Journey to Love
Edited by Cole and Peter
Sunday, Brad called and said, “Derek, I told DeAngelo I'd call to check on you. How's the ankle?”
“Not as bad as yesterday or I thought it might be, but it has been better.”
“I'm sure. Sam and I have done a lot of talking about you and your brother, especially you, and think the four of us need to do some serious planning. Guess DeAngelo is still going to be at church until 2:30 or so.” I told him he guessed right. “We’ll come by about 3:30 after you have Sunday dinner and talk with your parents, but plan to be at our place afterward.”
When the family sat down for Sunday dinner, I told Mom and Dad that Brad and Sam had asked us to come over to talk about my rehab and have supper with them. Mom thought it was nice of them and Dad started some nonsense about how they must be up to something. “You should never trust honkies,” he said, and went on and on. I ignored him.
Sam arrived about 3:30 and after he greeted Mom and Dad, said, “I left Brad at home. As we were getting ready to go, we remembered I was taking the Spyder and there's really not room for four people as large as the four of us. Mr. and Mrs. Wilson, Brad and I would like to have time to work out a further rehab plan for Derek since his time at the rehab center is over and we think DeAngelo will be an important part of that plan. We’d also like to have them for dinner before we get them back.”
Dad was looking at Sam like he was trying to pull something over on him until Mom gave him the Eye. When she did, he just grunted and left the room. “You have your homework for tomorrow done?” Mom asked. We both nodded. “In that case, their curfew is 9:30. And thanks for all you’ve done for my boys.”
“Our pleasure,” Sam grinned. He then tossed DeAngelo my crutches and scooped me up in his arms as if I weighed practically nothing. As we approached the car, he said, “Sorry, DeAngelo, guess you’ll just have to double yourself up in the back.”
We drove out into the country on a road that I did not know, I’d guess about halfway to Harrisonville. We had gone maybe five miles before the pavement ended. After another few miles, DeAngelo asked Sam why they lived so far out.
“We live on what’s left of a place originally settled by Brad’s great-grandfather’s great-grandfather’s grandfather—I think. Anyway, it has been in the family from sometime in the first half of the eighteenth century and, with the exception of the selling off of some acreage from time to time, stayed in the family until after the Vietnam War. The cousin who inherited it came back from Vietnam pretty messed up and became more or less a hermit, living in only the kitchen and a back room of the old house. He went into Stanton one Saturday, stood on the Alexander County Courthouse steps and declared Alexander county had been taken over by retired military brass all who should have been left in Vietnam. Then pissed on a flag and disappeared.
“The family were horrified, but glad he was gone. They had all decided a generation or two ago people with real class lived in Stanton and not on some god-forsaken farm. Then, sometime in the eighties, a religious group showed up with a deed to the place and moved in a kind of ‘past the sell-by date’ hippie commune. So long as they kept to themselves, no one paid any attention to them. The kids were being home schooled and no one had any contact with them until a thirteen-year-old showed up at the hospital hemorrhaging from either a miscarriage or a botched abortion. That got the authorities involved and before anything could really be done, the group just disappeared and the place was abandoned.
“Five years ago, Brad got a call from a lawyer informing him that a woman who had been like a mother to him had died, and these are the lawyer’s exact words, “Against my better judgment, I am ordered to notify you of her death and funeral.” Brad came back for the funeral, the first time he had been back since he left for college. The night before the burial, he picked up a newspaper and noticed the place was being sold ‘at the courthouse door’ for taxes in two weeks. Strange as it seems, he hated Stanton with a passion for what it had done to him growing up, but he also hated that something which had been treasured by his family for two and a half centuries had been abandoned. He also knew while the family didn’t want it, if they found out he was attempting to buy it, they’d do all they could to prevent it. When he got back from the funeral, he asked me to come bid on the place. When I told him I thought he never wanted to go back to Stanton, he reminded me the place was in Alexander County, not Stanton I was at the courthouse door on the appointed day and bid a ridiculously small amount for the place and surprised everybody when I got it. I learned later the tax collector was planning to snap up the place after it failed to sell for next to nothing, which was pretty much what we got it for. We’ve spent five years working on the house ourselves, and have had contractors work on it. We’ve fenced the pastures and leased them and the meadows, but kept fifty acres around the house. We love it.”
