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    Parker Owens
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Double Concerto - 15. Andante

Forecast: plenty of sun with a chance of Rita. Enjoy the afternoon!

“Well, come on, then, don’t just stand there.” Caroline Lee worked to lever herself out of her lawn chair. “Help me up.”

The procession was past, on its way to the west end of Main Street. Gus and the Takács family were lost in the dispersing throng along the parade route. For Rick, the sun was dimmer.

“Oh, sorry.”

Rick turned to his neighbor. He took her elbow and assisted her standing.

Vincent, Mrs. Lee’s Labrador, rose with a canine dignity that suited his years. The dog had spent the entire parade at his mistress’ feet, neither stirring nor offering any complaint.

Rick folded the chair.

“We’d better get moving if there’s going to be anything left,” his companion remarked.

“Moving where?”

“The Nativity Lutheran Strawberry Social, of course,” Mrs. Lee replied.

“They’re doing that again this year?”

“They put it on every year, Rick.” She began following the general movement of the crowd in the direction of downtown. Nativity Lutheran was in that direction, more or less.

“You’re sure it’s at Nativity? You know how many churches there are in town?”

“And isn’t it perfectly foolish? I never can keep all their differences straight in my mind.” They walked down Main Street, following the flow of people.

“But you’re sure where this is? Maybe we should head home.”

“Don’t be silly. It’ll be my treat. It’s the least I can do for you, after all the help you’ve given me over the last year.”

The Strawberry Social held out little interest for him, but he felt obliged to go along. Rick sighed. “Well, thank you, even though there’s no need for this.”

Two blocks down Main, Caroline said: “Let’s cross over here. We can cut down Columbia and then walk over on Birchwood Street.”

Traffic had not yet been released back onto Main; their crossing was no problem. The route Caroline Lee suggested seemed easier than walking with the throng; the streets were quiet there. Better still, Nativity Lutheran was located across the street from where Birchwood ended. The enticing smells of grilled meat toyed with Rick’s nose. His stomach growled.

He wasn’t surprised that the church grounds were crowded. He and Mrs. Lee joined a long line waiting to purchase lunch tickets.

“What are you going to want, Rick?” Caroline turned to him as they neared the cashier’s table.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe a hot dog.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Rick, live a little. This is my treat.”

“I don’t know. Let’s see.”

“Pfft. Nonsense.” She smiled at the woman selling meal tickets. “We’d like two strawberry shortcakes, loaded with the works, two hamburgers, and two bratwurst, please. With chips.”

“You want water or soda?” The attendant asked.

“Soda.” Caroline eyed Rick as if daring him to contradict her.

She paid, and led Rick and Vincent through the line, collecting their order.

“Oh, hi there, Rick,” Dale Metzger greeted him.

“Hiya, Dale.” He turned to Caroline. “You know Dale, right? He’s married to Shelley who works at North Capital Bank?”

“Shelley’s taken good care of me. Hello, Dale.”

“I’ll be sure to tell her you said so.” The man grinned. “Two burgers, two brats. You want sauerkraut on these?”

“And pepper and onions, too,” Mrs. Lee put in.

“That’s right,” Rick agreed.

“Nice to see you here today.” Metzger said, every inch the good neighbor.

“Looks like it’s going well.”

“Can’t complain. Happy Fourth!”

They moved on, Rick carrying the cardboard tray of food and beverages. They advanced to the shortcake area, where they collected two large desserts, piled high with strawberries, vanilla ice cream, and fresh whipped cream on top.

Caroline Lee managed her chair and Vincent’s leash while Rick balanced all the food. “Where do you want to sit?” She gestured with her head at a wide array of folding tables planted all over the church lawn.

“Wherever there’s a couple of seats,” Rick returned, distracted by napkins that wanted to blow away in a puff on wind.

“Follow me. I see something.”

