Despite how well I rested, my muscles complained about the previous day’s abuse. The bed was comfortable, but it was not home. Still, as I woke, I was happy because Pam was closer to me than she had ever been first thing in the morning. I lay still listening to the sounds, the same ones she heard each morning, the same ones that inspired her poem. City sounds were quite different from those I was used to because I had always been a country boy. Even when I moved to an apartment near Springfield, it was still out in the country compared to Pam’s neighborhood.
When finally, I sat up in bed, I stretched before slipping out from beneath the covers to stand, shaking my arms and legs to loosen up a bit. Grabbing the travel kit from my bag, I headed to the bathroom to take care of the most urgent parts of my morning routine.
After washing my hands, I glanced at my reflection. Probably I could have gone another couple of days without removing the sparse whiskers and peach fuzz from my chin, lip, and cheeks, but I wanted to be clean-shaven for Pam and make a good first impression with her favorite aunt and the people at her church.
I brushed my teeth and then showered. Towel dried hair snagged as I dragged a comb through my tangled mop, doing the best I could to straighten it. But my hair curled naturally making it an ongoing battle to manage. I put on fresh underwear and drew my bathrobe around me, cinching and tying the belt around my waist before I headed downstairs for a glass of water.
It didn’t surprise me that I was the first to wake. It was probably too early to be awake, considering it was nearly midnight when I went to sleep. I thought about making breakfast, at least a bowl of cereal but decided against it. Regardless of how comfortable I felt in this place, this was not my home. I went to the doorstep, figuring there would be a Sunday paper outside. Finding it a few feet from the doorstep, on the frosty lawn, I fetched and brought it inside.
“Ah, thank you,” Pam’s father said as he descended the steps. I offered the paper to him. “It’s just like it was when the boys are home. I’ll take the news and you may have the sports and comics.”
I smiled. “David and Stephen took turns with each, I take it.”
“They used to fight over the comics when they were little. I made them arm wrestle.”
“That’s one solution.”
He laughed. “It worked. However, it was interesting seeing which identical twin would win.”
“I would think they were always the same weight. That must have been a problem for wrestling.”
“They were close enough. There were times they fought over which one would wrestle in a competition. When they reached their junior year, David bulked up to 175-pounds, and Stephen trimmed down to 167-pounds. Their weight difference was often the only way people could tell them apart, except their coach claimed he always knew. There are slight differences between twins that go well beyond appearances, as slight as those might be.”
He settled into his easy chair. I assumed a place on the couch. “What do you think of all this Watergate business?”
“It’s an embarrassment for us in the world. My dad says Nixon isn’t guilty of anything other presidents haven’t done.”
“He may be right there. Politicians aren’t known for being honest. The point is he got caught covering up a stupid caper.”
“He had McGovern beaten. I don’t understand why they needed to spy on the campaign?”
“It’s the normal paranoia of politics. Otherwise, who knows?”
“They’ve voted to impeach him, now. That seems to be what everyone wanted,” I said. Not that I followed the news that much, but it was hard not to hear some things that were going on, especially from teachers at school.
“The Democrats got the revenge they wanted, anyway. I’m not sure it will get the necessary votes in the Senate after a trial, though. I guess we’ll see. I hope he has the good sense to resign before putting the entire country through that.”
“We discussed it a while back in one of my classes. An impeachment trial might adversely impact the balance of power in the government for some time.”
“That’s a good point and more reason for him to resign first. At any rate, I suspect we will have a Democrat elected in ‘76.”
“That will be the first time I can vote for President.”
“You registered already I take it.”
“A few weeks ago. I didn’t know I could do it before my birthday until my government teacher told us in class. I also registered for the draft.”
“Now that it’s winding down, let’s hope we never get into another mess like Vietnam. We’ve lost enough lives there without accomplishing much.”
“It will be a while before I’d have to serve, I’ll have a Two-S deferment for college,” I said. “Anyway, there may be less of a demand for a draft now.”
“I’m glad my sons are in college. Some of their friends are in the army, though. I know their parents. When you have a kid in the military, you worry every day - you know? Even if there isn’t an active war, there always seems to be something on the horizon. And it is dangerous work they do, even their training exercises.”
“I have a couple of friends who are serving, now. They needed jobs. That’s why they joined. That and the benefits. But yeah, going off to war is scary.”
Mr. Roberts sighed, turned a page, and continued to read silently.
I found a listing of basketball scores from around the state. Countryside won their final game of the season, convincingly. “My school took the Mad River Valley League championship last night.”
“That’s good. Do you follow basketball?”
“Some of the guys on the team are in a few of my classes.”
“We’re friendly, I guess. I’m not sure I’d call them friends.”
“It’s good you’re selective.”
“I guess so. I think it’s more they select not to hang out with me — not that I have a lot of time anymore.”
“You’re tall, you could have played.”
“Except I’m too clumsy to play guard. I’m too short to play forward on my team.”
“Tipp City’s basketball team’s the same way. The guys look like trees.”
“If I were on my team, there would be one person shorter than me — Kurt. He’s a good outside shooter, so at least he gets to play.”
