Journey to Love
Chapter Sixteen: The Round Table
edited by Cole, Peter and Scott
After our inspection tour, I went to the paint store and picked up the materials and tools Jake had listed. I put them away in the garage since I had to find a long-sleeved shirt and old pants to dress in when I started on the table. When I went back in the house, Auntie suggested I not start right then as I needed to check on my course schedule and make sure it had been approved.
I went up and checked my email and found one from the registrar advising me that my schedule had been received and approved. It instructed me to report directly to classes beginning Monday. The email also had a list of required and recommended books for each class. Louis told me to expect the lists and to hold off on buying books until he had a look at what was required. “Half of the recommended ones will never be mentioned and half those required will never be opened or need to be,” he said. “When you get the list, send it to me and I’ll let you know the ones you need to have right away and you can pick up others only as they are needed.” I emailed him a copy of the letter from the registrar, thinking again how lucky it was I’d met him.
Saturday morning I planned to sleep late, but was wide awake at 7:00. I went downstairs to a silent house. Auntie was usually up before 7:00, so I put on water for grits, started preheating the oven for biscuits and got bacon and eggs from the fridge. When the oven beeped, I put in six frozen biscuits, poured grits into the pot of boiling water and cracked four eggs into a bowl. When the grits were done, I turned the fire down, checked the biscuits and turned the bacon. I had started worrying about Auntie when she walked into the kitchen.
“Morning, Auntie,” I said, kissing her on the cheek.
“Good morning. My, I sure slept late.”
“I know. I was beginning to worry."
“Well, fool like, I got interested in a late movie which wasn't over until almost one. See you about have breakfast ready.”
"Waiting on the biscuits,” I replied as I put the bacon on paper towels to drain, beat the eggs a few strokes and poured them into the pan. In a few minutes, we were at the table enjoying breakfast.
When she asked what I planned for the day, I told her I needed to pick up some books after Louis got back to me and then I wanted to work on the table. "Jake seemed to think I could finish with it in a couple or three hours. 'Course, he knows what he is doing and I’ll be feeling my way."
“You should be finished by 1:00 anyway shouldn't you?”
“I certainly hope so.”
“When you finish, you'll need to clean up, I’m sure. How would you like to go furniture shopping this afternoon? We could go for lunch and then look for furniture for your living room." I had learned there was no need objecting to Auntie spending money on me and my space, so I just agreed.
The stuff Jake recommended had all sorts of warnings about using it without adequate ventilation, wearing protective clothes and using thick vinyl gloves. I got dressed and went to the garage, opened the door and started work. I was using a solution which dissolved the dirt, grime and what Jake said was oxidized varnish. I applied the solution with fine steel wool, rinsing it frequently in the solution to wipe away the dissolved grime. After I finished a section I used clean solution and repeated the process. Finally, I used more clean solution and rags to wipe any remaining grime from the table.
I had only been cleaning a short time before I found the table had an inlaid border a few inches from the edge. As I continued cleaning, I discovered a sunburst inlay in the center. Beautiful! When I finished cleaning the table, dark oak gleamed, the beautiful grain stood out and the sunburst and border looked three dimensional. I was still admiring it when Auntie came outside to check on my progress.
“Wow, Derek! I thought the table would be functional and look OK, but it is really beautiful. I sure never noticed the inlays before.”
“Not surprising” I laughed, “until I removed all the grime, they weren’t visible. It has to sit for two to four hours now before I apply a protective finish coat.”
“Now we can look for some chairs which will do it justice. If we can find some, it will look like it's ready for the knights of the round table," Auntie said, moving her tiny hand across the smooth gleaming surface.
I put away the trash and leftover material and went upstairs to shower. When I finished, I checked my email and found one from Louis with a single book for each course marked for immediate purchase. I dressed and went down and found Auntie was ready to hit the road. We went to a seafood place on the beach. Inside there were long picnic tables covered with newspapers. Pans of steamed shellfish and shrimp were dumped in front of customers. Large bowls of sauce of several kinds with ladles and small bowls were in the center of the table. “I don't go to places like this often," Auntie said, "but today seemed a good day for it. Hope you enjoy.”
