiled as it opened.

Mitch still had his hand in the middle of Brenda’s back and Brenda was discretely and demurely beaming.

“Well, sir,” Jake said without any hint of any accent, “Your vehicle is officially roadworthy, You’ve got the keys, you can drive it out if you’d like-”

“How much do I owe you?”

Jake shrugged, “I probably spent a grand total of fifty cents worth of gas- “ he glanced sideways to see his wife, three girls and his cousin, all dolled up in their finest saris, emerge from the back room, all of them with huge smiles and sparkling eyes. He grinned, “That tire has never been used, but it’s been lying around here for years, I think it retailed for $30.00 when I bought it wholesale – I don’t believe your friend Jack would want to charge you for his labor- but as you can see, I have several beautiful little mouths to feed – How does forty dollars – American – sound?”

“Like a real bargain – I know I’d have to expect at least twice that anywhere else -”

Jake nodded as Mitch reached for his wallet. Then Jake turned to Brenda – “We got a call just before the state police called to tell us somebody who asked for me had a shredded tire up on route 5 – The parts I need for your Honda won’t get here until tomorrow morning, and that’s only because the guy who will drive them here on a Sunday owes me a couple big favors. I might have your car ready to roll tomorrow late afternoon or early evening. Depends on whether Jack and maybe even Mitch here can lend a hand. None of my usual guys are around this weekend -”

Jack stepped up behind Jake, still drying his hands with a couple paper towels – “What? Did I hear somebody volunteer me for something?” he chuckled easily.

Mitch smiled, “Jake just said that he might be able to have Brenda’s car fixed by tomorrow evening, especially if he has you and me to help him.” He shrugged, “I’d be happy to help – I think he just saved me at least fifty bucks.”

Jack closed his eyes, shook his head and smiled, “How the heck can I say no to something like that?” He nodded.

Jake’s wife asked quietly, with just the faintest hint of an Indian accent, “The three of you will be staying for dinner – it’s almost ready, and I made plenty – we never know who might be stranded here in need of a nice healthy meal. I’m afraid it’s vegetarian.”

“I’m not afraid of that -” Jack laughed.

Mitch glanced at Brenda. Brenda smiled back at Mitch.

Mitch managed to speak, “Real Indian food, cooked by a real Indian? How spicy is it.”

Jake’s almost blond cousin stepped forward, “Well, I’m sorry, but one of your cooks today isn’t quite Indian and I’m allergic to a lot of things so it isn’t all that spicy-”

Jake stepped between the Mitch-Brenda combined person and indicated the near blond in the blue and green sari with the silver trim – Then he indicated each one of them as he spoke their names, “Mitch, Brenda, Jack – this is my not-so-ugly cousin, Natasha. Now let’s see if Jack’s memory is any good, Jack – care to introduce my wife and children to your friends?”

Jack grinned, “Mother first? – I’m not sure I can remember what each name means, but ‘Mom’s name is Nakshathra, I think that means a Star in the heavens-”

“Or a Pearl-” Nakshathra kind of curtseyed in a motion that looked like it came from some esoteric Hindu dance.

The ten year old and nine year old were almost the same height, it took him a second to remember which was which, indicated the girl in the middle, “Nandani – is this charming ten year old, are you still ten?”

Nandani touched his hand and made the same sort of curtsey her mother had made, then nodded, “Still ten-”

“And I think Nandani means daughter of bliss?”

Jake laughed, “Close enough-”

The nine year old began to do her curtsey before Jack held his hand in front of her, “This beaming beauty is Nalini – her name means ‘Lotus blossom’”

Nalini pointed to the huge lotus painted on the still closed garage door – “And that’s what my spirit looks like -” she beamed.

“Are you nine years old now?” Jack asked.

She smiled as she nodded, “You remembered good-”

The seven year old was dancing in place, not exactly a perfect interpretation of any Hindu scriptures or legends, but she was a strong minded girl and she had her own ideas about what motions she wanted to make- “And this is Narayani – I think she is named after one of the aspects of the Hindu Goddess of plenty -”

Narayani glowered at Jack, “You mean, Lakshmi – Yes, I am named after one of her aspects.”

Jack grinned, “A beautiful, glowing, spirited aspect of Lakshmi – at seven years old -”

Narayani crossed her arms in front of her chest, “Are you gonna ask us to come swimming in your beach?”

“How do you know I have a beach?”

“You showed us pictures, remember? – duh!”

Jack laughed, “Would you like to come swimming at my place?”

She beamed, uncrossed her arms and then crossed them the other way, “I thought you’d never ask.”

Nakshathra smiled down at her children, “Okay, dinner is ready to be served, we have the picnic table that Jack did not make all by himself, but he helped and he helped the carpenter deliver it to us – the girls were asking this morning when they might see you again -” she smiled at Jack.

Jack shrugged.

Nakshathra smiled at Brenda and Mitch, “You will probably want to use the washroom – Natasha, will you show our guests to our real washroom, not the garage wash room?”

Natasha almost laughed as she shook her head and beamed, “Not a problem – follow me guys -” She stepped into what looked like an oriental version of modern American ‘flip flops’ – sandals with delicate silver straps. She looked like she considered bending over to pull the straps up behind her heels, but thought that might be un-lady-like in her gorgeous sari, raised each foot sort of sideways and back and reached down, pulled the strap up on each sandal in turn, and almost carried this off as gracefully as possible, then shook her head, gestured for them to follow and plodded toward the back door, which was open on a green grassy back yard.

Jake’s three daughters began to follow Mitch and Brenda.

But Nakshathra spoke sweetly, “I could use a little help with dinner, do I have any helpers?”

Narayani groaned and looked like she might collapse beneath the weight of being expected to help her mother with whatever needed to be done. The other two turned with very sweet smiles, looked like they would be happy to help.

“Narayani can help with the napkins, Nalini can bring the silverware, Nandani can help with the plates-” their mother followed them out the back door. They turned in the same direction Natasha had led Mitch and Brenda.

“Somebody’s got a thing for the letter ‘N’?” Jack asked.

Jake chuckled and nodded, “Actually, Nakshathra hated her name when she was Narayani’s age.”

Jack nodded, he knew a lot about kids hating their names. He followed Jake to the gas station wash room, an amazingly clean employees wash room.

Jake began to explain his wife’s childhood before they reached the washroom, “She was three years old when her parents moved to the states. Her father had a job waiting for him in Mobile, Alabama. When they got there, her mother and father had shockingly dark skin, which in those days – was a problem. But the guy who’d hired her father, sight unseen, had a stubborn streak, gave him an office apart from everybody else who worked there, almost nobody but the boss had any interaction with him on a daily basis.

“As you can see now, Nakshathra is not very dark skinned, but when she started kindergarten, in the still segregated south, the principal stopped her mother and Nakshathra before they reached the door and used the N word, “We don’t allow your kind in here-” Her mother was wearing a sari and spoke with a thick Indian accent, but the ignorant s.o.b. – thought she straight off the boat from Africa and called the police. Nakshathra still remembers that. Not many five year olds I know have that kind of retention, unless their experience is very negative, or very positive-

“So Nakshathra was condemned to second class schools for several years. Nobody down there saw any difference between Africans and Asian Indians. She was light skinned, so they figured she was a half breed. And when she said she was from India, they thought she was stupid and meant she was part Cherokee or something and came from Oklahoma.”

Two separate sinks, each with its own soap dispenser, water warm as soon as the spigot was turned-

Jake nodded, “She wanted to tell her parents how bad her life was, but every time she almost tried, her father would tell her how lucky they were to be in the United States and how lucky he was to have such a good job, and maybe there were a few extremely prejudiced people around, but they never seemed to bother him.

“And, then, when she was about nine years old – About Nalini’s age – she shattered one of her father’s speeches halfway through by screaming, ‘yes, but they call me a – you know what – and she fell on the floor and sobbed through the whole story of how she was berated daily, the African American students told her she wasn’t shit because she was a half breed. No white girls down there would come anywhere near her, her life was a living hell and the people who were supposed to protect her from that did not have a clue.

“So her father went to his boss and explained his problem, and his boss admitted that he was beginning to have problems over hiring somebody who looked like a ‘darky’ and he gave her father a generous severance bonus, told him to try up north – Her father tried to do a little bit of research, but nobody wanted to help him in person and over the phone, them good old southerners couldn’t understand him accent.

“He took a job in Chicago – lived in a suburb where there were two Indian nationals living within five blocks of them. One was a family of Sikhs who’d had relatives murdered in reprisals for something that had happened years ago in India, something their family members had nothing to do with, but they were the same religion as the thugs who’d committed some crime against somebody, so a whole family of innocents was massacred in a pretty gruesome scene. The Sikhs were popular in their circles and had an importing business that was doing quite well, and hated Hindus over that incident.” Jake stepped over to the paper towel dispenser and continued, “The other family were Hindus, they had like nine kids, but the father had been severely injured in an industrial accident, and not only couldn’t work, he was a vegetable – he had his place of honor at their table but his wife had to feed him and sometimes had to push his jaw up and down to help him chew. The children all had to take whatever jobs they could – they shined shoes, delivered newspapers, got beat up and robbed regularly – and did the best they could.

“When Nakshathra first met the kids in that family she was in shock. Not only did somebody up there know there really was a place called India, they could speak the language.

“She told her father about them and their problems. And her father found one of the boys who was shining shoes and paid him ten dollars, then followed him home and introduced himself to their mother. Who insisted on giving him back nine dollars. She had the mixed up notion that whatever their difficulties were, this was the will of God, or some of the Gods or maybe just the most important God to them –

“And then one day, her mother explained to Nakshathra what her name meant, and talked about some cultural things that nobody’d told her about before, and showed her a catalog of beautiful things from India, and Nakshathra began saving her allowance and bought a few things from the catalog and gave one or two of them to one of the girls in the Hindu family. Invariably, that girl would sell whatever Nakshathra gave her and give back most of the money she’d made by selling it. So Nakshathra and the girl kind of started their own little mail order business. When her father found out he began investing in it, sort of. He got himself an importing license, bought a little store and began stocking it with stuff from India, most things were culturally neutral, his wife, Nakshathra’s mother, began running the store, with Nakshathra’s help – and pretty soon they hired the oldest girl from the other Hindu family and things gradually improved for both Nakshathra and that other family. I met her when I was working in Chicago over one summer break from University – and I tell ya – bam! I probably looked a whole lot like your friend Mitch did when he looked at Brenda the first time -” Jake tossed his paper towel in the waste paper basket, “Don’t you dare mention last night while either one of them can hear you.”

That last statement almost left Jack in shock. He finished drying his hands, put his paper towels in the waste paper basket and followed Jake back to the back room and out the back door, which Jake left open so he could hear the bell if anybody drove in across his bell ringing hoses or rang the buzzer at the now locked door.

“Is the garage still open? We didn’t close the garage door-” Jack blurted.

Jake stopped and looked back, “No we didn’t-” then gazed unfocused for a moment, shrugged, “We’ll be all right,” and led Jack to the table in the shade near a huge old weeping willow tree, where everybody else was either sitting or passing out plates, napkins and silverware. And Mom was bringing a large ornamental ceramic bowl full of something steaming out to the table.

Jake had an “Adirondack” chair at the end of the table closest to the garage Mitch was on the end of the bench on Jake’s right side, Brenda was sitting beside Mitch, looking almost stoned, as a matter of fact, Mitch had the same look in his eyes. Jack sat across from Mitch and a couple seconds later, Natasha came from the house and looked around, shrugged and tried to be as lady like as possible as she stepped over the bench and sat beside Jack.

The table had a white linen table cloth with small blue lotus flowers blooming in a very subtle pattern around the edges and a huge, unsubtle representation of the Taj Mahal in the center. Nobody put anything over the Taj Mahal. Narayani finished running around and stuffing napkins under the edge of every plate on the table – and ran farther hopped over the bench and sat beside Natasha, leaned forward, “Chela Jack said we can go swimming in his beach -”

Jake looked shocked.

Natasha looked confused.

“Chela means beloved student of a Guru -” Jack smiled.

Natasha looked even more confused, “Are you -”

Jack shrugged and shook his head, “At least, not yet.”

Jake leaned forward, “I was there, and I’m not sure our Chela-Jack invited anybody anywhere. He might have said you could come there, some day. Maybe for your eighteenth birthday?”

“I’ll freeze to death on my eighteenth birthday.”

Jake laughed and turned to Jack, used his funny accent, “And so, Meester Chela-Jack did you vuz tellink mine child here thet maybe ve should all come svimmink at your home today? Dis ehfter-noon? Or did you maybe meanink, maybe zumtime before mine zilly daughter drops dead from old age?”

Jack laughed, nodded, “I did mean this afternoon would be fine, it’s even warming up nicely and it didn’t rain, did it?”

Narayani crossed her arms and glared darkly at them, “I wouldn’t let it rain on a day that I wanted to go swimming!”

