Chances of a Lifetime

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1937 – A young girl wearing roller skates is sitting on the stoop of a five story walk-up tenement in Brooklyn. StoopShe is struggling with one of her skates as a group of boys race by on the sidewalk. Two of the boys are tossing a pink rubber ball back and forth and a few of the others are carrying what appear to be broom handles.

Upon passing the girl, one of the boys pulls to a halt, calling ahead, “Hang on a second fellas.”

Looking over his shoulder, one of the boys calls back, “C’mon Paulie, the Canarsies will get another game if we’re late.”

The boys keep running as Paulie replies, “I’ll just be a minute.” He turns to the girl and asks, “Do you need some help?”

The girl looks at Paulie and smiles. “I somehow have gotten something stuck in my skate. I could use some help, but I’d hate for you to miss your game.”

stickball“It’s all right. They won’t play without me. I’m their best pitcher. Let me see the skate.”

He sits beside her on the stoop and she crosses her legs to place the bottom of the skate near him. He takes the skate, taking care not to touch her ankle or cause her long skirt to slide up.

“I see it. There’s a jagged rock stuck in there.”

He pulls out a pocket knife and wedges the stone out of the wheel assembly.

“There, that oughta do it. Stand up and try it out.”

“I’d rather not,” she says.

“What’s wrong? Did you hurt your leg?” he asks.

“It’s not that…it’s just that…well, I’m somewhat tall and with the skates on, well, I’m kind of embarrassed.”

“Fear not,” says Paulie, as he stands and goes up three steps to the landing. “You can’t be taller than me now.”

She smiles at his chivalry and stands.

“Thank you, kind sir. The skates are fine Skatingand I don’t want to keep you any longer from your game. My name is Alice, by the way. I go to Sacred Heart.”

Paulie hops over the stoop railing and starts running toward his game.

“Paulie, P.S. 31, and it was my pleasure!”

1945 – Paul knocks on the apartment door as he calls out “Refrigerator repair!”

fridgeAfter a few moments, a young woman opens the door holding a mop.

“I’m sorry,” she says, “I was trying to clean up the water. I don’t understand. My icebox literally held melted ice for over 20 years and never leaked a drop. I finally get a new-fangled refrigerator and I have a flood. Please come in.”

“Sorry, Ma’am, I’ve been doing a lot of calls on this model. It appears that our delivery men were poorly trained as installers. Most of them aren’t used to the electrical devices.”

“Wait a minute”, she says. “I’m sure I know you, but…Paulie, right?”

“Why yes, but I go by Paul, now. How do we know each other?”

“You kindly removed a stone from my skate wheels, my, it must be nearly ten years.”

“I remember…let me see…yes, Alice, from Sacred Heart! I’m surprised that you remembered me.”

“I actually saw you once again at a basketball game a few years later.”

Paul moves toward the refrigerator and pulls it away from the wall.

“You must have had a good seat as I rarely left the bench in High School.”

“I was cheering for your opponent, so I had a good view,” she says.

“Yep, here it is, just as I expected. This unit has a new feature, an evaporator to take care of any leakage. The delivery men never seem to install the hose correctly. Instead of into the unit, they have it directed to your floor. It’s all fixed, now.”

“Please sit and have a Pepsi,” she says. “Unfortunately, it’s not very pepsicold.”

“Why thank you, Alice, but water will be fine. These easy repairs have me a bit ahead of schedule.”

She brings him a glass.

“So how did you get into this line of work?”

“This isn’t really my line, at least I hope not for long. Let’s see, after High School, I joined the Navy like most of the local boys. I learned some electronics there, but was injured when a shell exploded on board my ship.”

sailor“Oh, my!” Alice gasps.

“Actually, I was lucky. Some of my shipmates were killed. I injured my knee pretty badly and got some bad burns.”

“I was wondering why you were wearing long sleeves in this heat. Are you embarrassed by the scars?”

“Not so much embarrassed, but I don’t like to talk about it to strangers.”

“I’m sorry to pry.”

