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    Parker Owens
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Double Concerto - 11. Die Forelle

No Rita Warnings needed for this chapter.

On Saturday, Rick woke up early.

Sun streamed in the windows, filtered by the deep green hedge. It was going to be a beautiful day. The previous night's thunderstorms had ushered in a cool front.

Rick examined at his list as he munched on a piece of toast. There were some chores – laundry, housecleaning, all those things left neglected over the course of the previous week. One glance at the refrigerator and another in his cupboards told him it was time to do some restocking. The toast he was finishing was the heel of a vanished loaf of bread. There was precious little else to eat in the house.

Besides that, Caroline Lee had asked him to pick up some annual flowers for her planters.

The grocery store and the farmer's market were on the agenda for the morning.

Rick enjoyed browsing the offerings of the local vendors gathered downtown at the waterfront park. He looked forward to browsing the stalls full of plants, flowers, and produce. He often came home with cheese or bread or some farm fresh sausage or meat for the grill. Once in great while, he bought himself a jar of homemade jam or preserves, or even a jar of honey. And there were always customers and acquaintances to greet and chat with.

Later, he'd go to the grocery and pick up staples to round out his shopping list. Once his items were put away at home, Rick figured he ought to spend the afternoon doing yard work. The lawn needed mowing. But perhaps he would just defer his chores and enjoy the sun. He could go out fishing in the canoe, or pick up a novel and read it in the comfort of his lawn chair. He might go farther afield on Sunday – though there was always the chance he might get called out on an emergency repair at any time.

Such things happened, often on the nicest summer days.

By midmorning, the air had warmed, but it wasn't brutal. Rick's windows were down as he pulled his truck into a slot near the farmer's market. He walked over toward the long line of tents and tables.

"Hey, Rick! How's it going?" A voice called out from a booth selling rhubarb and big jars of honey.

"Just fine, Marilyn. How's business?"

"Can't complain. Need any rhubarb?"

"No, thanks. Not today."

"Not making any pies this week?"

Rick shook his head. "I'm no good at that kind of thing. I'll stick to pipes and furnaces. See you later."

He hurried on. He had no wish to get caught up in an inevitable discussion of whether Rita McKee could bake a pie. Or if she was doing so at his house.

Rick stopped at the Rausch Farms table to get salad greens, a bag of snap peas, and a pint of strawberries that must have come from down south. The summer population of Eagle Lake swelled the crowd at the market. Rick moved slowly from vendor to vendor. He purchased a pound of bratwurst from the Sunshine Hills Meats stand, and sampled coffee from Northwoods Roasters. He paused to chat with Walter Heinemann and his wife Angela.

Rick wandered past a nursery selling hanging flower baskets – bright petunias, lush fuchsias, showy begonias, plus flats of annuals spread out on the parking lot’s warm asphalt. But what caught his eye wasn't the plants at all, but the slight, darker skinned man with a cast on his right arm standing there, contemplating the display. He wore light colored cargo shorts and a white t-shirt with writing on the front that Rick couldn't read.

Rick's heart skipped a beat as his pulse quickened.

Oh, hell. Why did he have to show up here?

Rick felt his palms getting moist. And he's still beautiful.

He looked away. There were other nurseries, other stands with flowers for sale. You can do this. You can start a conversation. Or are you too much of a coward?

Rick took a deep breath and sidled up to the piano teacher. He stood there, unable to speak, staring at the bright blossoms. He couldn't think of anything to say.

The copper skinned man asked: "So what do you think? Do you like the petunias, or the begonias with the strange leaves?"

"Um. I…they're both really nice," Rick stammered.

The man turned. "Oh, hello…" Deep brown eyes, almost black, were wide in surprise. "I didn't realize…Sorry, I thought you were someone else." A smile broke out, and even, white teeth flashed. Rick noticed wrinkles around the eyes as if the man smiled often.

"No, it's my mistake, I didn't know…"

"Don't apologize. It's my own fault, losing my friends. But I'm glad to bump into you again." The piano teacher held out his left hand.

Rick shifted his purchases, and shook it awkwardly with his right, but held on. "Hi. I'm um, Rick. Rick Ernst." Can he hear my heart beating?

"Well Rick, I'm Gustavo Morales, but everyone calls me Gus." He narrowed his eyes. "And you came to Cedarcrest, to fix something, right?"

"That's right. It's nice to meet you." Rick finally released his grip. "You like coming to the farmer's market?" That must have been the lamest introduction ever.

"I love it. I don't get this kind of chance very often. Really, right now I just like getting out of that house," Gus laughed. "I'm kind of stranded there."