Jack laughed, turned to Natasha and almost blushed, “Oh, give her a kiss on her forehead for me, will ya?”

Narayani beamed at Natasha and nodded.

Natasha laughed and leaned over and kissed Narayani in the middle of her forehead.

Narayani leaned forward, smiled at Jack, “Thank you, Chela-Jack.”

“How should we do this?” Nakshathra asked, with the large heavy bowl at the end of the table opposite Jake and its matching ladle in her hand.

Natasha smiled, turned around, raised her legs over the bench without kicking Narayani in the face and almost ran to the end of the table, “Everybody, pass your plates up to me, tell me how much-”

Nakshathra beamed a smile at Natasha, another to Jake, and sat down.

“Mother first?” Natasha seemed to ask everybody.

Almost everybody nodded. Narayani glowered, shook her head, “Youngest first!”

“How about, Mother first, then youngest?”

Narayani kept her arms crossed while she thought about it, then smiled, “Okay -” and handed her plate to her mother.

Natasha looked up and asked the other two girls, “Then what? Should we serve our guests first? Or go by age?”

Nalini hypothesize, “But if we go by age, you’ll be right in the middle, will you stop there and let somebody else do the serving?”

“Probably not.”

Nandani looked very wise as her forehead wrinkled deeply, “I think the guests should go next, first the woman, then Jack’s friend, then Jack, then our father, then us, but somebody better tell them not to eat before we bless our food.”

Natasha grinned, “I think you just told them that.”

Narayani would have forgotten Natasha’s plate, but Jack leaned over, picked it up and moved it into Narayani’s peripheral vision. She saw it, smiled, bowed slightly and passed that up.

Natasha served herself last, carried her plate to her spot, set the plate down, picked up the lower extremities of her sari and stepped over the bench sat down, put her hands together, bowed her head.

“Narayani, is it your turn to say the blessing?”

Narayani shook her head, crossed her arms again.

Natasha shrugged, “I’ll say it – ‘Father, Mother, Friend, Beloved, God in all your shapes, forms, names, and disguises – Instill this food with the miraculous power of you Love and Healing presence – transform our lives and transmute our lower emotions as we move ever closer to Thee – Om, Shanti – Amen.”

“Wow-” Jack smiled, “That was beautiful -”

Narayani leaned forward, “And so is she -”

Natasha blushed, Jack smiled.

Natasha glanced sideways, saw Jack’s smile and blushed a deeper red.

“No really -” Narayani nodded emphatically, “She told us she thinks she’s the ugliest thing that was ever bored-”

Natasha laughed, glanced toward Jack and whispered, “-‘born’ not bored.”

Jack shook his head, glanced over toward Narayani, “I think everybody thinks that sometimes – it’s part of growing up.”

Narayani shook her head, “I don’t have to grow up that part – I already know I’m beautiful.”

Jack nodded, “You’re right, but some day you might stop and wonder – because maybe somebody you like likes somebody else better and you’ll think maybe you’re not as beautiful as you thought you were.”

Nakshathra turned toward her youngest daughter, “Or, perhaps you will think that your physical beauty isn’t enough if you are not feeling so beautiful inside.”

Narayani looked down at her stomach, like she thought there might be something ugly hiding down there somewhere, then shrugged and nodded, “Okay-” picked up her fork and smiled, “Thanks, God, let’s eat-” and she relished the happy laughter that followed.

About halfway through dinner Brenda asked, “Will somebody drive me home while you guys go swimming?” she was looking at Mitch.

Jack looked her way, “You’re invited, too – of course.”

“I don’t have a bathing suit-”

Jack winced, he managed not to blurt out the history of his pool.

Nakshathra turned to them, “I am sure that somebody here has an extra bathing suit that you can use -”

Natasha laughed and blushed, turned to Jack and whispered, “My idiot last boyfriend offered to let me use his once-”

“I won’t ask,” Jack whispered back.

“No you shouldn’t -” she blushed, “But, yes I did- and I wore my teeshirt up top and when the stupid thing fell off I was still covered -”

Jack nodded soberly, “Sorry – I didn’t mean -”

She shrugged, “I know, it’s this place, it’s magical. It’s blessed, you feel so good when you’re here that you open your mouth and you never know what might flow out of it.” She looked like she suddenly wondered if he might think she meant vomit instead of conversational faux-pas-es.

Jack nodded, “One friend told me something about Cathedrals in Europe being built over spots where underground springs crossed or something and that changed the way the places felt and sometimes those spots had histories of miraculous things happening.

Jake nodded and joined that conversation, leaned forward and touched Jack’s arm, “And Lei lines, energy lines. There are spots where they cross that are just as blessed, just as – um, ‘magical’ -” he leaned back.

After dinner Jack heard a little bit of wind through wind chimes and turned to look up to the second story balcony of the house back there. It had been built of stone, probably a hundred years ago, but Jake, in whatever spare time he stole from somewhere, had experimented with chicken wire and stucco and managed to get a smooth texture over that and painted a blue trim around the stucco, it almost looked like they’d been transported to somewhere in India.

Jake noticed Jack smiling at the house again, “The only thing I don’t have back here is a pool. At least a reflecting pool-”

Jack shrugged, “How big and what color?” he laughed, “How deep and should we add a waterfall?”

“Do you have a waterfall out on your property?”

“A couple, one intentional, one not -”

“I’ve wanted to see this place since the first time you tried to describe it to me.”

“Looks like you got your wish.

Brenda was five years older than Natasha, and maybe half a pound heavier. They were not exact copies of each other, Brenda was more like a 36c and Natasha was probably more like 35b. Brenda’s hips might have been half an inch wider than Natasha’s. Natasha pulled Brenda’s blouse tight when they were alone and smiled, she opened her suitcase and reached inside, brought out a couple small pieces of bright electric green bikini, “If you want Mitch to never be able to stop thinking about you, wear this.”

“Oh my God – I couldn’t wear that-”

“Sure you could – You’re young, you’re in love, you’re surrounded by friends. You’e beautiful and that guy almost can’t take his eyes off you as it is.”

“But the kids – I’m a teacher, I can’t wear something like this in front of the kids -”

“I did – They loved it. They don’t know about body issues. They believe everybody is one beautiful expression of Gods love and the beauty of all Creation. Really, they live it.”

“I can’t – I really can’t – Don’t you have something a little less – revealing?”

“Do you know what you’re up against? Everybody within a hundred miles believed that Jack hosted naked swimming parties out there. Jake says he used to wake up on especially full moons and find dozens of people skinny dipping in his pool. He says Jack bulldozed his driveway and pushed big rocks and hills there to disguise the place and created a maze to confuse anybody who he didn’t personally show the way through the maze to.” Natasha didn’t know that Mitch had never been around for any of those skinny dipping parties.

Brenda looked worried for a moment.

“If you want that guy, go for it. You’re perfectly safe and you’re perfectly beautiful. Don’t hide it from the man you love.”

“But I just met him this morning.”

“Listen, Brenda – a blind person can see that this is much more than a casual fling, your freakin energy fields are out to here, for crying out loud. Let go and enjoy the moment. This might only come once in your life. Do you want to spend the rest of your life regretting not taking this chance?”

“-How old are you?”

“In this life? Seventeen. But they’ve been seventeen eye-opening years – let me tell ya.”

Brenda still looked worried.

Natasha closed her eyes and almost snorted, reached into her suitcase again, “Okay, put this one on over it, if ya chicken out- you chicken out. But never say I didn’t try to help you out here -” She placed two pieces of dark blue material that were at least twice as big as the bikini in Brenda’s hands.

“Will we change there?”

Natasha shrugged, “Don’t count on it, be prepared – I never was a girl scout, but I can steal their slogan.” She reached into the suitcase again, pulled out an electric blue version of the green bikini, swirled out of the sari and hopped into the bikini. It left nothing to anybody’s imagination.

Brenda looked like she was in shock, shook her head, “I can’t do this?”

“Do you want to be single all your life? Believe me, you can do this, and if you don’t – you’ll be sorry-” Natasha swirled back into her sari, draped everything just right, turned to look at herself in the mirror on an antique bureau, turned a bit to the left, then right, shrugged and smiled, “Don’t take too long – Narayani will want to kill you if you do.” she smiled sweetly, waved, swirled to her door, opened it, swirled out and closed it behind her.

“I don’t believe I’m taking relationship advice from a seventeen year old-” Brenda sighed, looked at herself in the mirror, pulled her blouse tight the way Natasha had, shrugged and began to undress.

Brenda was not the last person ready for the trip up to Jack’s, “How far away are we going anyway?”

Jack shrugged, “Depends on whether you follow me or try to find the place yourself.” He gestured with his right hand, straight up and over and back, “Hour and a half-” Then gestured with his left hand wiggling through a series of turns, “Twenty minutes to half an hour-”

She almost laughed, remembered something, try to bluff her way through it, “How much wine did I have last night, did you sleep on the couch or what?”

He cast a barely tolerant glance her way, “Don’t worry – it never happened.”

She sighed, “You should see the bikini Natasha tried to talk me into wearing -”

Jack shook his head, “No – Mitch should see it. Here he comes, you’re riding with him, right?”

“I hope so-” she blurted.

Jake owned one of the original Volkswagen ‘Hippy Vans’ – complete with a terrible psychedelic paint job. He also owned a small bus that had once belonged to a church somewhere. It now had a nice light blue metallic paint job and window shades that could be pulled down with paintings of happy cartoon children either smiling or making faces at cars going by. Today he had opted for the bus.

Jake was at the wheel and had been for maybe five minutes. The girls, all three of whom had shed their saris for more generic shorts and colorful silk blouses – were bouncing on the seats behind him. Nakshathra and Natasha were still, or once again, wearing their sari’s and they were the last ones to approach the bus.

Jack walked to his bike, prepared to start it up.

Nakshathra climbed aboard the bus as Mitch and Brenda, now holding hands, approached to ask Jake, “Should we follow Jack or stay back behind you?”

Natasha shrugged, walked around Mitch-Brenda and over to Jack, “Can I get a ride on this before I have to go back to the real world?”

“Do you ever have to go back to any real world?” He nodded, “Sure, but probably not while you’re wearing a sari.”

She laughed, blushed, smiled at him, “Thanks-” shook her head, “No- I won’t be wearing a sari.”

Jake responded to Mitch’s question, “I’ve never been there, but I am up a little higher than you, I can see just a bit farther, and I’m probably a whole lot easier to spot than a motorcycle if you get stuck at a red light or something. What do you think?”

Mitch grinned, “I’ll follow you-”

Jake grinned.

Mitch and Brenda walked to Mitch’s Dodge. Mitch opened the passenger’s side door and held it for her.

She tried not to let him know she trembled as she stepped inside and felt all fluttery inside when he closed the door.

Natasha appeared at the bus’s door when they moved out of her way, smiled at Jake, smiled at the girls, smiled at the world, sighed, “Will I ever feel like them again?”

“How old are you?”

“Seventeen.”

“How old are they?”

She shrugged, “Brenda’s like, um, twenty two?”

Jake nodded, “And Mitch is more like thirty five.”

“He doesn’t look it-”

“No, but sometimes he feels it- I see a wonderful romance coming your way. Something Jack will say, or maybe already said, will open something inside you that will clear the way and let you accept that when it happens, it will happen and it will feel like they look right now. Maybe even better.”

“I’d like that.”

Jake looked at her like he could see the bikini through the sari and looked a little bit shocked.

Natasha pretended she didn’t see that look took a couple steps and sat by herself up close to the front of the bus.

Twelve more people could have fit on that bus. Each girl had a double seat to herself. Nakshathra was facing forward behind Jake’s back and Natasha was facing forward in the seat on the other side, behind a curved steal panel with a shiny tubular rail.

Jack saw Mitch reach across Brenda and buckle her in, grinned as she looked like she could melt into a puddle right there, set his starter, checked the fuel flow valve, turned the key into the ‘on’ position, kicked down once and smiled, pulled his faceplate down, waved, turned just enough, gave it just enough gas and eased slowly over the dinging hose, glanced toward the office with the big sign, “Sorry, Nobody Home Today-” smiled at the beautiful huge lotus, wondered who painted it, checked both ways more than once, gave it just enough gas again and eased out onto the road.

Jake made sure the bus door was locked closed, turned his key, smiled, waved to Mitch and eased forward.

Mitch forgot he wasn’t driving the car with the stick shift, reached – Brenda caught his hand, put it on her thigh just above her knee, and held it there, leaned toward him like she expected a kiss, felt the seat belt hold her back, blushed-

Mitch turned the key, looked at her, leaned over and did kiss her.

She kept his hand down by her knee with both hands.

He could feel her trembling.

He also had enough presence of mind to look both ways and had no problem driving out onto the road and no problem at all following the big light blue bus up the street.

Stop sign.