“So you and Brad have been sharing a place for five years?” DeAngelo asked.
Actually, we’ve been sharing a place over ten years. We met in college and after our first year, decided to room together. When we finished our degrees and moved on to graduate school, me to become a PA and he a physical therapist, we had found an apartment we could afford on our part-time salaries. We ended up with pretty large loans to repay, but we both found good jobs as soon as we completed our training. We made real progress in paying back the loans, but there was nothing left for savings, so we actually didn’t have the cash—and that was required—to buy the place. I was telling the doctor I worked for about the situation, he loaned us the money at a decent interest rate with payments to start when we had our student loans paid.
Miss Grace, that’s what Brad called the woman whose funeral he had attended--had caught a lot of grief from her children because of her relationship with Brad. The straw that broke the camel’s back came when her lawyer son said, ‘Mama, you may as well have a black person sitting at the table with you as that scum,’ in front of Brad and Eliza, the African-American woman who had taken care of Miss Grace for years. Miss Grace read him the riot act and when her daughter came by later to tell her how wrong she was, she told her off as well. As a result, both son and daughter pretty much neglected her, especially when she went into the nursing home a couple months before she died.
"A few months after the funeral, Brad got a letter from Miss Grace’s lawyer informing him her will instructed him to pay my and Brad’s outstanding college debts and to buy us a red convertible. Eliza was to receive Miss Grace’s house—which upset Stanton no end since it was in the ‘nice’ neighborhood—that means the white, FFS—first families of Stanton neighborhood. Her daughter was to receive a rental property and the son the building where his office was and the balance of her estate was to go to Brad. We learned later the will stipulated that should either child challenge the will, they would receive nothing. The only condition was that we live and work in Alexander County, preferably Stanton, and I quote the will, ‘to rub their noses in all the shit they heaped on the boy.’”
As we turned down a gravel drive, Sam said, “We’re almost there. Originally the house was beside the turnpike, but over the years the road has been moved and the drive to the house is now almost a mile from the road. Well, here we are. Welcome to Grace House.”
Before us was a large, two-story house made of blocks of stone, as were many of the old houses in the valley. The grounds were beautifully landscaped and it being September, banks of chrysanthemums were ablaze with color. “What a beautiful place,” DeAngelo said. “And what a surprise to find it out here.”
“Thanks. Brad gets credit for the landscaping,” Sam laughed. “Guess it’s like a lot of families’, the outside’s Brad’s and the inside’s mine. Well, that’s not really true, but Brad’s a terrible cook and I don’t have a green thumb, but beyond that, we pretty much share everything. Again, welcome.” He then picked me up and said, “DeAngelo, grab the crutches,” and we went inside.
When we reached the entry, he set me on my feet. To my right was a wall with a splendid staircase rising to the second story. There was a door to my left which I could tell led into the formal dining room. On the right, the wall started halfway down the hall, so I could see most of the living room. At the end of the hall were double doors.
DeAngelo handed me my crutches as Sam said, “Come on into the sanctuary where Brad is,” and we walked the entrance hall. “When we got this place, the inside was a total wreck,” Sam said. “We had hoped we could save some of the original structure, but not only had it been abused over the years, the roof was gone and nothing was salvageable. Even the large hand-hewn beams supporting the second floor were beyond salvaging.”
When we walked through the double doors at the end of the hall, we entered a room which went across the entire width of the house. At one end was a kitchen and at the other was, obviously, a den where the two spent much of their time. In a glance, I saw it was furnished with two recliners in addition to a long couch all facing a large fireplace. Floor to ceiling bookcases flanked the fireplace and extended along both side walls for several feet.
Brad was folding a stepladder as we walked in and said, “Welcome, Derek, DeAngelo, to Grace House.” He had the stepladder in one hand as he hugged DeAngelo with his other arm, then hugged me carefully as I was still standing on crutches. “I just finished installing a drop down video projector. We decided even a large flat panel TV can’t do movies justice. Juice, water? We have no soda.”
“Thanks, any kind of juice is fine,” DeAngelo said and I nodded agreement.