Seafood was a special deal in Stanton and certainly would never be found in such abundance or variety. Auntie had to show me how to open some of the offerings. I loved the shrimp, but could have passed on most of the other shellfish.
When we had eaten our fill, we drove to an area of furniture and antique shops in Newport News, looking for chairs without finding anything. After a fruitless hour, Auntie said, “Let's look at some ordinary used furniture places.”
At the first place we stopped I spotted a table and three high-backed chairs just inside the entrance. The chairs were dark oak which would match the table very well. Their seats were upholstered in tapestry. When I pointed them out to Auntie, she said, “Those chairs are quite elegant and would look lovely with the round table, but they are not something I think college students would like. Too stiff and formal, but they could be elegant.”
“Probably uncomfortable as well,” I added and sat down in one. “Man, they fool you. This is very comfortable. Maybe just what is needed around a study table, comfortable enough, but the design would discourage dozing.” The chair we were examining was in good condition, but when we looked at the other two, we found a cigarette burn in the cushion of one and a cut in the other. “Pity," I said, “these would really look great and in fact are quite comfortable.”
“Well, there are only three and you need at least four and eight would be better. Also, I doubt you could buy the chairs without the table.”
“Good afternoon.” a clerk said as he came from the back of the store. "Something I can help you with?”
“We were just looking at the chairs, but I see you have only three and two of these are in bad shape. Also, we're not interested in the table.”
“Oh, that's fine. They came in separately. I just put them together because they looked good that way. How many chairs did you need?”
“At least six, but we could use eight.”
“Actually, I have seven. The other four appear in very poor shape, the seats gone or may as well be, they are dirty and the finish impossible. However, the frames under the grime are in as good condition. They are all well put together and with elbow grease, they will cleanup nicely."
“How much?" Auntie asked.
The clerk looked at the tag and said, “Seventy-five each.”
“Maybe for that one if I was only buying one, but all the others must be reupholstered, which, by the way, means this one will as well. The others, especially if they are in worse condition than the two here, are worth no more than fifteen or twenty dollars. I'll give you fifteen each for the other six and you keep the seventy-five dollar one."
“Fifty for the others and seventy-five for the good one. You take all seven.”
“You think I can get them upholstered for twenty-five dollars each? I think not. Frankly, we like the chairs and they would suffice for the use we had in mind, but there have to be others which will serve as well or we’ll take all seven as is for two fifty.”
“Two seventy-five and they’re yours.”
“Where do you live?" Auntie told him. “Okay, two hundred seventy-five delivered.”
“You got a deal," Auntie said. “We are also furnishing a living room for this young college student. He has a beautiful room, very large, and we need a large couch, maybe a love seat and a couple of wing chairs.”
“If you look around, you’ll see most of the furniture is mid-range, used. I just lucked up on the chairs. Since you appreciate them, it’s not likely you’ll find anything here. I can, however, give you the names of a few stores I would recommend."
“Thanks," Auntie said, “You get a finder's fee?"
"Well, if we buy, we’ll insist you get a cut of the commission.”
We went to two more shops and saw nothing that caught my fancy. I realized, as we were leaving, I was looking for something that was attractive, comfortable and clearly masculine like Sam and Brad had. We were being shown big, ugly furniture with terrible upholstery. I was getting discouraged, but reminded myself there was no rush. I also noticed Auntie was running out of steam. "Let's give it up for today," I suggested.
“Sounds good, but let's find a place and have something to drink and rest a minute." We found a nice tearoom, had tea and cake, then headed for home. I told her I needed to go to the bookstore sometime before Monday and she suggested I stop by on the way home. When I stopped, she said she would stay in the car since I was just picking up books. I was in and out in fifteen minutes. When I got back to the car, Auntie was dozing. When we got home, I insisted Auntie lie down for a few minutes. When I peeked in on her fifteen minutes later, she was sound asleep.