“Oh, no, not at all. You are quite pleasant to talk to. My injury made it difficult to find work, but the repair work is not too bad. The stairs are the worst part. What about you, Alice?”

“I was lucky enough to go to college during the war. I am a teacher in the third grade at the school around the corner.”

“I hope to start college soon. There is a program where the government will pay to send ex-GIs. I plan to go for a business degree in September. If you don’t mind me asking, is there a Mister Alice?”

“There I have not been as lucky. I had a beau who fought in the infantry. We were not that serious, but might have been had he returned.”

“I’m sorry. I too, have been unlucky. I became engaged to my High School girl before shipping out, but when I returned, she was married with two kids! Well, I’d better get back to work. It was nice seeing you Alice, and I must say, that you have grown nicely into your height. I believe the fashion models call it statuesque.”

“Thank you, Paul.”

1959 – Paul walks on to the floor of Whiteman Appliances on Delancy Street from his office and sees a clerk arguing with a woman. tvstore2He moves in to investigate and recognizes Alice.

“Alice? What seems to be the problem?” he asks.

The clerk starts to speak, but Paul shoots him down with a look that screams, “We will discuss this later.”

Alice takes a breath and says, “It’s good to see you, Paul. I had a new television set delivered from here last week and I can’t get a clear picture. You can’t even tell Jack Benny from Rochester.”

tvstore“I see. Do you know if your antenna is wired to your roof, or are you using the rabbit ears?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure.”

“That’s not important, then. The delivery person should have set it up and explained it to you. When we are finished, this young man will accompany you to your home and will not leave until your picture is perfect.” He turns to face the clerk and says pointedly, “Even if it means a trip up to your roof.” The clerk looks sheepishly at the floor. “For now, come with me to my office. I’d like to show you around.”

She notices that Paul still has a slight limp. “Is it Paul Whiteman,” she asks.

“No, not me. It’s Kreppel, Paul Kreppel.” He chuckles as they enter his office. “Actually, even the Whiteman’s aren’t Whitemans. They changed it from Weitzmann. Please, have a seat.”

She takes the chair in front of his desk. “In any case, you appear to be in charge here.”

“Yes, I am the General Manager of the entire store. It’s one of three and there are two more planned. I did go to NYU on the GI Bill and then got a Master’s degree in Management.”

“And is there a Mrs. Kreppel?” Alice asks, scanning the room for pictures.
Paul smiles.

“Not yet, but I am currently dating the boss’s daughter. She’s a divorcee with two boys. Apparently, it’s a common practice these days. They sure didn’t cover it in Business School.”

“Do you still live in the neighborhood?”

“For now, but again, it seems like the management track also includes a big house out on the Island. I imagine that might be next. What about you, Alice?” He notices that she is not wearing a wedding ring and quickly changes his tack. “Are you still teaching?”

“Yes, I am, but that will be changing soon. I have been hired as a principal in a new elementary school in Levittown. levittownIt seems that I will be moving to Long Island as well.”

“Well, maybe we’ll be destined to cross paths again. You know, I don’t even know your last name.”

“It’s Alcott, Alice Alcott.”

“Like the author, Little Women I believe.”

“Paul, you never fail to surprise me.”

They head out to the floor. Paul says to her, “You let me know if Junior here doesn’t fix your set properly. This is an opportunity for him to learn about customer service.” He waves the kid over and bids Alice a warm goodbye.

1968 – Paul is on his way home from the office late one evening when he corvairsees a Chevy Corvair with a flat tire on the shoulder. There is a woman standing beside it. The traffic is light at this hour, but the twilight makes it dangerous never the less. He pulls his Cadillac over and backs up to where the Corvair is stopped. He gets out of his car and immediately begins laughing.

“Alice! I should have known.”

“Paul? This is just too much. I can’t let you change a tire. You’ll ruin your suit. Let me wait for a tow.”flat

“Nonsense. Suits, I have, and dry cleaners, I have. It will give me something to do while we catch up.”

He moves toward the trunk when she stops him while opening the hood.

“It’s up here, Paul.”

nader“In the engine?”

