Two Boys

Rocco Paperiello


This is the final Part IV of a four part story. (See Part I for Index). It is a story about relationships between and among teenagers. This includes intimate relationships between young males. If you don't approve or are offended, then how come you're reading this? Find a different story. Or perhaps read on; you may be persuaded to think differently.

If, for some legal reason, you are not allowed to read this in your area of the world because of illogical laws, again I will not condone (publicly) anyone breaking the law, so either move or read sentence six. I definitely don't want the thought police after either of our butts.

Please, this story is sort of my property, so if you ever want to quote some of it, please e-mail me and also give proper attribution.

Note that an author welcomes any feedback. Constructive criticism is appreciated, and all e-mails will be answered.

Rocco Paperiello

PLEASE NOTE: This story is finally coming to a conclusion. The entire story, including the last Chapter 104, plus the Epilogue, is now hosted at . I hope you enjoy it.

PART IV -- Graduation and College

Chapter 98a -- Home is Where the Heart Is, But Where Is My Heart? (part a)

(Still Rocco's point of view)

It was almost Christmas time and I was somewhat homesick. I couldn't wait to get back to familiar haunts and see a few old friends. And to see if I could finally talk to my Dad. Mom had written a couple more times, and she was at least starting to accept us even if not enthusiastic about it. Dad was the big mystery. Well, not mystery so much, more like this big foreboding conundrum that I had to try and puzzle out. Could I actually approach him? Do I have the courage? Would it even be worth it? My first impulse had been to just walk away from any confrontation, but I realized suddenly that that was too much like what my father himself would do.

And I REALLY needed to talk face to face with my Mom about Jade and me again. And I was wondering also where Dolores was on this issue. So for ill or not, Jade and I were on our way back `home' for the Christmas break. Jade and I were really looking forward to seeing the Webster's and also Tim. And Jimmy Alexander. And Consuela. And Dan and Allen. Twain unfortunately for us wouldn't be there. He wrote and said he'd be visiting his father for the holidays.

Jade and I got tickets for the train this time. We splurged on airfare on the way out, but we decided to conserve our money. Mrs. Goldstein had turned over Jade's trust to him, and with the money we had saved, we were pretty well set on college expenses for all four years, but we were also looking forward to graduate school. (Or I was at any rate. Jade said he wasn't sure yet). It was supposed to take slightly less than three days each way but we had the time. We took the Empire Builder* out of Spokane all the way through northern Idaho, southern Montana, central North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. We got into Chicago almost two and a half days later -- over a half day late. We were stuck in North Dakota an extra half day when the cold weather had frozen the breaks on part of the train. It had stopped in Bismarck to get fixed. We looked out at the frozen scenery. It was 36 below zero -- in the daytime! Jade and I, with two other students we had met on the train, took a small walk while waiting for the train to get fixed. What an experience.

[ * This was before Amtrak. The route through southern Montana is no longer used.]

Jim, the red headed kid from Milwaukee, exclaimed: "Holy deep freeze Batman! Someone turned down the thermostat too far!"

Kevin, a big muscular guy from Chicago replied: "Don't worry Robin, I have a plan to foil that dastardly fiend, Mother Nature."'

Jade and I were at least figuratively rolling our eyes. (Mine were too frozen to do it physically). All during the train ride, these two had occasionally made references like this to that really dumb comic book.

When I mentioned to Jade later that first evening that otherwise intelligent people could still spend good money on such stupid nonsense he let me prattle on and then finally made the remark: "Don't you find it interesting that here is such a long lasting story in which a man and an older teenager are living together with no girl or woman in sight?"

Suddenly I was wondering if the story had some merit after all.

During our long train ride together we mostly talked about the countryside, school, and a lot of stuff happening in the world. Important things, like the Yankees finally losing a world series this time to the Dodgers. But on occasion there were more serious discussions on a number of other things including religion. Like the Kennedy assassination and about Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald right there on TV. Speculation on the tragic loss of the USS Thresher. Kenya just getting its independence and throwing out most of the whites. And I discovered I wasn't the only one really interested in the discovery of quasars. We really got to know each other pretty well in that short time. They were pretty nice guys and I wished they were not going to be left behind when we passed Milwaukee and Chicago.

