This Magic Place

by Harlequin

This Magic Place -- Chapter 9

    I awoke tangled in Dac's arms. It was hardly light out but the noise that woke me was the sound of my fat acquaintance, the Robin, yakking at the window: obviously more concerned about his empty stomach and a hand-out than my love life. I was surprised that I could hear him with the window closed. I extricated myself and headed, naked and shivering in the early morning chill toward the window. I hadn't seen him around the last three or four days and had begun to wonder if Tiger had used him for a snack.

    "All right, all right," as I opened the window and reached down and got a scoop full of grain and put it on the window ledge. Mr. Robin dug in as though he hadn't eaten for a couple of weeks. A couple of sparrows came in for a landing, hoping to share in the feast and got promptly chased away. "You're not even going to share? Boy, what an oinker you are."

    I closed the window and shivered my way back to bed. There were at least 45 minutes before the alarm went off.

    I snuggled up against Dac. He moved up against me, his arm going across my stomach and his head snugging into the curve of my neck and shoulder. I put my arm across his shoulder. He smelled so good, so warm and I could feel myself beginning to relax.

    "I love you, David," he muttered, half awake, as we drifted back to sleep.

    Forty-five minutes flew by and the alarm went off. I reached over and turned it off.

   "I wish I had a big hammer with a long handle," Dac mumbled as I turned back against him.

    I whispered in his ear, "Well, if you get up now and take a shower with me, you'll get to see me without my clothes on, not to mention other things."

    "Mmmph. Do I get to fool around with those 'other things'"?

    "Considering you have your hand wrapped around one of them at the moment, I would guess so," as I eased toward the edge of the bed.

    "Oh. Well, my hand was cold. It was handy."

    "Jeeze, first time it's ever been used as a hand-warmer. C'mon, Bud, time to get you all scrubbed and shiny." I grabbed him by the hand and started pulling.

    "All right, all right, I'm coming," as he reached the edge of the bed and stood up. He looked over at me, "You going to scrub Fred?," as we headed for the shower.

    "You want me to?," my hand rubbing his warm bottom, my finger playing in his crack.

    "You know I love it."

    "Me too."

    He looked over at me with a grin, "You know what'll happen; don't you?"

    I grinned at him, "I'm counting on it."

    We were sitting at the breakfast table with a full crew, including Jerry, grace having been said and stuffing our faces with a farm style breakfast: steak, eggs, biscuits and gravy and plenty of hot strong coffee and trying to talk at the same time.

    "So what's on today's agenda for everyone," I asked, looking around the table.

    Craig was the first to respond. "Well, Kevin and I are going into town and pick up supplies for Dulce and myself. We'll be at the lumber yard, hardware and grocery store. So if anyone else needs anything, speak up."

    "You may run into some comments, if you know what I mean," I said.

    "Yeah, I've thought about it," Craig said.

    "Think you can handle it?"

    Craig looked over at Kevin, "Can we handle it, Kev?"

    Kevin grinned, "We can handle it."

    "Dulce, anything special going on for you today?," I asked.

    "Well, aside from preparing meals and menu planning, I was going to go through the linen closets and see what's needed and if there's time after that, start on the general inventory of the house."

    "Let me know what you need in the way of linens and we'll make a run into Albuquerque to buy those or anything else you need. There's better selection there. We could even pick up some boyfriends for you if you want," I said, grinning at her.

    She started laughing. "That will be the day. Besides, who could ask for better boyfriends than I have right here in front of me?"

    "Well, we're kind of a strange group," Dac said.

    "Hey," Jerry spoke up, "I'm not strange just because I'm related to Davy."

    Dac and I looked at each other, then at Jerry, "Yes, you are," we both said and started laughing.

    Dulce smiled at him, "Well, you certainly need some management. Here," as she handed him the platter, "have some more biscuits. It'll take the edge off of your strangeness."

    "Well, I need something. Boy, the way I'm treated. And by my own brother, too. The biscuits help, though," smiling at Dulce.

    Dac finished, picked up his dishes and took them to the sink. "I got to get to work. See you all later," and looking at me with a special smile, "Bye."

    "Bye," I said, wishing I could give him a more definite goodbye. He had a tendency to walk in from time to time and check on me, specially if he knew I was in the library or office, so later perhaps. Besides, we had talked about this earlier and had decided that any displays of affection between us would be kept private.

    Craig and Kevin headed back toward Craig's apartment for a last minute checklist leaving me and Jer at the table.

    "C'mon, Jer, grab your coffee, I need to talk to you about something," as I headed out of the kitchen and down the hallway.

    "Let me close the door. I don't want to be overheard," as Jer followed me into the library and sat down.

    "Overheard by whom?," Jer asked.

    "By Dac. He wouldn't intentionally eavesdrop, but all it would take would be one or two choice words and as quick as he is, he would have things figured out before we left the house in the morning." And I then proceeded to explain about Dac's abilities and the piano being delivered tomorrow and the need to get him out of the house until after it was taken care of.

    Jer was nodding his head, "Okay, so what do you want me to do?"

    "Well, I was thinking about the three of us driving into Albuquerque tomorrow and picking out a computer. I want Dac along so that he will know what we are getting and its capabilities. And I want you along to guide us in the right direction and to explain what we should have and shouldn't bother with and why and all that sort of stuff, since you are now an expert. Craig, being in charge of the orchard will probably need to use it to order supplies and plants over the internet. And so will Dulce for spices and/or special equipment. Dac and I are both computer literate and I'm pretty sure Dulce and Craig is also; but at any rate we don't have the expertise that you obviously do. And I definitely want something that's not going to fall apart during the first month or so."

    "What price range," Jer asked.

    "I'm not concerned with price, I'm more concerned with quality, reliability, state of the art and that sort of thing."

    "Okay, sounds good. I've a few ideas in mind. Let me get on the phone and make a few calls to Albuquerque and I should have a pretty good idea of what all's available and which direction to steer you by tomorrow morning."

    "Good," I said. "I need to talk with Craig before he and Kevin leave for town. So, I'll see you in a little bit and then we'll have time to talk and I can show you around the place."

    I walked toward the kitchen, "Hey, Dulce, have Craig and Kevin left for town yet?"

    "No, he's right here," Dulce said. "I just remembered some last minute things I need from the grocery store."

    "Oh, okay. Craig, when you get through there, come on down to the office. I need to go over something with you," as I headed for the office.

    "Sure, be down in a bit," he called.

    I got to the office and started putting away some things I had left out on the desk when Craig stuck his head in the door.

    "You wanted to see me?"

    "Yeah, Craig, come on in and close the door. Have a seat."

    Craig sat down with a question on his face, waiting.

    I smiled at him, "Nothing serious, Craig, I just wanted to know how Kevin's doing."

   "Oh," the relief showing on his face, "he's doing okay. At least I think so. He had a bad moment yesterday afternoon and then again last night when we were talking but he understands that he can get through them and then also, they are not happening quite so often. Then I helped him make up the bed on the divan and we went to bed. I woke up around 12:30 or so and went to the bathroom and looked in on him and he seemed to be sound asleep. Then about 3:00 a.m. he came in the bedroom and woke me up and asked if he could sleep with me. I turned on the bedside lamp and I could tell he was pretty upset and I asked him if he was having a bad time and he just said it was a pretty terrible dream. So he got in bed with me and I wrapped my arms around him and he relaxed and went right back to sleep and was fine the rest of the night."

    "Sounds like he is doing okay, then," I said.

    "Well, there is one thing," Craig looked at me.


    "He needs to go to the cemetery and pay his last respects to Dwayne."

    "You think he's ready?"

    "To go by himself? No, I don't. But I could drive him there. It's something that I know is in the back of his mind that he needs and wants to do. So, I was wondering if it'd be okay if I took a day off for it. I'll take my own car and everything."

    "Have you talked to Kevin about this?"

    "No, but I'm going to if it's okay if I take a day off."

    "Sure, Craig. Let me know what day you plan on going. Stay overnight if you need to."

   "Good enough." Craig stood up, "well, I'll talk to you later," and headed down the hallway.

    I got up and went in search of Jer and found him in the kitchen drinking coffee and talking with Dulce.

    "Hi," he said as I walked in. "You get through talking with Craig?"

    "Yeah, I did. Did you make any of those phone calls you were talking about?"

    "Yes," holding up a notebook in his hand. "All through, as a matter of fact. I have a couple of places in mind that we need to check out tomorrow."

    "You're going to be gone tomorrow?," as Dulce looked up from what she was doing.

    "Yes, Dac and I and Jer will be going into Albuquerque after breakfast and I'll make it a point to not get back here until supper time so there shouldn't be any problem with the delivery people tomorrow. Are you all square on the position and where it's supposed to go?"

    Dulce gave me an exasperated smile, "Yes, yes, and yes. Now will you quit your worrying about it? I know exactly where it is supposed to go and which way it's supposed to face and so forth. Oh, I just remembered, do you want me to fix some hors d'oeuvres or a desert for this evening?"

   "Oh, for supper? Yes, I--"

    "No, supper is already planned out. I mean after supper when Mario and Anthony are here?"

    "How did you know they were coming out this evening?," I asked.

    "Oh," laughing, "let's just say Tiger told me."

    I shook my head back and forth, muttering, "I'm gonna have a talk with that damned cat. Yes, Dulce, a dessert would be nice and thank you. C'mon, Jer, I'll show you around the place."

    We headed out the kitchen door into the herb garden and I pointed out the various herbs growing there and the special construction of the wall and then we headed for the orchard.

    "Boy, this place is a lot bigger than I thought. I take it you have an orchard? You did say that Craig was in charge of it; didn't you?"

    "Yes, we do. And yes, he is. We're heading in that direction now. It's those rows of trees that you can see from here with the ridge above and behind them. When Kevin first showed the place to me, we didn't walk through the orchard, so I first walked through after I had bought the place and I was really amazed at the variety of fruit trees there.

    "And also amazed at how badly the place smelled from the rotting fruit that had never been picked this summer and I suspect last summer also. It was laying there on the ground and rotting and I thought, boy, Dad would turn over in his grave if he could see something like that. You remember how he used to holler at us to eat it up, use it up, wear it out?

    "Anyway, I swore right then and there that I would hire somebody full time that knew how to manage and take care of an orchard. I don't want to lose any of those original trees. I'll put in new stock as we need to, of course, but several of those older trees, I'm almost sure, produce the old variety of apples like the little green ones that we used to take into town and sell to the grocery stores. Remember?"

    "Oh, the ones that Mom used to say were so sour they'd make a pig squeal? Yeah, I remember."