Upstairs, I wrote Brad and Sam a long email and attached a letter to Mom. I had taken pictures of my place before, so I made pictures of my new digs and sent them. I wrote DeAngelo and sent him photos as well. I didn’t have Jeremy's email address and had sent my new university email address to Sergeant Major and asked him to pass it on. I was surprised that just as I got the message my emails had been sent successfully, I received the signal I had received one. When I opened my inbox, there was an email from JeremyW, subject line 'Sorry.’ When I opened it, I read:
My Beloved Derek,
Brother, I have been feeling really rotten this week thinking what I did while I was home last week, first when I showed up with Mom and Dad Sunday night, then at the airport. Of course I mean kissing you.
I understand why I did it, but it was not fair to you. Derek, I love you so much as a brother and I wanted to really make you understand that, but I know that the kiss could easily have been misunderstood given your feelings for me. To be honest, Derek, had you made any advance to me while we were together this past week, I’m not sure I would not have had sex with you.
I met this chaplain here who seemed to be really with it and I was so disturbed by what I had done, I went to talk to him. He said males are told practically from birth that they do not cry or show emotion. I guess that's true. It certainly is in my house. That is especially true of expressing love. He said that when we want to show love, we are wired to do so physically and about the only way we know how to do that is sexually.
“Jeremy," he said, “what you did most likely gave Derek hope that you would come to love him as he loves you. When he discovers that’s a false hope, he will be deeply hurt. He may end your friendship. Had you had sex . . . well, you can imagine the devastation it would have caused." When I asked him what I should do, he advised me to call you and talk to you, but until we plebes are off restrictions, that is impossible, so I hope you understand why my only way is email.
Derek, I’d rather cut off an arm than hurt you. Your friendship is the most precious thing in my world.
I love you, Brother.
I was certainly glad to get Jeremy’s letter. I had tried to push the kisses to the back of my mind, but that didn't mean I hadn't thought about them and wondered what was going on. Strange as it may seem, it hadn't occurred to me Jeremy was turning gay or discovering he was gay. Now I think I understood what was going on and it made sense even if I wished it meant something else. I wrote Jeremy a long email explaining my feelings about the situation, about my talk with Auntie who had told me pretty much the same thing the chaplain had told him. I wrote: “Jeremy, I have reconciled myself to the fact we will never be lovers. Please know that, for me, too, our friendship holds first place.” I sent that, then composed a newsy email about what was going on and included photos of what he soon started calling King Derek's Palace.
When Auntie finished her nap, she called me downstairs and we had lemonade and cookies in the backyard swing. We talked about our shopping trip and that I’d start classes Monday. With Louis looking out for me, I had no 8:00 classes, one of the lucky dozen or so out of the entire freshman class. My first class was Introduction to Science at 9:00. I slept in Sunday and we made another furniture shopping trip, but had no luck. I insisted we make it short.
Monday I slept until 7:00 and when I went downstairs, Auntie was making coffee. I grabbed a bowl, cereal, milk and orange juice and sat down at the counter. “That going to be enough, Derek?"
“I can fix more if you want.”
“No, cereal is fine. Maybe Saturday and Sunday we can have more, but school days, cereal it is. By the way, I can be back by 6:00 everyday, so I’ll fix supper.”
“Fine, unless I decide to fix it," Auntie chuckled.
The chairs had been delivered Monday along with a note from the salesman suggesting I remove and discard the seating materials. He wrote it would make cleaning and finishing much easier and it would all have to be replaced anyway.
Tuesday I finished classes by 1:00. I drove so I could get back home quickly. I wanted to get as much done with the chairs as I could before I had to head back for an aquatics team meeting at 5:00. The chairs would take longer than the table since I would not be dealing with large, flat surfaces this time. I had finished cleaning only three when it was time to get cleaned up and head back to the university.
Dive team practice was not at all like what I had known. At APFC, kids had to be brought to practice and picked up, so everyone was present for the whole practice. Here, swimmers had their practice and divers had ours. I didn't need to sit around while swimmers swam. Of course, some divers also swam on the team, but I did not. Coach Rowe, the dive coach, and his assistants helped us work out a practice schedule and I was pleased to find we would be practicing from 2:00 until 3:00 Monday, Wednesday and Friday until September fifteenth when we would be practicing 4:00 until 5:30 Tuesday and Thursday as well. Our intra-team meet was set for October third and regular meets would follow. With those times and dates settled, Coach Rowe also gave us a schedule of when the pool would be closed to all except aquatics team members if we wanted to use it. We were dismissed then without having gotten wet.