Mrs. Lee picked her way through the crowd, now and again acknowledging friendly greetings from people she knew. Rick just trailed behind, eyes down, concentrating on not spilling anything.

“Do you mind if we join you?” He heard her ask.

“No, of course not. Hello, Rick.”

At the sound of Gus’ voice, Rick’s head snapped up; he nearly dropped an armful of lunch.

“Oh. Um. Hi,” Rick felt his face flush.

How had he missed Gus? He sat at the far end of a rickety little table, with Marta and Joey on either side of him.

Mrs. Lee got busy seating herself. “I don’t think I know you yet,” she said, choosing a chair next to Marta. “I’m Caroline, and this is Vincent.”

The black Labrador gave Marta an inquisitive sniff.

“Hello. I’m Marta.” It wasn’t clear if the girl was addressing Caroline or Vincent.

“And this is Joey, and I’m Gus Morales.” The pianist slid some empty bowls and paper plates together, clearing a place for Rick’s armload.

“I’m glad to meet you.” Caroline smiled. “Thanks for making room for us. I hope we’re not disturbing your family’s time.”

“Oh, no, I think you’ve got it confused,” Gus laughed. “I’m not – I mean, we’re not a family.”

“What do you mean?” Joey exclaimed. “You’re my uncle, Gus!”

“He’s not really related, stupid.” Marta sneered. “Uncle Gus is just – “

“I’m a friend of the family,” Gus put in.

“So you three aren’t related?”

Rick decided to intervene. “Mrs. Lee, this is Marta and Joey Takács. Their family is renting the Kohler estate this summer. Gus is Joey’s –”

“Instrumental torturer. Teacher.” Marta smirked.

“I teach Joey piano and work with Marta on her clarinet.” Gus smiled back at his pupil.

“I see. Are your parents around here somewhere?” Caroline inquired.

“No, mom went down to Chicago for some meeting yesterday,” said Joey with apparent indifference.

“She’s supposed to be driving back with my father this afternoon,” Marta added.

“Well. I hope you enjoyed the parade.”

“It was okay, I guess.” Marta agreed.

Caroline began eating her shortcake.

“Dessert first?” Gus grinned.

“I’m too old to fuss about convention. I’m starting with the good stuff.” She dug in.

“And what about you, Rick? You starting with the good stuff?” Gus inquired.

Rick twitched. He’d been watching Gus throughout the whole exchange, unable to believe his good fortune at finding a seat with the man he’d had an adolescent crush on for weeks.

“Um, I think it’s all good.” He reached for a bratwurst in its cardboard sleeve.

“Hah! You and Joey had the same idea.”

“What?” Joey had left his place and knelt in the grass making friends with Vincent. The Labrador happily licked Joey’s hands and forearms clean of crumbs and traces of his meal.

“Uncle Gus? Are we going back to the house after this?” Marta asked. Her initial interest at meeting someone new had waned.

“I’m not sure. I guess we could. I’ll need to call another cab, though.”

“You called a cab to get into town?” Rick almost choked on his sausage.

“Magda took the car.” Gus shrugged.

“If you need to get home, I could – ” Rick started to volunteer, but he was interrupted.

“Hey, Mr. Ernst. How’s it going?”

Rick turned to find the smiling form of Jared West behind him. The sun framed the boy’s flaming red hair. He stood perspiring, dressed in a blue dress shirt emblazoned with insignia of the Eagle Lake Volunteer Fire Company. It flapped open and untucked, exposing a bright white expanse of tee shirt; two layers in the hot July sun were no joke.

“Happy Fourth of July, Jared,” Rick returned. “You guys looked great.”

The teen shifted his weight from foot to foot.

“Thanks, um I was wondering if…um…if you’d seen Mr. Guttmacher anywhere.”

For the first time, Rick noticed Jared had colored a little. The boy was embarrassed? Maybe it was just the sun.

“Not yet. He might be around.” Rick saw that Jared wasn’t making eye contact but looked at a point somewhere off to one side of Marta.

