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  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
    Parker Owens
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  • 5,214 Words
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  • 27 Comments

Double Concerto - 25. Poissons d'Or

Forecast: much too wet and chilly for any Rita or Heinrich.

Cold.

Rick came to the surface and spluttered. Butternut Lake was cold. The bright sun still shone, fluffy clouds punctuated the brilliant azure sky overhead; but now the canoe floated somewhere, overturned. In the meantime, chilly water streamed off his head and face in the center of the lake.

Gus! Where is Gus? How could I have let this happen?

A gurgle and splash sounded close to his right. He turned in time to see the other man thrash and inhale a mouthful of lake water.

Gus can’t swim! Without thinking, Rick offered Gus his left hand. “Take hold of me,” he commanded.

Instead of taking his wrist, however, Gus used Rick as a life raft. He tried to grasp the larger man with both arms. Gus practically climbed on top of him, trying to get out of the water, and submerging Rick in the process.

In near-panic, Rick thrashed underwater, and managed to disengage himself. Once again, he came to the surface.

“Rick!” Gus flailed, then coughed, trying to keep his head up.

What the hell would a lifeguard do?

Gus head disappeared for a moment, his good hand beating the water. Rick glanced around and caught a flash of yellow from the corner of his eye. Gus’ nose and mouth reappeared, breathing in equal amounts of air and lake.

The kneeler. The kneeler floats.

He grabbed at the big rectangular cushion and snagged it.

Rick shoved the object toward where struggling hands beat the water to foam. “Gus! Gus! Grab it! Grab on!”

The one good hand slapped hard on the yellow cushion and grasped. It gave him enough added buoyancy to get his head above the riffles on the surface. He held onto the kneeler for dear life and wrapped both arms around it, coughing and gasping.

Meanwhile, Rick located the second cushion floating nearby. He swam a few clumsy strokes and then brought it over. “Here’s another one.”

Chest heaving, Gus shook his head. “You. Need. One,” he wheezed.

“I’ll be all right. Take it.”

The pianist didn’t argue further. He just took the added flotation and tried to breathe.

“Are you okay?” Rick asked, his voice full of concern.

Gus nodded. With both kneelers, he could keep his head and shoulders above water. “I’m so sorry.” He croaked.

“What for? This is my fault. I almost got you killed.” Rick was already kicking himself for this new disaster.

“Almost drowned you …I rocked the boat. Forgot where we were.” Gus shook his head.

“You weren’t the only one.”

Gus managed a weak smile. “I like the way you kiss.”

“But –" he protested.

“The boat!” Gus mourned. “Everything’s lost!”

“We haven’t lost much. Just about everything floats. The paddle, the reels, even the tackle box. It’s all designed to take a spill.”

“Where’s the canoe?”

“It’s floating upside down, behind you.”

Gus tried to twist so he could see without losing his balance. “Won’t it sink?”

“Nope. It’s got flotation material in it. It’ll maintain enough buoyancy, so it doesn’t go to the bottom.”

“Oh. So, what do we do?”

Rick considered. It was still a long way to shore. Would Gus go numb from the chill water before he could propel him there? He knew the theory of what he had to do. But it had been a good two decades since he’d actually tried it. “Can you float on your own for a few minutes?”

“What’s going on?” Gus’ voice had an edge to it.

“Nothing. I’m just going to right the canoe so we can get back in.” That was the plan, anyhow. Rick’s voice sounded a lot more confident than he felt.

“How can you do that?”

“Just watch. I want to be sure you’re going to be okay, though.”

The sun went under a cloud, and the darker man shivered. “Go ahead. As long as you know what you’re doing.”

Know what I’m doing? I’ve done it once or twice. A long time ago. “Good. I don’t think this will take long.”

Rick knew he had to hurry. He wasn’t worried about himself; but warm as the sun was, Gus could get dangerously chilled in the cold water. It wouldn’t take long at all. He swam with deliberate strokes over to where the canoe floated bottom side up, just showing above the surface of the lake. He held onto the stern of the craft and scanned the water.