Brenda undid the seat belt and slid over closer to Mitch, “Where’s the middle seat belt, I think I’ve grown an appreciation for bench seats.”

“It’s there, it might have fallen down when the back of the seat was, okay you found it.”

She buckled herself in.

Their turn at the stop sign, nobody coming either way.

“I think I lost your hand, wasn’t it somewhere around, ahh yes, there it is.” She pulled it a little closer up her thigh, “um, I hope you don’t believe -”

“Brenda, I am completely taken by you. If you’re the freakin sluttiest slut in the world, I’m dead, but you’re not- I can see that, and you’re just as shocked about this as I am. You set the rules. I will follow them.”

She shuddered all over and and clutched his arm, leaned against his shoulder, “I think we’re in trouble-”

“I like this kind of trouble-”

“Me too-”

Jack led them up to the interstate entrance he would have avoided that morning, kept his speed down, kept the noise of his exhaust down, rolled down the entrance, kept a clear view of the highway before he was there, rolled ahead at just under the speed limit and rolled leisurely ahead as the small blue bus and Mitch’s dark Dodge rolled onto the highway behind him. It was pretty much straight ahead and felt like slow motion as they glided past the next exit and entrance. And it continued to feel like slow motion until the First Exit beyond Brattleboro came into view- Putney- he signaled way ahead of time and then slowed down on the exit, stopped and waited until the bus and Mitch were right behind him. He then signaled so exaggeratedly that nobody could have missed that signal and leaned as he eased out and around and headed for route 5, which wasn’t that far from this exit.

He stopped there, waited again, signaled again, leaned the other way and led this little caravan up through Putney, to where he signaled a left turn, pointed up the hill, saw nobody coming either way and easily banked left and charged up the hill.

From there they wiggle-wobbled through a series of back roads and Jack stopped at the top of a hill and waited half a minute for the bus and another fifteen seconds or so until Mitch came to a stop behind the bus. He pointed to his left. There were two ancient stone walls on either side of an old gravel farm road, and a gate across the farm road. Jack rolled across the road, to the gate, opened it, tossed a chain from the gate over one stone wall, leaned far enough to know that that Mitch could see him and signaled, “Close the Gate-” before he rolled down the slight hill between the stone walls.

Brenda perked up, “Does Jack know sign language, I mean I teach that stuff, he just said, ‘Close the door’.-?”

Mitch flexed the fingers of his right hand and thought he might need both hands to turn the wheel, “Jack knows a lot of things he never bothered taking the time to learn. I found that out about him, jeeze, what? Seven years ago?”

“You think he’s psychic or something?”

Mitch nodded, “He’s got this healthy skeptical attitude and he doesn’t trust it, but he’s got something.”

Jake had no trouble at all turning the bus onto the road between the stone walls. Mitch waited, could see pretty far in each direction, waited longer than he needed to, turned and rolled past the gate, stopped, stepped on the emergency brake, was about to unbelt himself –

“I can get that – It’s on my side -” Brenda unbelted slid to the door, unlocked and opened the door, hopped out, grabbed the chain, easily pulled, then pushed the tubular steel gate closed, looked at the chain, shrugged, flipped it over the bars and then flipped it one more time, shrugged again, and ran back to the open passenger’s door, hopped in slid across the seat, buckled herself in, reached for Mitch’s hand, “There’s a lock on the chain, but it’s locked closed and no way to unlock it, so I flipped it in place, it’s not really locked, but it looks like it is.”

Mitch nodded, “That’s Jack -”

She placed Mitch’s hand as far up her thigh as it could go and be in contact with bare skin, seeing as how her shorts were what they called, ‘Bermuda shorts’ in those days.

“If I pull my hand away and grab the wheel with both hands, please, do not think I’m rejecting you or anything you said or did-”

“I know-” she nodded, leaned her head against his shoulder again, holding his hand firmly in place, “You’re a good driver, I can see that.” She grinned to herself about some private thought she was having.

The farm road went down between the walls and leveled off, rose again to the top of the next hill, where the stone walls disappeared under vines and overhanging trees. The road went straight ahead at the top of a tree covered ridge for twenty or thirty yards, then came to a crossroads. Jack stopped at the crossroads, waited until the bus rumbled to a stop behind him, the top of its roof flirting with the lowest branches overhead. Jack pointed to the right, turned his bike and rolled ahead and down. Jake had just enough room to turn the bus between the stone wall on his right, which had turned the corner right there and the edge of some big old pine trees on the left.

Natasha stood up as Jack went out of sight. There were low overhanging branches between the bus and Jack, “Are we into Jack’s maze yet? I want to try to remember this-”

“I don’t know, maybe, but this still feels like some old farmer put this road here, maybe a hundred years ago -” Jake waited until Mitch came to a stop behind him and waved to let him know he could see him. Hell. He couldn’t miss the danged bus.

This road did go downhill, not so steeply that it might be dangerous in the winter, but steep enough so they sank beneath those overhanging branches before they reached them. Jack had stopped and turned his bike sideways, pointing to the left, waited until they were close enough to see the path he pointed at, then rolled ahead.

“Okay, Um, Natasha, we may have found your maze-”

This bus still had all it’s poles and straps for people who might have had to stand and ride and hang on to those leather straps. Natasha stood up and reached for a strap, “Left, right, Left at the rock-”

The bus just fit around this tight corner and between trees on both sides of the path.

Nandani ran up and sat with her mother, pointed to the trees and said, “Wow, dad’s a good driver- right?”

Nakshathra laughed, “Your father is the best, safest driver I’ve ever known.”

“I thought so,” her oldest daughter sighed and relaxed, then looked around, “Is it safe for me to run back to my seat now?”

Jake nodded, “Grab the handles at each seat just to be sure -”

She turned to her father, nodded and ran back, just touching each seat handle all the way, spun around and bounced, smiled.

The path bent around to the right, and then bent back to the left and then crossed another crossroads, more like a crossroads and a fork in the path where two roads veered off to the right, looking like ‘real’ roads and one to the left looked ‘improved’ and two in the middle looked like afterthoughts. Jack was a few yards down one of the afterthoughts.

“Oh- darn-” Natasha glanced back at the girls, “I almost said something worse -”

And Jack led them through three more, just as confusing crossroads.

Natasha snarled, “Can you remember your way through this?”

Jake nodded, then shrugged, “So far anyway – but I don’t really need to – I can close my eyes and let the bus drive itself and tell myself – when we get to the end of this journey I will be sitting in front of Jack’s house -”

“Nice trick, can you teach me that?”

“No, but you can learn it yourself -”

“Think I might? In this life time I mean?”

“You might- depends. And in some of the futures I can see, gas guzzling vehicles will be out of style.”

“And then what?”

“Either you learn to teleport to where you want to go or do a lot of walking, and maybe find out how hard it is to take care of horses again.”

“How hard is it to teleport?”

“Not very easy at all – you have to be really advanced to do that.”

“I was afraid you’d say that-”

And Jack either led them through two more zany crossroads or doubled back across one or more of them – and then stopped and signaled for Jake to roll up beside him.

Jake had a strange system to open his window, unhook the corners and slide it down to any one of several spots where those hooks could catch- “Are we there yet?” Jake cackled.

“Pretty much- you can either pull the bus up there -” he pointed, “Or you can take a chance on scratching your gorgeous paint job and follow me that way -” he pointed to Jake’s right.

Jake turned around, “Let’s take a vote – who wants to walk for three minutes or watch daddy cry when the trees scratch my nice new paint job?”

There was a cackling chorus of giggles and “Watch daddy cry -” and Nandani stood up and pointed, “Could we ride with them? His car’s a piece of junk anyway.”

Jake laughed, “Don’t you ever let him hear you say that.”

“Well it is- isn’t it?”

Jake shook his head, “No, I think Mitch got a good one. I can tell when they really are a piece of junk -”

Nandani nodded, “I’ll never let him hear me say anything bad about anything -” she nodded extremely soberly.

Mitch pulled up behind the bus and stopped.

Jake leaned out his window, “Nandani wants to know if the girls can ride with Mitch and Brenda.”

Jack nodded, “Probably, I’ll go ask-”

And three little faces appeared at the windows of the bus’s back emergency exit and smiled.

Mitch freed his hand and got it back up on the steering wheel as Jack approached, rolled his window all the way down.

“We’re almost there, it’s about ten yards through those trees-” Jack pointed. “Jake just spent about a thousand hours painting that bus, I don’t want to see him scratch that finish all up, alright with you if the girls want to ride with you, the scratchy branches are all higher up -” He reached above his head.

“We can probably fit them all in here, three girls and the dad in the back, mom in the front-” Mitch suggested.

“You’re forgetting Natasha -” Brenda reminded him.

“Natasha is dying for a ride on my bike.”

“In a sari?” Mitch gasped.

Jack shrugged, “I won’t look, if she loses the sari, you grab it and cover her before I know what happened-” he laughed.

Mitch laughed, “Like you won’t know it’s happening almost before it does.”

Jack licked his finger and held it in the air, “No friendly – or unfriendly crosswinds today-” he shrugged.

“Yeah, tell them, sure, anybody who can fit in-”

Jack turned and nodded to the faces in the emergency door windows.

The girls squealed and jumped up and down, well, the little one did, the other two seemed mystified and almost as happy as they sister.

Jack gunned his engine and shot behind Mitch’s car, reached a spot that was wide enough to easily turn around and came back, slowed down to a crawl as he rode up past Mitch’s car on the driver’s side, then gunned it a bit and rolled up alongside the bus, “You can probably tell, they’re fine with giving rides to anybody who fits.”

The girls were all screaming, “I want a window, I want a window, I want a window.”

Jack shrugged and whispered, “He’s got three windows, and they all have seat belts. Mom could ride in the middle of the back seat, or you could take a chance for about ten or fifteen yards and everybody pile in -”

The girls’ mom poked her head up beside Jake’s, “No I think I want to walk, I like the smell of the air up here.”

“I’ll walk too,”

“Can I ride with you, Sari or not?”

Jack winced, “How did I know that was coming- Be very careful, don’t burn your ankles on the exhaust- Don’t lose your sari if I hit a bump.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Of course I’m kidding, but if you promise not to burn your ankles of do anything stupid or fall off- and hang on tight- but don’t choke me to death-”

Jake pointed, “Right up there?”

Jack nodded, “You might even be able to see my room if you look through the trees up that way-” He pointed.

Jake nodded, turned to his right, “Everybody better be sitting down-” waited half a minute and then eased forward.

This fairly well improved ‘road’ came to a dead end on a nearly flat pad of stone. Jake eased up and eased on the brake, glanced through the mirror to see Jack nodding with his thumb up.

Jake smiled, looked around, could not see a roof through the bus’ panels. But had a pretty good idea where it was. He put the transmission in “Park” pulled the emergency brake, turned around and said, “Okay, now what did we bring with us?”

Nalini smiled, “Our smiles and best wishes?”

Nandani frowned, “And our best behaviors?”

Narayani made a face, then smiled, “And our divine presents?”

Jake grinned, looked at his wife.

“Everybody but you is wearing their bathing suits, I brought a picnic basket full of snacks and pop and cold water.”

“And I brought my own divine presence-” Natasha grinned.

“Well, I see you’re feeling better about life already, but let me warn you, Jack has been shattered by the loss of his high school sweetheart, don’t you dare think about breaking his heart. If you change his destiny, I’ll teleport you to a very bad place.” Jake tried to look mean.

Natasha laughed, “Me, break his heart? Not a chance.”

“Don’t let Brenda know this is the guy who wrote all the love songs she loves the best-”

“Is he? Nobody told me anything -” she pretended to zip her lip shut.

“Just don’t ask to hear him play his guitar, even if you see it out anywhere. Maybe next time-”

“Which next time?” she grinned.

He wagged his finger, “Uht- you think you can trick me into revealing something juicy? Not a chance -” he reached forward, unlocked and pulled the lever that opened the door.

The three girls went bounding out, Nandani first, then Nalini, then Nandani caught Narayani as she leapt into the air knowing her big sister was there to catch her.

Natasha stepped down, watched the girls run happily to Mitch’s car, all of them screaming, “I get a window, I get a window-” She walked over to where Jack had maneuvered his bike, and where he had pulled the foot pegs down and pointed at the muffler, “That’s hot-”

She stepped on the peg on the not hot side, hiked her sari up much too high, and swung her right leg over the seat, sat down, pulled the sari toward her knees and tried to wrap it just right, but knew he’d seen the bikini’s bottom under there.

He almost whistled as he turned his head to check on the girls as they yanked doors open and charged into Mitch’s car.

Nakshathra picked up her picnic basket and lugged it to the door, handed it to Jake when he reached for it.