"Oh. I see." Rick really didn't understand, but he wasn't about to pry.

"So what about my question?"

"Question? Um…" Rick looked around wildly.

"What do I get? The begonias or the petunias?"

"Right, right. What should you buy?" Come on, you idiot. Give him an answer. "The begonias. I'd get that one right there." Rick pointed at an exotic-looking plant. It overflowed its basket with exuberant orange flowers that tumbled down in long, colorful strands.

"You think so? Not the big hanging pot with those purple flowers?"

"No. The begonias. Definitely." Rick tried to exude a confidence he didn't feel.

Gus the pianist grinned. "Then on your advice, I'll go with that one. If I get lousy reviews, I'm coming after you."

Please, please, I hope it gets a terrible reaction. I hope Magda what's-her-name hates it. "Your friends will love it."

Rick watched as Gus walked over to the young man who sold plants for the nursery to pay for the begonia. He was so unusual – exotic, even, like the flowers he was buying; Gus moved with an easy kind of grace Rick could only envy. Rick colored a little but couldn't help thinking about what was underneath the shorts Gus wore.

No: do not ruin this by ogling the man. Annuals – you were here to buy annuals for Caroline Lee. Rick moved over towards the flats of petunias. She liked those. He picked up a couple of mixed flats with large pink, white, and purple blossoms. They'd do fine in Mrs. Lee's patio planters.

Rick approached the nurseryman, who was returning Gus the change for his purchase. "Just give it plenty of water, and not too much direct sun, and it should be fine," the earnest young man directed.

Gus picked up his plant with his good hand. "Right. I can do that." Hell even the man's voice is beautiful.

With his bags full of produce and the flowers, Rick's arms were quite full. He set things down on the asphalt and dug out his wallet. "How much are these?"

"Eighteen dollars a flat. You got some of the good ones, there."

"Oh, really? I didn't know." Rick handed over a couple of bills.

"They look nice to me," Gus chimed in. "What's so good about them?"

"It's a special variety – they don't need as much deadheading, so they're a lot less work."

Rick gathered up his plants and bags again. "Thanks. I'll remember that." He turned to Gus. "Do you have more shopping to do here?"

"Not really. This is just an impulse buy," the darker skinned man laughed. He seemed to do that often. "It's a beautiful house, but it needs some color, I think."

"Oh. I'm just about done." Rick gestured with arms and hands full of his acquisitions.

"And I've got to find Magda and the kids." There was no mistaking the sigh. "I have a novel to read – but I'm running out of books."

Rick did not want this moment to end. He peered around, scouting out the crowd. None of the Takács were in sight. "You like coffee? There's a booth over that way that sells some pretty good stuff." Rick tried to point with an elbow.

Gus smiled again. "Your hands are pretty full for getting coffee, and I'm not much use carrying things, I'm afraid." He lifted his cast.

"Would you mind taking a detour to my truck? We can drop my stuff off there and come back." Geez, do I sound desperate? Please say yes.

Gus appeared to hesitate. "Sure. Okay."

Rick led the way out of the market area, dodging clueless summer browsers and their children who scampered unheeding through the stalls. Every now and then, Rick glanced over his shoulder, just to check if his new friend was still there. Each time, a surge of excitement rose when his eyes told him Gus was right behind. Once beyond the line of tents, the pair could walk side by side, though this did little to ease the tension in Rick's gut.

"I'm not parked very far, just along here. It's just an old rust bucket. Sorry." Rick knew he was babbling. He used an elbow to point to the back end of the old red Silverado a few steps further on.

Rick sidestepped into the tight space between his truck and a car parked alongside. Cursing at his own clumsiness, he tried to grip the door handle while still hanging onto his bags and the flowers.

"Can I help?" Gus asked from near the taillight.

"That's okay. I've got it," Rick insisted. "No problem."

With painstaking care, he hooked a finger over the handle and managed to press his thumb in on the button that released the door. With relief, Rick maneuvered his bags and the flats full of petunias onto the ancient vinyl bench seat. He turned and slammed the heavy door shut.

"You don't lock your truck?" Gus asked in surprise.

"Not really."

"But it's a classic!"

"It's just old. Almost as old as me." Rick grinned. "So, coffee?"

"You lead the way." Gus was still smiling.

They walked back toward the market area.

Come on, come on, say something. Make a conversation. "So, you're here in Eagle Lake for a couple of weeks?"

"More like a month. It's…"

Gus was interrupted by the loud, angry sound emanating from Rick's pocket. The bigger man looked stricken, as the obnoxious ringing continued.

"You're not going to answer that?"

“If it’s really important, they’ll leave a message.”