“Let’s get you situated, Derek,” Sam said, “take that recliner,” pointing to the one nearest me. “Our recliners are a bit special as the leg rests can be raised separately. Sit there so we can elevate your injured ankle.”
Both guys were built like trim football players, obviously in fine physical shape, but both had proven to be very warm, caring and gentle. But, I guess Brad, having grown up in Stanton, surprised me more since he was treating two poor, black teenagers like human beings, more than that, like friends.
Sam examined my ankle after I had it elevated and said, “You guys must be into some serious running, since you seemed to be on your way back from Buffalo Gap when we ran across you. Tell us about that.”
DeAngelo said, “When I started middle school, I started working to get on the basketball team. Derek tagged along. That’s when we both started running and we loved it. I made the middle-school varsity basketball team and wanted to make the high school team, so I kept up running . By then running meant running with Derek. I think that’s the main reason we are as close as we are. Derek made the middle-school cross-country team and I'm sure will make the high school one.”
I spoke up and said, “I love running, but I wasn't interested or good enough to make the basketball team in middle school, much less high school.”
“Well, I’m afraid running’s still out of the question for a month or more. What you can do is swim and bike, as I already told you. Both will keep you in good shape without doing damage to the foot.”
“Well, as I told you, they are pretty much out of the question for us,” I said. “We have no bike and no place to swim.”
“You will have a place to swim if you are members of the new Alexander Physical Fitness Center,” Brad said.
“No way we can afford that,” DeAngelo said quickly.
“Look, we’ll worry about that. You just go in
after school tomorrow to get your pictures made and
your membership cards. And, by the way, if there is
any problem with you being members, let one of us know
on the double. I’d also like to take you on as your
personal trainer. Most people I work with are not
serious about training. The guys just want muscles to
impress women and the women want to lose weight to
impress men, but that’s not what I see personal
training being about.”
“But I bet you do impress the women,” DeAngelo laughed. Brad grinned and Sam smiled.
“As for bikes, both Sam and I love biking and have bike trails all over the farm. Since we have so little time these days, we thought having trails close to home was the answer, so we ride mountain bikes; we have two fine road bikes gathering dust in the garage.”
“They need a bit of care right now,” Brad said, “which we can do this afternoon before dinner and you can take them home. That will not only give you bikes to replace your running, but give you a way to get around town. You’ll need some way to get to the fitness center.”
“You’re doing an awful lot for two people you just barely know,” DeAngelo, said, puzzled, speaking what I was thinking.
“Look,” Brad said, “we found you on the side of the road, hurt. You are obviously two great guys, why else would you be out running? And, yeah, we’ve done some checking. You’ve had a hard time of it even if your mom and dad have some of the better jobs in Stanton for African-Americans. You’re both good students—DeAngelo, you could be better. And what do you mean, ‘we hardly know you?’ Sam has spend an hour or more a day with Derek. You think they don’t talk? Get to know each other? You think Derek doesn’t talk about his brother? I think we know you pretty well. There’s reason enough to want to help, but also, I grew up here. I know how this place can put people down. Well, I didn’t stay down and I see an opportunity for a couple guys to also show this town that name and money isn’t what it’s all about.
“We’re doing well now and are in good shape financially, but wouldn’t have been had it not been for some help along the way. We’ve talked about mentoring a couple guys for sometime now and it looks like we have been told to put our money where our mouth is. There’re some other reasons, but they are not important right now. I expect us to get to know each other very, very well and then we'll talk some more, but can you hang with that for now? Oh, there is one other thing, it’s kinda like saying ‘Thank you’ to your Granny Lotz who found me beside the road one day and saw that I got the medical attention I needed. But that’s also a story for the future. Right now, all we want is to know whether or not you’re willing to give us a try.”
“We may look like dumb jocks,” DeAngelo said, with a grin, “but we’re not stupid. Thanks guys.”
“There may be one problem,” I said, thinking of Dad’s earlier comments. “Our dad can be pretty racist in his views and he may not like this at all.”
“How about your mom?” Sam asked.
“She’ll wonder about why you’re doing all this and will keep a careful eye on all four of us, but that’s it, I think.”