I was back home before 6:15. Auntie told me she was cooking and we’d have a late supper at 8:30. I managed to get one chair ready for a final wiping with the protective coat and another well on the way before being called to supper.
Wednesday after lunch Levi, a junior who had been diving at OCU for two years, suggested we get in some dive practice before official practice. Levi was good and I told him so. “Not as good as you, Derek, and I have been diving since I was twelve.” After official dive practice, I had a couple of hours before supper. I managed to finish the chair I’d started the day before and get another ready for the protective coat. I told Auntie I had very little work tonight and still had daylight enough to do the last two chairs.
When I came back in the house, all seven chairs were ready for the protective coat. “Auntie, you can call and have the chairs picked up by the upholsterer Friday morning. We’ll pick out the material when I get back tomorrow afternoon.”
I went up to my place, cleaned up and got on my assignments. Having assignments, but not having homework to turn in seemed funny. I realized how easy it was to do nothing. I finished about 10:00 and wrote emails to DeAngelo, Jeremy, Brad and Sam—with an attached letter to Mom. From then on, I wrote them about every other day even if just to say, ‘Hello, I'm fine.' I got a couple emails from Brad and Sam each week and one from DeAngeIo, if I was lucky. Jeremy’s time was so tightly controlled at West Point that I was lucky to get an email every other week from him.
Thursday after class, I wiped on the protective coat before we went to select fabric for the chair seats. I certainly liked the original fabric and when we went to the shop, told the clerk that. He kept bringing out samples and making suggestions, but nothing close to the old seat covering I showed him. I finally asked that he only show us tapestry. As I did, Auntie spied a book of samples and said, “Look!Fabric based on William Morris’s designs!” When I asked who he was, she said he was a nineteenth century English textile designer noted for other things as well.
When she asked to see the samples, the clerk said, “Madam, I can assure you those are too expensive for you,” and made no effort to get them for us.
Wrong move! Auntie yelled at the top of her lungs—she was tiny, but had to yell at kids and sailors enough to put a set of lungs on her—“Management!” A small, dapper man came running from the back, arriving very confused.
Auntie asked him for the sample book, which he quickly handed to her and asked why she hadn’t allowed the clerk to get it for her. When she told him the clerk had refused, he looked horrified. While he was trying to regain his composure, Auntie said she assumed we would be given the employees’ discount on the fabric as an apology for the way we had been treated. It was still expensive, but twenty-five percent below the price in the book. We had a hard time choosing from among the wonderful Morris tapestries, but finally settled on one we both adored. When the manager started writing up the sale, Auntie said, “You can also take the commission off the total since we had to make the sale to ourselves.” He did.
After selecting the fabric, we went shopping for accessories and décor for the library. In the second store we entered, a young man, just older than I, took a look at photos of the library and seemed to know immediately what we needed. An hour later, the library was finished or would be when the rest of the day’s purchases and the chairs were delivered.
Thursday night there was a freshman mixer from 8:30 until 9:30 at the student center. I debated whether or not to go until Auntie pointed out that since I lived off campus, I was missing out on college social life. So, I went. I met a few people, but it really was a very tame punch-and-cookie affair, pretty dull. As I headed for the parking lot afterward, I saw Louis walking toward me. “Derek!” he called.
“Louis,” I replied and headed to him. “What are you doing at a freshman mixer? You into young girls?”
“Hardly,” he said, grinning. “I’m picking up Philip, my baby brother. He’s a freshman this year. Ah, here he comes now." Philip Lafayette was a tall, slender, good looking young man, but had an attitude about him, quite unlike his brother, and it was one to which I took an instant dislike. “Like to join me for a beer? Actually, I guess in your and Philip's case a coke since I know you're not twenty-one. There's a pizza place just across from the campus entrance, easy walking distance.”
Philip had barely responded when I was introduced to him and his contributions to the conversation remained minimal. We found a table at the pizza place and Louis ordered a beer as did Philip, but he was carded and told he'd have to grow up first. He refused to order anything. “Split a pizza?" Louis asked. I nodded and ordered a coke. “So, Derek, how was your first week of classes? Dive team?” Louis asked.