“No, the engine is in the back. It’s backwards in nearly every respect. I wish that Ralph Nader had published his book sooner.”

Paul gets everything out that he needs and begins to change the tire.

“Good thing we’re near a streetlight,” he says. “So tell me, what’s new.”

“Well, I’m no longer Alice Alcott, but….”

“Congratulations, Alice.”

“None needed, unfortunately. I married a man named Spencer shortly after moving here. It just seemed the thing to do, you know, dinner parties, children, suburban living.”

Paul is removing the lug nuts and carefully placing them in the hubcap. “I take it that it did not go well?” he asks.

“Sadly, no. We didn’t really know one another. He turned out to be kind of a bum and kind of a drunk.”

“I’m so sorry.”

Paul moves to the rear to operate the jack.

“Those weren’t the biggest problem. He just wasn’t a nice person. I could live with his faults, and so could he. He just couldn’t live with the fact that I could live with them. Do you know what I mean?”

“I think I get the picture. Divorce?”

“Yes, after three and a half years. With no children it was almost as though it never happened. It seems to be growing in popularity these days. Still, I have a nice home that I will soon sell for a nice profit, and my work is going very well. I am coming from a city-wide Board of Education meeting. I may be looking at a state appointment in Albany.”

Paul lets the jack down slowly. “Good for you,” he says. Is that why you’re selling your house?

“That’s one possibility. I also have an offer to be Assistant Superintendent in a new district in South Florida. I have some family there and they say it is a wonderful place to live. It’s called Coral Springs. It sounds so exotic.”

“Near Miami?” Paul asks, as he tightens the last of the lug nuts.

“No, it’s closer to Fort Lauderdale. I’m flying down on National in a few days to check it out. Now tell me what you’ve been up to.”

“Let’s see. In a nutshell, I married the boss’s daughter. You’ll find this amusing. I’m no longer a Kreppel. My wife insisted I gentile it up before we married. I’m now Paul Kane.”

She laughs and says, “Wait, Kane of Kane’s Electronics?”

“Yes, I grew as manager and was practically running the entire operation anyway. When her old man retired, I took over. I drive a fancy car, and commute from a big fancy house on the Island.”

“That sounds wonderful, Paul.”

“I suppose so, but between the stress of running a business, and my wife caddyspending money faster that we can earn it, it’s hardly paradise. Coral Springs sounds pretty exotic to me, too. Oh, and my two genius stepsons alternate between dropping out of college and wrecking the business.”

“They sound spoiled,” she says.

“Like their mother, I suppose. Well, you’re all set to go. I imagine that with you moving, this will be our last meeting.”

“We’ll leave it to the fates, Paul. Thank you so much.”

1982 – Alice is sliding a dollar bill into a vending machine, but no matter Vendhow much she flattens it or reorients it, it just comes back out. Paul pulls up in his golf cart and sees that the woman is frustrated.

“Maybe I can help,” he says. “I have some new bills here.”

Alice turns around and immediately begins to laugh. Paul smiles and shakes his head. They embrace.

“Oh, Paul, you are truly my knight in shining armor.”

“This is just too much,” he says. “I’m heading back to the ninth hole. I think I left my wedge by the green. I’m here visiting a friend. He’s waiting since there’s a backup on the tenth tee.”

“But here in Coral Springs, what are the odds?” she says.CS

“You made it sound so wonderful. How could I not check it out? So I assume that you moved here.” He puts a dollar in the machine and of course it goes right in. He bows and waves his hand toward the machine. “M’lady?”

She smiles and makes her choice. She offers her dollar to him, but he declines. “Keep it. It may allow us to meet up at another machine someday.”

Vend2“As usual, thank you for saving me, Paul. I did not come here right away. I did five years working with the Board of Regents when my sister took ill. I came down in ‘74 to take care of her and my parents. I worked in the Broward School System in a number of capacities and hope to retire in a few years. The move to Florida has been good to me. My golf partner dropped me off at the machine when we finished our round. She’s getting the bags in the car.”