Think, stupid.

He could see the various bits of gear floating about.

The paddle. Find the paddle.

Locating it, he swam off to retrieve that essential bit of equipment.

“Where are you going?” Gus called out behind him.

“Just getting the paddle,” he shouted back, raising the item into the air so the other man could see, as he was hidden by the capsized canoe.

Returning to it, Rick reached under and stashed the paddle inside. Taking a breath, Rick ducked underwater. He emerged in the air trapped beneath the canoe.

“Rick? Where are you? Are you okay?” Gus’s voice was muted and dim, but there was no mistaking the worry in its tone.

“I’m in here. It’s fine.” His own voice sounded hollow and amplified in the confined space. He wondered if this was what the inside of a violin was like. He hesitated: this wasn’t the instructional video he’d watched in Phys Ed class. God, I hope this works.

He tried to calm himself. He knew he had to turn the canoe to create an air gap. Next, he had to kick hard and lift by the thwarts, while immediately flipping the boat upright so it would land properly in the water. If he did everything perfectly, there would be very little water left inside. It worked in the school pool. It was one of the few things he did well in that senior gym class on outdoor ed.

Rick shook himself out of his reverie. He knew what he needed to do. Now it was time to do it. Taking a deep breath, he gathered himself and made a mighty kick. As if by magic, the boat rose from the water, droplets cascading from the gunwales. With a quick movement of his arm, the canoe flipped upright and landed on the water with a splash, bobbing once again on the lake. There was some water left in the boat, but he wasn’t going to worry about that.

“Whew! Hoo boy!” Rick panted as he clung to the gunwale.

“Bravo!” He heard Gus cheer on the other side.

“Hang on a second. I’ll come get you.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

Rick ignored this. Instead, hanging on to the boat, he worked his way to the stern, and then pulled the craft over toward Gus.

“Okay. This is the tricky part,” said Rick.

“More tricky than what you just did?”

“We need to get you into the boat.”

Gus blinked. “Right. How are we going to do that?”

“First, you’re going to hang on to the side of the canoe.”

“That means letting go of the cushions, doesn’t it?” Several silent moments passed as Gus hesitated. “All right. I’ll trust you.”

“But you’ll have to wait until I’m on the other side of the boat, so it doesn’t tip.”

“I understand: to keep it balanced.”

Rick moved around to the opposite side of the craft, temporarily losing sight of Gus. “You okay over there?” He called out.

“Fine. Getting cold.”

“All right, I want you to hang on the side and put as much weight on the gunwale as you can.”

“On the what?”

“The side rail of the canoe. I’m going to try and hoist myself onto the boat. Then I’ll help you in.”

“Okay.”

“Ready? On three –” Rick hoped Gus would hang on tight. “– two, three.” Rick kicked hard and pulled himself up; the canoe canted dangerously, but Gus clung on. Rick found himself bent over the canoe: his torso over the thwart, his legs over the side.

“Rick? Are you okay?”

“Yup. Fine.” Rick panted. “Now it’s your turn.”

“Are you sure? I don’t know –”

“It’ll work.” Rick tried his best to sound self-possessed. Assured. “Slide along the boat toward me a little.”

I can’t believe I got us into this mess in the first place. It has to work.

Rick was distracted by watching Gus’s fingers move closer along the gunwale. “Okay. Whenever you’re ready.”

At first, it wasn’t clear if Gus would make the attempt. An instant later, Rick felt the canoe rock, and Gus’s face and shoulder popped up over the edge. His arm strained to maintain a hold.

Unthinking, Rick reached over with his left arm to grasp Gus’ cast. “Try and get a leg up,” he grated.

Gus leaned and levered up his left foot to the gunwale; with his right hand, Rick grasped a dark-skinned ankle and hauled.

“Ow!” Gus cried as he tumbled into the canoe.

“Shit, are you okay?” Rick was oblivious to the rocking of the small craft.

With infinite caution, Gus sat up in the bottom of the boat. A half inch of water sloshed around him. “I think so.” He rubbed his elbow above his cast. “I scraped myself on the way in.”