    I laughed at the memory. "Oh, but the pies those things made were just out of this world. And you can't find them anymore. The only thing that even comes close are those Granny Smith apples and they don't even come close, really. You remember the burgundies and the winesaps?"

    "Sure, fried apples and apple cake and baked apples. Man, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it."

    "Yeah, I know what you mean," as we kept walking through the orchard, pointing out the different fruit trees. "We got a good variety of apricot. Can't remember the name but it's the large variety."

    "Just from looking at the tree?," Jerry asked.

    "No, from the size of the rotting fruit at the base of the tree. That and Craig said the same thing."

    "Oh. Hey, you got pie plant growing out here, too," pointing to a bushy-like plant growing at the beginning of one of the rows of fruit trees.

    "Oh, yeah. I didn't see that the other day. Good deal. Rhubarb pies. Hope it's the bright crimson variety like Dad used to grow."

    "Oh. Well, I'm sure looking forward to some of those apricot pies and preserves and rhubarb pies."

    I smiled at him, "Well, you come out and help pick when the fruit comes in and I'll see what I can scrounge up."

    "Knew there'd be a snag. Okay, if you throw in some of the apple pies you were talking about and some of the jellies that Mom used to make. And feed me and entertain me while I'm here. Besides," grinning at me, "you owe me that much just for my consultation fee."

    "Consultation fee," I said. "You're my brother -- oh, all right, I suppose."

    "Oh, c'mon," as he put his arm around my shoulder, "don't be a grouch. Give me one of your sunny smiles. You know you can't win an argument with me."

    I gave him a sunny smile and put my arm around his shoulder.

    "It's nice out today."

    "Yeah, Indian Summer," I said. "My favorite season of the year."

    "What's on the agenda for the rest of the day?," Jerry asked as we headed toward the house, arms around each other.

    "Well, lunch then some paperwork I need to do, and I need to talk to Dac after lunch about going to Albuquerque tomorrow. So the afternoon is free for you to do whatever you like. Take the Cruiser and go sight seeing if you want. Two guys that work for Dac are coming out to talk with Dac and I after supper -- well, you heard Dulce and I talking about that. And that pretty much is the agenda. Not an awful lot going on today.

    "Tomorrow will be busier, though. Perhaps, if we have time, we can go to Old Town while we are in Albuquerque. That's the original Albuquerque, all the old buildings and the town square. It has been mostly converted into shops and the like. Most of it is touristy but they do have some really good jewelry stores with a lot of the Indian silver work, jade and needlepoint silver, black pottery from the Acoma Indian Tribe, art work, leather work and things like that. It's worth seeing.

    "We can stop in at the Candy Lady. That's a candy store. She makes this fantastic fudge, all kinds of flavors, chocolates, chocolate covered strawberries and cherries, all kinds of things. Even has a section of pornographic cakes, which sell quite well as I understand. I'd buy one for Dac except he'll be with us."

    "Yeah, I'd like to go. The jewelry stores that you were talking about, I noticed the watchband that Dac has. It's really sharp. Did he get it in Old Town?"

    "I don't know where he got it. You'll have to ask him. He has a belt buckle that matches it in case you didn't notice. I know it's Indian made and the way the turquoise is worked into the silver, I would guess it's probably Zuni. They excel in that type of work."

    We got back to the house a few minutes before lunch time. I headed back towards the office and Jerry went upstairs to finish unpacking. I started on some paperwork but found myself sitting there staring out the window wondering about Dac and the piano. Boy, is he ever going to be surprised, I thought.

    A couple of remarks that Dac had made in earlier conversations had tipped me off as to what the meeting with Mario and Anthony was probably about and I knew that Dac and I would help them in any way we could.

    I was still sitting there lost in thought when Dac stuck his head in the door, "Hey, slick, it's time to eat and I'm hungry and you're holding up the parade."

    "Oh, sorry," I said, as I got up and we headed out the door. I was still somewhat lost in thought and didn't say anything and Dac glanced over at me as we walked down the hallway, "Is something wrong?"

    "No, I was just thinking."

    "Good thoughts about me, no doubt," as he smiled at me.

    I smiled over in return, "Thoughts about you are always good. Exciting, too," as I reached over and rubbed his bottom.

    "Hey, quit that," as he dodged out of reach. "You're going to get me all excited and distracted and then I'll miss lunch."

    "Oh, good heavens, we wouldn't want you to miss your lunch, now, would we?" I quickly caught up with him and pinched his butt and laughed my way, very quickly, into the kitchen with Dac in hot pursuit.

    Dulce looked up as we came through the kitchen doorway, "What are you two up to?" And noting the expression on our faces, "Never mind. I already know the answer."

    "Oh, Enchiladas, my favorite," as Dac eyed the dish on the table.

    "I think food is your favorite," as she mussed Dac's hair and sat a bowl of refried beans down.

    "Okay, I think that's everything," as she sat down. We said grace and began lunch.

    "So how was the trip into town?," as I glanced over at Craig and Kevin.

    "Fine, we got everything we needed. Kevin went over and talked with his boss while I was getting the groceries, and as soon as he finished there, we came on home. I'll get the receipts to you after lunch."

    "Fine, no hurry. How did things go with you and your boss, Kev?"

    "Well, better than I expected. I told him that I had some domestic problems at home and needed some time off; and of course, he had already heard the gossip and said right out to take as much time as I needed and give him a call when I was ready to come back. I think the only gossip he's heard was about Nancy and I, not anything else. Anyway, I am now on leave."

    "Good. I'm glad it worked out the way you wanted."

    "Did you guys get hassled by anybody?," Dac asked.

    Craig looked up, "Well, a couple of dirty looks from the guy and his wife that run the grocery store but nobody else. Nobody said anything to us."

    "Well, it figures," Dac said. "They're members of that shit-for-brains church that Malcolm belongs to."

    "Oh, sorry, Dulce," Dac said as Dulce glanced at him.

    Kevin spoke up, "I didn't know they were members. They always seemed so nice whenever I was in the store."

    "They are nice people. It's just when it comes to religion, they get all weird and bent out of shape. Also, I think they kind of low-profile it as far as the grocery store is concerned. Afraid they might lose business if it became too well known," Dac said.

    I had been following the conversation and finishing up what was on my plate and suddenly I felt a pat-pat-pat on my leg. I glanced down and there was Tiger doing her I'm-a-piteous-starved-cat routine. I picked up a few scraps of chicken from my plate and handed them down and they were gone in an instant plus getting my fingers well licked. I glanced up and Dac was looking straight at me with a knowing grin on his face. I smiled back.

    "David, I just fed her. She can't possibly be hungry," Dulce said. "And you're teaching her bad habits."

    Tiger looked over at her and meowed.

    Dulce pointed a finger at her, "No sass from you or it's going to be dry cat food in your bowl."

    I laughed and Tiger looked up and gave me this little I'm-such-an-abused-cat-meow.

    I laughed, "You heard her, Tiger. Better mind."

    Tiger walked off, the picture of feline dejection. She got to the doorway and turned around and I swear she was looking right at Dulce and very loudly went MEOW and turned around, flounced her tail and walked out the door, her dignity apparently restored.

    "I think she just told you off, Dulce," Dac said, laughing.

    "Well, I think I can handle that little manipulator. Especially when she gets hungry and I'm the only one around," Dulce said, as she began clearing the table.

    Craig got up and reached over and mussed Kevin's hair, "C'mon, Kev, excitement in the orchard."

    Kevin smiled at Craig as he got up, "You bet. I can hardly wait. Let's go."

    "Hey, you two, dirty dishes in the sink, please," Dulce said.

    "Oh, sorry," as they both grabbed their dishes and headed for the sink.

    "Here," as Dulce handed Craig a package from the refrigerator, "Something to snack on this afternoon."

    Craig broke out in a big smile, "Oh, you're the best, Dulce. Thanks," as he took the package. "See you later," as they headed out the door.

    And I knew it was coming, "Where's mine?," asked Dac with a stricken look on his face.

    "Oh, you haven't been forgotten. It's in the refrigerator. You can get it yourself. During one of the many times when you come in to check on David, as if he needed checking on."

    Dac looked over at me, "See how she treats me?"

    "Oh, Dac, I truly hurt for you," trying not to smile. Too much.

    He looked first at me then Dulce, "No sympathy, no respect around here," as he got up, shaking his head. "I might as well go back to work."

    He got about two or three steps from the table, stopped, came back and got his dishes and put them in the sink, glared at Dulce and went out the door. Dulce just smiled.

    Jerry said something about going for a walk before he got himself in trouble and headed for the door. I sat at the table, finishing my coffee and smoking a cigarette.

    "Now what are you worrying about, as if I didn't know," Dulce said, as she sat down across from me.

    "I just hope Dac likes the piano. Guess I'm having second thoughts about the whole thing. Maybe I shouldn't have bought it. Maybe he'll feel like he can't accept it. Too much of a gift."

    "David, it's the first thoughts that count the most and are usually the most accurate.

    "Dac never got very much from his folks as a kid growing up -- they just didn't have the money to spare. They loved him and made do for him and gave him what they could but there just wasn't much left over for extras. I think a present from you -- any kind of present -- would mean the world to him. And if he's as good a pianist as you say he is, how could he not help but love it? And you especially for having given it to him.

    "You know, I can remember when he was about 13 or 14, we didn't have a movie theater here in town then and the closest one was a good 30 miles away. So the men in town would take turns and every once in a while, one of them would borrow a truck and haul a load of kids to the next town to go to the movies. And one time in particular, I remember Dac and his father had come into town for supplies and Dac was standing on the sidewalk watching them get in the truck and as they left, the look on his face would have written a book. I knew he didn't have the money and if I'd had any extra, I would have given it to him but I was in college at that time and I just didn't have it. Trust me, David, he'll love it."

    "Thanks, Dulce, that helped," I said. "I'll be in the office if you need me."

    I continued working in the office, paying bills, filing stuff, sorting through a bunch of mail -- mostly ads -- and in general getting things organized and worked out in my head for the placement of the computer and the miscellaneous peripherals that would go with it.

    "Hi, did you miss me?," and Mr. Smiles sort of radiated into the office.

    "You can't stay away from me, can you? Of course I missed you. You're the sunshine in my life," as I got up and came around the desk and put my arms around him, my hand in his hair and my body sort of melting against him.

    "Whew, I gotta come back here more often," he said.

    "Yeah, no telling what you might get into," as I rubbed my hand across his bottom.

    "Man, you get me hotter than Dulce's enchiladas. Oh, ouch."