The trip so far had been captivating, watching the amazing snow covered mountains go by in Idaho and Montana, but it was dark by the time we had reached eastern Montana and North Dakota.


Beartooth Mountains, Montana

While in North Dakota we slept, or made a close approximation of it. Sleeping semi-upright on seats meant we didn't sleep well. A birth on the sleeper car though, we thought too expensive. Jade and I couldn't contain our enthusiasm for all the new sights. Even the flat flatland engaged our interest, much to the irritation of Jim and Kevin who didn't want our never ending Euchre games interrupted. They wanted someone to play the card game to pass the time and Jade and I were more than willing. I never even heard of the game before but it was simple to learn. I thought of it as `baby pinochle.'

Jim and Kevin didn't quite know how to react when we first met. We were sitting two seats in front on the observation car that had windows elevated in a sort of half bubble atop the train world. We both turned around when they called to us introducing themselves. (There was nobody in the intervening seat).

"Hello, I'm Rocco and this is Jade."

The usual introductions were made and it turned out that they were both Freshmen at Montana State University in Bozeman. They had met at school several months earlier and eventually became roommates. They described their campus and the surrounding area.

"Neither Kevin nor I can believe how friendly everyone is. We walk out of town and people even stop and ask if we need a ride. Without us even thumbing. One time, we were biking around a ranch area near the Bridger Canyon, and we were out of water. We went to a farmhouse for a drink and got invited inside. Before we left we both had two slices of magnificent apple pie and a glass of milk."

Kevin continued: "Yeah, Jim and I live on the 10th floor of Hedges South. A new high-rise dorm. It's the tallest building in Montana!"

I was surprised -- a dorm was the tallest building?

We talked about a number of things like where we were from, where we were going to school, what we were majoring in, and all sorts of the usual stuff on the minds of new college students.

Then the red head said: "Yeah, I'm involved in the Campus Christian Crusade. I hope to stay involved when I graduate. I'm even thinking of becoming a minister."

He was Lutheran. I was surprised then when his friend, the big guy from Chicago said: "Well, I'm a professed atheist. I don't believe all that god-crap."

Jade remarked: "An atheist and a religious Lutheran," he chuckled a bit, "That sure should give way to interesting conversations. How'd you two ever decide to become room-mates with such different views?"

Kevin smiled as Jim answered: "Actually we have almost identical interest. We both want to eventually help people especially kids. Don't take Kev here too seriously about his atheism stuff. He's got a loving heart and even if he don't realize it, for my money he believes in God, he just defines it differently."

Kevin laughed. "Don't believe Jim here, his brain can't think logically. I just want to help people. I know how it feels to be abandoned. My parents practically threw me out when I was twelve. I lived with my grandmom in Chicago."

It turned out that they did have a lot in common. They were also both genuinely nice guys. Jim grew up in a very religious and happy family just outside Milwaukee, while Kevin had been sort of pawned off onto his grandmom after his parents had divorced and proceeded to engage in a bitter property fight. I could see how Kevin was greatly affected by it. But instead of getting bitter and full of hate, he did just the opposite. He decided he was going to dedicate his life in helping other kids who had to go through similar things. Jim said that Kevin believed in Love and that was God no matter how else Kevin defined it. It was their running argument. I sort of sided with Jim. I was wondering if Jade and I could actually confide in them about ourselves. I thought I'd talk to Jade about it when we had a chance.

They left the observation car for a while to get lunch in the dining car. Jade and I were going to finish up our last sandwiches. About an hour later they came back. We had just passed Billings, Montana, and I remarked that this had been a past name of the town we now lived in -- Cheney, WA.


Empire Builder Across Eastern Montana

They sat down two seats behind us and Jim asked about playing cards. "Euchre's really popular where we come from; do you know how to play?"

Jade and I said we didn't but would be happy to learn. Jade said: "I have to get something from my bag if we're going to play." Being two seats apart, we had made no attempt to shake hands so when Jade got up and showed his hooks as he mentioned about getting something, both Kevin and Jim were a bit shocked.