“Oh my God, you got your cast wet.”

Gus smirked. “Wet?” The man giggled. “Try soaked. Drenched.”

“But your arm. It it –?"

“I think it’s okay. Sore, but okay. Damn, you have a hard grip.”

“We should get you to a doctor. A hospital.”

“Maybe. First, we should get you into the boat, don’t you think?”

“Oh, yeah.” He realized for the first time how uncomfortable his situation was. “You’d better move a bit.”

Gus scooched toward the bow while Rick pivoted on the gunwale.

He rolled and flopped into the canoe, landing between his friend’s feet. He had a wonderfully close view of two well-shaped, graceful legs. He glanced up at Gus, who smirked and raised an eyebrow, then burst out laughing.

“What a pair of gymnasts we are.” Rick sat up with a wry expression.

“Great fishermen gymnasts.” Gus corrected. “Speaking of which, is that a fishing rod floating over there?”

The light mood lasted even as they searched the surface of the lake for floating equipment. Gus’ sharp eyes spotted most of their debris. Rick felt lucky to be only missing the food bag and a single rubber sandal. But his thoughts darkened as he paddled back to the boat landing.

“I’m so sorry about this,” Rick apologized, possibly for the seven times seventh time.

“It’s not your fault.” Gus reassured him. “You’re a hero. You saved my life.”

Rick scowled. “By dunking you in the lake?”

Gus ignored this. “By rescuing me. You can tell I’m a rotten swimmer. I barely float.”

“I handed you a floating cushion.”

“Without it, I wouldn’t have lasted another minute. This thing weighs a ton in the water.” He held up his cast.

“Your cast; we should get it looked at.” Rick changed the subject.

“I’m supposed to see the orthopedic specialist in Chicago a little over a week from now. Probably it won’t matter.”

“Still. There’s a hospital with an emergency room about an hour away.”

“I doubt there’s anything wrong.”

“But we ought to be sure.” Rick knew how to be stubborn.

“All right, fine. You just want to see me in a hospital gown.”

There was none of the excitement of the morning as Rick pulled the canoe up at the boat landing, only a feeling of apprehension. He got the tie downs for the canoe tangled more than once. He cursed himself as he and Gus dumped reels, tackle box, paddle, and cushions into the back of the old truck without thought or ceremony.

Gus laid a hand on his arm. “It’s not going to be a problem, Rick. We really don’t have to go to the Emergency Room.”

Rick turned and met Gus’ eyes. “If we don’t go, I’ll never forgive myself. I don’t even want to think about your being hurt.”

Gus nodded. “Then let’s be on our way.”

“Okay, then.”

 

Five minutes later, Gus gripped the cracked red leatherette of the pickup’s passenger door armrest, recovering from a hefty jolt incurred as the truck vaulted over a heave in the dirt road.

“Um, Rick?” He raised his voice to be heard over the engine and road noise.

“What?”

The truck lunged forward on a straight stretch.

“I’m not bleeding.”

“You’re what?” Rick’s hands held the wheel tight.

“I said, I’m not bleeding.”

“Not bleeding?”

“We don’t have to be in quite such a hurry.”

“Oh. Right. Sorry.”

The hum of the engine slipped a few notes down the scale. Even so, stones kicked up by the tires rang off the underside of the old Chevy like a random percussion session.

“Let’s talk about something else, instead of how sorry we both are,” Gus suggested.

Rick managed a small smile but kept his eyes forward. “Good idea.”

The truck rattled over a rough stretch of road. Rick searched his mind for a topic of conversation as he barreled down the narrow, tree-covered lane. When they emerged from the green tunnel at the pavement, Rick signaled left and tromped on the gas.

“I’m not sorry I kissed you out there,” Gus said as the speedometer needle traced its clockwise arc.

Rick smiled, more broadly than before. “I’m not, either.”

“You’re very good at it.”

Rick felt himself flush. “You must be out of practice if you think so.”

“I think I’m a pretty good judge.”

“Well, I like kissing you back, if it means anything.”

