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    Geron Kees
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The Thief of Small Things - 1. Chapter 1

"It's just for a couple of weeks, David. Until your mom and I sort some things out."

I looked down at the suitcase I carried, and nodded for the tenth time. That this was even harder on dad than it was on me seemed plain. That didn't keep me from feeling sorry for myself, nor wishing that things could be different.

"I thought you liked staying with your granddad," he went on, his own nerves showing now in the slightly ragged edge to his voice. "I know he's looking forward to having you here."

"I do." I didn't want to make it any harder on him than it already was. "I'll be fine."

"It's just for a couple of weeks," he repeated. "Once mom and I figure out a few things, you can come back to the house with me."

"I don't want to go with mom," I said, turning to look at him. "I can't stand that jerk she's running around with. Promise me I can stay with you."

He sighed. "You're seventeen now, son. Old enough to choose. My lawyer said the judge will ask you where you want to be. Who you want to live with. Just tell him that, and everything will be okay."

I nodded. That was still a ways off yet. Mom wanted me with her, in the big new house she shared with Edward in Westchester. But Edward just as obviously didn't want me there, and the feeling was mutual. It was his fault that mom and dad were divorcing, and I hated the bastard with every fiber of my being. I had already decided I would not stay if I was made to go there, no way in hell. But dad said that wouldn't happen, and I trusted him on that so far.

The elevator emitted little groans as it rose, as if trying to make it to the top floor of the building was going to be too much work for it to bear. Yet the ascent was smooth and comfortable, the sounds more of an aside to the trip than any real indication of its efficiency. The sturdy cage was actually a beautiful piece of work, wrought iron with gold trim inside a similar latticework frame that kept it aligned as it ascended between floors. You didn't see something like this every day, that was for sure. The car had been designed in a time when things like elevators were as much artwork as they were practical machines, and in fact, the entire building was cast in a similar antique mold. The Boltfort's interiors were plush and impressive; its exterior adorned and gilded; its peak a series of gabled, steep roofs covered in dormers, niches, spandrels, and balustrades, all ornately finished and lavishly fitted, an homage to the ostentatious lifestyles of the sort of folk that had once called the place home.

But like so many of the more luxurious residences in this part of the city, time had passed this one by. Once the abode of the urban elite, today The Boltfort was now home to some of the city's more able middle-class earners, sharing a mix of lower level apartments and upper level condos. It was the scale of what comprised wealth that had changed during the building's lifetime, and which had lowered The Boltfort's status. The fabulously rich these days wanted more than the hundred year-old building could offer, and while The Boltfort had been refurbished several times over the years, and was still lovingly kept by the owners and residents, it was plain that the once illustrious structure was now in the elder years of its life. Short of a complete gutting, it was in as good a shape as one could expect, though there were little things - the weatherings of time, one might say - that had been overlooked, or were still unaddressed. And so the elevators squeaked and rattled a bit, the plumbing in the bathrooms sometimes groaned a little, and the doors between rooms might stick momentarily in their frames.

But these were just tiny spots of tarnish on an otherwise lovely facade. You could still easily see what the place had once been in its heyday, with its crystal doorknobs and high ceilings, its fabulous, jeweled light fixtures, and its handsome linen wallpaper still snug against the plaster walls, faded a bit, but still proud and determined to be a fitting companion to the paneled wainscoting below. There were back entrances into the kitchens of each unit from small hallways serviced by staircases, once the only way that deliveries and service people were allowed inside. The front doors of the apartments and condos exited into grander halls lined with candelabra light fixtures of age-browned brass, and surfaced with dark hardwood floors that had somehow shrugged off a century of abuse by footwear and still held their shine. There was a grandness to the place that even time could not totally extinguish, and it was clean and orderly, and always seemed welcoming.

I'd fallen in love with the place as a kid, loved visiting my father's father, who was a chef at an upscale local restaurant, and who prepared the most amazing dishes for our visits. Dishes that I secretly compared to my mom's much less competent cooking, and hugely missed each time we went back home. Meals at granddad's were just one facet of the gem that was a visit to the old Boltfort. The building itself was part of the fun, a place unlike any I knew anywhere else in my life. The creaky elevators had always thrilled me, especially going down, jerking into motion and then giving you the feeling that the floor was dropping from beneath your feet, before steadying and doing the jobs they were meant to perform. My mom hated them, and my dad smiled at them, and I just loved them. One more reason to look forward to coming to see granddad.

Those were my own glory years, the years when mom and dad had seemed happy together, and the future had appeared a seamless pathway to better things. As I got older and busier with life and school, the visits to granddad grew fewer and farther between; but I still enjoyed them, and I really thought that life of mine would never really end.