“Classes are fine, for the most part. Nothing outstanding, none death-dealing boring. Diving's going okay. Looks as if I may be drafted to do some swimming as well. Fine with me unless it takes too much extra time. I enjoy diving and swimming, but I do so to pay my way to college; I do not go to college so I can swim and dive. Seems the coaches think otherwise.”
"I don’t live in the dorm. Technically I am a day student." I then told him about my housing arrangements. “I came down expecting to stay with my aunt and have a room and a study, even if neither was in very good shape. The rooms have essentially been closed for fifteen or more years after the last grand kid got too old to spend summers with Auntie. I planned on taking it ‘as-is’, but Auntie had a different idea. I have an elegant apartment minus a kitchen. Well, and the rest of the furniture.”
"Yeah. I have a small bedroom with a bath, a library/study with a half bath and a living room.”
“You said something about the rest of the furniture?” Philip broke his silence. I told him about the furniture I had been able to use, what I had stored temporarily and what I still had to select.
“And all of this just fell into your lap out of the blue?" Louis asked as Philip lapsed back into silence. So, I ended up telling him about Auntie and my obligations to her.
"I don’t suppose the convertible was included in the deal,” he laughed.
“As a matter of fact it was. Philip, you are being left out. How was your week?” I asked.
“You don’t want to know,” he grumbled.
“Philip's pissed. He had his heart set on doing his university degrees in France. Dad had a financial reversal three years ago, so Philip switched to Montreal, but that also was too expensive. He was told he’d have to attend a Virginia state school and Dad had him apply to UVA-Wise.”
“UVA-Wise is so far back in the boonies, Sunday arrives late Monday,” Philip growled.
“I called in a couple of IOUs and with his grades, he got an academic scholarship here and so here he is, taking his displeasure out on the world which, frankly, doesn't give a rat’s ass.”
“Please, Louis, spare me.” Philip snarled and lapsed back into being one of the living dead. Louis and I chatted for another fifteen minutes, then Philip suddenly returned to life and asked, “You stored some furniture?”
“Yeah, originally my place had three bedrooms as Auntie had five kids, three boys—two were twins—and two girls. I’m using Paul’s king size bed with the twins headboard. The mattresses went to the dump. All the girls' furniture is temporarily stored in the garage. There are two of everything: beds, chests, armoires, mirrors, the works and tons of lace and ruffles. I was told they are French Provincial reproductions, but what the hell do I know about French anything? Even the mattresses are good as Auntie replaced them several years ago, but they have been used little and are in zipped plastic covers.”
Louis looked interested. “Think Auntie might be willing to part with it, at least the beds, for a couple of college students? Philip and I also live off campus—that’s almost a given for grad students and Dad pulled some strings for Philip.”
“Don't know. You’ll have to talk to her. Last I heard she was thinking Goodwill so it may be very cheap. Auntie never goes to bed until she has watched the local news, so she’s still up if you want to talk with her right now. You need to check with her soon before she gets busy and has everything hauled off.”
When we reached my place, I knocked on Auntie’s door and when she answered, I poked my head in and said, “Couple guys from school here who may be interested in some furniture"
After introductions Louis and Philip explained their situation. “Well, everything we have taken from Derek’s is stored in the garage. It is all headed for Goodwill. Louis, Philip, help yourselves. Most may be a bit feminine for you, but maybe not, especially for you, Philip, since it's French. At least pseudo-French. Anyway, Derek, show them the loot and when you finish, come by for tea and a cookie.”
We headed to the garage. Louis and I were talking about Professor Simms as we walked across the backyard to the garage. I punched the code to the side door and Philip went inside. Louis and I were still standing outside, talking when Philip shouted as if he had found the gold at the end of the rainbow.
Louis called to him, “Do you think it might seem a little feminine?”
“Gay you mean?” Philip replied from inside.
We stepped inside and Louis said, “Oh, I was expecting white and gold paint." The furniture was actually medium dark wood, quite attractive, but I had no need for any of it. I guess the ‘it might be a little too feminine, i.e., gay' idea could have been at the back of my mind also.