“It means a great deal.”

Rick picked at his collar. Another vehicle whooshed by in the opposite direction.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Of course.” A note of caution crept into Gus’ voice.

“How did you do it?” Rick seemed to struggle with the words. “Come out to people, I mean.”

“It wasn’t a major event for me the way it is for some people,” Gus replied after a moment or two. “Piano, performance – music – these have been my life for so long. When I thought about sex at all – and what kid doesn’t? – my thoughts were about men, not women. So as a teenager, I knew I was gay.”

Rick brow furrowed. The tires sang as the truck negotiated a curve. “But how did you come out?”

“I was precocious. Zoltan and Magda got me into Juilliard when I was sixteen.”

“Wow.”

“The residence halls were a whole new world. There were students from every part of the earth, and lots of attractive guys who weren’t shy about who they liked. I didn’t really come out. I found my clan – my cohort. I made friends with other gay students, and it was completely easy, natural.”

“I guess you were pretty sheltered before.” Rick chanced a glance over at Gus.

“Zoltan and Magda had kept my nose hard at the grindstone – I wasn’t so much sheltered as kept incredibly busy. Lessons, practice, home schooling, more practice, master classes and then either a performance or attending a concert, or more practice. Magda would take me out for walks every day, for exercise, rain or shine.”

“Geez, it sounds like taking the dog out.”

“I felt that way sometimes. I once thought they sent me to Juilliard because I was able to walk so fast, Magda couldn’t keep up.”

“So college was easier?”

“I’m not sure I’d say it like that. They worked us just as hard at Juilliard as Magda and Zoltan did. But in the few free moments I had, I could choose – choose my friends, what to do with them, and where to go, if I felt I could.”

“And that’s where you met your, um, first boyfriend.”

“My only boyfriend. And my only ex-boyfriend, thank you.”

Rick absorbed this statement. “That’s hard to believe, that there was only one. You’re too… too great a person for that.” His words felt inadequate.

Gus let slip a mirthless chuckle. “I didn’t say weren’t other guys. But nobody like Jules.”

“That was his name?”

“Yeah. Jules de Kuyper, from far-off Mahwah, New Jersey.”

“Even New Jersey seems exotic to me. I’ve never been out of Wisconsin.”

“We met in the library. I was studying for a philosophy exam.”

“Philosophy? At music school?”

“You had to take core liberal education courses. They said it made your experience deeper, and I guess they were right. I learned a lot of things Magda and Zoltan would never have taught me.”

“So Jules swept you off your feet.”

“No, he was my friend. He helped me study. I let him teach me things. And he was funny; we laughed, even when we were exhausted from performance, or work, or anything else.” The smile in Gus’ reminiscence was plain in his voice.

“You were out to Magda and Zoltan back then?”

“Oh, yes. I told them.”

“How did they take the news?”

“Zoltan didn’t bat an eye. He just said, ‘So. You have a boyfriend, eh?’” Gus did a surprisingly good imitation of his manager’s Eastern European accent. ‘I had my suspicions. Now perhaps we should review your concert schedule for next month.’

“Was Jules a piano player?”

“No, a dancer. He had muscles in places you wouldn’t believe. Talk about athleticism …”

Rick winced. He could imagine. And in doing so, he suddenly felt inadequate by comparison. What the hell have I been thinking? What have I got to offer Gus?

“I hate him already.” The words slipped out of Rick’s mouth without thought.

Gus laughed, but it was tinged with a kind of rue. “It’s impossible to hate Jules. We disagreed, we even fought at the end, but I couldn’t hate him.”

“But he broke your heart.”

“More like I broke his, I think.”

Rick spent several miles of road digesting this. The northern woods whizzed by at a speed well over the limit posted. Banks of vetch and black-eyed susans passed in a blur.

“How did you … why did you …?” Rick couldn’t think how to form the words.

“Performing. Work.” Gus sighed. “Even though I was still in college at Juilliard, Zoltan booked me for performances, twice, sometimes three or four times a month. He was very careful about not conflicting with my recital and performance schedule at Juilliard, but my calendar started filling up. We stopped doing things together.