“I won’t keep you, but I will tell you that it has been up and down for me. My wife left me for a man with deeper pockets.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“It was actually a relief. Business has been a struggle competing with the department stores and my stepsons are pretty incompetent. I will lose my shirt, but I am considering letting them buy me out and starting over, possibly down here.”

“What about your knee? I wouldn’t expect you to be playing golf.”

“Arthroscopic surgery. It’s pretty new, mostly for athletes. It’s amazing. They cleared out 40 years of junk and it’s nearly as good as new.”

“Oh, I wish I had time to chat, but…”

“Let’s do it again in ten years.”

1997 – Alice is looking at the net on Court 5 at the Kings Point Tennis Clubnet in Tamarac. It is clearly dipped several inches below the proper tension. A ball bounces by from Court 6 and a man calls out, “A little help?”

She picks up the ball and turns to toss it to the man and says, “As usual, I think that it is I, who needs the help.”

Paul lets out a big laugh. He turns to his doubles partner and shouts, men“Larry, volley without me for a little while, OK?”

Alice tosses the ball to Larry who rejoins his warm-up.

Paul goes over to the net pole and begins to turn the crank. The net tightens. “How’s that?” he asks.

Alice measures the height with the racket and says, “Perfect as usual. Paul, I just moved here. I have a match in a few minutes.”net2

“What an amazing world we live in,” he says. “I retired here ten years ago after I cashed out of the business. I had a nice nest egg. My knee feels great and I kind of run the Tennis Center here. I did a little consulting, but what I really loved was teaching.”

“Really?”

“Yes, I taught some business courses at the college level, you know, as an adjunct professor. I loved it and I think the students enjoyed it as well.”

“Good for you, Paul. Amazingly, after sixty years, we are both in the same ballplace again. My relations down here are all gone, so I got myself a nice condo, and here we are.”

“It looks like we both need to get to our courts.” He begins to walk away, but turns back toward her. “Alice, would you think it too forward if I were to ask you out for a cup of coffee?”couple

Alice smiles for a moment, then steps forward and takes his hand.

“Oh, Paulie, I thought you’d never ask.”

© Copyright 2014 – Robert O’Connell. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboy Fans

Last week, my daughter Abby and her fiancé Mark, drove from their Central Florida apartment to Tampa for a Buccaneers game. Mark works in the professional sports industry and was able to get tickets. Overall, it seemed like a nice way for a young couple to spend a Sunday afternoon in mid-November. Sadly, this event was a harbinger of a significantly deeper concern about their upcoming nuptials. It seems that Mark is a Dallas Cowboys fan.

Abby and Mark

Abby posted this pre-game photo of the happy couple on Instagram. As my naïve wife bounded over to gleefully show me the picture on her phone, I shook my head in disgust.

“Look at her shirt,” she said, “isn’t it funny?”

I was not amused. While I understood the humor in the “married” bit, my only satisfaction was the realization that it was not too late for her to extract herself from this mess. What my wife didn’t get was that the truly disturbing part of the photo was what Mark was wearing. Three prominent Cowboys have worn the number 88 throughout the years. None of them can be considered role models.

The current #88, Dez Bryant is about an 8.5 out of 10 on the batshit meter. The length, consistency, and variety of his suspendable offenses is remarkable for a man of only 27 years of age. In his defense, he did get off to an early start with an arrest for selling crack when he was eight years old.

The next candidate, Hall-of-famer (!) Michael Irvin, has had several drug-related and sexual assault related arrests over the years. At his 30th birthday party, he was found lying on the floor, covered in cocaine, with multiple strippers performing sex acts on him. Mark had a birthday last month. Now I am sorry that I missed the party.

Drew Pearson was a choirboy compared to his fellow #88s. He only fell asleep behind the wheel of a car leading to an accident that took the life of his younger brother. I later found out that this was indeed a Dez Bryant jersey, but that Mark had received it as a gift rather than choosing it himself. Still, it has caused me to reconsider the handgun I was going to get him for Christmas.