    "Where you pinched me. It's sore."

    "Oh, you delicate thing," I teased.

    "Delicate, my foot. You don't know your own strength."

    "I thought you were going to say 'delicate, my ass.'"

    "I started to but figured you wouldn't be able to handle the correlation."

    "You're right, I probably wouldn't have. Oh, I need to ask a favor of you," as we broke apart.

    "You want me to be your sex slave. Again. And the answer is yes, I'd love to. I'll even dance for you. Naked. Show you my pubes, too."

    "You will? Which one? Your glutes, too?"

    "Never can tell," with an evil smile.

    "I'd love to see you dance. Especially naked and you're getting me turned on just thinking about it."

    "But," as I continued, "that's not what I wanted to talk to you about. Jerry and I are going to Albuquerque tomorrow morning. Can you come with us?"

    "I take it we're not going to be pulling into any turn-offs on the way?," with a grin.

    "With Jerry in the car? Hardly," I said.

    "Yeah, I'd like to go. Nothing going on that the men can't handle on their own. We're going sightseeing?," he asked.

    "Well, we'll probably work some of that in while we're there but the main reason is I want to get a computer. Jerry is going along because he knows more about computers than you or I do and can guide us in the right direction. I want you along because I know you'll just be a miserable slob and start wasting away without me around to keep you happy. That and the fact that I want you to know what kind of computer we're getting and what all it will do and how to operate it and so forth."

    "Yeah, I'd love to go. And miserable slob will extract payment for that unkindness. And a certain pinch this morning."

    "Oh, I hope so. Tonight perhaps?"

    Dac looked at me and sort of shook his head and smiled. "I gotta get my snack that Dulce made for me. At least she is more attuned to my feelings."

    "Oh, well, I guess you don't want that kiss I had all 'tuned' up ready to give you before you left."

    Dac just looked at me and then walked into my arms and I felt his lips on mine. Then a whisper in my ear, "You're a regular little rat at times, you know that?"

    "Squeak, squeak!," I said and laughed.

    "Oooh," as he threw his hands in the air and went out the door.

    I went back to work with a smile on my face, finishing a little after 4. I went to the kitchen and got a cup of coffee and sat there looking out the window. It looked so nice out.

    "Where's Jerry," I asked.

    Dulce looked up from setting the table, "I think he went upstairs to take a nap."

    "Uhmmm, I think I'll take a walk," as I got up and headed for the door.

    "Supper will be in about 45 minutes," Dulce said.

    "Oh, okay," rather absentmindedly.

    "Strawberry shortcake for dessert," she said.

    "Oh, you're devious, you know that?"

    She laughed, "No, I just know that most men have a sweet tooth and you're certainly no exception and I figured that would get you back on time better than anything else."

    "You're right about that," as I checked my watch and headed out the door.

    I stepped outside and spotted Dac squatted down washing his hands at an outside hydrant.

    "You gonna strip off and take a bath there, Bud?"

    "You wish. I only do that for a very select and private audience," smiling at me. "You, for instance. What are you doing out here; checking up on us honest folk?"

    "Nope," I said. "Going for a walk. Some company would be nice."

    "You promise not to pinch?," trying to give me a stern look.

    "I promise not to pinch. Or fondle. Or caress. Or pat. Or lick anything -- at least until tonight.

    "Well, don't get rash about it. Oh, I suppose I can handle that. With all those promises, it sounds kind of boring, though."

    We started walking south toward the distant trees where I had taken photographs one afternoon. As soon as we cleared the house and out of sight of the workmen, Dac reached over and took hold of my hand and we smiled at each other. It was a companionable silence, warm and soft with each other. The weather was no-shirt. The air was sweet smelling with the scent of pine, birch, poplar, new mown grass and a myriad of other scents that I couldn't even begin to identify. There was the scent of roses in the air, but we didn't have any, I thought. Where is it coming from? As we walked, it became a moment of magic. We kept smiling at each other. I couldn't control my emotions and they eventually hit meltdown and my eyes filled.

    Dac looked at me, "What?"

    I looked at him and shook my head, "I love you, Dac."

    He stopped and took both my hands in his, "I know. I've been given something pretty wonderful." And with tears beginning, "I love you, David," and he held me in his arms and kissed me and I gave up breathing and time must surely have stood still.


    I started breathing again and looked down, the spell broken, and murder streaked through my heart, "You know, Tiger, you're a real nice cat, but oh, your timing absolutely sucks!"

    Dac reached down and scooped her up, "Oh, poor Tiger, you're just trying to be a good cat and everybody keeps giving you grief; don't they?"

    And of course, Tiger looked at Dac with adoration smeared all over her puss and went meow!

    At least we had that moment, I thought gratefully. I laughed, "Well, we better head back or Dulce will be on the warpath if we're late for supper."

    "Here, cat," as Dac put her down, "you can make it on your own steam." And Tiger went scampering toward the house.

    We made it back with less than a minute to spare.

    Dulce glanced at us as we came in, "I was about ready to come get you two. Wash up and supper will be ready."

    Jerry looked at me, "Where were you?"

    "Oh," I said, drying my hands, "we just went for a walk," and sat down.

    We said grace and I glanced up at Craig and Kevin's smiling faces. And there was something about their smiles, "What's the smiling faces for?," as I glanced over at Dac, who had question all over his face.

    Kevin started laughing, "Looked like more than a walk to me."

    "Yeah," Craig said.

    "What were they doing?," as Jerry looked at Craig.

    "Well," and Craig started laughing.

    "You were spying on us?," I said, trying my best to look severe but my mouth wasn't cooperating.

    "Here, David," as Dulce handed me a covered basket, "pass the rolls and go ahead and laugh. I don't think you can hold it much longer."

    I laughed. "You're right, I can't," glancing over at Dac who had gotten slightly red in the face.

    Craig spoke up, "Aw, c'mon you two. We had to tease you a little bit. We're all happy for you. It was an accident that we saw you in the first place."

    "And an accident that you kept looking?," I retorted.

    "Well," Craig said, "it really was educational."

    Kevin started laughing, "It sure was. Wow."

    "But what were they doing?," Jerry asked, looking from face to face..

    Kevin looked over at him and with a straight face, "They were practicing snorkeling."

    And everybody started laughing except Jerry who looked even more confused than ever.

    "I'll tell you later," I said to Jerry, thinking to myself that it sure would be later, like twenty or thirty years later.

    Conversation eventually got back to normal and we continued eating. Craig finished and started picking up his dishes and Dulce said, "Come back to the table, Craig. Tonight we have dessert."

    "We do?," as he promptly sat back down. "Oh, wow."

    "That is as soon as everybody finishes with supper," Dulce said.

    The clink of silverware almost doubled and dishes made it to the sink in record time as supper came to a speedy and abrupt end.

    Dulce came back from the walk-in carrying a tray laden with bowls and a smile.

    "I found frozen strawberries in the freezer. So, it's strawberry shortcake and whipped cream for dessert," as she began handing out the bowls.

    "Oh, strawberry shortcake is my favorite," Dac said.

    "And if I have pie tomorrow night, will that suddenly become your favorite?," Dulce asked.

    "Well," Dac said with a glint in his eyes, "depends on how good a pie you make. I might change my mind."

    "Oh," as Dulce pointed a finger at Dac, "you will regret that remark, young man."

    Dac got a rueful look on his face, "I think I already am."

    I got up and poured myself a cup of coffee. "C'mon, it's still nice outside. Let's sit on the front step and have a cup of coffee and watch the sunset."

    Everybody got up and got coffee and trooped outside.

    I looked back and stopped as I saw Dulce doing something at the sink. "C'mon, Dulce, the group is not complete without you."

    She turned and smiled at me, "I'll be there in a moment. I was just getting things ready for later in the evening when Mario and Anthony are here."

    I sat down next to Dac, receiving a smile from him. Craig and Kevin were sitting next to me and Jerry sat down next to Dac. There was a slight, meandering breeze from the north, laden with the scent of pine from the forest. The sunset was just beginning. Clouds mixed with the setting sun, amidst the muted purple, orange, red, and gray of the clouds. There were birds chattering in the distance, nesting down for the night. I felt a hand take mine and looked into the sweet warmth of Dac's smile and smiled in return and scooted closer to him, feeling the warmth of his body and breathing in the scent of pine mixed with Dac.

    Dulce came out and sat on the step in front of Dac and I. "Oh, this is nice. I've always thought that the sunsets in New Mexico are the best. They seem so close, like you could almost reach up and touch them."

    "Yeah, I know what you mean," I said. "In Kansas they were rather ho-hum. Not as spectacular," as I looked up at the clouds roiled up in sort of a huge diamond shaped mass, the sun shining through and the colors constantly changing: first intense, then muted as the clouds changed shape and the sun slowly sank.

    "You're right, these are better than Kansas," said Jerry.

    We sat watching in silence at the panoply of changing colors.

    And Dac, doing his imitation of the narrator's voice from the old Travelogue movie shorts, "And stark naked, they mounted their horses and saying a fond farewell to the land of enchantment, rode off into the sunset."

    And amidst the laughter, Craig leaned toward me, "You know, it's really easy to believe in God seeing something like that."

    "You're right, it is," I said. "In fact, just living up here makes it pretty easy."  

    "And loving someone makes it even easier," said Dac. 

    "I know," said Craig.

    I looked over at Dac and smiled and as I turned back noticed that Craig and Kevin were holding hands. Hey, when did all this take place, I wondered and noticed that Craig was looking directly at me and smiling. I smiled in return, somewhat surprised but thinking it couldn't happen to two nicer people. They certainly have my blessing.

    "Well," as Dulce stood up, "looks like things are pretty much over with and I've things to get done," as she headed inside.

    "You need some help?," Jerry said as he stood up.

    "Oh," as Dulce smiled at him, "I wouldn't turn it down."

    Craig stood up, "C'mon, Kev, let's go home and work on our project. See you guys later." And off they went, leaving me wondering what 'our project' was all about.

    Dac leaned up against me and in an exaggerated theatrical whisper, "Alone at last."

    I laughed at him, and decided to drag it out a bit and in a little falsetto voice, "Oh, Raoul, I've dreamed of this moment. Hungered for it. Oh, my darling, I waited so long for you to come home."

    "Oh, Victoria, as I lay in my bedroll, I could hear the coyotes howl and I thought of you every night. And thinking of you, it didn't matter so much to me then that it got shot off even though it was still so hard."

    And ala Ford commercial, "Like a rock?"

    "Oh, I thought they were talking about a constipated truck driver," Dac said, with a grin.

    We both started laughing.