I guess we all have to grow up sometime.

Dad put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed gently. "Things will be okay. Trust me."

I did trust him. Dad had always made it clear that he meant the best for me, and a lifetime of trust could not be damaged by a few months of pain. I managed a smile. "Love you, dad."

He sighed, and visibly relaxed. "I love you too, David."

There was a last clang and rumble, and the elevator jerked to a stop, then settled back a bit so that the floor of the car was level with the floor of the hallway outside. A bell dinged, and dad pulled aside the inner cage door, and then the outer cage door, and we stepped into the hall. It had been months since I had been here - Christmas, back in December - but I was not in the least surprised to find that not one thing seemed to have changed in the interim. That was one of the coolest things about The Boltfort, that time seemed to have exhausted itself here, and could do no more to fade what luxury remained.

As if to counter that thought, one of the candelabras midway down the hallway blinked, and a bulb went out. I laughed at that, and then smiled at dad when he turned quizzical eyes upon me.

"I was just thinking how much I love this old building," I told him, suddenly feeling more cheerful. "It hasn't really changed much since I was a kid."

He smiled, and glanced around the hallway. "I've got news for you, son. It hasn't changed much since I was a kid, either."

We started off down the hallway. "Granddad has lived here that long?" I winked at him as I said it, just to let him know I was kidding.

He laughed. "Thirty-one years, I think. He moved in here after he and mom divorced." He shrugged. "After she found out he was gay."

I nodded, but didn't say anything more about that. I'd heard all the stories, and more than once. Being gay must have been awful back then, when you had to hide it and pretend you liked girls, even marry them, and have kids with them. Not like it was now, where you could pretty much say who you were and most people could live with it, or at least not bother you about it.

I had come out myself just last year, and found that dad was good with it, and granddad even better with it. How could he feel otherwise? Mom had not been happy, but she had gotten over it. Edward, on the other hand, had made it clear he despised me, both as my father's son, and for what I was: different from him.

Gay.

Screw him. I had no desire to be like Edward. He was a complete prick, concerned only with money and image, and lived in a world where people were adornments to the properties he owned. I was pretty sure that Mom would find out the hard way that she had made a terrible mistake in falling for this guy, but the damage was already done, and the clock could never be turned back. Dad wouldn't take her back on a bet, I already knew that. And I could not go back to the way things had been, either. That world was over, that reality broken forever.

"You were ten when your parents divorced. That must have been hard."

"It was." Dad just nodded, but I could feel the pain in those words. It sounded a lot like what I was feeling myself.

That actually made me feel better, in a way. Dad had been younger than I was now when his parents had divorced, and he had made it just fine in life. So there was a future, and it could still be a good one. You just had to get there, first.

Granddad lived on the top floor of The Bolfort, in a condo he owned outright now. He made pretty good money as a chef, and he was not bashful about having a good time with it. He had a boyfriend, Sid, who was two years younger than he was, but the two had an odd relationship, and didn't live together. Sid owned a club in The Village, was a happy-go-lucky sort, and seemed just to want to have a good time with someone he was fond of, a frame of mind that Granddad had surprisingly been easy to echo. I'd seen Sid a half-dozen times, and liked him, and he and Granddad did seem happy together. That was all that really mattered, right?

And it was more than I had. I'd fumbled around twice with other guys, only to have those relationships quickly fall apart. One was scared of what his Italian family would think of him being gay, and the other had turned out to be bi, and had fallen for a girl in - of all places - our biology class at school. My feelings were hurt both times, but I was not torn to pieces by it, because neither of those relationships had more than started before they were over. I'd barely had time to understand my liking for these guys, let alone fall in love with either of them.

"That will come, someday," Granddad had said, a little wistfully, when I'd told him about those two boys. "You'll find that guys come and go in your life, until you meet the right one. It's just like being straight, David. You test the waters, until you find the fish that bites. And even then you still have to find the one you want to keep."

I'd smiled at that, and felt better, which was all I'd really wanted out of the conversation, anyway. A little reassurance that there would probably be something more later on.

We arrived at the double doors to granddad's condo, and I set my suitcase down and reached out and pushed in the brass knob set in the wall beside the right door. It resisted a moment, then settled into the wall with a faint thunk, and we could hear a bell ringing within. That was soon followed by the sound of the deadbolt being thrown, and the door opened to reveal granddad.

He was tall, like my dad, at just over six feet in height. I was still four inches shorter than both of them, but held out hope for a greater height, as dad said he hadn't realized his full height until he was almost nineteen. Granddad was sixty-four, but still had a full head of dark brown hair, graying at the temples. He was a nice looking guy, with the Henderson blue eyes we all had, but his appearance was made slightly comical just now by the sky blue bathrobe with fuzzy white trim he had belted around himself, and the fluffy white slippers he wore on his feet.