Jake pulled the key from the ignition switch, flipped it on its key chain, climbed down, pushed his door closed, and locked it, flipped the key chain again, juggled the basket long enough to get the key into his shirt pocket and followed Nakshathra off to the side toward where Jack was helping Natasha climb onto the back of his bike. Nakshathra was looking toward her children when Natasha swung her leg over the back of Jack’s seat and Jake pursed his lips, almost said out loud, “Lookout Jack, somebody’s got plans for you-”

Jake and Nakshathra walked up to Jack, Natasha and the bike, Jake carrying the basket, Nakshathra holding his arm.

Jack pointed, “You’ll see it as soon as you get around that tree.”

Jake nodded, smiled.

Nakshathra glanced down at Natasha and tried to frown, “No woman in India would ride like this in a sari”

Natasha nodded.

Before Natasha could say, -but we’re not in India- are we? Jack – faceplate still up, nodded. “Not many guys in India would know how to ride this bike so slow she’ll never have to worry about any sudden gusts of wind blowing her composure to pieces.”

Natasha looked impressed.

Nakshathra nodded, “I’ll keep my eye on both of you.”

Jack nodded, saw that all of Mitch’s doors were closed and the Dodge was beginning to move forward- “Hang on tight-”

Natasha knew he’d pulled on the clutch and shifted into gear, she did hold on tight. Probably tighter than Nakshathra might have approved of, but her “cousin-in-law” was full of surprises and was nowhere near as prudish as she appeared when you first met her.

Natasha inhaled the smell of his leather jacket and closed her eyes as he eased forward.

Jack left the faceplate up and rolled forward about as slow as she could go without falling over, then sped up just a tiny bit as the approached a very slight incline.

Jake and Nakshathra moved off to the side as Mitch came up, almost as slowly as Jack and slowed down some more as he drove past them and followed Jack, up and around the tree he’d pointed to.

There was the house. The road went down and back up, over a hill and if they stopped there, they’d be about ten feet from the front door of a very unimposing building made of cement blocks with one dark window about four feet wide and maybe three feet high. The cement blocks reached out from the far right edge of the house, as they looked at it from the top of that hill, and then formed a protective wall that came, maybe four to six feet back toward the window.

Above the unimpressive block house Natasha could see a bit of reddish spanish tile type rounded tiles forming a bit of what might have been a slight angled pitch, and behind that she could see another, higher rooftop that looked like a highway bridge.

He didn’t stop there. The ‘improved’ gravel driveway went down and banked around to the left. He let the bike roll down slowly and leaned just a little with his left leg out in case she threw them off balance. But she leaned with him, almost like she knew what she was doing, and they came around to the side of the house, a whole level down, facing two set of open doors to a garage inside. Not garage doors, extra wide swinging doors. Jack gunned it just a bit and rolled up and inside to where they stopped on a concrete slab that had several grown-up hand prints and the date, a couple months less than two years ago to the day – He stopped the bike, put his legs out to balance it, reached down, turned the gas line off, waited until it gasped itself off and turned the key. Clicked the clutch back into gear, did not feel it lurch forward, turned his head, “Remember not to burn your pretty little ankle -” He tried to sound like John Wayne.

She laughed in spite of herself, hiked up her skirt, steadied herself with one hand on his shoulder as she stood and swung her leg back over the seat and stepped down, had herself all nicely covered and looking modest as all get out when Mitch’s car rolled down the hill and came to a stop.

“Is this it? Are we there now? Where’s the beach? I don’t see the beach.”

Natasha laughed.

Jack finished getting the bike up on its stand and secure, remembered his knapsack, almost panicked, remembered handing it to Mitch, who had popped it in his trunk.

This was a four car garage. Jack’s pickup and van were on the left, through the first set of really wide swinging doors. The bike was in the back of the right side. There was room for Mitch to drive in, but he’d stopped outside. Before she ran out to save Mitch and Brenda from the girls Jack pointed down to Natasha’s sandals, “I really like your sandals-”

She nearly blushed, “You do? Thanks -” and felt a flush of something. When she looked up into his eyes, it got worse. She swallowed, “I um- I gotta go keep those girls from driving them nuts-”

He nodded and smiled again.

Natasha almost forgot what she was about to do.

But Narayani pleaded, “Where’s the beach?”

Jack pointed, “Up that hill around in front of the house around and down, you can’t miss it. Do not get wet until your parents get here. If you see any alligators – run away-”

“Alligators?”

“The hippopotamuses are even more dangerous.”

“You didn’t tell us about the hippot-omusses-”

“Ooops-”

Nandani laughed and took Narayani’s hand, “There aren’t any hippos here-” They almost ran back up the hill looking like one strange being.

Natasha almost ran behind them, stopped, shrugged, looked at Jack, shook her head and sighed and began to slowly walk after them.

Jack walked toward Mitch’s car with his helmet under his arm. Mitch got out his side and walked around behind the trunk, handed Jack the key, “Close it when you’re through-” And continued around to open Brenda’s door and extend his hand as she stepped out of his car.

Jack unlocked the trunk and gave it a yank, ducked beneath the lid and reached for his knapsack, smiled when he could see them through the bit of a crack between the trunk lid and the fender on the right side of the car, “I guess maybe some things do work out okay – Dammit Mitch if this looks good to you go for it. She scared me to death, but maybe she’s what you need right now-” he muttered so even he could barely hear what he was thinking – almost out loud.

Yup, everything was still in his knapsack. He popped his helmet into the wide section, pulled the strap, put it through the buckle, picked the knapsack up by its straps, pulled the trunk down, walked toward Mitch with the key in one hand and the knapsack in the other-

Mitch reached back and Jack handed him the key, then he realized he was standing in the sun and set the knapsack down, unzipped the jacket and pulled it off before he was entirely drenched in perspiration.

“I probably even have a spare bathing suit that might fit you, Mitch -” he grinned.

Mitch never looked away from gazing into Brenda’s eyes, but he did nod, “What?”

“I don’t think we want to go skinny dipping and scare poor Jake’s kids to death.”

Mitch laughed, “Are you kidding? If I know kids they’re more likely to die laughing. – Yeah, spare bathing suit? In my size?”

“Probably – But -” Jack pointed back up the hill in front of his house, “Jake and Mrs Jake are almost here -” Jack picked up his knapsack and jogged up the hill.

Brenda pulled Mitch’s arm around her shoulder and reached around his back and they started up the hill in nowhere near the hurry that Jack at least seemed to be in.

Jack reached the end of the walkway from his front door to the road at the top of the hill and could see Jake and Nakshathra climbing toward him. They looked like they were in about the same state of mind as Mitch and Brenda. Jack sighed, “Must be contagious-” took a few steps and looked down in front of the south face of his ‘house’.

After Jack had asked Jake, last year, what he knew about stucco and troweled cement. He started working on that side of his ‘bunker’/’fallout shelter’ house.

The solid rock on the south side extended about eight feet out from the south wall of the house. He’d already built the deck that covered that eight feet, and chiseled the channel through the rock down to about four feet above the pool- down just below the level of the pool he’d pounded and chiseled out of the ‘solid rock’ that had filled with water when they discovered his stream. He could now divert the cold water out through that channel, across the ‘intentional’ waterfall and down into the pool all summer and winter, he could keep most of the really cold water inside in the summer and let the slightly warm water out and down and splash into the pool in the summer. He could heat the indoor pool and keep it clean all winter, last year and this with the hidden pool filter and chemicals, maybe next year he’d try that experimental salt water stuff that Jake had told him he heard of somewhere. This year, there were still enough chemicals around to keep the outdoor pool clean and healthy. At least that was the theory. He’d extended the deck out a couple more feet and added an elaborate and almost raccoon proof fence leaning out away from the deck. Raccoons were smart they climbed the hill, climbed a tree and dropped down on the deck and tried to get in through his patio doors to see if there was anything edible in there. Then Jack put a radio out on the deck tuned to the only all night talk radio station he could pull in, and put a couple scarecrow – like dummies out there on the the chaise lounge and one of the chairs and watched them move and almost gesture when the wind was right. He changed their clothes every now and then – dressed them in clothes the other band members had left behind, and hadn’t washed since 1969. And – since he’d rigged the overhanging roof over the deck – the dummies almost never got wet when it rained. He never heard their teeth chattering when it snowed, even when a couple storms blew snow up onto the deck that half covered the poor guys. But they were tough, at least they never complained out loud to him.

He could see down past the waterfall, to the mill-like spillway that carried water from behind the waterfall to turn a very basic bicycle wheel water wheel connected by a bicycle chain to a sprocket that spun an old six volt generator, that could light up the world with old six volt car headlights, and a bunch of old stop lights and blinkers and interior lights behind bits of colored plastic that could almost transform a snow storm into fairy land and delight the hell out of renegade skinny dippers who’d learn how to get into his locked control panel and turn everything on. The waterfall could shine out red and blue and green and yellow, and purple and even alternate through all those colors all night. And that generator would probably never burn out – it was made during World War II when planned obsolescence would have been tantamount to treason.

Natasha and the girls finished walking all the way around the pool. It certainly was ‘beach like’ enough to pass Narayani’s inspection. Mostly solid stone smoothed out as well as he could get it, then a little bit of poured concrete- Twenty feet wide with ten feet of beach between the waterfall and the pool, a little bit of green, mostly moss and a bit of grass that didn’t grow enough to say so- between the waterfall and the steps down from the hill in front of the house.

Jake and Nakshathra reached his side at about the same time Mitch and Brenda came up behind.

“You’re right.” Jake pointed beyond the deck, between the deck and the roof overhang, “It looks like natural stone. But how did you get that patio door into a solid stone wall?” He looked like he wanted to slap Jack on the shoulder.

Jack shrugged, “I had a lotta help with that.”

The girls came running with Natasha, still in her sari trying not to run after them, “Can we go swimming now? Has it been an hour since we ate?”

Their mother looked at her wrist, “You know what? Three girls drove me so crazy in their hurry to get ready and come here – I forgot my watch -”

Two of the groaned and looked like their lives were about to end in tears. Jake showed his wife his watch, she nodded, “Five more minutes.”

Nandani smiled, Nalini sighed, Narayani looked like she was about to fall to pieces, “Five more minutes, that’s forever!”

Natasha climbed up the stone steps and smiled, “Go count to fifty thousand, it will be over before you know it.”

“Fifty thousand, that’s almost a million!”

Natasha nodded, “Yep, almost-”

Narayani looked like she’d die on the spot.

“You’re wearing your bathing suits? You have your towels. I bet that by the time you run over there behind that beautiful flowering bush and take off your outside clothes and walk back with your towels it will almost be five minutes,” their mother smiled.

“You didn’t find any alligators or hippopotamuses did you?”

“No – there’s no such thing as hoppopittimouses in Vermant!” Narayan pronounced. And stamped her foot to prove it.

The girls ran back down the stairs. Narayani almost tripped, Jack winced, “I should have covered the stone with rubber-”

Jake laughed, shook his head, “If you did that I know one little girl who would never bother trying to become graceful and coordinated.”

“I better go down there with them-” the girls mother turned to Natasha, “Are you coming with me?”

Natasha glanced toward Jack and frowned, shrugged and began to follow her ‘cousin-in-law’ down the steps again.

“I’m going to show the guys my house-” Jack called after Nakshathra.

She turned and nodded, “And you can show me later-”

Natasha hesitated one step.

“I want to see it to-” Brenda didn’t want to move more than a few inches away from Mitch.

“Me too -” Natasha turned and started back up the few steps she’d descended behind Nakshathra, “Nakshi- I’m going with the tour of the house.”

“Okay -” Nakshathra waved, but kept her eyes on her kids, “Girls – look out for bees -”

Jack shrugged and blew a long slow breath through parsed lips as he turned toward the patio doors. “I really should start you guys off at the front door, but that’s locked and we’re here.”

“You don’t lock your patio door?” Brenda sounded like she thought he must be crazy.

Jack reached into his knapsack, one of the small side pockets, pulled out a set of keys, “It’s locked -” He separated two keys from the rest and walked to the left side of the patio doors, knelt down, moved a piece of wood that looked like a bit of natural knotty pine, put one key in the slot that revealed and pointed to a broom stick that was jammed in the pathway of the outside door, keeping it from sliding – keeping it from opening. When he turned the key the broomstick fell into a slot that was deeper than it looked, when he turned the key the other way the broomstick rose again and blocked the door from being able to move. So he turned the key back the other way again and watched the broomstick fall into the groove.”

“Was that your idea? Did you come up with that yourself?” Natasha asked.

“Um,” Jack nodded, “Me and two or three other crazy hippies. I said there oughtta be something like that and one crazy hippy was an engineer, went home and worked out the theory and another guy was a carpenter, and another guy had a sheet metal shop. So we probably wasted about thirty bucks worth of sheet metal and a couple broom handles before we got it anything like right, and then had to work out the mechanism and work on that for about a month. And then the carpenter came up with the piece of knotty pine with a magnetic ‘knot’ so it doesn’t just pop out all the time, you have to know the trick. So it cost me about forty bucks worth of materials and I had to give the carpenter about twenty bucks so he could buy marijuana and smoke it over there because I finally convinced him I’m allergic to the stuff…”
“I never heard of anybody being allergic to marijuana.”