“I just… I thought…” The poor kid seemed to have lost the power of speech.

“You’ve met Mrs. Lee before, right? And do you know my friends Gus and Joey and Marta?” Rick made introductions. “This is Jared West.”

“Um, hi.” Rick had never seen the lanky kid so tongue-tied before.

“What are your plans for the afternoon?” Caroline asked.

“I thought…um, maybe I’d go to the car show? And then kind of hang out until the fireworks.”

“Is that with, like, classic cars?” Marta asked.

Rick turned in time to see her brown eyes glitter.

“Yeah. They close off a couple of blocks downtown for it.”

“How many cars?”

“I don’t know. A hundred? A shi – er, boatload, that’s for sure.” Jared turned even redder.

“Uncle Gus, could we –”

“I don’t want to go to any stupid car show,” put in Joey from his place in the grass next to Vincent.

“It won’t be as stupid as you,” his sister retorted.

“Hey, now, don’t let’s fight,” Caroline jumped in, trying to soothe tempers. She had experience. “If we go too, you can keep company with your new pal, Joey.”

Vincent in heaven, rolled over, inviting a tummy rub.

“And a stroll in town would do me a lot of good,” added Gus. “I think I ate a little more than I should have.”

“On the Glorious Fourth? Of course you’re supposed to overeat.” Mrs. Lee laughed. “Speaking of which, my ice cream is going to melt.”

“Um, okay…so…I’m gonna head home and take a shower,” Jared said, addressing his feet. “And we’ll meet up…?”

“Give me your phone,” Marta told the boy.

Rick wondered how Jared fit the damn thing inside those dress uniform pants as he relayed the smartphone over to the girl. He watched her deftly add her contact information to Jared’s list. She handed the phone back to its owner.

“Okay. Well…gotta go.” The redhead beamed. “See you later.”

Rick felt just as thunderstruck as Jared looked. He wanted to pinch himself to be sure he wasn’t dreaming. If he stayed with Mrs. Lee, he’d get a chance to spend part of the afternoon with Gus. He looked down at the remainder of his food; the deluxe shortcake was in danger of becoming a strawberry soup mess.

“What’s the matter, Rick? Not hungry?” Gus asked, breaking into his thoughts.

Rick’s face split into a grin. “No, I’m plenty hungry.” He dug in.

It didn’t take long for him to feel a dribble on his chin. The sweet, sticky mix of cream and strawberry juice was messy at the best of times. He looked around his place for something to wipe it with.

“I’m sorry, but does anyone have a spare napkin?”

“I do,” Gus volunteered. He held one in his right hand, the fingers from the injured arm protruding from his cast.

Rick reached across for the proffered square of paper. For an instant, his large, blunt fingers brushed against the long, elegant ones of the pianist. Despite the heat of the day, Rick shivered at the touch.

He spent the remainder of the meal smiling, not minding interruptions to the conversation from people who stopped at the table to say hello to Rick or Caroline. At length, they finished eating; Rick having polished off everything ordered for him, while Mrs. Lee handed off one of the hamburgers to Joey, who devoured it, in spite of the Labrador’s imploring stare.

“I’ll take the trash,” Rick said, as he rose to gather in all the paper and cardboard at the table.

“Let me help.” Gus offered, getting up out of his seat.

“No, no, stay put. I’ll be fine.”

“Oh, come on, I’m not made of glass.” Gus laughed. “And there’s really a lot.” Later, as they made their way to the trash barrels, he added: “Thanks for helping me out this afternoon. I’m not really cut out to be an au pair.”

“How am I helping you out? You seem to be doing all right.”

Gus shook his head. “The whole sibling rivalry thing is a bit much for me. Joey and Marta have been needling each other, all day long. I thought that huge house would be big enough for the two of them to be alone in, but I think they seek each other out. Lunch was an unexpected treat.”

“Yes, it was,” Rick agreed, smiling wider.