Kevin said: "Oh my god!"

Jim dug his elbow into Kevin's ribs. "Don't be rude. And there! You mentioned something about `your God'!"

So this brought a short explanation on my part while Kevin adamantly tried to say it was just an expression. Meanwhile, Jade got his card holder out of his small pack, and had returned. I could see that Kevin wanted to ask a lot of questions but was holding back.

I decided to get it over with. "Look, you guys. Don't get so embarrassed. This happens all the time when someone sees Jade's prostheses for the first time. He lost his hands years ago, and you'd be amazed what he can still do."

Jade sat down opposite but just let me answer. We then set up a suitcase between on the aisle between seats and had a game table. Later, when the dinning car was done with dinner, we migrated down there since their tables were much more convenient. And besides it was past dark and looking out from the observation car difficult even with the moon. Kevin insisted on buying everyone something to drink just before the food service ended for the evening.

We whiled away the evening with cards and talk. Religion was brought up a few times and Jade and I expressed our views as well. I continued with: "So Jim, I think that we pretty much agree with you. Real love is the whole ballgame. And as it says in the bible: "God is love, and he who lives in love, lives in God, and God in him."

By this time Kevin was exaggeratingly rolling his eyes. "More bible-babble from the book of never-ending contradictions."

And that got us into arguing about God, Religion, and Faith.

I finally said: "Look. Faith and religion are two different things, so Kevin don't try to make them the same thing. It took me quite a while struggling with my own religion and what I was taught until I was able to make that distinction."

Jim looked at me as if I'd said I believed in gremlins. "But religion has it's entire foundation on faith. How can you possible say they are different things?"

By this time Kevin was fidgeting. "Another discussion of unreality. Next you will be arguing about how many angles can dance on the head of a pin."

We both told him to shut up if he couldn't contribute constructively. And I answered. "Maybe I should say that when I started not believing some of the things my Church had taught, I started questioning my faith in God. It wasn't until I realized that my faith in Christianity wasn't dependant on my Church being right about everything."

"Well you both said that you went to the Unitarian Church. You can't get much less dogmatic that that. How could you find something to have trouble believing?"

Jade answered: "Well, Rocco grew up as a Catholic. They believed a whole lot of crazy things."

Jim said: "Well, dogmatically, my own Church and the Catholic Church aren't too different."

We talked about some of the differences and I mentioned I disagreed on a few very important things, like divorce, birth control, and the Church's authority to make up new sins. That got another heated round, especially with Kevin occasionally commenting on the illogic of sin at all.

We eventually got into other topics like the mountains, nature and what we liked to do outdoors wise. Kevin and Jim both were as enthused about the spectacular mountains of the Rockies as Jade and I.

Jade remarked: "Rocco and I probably don't need to work this coming summer and we were thinking of staying in some National Park as either workers or volunteers just to get some place to live. And of course see the sights."

Jim said: "Well, we haven't been to Yellowstone yet, but Kev and I spent a three day weekend in Glacier just before they closed the Going-to-the-Sun Highway."

Jade and I said we wanted to visit there also after hearing how amazing the place was.

Kevin added: "Actually, it was the Many Glacier area that I thought the most spectacular. We hiked from there to the Garden Wall and back. We almost had to turn back when a moose wouldn't let us by for a good while."

Jim rejoined: "You said your favorite hike was to Ice Lake. Remember the mother grizzly and three cubs we saw on the way back?"

Jade said: "Three cubs? I never knew they could have three."

"Well, seeing is believing." said Kevin. (He kept saying he would not believe in anything he couldn't experience with his senses).

Then Jim added: "And how about when the mountain sheep started munching on the wind-shield wiper? It sure got our driver all upset!"

I wondered if I heard right. "You never said there was a third person with you."

Jim laughed. "Oh I forgot to tell you. Kev here don't look it, but he's a millionaire. His grandmom is loaded. Most of it's still in a trust, but he can get money anytime he wants it. And he doesn't drive. He always hires someone. We hired a limousine and driver for the three days!"

Jade and I were astounded.