Jack sighed, “One of these days, wait a minute, how old are you?”

“Old enough -”

“She’s seventeen,” Brenda blurted.

Natasha pretended to be angry and stuck her tongue out and Brenda.

Brenda glanced at Mitch, laughed and stuck her own tongue out at Natasha.

Natasha grinned.

Jack let the ‘knot’ fall back into place with a definite ‘clack’ and moved to the patio doors’ more conventional lock.

“Netasha dahlink-” Jack might have borrowed Jake’s accent, or tried to be Boris ‘Badenough’ from the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, “Sometime ven you are bored heff to death you come ask me about vy I’m don’t likink marijuana – I promise thet story could curl your hair, or maybe bore you all the vay to death.”

She laughed, turned to Jake, “You two from the same village?”

Jack unlocked the patio door, slid it open stepped inside, sniffed, shrugged, “Okay, nothing crawled in here and died in the last couple days, velcome to my humble abode, bwahahahahahah” he hunched down and rubbed his hands together like a perfect mad scientist, or a mad scientists’ twisted assistant, “Walk this way-” he waddled like a character in a scary, or silly movie-

They stepped inside.

There were on the stone walk between the raised kitchen and the indoor pool. Ahead, even in the half light, they could see the living room with its electric blue naugahyde floor covering, the complete wall of cabinets beyond the naugahyde the couple three feet wide windows that were less than a foot tall, above the garage- The brick work around the wood stove on the wide bit of stone covered floor between the naugahyde and the edge of the pool.

The ‘famous indoor pool’ was about six feet wide and maybe twelve feet long. Jack flipped a switch a series of small green lights around the edge of the pool lit the water up green. Another switch and blue plastic covered 6 volt headlights shining down from the ceiling pierced the water to its plain white bottom. Natasha walked over to the pool, knelt down the way she’d seen a flight stewardess do in a movie and put her finger in the water, “Cool – not cold -”

“If I move the right levers – this water will be about thirty five degrees Fahrenheit in about ten minutes. It gets nippy in here. And clammy- Then I light a fire -” he pointed to the wood stove, “and flip a couple more levers and I can have it hot and steamy in about half an hour.”

Natasha turned and glanced toward the kitchen – and did a double take. The ‘raised kitchen’ was four feet higher than this room. It had a half wall around this side of most of it with a chocolate brown stained set of wood shingles. Up in the kitchen she could see a huge black stove – a hint of a refrigerator, a set of shelves with Pennsylvania Dutch plates standing on their sides, and below the kitchen there were several boxes, a couple wooden desks, a couch, a couple mattresses- and between the living room floor and the kitchen there was a set of steps that almost looked like a ladder, about three feet wide with the usual flat stair treads but nothing but air between the steps and behind them- they did have two brass railings at just the right angle- “Wow-”

Jack pointed under the kitchen, “Don’t look, that’s storage, other people’s junk. They told me I could keep the desks and I might, but I also might have sand them down, disinfect and re-stain them or have a witchdoctor or two do some kind of crazy dance before believe their vibrations are healthy enough for me to sit at them and let my imagination go -”

Jake grinned, raised his hands and did a little dance, “Ugga wonga, bugga bugga, go away evil vibrations- shooo!” he grinned, shrugged, “Looks okay to me-”

Jack nodded, shrugged, “Okay, The kitchen’s up there because we built that first. The stove came later, the other furniture came even later. We thought we could dig a nice basement on this side and there’s a long weird story about why a bunch of construction guys lied to their wives and came out here every saturday for two months. And a lot of the stuff they carted out here and gave me for free, was stuff that had been rejected and replaced. Like the roof over our heads, I bet you noticed the steel I beams – That’s a bridge- But the bridge had an accident on it’s way to the highway up around White River Junction and instead of being two lanes and two breakdown lanes wide, it lost one of the break down lanes and one of the I beams. Insurance paid to replace it and the company I worked for for a couple months carted this part away and they didn’t know how they could get rid of it, until, okay, Natasha, if you’re too young for this, close your ears -”

She held her hands up around her ears so she could hear every word loud and clear, “Okay -”

He chuckled, “I worked for the company that was building the nuclear power plant down in Greenfield. The inspectors came through, okayed everything, stamped their approval on everything and went away happy. The engineers looked at their blue prints, and counted on their fingers and realized they had about -” he pointed – “one fallout shelter looking house worth of too many special cement blocks left over and poured over those blue prints until one guy almost threw up. They were supposed to have built another wall around the reactor, put down another sheet of lead and built that second wall, but they hadn’t. They got out their slide rules and their calculators and went nuts for a couple days and measured the thickness of the lead that was there, discovered it was twice as thick as they originally ordered, played with their slide rules and calculators some more and sighed. They then rushed to some guy who bashed out a new set of blueprints to match what they had done and got some guy at a post office to postmark an envelope those blueprints supposedly came in back a year and a half, and told the construction company to lose those effing blocks and that blank blank lead or they’d never get another contract this side of hell.”

Scared bosses came to me on a Saturday, overtime, morning and said, “Did you say you have a couple acres up in the hills? We gotta get rid of some stuff before the inspectors come back and we’re desperate.”

“I said, Sure-”

“So I got paid time and a half that day to sit in the lead truck while two more truck loads of stuff and a van full of guys came up here, when it was a whole lot easier to find this place, and we didn’t have a phone, and the bosses all stayed back at the job and patted themselves on the back for having squeaked through a possible fiasco-” Jack looked at Natasha, and then Brenda, “Stop me if this gets past your comfort boundaries – We got here and there were half a dozen young women, the few who came with us and the friends we made in town, out lying around what is now the beach area- toplessly sunning themselves. Nobody told me, but they’d smoked enough powerful weed so they were slightly out of it.

“I saw them and yelled, ‘Hey girls, we got company-‘ They smiled and stood up and the guys all showed up at once. The girls waved and the guys nearly passed out. One of our women called out, ‘Oh, you guys working, don’t mind us -‘ and I think one of the local girls was topless and just wearing white almost see through underwear. I want to tell you, I had one happy crew, and nobody quite died from eyestrain, they took as much time as they could to unload everything and on the way back to Greenfield, asked me if that went on all the time up there. I shrugged, “Often enough.” And one guy leans forward and says, “Hey listen, they told us we won’t have to work Saturdays after this. Do you need any help out here, we can build your house, we can dig you a cellar hole, just never tell our wives that there is no more Saturday overtime and we’ll do it for freakin free-” – Jack grinned,

“When I got home I told one of the women and she thought that was a lark and recruited even more local women to come sunbathe on a saturday, and they made lemonade and served it to guys who could have drunk stale swamp water and thought it was the sweetest stuff they’d every swallowed- We got the kitchen built, blocks all the way around, they brought the big piece of overhead bridge up over night one Friday and I don’t know how they managed but they got it here and got it in place, and a couple of the girls even invited a couple guys to come skinny dipping with them. I think two marriages resulted from that. I think they’re still married.

“Anyway, they got a permit and brought dynamite one saturday and wanted to blow through the stone and build me a nice basement, but their kaboom unleashed a nice gush of underwater spring water and their hole filled immediately. The guys were crushed, The two that got married needed big time consolation from their skinny dipping local bunnies, and then it rained for two weeks in a row and then the company laid everybody off and a couple of them came around anyway, The carpenter paid me to help with a couple jobs, the sheet metal discovered he loved getting stoned more than he liked drinking- One of those guys knew this hippy mechanic in Brattleboro who had a pickup truck for sale that I might be able to afford, and here we are.

“After the big piece of bridge over our heads was firmly in place and securely welded and supported by solid stone over there and built up stone and block walls over there, which is where the back wall of the kitchen went – and they got one of their engineers out here, he pronounced that I could have a herd of elephants charge over my roof every day of the week and twice on Sunday and that roof wasn’t going nowhere. The South wall was solid, the kitchen was solid the floor around what is now my indoor pool was almost level to there- I put up a lot of plywood on that side and started digging rocks and dirt out of there myself with a backhoe that one of the guys let me take when it wasn’t rented out for real money. He came here looking for topless girls and felt sorry for me when they’d all gone away. I told him they went back to New York City when they ran out of marijuana, he said I should have told him he knows a guy who grows his own all around every other farm in the area’s fields and nobody know the difference. But anyway I let him think I was crushed and he let me use the backhoe for nothing, even taught me how to use it without killing myself and then some guy from the company, not a big boss, came back and said he had a piece of bridge from one job that he shouldn’t have and it should fit right in there, and he looked at my basement work on that side and said, “You better tear them plywood walls down and get yourself built in good before winter, and he delivered the bridge and fit it in place with a couple temporary rows of highway blocking concrete stuff and then came back with several big truckloads of stone and brick that wasn’t in perfect condition, I’d have to whack bits of mortar away and work on it day and night- and the carpenter came along about a week after somebody sent me a check for ten thousand dollars for work I’d done on an ‘unsaleable house’ over in New York State – The carpenter came around and told me he hadn’t been around for a while because he’d had this crazy customer demand a lot of work and he couldn’t stand the idea of no hippies getting high on something and building stuff that would fall apart, and insisted he build the stuff on his property where he could watch him, and then when it was all finished and cost the carpenter over a thousand dollars the crazy guy said no no no, it’s all wrong take that shit out of here and I never wanna see your freakin ugly face again, and the carpenter said after a loss like that he probably wouldn’t be able to pay me to help him for a while/ He apologized profusely, looked at my plywood back wall and the mountain of recycled brick and stone and said, whatcha got here? – So I showed him – That whole side of the house was still wobbly- but we walked carefully around, he got out his tape measure, laughed, “Them cabinets would be almost a perfect fit over here. Not quite- I said I could pay him, I’d just got paid for a job I’d done a couple years ago, I felt awful and told him I’d gotten half of what I’d really been paid- he said for A thousand and a half, he would recoup his losses and be able to feed his family for most of the coming winter, her figured- And there would surely be more work – he could almost always find work, people knew him and knew he did good work.

“The kitchen was just hanging in the air over there. With a step ladder between here and there,” Jack watched Natasha walk up the stairs into the kitchen and Brenda followed and Mitch was still attached to Brenda, didn’t quite fit up the stairs beside her as an attached being, but stayed half a step behind and in constant contact with her. Jake followed Mitch and Jack hopped up behind them. The carpenter helped me finish this false wall around the kitchen, helped me brace it ‘way above code’ underneath, built the stairs, knew the guy who had the brass railings, from a bar he’d demolished, used to be the foot rail, all sanded down and re-polished. The stove came from a restaurant that ‘upgraded’ to what the demolition guy said was a piece of shit that wouldn’t last ten years. The refrigerator is from a travel trailer and runs on gas or electricity, I got a back up heater from the guy who sold me the fridge, and a nice big gas canister outside certified in “A-1 perfeck condition” by a fire inspector. We built that shelf unit here, the plates were a present from the carpenter’s wife who was tickled pink that I had enough money to keep them out of the poor house ‘after that friggin idiot tried to put them there’, her words exactly.”

Natasha walked to the built in table and sat at one of the built in benches. She looked under the table at the bark that was still there, around the edges – under several coats of shining clear varathane.

Jack nodded, “Carpenter – he knew somebody who knew somebody who had these beautiful slabs big enough. We went out and chose this one, brought it to the carpenter’s work shop and sanded, then put about twenty layers of varathane down, always sanding and smoothing it out before the next coat -”

“It’s beautiful, the benches too?”

Jack shook his head, “Same Idea, different guy, same carpenter. This guy charged about half what the table guy charged. But the table guy had slabs this big and the honest guy didn’t. The wood shingles on the other side of that wall were left over from a job the carpenter did and the stain was left over from another – my photographer friend from the big city came out here and took photos and did an article in a magazine about the guy’s work and he gets calls from New York all the time, can make enough money on one table like this to take on two or three jobs a year and kick back and watch his grass grow the rest of the time.”

Jake looked like he had a question, “What happened to all that lead you mentioned?”

Jack grinned, “You’re standing on it. It’s underneath this end of the floor, straight down outside the blocks below ground level and around and back that way under the lowest course of blocks., then down and around and out in a room behind the garage. The sheet metal guy helped me bend it and push it into shape in case the stream ever decides to over flow, the lead might keep most of it outside the house and maybe even away from the garage.

Jack started back down the stairs, sat sideways and rode the bannister down, “Come on I’ll show you the rest.”

Natasha looked tempted to ride the bannister down herself, but decided that might not be all that brilliant while she was wearing the beautiful and delicate sari.

Jack took a couple steps into the ‘living room’ bounced on the blue naugahyde and did a somersault. Natasha, right behind him, stepped on it and then backed off, demurely knelt down again and felt it – Wrinkled her nose.