As if on cue, the phone fell silent.

“Those things rule our lives, don’t they?” Gus commented.

“I hate to agree with you, but –”

Rick’s pocket began its demanding song again. He heaved a long sigh and pulled his phone out. “Just a second,” he said to his companion, then answered his importunate caller. "Hello?"

An anxious voice responded. "Is this the plumbing and heating service? Rita McKee told me to call you."

"What's the problem?"

"Well, I think there's something wrong with the air conditioning unit. It keeps turning on and shutting off, and there's no cool air in the vent."

Shit, shit, shit. Why couldn't Rita tell them to call Prime Heating? Or anyone else? Rick wiped the sweat from his brow. "Um, I'm kind of backed up right now…"

"Please, can you come soon? I'm not sure if it matters, but there's a funny smell coming from the unit. Maybe something burned out, or…"

"Was there smoke?"

Gus looked at Rick with some concern.

"I don't know, maybe. There was just this noise, and a weird smell a little while ago." The caller seemed perplexed at all this questioning.

"Can you tell if there's…"

"I FOUND HIM! I FOUND HIM!" A small form tackled Gus from his right side, barely avoiding a collision with the cast. "We were looking all over for you, Gus!"

"And now you located me." Gus looked down at the boy latched onto his waist with a smile.

"What are you doing here, Gus?" The girl, Marta, arrived at a more sedate pace, suited to the dignity of a teenager. "Mom's at the car. She sent us to look for you. Why didn't you answer your phone?"

Gus opened his eyes wider, and then patted his pocket. "I must have forgot it at home."

"Can we go now?" The little boy, Joey, was on the verge of whining.

"Joey, you're being rude," Gus spoke in a gentle voice. "I was talking with my friend Rick, here. You interrupted."

"Oh. Sorry." Very little contrition was evident.

Marta at least remembered Rick. "Hi. How are you?" The girl's dark eyes glinted with recognition.

"Can you hang on a minute?" Rick held his hand over the phone and smiled at the girl. "I'm okay."

"Listen, I guess I had better take a rain check on that coffee," Gus stated the obvious. "Maybe another time. Thanks anyway."

"Sorry about this." Rick held up the phone. His heart was torn.

"That's okay." Gus handed the hanging plant to Joey. "Carry this carefully, all right? Let's go find your mother. 'Bye."

Rick watched the group walk off to the right. Just my usual luck.

He put the phone to his ear again. "So where exactly are you?"

 

The better part of a beautiful afternoon was wasted first in getting his groceries home and thrown into the fridge, and next in a cursing, sweating test of wills with a heat pump. A simple switch was burned out but getting to it was the problem. Several hours later, with the offending part located and replaced, and the cover re-attached, Rick shook hands with the occupant of the house.

"Thank you so much for coming out on a weekend. I really appreciate it. We only have this week for vacation."

"No problem." Rick almost believed his own words.

"Rita said you would bill her for the service call."

"She said that?"

"That wasn’t right?"

Not only had Rick gone unpaid for the past few weeks of service calls, he suspected she was going to forget about this one, too. "No, no, you got that right. I'll bill her. No problem." He was going to charge her double time – no, triple time – for this one.

 

When he returned home, Rick made himself a sandwich and grabbed a bottle of Rhinelander. He felt disgruntled; cheated, almost. I was that close to…to what? Feeding your stupid fixation? Gus was just humoring you. If he knew who and what you really are, he'd have run like the wind. He stared out the kitchen window. Light sparkled back at him from the lake. The sun wasn't down, but the shadows indicated the height of the afternoon was past.

The lawn definitely needed mowing. He needed to do his laundry, too.

The lake shone a brilliant color. There might be a fish or two rising.

He should trim the hedge back. There were two flats of petunias to plant for Caroline Lee.

He could chuck it all and go for a paddle.

Rick took a savage bite of sandwich. He cursed under his breath. There were chores to do, and his mundane life to manage. If he were really unlucky, Rita would call with a job or to babble about something. She had not been around the last few days, and he wasn't sorry. Her rental customers called him just as efficiently as she ever did. But it would be just like her to call at the moment when he was trying to relax. If the phone rang, he'd have to answer.

Five minutes later, he fired up the lawnmower.

 

Rick woke on Sunday morning with the sun already up. He hadn't slept well. Indefinable restless dreams had disturbed his slumber. He stumbled into the shower, half awake. Today was Sunday.

He could turn on the television and watch the Sunday news shows, catch up on the affairs of the country and the world. He could laze around in his chair on the newly mowed lawn. Maybe he might go for a hike up College Hill. There was always the option of going fishing.

A whole day of rest opened up before him.