“We'll take it all,” Philip said, “except the lace and ruffles.” I guess he then recalled his behavior earlier and said, “Derek, sorry I have been such an ass tonight and thanks, thanks very much.”
I started to say something about him not being an ass, but he had been. “Apology accepted. Maybe you’ll find Old Commonwealth not so bad.”
“I hope so,” but his tone of voice said, ‘you've got to be kidding’.
Back inside, Auntie met us in the kitchen and promptly poured steaming cups of tea and passed a plate of cookies. As soon as we were settled, she asked if they’d found anything they could use.
“Mrs . . .” Louis started.
“Son, call me Auntie, everyone does.”
"Well, Auntie, if you don't mind, I think we'll pass on the lace and ruffles, but the furniture is great and a real godsend. Right now we’re sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags and living out of suitcases. The armoires are especially welcome as we have no closets and the furniture will be just what we need. We lucked out on two large rooms at a very reasonable rent for being close to campus, but they are just two bare attic rooms. With the beds and furniture, we'll have a decent place to live. Again, thanks. I have a friend, Jordan, who owns what passes for a truck and we'll get the stuff out of your way tomorrow. Anything you want to go to Goodwill, we'll take for you.”
"Sounds like a winner for us both," Auntie said. “Well, I need to catch up on the news. I tell you the politicians are driving me to an early grave.”
“I’m placing money on you,” Philip laughed.
“How about a look at your kingdom before we go?” Louis asked.
“I was just going to suggest that," I said.
“Holy shit!" Louis exclaimed when I opened the door to the library. “Looks like a junior lord’s library.”
“Well, Auntie and I found seven chairs for the table which are having their seats replaced. They’ll be here next week. I wanted a place for a study group if I’m ever in one. Other than that, this room is finished.”
"I see your laptop has a docking station,” Philip commented.
“It does, but it can be moved to the study table or, in fact, anywhere, as there is a
“No TV?” Philip asked.
“Not in the library. This room is devoted to studying, reading and serious discussions and thinking.” We walked through the short passage toward the bedroom and I opened the half bath door. “This was a full bath with only a make-shift shower, but Auntie decided a half bath was enough for the library and had a wall moved to enlarge the bedroom a bit.”
When we stepped into my bedroom, Philip said, "Again, no TV I can see.”
“When I first looked over the place, I asked myself what I would be doing in each room and what I needed in it. I was clear my bedroom would be for sleeping and, maybe, one day, making love, and nothing else.” I then realized I was blushing.
“Making love or having sex?" Louis asked with a grin.
“I certainly hope the former," I grinned in return. “This door was cut to give me access to the girls' bathroom which was huge. I thought that would be it, but again walls were moved and the bathroom renovated."
As Philip and Louis stepped into the bathroom, Louis said, “May I politely ask permission to say again, ‘Holy shit!’ But I guess you are used to luxury.”
I laughed and said, “Hardly. Tell you about it one of these days."
We walked into the living room and I said, "Here, Philip, you will find a TV, DVD player, CD changer, and nothing else. I know what I have in mind for furniture for the room, but haven't been able to find it.”
“Let me guess," Philip said, “stylish, comfort above fashion, and masculine.”
“That about describes it. Auntie and I have called about, but when we think we have located something and go and look at it, it’s dumpy, ugly brown, microfiber covered and designed for couch potatoes.”
“Mind a little driving?" Philip asked.
“Hour, hour and a half. I met a guy from Richmond debate club in Williamsburg the year we were juniors and we got to be good friends and visited each other several times. His family owns an upscale design center and furniture store. I'm sure you could find what you want there or they could find it for you, at a substantial discount. Maybe even in their clearance warehouse.”
“Only problem is it's a long drive for Auntie and she will want to look at everything and do some bargaining at which she is expert. I’ll check and see. Let me have your phone number."
I drove the Lafayette men to their place and dropped them off. Driving back to Auntie’s, I wondered just what was going on with Philip Lafayette. One minute he seemed fine and the next he had a hair up his ass. Strange fellow. I also wondered about his response when his brother asked him if he didn’t think the furniture seemed a little too gay. I might find out something if we went to Richmond together.
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