“Inch and a half foam rubber. I have a nine by twelve mattress on the floor here. Judo guys love me and wanted to know who made it and how much they charged.” Jack grinned, raised his right hand, “I’m sworn to secrecy, she’s afraid the ASPCA might come after her for her cruelty to those poor naugas-” he laughed. “She lives a couple towns up. She made the first version of this with a red naugahyde cover. Then her dog ripped that to shreds when we left him here and went out to rescue somebody with a real emergency one night. When we got back and she saw the mess and wanted to cry I shrugged and admitted I didn’t like red, it looked too much like blood, and I’d seen a couple too many bodies with blood all over the place. She asked me what color I liked, I said blue, either dark blue, electric blue or Indigo blue and she had the electric blue-” he grinned at Natasha who thought he was grinning about her bikini. “She brought the stuff here and sewed it together and then helped me find the best foam rubber at the lowest price and bought it to fit and helped me roll it into place, then sewed the last few bits up and I was almost afraid she was thinking she’d move in with me and when I asked her what she wanted for all this, after I did pay her the first time, she said, “I saw you stand up for that gay guy in Bellows Falls last month. He’s my brother. This one’s on me. I’ll just never let him forget it.” and she grinned. I asked if she at least wanted a hug and she said yes, but I shouldn’t get any ideas from that, she was a confirmed Lesbian, gave me a really nice hug, said that might have been the best hug she ever got from a guy, and shrugged and said, ‘Yeah, I come from a really effed up family-‘ laughed pointed, “Even my friggin dog is gay-” and she later told me the person we went out and saved that night was her ex- who had this stupid habit of dressing like a man and walking into a bar and picking fights to see if she was tough enough. We brought her to an emergency room with broken ribs and a leg broken in two places. I had no idea she was a woman until the doctor told me. I think he was relieved that I looked shocked.” Jack shrugged, okay, over here -” Jack walked toward the entryway.

Natasha walked to the cabinets, “Wait a minute, you’ve got a stream running around the room back here on top of your cabinets?”

Jack nodded, “Yup- I like the way it gurgles. I haven’t had any trouble getting to sleep since I put that there.”

“Where does it come from? Where does it go?”

“Uh, remember the unintentional waterfall? That was what happened when they dynamited over there. It’s not quite an artesian well, but there’s enough pressure, I got it capped, have no trouble with getting enough pressure to the sink or the bathroom or the shower or over here, where I keep it from building up pressure by running it through a pipe under there around and up here, and through these cinder blocks that were broken – I worked them down to almost uniform size, coated them with clear rubber, have the water running slightly downhill all the way around, worked in a couple little gurgling rapids to chirp me to sleep – and then it goes down over there and under there and along and comes out as the intentional waterfall outside.”

“Where do you sleep?” Brenda wondered.

Jack pointed to the blue naugahyde and the huge bean bag chairs lying around, “Anywhere I feel like.”

“That’s it? Do you expect any woman to want to move in with you?”

“I would -” Natasha raised her hand, “Just ask -” she grinned.

Jack let his jaw fall open as he gasped in Jake’s direction, “Help -”

Jake shook his head and sighed, “Not my problem, but I think you better wait until she’s eighteen or my uncle might show up with his bolt cutters and he promises he won’t cut bolts with them.”

“My father’s a psychotic drunk -” Natasha growled.

“Yeah, that too -” Jake agreed.

“So’s mine -” Jack reached for Natasha’s hand, and when she let him take it, kissed the back of her knuckles, “Any time you need a safe place and if you can’t find Jake, find me. Sometimes I really don’t know how I survived my childhood.”

She squeezed his hand, smiled, became acutely aware that her cousin was in the room, squeezed again and let go, “Jake, if I run away and I’m not at your doorstep, look for me here, until next year –“ she winked at Jack. Then her eyes darkened, “My father’s said a dozen times that the day I’m eighteen I’m on my own, he doesn’t give a you know what whether I’m a boy or a girl, eighteen and out-”

“Yeah and two days later he’ll be crying and hugging the hell out of you and saying you’re his little girl and he loves you so much and if anything happens to you or anything comes between you and him he won’t know what to do, he’ll want to lay down and die -”

“Yeah, and I don’t know which is worse.”

Jack opened the door to the entry way, “Um – front door-” he pointed, “Natasha, the emergency key is behind the brick that says, “Beware of Dog!” just pull it out, you’ll trigger a recording of a dog who sounds like he’s about eight feet tall and really angry, don’t worry, just reach inside and grab the key-” The door was up on the same level with the kitchen there was a small window in the block wall looking out to the south. There was also a built in wooden bench on that south wall with several pairs of shoes, including snow boots and work boots, beneath that bench, There was another, wider bench against the west wall up on that level, with more shoes and boots beneath it. Then several steps down to the level they were on, and two doors to the north. “Tell the kids this is my skeleton closet,” he opened the door on the eastern side of that wall. “That’s a genuine fire pole from a genuine demolished fire hall. There was supposed to be kind of -” he cupped his fingers together, “um, membrane thing that opens when enough weight is on the pole opens like a camera lens only straight down, not curling around? The demolition guy never got that part. I didn’t either – but there is a nice rubber pad down the bottom. Like I said, don’t tell the kids, I’ll be giving them rides down my pole until I drop dead and Narayani will probably kick me and tell me to get back up, she isn’t finished yet.”

Jake winced, “I told her not to kick anybody -”

“But do they listen?” Jack grinned.

Jack and Jake shook their heads in tandem, “Never -”

Natasha laughed, Jack closed that door, opened the other one, “This is the stairway down to the garage. Everybody but Jake’s seen almost all there is to see down there.” He looked at Jake – “Do you want to go down there now, or should we worry about your wife and kids?”

“I can go later when we show Nakshathra around, did you say something about a bathroom?” Jake held up the towel and the bathing suite that was wrapped up inside it.

“Oh, sorry-” Jack took a step backward and opened another door, not quite in the entryway, along the south, that would be beside the kitchen- “Bathroom, shower, sink toilet, I soak in the pool and can control the temperature there pretty well.”

Natasha leaned beneath Jack’s arm and looked inside, “Nice- I like the wood- he’s got an all wood bathroom, I mean the sink is whatever sinks are made of, and so’s the toilet, but the walls are all really nice wood. And it even smells nice-”

Jack moved and Brenda leaned in over Natasha, inhaled and smiled, turned to Mitch, “It does smell nice-”

“Cedar – and whatever that potpourri stuff is that my lesbian friend gave me when she saw me on the Fourth of July up in Bellows Falls.”

Jake waved his towel in the air, “Anybody need to use the facilities? I need to change.”

Jack called out, “Jake, we like you just the way you are-”

Natasha laughed.

Brenda and Natasha backed away from the bathroom door and let Jake inside.

Mitch cleared his throat, “I’ll probably need to change when he’s finished, did you say something about spare bathing suits?”

Jack led them to the cabinets along the bit of floor between the naugahyde floor and the the cabinets, pulled open a drawer in the third or fourth cabinet down, grinned, “Take your pick-”

“These all yours?”

Jack shook his head, but they’ve all been disinfected and thoroughly laundered and hung out in the bright Vermont sun to soak in the healing rays and then shaken to make sure no bugs crawled in.”

Mitch laughed, looked at Brenda, “Do you have a favorite color?”

Natasha took a half dancing step, “What should I do with my sari?” she tipped her head sideways when she knew she had his attention.

“Um, – inside -” he pointed to the other side of the pool, The tall cabinets over there are kind of linen closets, but not quite, the one in the middle has hangars and hooks, the idea was, if we ever had a pool party in here, they might come in handy, – oh Mitch, there’s another bathroom on the other side of the pool, that door down there. Another toilet, another shower, another sink and just enough room to turn around in the middle.” Jack grinned at Natasha, “Same basic design as that bathroom.”

Natasha kissed him on the cheek and hopped over to the tall cabinets, opened the middle one, “This is a wardrobe-”

“Yeah, that works -”

Natasha swirled out of her sari and folded it over the first hangar she reached for, and grabbed.

Mitch, who was about a foot away from her as she stood there in her bikini almost fell into the pool.

When they walked past her, Natasha turned to smile at Jack, who couldn’t help but notice, “Wow-”

She held her arms out, “You like?”

He nodded, “Eighteen next year?” he swallowed,

“I think sixteen is the age of consent – just don’t tell my father and I won’t-” she stood there looking like she wished she had the nerve to run over to him and throw her arms around him. But then Jake came around the corner behind Jack and Natasha rolled her eyes and threw her towel around her back and let it drape down in front of her, pretty much hiding her behind terry cloth.

Jack looked at Jake, “Help?”

Jake laughed, “Don’t look at me, you’re on your own. I heard her say something about the age of consent – I don’t know for sure, but I think she’s right-” He grinned and waved to his cousin, “Be nice to him, you know how fragile these guys can be -” and escaped through the patio door.

Jack sighed, walked back to the drawer Mitch had chosen a bathing suit from, glanced back at Natasha, “Should I ask you to help me pick one of these?”

She grinned and hopped, almost pranced over to him, “I don’t know, I’ve never seen you half naked, what do you look like under there?”

“I do not need your cousin chasing me around with an axe -”

“You heard him, he basically said go for it -”

Jack nodded, “Just don’t let the girls have any idea what’s going on, and be really discrete around Brenda and Mitch. Brenda takes her reputation as a teacher really seriously, and if she thinks you’re too young, she might feel compelled to spiral down into a tirade about morality or something like that.”

“Do you think I’m too young?”

“Seventeen?” he shook his head, “When I was seventeen I knew I was more mature than my father ever would be, hell I knew that when I was fourteen. When I was fifteen I was probably emotionally ninety five one minute and six years old the next – Seventeen?” He winced, “When I was seventeen my high school sweetheart made me promise we’d make love within a couple days of graduation.”

“Did you?”

He shook his head, “She was murdered before that.”

“Oh my God, I’m sorry-”

He shook his head, “Don’t let this scare you to death, but I see a lot of her in you, her father was the kindest, sweetest most intelligent adult I ever met, but her mother was a psychotic political extremist and a rabid social climber who’d told her daughter that she should have let that rich kid rape her.”

“Shit -”

Jack nodded, “So – if you let me know later that you really want to, I can’t say no – Just go easy on my heart, it breaks easy.”

“So’s mine -”

“Does it come back stronger?”

She shook her head, “Do you have to listen to that bullshit too, No it doesn’t -” but then she thought about something, “But spending a couple weeks with my cousin and his family up here – I mean, I thought my life was over, nobody’d ever look at me again, no guy would ever want me after my last loser of a boy friend – well, screwed me over and bragged about it to all his friends, and they all wanted the same treatment – I’ve got another year of high school and I don’t want to go back there -”

“Jake knows all this?”

She nodded, “He’s got his girls bouncing on my bed every morning telling me I’m the most beautiful american looking cousin they’ve got. And after a couple days I started to think I must just live another week or two, and when you looked at me, just right, I knew I was ready, not to commit anything with you or anybody, but to try again and hope for the best.” she picked up a deep blue speedo that almost matched her bikini, grinned and handed it to him.

“This?”

She nodded, “I love that you let me choose-”

He sighed, raised his eyebrows, sighed again, “Okay, I’ll be a minute-” He pointed to the bathroom Jake had just used.

She grabbed his arm, “Can I watch?”

He blinked, his mouth moved a couple times before any words came out, “You’re serious?”

She nodded.

He winced.

“You’re the first guy who treated me like I might actually have a mind in here -” she pointed at her head from both sides, “And this is something I’ve wanted to do for years, but I never trusted any guy enough to say so, I want to watch you take your clothes off. Is that so weird?”

Jack looked like his mouth might flap open and shut for several minutes before any sound came out, then he sighed, “No, probably not weird at all.”

She lowered her voiced, “I mean you were in a freakin rock and roll band, I know you had dozens of girls walk up to you and rip their own clothes off, offer you whatever you wanted and thought they were getting the better end of that deal- Just once, do a favor for a fucked up chick from Flushing who really loved your albums?”

He started for the bathroom, held up his finger, “One, the second one isn’t out yet.”

“Yes it is – How can you not know that, it’s like number four on the charts in new york city already -” He beckoned for her to follow him, thought he could hear somebody wrestling with the door handle in the bathroom where Brenda had pushed Mitch and followed him inside, “Come on, you know I’m gonna feel really weird about this -”

She grinned and almost ran after him.

Mitch caught a glimpse of Natasha’s back as she stood there hanging up her sari and he almost jumped back, almost fell into Jack’s indoor pool.

Brenda caught him and steadied, him pointed him toward the bathroom and almost pushed him halfway there.

He managed to turn around and gasped.

She did push him into the bathroom and closed the door, “Holy shit-” he whispered, “I never thought I’d see a suit like that over here in this country -”

“You’ve been to other countries?”