Kevin retorted: "Hey look you guys. I never earned any of that money. Sure I intend to use some of it, but I'm really hoping someday to set up some kind of foundation for the kids of Chicago that need it more than me."

I was riveted. I looked at Kevin with a strange mixture of disbelief and wonder. Give most of his inheritance away?! It started me really thinking. I kept saying to Jade that we needed to share our love with those that needed it, but that was mostly in the abstract. And I now was suddenly confronted with someone actually intending to do it in a concrete way. A way I'd not given much thought to. I would have to think about this some. And talk to Jade about it.

Jade said: "All my life, I kept thinking how to GET money, and here you've been thinking how to give yours away!"

Jim jumped in: "See. If that's not living like Christ said we should what is!"

Kevin showed annoyance. "Look, to paraphrase the greatest line ever uttered on the silver screen. It was Jimmy Stewart in ---------------* who remarked: `Don't thank God. It's me that did it.' God won't be helping these kids. It will be me."

[* I sure I've heard this line in one of the older Jimmy Stewart movies, but I can not remember its title. Stewart played a fellow who had saved someone's life and another person said: "Thank God, . . ." Stewart's character then remarked: "Don't thank God. It's me that did it."]

Jim countered: "But don't you see! You're bringing God's love into the world in a real way!"

That started another round of what I suspected was a never ending argument. I think they both enjoyed it.

Our card games eventually migrated into Hearts and then Spades. Our talk migrated into what we were going to be doing on our Christmas visits to home and then on to the friends we left behind. I ESP'd a question to Jade when we started talking about our friends Dan and Allen.

Jade then said: "Speaking about religion, this guy Allen we got to know through Dan, is Jewish, and was an agnostic, but he became a Christian right before he got married. In fact he got married in the church Rocco and I went to before we went out to college."

Jim pounced on that. "See Kev, it can happen. God's love is there to whoever is open to Him! It can often happen when a guy falls in love with his girl and if it's real love then this can really change a person."

Jade laughed -- pretty loudly. "I wonder if you'll still be saying that after you hear the rest of the story?"

Now we had both their attention. I looked around to see if anyone else could hear us. No one.

I was laughing myself.

Kevin asked: "OK, what're you guys leaving out?"

Jade answered: "You asked for it. Allen fell in love with and married his friend Dan. They're gay."

Jim had a look half way between incredulity and horror.

It was Kevin now who burst out laughing. "That's one of the best I've ever heard! I'll treasure that story, and the look it put on Jim's face, forever!"

Kevin couldn't stop laughing.

Finally Jim said: "But that can't be a valid marriage and it can't be real love. God made marriage to be between a man and a woman. It says so in the Bible. Two guys can't really love each other. It's just a sick kind of lust."

But it was Kevin that started to defend Allen and Dan: "How can you be so sure about that Jim? I know a couple gay kids at college. They're just normal kids except that they need intimacy with each other rather than the opposite sex. It's the way they're made."

Jim looked at Kevin and started to say something and then reconsidered: "But Kev, can't you see how sick that is? And how can they actually love each other?"

Kevin answered: "How can ANYONE love another? My parent's were married and they sure didn't. And let's forget about sex for a minute. You keep talking about this so-called real love. So why can't two boys have this real love for each other? They're two human beings like everybody else."

Jim seemed lost for a moment while he thought: "But how about kids and family? They can't have either. They can't really give of themselves the way God intended!"

I jumped in. "Why not? They can sacrifice and give of themselves to each other like anyone else. Marriage isn't just for having kids. How about people that can't ever have kids, or two older people that get married?" And then I paraphrased the quote from Pius XI that I liked so much.

Jim looked exasperated. "Not you too? Is everyone around here warped or something!"

Kevin, wasn't insulted at all by his friend's remark. In fact he just laughed and said: "Maybe we're warped, but by rationally thinking about things. Not just believing a whole bunch of stuff on faith that don't always make complete sense."

They were back to their running argument.

Jim replied: "But it says so in the Bible. Homosexuality is an abomination. How can they have real love?"

Kevin said: "It's your Bible not mine. I don't happen to believe that stuff. If two people really love each other, then how can you or your Bible condemn them?"