    I looked over at Dac, "Have you been sniffing anything lately?"

    He gazed into my eyes as his fingers caressed my face, a mischievous grin playing across his face, "Just you."

    "Thanks. I think," I said.

    "Oh, you're quite welcome. More or less."

    I glanced at my watch, "Mario should be calling any time now." And the phone rang.

    "See, see," I said, getting up to answer it.

    "They're on their way out," I said, as I returned and sat back down.

    "You get it figured out what they want?," Dac asked.

    "Pretty much. I could be wrong but I don't think I am."

    "Yeah, so what did you get figured out?"

    "That they are gay and are wanting some advice, probably legal or something having to do with money in the event something happens to either of them or joint ownership of property and that sort of thing."

    "Wow. I'm impressed," Dac said.

    "You should be, Bud. You don't know what a good deal you walked into when you latched onto me. Plus my stunning good looks, scintillating personality--"

    "David, please, I just got through eating."

    And with a long suffering sigh, "That's all right, that's all right," I said. "And someone who loves you unconditionally, 24/7."

    Dac looked at me, "Now that I cherish. It is priceless. And I love you," then grinned, "your looks are okay, I guess. Jerry said you were as homely as a mud fence post when you were a kid. He said he didn't think you had changed all that much. Very illuminating conversation."

    "I'm going to kick his butt yet and boy, will he ever be illuminated. What a mouth. He never could keep it shut."

    "Oh, cheer up," as he put his arms around me. "Besides, I have a surprise for you."

    And I knew immediately, "Oh, no, not another story? A perfect evening shot to hell," I grumbled. "Where do you find these things?"

    "But you like my stories. You laughed at my last one. Remember?"

    "I was being polite. All right, all right, there's no way I can avoid this. Tell me your story."

    "Oh, good. I knew you would want to hear it. You'll like this, David, it's about food and Dac scooted around, facing me, all happy and grinning all over the place.

A man goes into a restaurant and is seated. A voluptuous waitress wearing a very

short skirt comes to his table and asks him if he is ready to order.

He looks at the menu and then scans her beautiful frame top to bottom and

then answers, "A Quickie."

The waitress turns and walks away in disgust. After she regains her composure she returns

and asks him what he would like to order and he says, "A Quickie, please." She

loses her temper and reaches over and slaps him across the face with a

resounding smack and storms away. A man sitting at the next table

leans over and whispers, "Uh, I think it's pronounced 'Quiche.'"

    I tried not to, but I started laughing.

    "See," Dac had his face practically against mine. "I knew you'd like it. You always like my stories."

    "I wasn't laughing, I was coughing. I think I'm coming down with a cold," I said.

    "Oh, David, you lie like a rug. One of these days I'm going to get my magic finger out, then you'll be sorry."

    "Magic what?," I asked.

    "Never mind, just one of these days you're going to be so sorry you lied to me."

    Beep, beep, beep sounded in the kitchen.

    I went in the kitchen and opened the access gate for Mario and Anthony, checked to see if there was coffee made and if I would need to dish up the dessert. Everything was done so I headed back outdoors and sat down just as Mario and Anthony drove up.

    They parked and got out of the car, Anthony laughing about something.

    "See? I bet when Mario tells Anthony a joke, he laughs and tells Mario how much he appreciates it, not like you."

    "Appreciates what?," said Anthony as he and Mario walked up the steps.

    "He doesn't appreciate my stories," Dac said. "He has no taste whatsoever."

    "Oh, well, I like Mario's stories. They're always so funny," said Anthony.

    Dac gave me one of his I told you looks. I ignored him.

    I stood up, "Hi, Mario, Anthony. Let's all go in the library. It's quiet and more comfortable in there."

    "Yeah, just the right place to tell good stories," Dac said, grinning at me.

    I made pinching motions at his butt and he rapidly dodged out of the way as we made our way to the library.

    Everybody got seated and we sat around and talked shop for a few minutes. It was an atmosphere of relaxation and being at ease with each other. I couldn't help but notice that both Mario and Anthony seemed content and relaxed in each other's company. Very much like Dac and I.

    "So what can Dac and I help you with," I asked.

    "Well," as Mario took the lead, "we were wondering if you could give us some advice."

    "Well, we'd be glad to listen and help if we can. But I don't know much about either of you, so you're going to have to give me some general background."

    "Sure," as Mario began collecting his thoughts, "Well, uh, well, to begin with. I graduated from high school here and then I sort of drifted from one job to the next until I started working for Dac about a year-and-a-half ago. He's a good guy to work for. A little strange at times but for all that, a good boss," Mario grinned at Dac.

    "Yes, I can certainly vouch for the strangeness. Ooof," I said as an elbow plowed into my ribs.

    "Anyway," a smile playing on his face, "Anthony's the smart one here. He went to college right out of high school and got his degree and then came to work for Dac as a summer job about a year ago. Well, he was forever asking me how to do this and how to do that on the job and I'd show him and well, we kind of got to be friends and started running around together, doing things, so forth. And well, I'm not gay, never been attracted to guys but yet there was something about Anthony that it just seemed right between us and I don't know how to explain it. Guess I don't fully understand it myself. The fact is we're in love with each other and we want to commit to each other and of course therein lies the problem."

    "Why is that a problem? I don't understand," I said.

    "Well, let me explain a bit more. I inherited a large piece of land and quite a bit of money from my Grandmother when she passed away. It's about the same size as this except it's on the north side of town, up in the mountains. It's a beautiful tract of land and my grandmother built a house on it. It's a medium sized house and well built. But wee want to add some rooms to it and remodel in the kitchen and bedrooms. Make it into our own place. Both of us have saved practically everything we've earned and together, plus my inheritance, we have quite a bit. Certainly enough to pay for the materials we would need. And of course, Anthony and I would be doing most of the work ourselves and save the cost of hired help.

    "So the problem is, since the land and everything on it is in my name, if something happened to me and I died then everything would revert back to my family or my brothers and sisters and Anthony would have nothing, even though half of the house and land would be his. He would have nowhere to go. So we knew we needed to find an attorney, but who? We didn't want to contact just any attorney and find out later that he's some sort of raving homophobe. So we were kind of in a quandary until the other day when you and Dac made that announcement and Malcolm came totally unglued.

    "So we talked it over and decided to come out and ask if you knew somebody in the legal profession that handled this sort of thing and what all we would need to do."

    "Do both your parents know about the two of you?," I asked.

    "Yeah," Anthony said. "That's part of the problem. Mario's folks kicked him out of the house. He lived in a motel for about a week. His folks finally let him come back and get his clothes and stuff. His dad told him that he was going to disown him and take his land away from him and give it to his brothers and sisters. Can his folks do that?"

    "I don't know. I wouldn't think so. But I'm not an attorney. What about your parents, Anthony?," I asked.

    "About the same. My folks are Norwegian and immigrated here with their parents when they were children. They're very religious and strict. I told my folks about a week after Mario told his. I got kicked out religiously and Mario got kicked out emotionally because his Dad said he wasn't going to have a cock sucker living amongst them. My folks wouldn't even give me my clothes and stuff, said it would be better that they be donated to charity rather than be worn on the back of someone wallowing in a life of sin. Mario was already in an apartment when I got kicked out, so I moved in with him."

    "Okay," I said. "Well, I suspected that this was what we were going to be talking about this evening, so I did some research. This is the name, address and phone number of the attorney you want to deal with. He's in Albuquerque and a personal friend of mine that helps gays with some of their unique legal problems. He's straight but not narrow. And very intelligent. He'll do a good job for you. When you do call him, tell him that I recommended him to you and to also set up an appointment for Dac and I and to give me a call about the date. I would have gotten this done sooner but there's just been so much going on out here that a lot of things have got shoved aside.

    "I think you two need to get moving on this pretty quick especially if your Dad makes good on his threat and approaches an attorney on the subject. There are a lot of hungry attorneys in this town.

    "There are a number of legal documents that you will need to get executed and in place. I'm pretty certain that the property you own can be changed over to joint ownership.

    "The main thing you need to know is that you will not have any of the automatic rights that a married heterosexual couple have. So you will have to have a number of documents prepared and executed and that's why you need an attorney. For instance, should one of you die, you will not have the automatic rights of inheritance or disposition of property. Unless you have a will executed, then everything that's in your name, property, land, etc., will go to your blood relatives.

    In the event that one of you is unconscious or unable to speak for yourself, again, your blood relatives would have the final say unless you have a power of attorney to be able to direct or consent to medical treatment for your spouse. You would not even be able to say how your spouse's burial is to be conducted without the proper documents having been executed.

    "What I'm trying to say is that without these documents I just mentioned, your blood relatives would have the final say in all these things.

    "One of the most important rights that you will not have is that a husband or wife cannot be compelled to testify as to what took place in the bedroom or conversations had. And the last time I checked, you two cannot be protected on that one at all. If some attorney got you on the witness stand and started asking you a bunch of questions about what you did in bed or talked about, you would be compelled to answer and if you refused, you could be held in contempt of court and fined or jailed or both.

    "That's pretty much what Anthony was telling me," said Mario. "I just didn't think it was that involved."

    "Unfortunately it is," I said. "And in spite of the progress that's been made as far as equal rights for gays is concerned, there is still a great deal of religious and general opposition; and same sex marriages in New Mexico, I think, are a long way off. So the best you can do is a commitment ceremony and getting those legal documents taken care of right away.

    "You know, and I know I speak for Dac, that it took a lot of courage on both your parts to tell you parents, knowing, as I suspect you both did, how they would react. It's probably going to take some time before your parents can accept this, if ever they do. Your brothers and sisters probably grew up with a somewhat different set of values and perhaps their acceptance will come earlier. I hope so. But in the meantime, be aware and protect yourselves.

    "We will and I'll call for an appointment with this attorney tomorrow," said Anthony. "And again, thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with us."

    "No problem. We're glad to help when we can."

    "When is your commitment ceremony going to be?," said Dac.

    Mario glanced at Anthony, "Probably toward the end of summer. That will give us the time to get the legal things taken care of and most, if not all, of the work on the house completed."

    "Then are you going to have the commitment ceremony at your place or somewhere else?," I asked.

    "Well," as Anthony looked at Mario, "we haven't completely made up our minds about it. The mountain property has a nice meadow close to the house. It has some shade trees and lots of wild flowers and would make a beautiful setting. And we do have friends here. Plus my brothers and sisters and Mario's live here and we would hope that they would attend. But my uncle, who lives back in Ohio, who is gay, has offered to have the ceremony for us at his place. He lives in the country on a rather large farm and is really wanting us to come back there. So it's kind of a toss-up at the moment. He's elderly and it may be the last time I'll get to see him."