He nodded.

“Which ones?”

France, Italy, England, Israel, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan -”

“You’ll have to tell me all about that.”

He nodded, “I probably will -”

“You like women who wear that kind of thing?”

He looked like he thought if he said the wrong thing he’d regret it for the rest of his life.

“Would you like me in a suit like that?”

He glanced down at her, she pulled her blouse tight the way Natasha had.

His eyes widened, he began to nod slowly, “I think you would probably be a real knock out in something like that.”

“Turn around-”

“What?” The wrong kind of apprehension hit him, what if this was a bloody foreign agent, a hit man for some drug smuggling organization.

“Turn around, I’m wearing the same sort of suit in green, Natasha talked me into it, I thought you’d think I was, well, immoral-”

“Green?” He imagined her in a green bikini that was THAT small, turned around willingly. He heard clothing coming off.

She laughed and draped her blouse over his head –

He inhaled and loved the way it smelled.

She took an awfully long time behind his back, he started to worry again, maybe he’d right the first time.

Then she pulled her blouse back, “Okay, you can turn around now- but I warn you, if you laugh or say anything nasty, I’ll fall down dead right here. I’m still not sure about this.”

He turned around.

She was hiding behind her blouse.

He looked into her eyes.

She let her arms drop, held the blouse behind her back.

His eyes did pop about a quarter inch out of their sockets, or close enough, “Wow – How is someone this beautiful not married?”

She looked like she was about to cry – “Because the right guy never asked.” She took his left hand and inspected his ring finger, no sign of a ring, “How about you?”

He winced, nodded, “I had a wife, I had a daughter. They’re both dead.”

“What happened?”

“Israel, my wife was an idealist. She went to live on a Kibbutz. Too close to the wrong border. There was a cross border raid and they were both tortured and butchered. Six year old daughter, twenty six year old wife.”

“Oh my God, I’m sorry. I mean, was it long enough so you’re over it?”

“You never get over something like this.” He looked down at her, “And maybe you don’t deserve to believe you’ll always be competing with a ghost, but we found something today, something that makes me believe I can actually start to live again and get beyond that -”

“Are you Jewish?” She asked.

“I was brought up Jewish- Everybody told me I was Jewish, I had a bar mitzvah I went to temple and synagogue almost every week for nineteen years, I married a Jewish woman, I had a Jewish baby, lately I’ve seen some things, learned some things I don’t know what I am. I might be more Jewish than the government in Israel – I don’t know anymore.”

“Me too -”

“You too – What?”

“Jewish, Brenda Fischer -” She began to speak through her nose, with the accent, “Grew up on ‘Lon G’Island’ took a lot of voice lessons to lose that accent. Think you could love a Jewish American Princess from Long Island?”

“I think I already do -”

She didn’t say, ‘good answer,’ but she almost raped him on the spot, threw her arms around his neck and jumped toward his mouth, banged against the door a couple times, but didn’t care.

He clutched her butt, he pulled her against him like he’d never pulled anybody. He pushed his hand beneath the bikini top. He hoped he hadn’t torn it. They kissed long and deep and then he pushed himself back, gasped and looked around the small bathroom, “Do you really want to do it, right here?”
She winced, she stepped back, she pulled the bikini top back into place, not that it hid anything, but- she sighed, “Oh God, can we hold off and behave ourselves for a couple hours, Then you take me home and – God, what a night we have ahead of us.”

He nodded, “Yes, I agree – is it your turn to turn around?”

“Do you want I should step outside?”

He shook his head, “I never want to let you out of my sight -”

Natasha was still grinning, burst into the bathroom ahead of him, looked around, wondered if there was enough room for her to sit on the toilet and watch, or should she jump up on the sink? She looked at the sink, it had steel legs supporting it. She shrugged, turned around and leaned back, actually liked the cold feel of porcelain against her backside.

“What if you think I’m too thin?”

“Too thin? At least you aren’t no fat slobbering drunk -”

He winced, shook his head, “Please, tell me that never happened -”

She shrugged, “Maybe, I don’t think so Somebody got me drunk once, I didn’t wake up pregnant, but I sweated that one out for six months. You know you can worry yourself into skipping – How would you know that?”

He nodded, “Sisters -”

“You have one of those?”

“Two,” he saw himself in the mirror with the reflection of her back, he didn’t quite wince this time, “I never thought I’d be getting undressed in a bathroom with a seventeen year old knock out smiling at me.”

She chuckled, sounded like almost involuntarily, “Want me to frown?” she tried to pull the corners of her mouth down.

He closed his eyes and sighed, unbuttoned his shirt, tried to act like his imagination of a stripper might, then just took it off and folded it, hung it over the towel rack.

She grinned. Pursed her lips, looked toward his crotch, raised her eyebrows, “Oh god, you’re wearing boots, do you need help with those?”

Maybe not -” he leaned back against the wall picked up one leg, turned his ankle slightly sideway, “I can’t promise my feet won’t stink- same boots, same socks for two days now -”

“I’ve smelled worse, this is something that is so much something I’ve always wanted to do, that I won’t let a little stink get in my way.” she grinned, “Besides, you aren’t too thin – Jack, I can’t stand muscle bound morons – you’re okay -”

He pulled one boot off, and the sock, there was a smell, maybe it worried him a lot more than it bothered her. She grinned and picked up the pot pouri sachet, held it near her nose, her eyes sparkled and she laughed, “Only kidding, but hey, this thing does smell nice.”

“Next time I see my lesbian friend I’ll ask her what’s in it.”

“Do you only have one Lesbian friend?”

Jack shrugged as he worked on his other boot, leaning back against the wall again, “I don’t know, the one I rescued that night was probably so drunk she has no idea I was even there -” He shrugged again, “I might know others, but they don’t exactly walk up to me and scream, ‘hey, look at me, I’m a Lesbian -‘ -”

“What if I told you I’m a Lesbian?”

He looked at her, shrugged, “I suppose that’s possible. I don’t know though- are you?”

“Would it make a difference? Would you still think I’m – well maybe not beautiful – but at least attractive?”

He nodded, “At least – And yeah, you’re pretty close to beautiful. Somebody told me that women have this weird valve in their brains, you never know how good you look to guys, you look in a mirror and see what you think are your faults, and you really dwell on that -”

He pulled the second boot off, pulled the second sock off, dropped the sock onto the boot, looked at her, “Should we continue?”

She grinned at him over the sachet, inhaled deeply, nodded, eyes sparkling –

He sighed, reached for his belt, “You’re sure?”

She began to laugh, “Oh stop torturing me and just do it -” let the sachet down far enough to let him see a wide and happy smile.

He shrugged and unbuckled the belt, unsnapped, then unzipped the jeans, glanced up into her eyes.

She beamed back at him with clear sparkling eyes and nodded.

He pulled the jeans wider at the top and leaned down to let them begin to fall, then pushed them down to his knees and let them fall the rest of the way, stepped out of them, glanced at her eyes again.

She sparkled again, looked back at his underwear, “You’re not, um, in the mood?”

He gritted his teeth, “I’m trying very hard not to be.”

“Why?” She tipped her head sideways and grinned a really silly grin at him.

“Okay, if we go at it in here, everybody out there over the age of ten will know exactly what we did.”

She shrugged, “So let them.”

“Natasha, they love you, they care about you, they don’t want to worry that you might be going at it with guys you just met in strange bathrooms any time anywhere -”

She shrugged, “They know me better than that. You’re not just anybody, and this isn’t a strange bathroom – I really like it. If you meant what you said when you said I should come to you if I’ve got to get away and can’t get to my cousin, or he tries to tell me to go back home and have those rotten sons of bitches ruin my life in that god awful school- nobody should ever have to go through that shit. Nobody.” She sighed, nodded, “I like you, I don’t know that I want to drop down on my knees and give you a freakin blow job every time I see you and I don’t know if I want to sell myself into marriage and have your babies or anything, but I like you. I’m horny and you have got to be the only idiot within five hundred miles in any and all directions who would let me get away with this and wouldn’t want to knock me down and rape me for even thinking about it. Yeah, don’t fight it, let yourself get, um ‘hard’ and let me see that happen – I know, I’m weird, but it’s important to me.”

He nodded, “Okay, think about touching it, think that maybe you want to open your mouth and surround it – think about -”

She leaned forward and stared as he did become aroused, she gestured wildly, “Let me see it-”

He shrugged, pulled his underpants open wide enough so it sprang free and poked its head out.

Her eyes looked like they might pop out of their sockets, her mouth fell open, she gasped. He pulled his under pants down and let them drop to the floor.

“Oh shit – Wow – her eyes danced up and down, focused on his crotch and darted to gaze at his eyes, up and down up and down. Then she looked slightly shocked, like she remembered something important, “Do you want to see me?” She reached for the bikini bottom’s stringy band.

“How about later?” he asked, “You know they know how long we’ve been in here -”

It was her turn to wince, or make a face that looked like she wincing, “You’re right, can you turn that thing off and stuff it into your bathing suit?”

He nodded, pointed to the sink, “Cold water, wash cloth,” and he pointed.

She jumped, grabbed a wash cloth, turned around ran the cold water, “Let me?”

He closed his eyes and laughed.

She shrugged, wrang the cloth partially dry, or at least not quite as wet, turned around saw him laughing with his eyes shut, watched him open his eyes, approached with caution, “This feels like a crime against humanity-” she gingerly reached out and wrapped the cold cloth around him, watched him lose the erection, “Wow, what power I can wield over mere mortal men – she cackled, “I could kiss you for letting me do this – better not. Would it mess up concentration or turn you on again if I stay here and watch you climb into that -” she pointed at the bathing suit.

He hoped not, he hoped the damned thing fit and didn’t choke off the circulation. But it did stretch. And when he looked at himself in the mirror, “Oh shit – should I wear this in front of those kids?”

Natasha laughed, “Do you want to know a secret? They have a hot tub, the whole family, including me, jumped into it completely naked twice since I’ve been here. They know what grown men look like. It’s no big deal, as long as nobody makes it out to be a big friggin deal -”

He sighed, “Are you sure?”

She smiled at his crotch, then nodded.

He tied a towel around his waist.

He grabbed his jeans and his shirt and his underwear and his boots and wondered what Jake did with his stuff, shrugged, let Natasha open the door and didn’t try not to gaze at her backside at she led him out into his living room. He took a couple steps to one of the cabinets, pulled its doors open, shoved his boots with the socks inside them, then his jeans and shirt inside – closed the cabinet doors felt a bit relieved that Natasha had the towel wrapped around her chest. He smiled at her. She looked like she was hardly aware of the towel, or herself for that matter, that was strange, not horrible, just different. And when she turned around and took a couple steps toward the patio doors, glanced back and smiled, he decided he wasn’t going to tell her that he didn’t mind at all, hanging back a couple steps, staring at her ‘bum’ as some of his friends called it, that was a lot more friendly that ‘butt’ or any of the other really awkward terms he’d heard, or read, buttocks had to be the worst. But he never liked hearing anybody call it an ‘ass’ either. He figured by the look in her eyes that she knew what he was thinking and liked it.

They went out on the deck, looked down, couldn’t see everybody, but that wasn’t unusual, one or more of the girls might be running around – might have stepped over to the waterfall, or under the waterfall, the one that falls into the pool over there. Maybe it wasn’t a perfect idea to have that blind spot there if kids might be running around, what was he going to do? Pick the freakin stone up and turn it?

The flip up stairs were still down, of course they were still down. Who’d flip them up?

Natasha stopped for a second at the top of those stairs and smiled back at him, “Thank you, I loved ever second of that -”

He shrugged, almost blushed, nodded, whispered back, “You’re welcome -”

She walked down the stairs, a couple steps ahead of him, looked around, saw all three girls, two of them in the water, their mother up her her knees and looking like she’d been in up to her chin, got the ends of her hair wet and that was enough for her.

Natasha stopped there, All three girls, two of them in the water, Jake, up to his neck near the middle of the ‘pool’ that looked a little too symmetrical, but almost like a natural outdoor thing- Jack stepped up beside her and stopped.

She didn’t look at him, maybe saw his shadow, pointed, “How deep is it? How wide, how far to the far side?”

He pointed – “Nakshathra found the floating rope, good, she’s got it at the three feet line. It’s like twenty two or something feet wide at water level, goes down slowly to three feet deep, levels off for about ten feet, out to that rope. Then drops to four feet deep and stays there for another ten feet, then drops to about eight feet and isn’t quite uniform depth back there, thats about thirty five feet from the water line to the stone wall back there.”

Nakshathra turned around at the sound of their voices and smiled, “I did not hear you -”

“They’re talking numbers about how deep and how wide and how far-” Nalini said, drawing a heart in the sand with her finger.

Nandani was out in the water, enjoying herself, keeping a watchful eye on her little sister.