“I never seemed to have the time for him. Jules complained that we were roommates, not boyfriends. He was right. It was so easy to get focused on my brilliant career, my bright future; to get completely self-absorbed in becoming maestro Gustavo Morales. Instead, I let someone who loved me walk away.”

Rick nodded. Work and busy-ness had dulled his own pain for years. Nobody got inside, not until Gus.

“And what about you? Who’s the man in your past?” Gus asked.

Rick barked out a single laugh. “There’s nobody in my past. No one worth remembering.”

“Bad breakup?”

“I never really had a first. I had a … I don’t know … a stupid crush. It didn’t work out.” And I’ve spent a lifetime trying to forget about it.

“I can’t believe there wasn’t anyone else. You went to college, right?”

“Yeah. I got out of Eagle Lake for a couple of years. I went to West Valley Tech; studied construction trades. I got certificates for plumbing, HVAC, and electrical work. I could have taught some of the classes, I think.”

“You didn’t meet someone then?”

“Oh, I met a few guys.” Rick’s voice was bitter. “Usually in the men’s room of a bar as far out of the way from the college as I could get. It’s about all I’m worth. I’m not any kind of a catch.”

It was Gus’ turn to be silent.

“Look, I’m know I’m a coward. Eagle Lake isn’t New York, and there isn’t any kind of community for a gay man out here. Anyway, I never could bring myself to come out.”

“I’m not saying you should have.”

Rick wasn’t listening. He went on. “I can do the math; I get there have to be other guys like me in town. I just don’t know any of them. Being honest, I can’t see why any of them would be interested in me, anyways.”

“I can think of several reasons.”

“Sorry. I wasn’t fishing.” Rick said.

“And I’m not biting, either.”

Gus’ little joke lightened the mood in the truck.

A few moments later, he observed, “Looks like we’re coming into a town.”

“Great Forge, Michigan. We crossed the border back there.”

“I thought you said you’d never been out of Wisconsin,” said Gus, puzzled.

Rick shrugged. “This is the Upper Peninsula. Doesn’t count.”

The houses thickened rapidly. Grassy roadside turned into mowed lawns. They passed through a neighborhood of faux Tudor-style suburban houses. “The hospital isn’t far. We just have to get to the other side of town.”

The main street in Great Forge hosted the usual array of insurance agencies, banks, and law offices. All was predictably quiet on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Rick drove through a yellow light opposite the New Hope Ministries Thrift Store. Before long, commercial lots gave way to residences again.

“It’s along here, somewhere,” Rick murmured, peering at signs.

“It really doesn’t matter.”

“Let’s not go into that again. Anyway, we’re here.” Rick signaled left. A long, yellow brick two story building appeared behind a row of spruces.

A blue and white lettered sign surrounded in sprightly purple petunias pointed them to parking for the Emergency Room.

“Not very a busy looking place,” Gus mused as Rick eased the truck into one of the many open slots.

“Different from Chicago?”

“God, yes. When my wrist was broken, the ride to Northwestern Hospital was agony; the cabdriver took the chance to prove his credentials as a stunt driver. And Zoltan shouting into the phone the whole way didn’t make it any better.”

Rick got out. “Let me get the door for you.”

“I’m not hurt. I can do it.”

Gus protested to no avail. Rick hustled around to the passenger side.

“You’re such a gentleman,” Gus laughed as he slid out of the old Chevy.

“I just don’t want anything to go wrong; not more than it already has.”

“I’m not worried. They just have to check my wrist out and yell at me about my cast.”

Heavy steel and glass automatic doors swished open, and they proceeded into the emergency intake area. Rick noticed several others there. A white-haired woman waited with an overweight younger man whose crutches rested on the chair beside him; a couple who could not have been out of their teens sat, eyes glued to the television hanging in the corner. Three young children clustered around a harried looking mother with grey streaked hair.