“Ricky! Ricky, over here!” A clear, loud, feminine voice carried over the hubbub of the crowd.

He froze, his smile instantly evaporating.

“Ricky, wait!” The voice drew closer.

He turned on unwilling feet to face Rita. She wore a flowing sort of sundress in a bright floral pattern. From somewhere she had acquired an enormous, wide-brimmed, straw hat.

Her face was filled with good cheer and bonhomie.

“Hello, Rita.”

“Ricky! I was going to ask if you’d join me for lunch, but it looks like you’ve already eaten,” the words rushed out as she glanced at the armful of picnic ware he carried.

“Yeah. Sorry about that.” His voice carried not one trace of regret.

“But you can come sit with me and the Unsers over there.” She waved an arm.

“Um, I’m with friends right now.”

Rita’s eyes flicked over to Gus, who stood to the side, and dismissed the piano teacher with a glance.

“Really? I insist.” She reached out to touch Rick’s arm. “It’s important for our project,” she hissed.

Rick stared at her gesture. Her fingers on his skin meant nothing; her mysterious project meant even less.

“I’m sorry, Rita. I already made plans for the afternoon.”

The face under the straw hat turned petulant. “Ricky, you promised!” raised her voice. “How could you?”

Heads nearby turned in their direction.

Rick’s face colored, but he stood firm. He glanced at Gus, whose face was unreadable: beautiful, but it gave away nothing. Something in the man’s eyes told him what to say next.

“Rita, I don’t remember promising anything. Maybe you’re thinking about someone else. And as I said, I agreed to walk the Car Show with my friend Gus here, and with Caroline Lee.”

Rita stood there, eyes narrowed and her mouth set in a flat line. She lifted her chin. “Fine. I thought I could count on you. I was mistaken.” With a swish of a summer dress, she returned in the direction of the Unsers.

Rick did a slow pivot to Gus. They resumed their journey to the trash barrels. “Sorry you had to see that.”

Gus frowned. “She your girlfriend?”

“No!” Rick felt a warm flush creep up his neck. “Rita’s just got this idea that we’re some kind of a couple.”

“You’re not?” Gus inquired.

“Um, no. Not at all.”

They dumped their paper burdens in the bins.

“Funny how some people get the wrong idea, isn’t it?” Gus smiled.

Rick chuckled. “I guess it is.”

 

“­– and I’ll make sure to call you first thing Monday about that new water connection.” Yet another of Rick’s customers shook hands, smiled, and moved on to see the remainder of the car show.

Rick and his friends had wandered over a couple of blocks from the Lutheran church to see the automotive exhibition. Joey stayed close to Vincent and Mrs. Lee. Marta and Jared moved off by themselves, though still in view of Gus and Rick. The holiday brought plenty of people out, strolling through the displays, and every other one of them seemed to know Rick. Fanciers of old and antique automobiles for miles around were there, showing off a prized classic.

“Do you know everyone in town?” Gus asked.

“No, but it feels like that sometimes.”

“You could run for mayor.”

“No thank you. No way. All that politics, and meetings, meetings, and more meetings. Ugh.”

They stopped in front of a gleaming red 1966 Buick Electra.

“My grandfather owned one of these,” Rick observed.

“I think I could fit my grand piano in the trunk.” Gus laughed.

“Might be tough on the springs.”

“You think so? I could play from the back seat.”

Rick smiled as the thought tickled him. “There’s certainly a lot of room back there. You could have a party.”

“Goodness, whoever thought of driving a boat like that?” Caroline Lee ambled over.

“Didn’t you have one once?” Gus asked.

“God, no. I drove a little dark green German station wagon for years. The frame finally rusted through after three decades.”

“You liked that car.” Rick commented.

“Better than I would have liked driving this thing,” Mrs. Lee nodded at the enormous Buick. “But I admit, it’s pretty.”

Rick noticed Joey and Vincent admiring their reflections in the chrome hubcaps. “Where are Marta and Jared?”