You may think that I have some deep-seated hatred for the Cowboys. You would be correct. I do indeed hate the Cowboys. But I do not agree with those who label the Cowboy franchise as arrogant. They have been very smart and very successful over the years. What many consider to be arrogance, I look at as a painful reality. It’s the fans and the media who have dubbed them “America’s Team”. My problem is that rooting for the Cowboys is like rooting for Amazon, or Walmart, or gravity. It’s just too easy.

When I met Mark’s parents, who raised him in Schenectady (it’s either in upstate New York or Southern Canada, I believe), I found that they were all New York Giants fans. Mark chose the Cowboys to be different. This is something that I can respect. I like free choice and a desire to not follow the herd.

“Okay, son. I know you don’t want to go into the family business. Follow your dream. Try being a roadie for a year, maybe two. If it doesn’t work out, you always have a place here at Halliburton.”

But the Cowboys?

“Okay, son. I know you don’t want to go into the family business. Follow your dream. Overthrow that Central American government and become the military despot that you were born to be.”

Since I apparently could not blame Mark’s parents, I reached out to my friend Jimmy for advice. I worked with Jimmy for nineteen years in Northern New Jersey, where he was a New York Giants fan and season ticket holder. I knew this because he would often offer me the opportunity to buy his tickets to games at face value, primarily during the exhibition season and in late December against lousy teams. Jimmy has been married for thirty-seven years to Marilyn, who happens to be a dyed-in-the-wool Cowboys fan. They have experienced eight Cowboy Super Bowls including five victories, five Giants Super Bowls including four victories, and decades of seasons with two big rivalry games per year.

“Jimmy, how have you dealt with this for so many years, and rival teams no less?”

“She’s crazy. It’s just something I’ve learned to live with. Not Dez Bryant crazy, of course.”

“You mean eccentric?”

“No, Browns fans are eccentric and certainly not psycho-crazy, like Eagles fans. Just a mild crazy, I guess.”

Marilyn is one of the sweetest people I know, so I guess Abby can deal with mild crazy. Still, Jimmy and Marilyn have no kids. It’s the future grandchildren that I am most worried about. Anyone can laugh off a misdirected son-in-law wearing a Cowboy jersey, but on a child?

When I was young, I would have liked nothing more than to grow up to be Al Weis, the extremely mediocre second basemen of the New York Mets. Back then, we knew little of the players off the field. Once during the game, Ralph Kiner, Bob Murphy, or Lindsey Nelson would inform the viewing audience that blah-blah player works for a beer distributor during the off-season or so-and-so sells insurance. When my son was young, the Mets had a long string of past and future all-stars at second base, but each was known as a grade A screwball. If my son came home and told me that he wanted to be Jeff Kent, Carlos Baerga, or Juan Samuel, I would have immediately taken him to a child psychologist.

My friend Tyrone hates almost all of today’s players but still loves sports.

“It gets tougher all the time,” he says, “I hate the players but love the game. We’re actually just rooting for the laundry at this point.”

I suppose he’s right. A little unsightly laundry won’t hurt my future grandchildren. Maybe that’s Mark’s plan all along. With both his parents and Abby’s parents being Cowboy haters, Abby and Mark will probably never have to lay out a dime on children’s clothing. Not so crazy after all.

© Copyright 2015 – Robert O’Connell. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Favorite Uniforms – Volume III

I am going to use this blogspace occasionally to discuss my favorite sports uniforms. Feel free to respond to me with your own thoughts or nominations. I have decided to wrap up this series with a potpourri of different uniforms from both reality and fantasy.

Reality
Negro League Baseball

Most of the pictures of Negro League uniforms are black and white although you can see and obtain throwbacks online. I think the Kansas City Monarchs of Satchel Paige are ugly. Satch

I would love to have a classic Homestead Grays Josh Gibson Graysbut my favorite would be any of the Baltimore Elite Giants jerseys.

Elite3EliteElite2

I also have a special affinity for the Newark Eagles as well as they represent my home state.

Newark2 Newark1

Japan

I’ve always liked the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants which are an homage to the American Giants with an Asian flavor. I like both the home and road jerseys and I’ll take the Saduharu Oh versions.

