West Otter Lake
Copyright© 2013 – Nicholas Hall
"A person that would secure to himself great deference will, perhaps gain his point by silence as effectively as by anything he can say." – (Shenstone)
Although I'd have preferred if Leandro, Luis, and Mae would've accompanied us to the gravesite, I bowed to their better judgment when they decided to take the pickup truck home and ascertain all was ready for the buffet luncheon at the Lodge. Every indication pointed toward a large crowd attending and they were just a bit anxious concerning whether enough food had been prepared. Knowing Mae and Leandro, there was no doubt in my mind that more than a sufficient amount of delectable delights were awaiting our anticipated guests. They'd been preparing for a couple of days and the coolers were full of goodies.
Ollie, Terell, Treyvon, and I accepted a ride back to the Lodge with Craig Johnson, somewhat younger than me and the youngest son of Uncle Rob, in his very crowded pickup truck. Ollie and Terell occupied the jump seats behind the driver and passenger and Treyvon sat on my lap, wriggling the entire trip, trying to see out the window and then check on his brother behind him. For the life of me I couldn't remember Craig from anytime in my past, but that's not unusual since neither of my Aunts or their families, or Uncle Rob and his family, ever made an appearance at the Lodge or the Resort that I could remember, except at Grandpa Johnson's memorial service. I'd not seen Craig at that service the summer before and remarked on it.
"I wasn't there," he relayed. "This is my first time this far north and it's my first visit to the Resort and Lodge. I'm really quite anxious to see it. I stayed in Parsonville last evening after driving up from the folk's house."
I'm not suspicious or anything mind you with all of the problems I'd had with family in the past, but I just didn't quite trust him – yet, so I asked politely, "Why now?"
"I graduated from the San Francisco State University midyear, couldn't find a job out there and had to move back home when the money ran out; that and some personal issues I had to deal with."
We arrived at the Lodge before I could pry anything else from him, but I was still very curious what his "personal issues" were before I became more trusting. The parking lot was full so I directed Craig to drive around back of the Lodge near the shop so we could park there. The rest of the Johnson Family, following close behind in caravan, parked in the same area. As they disembarked and walked toward the Lodge, they were, almost to a fault, quiet and somewhat distant in manners toward me and my half-brothers. Wesley really kept his distance and entered the Lodge in the company of his two sisters. Craig, the boys, and I chose to enter the Lodge through the kitchen entrance.
Leandro and Mae had things well in hand. Leandro gave me a quick buss on the lips as we walked through. It was habitual and evidence of our love for each other; I didn't notice any reaction from Craig as it happened and, frankly, didn't really give a shit if anyone saw or cared. Leandro was my love and I was his and that was that! I was certain members of the family discussed my sexual orientation and clucked their tongues about it; I could give a good rat's ass, if you want to know the truth. They'd just have to get over it and live with it!
I sent the Twins upstairs to go potty and change their clothes into something more comfortable and less likely to be damaged by their antics and activities. They were to help Ollie and Luis with clearing tables and trash disposal so God knows what they'd smear all over themselves. It definitely would be bath time again this evening. Luis was busy setting up more tables and chairs for the overflow of guests so Ollie quickly joined him. It was clear, even after extra tables were set up there were some folks who'd have to stand and wait for a table or spill over into the Great Room. I took Luis aside quickly and asked him to put some more trash cans in there, along with a couple dozen folding chairs we had in the meeting room storage area. He had, thank God, thoughtfully reserved several tables for immediate family and the preacher.
I asked the pastor to say the blessing and when he finished, I welcomed our guests to "celebrate the lives of Mildred and Oliver Johnson" and follow the immediate family through the buffet line. I was about to turn and go to the kitchen when Mr. Wilcox secured my elbow, surprising me he was here and seeking my attention.
"You're doing great, Conner," he assured me, "your grandparents would be so proud of you; I know I am!"
That meant so much to me, I was at a loss for words to reply, so I just gave him a big hug and then was embarrassed I'd just hugged my former high school principal, but he just smiled warmly at me and responded, "You're most welcome."
The Twins bounded down the stairs and burst into the Great Room as I walked toward the kitchen and quickly joined Ollie and Luis in their table clearing duty. Ollie and Luis would keep their eyes on them; besides, Treyvon and Terell were in their own home, what could go wrong? Mae and Leandro, finished for the time being in the kitchen, went back to the dining room with me and began circulating through the tables, greeting the many locals in attendance that I knew, and thanking them for coming. The turnout from the community was overwhelming and quite gratifying, giving me a strong realization of how they felt about my grandparents.
Ollie, Luis, and the Twins, hustling about taking care of trash and clearing tables, were alone in the kitchen in between trips to the dumpster when all of a sudden Wesley appeared. The Twins had no idea who he was, but his aggressive stance and foul look upon his face, convinced them he was dangerous to them, so they quickly dodged behind Ollie for protection.