Rick made himself a substantial breakfast; eggs, toast, sausages, coffee and juice, plus a small melon whose sweetness he savored. Happiness was a full refrigerator. But a full stomach left Rick no closer to a decision about what to do with his day.

He wondered if his father would call – the man often telephoned on a Sunday after golf, or lunch, or whatever Trudy had arranged for the day. Rick pulled out his phone to check and see if there were any messages: there weren't. He saw nothing from Rita, or her rentals, or anyone else, for that matter. He stared at the screen for a few moments. The way to keep from getting any messages was easy. His decision was made.

Rick really didn't care that the fish weren't biting much that morning. He was simply glad to be out on the water and away from the damn phone. Maybe there would be a dozen emergencies waiting for him when he pulled the canoe up on shore. He didn't mind.

He might have loaded his second canoe – the lightweight boat he used for fishing trips – onto the rack on his truck and taken a drive to a more secluded lake. That sounded like too much work.

Instead, Rick crammed an old Milwaukee Brewers cap on his head, gathered his rod and lures, and shoved off. With the sun still in the east, Rick paddled in that direction, toward the smallest body of water in the Eagle Lake chain, Storm Lake.

Once there, he dropped his line in the cool pools that lay in the lee of tall pines and cedars, and waited, not really expecting any action, but hopeful. After half an hour without a nibble, Rick paddled past a couple of sprawling summer homes to another favorite spot. He wasn't the only one out fishing that morning; he waved to a couple of others trolling slowly by.

It was a perfect lazy morning. Gradually, he made his way from Storm Lake, under the bridge, and along the north shore of Lower Lake. Rick had no fixed itinerary; he just paddled and paused to fish, then paddled on a bit. He caught a couple of unwary perch, neither more than six inches long. He let them go. The sun got warmer. Rick unbuttoned the top couple of buttons on his shirt. Even after all these years, he was much too self-conscious to do anything more than that.

He kept moving along.

He paddled past the various summer homes planted in the woods and rocky shores. The late morning sun was magnificent. The water reflected the deep blue sky and sparkled in the light. A couple of sailboats decorated the surface of the lake to the west. He barely minded the summer people as they zipped by on their jet skis or their overpowered speedboats. He approached a point of land. Birches and evergreens crowded together, jostling for position near the water. A fallen tree lay partly submerged ahead of him; Rick decided to paddle around it, rather than risk scraping the canoe.

Rick knew precisely what and who lay on the other side of that point.

He took the boat out past the last rocks, toward the broader water of Lower Lake. Rick put down his paddle. I'm not going to go there. I shouldn't. I don't want to be a pest.

The wind freshened out of the west. The canoe drifted. He couldn't help it if the wind was taking him toward Cedarcrest, could he? I can start paddling now. It's getting to be noon. I should go home and get some lunch.

Rick squinted in the direction of the grand old lodge. Was there someone lying out in the sun on the dock? The boat floated closer. The skin color of the sunbather left no doubt as to his identity.

Oh, God, he's shirtless.

The wind carried the boat closer still. He'd drift aground at this rate, but he couldn't stop looking.

I won't linger. I'm only passing by, that's all. I'm just out fishing, right?

Rick picked up his paddle. Nervousness caused a noisy splash as he put it into the water.

Gus the pianist sat up and looked around. The man spotted the canoe and peered more closely.

Oh, shit. No turning back now.

Rick dug into the water and pointed the nose of the craft toward the dock. As he approached, he could see Gus break into smiles and wave.

"Hey, Rick, it's good to see you."

"Hi. How's it going?" Rick called out over the narrowing expanse of water.

"Better, now."

"Were you sick or something?"

"No, just bored," Gus laughed. "Magda took the kids someplace, and it's really quiet."

As he drew closer to the dock, Rick couldn't help noticing Gus possessed strong shoulders and forearms. His torso seemed solid and tight without being sculpted.

"Oh. I see."

Rick pulled on his paddle and glided easily up to the place where Gus sat. He grabbed hold of the wood, just as he had in the night not too long ago. But he couldn't hide in the dark this time. From his place in the canoe, he looked up at the gorgeous man seated on the wooden pier.

"Stuck at the lodge on a Sunday with nothing to do, huh?"

"Not exactly. But I've done what I can for the morning."

Rick didn't understand what that meant but nodded. There was a beat of silence. "It's nice out today, isn't it?"

If Gus thought this was inane, his face didn't show it. "Perfect for getting outside."

Again, conversation flagged.

"Um, I doubt you'd be interested, but maybe you'd like to come with me for a while? You know, come out in the canoe?"