Having found the one score that I really wanted to know, I began folding the section. But a headline caught my eye, and I began to read.
The article was about Renée Bucher, the state’s top-ranked women’s singles player and the first official tournament of the season scheduled for the following weekend. From the article, I learned that four of the top ten payers in the state would be participating, including the second-ranked player who was the defending state champion. She had defeated Renée in the semi-finals last year.
Upstairs I heard some activity. Mrs. Roberts descended the stairs, bidding both her husband and me a good morning. “Waffles or pancakes?” she asked in passing.
“Well, you know where my vote stands on that,” Theodore said.
“I’m not partial. Both are excellent.”
“Pamela will vote for waffles, and Aunt Claire is not particular. So, it’s waffles again.”
“If you need help, I know how to cook.”
“Really? Well, aren’t you full of surprises?”
“I keep hearing that,” I got up from the couch.
“I’ll tell you what. You can make the sausage and bacon while I do the waffles. How’s that?”
“Sounds like a good plan.” I set the paper on the coffee table as I followed her into the kitchen.
“I’ll make the coffee, set the table, and pour the juice.” Mr. Roberts offered as he joined us.
Pam came bounding down the stairs, grabbing the car keys from a hook by the door. “I’m off to fetch Aunt Claire.”
“Do you need help?” I asked. “I can get dressed quickly.”
“No, I got it.” She said as the front door closed behind her.
I put a skillet on the range to begin heating while I obtained the sausage and bacon from the refrigerator.
“So, your mother taught you to cook?” Theresa asked.
“To an extent. In the eighth grade, everyone had to take home economics. That’s where I learned the most.”
“I don’t mind cooking. Some things I’m better at than others.”
“That’s always the case. Pamela is exceptionally good. She and her sister Catherine used to make breakfast for everyone every Sunday morning.” Theodore revealed while he prepared the percolator.
“Breakfast has its challenges, but it really isn’t all that hard,” I said.
Theresa laughed. “Don’t tell him that.”
“Oh, I heard it. I don’t agree with it, but I heard it.”
“It’s fine, dear. Just keep making the coffee.”
“I’m good with coffee,” he boasted.
By the time I finished the sausage and bacon, I made toast for everyone. Theresa was just finishing the last waffles when Pam wheeled Aunt Claire through the front door.
“It smells wonderful, Theresa!” Claire reported.
“I had a lot of help this morning.”
“That’s not a complaint, is it?” She chuckled as she wheeled into the dining room.
“I would never complain about someone helping me in the kitchen,” Theresa responded.
“Aunt Claire, this is Brent,” Pam introduced us as she assisted her into the kitchen.
I shook her hand.
“My, my you’re a big one. Pamela warned me, but you’re taller than I expected. And look at those muscles!” She reached up and grabbed Pam’s sleeve, pulling her closer. “Don’t let this one get away,” she whispered but did it loud enough for everyone could hear.
“Brent wrestles in the unlimited weight class,” Mr. Roberts revealed.
“I don’t doubt it, but there’s not an ounce of fat on him!”
“I’m the lightest heavyweight in my league. I’ve been putting on weight all season, but I — ”
“When we met, he was fifteen pounds lighter,” Pam said.
“You’re handsome, too, Brent. Don’t let Pamela tell you differently.”
“I thought she was just being kind,” I said.
Claire laughed. “You know, I knew a boy named Brent when I was young. But he was a little shriveled up runt of a thing. Everyone in school picked on him.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard this story,” Pam said. “Whatever happened to him?”
“I’m not sure,” Claire confessed. “Maybe someone sat on him, or the wind blew him away. I don’t recall seeing him past grade school.”
“He might have moved away,” I suggested.
“All I know is he annoyed the living crap out of me. Back then, we had inkwells built into our desks, and we used fountain pens. Before my hair turned pearly white, it used to be bright red, except for the ends of my pigtails, which, for a while, were sometimes black from Brent dipping them into his inkwell. Despite my protests, my mother insisted on braiding my hair into pigtails.”
“I’m sure you handled Brent eventually,” I said.
“Oh, I did. Don’t you worry about that!”
“What did you do?” Pam asked.
“I was patient, waiting for the right time, the right day, actually. Brent had a scooter. He made it from an old pair of roller skates and an empty shipping crate. A lot of boys did that back then. Well, my chance came right after a hard rain, so there were lots of mud puddles everywhere. Along the sidewalk in front of my house, he came rolling as fast as he could go on his scooter. I sort of accidentally dropped a stick in his path. His wheels hit that and came to an abrupt stop. He went sailing over the handles.”
“My mom calls that goin’ bug huntin’. I guess it means you’re flying just inches over the grass where you can see all the bugs up close and personal.”
Claire laughed. “I’ve never heard that. It’s a good description for it, though.”
“So, what happened?” Pam prompted.
“Thankfully for Brent, he landed in the grass. I was nice though, I helped him up, but then somehow, his hand slipped right out of mine, and he fell back into the biggest mud puddle on the street.”
“Somehow his hand slipped.” Mr. Roberts laughed, shaking his head. “I must have been too little to have seen any of that.”