Oh giants

Football

Football uniforms tend to be plain and people’s attachment is more for the team than the uniforms. My friend Tyrone often says than we root for laundry, a variation of “Hate the players, love the team.” That’s not to say that there aren’t some ugly ones. The current Bengals, Panthers, and early Buccaneers come to mind. If I had to pick one that stands out, it would be the early powder blue Chargers with the yellow pants, all trimmed in lightning bolts. ZAP!!!

ChargersHockey

I definitely prefer the Original Six uniforms, but nothing is better than the rouge, blanc, et bleu of Les Habs Canadiens. I prefer the whites and would love a Jean Beliveau model with the lace-up front. No helmets, but enough Brylcream to keep every hair in place and possibly deflect a puck or two.

BeliveauI’d also like a hometown New Jersey Devils Martin Broduer jersey in red.

MartyAs for amateur hockey, I would love both of the tops from the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics game between Team USA and Russia. An Eruzione and a Tretiak, if you please.

Miracle Tretiak

Basketball
Again, I will stay local. Walt Frazier, white, from the 70’s NBA Knicks, and Dr. J, white, from the 70’s ABA Nets.

Clyde Doc

Minor Leagues

There are hundreds, if not thousands of these with the most noteworthy point being the incredible amount of absolutely ridiculous novelty uniforms they produce commemorating Star Wars, Zombies, Christmas, Ninja Turtles, and just about anything else a young public relations worker thinks will sell. I will share some examples with you and you can go on with your own research if you dare.

Tux ChewyZombie   Santa2Sweater

Movies, Television, etc.

Baseball

There are a lot of good choices here. The original Bad News Bears uniforms are a nice yellow and also have the great sponsorship on the back from Chico’s Bail Bonds. My so actually was an a pre-Little League team sponsored by an off-shore internet gambling site.

Bears2 Bears1
The faux Negro League jerseys from Bingo Long – Travelling All-Stars and Motor Kings are colorful.

BingoI’d love to have a Roy Hobbs New York Knights jersey from The Natural.

NaturalI have three honorable mentions. I love the uniforms worn in A League of Their Own although I imagine it looks better on Geena Davis than it would on me.

GeenaThese Chicago “Black Sox” uniforms from Eight Men Out are the actual Major League uniforms of the 1919 White Sox. It’s a very good film and I just arbitrarily decided to put them here.

UntitledFinally, I’d like the St. Louis Wolves jersey worn by Bud Abbott in the famous “Who’s on First?” routine by Abbott and Costello. I’d like to see how many people recognize it.

Wolves

Football

The only iconic movie football jersey is the black Mean Machine tops worn by Burt Reynolds and the rest of the cons in The Longest Yard. Give me Paul “Wrecking” Crewe’s #22.

Burt
Basketball

It’s a toss-up. One option is the orange urban uniforms worn by Carver High in The White Shadow, a favorite 70’s TV show of mine.

ShadowThe other is the Hickory team from Hoosiers, one of the best sports movies of all time. I’ll take a Jimmy Chitwood. Do know he only had four lines in the entire film? “I’ll make it” is the big one.

Hoosiers
Hockey

What hockey fan wouldn’t treasure a Charlestown Chiefs home white Hanson Brothers jersey? You can wear it at home while “putting on the foil”.

Hanson

Miscellaneous

I like the Springbok’s rugby jersey worn by Matt Damon in the movie Invictus. His pep talk at the end is right up there with Kenneth Brannagh’s in Henry V when whipping up the English to take on the French.

Invictus

© Copyright 2015 – Robert O’Connell. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert O’Connell with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flash Mob – A Random Chapter

 Flash Mob Front Backhttp://www.flashmobthenovel.com

Followers, It’s been about two years since the release of my first novel, Flash Mob. To commemorate the occasion, please enjoy this chapter and consider reading or rereading my work. I am currently working on a third installment of this series as well as some other projects. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Friday, Dec 21st
~ West Orange ~

Nurse Carrie Parker is helping Tommaso Pastor out of his bed and into a wheelchair.