    "Well, maybe," as Dac spoke up, "you could fly back and visit with your uncle for a few days and then the both of you could fly out for the ceremony. That way, he would be here for the big event and wouldn't have to do any of the work since he is elderly. Besides," as Dac grinned at him, "by that time, Mario may be wanting to get rid of you for a little while. You know how you always bug him with your questions."

    "Hey, there you go," laughed Mario.

    Anthony looked over at him, with an evil laugh, "Wait until I get you alone."

    "Yeah, you got something in store for me?," as Mario grinned at him.

    "Oh, I'll come up with something. Count on it." Then, turning back to Dac and I, "You know, that's not a bad idea, though. There's really no reason to have the ceremony back there, we have no friends or relatives there. It'd be easier for my uncle to come out here; and like you say, he wouldn't have to do anything. And once we get the house finished, there would be plenty of room."

    "Another thing," as Dac continued, "when you leave to go back to Ohio, I'll go over and help Mario with any last minute construction stuff. I'll even bug him with tons of questions so he won't feel lonely. Come to think of it, I'll bet Owen would help, too. I'll buy a couple of six packs and tell him free beer. That'll get him over there about as fast as anything."

    "I tell you what," I said, getting into the act, "Dac and I will supply the food and liquor for the commitment ceremony. I know Dulce is probably one of the best cooks around this part of the country. And I'll certainly give her the time off. So if you want to ask her to come over and prepare some of the dishes for the celebration, I'm sure she would. But you need to ask her yourselves rather than me. And I think you should pay her for this. There's a lot of hard work involved. And if she needs help, I'll pay for the extra help."

    Mario looked over at Anthony. "Wow. How can we pass that up?"

    "We can't. We accept. And thank you so much," said Anthony. And giving Mario a hug, "So, my man, I'm going to Ohio. Do you think you can refrain from eyeballing those clowns in their tight little shorts at the grocery store while I'm gone?"

    "I wasn't eyeballing that guy," Mario protested. "I was just standing there trying to remember what it was that you wanted me to get for supper and then he bent over and I remembered that it was a couple of Honeydew melons you were wanting," Mario grinned at Anthony.

    Dac and I both started laughing.

    "Well, it must have been downright distracting because you forgot to bring 'em home, which is why you didn't get any dessert that evening," Anthony retorted.


    "Well, now that everything is settled, let's have some coffee and dessert," as I got up and headed for the kitchen.

    "Wait up, I'll give you a hand in the kitchen," as Dac got up and followed.

    We walked toward the kitchen and Dac looked over at me and grinned, "Are mine like honeydews?"

    I started laughing. "Well, they're pretty close. Not quite as large, but nice and smooth and round and so firm and warm. Of course," I said with a sigh, "it's been so long since I had a chance to examine them, they may have turned into a pair of gourds for all I know."

    "That's because you keep pinching them all the time."

    "You lie. I only pinched you one time only and that was with your pants on. You probably didn't even feel it," and we argued and teased our way into the kitchen. Dac got coffee and I got the dessert, put everything on a big tray and headed back to the library.

    We sat and had coffee and dessert and then had seconds on both while talking back and forth and joking and just enjoying each other's company. The evening finally came to an end and Mario and Anthony thanked us again as we walked toward the front door. We said our goodbyes and they left and Dac and I started turning off lights and shutting things down for the night.

    We walked in the bedroom, Dac unbuttoning his shirt as he headed for the bed and I making a beeline for the bathroom to get rid of all the coffee I had drunk. I finally finished and walked over toward the bed and Dac was laying on his stomach his bare bottom shining in the light from his bedside lamp. I didn't say anything as I got undressed and then got on the bed and spread Dac's legs and leaned down and kissed both cheeks and began rubbing them, molding them in my hands, occasionally reaching down and giving them little bites here and there, eliciting little wiggles and oohs and ahhs from Dac. I gently turned him over on his back, gave a lick and a promise to a very awake Fred and moved up to his face.

    "Have I ever told you how much I love you?," as I got lost in his eyes.

    He smiled up at me, "Probably, but you know what a bad memory I have."

    "Well, you know what they say?"

    "No, what do they say?," as he looked up at me.

    "That to be happy in life you must have a good sense of humor and a bad memory," as I leaned down and kissed him. I started lightly rubbing his nipples.

    "Then I'm definitely -- oohhh -- a success. I know how happy I am being with you. I feel like laughing all the -- oohhh, that's so nice -- time. I want to tell you a million stories, to be the best I can be for you, make love to you, and I feel like one big -- oohhh, yeah, David -- smile when I'm around you, I want to tell all my secrets to you, give you hot kisses, oh, so many things. And Fred just loves you to death."

    I reached down and put my hand around him, hearing Dac's sharp intake of breath and seeing the pleasure sweep across his face, "Let me tell you, the feeling is mutual."

    "It is?," he asked.

    I nodded my head, stroking him.

    "Want me to turn him loose?"

    My breath was ragged, "Oh, yeah," as his arms swept around me.

    Morning found us laying in essentially the same position as when we went to sleep. I suppose I dreamt during the night but didn't remember anything. I could feel Dac's warm breath tickling me as he lay in the crook of my neck and shoulder. His whole body was radiating heat like a little furnace. It was so pleasant laying there with him in my arms, loving him and being loved. I began to drift off again in a sort of warm, loving euphoria.

    Chirp, chirp, CHIIIRRRPPPP!

    I raised up and looked over at the window. Yep, there he was, the return of the rotund robin, old R&R, hopping up and down and flapping his wings and probably cussing a blue streak.

    I got up and made my way over to the window and gave him his hand-out and stood, looking out the window. It was just light outside, probably thirty or so minutes before sunrise. There was no air movement, the branches of the trees not moving. The sky was clear promising a bright, warm day. I looked and saw movement. Rabbits in the distance, probably finishing their night of foraging and heading back to the safety of their burrows. I hoped that the garden had been spared but knew that I had probably donated a certain amount of produce to their enjoyment and well-being. I could hear crows cawing in the distance, birds chirping in trees, the distant hoot of an owl and other night sounds.

    Today's the day, I thought, with a feeling of excitement and dread. Oh, please, let him like the piano, I thought, already worrying about a thousand things that could happen between Albuquerque and here. What if, what if, what if. Oh, stop. I told myself. Things will go okay, I think. I hope. At least try and believe it. I suppose part of me actually did but the other part was really causing problems.

    I finally realized that nothing was going to be gained by standing here and brooding about what I couldn't control and turned and headed for the showers. I was surprised to hear the shower running and Dac standing in the spray with a head full of shampoo and scrubbing away for all he was worth. I walked up behind him and started scrubbing his head.

    "Aaaawwwwww!," he said and jumped about a foot. He turned around, looked at me and started laughing, "God dammit, David," as he grabbed me in his arms, "make some noise, will you?"

    "I'm sorry," I said, and couldn't hold it and started laughing.

    "Are you laughing at me? You are; aren't you?"

    "No, no," I said. "It's just that I've never seen anyone jump like that," and another laugh bubbled up, "How do you do it?"

    "Mmmph," and turned around and started scrubbing his hair again.

    I started scrubbing his back and he finally looked over his shoulder and grinned at me. We continued with our usual touchie feelies in the shower, finished up, dressed and headed down to breakfast.

    Dulce looked up as we walked into the kitchen. "Good morning, D&D. What time are you and Jerry leaving for Albuquerque?," she asked.

    "Well, as soon as my brother gets his scrawny butt down here," I said, as I sat down at the table and Dulce handed me a plate.

    "It is not scrawny," as Jerry walked into the kitchen. "My last girlfriend said it was quite attractive."

    "Maybe that's why she was your girlfriend," Dac said, grinning.

    "We broke up because of a difference of opinion," Jerry said, looking put upon.

    Dac started laughing, "Yeah, it was her opinion that it was scrawny and you didn't think so!"

    I started laughing, "Eat your breakfast and let's go. I still love you, my scrawny brother."

    "Don't let them get your goat, Jerry, you know how those two love to tease," Dulce said, handing him a plateful of food.

    And I glanced over at Dac and could see it in his face and knew what was coming, "Yeah, probably his goat's scrawny, too!"

    "Oh, Dac, will you hush? You're hurting his feelings. You want me to start telling some stories about you?," Dulce threatened.

    And Dac looked at her and a little "No," came forth.

    I decided it was a really good time to shut up and did. About that time, Craig and Kevin came through the kitchen door, holding hands again and smiling all over the place. Now there is food for thought, I thought. Wonder what they've been up to.

    "Good morning," they both said and sat down.

    "Who has a scrawny goat?," Kevin asked.

    And everybody started laughing, even Jerry.

    "What'd I say?," Kevin asked, his face a question mark.

    "I'll tell you later," I said. "Much later."

    "How are things going in the orchard?," I asked Craig, thinking it would be a pretty good time to change the subject.

    "Oh, fine so far. We've been pruning the fruit trees. Everything looks healthy. I'll keep everything watered and fertilized and we'll have a good crop come summer. We've been lucky so far and haven't found any dead trees and we're almost through the entire orchard. At any rate, we're getting quite a pile of trash that's going to need to be hauled off."

    "Well, load it in the pickup and take it out to the landfill. There is a landfill; isn't there?," looking the question at Dac.

    "Yeah, the city dump," Dac said. "Haul it out at night and take a 22 and a flashlight with you and you can have some fun shooting rats. You know where it's at; don't you?"

    Craig looked up, "Yeah, I've been there before when I was working for the nursery in town."

    "Where is it?," Kevin asked.

    "Oh, north and west of town about five miles," Craig answered. "You want to haul trash with me and shoot rats, Kev? I'll try and not shoot you in the foot."

    "Well, that's generous of you. Yeah, I'd like to go," Kevin said.

    Craig smiled at him and Kevin smiled back.

    Boy, something is going on with those two, I thought. "Well, you two ready to go?," I asked as I took a last swig of coffee.

    "Yeah, I'm ready," Dac said, getting up and taking his dishes to the sink.

    "Well, just about," said Jerry. "I'm not quite through eating."    

    "So grab a piece of toast and eat it in the car," I said. "See you guys later," I called to Craig and Kevin as Dac and I headed towards the door.

    Jerry grabbed a handful of toast, took his dishes to the sink and grumbled his way out the door.

    Dac and I got in the Cruiser and Jerry climbed in the back seat. I started it up and Dulce banged on the window. I rolled it down and she handed me a thermos of coffee and a package.