"Robert! David!" He opened his arms, and dad and I both stepped into them at the same time. We laughed at the group hug; and then we were whisked inside and the door closed behind us. I set my suitcase down inside the door, and looked around.

Granddad looked happy to see us. "I'm not dressed yet, but you can see that. I don't go in until four, remember, and I hate being all dressed for the street when I'm just lounging around the house. Do either of you want something to drink? I just made up a batch of forest fruit bash."

I grinned, used to these changes in direction, and finding it relaxing now that I was actually here. Granddad was always fun to be around.

"That's the stuff with the berries?" I asked.

"Blended strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries, with mixed berry juice, over ice. You liked it last time you were here."

"I'll take some."

"Me, too," dad said. "I make that at home now and then, but your recipe has something mine is lacking, I think."

"It's all in the fingers," granddad said, holding up a hand and wiggling his. He laughed and turned away from us, and waved the other hand at us to follow. "The kitchen is a little messy, so just ignore it, please."

Dad and I glanced at each other, smiling. Granddad's idea of messy and ours were two completely different things.

We followed him down the hallway. I glanced into the living room as we passed, found it alight from the late-morning sun that poured in through the large, multi-paned picture windows set side-by-side in the outer wall. No tiny casement windows for this place. Every room had large windows, meant to bring the outdoors inside, and each offering a still stunning view of the city, all the way down West 72nd Street to the distant park.

The living room was neat and clean, just as I expected. I'd learned a long time back that there are two sorts of people in this world: those that leave things where they last used them, and those that put things away. The first sort tended to have messy, lived-in looking homes, while the latter had neat and tidy places that always seemed clean. There were extremes of the two: outright slobs like my buddy Max Cowper, whose room looked like a testing site for government secret weapons; and my mom, who wanted things so clean they were sterile, with nothing out of place, and nothing to be touched. Nothing to be enjoyed, if it also had to be handled. Just like our lives with her.

Both extremes could be pleasant, or they could be annoying. Max's room was fun, in a treasure hunt sort of way; while mom's house was not fun, being a kind of break-it, you-bought-it reality that had strained both dad and me until it had all finally shattered. In this case, she had finally broken all our lives with her obsessiveness, her desire to have but not touch, and her need to be with someone that would own her instead of love her. Someone that was not dad.

I didn't hate her for it, but I had found that I had never felt the same affection for her that I felt for dad. It was easy to let her go, to let her make a new life with Edward. I wanted to keep what I had, and that meant staying with dad, in his world, which was fairly tidy, but which was also allowed to be messy if it also meant being fun.

I smiled again as we entered the kitchen. It was clean and orderly, and the 'mess' was a pitcher of forest fruit bash on the island countertop and three glasses standing nearby, one half full and obviously in use. Granddad picked that one up and sipped it, and smiled at us. "Pour and enjoy, guys."

Dad laughed, and poured a glass for me, and one for himself. "Grab one, David."

Granddad watched us, his eyes bright. I was used to this assessment, where he tried to gauge our moods by how we looked. So I'm sure he could see that dad and I were in a good place together, and that there was no need of any fence mending there.

"So," he finally said, looking satisfied. "Two weeks in the city, huh, David? I hope you're expecting it to be fun."

"It always is," I returned, smiling.

Granddad looked pleased at that, and nodded. "Just remember that I have to work five nights a week, and that I get in late. I'll make as much time for us to do some things together as I can, though. I'm looking forward to this visit, too."

Granddad was one who always laid out what few rules there were. These were easy to understand. He was off Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and worked the rest of the week. He went in at four in the afternoon, and wasn't done until well after midnight. He would need to sleep late, and I would have to respect that. I would, certainly. And, I would be expected to keep myself amused when he was gone, something I was also good at and felt would not be a problem.

"I brought my tablet in my suitcase," I said, looking back the way we'd come. "I loaded it up with ebooks to read, so I'll be fine."

Granddad pursed his lips. "No wandering around the city without me, okay?"

That I also understood. I was a child of the suburbs, and the city was no place for a newbie to roam alone. It was too easy to get into trouble with people here if you didn't know the ropes.

"I promise not to get mugged, unless it's by one of your neighbors."

He laughed at that. "You'll need to go down about five floors to find a mugger, I think. Everyone up here is an owner, and the only muggers allowed are the tax people. And there is some stiff resistance to them, even."

He shifted his gaze to dad. "I take it you won't be staying long?"

He sighed. "I can't. I have to get back to the office."

Dad had taken the morning off to bring me here. And granddad was also one who viewed his job as a duty as well as a pleasure, and just nodded. "Keep me in the loop on what's happening with Kari."