A large hand-lettered sign directed them to check in with security. Rick led the way to where a round, beefy individual in a grey-green uniform frowned up at them from his seat. A handgun in its holster was visible despite the roll of excess flesh straining against the material of his shirt.

“What’s the reason for your visit?” The guard inquired of Rick.

“My friend needs someone to check out his wrist. His cast got wet.”

“Uh-huh.”

“We had a boating accident. I kind of capsized us.”

“Actually, it was my fault,” Gus put in.

This earned the darker man a penetrating glance from the guard. He turned back to Rick.

“What’s your vehicle?”

“A Chevy Silverado. 1994.”

The guard peered at a screen showing a camera’s eye view of the parking lot. “Plate number?”

“Wisconsin plate, 816-RDV.” Rick rattled off the information. He squirmed, knowing that Gus and he weren’t a pretty sight. The looked kind of unkempt and bedraggled.

The guard filled in a form with methodical, pudgy fingers. He squinted up at them, as if memorizing details, then pointed to a desk marked Admissions.

A weary looking woman with her hair tied in a bun beckoned them over from behind a computer screen.

“Which one of you is being seen today?” she asked without preamble.

“I am.” Gus raised his cast. It was already badly frayed.

“Name?”

“Morales. Gustavo Morales.”

Rick loved the way Gus’ voice enunciated his own name. The beauty of it seemed to escape his interrogator’s notice.

“Have you visited a facility in the Peninsula Health System before?”

“No. I’m from Chicago.”

The woman sighed. “Address?”

Rick shifted his weight from foot to foot, as Gus responded to an eternal list of questions. The hairs on the back of his neck rose; he felt as if he were being watched. He glanced over at the security desk to find the uniformed officer staring back.

“What’s your insurance?” Rick’s ears perked up.

“I’m sorry, but I don’t know.” Gus answered.

“You have your insurance card?”

“No. It’s back home. I went out fishing, and I didn’t think to bring it along.”

“You’re uninsured?” She asked in a near whine.

The guard swiveled his head in their direction, listening.

“I’m with United Healthcare, I know that.” Gus volunteered, flashing a smile.

“You have any ID?”

“Sorry, no. Not with me.”

“Does it matter if I have insurance? I can take care of it.” Rick offered.

“Are you related?”

“We’re friends. I’m from Eagle Lake, Wisconsin.”

“But he’s not on your insurance.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Gus hissed.

“I’ll guarantee you’ll get paid.” Rick overrode him.

“What’s your name?” she inquired, turning to Rick.

The questions droned on and the keyboard clacked as he added his data to that provided by Gus. If anything, she seemed to ask Rick more questions than she had asked his companion earlier. Finally satisfied, she pointed the pair to the waiting area with the perfunctory assurance that someone would be with them soon.

“How about here?” Rick asked.

“Looks all the same to me.”

They took possession of a couple of chairs in the corner facing the television.

An end table to Rick’s left was littered with dog-eared and long-outdated copies of In Touch, Sports Illustrated and People. Someone had left a half-filled Styrofoam cup of coffee behind.

“I hate waiting rooms,” Rick muttered.

“The ER in Chicago was a zoo. Complete chaos. This is a morgue by comparison,” Gus joked.

“It must have taken a long time to see anyone.”

“Not really. Zoltan had called ahead for a specialist he knew. We were whisked into examination in maybe twenty minutes, no more.”

“Wow, you’re really lucky. I remember having to wait hours to get stitches in my thumb about ten years back.”

“Zoltan has influence and contacts.” Gus made a wry face.

A nurse in a pink uniform appeared at a set of double doors. “Williams?” She called.

The mother with her collection of children rose and hastened over, her progeny trailing in her wake. They disappeared.

“Hey, look.” Gus gestured with his head at the television.

Rick looked at the television. A preternatural green glared back. Baseball. A player in grey stepped into the batter’s box. The legend at the bottom of the screen declared Brewers 1, Yankees 4.

“Huh. Interleague play. Guess the Brew Crew’s just warming up.”

“Or Tanaka’s getting lazy.”

“Probably. It’s only the top of the fourth.”