"Well, well, four little faggots, all in a bunch; tasty, tasty, what's for lunch? Little brown peckers, I'd bet!" he sniggered menacingly and started to advance toward them.
Luis challenged him; "What do you want?"
"Butt out, you little Spic," he snarled, "it's none of your fuckin' business."
By now, the Twins were truly frightened and peeked out from behind their big brother at the ogre confronting them.
"If you think, for one minute, you little black queer, you're going to end up with all of this, you're dead wrong," Wesley growled at Ollie. "You're no better than that butt-fucking uncle of yours, sticking his cock in any willing asshole. He got what he deserved and you're going to get yours too before it's all over."
Ollie, quiet, calm, a steely look on his face, pushed the Twins back away from him, stepped forward around the center prep table all had been standing behind, and with the stealth, the determination, and look of a sure kill a leopard exhibits just before breaking a gazelle's neck, began a slow stalk toward Wesley. Luis, watching Ollie from the corner of his eye, began the same, slow steady pace forward. They both assumed a low crouch, preparing to pounce, and wrestle their prey to the ground. Their approach brought Wesley's forward motion to a halt and a caused him to take a quick step backward.
"Hello, Ollie," came the loud greeting from Mr. Wilcox, standing in the kitchen door and unnoticed until he spoke. "I was just telling your cousin, Craig Johnson here, how his Uncle Wesley hasn't changed one bit since he was in high school. He was a bully then and it's apparent, he's a bully yet; loves to pick on people smaller and weaker than he is. Isn't that right Wesley or were you just leaving?"
Wesley, taken aback by the voice behind him, recognized his old nemesis and authority figure, wheeled about, facing Mr. Wilcox. Snorting some unintelligible derisive response, shoved past the two men standing in the doorway and stomped off across the Great Room toward the meeting/dining room.
Mr. Wilcox stood, arms folded, a small, victorious knowing smile on his face. "Ollie, why don't you take the Twins to the Great Room and entertain us with some of your fine piano music; perhaps one of your contest pieces would be appropriate. I promised Mrs. Wilcox I'd ask you to play for her."
Turning to Luis, "Would you be so kind to ask Mrs. Thompson if she would honor us with a few selections on the piano as well? I think your guests would enjoy hearing some fine music on such a celebratory day; don't you?"
Ollie and Luis nodded their acceptance of his requests, but Ollie paused just a moment; "Mr. Wilcox, I have something to take care of first, then I'll leave Terell and Treyvon with Conner before I sit down at the piano."
Luis came into the dining room, walked over to Mae, talked for a moment, and they both left. Shortly after, Ollie appeared in the doorway of the meeting room with the Twins at his side. Leaning over to them, he appeared to say something, and the two little guys hurried across the room to my side, their eyes big, and hands securing a death grip on mine, making me anxious and concerned that something would cause them to act so. I watched Ollie walk toward the table where Wesley just recently ensconced himself with his sisters, place something in front of him on the table top, tap it with his fingers a couple of times, turn and leave the room. Wesley's face blanched, eyes widened, and he squirmed in his chair. My aunts seemed perplexed by his reaction, but made no comments.
Curious, Twins in tow, I walked near the table and saw, setting in front of Wesley was a jar of peanut butter. Remembering the story of Reidel's confrontation with Wesley years before, the implication and realization was very evident on Wesley's face. He knew very well the threat Ollie made, although I was uncertain what prompted it. There were no sewer rats abounding here in the woods, but we had bears; big, black, furry, hungry mother-fuckers that loved peanut butter and anything it was smeared on! I smiled to myself and, hearing the piano in the Great Room, turned and announced to all, if any would like, there was music in the Great Room for them to enjoy, and hustled the twins in front of me as we left.
Many of our guests did just that, finding seats in the Great Room or just standing and listening while Ollie entertained them with several selections. When he finished, Mr. Wilcox stood and introduced Ollie to the audience, complimenting him on his excellent performance and mentioning Ollie was one of the high school's outstanding music and academic students. He then turned to Mae and introduced her as Mavis Thompson, degreed in Piano Performance from the University of Chicago, a virtuoso of the piano, and grandmother of Ollie, Treyvon, and Terell Johnson. Additionally, he noted, she was also the piano instructor for the three boys.
Mae stepped up, smiled, thanked him, took a short bow, and very professionally, adeptly, seated herself on the piano bench. Hands poised above the keys as she waited for the audience's full attention, she opened with Chopin's Waltz in C Sharp Minor, continued through Rachmaninoff's Prelude in G Flat Major, segued into a couple of Joplin pieces, then some Gospel, including "Morning Train" and concluded with Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." The performance was well accepted and appreciated by the audience, as evidenced by their applause. The setting, with the piano in front of the windows overlooking the lake, was perfect and relaxing for such a fine recital.