Gus grinned. "I'd love to, but I really shouldn't."

"I understand if you'd rather not. I mean, you probably wouldn't want…"

Gus raised his cast in the air. "No, it's just this stupid thing…I really can't take a chance of getting it wet."

Rick felt himself deflate. "Oh. I didn't think of that."

Of course a hot, sexy man wouldn't want to get into a boat with you. What the hell were you thinking?

"But it sounds so tempting."

"I can be very careful, Gus. I promise." Rick's face was full of hope.

Gus wavered a moment. "Well…"

"And I'll be sure to stay clear of all the boat traffic."

"Okay. Just for a little while, though."

Rick smiled a huge smile. "Let me make room for you." He busied himself sliding fishing rods farther astern in the boat and making sure there were no stray hooks or fishing lines to catch Gus unawares.

"You've got to help me. I'm not good at boats. How do I get in?"

"Just come and squat down on the edge of the dock next to the canoe. Face me."

Gus shifted around to comply. His good left hand rested on the dock. He looked into Rick's eyes with some anxiety.

He tried to reassure Gus. "I'll steady the boat, don't worry about that."

Still, the darker man hesitated.

"Give me your arm. The one with the cast."

Rick gripped Gus' warm flesh above his cast and felt a frisson of electricity. Or maybe it was just being so close to the man who'd occupied his thoughts for days. Gus smelled of sun and sweat and perhaps a trace of an unidentified spice. It was intoxicating. Rick tried to focus.

"Now keep your weight low and step into the boat."

With a smooth motion, Gus extended a leg and transferred his weight into the canoe. The boat wobbled a bit when he brought his other foot in, and he gasped a little in surprise. And then it was done.

"See? No problem at all," Rick said, pushing off from the dock.

He let go of Gus, and not without a bit of disappointment. But to watch the man's face made it worthwhile. Gus beamed.

"You can kneel or just sit on the bottom of the boat, whatever you like. I'm sorry I didn't bring a pad for you to sit on."

"I don't mind." With infinite care, Gus adjusted himself so he could put some weight on the cane seat behind him while he knelt facing Rick.

"Where do you feel like going?"

Gus laughed. "You got me into the boat, you decide. As long as I get back before Magda."

"What, is she keeping you under house arrest or something?"

"Not exactly. She worries about me. I'm supposed to be either recuperating or working."

Rick paddled them farther north along the shore, past tall spruces and stands of birch leaning out over the water.

"Are you here for a little while?"

"For a few weeks. Maybe longer."

Through his self-consciousness, Rick smiled. "That's good."

This seemed to amuse Gus. "It's good?"

"I mean, um, it's good you have time to really enjoy summer up here on the lake."

Gus looked about him as the canoe glided on the water. "I like it. You realize this is the first time I've ever been in a canoe, right? It's wonderful."

"You're kidding. Really?"

"Yes, really. Another fantastic thing to remember about this summer: the lake, the woods, the quiet. Everything."

"The quiet? I thought with your… " Rick hesitated. He wasn't going to say a word about visiting Cedarcrest at night. "…um, piano lessons… it would be pretty noisy."

"Oh, you don't know, do you? This is peaceful. Bliss."

Gus seemed to tune into the tiny noises of water flowing alongside the canoe. Rick watched as the man's eyes tried to take it all in: the blue, blue lake, the green of summer forests, the glassy water beside the boat.

"So peaceful out here," Gus commented to nobody in particular.

"Yeah. It is. I love coming out on a summer day."

"I can see why. You do a lot of fishing?" Gus nodded his head at the gear stowed beside Rick.

"I go when I can. I like getting away from things."

"But I don't see any fish."

"I don't keep them, not often. Usually, I just do catch and release."

Gus looked puzzled.

"Part of the fun in catching a fish is the fight in bringing it in. You tame this wild, beautiful creature for just a few minutes of its life. And then you let it go."

"But doesn't it hurt the fish?"

"Not if you handle it right. That's why I keep a landing net in the stern behind me, for example."

Rick squirmed a little. He wasn't used to fielding questions, and certainly not from an attractive man. And especially not when such a man was sitting in his canoe. After an interval, he decided to turn the tables.

"So where do you live the rest of the year?" And can I come visit?

"Chicago. At least, that's my home base."

"You travel a lot?" Rick's paddle bit the water again.

"All the time." Gus gazed out over the lake. "I think I spend more time on the road than in my own apartment."

"What is it you do?"

"Is this twenty questions?" Gus laughed.

"Sorry. Guess I'm being nosy."

"It's okay, Rick. I'm a musician; a concert pianist. You know, concertos and orchestral pieces. Plus, I do a lot of solo work and chamber stuff."