    "Here, you might need something to munch on the way."

    "Oh, thanks, Dulce. Appreciate it."

    She pointed her finger at Dac, "You be good. You hear?"

    Dac put on his suffering face, "Yes, Dulce."

    "Bye, Dulce. We'll see you later." I handed the thermos and package to Dac and he put the package of sandwiches in the cooler and the thermos in the door-side carrier and gradually stepped on the gas and we were on our way to Albuquerque and I got an early start worrying.

    We spent the trip into Albuquerque laughing, gossiping, teasing each other, talking and having a good time.

    "Dac," said Jerry, "where did you get your watch band and belt buckle? They're really beautiful."

    "Oh, thanks. They belonged to my grandfather, my Dad's father. It was a wedding present from my grandmother. I don't know where she got them. He gave them to my Dad right before he passed away and Dad gave them to me along with the belt buckle when I graduated from college. I remember my Dad telling me they were made by the Zuni Tribe here in New Mexico."

    "I'd like to get one for myself along those lines," Jerry said.

    "Well, I doubt that you'll be able to find an exact match but there will be plenty of Zuni jewelry to choose from in Old Town," Dac said. "Just be sure it's genuine."

    "Genuine?," Jerry asked.

    "Yeah," I said. "There's a lot of imitation 'authentic Indian jewelry' floating around. Then when you turn it over and start examining it, it says 'Made in Korea' or 'Made in the Republic of China.'"

    "Oh, great. I'll be careful, then."

    "We should get something for Dulce," I said. "Something in the way of jewelry or some really nice pottery, don't you think?," looking at Dac. "I noticed that she has a silver and turquoise ring."

    "Yeah, she's had that ever since I've known her. And yeah, I had thought about that, too," Dac said. "Maybe all three of us could go together and get her something."

    "That's a good idea. Let's do it," Jerry said.

    "How long do you think it's going to take to get this computer thing taken care of?," I looked back at Jerry.

    "Well, if either or both of these stores have everything I want, it shouldn't take more than two or three hours. They can assemble most of it in-store and do a certain amount of instruction and so forth and then we load it in the car and that's it. And while they're doing the assembly, I can help you pick out some good software. You're going to need a good word processing program, accounting, cooking/recipe programs for Dulce, internet browsers, fax programs plus whatever we can find for Craig and Kevin and whatever else you want plus a bunch of housekeeping programs. Then I can finish it up when we get home, load all the software and then sit everybody down and go through it until everyone is comfortable with it. Even make a video tape of the whole thing if you want," Jerry said. "Everything is pretty straight forward, really."

    "Umm, I hope so. Dac and I are literate enough on computers but neither one of us have kept up with the almost constant changes," I said.

    "Yeah, I know. If I take a week's vacation it takes a good three or four days reading the latest computer magazines in order to catch up with all the changes. It's a really fast moving field," Jerry said.

    "Albuquerque coming up," said Dac as we crested and started downhill.

    "Yep, the orange barrel capitol of the world. More road construction per square foot than any city in the U.S.," I said.

    "Orange barrels?," Jerry said.

    "Yeah," I said, as I changed lanes and went around a slow moving car. "They use them for barricades around road construction, they're made of plastic, and painted orange. They fill them with water so if some fool isn't paying attention and runs into one of them he gets wet instead of dead. I don't know whether the number of barrels around town is any indication of the number of fools driving but I sometimes wonder."

    "What's all these arroyos with danger signs?," Jerry asked. "They seem to be all over the place," as we came into the outskirts of Albuquerque.

    "Drainage ditches. You get a heavy rainstorm up in the mountains," said Dac, "and all the water runs down the mountain and into the arroyos. And all of a sudden you have a flash flood. They're damned dangerous. A lot of kids have been drowned in them. The thing about these flash floods is that you can have a perfectly clear day out, sun shining, and you're walking around in the arroyo and it's perfectly dry and all of a sudden, you look up and here's this wall of water coming straight at you, no warning, no nothing. They move at incredible speed which is why they have so many drowning deaths."

    "Jeeze, and I thought it was dangerous living in Kansas with tornados and cyclones," Jerry said.

    "Yep, every state has its attraction, I guess," said Dac. "You get many tornados where you live?," Dac asked.

    "We've probably had four or five tornados right around town since David left. We've had a bunch of cyclones, though. One went right through town, down main street."

    "What is a cyclone?," Dac asked.

    "Well, the dictionary defines it entirely differently, so maybe what we're calling a cyclone is really something else. I don't know exactly," said Jerry, "but we've always called them cyclones. To me it's a body of tremendously fast moving wind that can be moving in first one direction and then another. And the whole body itself can be moving, up, down, sideways, reversing on itself. In a way, sort of a berserk tornado. The one that went down main street a couple of years ago flipped a couple of cars and wandered on out of town until it got to the trailer park and then tore into practically every trailer in the park. There was a lot of damage. Fortunately, no one was killed, though. So much of the time, they'll hit an oil derrick and after they get through with that, it looks sort of like an iron Dairy Queen."

    "Well, whatever it is, I think I'll stay in New Mexico. I'd rather get wet than blown away," said Dac.

    "You and me both," I said. "Those things used to scare the daylights out of me when I was a kid."

   Jerry looked over at me, "You remember how Mom and Dad used to make us all get down in the root cellar whenever one was heading our direction?"

    I laughed, "I'll say. I was taking a bath one of those times. Mom came and got me and told me to wrap a towel around myself and get to the cellar. Theresa kept lifting the corner of the towel up and peeking. Embarrassed the hell out of me. Then Mom caught her at it and smacked her one."

    Dac grinned at me, "Did she see anything?"

    "How the hell should I know? Ask her yourself. We'll be going back for her wedding."

    Dac laughed, "I just might do that. 'Hey Therese, did David have anything interesting under that towel that day in the root cellar?' Oh, that's funny."

    "She caught him in the hen house, too," brother big mouth said.

    I could feel myself getting red in the face and gave Jerry a dirty look.

    Dac looked over at me, "What were you doing in the hen house, David?"

    "Never mind," I said.

    "Therese said he was jacking off," volunteered Jerry and I began thinking of all the violent things I'd like to do to him.

    "In the hen house?," Dac let out a loud guffaw. Oh, that's hilarious. God, I'd loved to have seen that. Why the hen house? Bet the chickens were embarrassed," and started laughing even harder.

    "Yep, they didn't lay for three or four days. Mom thought there was something wrong with them," Jerry said, both of them practically rolling around in their seats with laughter.

    "It was the only place I could find any privacy," I said, bright red now.

    "Wasn't exactly a success; was it?," as Dac continued laughing. "Oh, I'll never be able to look at a chicken again without laughing."

    I just shook my head and gritted my teeth. "Where is this place that you want to go to, Jer?," I asked.

    "Oh, it's on -- let's see, what are the names of those streets," Jerry said, looking at his notebook. "Okay, it's the corner of Menaul and San Mateo, next door to a software place."

    Dac leaned over and touched me on the arm, smiling, "You know, David, knowing this about you only serves to make you more lovable."

    I glanced over at him, "Thanks. I think," noting the grin playing about his mouth.

    I headed for the first computer place, fighting traffic and thinking how glad I was to be living in a rural community. We pulled in finally and found a parking spot and walked into the store. It was quite large with row after row of all kinds of computers and peripherals. I couldn't help but think that if I was doing the picking out, I would probably spend several days trying to make up my mind and still not be satisfied when it was all over. But fortunately, Jerry knew exactly what he wanted.

    A salesman came walking up, smiled and introduced himself as Angelo and asked if he could help us find anything. Wow, I thought, he obviously didn't come from around this part of the country.

    At that point Jerry started talking and continued talking for about four or five minutes telling the clerk exactly what we needed, brand names, specifications and on and on.

    "I must say, it's really a pleasant surprise to deal with someone that knows exactly what they want. So many of the customers that come in here really don't know anything about computers and they end up buying something I'm really not sure that they want or even need and I sometimes feel like I have done them a disservice.

    "So, well, what you have outlined so far we don't have a computer in stock with all those features and specifications. What we can do is to build one for you from scratch. It's more expensive, of course, but you end up with a much better piece of equipment."

    "That's what we want," said Jerry. "Now, how long is all this going to take?"

    "I can have it out for you by tomorrow, probably around noon."

    Jerry glanced over at me, "No earlier?"

    "No," Angelo said, "not really. I could put a rush on it but I really wouldn't advise it, too many mistakes happen that way. It won't take long to assemble and get the components hooked up and running but we need to do some extensive testing to make sure everything is working according to spec and no bugs before we let it out of the shop."

    "Well," I said, "here's the problem. We don't live in Albuquerque and we were hoping to get this taken care of today and go home this evening with a computer. But now it looks as though we are going to have to stay overnight or make two trips unless we get all the parts and pieces and you put it together yourself, Jerry."

    "I'd rather not. I don't have any training in assembly and/or repair work."

    "Where do you live?," asked the clerk.

    I gave him the general location, not bothering to give the specific address as I was pretty certain they wouldn't be able or willing to make that kind of long-distance delivery.

    "What's the name of the town?," Angelo persisted.

    I told him thinking that would be the end of it and trying to make up my mind as to whether or not we should stay overnight or go on home and have Jerry come up tomorrow by himself to pick everything up.

    Angelo's face lit up, "I'll be darned. My aunt lives there or she used to. She's working for some guy now that lives up in the mountains. He must be pretty rich from the way she talked about him."

    "What's her name," I asked, surprised and already knowing what his answer would be.

    "Dulce Ruiz," do you know her?

    "I'm the guy she works for," I said.

    "Wow, that's amazing. It's hard to imagine that you drive all the way from the northeastern part of New Mexico and locate a computer store out of -- I don't know how many there are in this town, and then Dulce's nephew comes up and asks if he can help you find something. Kinda defies the laws of probability; doesn't it?"

    "Yeah," I said, "kind of mind boggling." Jeeze, I thought, only in New Mexico.

    "But what are we going to do about the computer?," said Jerry.

    Dac spoke up, "I could come in tomorrow and get it."

    "Wait a minute," Angelo said. "You don't have to make other arrangements. We can deliver this. However, it won't be tomorrow, it'll be day after tomorrow. Sunday. I've got several computers and some office equipment that's going to a business in Taos and you're not that much further south and east. We don't deliver on weekends -- at least to businesses -- but this is an exception and the guy paid extra for Sunday delivery.