Jade spoke up: "There's one more thing you guys aren't considering."

They both answered almost as one: "What's that?"

And that started a lively discussion about interpreting the Bible and what was true faith. Kevin stayed mostly out of it since he just said all the contradictions in the Bible proved it had to be wrong.

I finally looked at Jade. He knew what that look meant. And Jim also sensed it was meant as something significant.

I said: "Jim, let me ask you a question. If you came up with any couple, say that couple sitting at the end of the car, whispering to each other."

He turned around and looked. Then turned back.

"Say for argument they were married. Now how could you judge the love they had for each other?"

"Well, I can't. Only God can."

"Thanks for admitting that. And to just show you how things can be far different than what they seem. What do you think about Jade and me?"

Jim was now puzzled. "I don't understand. You guys just seem like nice ordinary guys. So what?"

But it was Kevin who started laughing all over again. "Tell me it ain't true; what I'm thinking!" But he started laughing again. He looked at his friend. "I think they just blindsided us Jim. And I'm going to be watching your expression as they tell you."

I smiled: "Dan and Allen aren't the only guys that got married in our Church. Jade and I have been married since the beginning of our Senior year in High School!"

And Jim's expression was a marvel as it ranged through all kinds of interior emotions. Finally he said: "No. You're just saying that. You can't have said all that stuff about God and your faith and be that way."

Jade answered: "Be what way? Rocco and I have loved each other for years and we are married. And we believe God blesses out marriage. And even more, we believe that our love for each other brings us closer to Christ."

Kevin answered: "I don't know about the Christ stuff, but I believe you when you say you guys love each other. What do you think Jim?"

"I don't know what to think. I can't believe it can be true love. It doesn't make sense."

I said: "It makes great sense to Jade and me. We would literally do anything for each other. We love each other as much as any two heterosexuals can. We can't expect you to understand all at once, but at least believe us when we say we truly love each other. It's real. It's good for us."

"I just don't know. I'll have to think about this."

"Look you guys," Kevin finally said. "I just love to see Jim's preconceived ideas blow up in his face. But it's getting late, so how about we sleep on it?"

We agreed. I wondered if Jim would really want to associate with us again.

Kevin then said: "I got a good idea. How about we all meet here for breakfast tomorrow say at 7 a.m.? It won't be so crowded then. And breakfast will be on me."

It got amended to 7:30, but we all agreed. Jim never hesitated.

During that night we didn't sleep too well in the seats but the excitement of the trip more than made up for a night of waking frequently. And the moon was out bright enough now that the countryside was quite visible.


Winterscape in Western North Dakota

But the next morning we realized something was not quite right. We were supposed to be well into Minnesota by then, but we were sitting on a siding in Bismarck, North Dakota. We did go to breakfast and while there learned about the problem with the train and the delay. We decided to venture outside. Conversation stayed onto things other than religion. And I was happy to see that Jim didn't seem worried that his companions were "sick gay perverts." I was too used to getting that reaction from religious people that I was pleasantly surprised that Jim was apparently willing to not make an issue of it. At least to the extent of condemning us for it.

After eating we got off the train to stretch our legs. But wow was it COLD! One of the train attendants said it was 36 below zero. I rarely ever saw below zero before. The coldest I ever remembered back home was 4 above. And the coldest in Cheney so far was about 6 below. And that was considered cold for them. And at 38 below strange things started to happen. (The bank thermometer dropped another two degrees since we had looked out from the station). Ice even formed at the corner of your eyes and in your nose. I mentioned that Jade and I weren't dressed for this kind of cold and had to get back to the train.

Then Kevin said he had a plan to foil Mother Nature. I enquired just what he had in mind on a cold, blustery, Monday morning in Bismarck, North Dakota.

"Well, I saw a department store back there about a block, and it said it opened at 10 AM. That's just a few minutes from now."

We were talked into following. It didn't take much. Anything to get out of this cold. Jade and I were not dressed for it and we didn't even own coats for these kinds of temperatures. I only had about forty bucks on me so didn't want to spend maybe anymore than perhaps 65 cents on a paperback novel or something. Jade said he would maybe look for a good pair of gloves. I laughed, especially when it took Jim a few seconds to catch on. In fact though, the cold was especially a problem for Jade's lower arms. The reduced blood circulation and the hooks were not kind to his arms. But it didn't sound like a bad idea for myself. I didn't own a good pair.