“Over there.” Gus gestured past walkers sauntering by to the other side of the closed-off street.

The two teens peered intently into the engine compartment of a giant black sedan from the 1940’s. The hood yawned wide like the maw of some prehistoric monster.

The boy appeared to be pointing things out to his companion, who nodded.

“I guess Jared found a kindred spirit,” Rick said.

“You could be right. Marta has a mechanical mind.”

“Well, she’s met a real gear head in Jared.” Rick couldn’t help wondering how Gus knew Marta’s little secret.

Mrs. Lee walked onward to the next car on view. Vincent looked torn for a moment, looking at his new friend Joey, then back at his mistress. After some indecision, the Labrador followed his canine instinct and went after the old woman.

Joey stood up and trotted along to find them; Gus and Rick trailed after.

“What kind of car do you drive?” Rick asked as they ambled forward.

“I don’t… that is, I don’t drive,” Gus clarified.

“You don’t drive?”

“No. Never had the time to learn. I was always studying, or at lessons, or practicing, or performing, or… well, you get the idea. Piano never left any room for life. Performing is life.”

Rick nodded. In a way, he did understand. After his mother’s death, Heinrich Senior kept Rick hard at work in the family business for as much of his youth as possible. Neither father nor son got many free moments.

“My father taught me in high school.”

“You took Driver’s Education and all that?”

“No. My father just put me behind the wheel of the company truck and made me learn.” Before his junior year of high school ended, the elder Ernst made sure his son knew how to drive; the boy could do more useful work that way. “Didn’t you need to drive to get to college or concerts?”

Gus shook his head. “Not at Julliard. You don’t want a car in New York. By the time I was performing, I flew or took the train; then I found a taxi, or someone met me. And now, my apartment in Chicago is right downtown – I walk everywhere or take a cab or an Uber.”

They stopped to admire a thirty-year-old Mercedes convertible. The owner had burnished the cream paint job to a high level of gloss.

“I wouldn’t mind a ride in that.” Gus said in appreciation. “Those seats look comfortable.”

“Not sure I could put the canoe on top, though. It’d be hard to take out fishing. Where would I put my rod?” Rick joked.

“Oh, I don’t know. It might be kind of like wearing a Speedo. You just stuff the rod in where it fits.” Gus smirked.

Rick looked away. His brain simultaneously held the image of Gus in a skimpy bathing suit, along with the unhappy memory that he never could wear swimsuits like that.

A hand slapped him on the shoulder. “Hey, Rico, happy Fourth of July!” Rick turned to the sound of Jerry Guttmacher’s cheerful greeting.

“Hiya, Jer. How’s it going?”

“Great. Nice to get out for the day.” Jerry noticed Gus standing at Rick’s side. He stuck out his hand, work-worn and grease stained. “Sorry, I don’t know you. Jerry Guttmacher.”

Gus extended his left hand for an awkward shake. “I’m Gus Morales. Sorry, I, um, broke my good hand.” He raised his cast in apologetic explanation.

“And this is my wife, Cheryl.” Jerry indicated the slight, strawberry blonde woman standing to one side.

“Nice to meet you.” Gus smiled.

“You a friend of Rico’s?”

“Yes. We had lunch at the church together.”

Rick’s heart swelled a little. Gus just acknowledged him as a friend once more.

“Then you’re coming with Rick to join the Guttmacher clan at the fireworks, right?”

Gus looked confused. “I’m watching two children today, I don’t know – “

“And I’m looking after Caroline Lee,” added Rick.

“So what? Bring everybody.” Jerry made an expansive gesture. “It’s a celebration: biggest one of the summer.”

“That’s really nice of you, but I might have to go back to the lodge in a little while,” Gus answered.

“Lodge?” Cheryl asked.

“Gus is a guest of the family that’s renting the old Kohler place,” Rick explained, trying not to look crestfallen. He didn’t want the afternoon to end.