Our guests began to depart, many stopping to thank me, the boys, Mae, Luis, and Leandro for the wonderful service, luncheon, and entertainment. Aunts Lucille and Mildred and Uncle Rob all made a special effort to speak to Mae, Ollie and the Twins, and to me. Each thanked me for the memorial service and my inclusion of them, through a financial gift, in the proceeds of the estate. Beyond that, they offered nothing else. I felt Uncle Rob wanted to say more, but his wife, a woman I'd met the one time before at Grandpa's funeral, didn't impress me anymore this time either, attached herself to his arm and hustled him out the door. I was curious what he might've said if she wasn't around, but it was doubtful I'd ever see again after today.
Darkness was descending before all of the locals finally departed. Terell and Treyvon were attached to me like glue ever since Ollie sent them to me earlier in the day. I knew if I waited long enough they'd tell me what happened to cause them such distress and Ollie to put the peanut butter in front of Wesley. According to them, Wesley really frightened them and they were afraid he was going to hurt Ollie, but, according to Terell (I think), "you didn't need to worry, Connor, `cause Luis was there too," and "he doesn't fight fair," enjoined Treyvon (I think). I looked around quickly for Wesley, but he was long gone. Good thing too, I was primed to unload on the dirty son-of-a-bitch! It was my unpleasant task, since they didn't know who he was, to inform him the man that frightened them so badly was their biological father. It was a hard concept for them to understand; oh, they knew what it meant in terms of "father" but they couldn't understand why he'd want to hurt them or said nasty things about their Uncle Reidel. I reassured them nothing would happen to them here if Leandro and I had anything to do about it and not to worry. Well, they would, but at least they knew they were safe with us. This was a conversation we'd have to conclude another time when we all weren't so tired.
Mr. Wilcox and his wife were some of the last to leave and before doing so thanked and complimented me on the service, the meal, and the ambiance of the day. I thanked him profusely for coming and stopping any incident in the kitchen, but he made light of it, although cautioning me. "Watch your back Conner, Wesley was and still is a bully. There were times, when he was in school, I feared he could do harm to others if given a chance." He then bent down, looked at the Twins, saying, "You're very lucky to have a big brother like Conner and he's lucky to have you, Ollie, Leandro, Luis, and your grandmother. It's going to be fun watching you grow up here at the Resort," and patted each on the head before toddling out the door.
There was very little in the way of leftovers to refrigerate, but with all of us working, we were able to put everything away, haul the trash and garbage out to the dumpster, and clean up the pots and pans we used for serving. It was full dark by then and we were all absolutely bushed. I put a halt to everything, announcing we'd put tables and chairs away the next day and get the meeting room and Great Room back in order.
Mae was worn out and said she was going back to her cottage. Although the yard was well lighted, now that the Resort was opening, with the large street lights placed strategically near the parking lot, cabins, and campground, I asked Ollie and Luis to escort her home since I was wary. The distance wasn't great and you could see her walk the fifty yards or so to her cottage, but I wasn't about to take Wesley's threats or Mr. Wilcox's caution to me lightly.
Leandro and I took the twins upstairs for a quick bath, put them in their jammies, and tucked them in for the night. The little tykes were asleep shortly after they crawled in bed. Leandro and I decided we'd have a bit of a nightcap before retiring and on the way down the stairs met Ollie and Luis coming up. Both looked worn out!
"Grandma Mae is in for the night," Ollie announced, "and we're going to bed."
"We're going to have a drink and then do the same," I said tiredly.
"It might be just my imagination," Luis conjectured quietly, "but I thought I saw someone sitting in the dark on the couch in the Great Room."
Leandro and I cautiously walked back up the stairs, peered over the rails, and sure enough, there was someone sitting there in the dark, apparently looking out at the open water of the lake. I took a deep breath, looked at Leandro apprehensively, and with a flick of my head, indicated we should check this guy out.
Ollie scared the shit out of me when he poked me in the back whispering, "Better take this with you," and handed me a baseball bat.
Leandro short-stopped the offer and took the bat from Ollie offering, "I'll take that; I've got a better swing."
I sent Ollie to his room with the admonition to stay there until I gave the all-clear and Leandro and I started quietly back down the stairs. We entered the back of the Great Room and stealthily made our way to the front, standing about ten feet behind the couch and the person so intent on watching the lake. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why someone was still here and the fact we'd missed seeing him sitting here previously. All I could think was Wesley waiting to commit murder and mayhem while we were all asleep.
Coughing lightly to gain his or her attention, inquiring, "May I help you?" while Leandro tightened his grip on the bat, preparing to slam a homerun on someone's noggin if needed.
The mysterious person, turned his head, smiled and replied, "Hi, Conner" revealing himself as my cousin, Craig Johnson.
To be continued
Thank you for reading "West Otter Lake – Chapter Fourteen - "A person that would secure to himself great deference will, perhaps gain his point by silence as effectively as by anything he can say." – (Shenstone)
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