They settled in to watch. Rick felt torn as the Brewers went down in order in the bottom of the inning. He hated to see the Brewers tanking another game, but Gus’ smile seemed worth the abject failure of the top of batting order.

While earlier patients were called in, Gus and Rick waited. Rick squirmed as the Yankees put runners on the corners and scored another run in the fifth on Torres’ weak single to left field. Their time in the waiting room crawled by. The game wound on in its slow, stately way. The Brewers used two pitching changes and an intentional walk to snuff out the Yankees’ rally. By the seventh inning stretch, shadows could be seen in the televised views of Miller Park.

“I think that pretty well wraps it up.” Gus grinned.

The sound of their conversation caused the big man at the security desk to peer in their direction again.

Rick shrugged. “We’ll see. There’s time left.”

“Sure there is. Plenty of time for the Yankees to score another five runs.”

He made a wry face but didn’t disagree. His team had other plans, however. As the first patients left the waiting room and were replaced by more, a late game rally took hold in the bottom of the eighth.

“Ouch. That must have hurt.” Rick commented when the Brewers’ leadoff batter was hit by a pitch.

Five minutes later, Gus groaned as Perez dribbled a single down the first base line, and Spangenberg sprinted all the way to third as the Yankees fumbled the ball, putting runners on the corners.

“Told you. You didn’t believe me. Now they need a fireman.”

The ritual drama of the Yankee’s manager strolling to the mound ensued. Tanaka’s day was over. A new right-hander came out of the bullpen, and after the inevitable commercial break, proceeded to strike out the next Brewer to come to the plate after taking him deep into the count.

Gus leaned over. “Want to bet the Yanks win?”

“What’s the bet?” Rick asked.

“I’ll think of something.” The smaller man smirked.

The Yankees chose to walk the next Brewer intentionally, loading the bases for the top of the order. The Brewer’s first baseman took his time stepping up to the plate. The crowd noise at Miller Park filled the waiting room.

“Nice pitch.” Gus encouraged the figure on the screen after the first strike.

Rick watched intently, saying nothing.

The next pitch was a changeup, and the batter swung far too soon.

Two strikes.

The next pitch was a low slider, just missing the outside corner. Another pitch, outside and away. Two balls, two strikes. The television camera zoomed in on the young Yankee reliever. His eyes gleamed as he leaned in for the sign and nodded. Again, the set, the motion, and the fluid uncoiling of the pitcher’s body, launching the ball on its path to the plate.

Ball three.

Miller Park was in an uproar. “I’ll take that bet.” Rick grinned.

Another pitch, and this time the crack of wood on leather was clearly audible from the speakers in the corner of the waiting area. The ball arced high in a long, graceful path to the left field stands. Foul ball.

Now both Gus and Rick sat, eyes glued to the screen.

The next pitch was fouled off behind home plate.

The Yankees’ pitcher paused in his work to wipe his brow. He studied the dirt at his feet. His hands brought glove and ball to his chest as he communicated wordlessly with the masked catcher about the next pitch. A shake of the head, a blink; then a nod. The next pitch would decide the game.

“Mr. Morales? Gustavo Morales?” A clear, penetrating voice emanating from a pink-uniformed nurse filled the waiting area. That voice brooked no hesitation or contradiction. “This way, please.”

I continue to feel indebted to @AC Benus and @Carlos Hazday for their help in making this story better than it would have been otherwise. If you have observations or comments to leave, please know that I enjoy reading what you think.

Copyright © 2020 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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Why is it, with Gus' future playing piano threatened, the baseball game is what stuck in mind? I was at  Miller Park, on the old Harley-Davidson deck, rooting against the Yankees. 😁

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2 hours ago, Carlos Hazday said:

Why is it, with Gus' future playing piano threatened, the baseball game is what stuck in mind? I was at  Miller Park, on the old Harley-Davidson deck, rooting against the Yankees. 😁

Perhaps it's the game and its internal tension which distracts us from the darker question of Gus' ability to make music. I can imagine you at that game, too. Many, many thanks!