"Chamber stuff?"

"Works performed by small groups of instruments. That, and I accompany soloists."

"Oh. I see." Rick felt stupid for not knowing. "And that means you're on the road?"

"At least half the year."

Rick considered this. Constant busy-ness was a part of his life. He'd worked his share of twenty-five hour days, driving far out into the north woods or working in a dank basement on a call. But he'd nearly always slept in his own bed, in his own house - almost always.

"I have a hard time imagining that. It must be tiring," Rick said.

"It's not easy," Gus admitted.

"But it's good you had plenty of work."

"I suppose you could put it that way," Gus laughed without humor. "I had close to sixty concert dates last year."

A large speedboat passed close by the canoe. Rick steered the nose of the boat into the waves caused by its wake. Gus' face betrayed some unease when the bow rose and then slapped the water.

"Nothing to worry about. Just a little chop. You don't get motion sickness, do you?" Rick asked, concerned for his passenger.

"No, I'm fine. I was just surprised, that's all. It's kind of like turbulence in a plane, you know?"

"Uh, no. I've never flown before."

"Oh. Well, you haven't missed a lot."

The boat glided onward. Rick felt warmer than the sun on his neck might have made him. The striking, bare chested man in the canoe with him had a lot to do with that. He tried not to look – not for too long.

"Guess you fly everywhere?" Rick asked.

"Some years. Sometimes I can take the train, or even take an Über to venues. It all depends."

"How do you know where you're going to play? Or what you're going to play?"

"Zoltan and Magda arrange that." Gus rolled his eyes. "They're my agents and impresarios. More like slave drivers, sometimes. Don't think for a moment I don't appreciate their work," Gus hastened to add. "Most musicians would kill for agents as aggressive as they are. I just wished I'd had more time to breathe, and practice and prepare – and maybe enjoy life a little. Until this." Gus gestured with his injured arm.

"How'd you get that thing?"

Gus looked away for a few moments.

"Helene and I had a disagreement."

Rick's heart froze and a hole opened in the pit of his stomach. Leave it to my bad luck to fall for a beautiful straight guy. Gus has a girlfriend, or a wife.

"Helene?"

"You saw her at the restaurant."

"Must have been some squabble," he commented.

Gus nodded. "It was."

The boat approached another point of land, having traversed a wide bay in the lake.

Gus shifted a little. "I hate to ask, but what time is it?"

Rick looked at his watch. "Almost two o'clock."

Gus' eyes went wide. "Oh, no. How long have we been out?" His voice sounded anxious.

"I don't know. Maybe an hour?"

"We'd better get back. I don't want Magda to know…"

"Right. Okay. Sure." He wants to get out and away as soon as possible, doesn't he? Shit.

Sighing, Rick turned the boat about in a quick, graceful arc. He buried his paddle into the water. The canoe surged ahead.

"I'm really sorry about this," Gus fretted. "I was having a marvelous time out here."

"No problem." Rick set his teeth and paddled quick and hard. He concentrated on putting on speed.

Reach. Plunge. Pull, twist. Reach. Plunge. Pull, twist.

"We're going so fast," Gus murmured. "This is amazing." The smile and the sparkle in the eyes was back.

Rick spared no breath for words. He propelled the canoe forward at an astonishing rate, far faster than the slow, unhurried outward journey they had taken.

"I'm so sorry, Rick," Gus tried again.

"It's okay." Rick puffed between strokes. "I get it."

Reach. Plunge. Pull, twist.

The boat rapidly approached the Cedarcrest dock. But someone was waiting there. The girl, Marta, sat on the end of the dock, her feet dangling over into the water. As Rick guided the boat up, she grinned, dark eyes full of humor.

"Hi, Uncle Gus. Mom's looking for you. It's Joey's practice time. I thought maybe you'd gone for a swim." The girl nodded at the shirt Gus had left behind on the dock.

Uncle Gus? They're related?

"I was just out in my friend Rick's canoe." The pianist started to scramble out, causing the boat to rock.

"Whoa, whoa, hang on," Rick said holding the pier to steady the canoe. "Give me the bum hand, remember?" Let me touch you just one more time.

"Right. Okay."

Again, Gus allowed Rick to grasp the elbow of the injured arm. This time, Gus had no trouble rising and getting out of the boat.

"Thank you, Rick. I had a wonderful ride." Gus beamed down at him.

Maybe he had a good time, after all. He called me his ‘friend.’

"Any time. Maybe we could go fishing." Rick managed to smile back, even though his doubts and fears shouted at him in the back of his mind.