“Zoltan was in Chicago, and Magda went down to meet him. I agreed to stay with their kids. They’re supposed to get back this afternoon.” Gus added.

“Kids? Where are they?”

“The younger one, Joey, is over there.” Gus pointed to where the boy and the Labrador stood with Caroline Lee. “Marta is older and seems to have made a friend. They’re over by that farm truck.”

Jerry followed Gus’ gesture. “The dark-haired girl? Standing next to Jared?”

“That’s her.” Rick confirmed.

“Hoo boy. Poor old Jared is about to have his heart broken. She’s out of his league.”

“Jared?” Gus questioned.

“The tall redhead who’s drooling over your friend’s daughter. He works for me as an apprentice mechanic.”

Gus watched the pair in animated conversation with a more critical eye. “I’d say Marta’s in about as much trouble as your apprentice.”

“Guess fireworks are going to start early,” commented Cheryl with a wry grin, prompting a laugh from everyone.

"So how come you don’t have an entry in the car show this year, Rico?” Jerry changed the subject.

“What are you talking about?”

“The Ernst and Son van. It’s got to be old enough to be a classic. I bet it’s an official antique.”

Rick made a sour face. “Yeah, I bet it would earn the Most Beat-Up Commercial Vehicle award.”

“I thought it would get the Most Creatively Maintained award,” Jerry corrected. “How many parts have we had to machine on our own for that old beast?”

“Too many,” sighed Rick.

“Don’t let them get started,” Cheryl told Gus with a sympathetic smile. “These two complain, but I think they actually love spending long winter evenings in Rick’s machine shop.”

“Does that happen often?” Gus asked, a trace of admiration in his voice.

“Often enough. I guess it’s better than if they went down to the Fraternal Lumbermen’s Club and got stinking drunk twice a week.”

Gus glanced at Rick. “So when do they get stinking drunk?”

“Hey! I resent that. I get smashed Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” Jerry cried.

“We’re not talking about your car, Jer,” Rick laughed.

A musical sound rang out. Gus looked down at his pocket. “Oh, sorry. That’s my phone. It’s probably Magda or Zoltan wondering where we are.” He stepped away to take the call.

Caroline Lee walked up to where the group was standing. “Hello, Cheryl. How are you feeling?”

The rail thin woman smiled. “Much better. Thanks for asking.”

“Rick, I think this old body is getting tired,” the gray-haired lady announced. “We’d better get started for home. It’s a long walk.”

Rick’s heart sank. The enchanting hours with Gus by his side had to end sooner or later. “Sure. Let me collect Vincent from Joey.”

“Why don’t you let us drive you home?” Cheryl asked. “We’re on our way back to the house. Jerry and I are parked just around the corner.”

“Are you sure it isn’t any trouble? I have the dog and my folding chair.”

“There’s tons of room. No problem at all.”

“Well, if Rick doesn’t mind my abandoning him like this – “

“It’s fine, Mrs. Lee. I can find my own way back.” He tried not to sound too eager.

“That’s right. Rico’s a big boy.” Jerry grinned.

“Well, then, thank you Cheryl. That’s very kind of you.”

Jerry held out his hand. “Here, Rico, give me that heavy old chair.”

Rick passed the flimsy aluminum thing over.

“It was nice meeting your new friend. Don’t forget to bring him with you to the fireworks, Rico.”

Rick watched them move off toward Joey and Vincent, Cheryl and Mrs. Lee moving at about the same pace. A few moments later, suddenly without his new canine friend, the boy wandered back toward Gus and Rick.

“I’m hungry.” Joey stated.

“Oh. Well. Not sure what we can do about that.” Rick countered. Gus was still on the phone.

“Where’s Martie?”

“Martie?”

“My sister. Where’d she go?”

“She’s over there.” Rick pointed to where the girl and Jared squatted at the back of the big old red truck. He wondered if they really were all that interested in the rear differential.