“It was way before you were born. Anyway, I can’t say what really happened to Brent and his scooter, as I was always the perfect little lady.” She winked.
“Breakfast is ready, little lady,” Mrs. Roberts announced with an exaggerated bow. “Our Brent did the toast, sausage, and bacon.”
“Be kind,” I said.
“Actually, I’ll be interested to see what everyone thinks. I saw him do something a little different.”
“Why is that scaring me?” Pam glanced sideways at me.
My response was an innocent look with a shrug.
We sat around the kitchen table. Claire insisted on taking the space between Pam’s mother and me as we held hands for Claire to lead us in the blessing.
When everyone had sampled the bacon and sausage, and it was agreed that it was better than ever, Theresa revealed my secret. “He took a pinch of sugar and sprinkled it over them as they cooked.”
“It sort-of caramelized, then. Where did you learn that trick?” Claire asked. “Is it something your mother does?”
“She does now, but I taught her. I was frying an egg in the same pan as bacon and I wanted to salt the egg, but the saltshaker was empty. So, I filled it with what I thought was salt.”
“But it was sugar,” Theresa completed for me and then laughed.
“Both the eggs and the bacon tasted much better. I didn’t find out it was sugar until later when my mom asked who filled the saltshaker.”
When breakfast was finished, Pam and I cleared the table. Mr. Roberts washed the dishes, dried them, and put them away. Mrs. Roberts put on her makeup and got dressed for church. Claire was watching a Sunday morning service on TV. Pam and I went upstairs to our rooms to get ready. By the time we finished, everyone was ready to leave.
Pam rolled Claire out to the car and prepared to help her climb inside.
“I got this.” I stepped in. “With your permission.”
“Sure, anything to make this easier.”
Scooping Claire up in my arms, I felt a sudden surge. It startled me, though not enough that I lost control as I placed her on the front seat of the car.
“Well, that was much better,” she said. “I think I’ll keep this Brent around. You need to go find another one, Pamela.”
Everyone laughed. But I closed my eyes briefly, detecting the same clouded aura that I’d learned to associate with Pam. So, Claire’s a witch.
Her chair folded, and I stored it in the trunk. Before closing the lid Pam gave me a gentle kiss, careful not to smear her lipstick. Then, using her handkerchief she wiped the lipstick from my lips. “Claire adores you.”
“She’s a nice lady.”
“I told you. You like her, don’t you?”
What church Pam’s family attended didn’t matter to me. But it seemed to matter to my father and mother. Over the years I had been to other churches with my friends. The mystery to me when I was young was why everyone didn’t belong to the same church if all of them believed in the same God?
Dad explained, saying there is one God, but people have many different opinions about the right way to worship. Years later, I asked him which of the religions was right? He told me, “All of them and none of them. When you find one that connects with your heart, that’s your church.”
Having said that, Dad and Mom didn’t approve of the Catholic religion. Growing up, I was never allowed to go to church with any of my Catholic friends even when they invited me.
As Theodore pulled up to the front steps of the United Methodist Church, I stepped outside. Pam collected the chair from the trunk and opened it while assisting Claire out of the car into her wheels then rolled her toward the front door where the minister was greeting everyone.
I’d been to a Methodist Church before with one of my grade school friends. So, the service was nothing new to me. When it concluded, the minister and I talked briefly as I stood in line to leave, pushing Claire in front of me. She preferred me helping her into and out of the car, giving me a kiss on the cheek as a reward each time. Each time I felt a slight, startling spark, like static electricity discharge, like whenever Pam kissed me.
When we returned to Pam’s house, again I carried Claire and set her into the wheelchair. She took my hand, “You’ve spoiled me. Now, I want you to come every Sunday to take me to church.”
“I’ll come as often as I can.”
She kissed my cheek again.
After I changed out of my suit and into regular clothes, I packed everything back into my bags for the homeward trip. I put all my things in the car, and then returned inside where Pam and her mom were making hamburgers and fries.
“Pamela tells me you have wrestling practice this afternoon.”
“Yeah, I do. I need to be at the school by two-thirty, or maybe a little after. I told the coach I was coming from Tipp City so he’s expecting I might run a little late.”
“We have certainly enjoyed having you stay with us,” Mr. Roberts said. “I know with the tournaments coming up and all, it may be a few weeks before you come back for a sleepover, but you are welcome anytime.”
“Your mother and father invited us to come to visit with them. We’ll see what we can arrange.”
“Where do you live?” Claire asked.
“They have a farm, southeast of Springfield,” Pamela said.
“Near South Charleston,” I added.
“Oh, I know where that is,” said Claire. “It’s on US-42. Right?”
“Yes, it is.”
She smiled. “I had a flat tire near there when I was coming from Columbus, going to Dayton on business. That must be thirty years ago, now. I was three or four miles outside of town. But a nice man gave me a lift into town and a young man named Sprague, I think it was, gave me a ride back to my car. He changed my tire so I could follow him into town where he fixed my flat.”
“I know Mr. Sprague. My dad goes to his filling station when he needs to buy oil filters for our cars.”
“Small world,” Pam said.
“Small town,” I corrected.