    Anyway, the truck driver is my roommate and I was planning on taking a day off and coming up with him and staying overnight in Taos then come back Monday. So we could get everything delivered and taken care of in Taos and then come on up to your place and get everything set up and stay over night in town. And besides the delivery charge has already been paid for by the place in Taos and you're not that much further out of the way. So there wouldn't be any extra charge for delivery. It'll be nice to see Aunt Dulce again. I haven't seen her in a couple of years. Now, how does all that sound?"

    "Sounds like it's going to buy you lunch today," I said. "Sounds good. Let's do it. I don't want to spend the night here nor do I want Dac to have to make another trip to get it."

    "Oh, I wasn't planning on coming alone," Dac said, looking at me with a lecherous grin.

    "I'll bet I know what you're thinking," I grinned at him.

    "I'll bet you do, too," grinning back at me.

    I turned to Angelo. "We'll take you to lunch. What time do you break?"

    "Great, I wasn't looking forward to another lunchmeat sandwich. Uh, in about an hour or so from now but you don't have to take me to lunch," Angelo said, but the look on his face was begging for disagreement.

    "Yes, we do," I said. "Good sales help is worth a reward. It's rare in this town. We're going to go next door and buy a bunch of software and that'll take about a hour so we'll be back and collect you then. Write up your invoice while we're gone and I'll pay for everything when we come back. Okay?"

    "You bet. I'll have everything ready. And thanks a lot."

    "Don't load any software other than DOS and whatever programs you need for peripherals." Jerry handed Angelo a sheet of paper, "Also, here's what we want in the way of a monitor, keyboard, printer, scanner and fax machine, and we'll want an on-site service contract on all this. You got all this stuff?"

    Angelo glanced at the list, "Everything except the printer, but I can get that delivered from the warehouse this afternoon. And yes to everything else. Oh, do you need supplies for the printer?"

    "Oh, yeah," said Jerry. "We'll need toner and paper and any other supplies that we will need. Can you get all that?"

    "You bet. Thanks again and I'll see you in about an hour," said Angelo. And everybody left happy.

    We spent about an hour next door buying software and fairly terrorizing the saleslady with our questions. That part over with, we headed back to the computer store, and, I suspect, much to the relief of the saleslady.

    Angelo's head bobbed up from behind the sales desk as we entered and got a big grin on his face. "I got everything done, everything's set aside, ordered, accounted for, added up and so forth and here is the bill. Oh, I'm throwing in a keyboard at no charge. The keyboard you want you will have to order direct from IBM. We don't stock them and no place in town does that I know of. Most people don't want to spend more than ten or twenty bucks on a keyboard. There just isn't that much of a call for that quality of keyboard. At any rate, here's the number for IBM, the extension number of the department and the person's name you want to talk to."

    "Oh, okay." I stuck the invoice and IBM information in my pocket and handed him my credit card and he went back to the sales desk to run the numbers. He came back shortly, "Here's your card, everything is in the works and I'm off the clock."

    "Good," I said, "let's get something to eat. You like Mexican food?," as we headed for the Cruiser.

    "Oh, yeah, can't get enough of it. You got a place in mind?"

    "Yeah, a place I go to all the time, called Los Cuates. You know it?"

    "Oh, yeah," Angelo smiled. "One of my favorites. I think I could live on their refried beans alone."

    "Yeah," I laughed, "but nobody else would want to live with you."

    "My roommate would move out for sure. Or get a big cork," laughing at the thought.

    We descended on Los Cuates, had a good meal, with Jerry drinking several Mexican beers to handle the chiles that he wasn't used to and griping all the while but finishing everything on his plate.

    Dac and I sat next to each other, smiling back and forth and just looking at each other. I couldn't get enough of seeing his face and the sweetness of his smile as he kept glancing at me.

    Angelo and Jerry sat opposite and from Angelo's glances in our direction, I was pretty sure he had things figured out about Dac and I. He took part in the conversation and joking back and forth and then finally during a lull, looked at me, "Can I ask you a question?"

    "Sure," I said. "I won't guarantee you'll get an answer but ask away."

    "Are you and Dac, uh, well, uh, you know, uh . . ."

    "Yes, we are," said Dac.

    "He's my partner," I said. "We're having our commitment ceremony this coming summer. That is if I can still stand him by that time," glancing slyly at Dac.

    "Hmm, that's a two-edged sword, I should think," said Dac. "Hopefully we can do something about your drooling by that time."

    Jerry and Angelo started laughing.

    And like a fool, I took the bait, "I don't drool!"

    Dac just looked at me with one of his infuriating smiles.

   "Oh, that's neat," said Angelo. "My roommate and I have been talking about committing but we haven't quite made up our minds. I think we probably need to give it some more time and get to know one another better."

    "I agree. You certainly need a good solid friendship and know each other pretty well before taking a step like that," I said.

    "Yeah, and make sure he doesn't drool," said Dac, laughing.

    "And trims his toenails, too," said Jerry as he and Dac dissolved into fits of laughter.

    "Let's go," I said. "With these two clowns, I'm not going to come out of this in one piece."

    We dropped Angelo off and headed for Old Town. We managed to find a parking spot amidst the crowds of people and started walking around acting like a bunch of tourists. We got to the town square and approached the pavilion. There was a Mariachi band performing for several groups of women dancing their traditional dances in their colorful native costumes. We stood and watched for a while as Jerry snapped several pictures then wandered over to the various shops surrounding the square.

    Many Indian women, representing several tribes were sitting on the sidewalk surrounding the shops, blankets in front of them and all variety of silver and turquoise jewelry spread on them. I had a great deal of affection and respect for these people. They were tough, independent artisans who had fought hard to keep their place in the square. Several of the greedier merchants had petitioned the City Council trying to get an ordinance to force them elsewhere, the merchants claiming that they were a public distraction and nuisance. In reality, the merchants were seeing too much of the money going to the Indians rather than to them. I was one hundred percent for the Indians as their prices were fair and competitive, and the jewelry was handmade. The whole issue went to court and I was glad when it was finally resolved in the Indians' favor and they could remain.

    Jerry squatted down and began talking to an old, dark-skinned woman who must have been in her 90s. Her face was a mass of wrinkles and most of her teeth, as I noticed later, were missing. But her black eyes missed nothing and were full of devilment. I liked her immediately. She didn't have very much on her blanket and what was left was mostly trinket variety. There was one broach, however, that was quite beautiful with a number of small turquoise worked in with a silver design and that's what Jerry had his eye on.

    As Jerry continued talking to the old woman, she suddenly started shaking her head, saying, no, no, no and pointing to the price on the back of the broach. Then Jerry offered her a price less than what she wanted and again she said no. And then, I guess, fearing that she might loose a sale, grinned up at him and said she would give it to him for five dollars less if he would buy it right then. Jerry took her up on it and gave her the money and she handed him the broach.

    She then took out a man's wallet, flipped it open and started putting the money inside. I couldn't help but notice that there was only a few singles and the money that Jerry had given her would probably go to buy jewelry for tomorrow. She had hardly any money at all. Knowing the squalor that some of these people lived in, my heart went out to her stoic courage. I reached in my pocket and grabbed some bills and squatted down next to her as she looked up at me questioningly, "Listen, old grandmother," pressing the money in her hand, "I want you to go home and tell your grandchildren happy stories tonight. Make them laugh. Will you do that?"

    She looked at me for a moment, then nodded and reached up and touched my face. I got up and left.

    Jerry had witnessed the whole thing and as we walked away, asked, "Why did you do that?"

    "Because many of these people live in abject poverty and she hasn't made many sales today and probably won't have much to eat tonight. And she's old and probably doesn't have much in her life to look forward to. I don't know, I guess I just wanted to give her a hand."

    As we walked away, Jerry reached over and put his arm around me and gave me hug.

    Dac came walking over with an excited look on his face, "I think I found something for Dulce. Come look."

    He led us to an art gallery. We stepped inside of what was obviously one of the better art galleries. Most of the works were Native American themes in oils and some water colors. While I didn't care for some of them, all of them were well done, and some outstanding. Dac and Jerry had gone over to the other side of the gallery and were looking at portraits while I stood gazing at first one and then the next. Finally, a guy came out of the back office, saw me and smiled and started walking toward me.

    "Hello, my name is Robert Christian. Can I help you?"

    About that time, Dac came walking over. "Yes," I said, "my friend here wanted to show me a painting and I would like to know more about it and whether it's for sale and what the asking price is."

   He turned and smiled at Dac, "Show me which painting you're talking about."

    So we followed Dac across the room and down a corridor lined with portraits, landscapes, stills, water colors, finally arriving at a picture at the end of the corridor.

    "This one," said Dac.

    "Ah, yes. That is called The Story Teller. It's acrylic, Native American, painted by a man by the name of Alexander. He lives in Santa Fe. Or did. He was a good friend of mine. He passed away several years ago. I have several of his works on display."

    The Story Teller was a painting of a large Indian woman in native costume with black braids hanging almost to her waist, a smile on her face, holding two infants in her arms. There were a number of other children about her. Some laughing and playing, some crying, while others appeared to be listening. You could almost feel the animation in the picture, hear her telling her stories.

    I asked the cost of it just as Jerry came walking up. I showed him the picture and asked what he thought of it.

    "Well, yeah, I guess," with a perplexed frown. "I like it but I don't quite understand what the painting is about, though."

    "Oh," said Mr. Christian, "a story teller is usually someone in the tribe who has been entrusted with keeping track of the history and events of the tribe. Usually a male but sometimes a female -- as in this picture. There was no written record and it was all word of mouth and passed down to him or her and, then in turn, passed down to the next generation. They taught the young the history of the tribe and other stories teaching a moral and about the great battles and the lore and myths and so on."

    "They don't have a written history?," asked Jerry.

    "No, they don't. The tribal history is passed on from one story teller to the next," said Mr. Christian.

    "Well, what do you think? Shall we get this and split the cost three ways?," I asked. "It's really a nice piece of work."

    "Let's do it," Jerry looked at Dac. "What do you think?"

    "Yeah, Dulce will love it. Maybe she'll even quit picking on me."

    "I wouldn't hold my breath," I said. "Now, how are we going to get it home? It won't fit in the Cruiser."

    "We deliver anywhere in state," offered Mr. Christian.

    "You do?," I said. "Good, I'll go ahead and pay for it and we can settle up at home. Okay, you two?"

    Jerry and Dac both agreed and I followed Mr. Christian to his office and paid for it and gave him the address and directions on how to get there.

    Mr. Christian thanked me and we left and continued with our sightseeing.

    We continued moving along with the crowds of people, passing shops selling pottery, leather goods, candles, Indian blankets and rugs, jewelry and a variety of other craft shops. We came to one shop and stopped and looked at the window display of black pottery of the Acoma tribe.