“Martie’s got a boyfriend.” Joey grinned.

Rick nodded. No need to agree with the obvious.

Joey rummaged in his pocket and pulled out a battered cell phone. “Gonna get some evidence.” With a kind of sinister glee, the boy darted across the stream of visitors to the show toward the big farm truck and his sister.

Alone for a moment, Rick decided to check his own phone. He blessed his lucky stars: there were no work-related emergencies. Nothing from Heinrich Senior, not that he wished for it. There was yet another message from the mystery man of X-Pants.com - one more lewd suggestion accompanied a closeup of an erection. Despite the photo, his interest waned.

Rick hastily closed the app when Gus appeared at his side. “I’m so sorry about that. Magda called.”

“Nothing serious, I hope?”

“Oh, she and Zoltan got held up. They won’t be back until later tonight. Now I have to figure out how to get us all home.”

“You don’t have to go right now, though, do you? I mean, unless you needed to.”

“No, I guess not. What did you have in mind?”

Rick smiled wide. “What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?”

My thanks to @AC Benus and @Carlos Hazday for their help in making this story better than I could have done. Should you have a comment or reflection about this chapter or anything else in the story, I'm always happy to know what you think.

Copyright © 2020 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments



51 minutes ago, Tonyr said:

Yay! You guys think Rick is finally growing a pair ?

Growth can be slow, quiet and unseen. But Rick certainly seems to have grown a little. Thanks for reading!

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43 minutes ago, Mawgrim said:

Good for Rick, telling Rita where to get off. I was wondering if Caroline Lee had noticed his interest in Gus earlier and decided to engineer that meeting?

Caroline’s choice of table was probably completely by chance. But what a piece of luck! Rick could use some. And once Rita reappeared, how could he scorn his good fortune? Thanks very much for your thoughts, and for reading this chapter. 

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1 hour ago, Leo C said:

Yeah, it would seem that way! About time, too! And maybe he's not quite as good at hiding, what he wants, as he might think. I think Jerry and Cheryl - and Mrs. Lee - has him figured out already...😄. Very nice chapter indeed!

It would be hard for Rick to disguise his pleasure in Gus’ company, at least on this day. Jerry, Cheryl and Caroline may talk, or they may just wait and see. But at least they can be happy for their friend. Thank you for your comments, and for reading!

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1 hour ago, weinerdog said:

Nice move by Rick maybe he can get them to go to the fireworks then drive them home.Rita geez can you say manipulator?I bet some here would say worse.One small complaint sounds like nobody got anything for Vincent poor dog.I do have one worry that incident that happened to Rick as a teenager that was July 4th also right?I hope nothing triggers that memory while he's with Gus.

Poor Vincent. He seemed content to make a new friend in Joey. Rick seems so happy to have Gus with him that Willy Kohler is a distant memory. Rita is more bothersome than that, and Rick refused her entreaties fairly firmly, though politely. I’m glad you continue to read this story, and thank you for commenting. 

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1 hour ago, Parker Owens said:

Growth can be slow, quiet and unseen. But Rick certainly seems to have grown a little. Thanks for reading!

My pleausure.

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2 hours ago, 84Mags said:

Oh my goodness, I want to give a standing ovation to Caroline Lee! Best wingman ever, intended or not. And Rick standing up to Rita right in front of Gus was everthing. If I sound a little gushing, it’s because I was smiling by the time food was ordered at the Lutheran church and kept grinning as the day meandered along. Even the threat of X-pants mystery man looming couldn’t bust my mood.  

As always, the title beautifully fit the the chapter and mirrored the day. Except, now I unfortunately have the Abba song Andante Andante stuck in my head. And, with all things Abba, that’ll worsen to Mama Mia later in the day. *sigh.  