So off we went. The store was enormous, belying the size of the town it was in.

Kevin remarked: "It probably services all the farming communities nearby also."

After an half hour or so just looking around, Kevin seemed to suddenly get some purpose to his meanderings. "OK, now to implement my assault on Mother Nature, follow me."

We got off the elevator and found ourselves facing the biggest collection of heavy outdoor wear I'd ever seen.

Kevin remarked. "This is cold country and the people need to dress for it. Let's look around."

Kevin started pulling heavy coats off the rack. "Hey Jim, that falling apart coat you've been wearing on campus the only one you got?"

"My good one's at home in Milwaukee. I was going to bring it back with me. I know how to dress for cold weather. I just didn't expect Bozeman to be as cold as Milwaukee. It's even colder!"

Then Kevin started asking what Jade and I owned. We admitted the truth. Nothing for below zero. I still had a hard time believing it when we all got to the counter. Jade and I found two immense goose down filled parkas, along with hoods that the sales lady said would easily be good down to forty below. We also had these improbably immense mitts and fur lined boots called pacs. Never seen them before. Nor those big coats.

We gave a futile argument. "But Kevin, we barely met and these coats cost over a hundred dollars! We can't let you do this. Besides, Jade and I can actually afford them ourselves. We have a lot of money we've saved."

"Look, one of the most important things I ever do to make me feel good is spending all my money on someone besides myself. And Jim wasn't quite specific enough. My grandmother is worth WELL more than a million dollars and much of it's already been put in some kind of trust for me. Even now I can spend its income. So don't think this is even putting a dent into what I've got."

So we walked out with a few packages. They contained our original shoes and coats. We were now dressed for a North Dakota winter.

Jade laughed when we got outside: "White-boy! You finally look like a normal sized person. At least weight wise."

I was still not quite 5' 4" and barely 100 pounds. Of course now I probably looked like I was all the way up to a hundred and ten. But the coats, though really bulky, were not that heavy. I was astonished at how warm they kept us.

Everyone was also sporting a new pair of special thermal mittens. The sales lady said that some people even wore them over regular gloves. I had never heard of such a thing. And the parkas had a big fringe in front that helped keep our faces a bit warmer. No more ice forming in the corners of my eyes. Of course the temperature had warmed up to a sizzling 34 below zero. A veritable heat wave.

We got back to the train only to learn that it would be at least a couple more hours. The conductor said that they would blow the big whistle so we could know when they were ready to leave if we were in town. Just don't stray too far.

So off we went back through the downtown metropolis of Bismarck. We decided to splurge on a good meal. Jade and I had been living on sandwiches except for this morning's breakfast of French Toast and bacon.

A few blocks from the station, at Kevin's urging, we all went into this real fancy hotel, with their even fancier restaurant. I looked around and some of the people even had on suits! We had to wait for the maitre'de to seat us. (I barely knew what the word meant, let alone seen one in the flesh).

Jade remarked. "Reminds me of the new McDonald's back home. Wonder if their hamburgers are as good."

Kevin looked like he was hurt. Jim laughed.

Jade said: "Only kidding Kevin."

I explained. "This McDonalds is a new fast food burger chain that just started up. They even have a few places now in the city we grew up in."

Kevin remarked: "Knowing the proclivity of Americans for truly bad food, they will no doubt prosper. They might even spread out here."

We sat and were handed embossed menus. And then I saw the prices. My god! $12 just for a steak dinner! And $20 for lobster! Which I had only once before up in Maine. And in Maine it was only 5 dollars, which was still pretty expensive I had thought. (Of course that was almost 5 years ago). I started getting worried. The cheapest thing on the menu was called ground beefsteak which was fancy restaurant talk for a hamburger. Imagine McDonalds charging $6.50 for a 15 cent hamburger.

Jade started to say something but Kevin stopped him.

"Don't worry guys, this is on me. Let me enjoy showing you what good cuisine is supposed to be."