He said my mom's name with a faint air of distaste, but I couldn't hold it against him. Granddad had always been accepting of mom, and he viewed her wanderings with Edward as a betrayal of both dad and me. He had always been faithful to grandma, and she to him, until he had finally told her about himself. It had been grandma who had ended their marriage, not granddad.

Dad just nodded, and took a sip of his drink.

"There's clean sheets on the guest bed," granddad told me. "And I dusted in there, too. You know how the city is."

Dad smiled at me over the rim of his glass, his humor plain. He'd learned to be neat and clean from his dad, but he'd also learned to have fun from him, too.

The three of us walked around the condo, looking at everything almost as if for the first time, even though we'd seen most of it before. It was a big place, with three bedrooms, four bathrooms, a living room, a den, a dining room, and a library. Granddad had a lot of friends, and a lot of admirers who loved his cooking, and he seemed to collect gifts of appreciation like most people collected bills. He also loved art of the kind that stood upon tables and shelves - statuary mostly, small renditions of animals and plants and people, and intriguing trinkets of all kinds. Everywhere we went the old, familiar furniture seemed to sport some new and enchanting feast for the eyes, placed carefully among those items that had found homes in the years before. There was a lot of it, but it was not too much at all, and granddad had a flair for combining things in ways that made one smile.

We finished our drinks, and headed back to the kitchen. Dad went straight to the sink and rinsed out his glass, and placed it into the dishwasher. I handed him mine, and it found a spot next to his.

Granddad smiled at that. "You're such a clean freak, son."

Dad's eyes widened, and he laughed. "Uh, okay. I wonder where I got that?"

Granddad made a show of looking astonished, and turned his eyes to me. "Whatever can he mean by that?"

We all laughed. There hadn't been a slob in the Henderson family in living memory.

Dad turned to me then. "I'd better get going."

The humor died away, and I nodded. I stepped close to him, and hugged him, felt his arms go around me and hold me tightly. "It'll all work out," he said again, softly. "Just be patient."

I nodded, and looked up at him. "When will you be back?"

He frowned. "Definitely by the weekend. Earlier, if I can manage it."

"Okay. Call me when you can."

He nodded, released me and turned to his dad. Granddad set down his glass and gave dad a warm hug. They clapped each other on the back a few times, and granddad kissed dad's cheek. "Don't worry about a thing, Robert. Just get done the things you need to get done."

"I will." Dad smiled at me again. "Walk me to the door, huh?"

We went back down the front hall, exchanged a last hug, and then I let him out. I stood in the doorway and watched until he got on the elevator and it started down. He gave me a last wave through the wrought iron, and then the elevator car was gone.

"It will be nice having company," granddad said, just behind me.

I turned, and closed the door. "If I can't be at home, I'd rather be here than anywhere else."

He sighed. "That's a sweet thing to say. Come on back to the living room and we'll sit and talk a little. Then I'll need to get ready to go to the restaurant."

I nodded, picked up my suitcase, and followed him.

Copyright © 2020 Geron Kees; All Rights Reserved.
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The description of the Boltford reminds me of something AC Benus might include in one of his stories!
;–)

When I was growing up, divorce was still an embarrassing and shameful condition even though it was legal. There were increasing numbers of kids whose parents had divorced or separated. Unmarried couples living together had been increasing since the Sixties, but was often seen as shameful as well. Even into the Seventies, racially mixed marriages were not seen as acceptable by large swaths of the population.

As the percentage of surviving first-time marriages fell, acceptance of non-traditional families increased. Blended families (parents with kids marrying each other) became more visible with TV shows like the Brady Bunch, although it was implied that Mike & Carol had previously been widowed rather than divorced. While I was working, more and more of my coworkers would refer to step- and half-siblings and step-parents. The stigma of divorce has faded over time.

In my opinion, divorce is not ideal, but couple should remain unhappily together ‘for the kids’ because it can’t help but be damaging to their emotional well-being.

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4 minutes ago, Geron Kees said:

Kids have always seemed to do much better in a whole-family environment, but even that is changing as what constitutes 'normalcy' in family design changes. It does seem that if children are born into a happy family of almost any design, and allowed to grow without the attachment of a nasty social stigma, they turn out as well-adjusted as any kids. Kids need love, acceptance, respect, and support in the dreams they may have. Who offers those particular things seems less important than that they ARE offered by someone.

In my current city, there is a very high percentage of kids living with grandparents, aunts, and relatives other than their parents (often due to addiction and/or incarceration).

Rather than a ‘whole-family,’ I’d say a stable, loving, and supportive family – regardless of whether that means a single parent, two parents, or guardians.
;–)

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