“Your Granny Lotz have any influence on your dad?” Brad asked.
Both DeAngelo and I burst out laughing like we were nuts. “Are you kidding?” She put him in ‘time out’ last year. He told one of Mom's cousins to kiss his black ass and she put him in time out for fifteen minutes,” I said.
“And the dumbass cousin laughed and got put in time out as well,” DeAngelo added.
“Then there will be no problem,” Brad said. I thought there was probably a story there as well.
We had been told to bring some old clothes and after we had changed into them, we went to get the bikes. I could see why we needed old clothes. When Sam said they had been gathering dust, he was not kidding. I was able to sit on a crate on the garage floor and elevate my leg, so I was given some of the cleaning jobs which didn’t require I move around. In a couple hours, the two bikes looked like new, cleaned, oiled and ready to go, or so I thought. “Okay, bike-fitting time,” Brad said. Since the bikes were identical, there were no decisions to be made about who would take which one. They were identical, except for being adjusted for two different people. It soon became obvious that one of the bikes would be mine and the other DeAngelo’s as Brad and Sam started adjusting and re-adjusting the seats and all to us.
“I’ve never ridden a bike with more than four gears,” I said, “nor with these foot things on the pedals.”
“They’re toe clips,” Sam said, “and you especially need them until your ankle is healed as they will stabilize your feet on the pedals.” He explained that if I had ridden a four speed, I already knew how to use the gear shift and would get the hang of using the additional gears quickly. “Try a short ride down the drive and see if your ankle can take it.”
I’d ridden only a few yards down the down the drive when Brad yelled for me to turn back. “How’d the ankle do?” he asked.
“Better than I expected, but I’m not up to a ten-mile ride yet.”
“You will be before you know it.” And that is how DeAngelo and I became bike riders.
After that short ride, we went inside and as we were washing up Brad asked, “How much longer, Sammy?”
Sam looked at him and grinned and said, “Ba . . Brady, you thinking what I’m thinking? We have an hour and a half before I start finishing dinner.”
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
Brad said, “Back in a minute,” and sure enough, not more than two minutes later, came back carrying two gym bags. “Put your good clothes in the bag and come along.” He led the way out a door into the garage. The pickup the two were driving when we met them was there, along with the Spyder and an open jeep. Brad tossed our gym bags and one for him and Sam in the jeep and said, “Sam, you’ll have to ride in the back with Derek.” Soon we were all in the jeep, the garage door opened and we drove out.We had gone down the drive only a short distance when Brad turned off the road and went over a cattle guard and into the open pasture. There was no road, not even, to my eyes, a discernible trail, but Brad seemed to know where he was headed. Several minutes later, he pulled up to a large pond. Unlike most in the valley, which really are just storage ponds for rainwater and muddy from cattle, the water in this pond was clear.
When we got out of the jeep, Brad shouted, “Last one in’s a rotten egg!”
“Not fair,’ Sam said. “Derek’s handicapped.”
“Sorry, Derek,” Brad said, “Sam and I just love this place so much I act like a little kid when we come.”
“We’re going in in our clothes?” DeAngelo asked, puzzled.
“Nah, we’re all friends so it’s skinny dipping.
You okay with that?” Brad asked, then quickly added,
“Sorry, I should have realized you might not be. If
not, keep on your undies. Okay if I strip?”
“What the hell,” DeAngelo said and was naked
thirty seconds later and in the pool. “Wow! I expected the water
to be like ice. This is perfect!” I realized what he meant when
I was finally able to get undressed and in the pool. The water
We all four just sorta bounced up and down in the warm water which was maybe four feet deep where we were. “There are warm springs in the valley, some quite famous, but this one was pretty much unknown. Years and years ago people knew about it because family stories mentioned it, but we were told if there ever had been a warm spring here, it was long gone,” Brad said. “Then, the first winter we were here, I was out just driving around looking at the place and saw a bit of steam rising in the cold air. Long and short of it, we rented an excavator and dug out the pond you see and in doing so, found the spring had a pretty good flow. We brought in the sand and river pebbles you see on the bottom and have this great place for swimming. You’ll have to try it during a snowstorm. So let’s see you two swim.”
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