“Are you sure you shouldn’t have some help doing this?” he asks.

“I figure I’ve done this about ten thousand times, and I haven’t lost a patient yet, Mr. Pastor. Besides, I’ve carried five children and two ex-husbands, so you should be a piece of cake.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me if you carried them all at once, Ms. Parker. I must say, that’s a delightful cologne you’re wearing.”

“Do you like it? It’s a combination of witch hazel, iodine, and soframyicin. I deal with a lot of bedsores here. And I must say, you do not exactly smell like a gentle spring rain, honey.”

“You don’t need to tell me. At this point, I’d drink Old Spice.”

“All, kidding aside, Mr. Pastor, you’ve got to let me know if you’re not getting a sponge bath every day.”

“I’m getting them, but you might want to tell management that they should do them after physical therapy rather than before.”

“Well I can tell management if you would like, but you’ve been here long enough to know how effective that will be. I recommend mentioning it to Marcus. He’ll be here to pick you up in a few minutes. You two seem pretty tight.”

“Maybe he’ll assign you to wash me if I ask him real nice.”

“You two ain’t that tight, you dirty old man. Besides, if I gave you a sponge bath, you’d bust your other hip.”

“Is that what happened to your first husband?”

“Both of them. Number two is two doors down. Now, I suggest you calm yourself, before your heart gives out.”

“Knowing that you are single has given me a lease on life.”

“Lease? Honey, I ain’t no rental. You apply for a mortgage and we’ll talk.”

Marcus walks in at the end of their exchange and smiles, shaking his head.

“Here’s your ride Mr. Pastor,” she says, “Enjoy your rehearsal and don’t forget to mention that thing to Marcus.”

“Thanks for getting him ready, Ms. Parker,” says Marcus, “and have a nice weekend.”

“I hope to see you in church on Sunday, honey. My baby Ranisha has a solo. And, give your mama my regards.”

“I will, and I’ll be there for sure.”

Carrie holds the door while Marcus wheels Tommaso down the hall.

In the Rec Room, Scotty is setting up the space when Tommy walks in. She is immediately swamped by the dancers with a myriad of questions, ideas, and complaints. Lew, or quite possibly Stew, races to the front of the line and is breathlessly sharing his latest idea for a new intro. Marcus wheels Tommaso in and begins heading toward Tommy., but Tommaso holds up a hand and points toward a corner of the room. Marcus gets the message and takes him around the outside of the chaos. Tommaso says something briefly to Marcus causing him to scan the room. He sees Scotty, turns back toward Tommaso, and jerks his head in Scotty’s direction. Tommaso nods, and dismissed Marcus with a flick of his fingers. Marcus wanders over to Scotty, who is watching Tommy intently.

“Chill, Brother,” says Marcus.

“Huh?”

“She’s not going anywhere. Relax. Let her breathe.”

“But what if—”

“She’s still interested. Trust me. We…well, you, just need to take a step back.”

“But what if—”

“If Robin shows up, I’ll handle her. I promise that she won’t get near you or Tommy.”

“But what if—”

Marcus looks at Scotty. He holds out his hands, waiting. Finally Marcus asks, “What if what?”

“Nothing, I was just testing you. You were two for two so far. I didn’t want you to get overconfident.”

“Well, there is one more thing. The gentleman in the corner is her grandfather.”
“The gangster?”

“Shh! As far as you’re concerned, the gentleman. He’s here to check her out, but he’s also here to check you out, so be cool.”

Scotty rubs his temple.

“What’s a stroke feel like?”

“Stop being an asshole. Just stay back here, look busy, hit your cues, and smile…but not too much. I’ll be around.”

“Can you see? Are my ears bleeding?”

Marcus shakes his head and leaves.

After a productive half hour, Tommy spots her grandfather in the corner. She smiles and he waves. In another ten minutes she calls out to the troupe.

“Great work, people, it’s really coming together. Let’s take a ten minute break and please hold your questions until I return. Great work!”

She quickly trots over to Grandpa before she can be swamped by the most over-enthusiastic of the dancers. She gives him a hug and a kiss.