Natasha called to Nakshathra, “How cold is it?”

“Pretty nice, really-”

Natasha turned to Jack, “We’re not the last two out here -”

Jack looked around, turned around saw Mitch and Brenda, looking slightly guilty, coming through the patio doors, “Here they come.”

Nakshathra turned and smiled.

Jack walked toward Nakshathra, Natasha kept pace with him, still wearing those sandals, “The sand is hot, isn’t it?”

Jack nodded and hurried to the water’s edge, stepped in, still wrapped in the towel.

Natasha was still draped in hers. She and Jack turned around at the same moment and saw that Brenda was draped in a similar fashion with bits of very emerald green flashing around strategic locations beneath her towel. Natasha stepped out of her sandals and tossed them back toward one of the chaise lounges closest to the shade, stepped into the water beside Jack.

Nakshathra turned and walked back to them, “This is a beautiful pool. You did a great job, even Narayani is impressed.”

Jack caught Nakshathra’s eyes and tried to hold her attention, spoke as quietly as he could, “Natasha talked me into a speedo that is pretty darned revealing, I worried about the girls getting any anatomy lesson – she said not to worry.”

“Oh she did, did she? Let me inspect you -”

He opened the towel.

Nakshathra almost laughed, dismissed that with a look, “They have seen much worse, believe me. You are fine, If something this delinquent says or does gets you aroused, just stay in the water as long as you have to.”

Natasha laughed, “She’s never called me a delinquent before.”

“And I am only teasing you now. You wore the blue one, did you know you would almost match him in that thing?”

Natasha grinned, “He let me choose it -”

“Oh he did, did he I bet he learns that lesson quickly – He’ll never let you choose anything for him again like that.”

“Oh he just might -”

Nakshathra did a double take at Natasha’s expense, then smiled at Jack, “So what do you think of my cousin-in-law?”

“We come from similar dangerous backgrounds and I told her if she has to get away and can’t get to you to try to get to me.”

Nakshathra nodded, “You are a good person, and I trust you would not take advantage of a vulnerable child, even if she does look like a movie star in that bikini of hers.”

Natasha scowled, “What if I beg him to take advantage of me?”

“That would make him believe he back off and hope you simmer down,” Nakshathra turned and looked at Jack, “Or maybe I should warn you, don’t play with his fire, you might both explode,” then she shook her head, “I am teasing you both, ‘Love and do as thou wilt.’ Just realize the wilting part might become painful for either or both of you.”

Natasha sighed, “I think we both know that. He told me about his high school sweetheart. Did you know?”

“She was your age when she was murdered by a crazy Nazi Doctor? Yes.”

Natasha nodded, turned to Jack, “Should we get wet?”

He nodded.

She pulled her towel from her shoulders and rolled it up, threw it as far as she could and watched it bounce near her sandals.

He gritted his teeth and unwrapped his waist, rolled his towel up and threw it just a bit farther than hers had gone, then they both took several steps and dove while Nakshathra ran away and escaped most of their mini tidal wave, and the large wing-like splash they kicked up.

Under water, Jack opened his eyes and glanced to his side to see Natasha keeping up with him. They’d taken their dives together in less than three feet of water. The sun was warm – the water right there was fairly warm, the sandy bottom of the pool caught some of the sun’s heat and reflected some more – ‘the beach’ – was sand imported from a local sand pit. He’d had it ‘certified clean, free of bacteria and toxins’ – And personally, he liked having his own miniature beach.

They swam under the rope with its plastic floats and, coincidently, through one of the colder pockets where the colder water from the waterfall was aimed away from the beach and Jake and Nakshathra’s children.When they resurfaced Jack tried to discretely check to be sure the speedo was still there, still covering him. Then he grinned at Natasha, who grinned back, “Wow- where did that cold stream come from?”

He moved and pointed to the waterfall-

She looked a bit mystified for a moment, then nodded, “Okay – Now I guess it makes sense.”

Narayani pointed at them and laughed, “Are they in love now too?”

Natasha turned away from the kids and made sure she was still covered, small as that bikini was, she didn’t want to find out she was naked, or had parts of her showing that ‘weren’t supposed to -‘. When she turned around she was laughing, spoke quietly, “That kid – Sometimes she worries me. I thought I lost all or part of this bikini.”

The water was very clear, he could see her check again, to make sure the bottom part of her bikini hadn’t slipped and the top part hadn’t been forced open in strategic spots or anything like that.

He pointed again, standing in the four feet deep water while she dipped down to her chin, leaned back to push all her hair back between both hands and rose again, raising her head slowly to keep her hair in one place, behind her – “What are you pointing at now? Still the waterfall?”

Jake swam underwater over to them and stood up a foot or two beyond Natasha, “Hey – I like your pool – I was trying to figure out the currents -”

Jack continued to point, “Okay- the coldest water directly from the spring can be deflected out that way and into the stream we dug and ran over that way to connect the stream to another stream that we guessed was the same stream, after it came out of the ground over there- Anyway, I’m not heating or warming this water, and we can move the right rocks over there to either send water from the waterfall toward the beach or away from it. It’s set up to send the cold water away from the beach so the sun warms that part and the kids don’t turn blue in ten minutes -”

Jake grinned, “I like it. It’s invigorating.”

Jack nodded.

Natasha smiled, “Invigorating – good word,” she smiled.

Jake glanced at her as she checked her suit under water again, tried not to be obvious but he couldn’t help grinning.

She scowled at her cousin.

Jack thought he’d change the subject, “Funny thing – I was just thinking – Whenever I think about you or your garage, I get a very distinct memory of the first time I saw it, from that road that curls around near the edge or that hill, Somebody said, “Hey look – it’s the Hippy Mechanic’s Place – and I glanced sideways, saw your big beautiful lotus flower through a network of early spring leaves on a warm day, and I always get that picture in my head.”

Jake grinned and nodded.

Natasha grinned at Jack like she was grateful that he’d distracted Jake.

Jake looked at Jack over Natasha’s head and looked like he was just as grateful that Jack had changed the subject before Natasha got a chance to snarl at him for something.

Natasha nodded, “I think there might be some truth to the idea that there might be an underground stream under there, I always feel like I walk into a pool of some kind when I’m there. It’s always nice. I felt the same thing in your living room, looking up at your kitchen. Not quite the same thing, here you could almost think you’re outside looking up at somebody’s porch -”

“- And of course the gurgling stream around half the room had nothing to do with that -” Jake teased her.

“- I didn’t even hear that at first.” she sighed, “The door was open and the kids were squealing and splashing – It sounded like a happy dream of a happy summer -” her eyes darkened, “From that childhood I never got to enjoy -” she almost snorted as she looked away.

“I’ve got a friend who would say, ‘so – start enjoying it now -‘ -” Jack shrugged.

She beamed a slightly self conscious smile and grinned widely, “I like this guy – Can I keep him?”

Jake threw his hands up in a gesture of surrender, “That’s not my call-”

Jack was about to say something when Jake went on, “But she’s right, your house, and out here in the pool, there is something special here.”

Jack nodded, “Besides you two and your wife and your kids?” he grinned.

“And your friend and his new friend -”

Jack nodded, “Perked him right up – didn’t she?”

Natasha was about to say something, when Jake suddenly shivered, “Come over here, see if you get the same kind of impression I got -” Jake jumped up and fell back and swam on his back until he found the right the right spot.

Jack and Natasha looked at each other and shrugged, jumped up, came down and dove and swam underwater, surfaced near Jake.

They were closer to the edge where the bottom fell away quickly from the four feet deep to the more like 8 feet deep section. Jack knew they were close to the drop off, looked down to make sure there was something solid to stand on before he stood up. Natasha turned around in a circle before she stood up.

Natasha shrugged, shook her head, shrugged again, “Not really -”

Jack shuddered, shook his head, “A little unexplained sadness -”

Natasha thought about that and turned to Jack, and then Jake, nodded, “Okay, yeah, what – did somebody die here?” she shuddered.

Jake shook his head, “Feels more like somebody had to leave this area and stood here and didn’t want to say good-bye.”

Jack shuddered.

Natasha shivered.

Jake grinned, turned and pointed, “I really liked swimming down over there – I got the crazy feeling I was an otter, just swimming around and playing and having he time of my life.” – He nodded, “This is a really nice spot. Nothing negative here at all-” He stood up, looked around and slipped beneath the water and dove.

Natasha stepped slightly closer to Jack, shivered, “I hate when he does that-”

Jack grinned, “Wanna play like otters?”

She looked confused for about half a nano-second and then nodded, “Yes!” took his hand and got ready and sprang about ninety degrees away from where Jake dove.

She kept a hold on his hand. At first it wasn’t easy for him to try to swim ‘one handed’ – to let her pull his hand back and push it ahead as she moved, but then he figured out her rhythm, or her swimming stroke and was able to keep his hold on her hand while he matched it and then she spun around, or rolled, and came up in front of him and let go of his hand and reached around his neck and kissed him. Reached around behind his back and pulled herself up against him and held as tightly as she could while they twisted and rolled and then had to separate as they headed for the surface.

They surfaced face to face, legs kicking easily and somehow not kicking each other, they were that close.

She looked around, could not see her cousin, almost blushed, “Sorry- I – um. – No, I’m not. I wanted to do that.”

Jack nodded, smiled, “Nothing to be sorry about, I kinda liked it -”

She almost banged her head against his as she looked through his eyes, then nodded, “Yeah, and I liked it. A lot.” She backed away a bit and looked around again, still couldn’t see Jake anywhere, moved forward, “That doesn’t mean I want to spend my life with you or anything – And maybe I know I’m not the easiest person to live with, or even to like – but you made me feel like a person after being made to feel like something less than human for way too long. I wanted to do something that I wanted to do for a change and not what some fool decided I should do – and do it his way or there’d be hell to pay -” she backed away a bit and shuddered, “I really liked the way you asked me if I wanted to play – Yeah, catch me if you can -” she gulped a bit of air and pushed up with her arms and went down, spun around, knew where the wall was, and sprang off it to shoot away and downward.

Jack took a few seconds to see where she was going and then dove after her. They swirled around and caught each other, then dove and played underwater tag for quite a while He caught her, then she caught him and then she swam away and eluded capture for quite a while and then she had just as much trouble catching him and finally did, and they were in the four feet deep area and stayed low in the water, crouching, “This is fun -” she said, like that surprised her, then spoke just above a whisper, “But it’s scary too – I escaped from a relationship that was hell, I mean it, hell – and I’m afraid to get involved with anybody – maybe especially with somebody who almost seems too good to be true -”

He laughed, “Well that’s something nobody’s ever accused me of being – One of these days I’ll try to make a joke of how one woman says I’m not serious enough, the next one says I’m much too serious. One gets upset with me for not paying enough attention to little things she does and the next one tells me I’m smothering her.”

Natasha laughed, “Okay, so time out from real life for both of us. Let’s just play and see what happens.”

He nodded, then saw something underwater and almost jumped, “- Jake -” he moved a bit to one side and she moved with him.

Jake shot up beside them and broke the surface and almost crashed back down, almost like a whale breaching – “Wooo eeee-” he laughed, “I feel like a kid again. I haven’t given myself permission to just take a day off and enjoy myself in – I don’t know – too long.” He stood up and nodded, “- Too long -” He turned around and saw his wife open her basket and pass out snacks to three girls who were draped in towels, standing at the chaise lounge their mother was trying to relax in. “Nakshi brought snacks for the kids and juice and soda bottles, I feel kind of weird asking, but, do you have anything extra that we can eat? Don’t offer me any meat, because I’m hungry enough to eat it and I would feel terrible for at least a week after giving in like that.”

“One thing I always have here, is peanut butter, bananas and pineapple juice, and almost always at least one loaf of bread.”

Natasha grinned, “Pineapple juice, I love pineapple juice, were we married our something in a previous life?”

Jake looked like he took that question seriously, stared at Natasha and then Jack intensely for a couple minutes each, then shrugged, “Probably not married, maybe in the same family -” he shrugged again, “Sister and brother? Parent and child? Cousins who really liked each other and got along?” He shrugged even more widely than before, “Who knows?”

Jack looked at Natasha when she looked like she was about to shake her head and say something about Jake knowing everything – and wondered which of those possible explanations explained anything. Cousins? Maybe cousins who really wanted each other but couldn’t because they were too closely related in a family that was extremely bound by popular social conventions and ‘propriety’? He shrugged.

Jake looked at Jack like he could read his thoughts and found that almost amusing, “I am starving -” he said, jumped, dove and swam like an olympic competitor heading for the finish line.

Natasha sighed, shook her head.

Jack looked at her, “Hungry?”

She had to think about that, then nodded, “Yeah-”

Jack stood up, shrugged and fell sideways began a slow easy backstroke. Natasha stood up, grinned at him let herself down into the water and did a slow breast stroke or maybe even a dog paddle- (36,500 words)

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