He's straight, stupid. He's married to…what's her name? Helene? And even if he was like you, he'd never be…

Gus interrupted his thoughts. "I'd like to take you up on that. Really. But now, I'd better go and torture Joey." Both Gus and Marta laughed.

"Yup. You'd better do that. Poor kid." He tried to join in the joke.

Rick pushed off and took up his paddle. He pointed the prow of the canoe toward the point and home. But he couldn't help turning one more time, just to look. Gus and the girl were already partway up the lush green lawn.

And then, the bronze form turned. Rick could see Gus smile, and wave in his direction. Rick raised his paddle in salute.

He was hooked; hopelessly hooked.

I must express my appreciation to @AC Benus and @Carlos Hazday for their invaluable help in making this a better story. If you have comments, reflections, thoughts or rants, please leave them here. I appreciate anything you might have to say.

Copyright © 2020 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
If you enjoyed what you have read, please leave a reaction and/or comment for the author!

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Chapter Comments



2 hours ago, Tonyr said:

Parker Owens, you a have a twisted personality,  i mean, you not only take pride in making your characters suffer, you also enjoy seeing your readers suffer as well... 

Besides the cliffhanging (kinda) it was a start. ☹️ 

I'm sorry to have made you suffer. But at least Rick and Gus have connected, even if it meant having to cut short their time in the canoe. For Rick, this was a real change in his fortunes - actually spending time with a man who seemed to enjoy his company. Thank you for reading this chapter!

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2 hours ago, weinerdog said:

You wrote no Rita warnings yet she still managed to indirectly mess things up for Rick she's the gift that keeps on giving I guess.Luckily he and Gus cross paths again.

From what we found out something is going to have to change in Rick's or Gus life to make this more then just a brief fling with Gus being on the road a lot. I have some theories in my head but they probably won't be as good as what you will come up.Can't wait 

Just thought of something two times in one day Marta seen Gus and Rick together. Is that enough for her to think something is going on?

Rita has a long reach, it appears. Rick found Gus on the dock, beyond where she could interfere, directly or indirectly. Just imagining her in a canoe made me laugh. You're right that Gus and Rick have traveled very different paths. Your theories may be just as good as anything I developed. But whatever transpires between them will take time, moving at the slow pace of small town life. Thank you for reading this, and for your astute comments.

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2 hours ago, pvtguy said:

So well written!  I took a vicarious trip in that canoe!  I felt the sun, the breeze, the nervousness... 

As for the story, I'm still thinking there's something not quite right, possibly nefarious, with Rita...

You're most kind in your comments. I'm glad you could experience day in the canoe with Rick. His nervousness in having Gus ride with him may have been matched by Gus' apprehension in getting in. But it seemed to work out all right. Fortunately, Rita was not out on the lake to spoil the day. Thank you for reading this chapter, and for enjoying the story.

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2 hours ago, Leo C said:

Oooohh. Definitely something there. But this could get really complicated, I sense. Intriguing!

Looking forward to the next one - hopefully also with more about the Rita situation. Stay safe!

You're right, it could get complicated. But will it be harmonious or dissonant? I'm glad you are looking forward to the next chapter. That is music to any author's ears. Stay safe, too.

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5 hours ago, Valkyrie said:

:yes:  I totally agree! 

Great chapter!  I had a feeling they'd meet at the Farmer's Market.  Gus immediately recognized him, so that's good.  It means he noticed him.  There are a lot of parallels in their lives, even if the particulars are different.  Gus is enjoying his time with Rick, and I'm sure they'll be spending a lot more time together.  I look forward to seeing their relationship develop.  Rick needs to refuse to complete any more work for Rita until he gets paid.  Something is definitely up there.  I'm not so sure it's deliberate scamming, but maybe more a lack of funds.  I can see Rita as someone who lives significantly above her means.  

I'm glad you could agree with Rick about a potential source of happiness. Yes, it must be a good sign that Gus remembered Rick, even though Rick didn't give that much thought at the moment. The key problem you identify about working for Rita is one that appears to be a problem for Rick: he has a hard time refusing anyone anything. Whatever is up with her, whatever angle she is playing, it seems to create difficulties for Rick. Thanks very much for your comments, and for reading this chapter.

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2 hours ago, Carlos Hazday said:

I live in a city, and it's often hard to disasociate myself from the faster pace of life. Rick frustrates the heck out of me. I want to slap him around a bit and tell him to stop doubting himself and grow a pair. Alas, that won't happen until something really serious comes along. Maybe Gus will be the catalyst for change. In the meantime, I remind his life reflects the slower pace of Eagle Lake. No matter how much he may grumble, the town's in him, and it molds the pace of his life.