“I didn’t expect to see you here,” she says.

“I wouldn’t miss it. I’d like to tell you it looks great, but I have no idea what is happening. In any case, you look great, and they all seem to love what you’re doing.”

Tommy turns a chair around to sit facing him.

“I’m happy with it. It’s going well, and I’m glad I volunteered.”

“And the fella?”

“Trouble. At least I think so. Grandpa, something happened the other night.”

“Did he do something?”

“No, no, nothing like that. He’s been wonderful. It’s me—actually us, the Pastors.”

“Oh, that. You mean it’s me, the Pastor.”

“It’s never been an issue like this before, and I don’t know what to do.”

“Have you spoken to your parents about it?”

“No, I’m concerned it will upset them and I don’t want that, not at Christmas, when everyone is together.”

“Look, I know you have to get back to the dancing, but I’d like you to come by and tell me more about it.”

“We have a rehearsal Sunday afternoon at 2:00. Can I come by at noon?”

“That’s perfect. I’ll treat you to lunch. Tell everyone I’m looking forward to their visit on Christmas Eve. Now go back to your rehearsal, my angel.”

“I love you, Grandpa.”

She heads back to the waiting throng and Tommaso nods at Marcus. Marcus comes to return him to his room. The rest of the rehearsal goes without incident. Scotty has been wracking his brain looking for the right thing to say to avoid creepiness and awkwardness, while Tommy has been planning her escape route in an attempt to avoid the same. As the crowd disburses, Marcus wheels in a tray with three mugs and a carafe. He catches Tommy near the door.

“Where do you think you’re going, young lady?”

“I, um….”

“Don’t even try it. Come, sit down and take your medicine.”

“You know, you and my grandfather are quite a pair.”

“You mean that we both care about you?”

“I was thinking more like demon wizards.”

“It’s a gift. Yo, Scotty, leave the chairs.”

Scotty comes over and joins them at the table. Marcus pours three hot chocolates from the carafe.

“Great rehearsal, Tommy,” says Scotty.

It sounds even more awkward aloud than it did in his head. He shakes his head and turns to Marcus.

“Can you toss an oxycodone in mine, please?”

“Make mine a double,” says Tommy.

Everyone laughs which breaks some of the ice, but before Scotty can launch his plan for another date, Marcus jumps in.

“Tommy, do you have plans tomorrow morning?”

She is caught off guard, because she was trying to word a polite rejection in her head.

“Uh, no, I don’t think so.”

“Why don’t you come to Mountainside Park? Scotty, Carter, and I have our last flag football game of the season at 10:30. It’s supposed to be sunny and pretty nice out. We can all go out to lunch afterward.”

“Um…I…”

“We could use your help. We need someone to take a few pictures for the newsletter. You can use my camera.”

“Okay, I guess…sure, why not. It sounds like fun. Mountainside Park, where the pool is?”

“Yeah, right next to the pool.”

“All right, I probably should be on my way. Thanks for the hot chocolate, and I’ll see you in the morning.”

She makes her way to the door. After she leaves, Scotty turns to Marcus.

“What the hell was that?”

“I was saving your ass, again.”

“I mean the newsletter. We don’t have a newsletter.”

“She was waffling. It closed the deal.”

“I think my brain is going to explode. Please explain.”

“You were gonna ask her out again.”

“True, but you chumped me off.”

“She was gonna say no.”

“We’ll never know, will we?”

“Exactly. She wanted to say yes, but was probably going to say no, so why take the chance? Now you’re still in the game.”

“She said yes to you, not me.”

“Wrong. When she left, she thanked me for the hot chocolate, then distinctly turned to you and said ‘I’ll see you in the morning.’”

“If that’s the case, why are you so convinced that she was going to say no?”

“She likes you.”

“Why are you doing this to me?”

“No, she likes you a lot, enough to keep you from getting involved in a complex relationship.”

“By saying no?”

“Exactly.”

“Complex how?”

“I haven’t figured that out yet.”

“I think I’d like some drugs now, please.”

“Let’s clean up and go home, asshole.”

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