 

 

I can imagine Caroline inclining her head and smiling at your ovation. However, her connecting Gus and Rick was quite unconscious. However, Rick was delighted no matter how it happened. I’m glad you enjoyed the Strawberry Social; the scent of Brats on the grill is hard to ignore, let alone the treat of shortcake. Eating with Gus just made it unforgettable. It makes me grin knowing you enjoyed yourself. I just hope your interior playlist allows you to continue your enjoyment. Many thanks for your comments and for reading. 

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2 hours ago, Valkyrie said:

Yay!  Rick finally stood up for himself!  Caroline is awesome.  I have no doubt she noticed that Marta and Jared weren't the only infatuated duo ;)  I'm glad to finally see Rick and Gus get more time together.  I can't wait for the fireworks next week! 

Caroline Lee has been a fun character to write. We’ll see more of her again. Growth is a slow and sometimes unsteady thing. Rick has at least set Rita back a bit for the time being. Fireworks? You mentioned fireworks? Thanks for reading and for your thoughts. 

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Just now, Ivor Slipper said:

Not Abba, but perhaps we could fit in a quick chorus of 'Sweet Caroline' 🙂

You’d make Neil Diamond smile.

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2 hours ago, Headstall said:

What a lovely chapter, Parker. Kudos to Rick for not letting Rita steal his joy. Gus seems to like Rick's company, and you showed their budding connection beautifully. Thanks for this... quite satisfying. :) 

I’m glad you thought this was a sunnier chapter than others that came before. Between Gus and Rita, there’s no contest in Rick’s mind. He’d choose Gus every time. Their connection is growing slowly, but happily. Thanks very much for reading and for your thoughts. 

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33 minutes ago, Ivor Slipper said:

Rick smiled wide. “What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?”

I suspect Rick's must be Rocky Road...

It certainly seems like he’s had a lot of that flavor, doesn’t it?

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4 hours ago, Tonyr said:

Yay! You guys think Rick is finally growing a pair ?

We may need to do a close inspection.

Rick's such a good person it's heartbreaking how between Rita and Senior, he lives in fear of their calls. He's earned the right to a nice afternoon. Jared being tongue tied, much the same as Rick, was great. Let's hope they both get what they want. The elder Toczas are inching closer to the pit Rita resides in. I have a feeling they wouldn't approve of the afternoon's events.

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Just now, Carlos Hazday said:

We may need to do a close inspection.

Rick's such a good person it's heartbreaking how between Rita and Senior, he lives in fear of their calls. He's earned the right to a nice afternoon. Jared being tongue tied, much the same as Rick, was great. Let's hope they both get what they want. The elder Toczas are inching closer to the pit Rita resides in. I have a feeling they wouldn't approve of the afternoon's events.

Rick feels like he won the lottery, having an afternoon with Gus. Better still, the pianist seems to be enjoying himself, too. Rick may not feel as if he’s earned this wonderful day, but he’s not going to let it go for a moment. I think you’re right that the elder Takacs may be less than pleased  at the day’s developments. As for your inspection, Rick may want someone else to do that. 

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15 minutes ago, Parker Owens said:

Rick feels like he won the lottery, having an afternoon with Gus. Better still, the pianist seems to be enjoying himself, too. Rick may not feel as if he’s earned this wonderful day, but he’s not going to let it go for a moment. I think you’re right that the elder Takacs may be less than pleased  at the day’s developments. As for your inspection, Rick may want someone else to do that. 

But, but... Gus has only one hand in working order!

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A sign of good writing: I'm reading this while sitting in a comfy chair, under a blanket, cat snoozing on my lap, and when Rita appears I can actually feel my blood pressure spike. She's just wonderfully vile.

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1 hour ago, Estiveo said:

A sign of good writing: I'm reading this while sitting in a comfy chair, under a blanket, cat snoozing on my lap, and when Rita appears I can actually feel my blood pressure spike. She's just wonderfully vile.

I hope the rest of the chapter brought your blood pressure down, and made you purr. Thanks for your very kind and encouraging comments. 

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