BTW Mr. Owens, you lie like a dog. Rita still reared her ugly head into the weekend. Nice job otherwise. LOL

Rick can be frustrating. Then again, self-doubt is his way of life. I think you're right that he won't learn boldness and self confidence until there's a really strong incentive. Eagle Lake is what he knows, and in some ways, the world is still a great mystery to him. Did I lie? I would not be like a rug for anything. I beg your forgiveness. Rita was not directly present in this chapter. Thanks so much for reading, and re-reading the story!

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29 minutes ago, drsawzall said:

I'm thinking the means and methods for Rita Warnings should be more in line with a weather forecast,

I see. Sort of like the National Weather Service’s Advisory, Watch and Warning system. 

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Rita certainly does have a long reach!  I believe she lives far beyond her means and has a drinking problem as well!  Rick and Gus do seem to have some chemistry but Rick is a country boy with self worth issues - probably exacerbated by his overbearing father!  But I am loving this story and excited to see the developing relationship between Gus and Rick!  Great stuff Parker - thank you!!

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1 hour ago, KayDeeMac said:

Rita certainly does have a long reach!  I believe she lives far beyond her means and has a drinking problem as well!  Rick and Gus do seem to have some chemistry but Rick is a country boy with self worth issues - probably exacerbated by his overbearing father!  But I am loving this story and excited to see the developing relationship between Gus and Rick!  Great stuff Parker - thank you!!

Rita certainly seems to live a life far different to Rick’s simpler existence. You describe Rick very well. It’s also true that Gus has Rick thinking in ways he's forgotten about for a long time. I’m glad you’re enjoying the story, and thank you very much for your encouraging words. 

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So many loose ends and questions... Why don't Rick and Gus exchange phone numbers? Could Gus be 'Mr. Sexy Hunk' on 'X-Pants.com'? Why won't Rick call Rita out on her lack of payment of bills and standing him up when she told him that there would be a check at her office for him? And why won't Rick make it clear to Rita (and his dad) that he has NO interest in anything other than a business relationship with her. The story seems to be getting overwhelmed by unanswered questions.

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18 hours ago, Nahrung said:

So many loose ends and questions... Why don't Rick and Gus exchange phone numbers? Could Gus be 'Mr. Sexy Hunk' on 'X-Pants.com'? Why won't Rick call Rita out on her lack of payment of bills and standing him up when she told him that there would be a check at her office for him? And why won't Rick make it clear to Rita (and his dad) that he has NO interest in anything other than a business relationship with her. The story seems to be getting overwhelmed by unanswered questions.

Lots of questions remain, to be sure. Rick is both under-confident and less than sure of himself in this kind of situation. It may take him a long time to ask for Gus' phone number. As for Rita, she is taking full advantage of two unwritten rules in the small-town code:  it's assumed you will pay your bills and it's considered bad manners to hound your customers for payment (at least, not until plenty of time has passed and good-natured cajolery fails). Rick has tried to make clear to Heinrich Senior that he's not interested in Rita, but the old man isn't listening. Senior has his own agenda, as does Rita. Neither one has spared much thought for Rick. Thank you very much for your questions, and for reading this story!

Edited by Parker Owens
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So, I'm thinking that 'Mr. Sexy Hunk' is not Gus,  but could it be Willy coming back to haunt Rick?

Quote

Rick unbuttoned the top couple of buttons on his shirt. Even after all these years, he was much too self-conscious to do anything more than that.

Poor Rick! Makes me want to see Willy get his comeuppance, too. Maybe we can get him, Rita, and Rick's father all in one swoop.

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On 11/21/2020 at 5:19 PM, Dr. John NYC said:

So, I'm thinking that 'Mr. Sexy Hunk' is not Gus,  but could it be Willy coming back to haunt Rick?

Poor Rick! Makes me want to see Willy get his comeuppance, too. Maybe we can get him, Rita, and Rick's father all in one swoop.

Rick is torn; Gus is visible and real, but Mr. SexyHunk seems available, if a little creepy. As for getting his comeuppance, Willy is from old money and old family. Surely he’s immune to all that vengeance stuff? Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for reading!

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9 hours ago, Parker Owens said:

Rick is torn; Gus is visible and real, but Mr. SexyHunk seems available, if a little creepy. As for getting his comeuppance, Willy is from old money and old family. Surely he’s immune to all that vengeance stuff? Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for reading!

Happy Thanksgiving, Parker, and  thank YOU for your story!

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Bft

Posted (edited)

Rita has champagne taste on beer money. 😂

It was only for a short time but at least Gus & Rick got to spend some time together 

Edited by Bft
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