Hell, I barely ever heard the word cuisine, let alone put cuisine in my mouth.

After some haggling, I ordered the Alaska King Crab. I never had it before, but sure liked the crab we had on the Jersey shore. Jade ordered the same. We only winced a bit when we saw the price. But Kevin insisted. Kevin ordered some steak with a fancy sauce, while Jim ordered some pork dish that had four more words attached.

Jade smiled: "I guess that long name for your dish added 5 more dollars onto the price."

Jim and Kevin watched as Jade just wrapped a napkin around the soup spoon, adjusted the angle of his left hook, and attacked the turtle soup that was the first course. "Hey this is good. I never ate a turtle before." The other choices of soup were cream of asparagus, and beef barely -- two of my favorites. I finally settled on the turtle soup though since I never had it before. I almost choked, however, when Kevin later explained that it was made from those cute green Slider Turtles that same variety that were sold in all the pet shops.

And then came the main dinner. "Holy smoke!" was what I said when the waiter uncovered the dish. "I never knew a crab could get so big!" And it was actually only a half of one. Jade got the other half. I wondered how he was going to use what looked to me like fancy nut crackers. I didn't think Kevin even thought about it, but Jim suddenly did. He started to say something but then stopped.

I leaned over to Jade and whispered: "Need any help with that?"

Jade smiled: "Maybe not." And he proceeded to attack the crab's legs with his hooks. A twist and a snap and he enjoyed the meat out of a crab leg. Jim kept looking over fascinated.

I couldn't understand why, but the next course was the salad. Kevin said something about cleansing the palate for desert. I had a half size Caesar. (Which filled an entire plate). The waiter, (a man), then put ground pepper on it. I was fascinated. (And I liked pepper). I also noted that he never even batted an eye when he saw Jade managing with his hooks, and what he did with the napkin. He simply brought him another napkin.

We eschewed dessert. Except for Kevin. He was a big boy. I was too full. Even with my usual hollow leg. He ordered something-something-chocolate torte. I almost tried to figure out how to empty my leg, it looked so good.

We got our bill, and I didn't even want to think about the total. It was almost as much as my train ticket! Kevin pulled out his wallet and got out a plastic covered card. I never seen anything like that before. "What's that?"

"It's been around a while but its finally usable at a lot of places around the entire country. It's called a Diner's Club Card. A lot of the better restaurants let you use this for payment, and the person gets a bill in the mail every month to pay off what the card was used for."

I had trouble figuring out just how it could work. "How does the restaurant get paid then?"

"I guess they send in all the receipts or whatever and the Diner's Card Company sends them their money. Or more probably deposits it into their account. I'm not exactly sure. But this is awfully convenient. It would be nice if they could start using cards like this to pay for everything. Then I wouldn't have to carry all those hundred dollar bills around with me."

I wished I had that problem.

Just as we waddled out into the street we heard the train whistle. Good timing I thought. It was now all the way up to 31 below zero. Back on the train I changed back into my sneakers, and packed the pacs away. I was also wondering how come Kevin didn't fly home. I figured he could probably afford his own jet.

We got ourselves ensconced into the front observation car again and restarted our card game. This time I taught the other guys single deck, single bid, pinochle. (There are probably a dozen different sets of rules for pinochle). We were more than a half day late getting into Milwaukee. When Jim got off, he gave both Jade and I both his home address and school address. The same with Kevin when we got to Chicago. I was really hoping we could keep in touch with these guys. I was not usually so taken with people as I was those two. And both of them started me thinking about just what did I want to do with my life. I was impressed by both but for different reasons. Jim was obviously deeply religious, and Kevin was, as far as I was concerned, maybe even more so, in his own denying-what-he-thought-God-was kind of way. He had a certain aura of altruism about him, and I started wondering about myself. How selfish have I been in my own plans? And for not the first time I started to think of something beyond just teaching. I would have to think about it a lot more. And talk about it with Jade. Well, I had lots of time.

Later on our trip home, Jade also brought up that same subject. And we discussed the possibility of future careers aside from teaching.

Copyright 2007 by Rocco Paperiello