    "Oh, that's neat," as Jerry headed toward the door of the shop. "I'd like to have one or two pieces of that."

    "Look at the price tags first, Jerry," Dac said, as Jerry disappeared into the shop.

    He reappeared moments later with a shocked look on his face. "Do people actually pay those kind of prices for that?," he asked.

    "Oh, yes. They're doing a pretty good business, as you can see," I said. "As I understand it, it's a pretty complex process and closely guarded. There's quite a demand for it."

    "Well, this Kansas farm boy can live without it, I think."

    "Sure would make a nice Christmas or wedding gift, though," Dac said, smiling.

    "Oh?," as Jerry eyed him suspiciously, "I suppose you got someone in mind?"

    "Well," Dac said with a little laugh, "yes, now that you mention it."

    "That'll be the day," Jerry laughed. "You two'll be lucky if I send you a blender."

    "That's okay," said Dac, laughing. "Just be sure to fill it with lots and lots of that long green."

    We continued walking down the narrow street, laughing and looking in the shop windows and eventually turned the corner and there was the Candy Lady straight ahead.

    "Oh, chocolate," Dac said. "C'mon, Jerry, I'll buy you a chocolate dick, a big one, like you always wanted."

    "A What!?" Jerry looked at Dac.

    Dac leaned closer and in a quiet and distinct voice, trying not to laugh, "a BIG chocolate dick. You know, that dangly little thing down there between your legs. Just think, when you go home this time, you'll have something to really impress the girls. And chocolate on top of that. Oh, they'll go wild," and Dac and I were laughing fit to kill.

    "I already have a -- oh, never mind," said Jerry getting red in the face.

    "Oh, well, suit yourself. It's just that David said he really felt sorry for you. I was just trying to help out," Dac said and another laugh bubbled up.

    "I can just imagine what that smart mouth had to say," Jerry said, glaring at me. "Do they really sell things like that in there?"

    "I told you the other day that she had an adult section, remember?," I said. "Not to mention fantastic fudge and all sorts of chocolate candy."

    "I remember about the chocolate fudge and the cherries and strawberries. I don't remember you saying anything about an adult section, though," Jerry said as we walked into the shop.

    There wasn't anyone else in the shop at the moment and we had the full attention of the clerk. She showed us the different kinds of fudge, the chocolate covered cherries and strawberries, offering samples here and there. Judging from her smiles and laughing at our silly jokes, I think she was having as much fun as we were. I know we could have spent the rest of the afternoon in there. I spotted a doorway leading into another room with a sign over it, 'Adults With A Sense of Humor Only.' I tried to get Jerry to come in and take a look at the adult section but he wouldn't.

    "I just don't need to see anything like that," he said. Rather lamely, I thought.

    "It's just a form of humor," I said. "What's the real reason, Jer? I can still remember our growing up together. You sure didn't have any inhibitions then."

    "It's just not something I need to see. I don't think it's funny," he said.

    "Okay," I said. I didn't believe him for a second but trying to change his mind once he got his heels planted gave new meaning to the word stubborn. The three of us ended up buying candy for everyone back home and we finally left.

    "Isn't there a good jewelry shop around here?," asked Jerry. "I was hoping to find a watch band and buckle like Dac's. Or at least similar."

    "Just up the street, if I'm reading the sign right," said Dac.

    He was and we went in and started looking at the many cases of jewelry. The clerk came up and asked if we were looking for something in particular. Dac showed him the watch band he was wearing and asked if he had something like it.

    "That's Zuni, if I'm not mistaken," said the clerk. "And good workmanship at that." He led us over to another case and we looked at the various items he had but didn't see anything that we were particularly impressed with.

    "You don't have anything similar to what I have?," Dac asked.

    "No, not really. Tell you what I can do, however," said the clerk. "I have two silversmiths working for me and I'm pretty sure one is from the Zuni Tribe. If he's not too stacked up with orders, he could custom make something like that for you. It would be more expensive than anything I've got here but I'm sure he could match the quality of workmanship. He's doing some repair work in the back now. Do you want me to ask him come out and you can talk with him?"

    "Yeah, would you, please," said Jerry.

    So Jerry got together with the silversmith while Dac and I looked around at the jewelry represented by the different tribes.

    "Hey, Dac, c'mere a second," asked Jerry.

    Dac walked over to where the silversmith and Jerry were talking. "He needs to take a picture of your belt buckle and watchband so he can come up with something similar," said Jerry.

    "Sure," as Dac pulled off his belt and laid it, along with his watchband on the counter.

    The silversmith proceeded to take pictures from several different angles of the two pieces of jewelry, then handed them back to Dac. He and Jerry continued talking back and forth, working out mailing and payment arrangements, and we finally left the store.

    We stood out in front talking and trying to decide if there was anything else we wanted to do. I glanced at my watch and was surprised that it was already well into the afternoon.

    "I didn't realize it was this late," I said, "but I think we probably better head for home. It's going to be after supper by the time we get in. I was in hopes that we could stop by one of the museums but we're not going to have enough time. There will be other times, though."

    "Sounds good to me," Dac said, "I'm getting hungry. All this excitement has done things to my appetite."

    I laughed. "You mean all those pieces of fudge you've been stuffing in your mouth hasn't made a dent in it? You didn't think I noticed; did you?"

    "I had to keep my energy up," said Mr. Serious. "I was getting weak."

    "Oh, with all that sugar in you, I figured you'd have so much extra energy you'd be willing to drive home," I said.

    "Sure. How come you're not driving? Something wrong?"

    "Oh, kind of a stomach ache. Probably need to eat."

    "There's snacks in the car that Dulce gave us," Jerry said.

    "That's right. I forgot. You drive and Jerry and I will munch," I said.

    "Gee, thanks. Left out again."

    "Well you're full of fudge and probably very sweet," I smiled at him.

    "Oh, I am that," smiling at me.

    And we headed for home. I ate a couple of sandwiches and try as hard as I could, I still worried the rest of the way about Dac and the piano.

    We pulled up in front of the house about a half hour after supper time. Craig, Kevin and Dulce were sitting over coffee at the supper table as we walked in the kitchen.

    "It's about time," Dulce said. "Go wash your hands and sit down. I've kept everything warm for you."

    "Did you get a computer?," Craig asked as Dulce set our plates on the table.

    "Yes," I said, trying to eat and answer questions at the same time. "It's being built from scratch but it won't be delivered until Sunday. And Dulce, we got a boyfriend for you. He said he's really looking forward to seeing you," I said with the biggest grin ever on my face.

    Dulce looked at me, not believing me but not entirely sure either. "You didn't do something like that; did you, David?," and the look on her face was priceless.

    "Sure did. He's delivering the computer. I think his name is Angelo. Said he's related to you."

    Dulce looked up, surprise on her face. "Angelo? I thought he was in California with his mother. And I knew you were kidding."

    "And I almost believe you, too," I said. "I don't know about his mother," I said, "but Angelo and his roommate are living in Albuquerque. He's the one that sold the computer to me."

    "He's a good boy. It'll be nice to see him. I'll have to fix something special for them. When did you say they're coming, Sunday afternoon?"

    "Yes." Dac was talking to Craig and Kevin about Old Town and I managed to catch Dulce's eye and looked a question at her. She smiled and nodded. Good, I thought, practically chortling out loud, it got delivered okay. Now to figure out some reason to get Dac in the library. Craig must have been reading my mind.

    "David," he said, "do you by any chance have a reference book on horticulture?"

    "Yeah. There's one in the library. Why?"

    "Oh, there's a couple of things I wanted to look up and I was wondering if I could borrow it from you."

    "Sure," I said, noticing the look on Craig's face and beginning to understand what was going on. "Uh, why don't I get it to you in the morning? I'm kind of bushed from all the walking around we did today. Do you need it tonight?"

    "Well, I was going to work on some things tonight, but, yeah, I guess tomorrow will be okay."

    And Dac to the rescue, "Oh, I'll get it, poor old thing," smiling at me. "Where is it, on that shelf with all the reference stuff?"

    "Yeah, I think it's next to the medical dictionaries or somewhere right around there," as Dac headed out of the kitchen.

    I looked over at Craig and quietly said, "You don't really need a book on horticulture; do you?"

    "Already have one," Craig said, smiling. "But I figured that might work."

    "Thanks, Craig," I said.

    "Boy, that's the biggest piano I've ever seen," said Kevin in a loud whisper.

    "Yes, I was amazed at the size, also," Dulce said. "I didn't have any idea it would be that large."

    "Did they have any problems getting it in?," I asked.

    "No, they took it right down the hall and put it down exactly where you wanted it," Dulce said. "It really is beautiful."

    And we sat there talking back and forth and I was fairly climbing the wall. What was going on, there was no sound, did he like it, not like it. What? I couldn't stand it.

    "I'm going to the library," I said as I got up and started out of the kitchen.

    I walked into the library and Dac was standing with his back to me, touching the top of the piano, almost stroking it, shaking his head back and forth.

    Although the hallway and library were heavily carpeted, I must have made a noise.

    Dac turned, facing me, his face a picture of pain, tears streaming down his cheek.

    The anguish evident in his voice, "Why, David? Why did you do this?"

    I was confused. "I got it for you because I love you, Dac."

    "David, I know that. And I love you. But this," and he looked back at the piano and in a whisper, "it's so beautiful." Then facing me, his voice stronger, resolute, "It's too much, David. I can't accept this."

    "But why?," not understanding, "Dac, I love you. I wanted you to have this. I thought you always wanted a grand; don't you?"

    And throwing his hands up, "Yes, Yes," in a tortured sob. "But not this way, never this way, David. You make me feel like I'm bought and paid for. You pay for everything, the house, the food, the trips we've taken. Everything! And now this. I just can't live this way. It's too much. I can't accept it, David," looking at me with tears streaming down his face. "I just can't," and he started moving toward the doorway, then loudly, and glaring at me as the anger flashed across his face, "I won't, David, I won't!" And he walked out of the library.

    I stood in shock in the now sudden quiet, looking at the piano and moments later I heard the sound of his Jeep. I sat down on the divan, staring out the window as my world began to fall apart.

There you go everybody. Perhaps a surprise for all of you? Are they going to get this straightened out, are they going to get back together, is Dac going to come home? I do apologize for this Chapter taking so long but there were reasons as some of you know. I do very much need feedback from everybody. It's the main incentive I have to continue with this story. Email to: DacAndDavid@Hotmail.Com     --Harlequin, 3-13-02.