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1 hour ago, 84Mags said:

After the last chapter I wondered about Gus’ cast and his phone. Guess I should have considered whether or not he could swim! 
Rich and Gus compliment each other’s personalities. With each interaction they learn more about the other and form a deeper bond. It is pretty easy to fall for someone when you are in romantic situations and have a lazy summer by a lake for the backdrop. However, working together during a crisis oftentimes either cements or destroys a budding relationship. The plunge into the icy lake and subsequent visit to the ER bodes well for these two. It seems they have what it takes to overcome any roadblocks Rita, Heinrich, Zoltan, Magda or even Willy toss their way. 

Every time something goes awry, Rick is quick to blame himself and fear the worst. Yet it seems that these hurdles only serve to give Gus and Rick more to talk about, more to experience with each other. You are right that these men compliment each other. Neither seems willing to unhook and let the other swim free. Thank you very much for your thoughts and comments.

Edited by Parker Owens
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1 hour ago, Headstall said:

Damn! I wanted to see the Yankees lose! Seriously, a captivating chapter, Parker. I was enthralled during their predicament, and could actually feel their relationship advance, although I also sensed Gus sees the challenges ahead with a man who sees himself the way Rick does. Still, Rick showed his mettle, and his determination to put Gus first, and that is absolutely seductive. :)  Cheers!

I'm sure that Rick would be the first to cheer if the Yankees collapse in the eighth. Gus is unlikely to sulk in that event, but I can bet the two men would have plenty of remarks to trade in any case. Despite what's happened, Gus and Rick are still together. You're good to observe that despite his undeniable kindness, any kind of relationship with Rick may prove to have its challenges. Rick feels awful about what happened, and he's horrified that he put Gus in jeopardy. He has made Gus his overriding priority, so perhaps Gus will find a way to make Rick understand he's forgiven. Many thanks for reading and for your insights.

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30 minutes ago, Valkyrie said:

Great chapter!  Their relationship is progressing and they're learning more about each other.  Gus will do wonders for Rick's confidence.  I think Rick will come out at some point... I just hope it's on his terms.  

The more they learn about one another, the more Rick and Gus seem happier together. You're right that Gus has already bolstered Rick's confidence and spirits. Rick seems to open windows for Gus, too. As for coming out, Rick would need some very great force or event to propel him into doing so. Many thanks for your thoughts, and for reading this chapter!

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Interesting way for the two to find out more about each other.As I hear Rick tell Gus more about his past I can't help but think the Willy Kohler incident will rear it's ugly head pretty soon. I could see the incident come in to play if it becomes apparent that Rita's project is a scam.Then Gus would find out about  it but I think it's clear he would have a lot of compassion.

You better tell us who won the game next chapter.You could have had Lyin Fraud er..Ryan Braun batting for the Brewers then I would already know the Yankees won

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2 hours ago, Parker Owens said:

Every time something goes awry, Rick is quick to blame himself and fear the worst. Yet it seems that these hurdles only serve to give Gus and Rick more to talk about, more to experience with each other. You are right that these men compliment each other. Neither seems willing to unhook and let the other swim free. Thank you very much for your thoughts and comments.

And I have noticed that as he has more positive interactions with Gus, Rick’s negative self talk has been a bit less harsh and easier to dispel. 

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@weinerdog Rick wants Willy Kohler to be buried, as deeply as possible, and to stay that way. I agree with you that Gus would very likely show a very great deal of compassion, should he ever know what happened to Rick that summer. Gus and Rick have been whisked into the medical system, so their attention may be diverted for a while. Thanks very much for reading this chapter, and for your comments. 

Edited by Parker Owens
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26 minutes ago, 84Mags said:

And I have noticed that as he has more positive interactions with Gus, Rick’s negative self talk has been a bit less harsh and easier to dispel. 

Yes. Gus really is a wonderful friend for Rick. 

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Another great chapter without the severe weather warnings, somehow I have to wonder if the 'Golden Fish' is something else...still waiting to be reeled in. I fear there are storm clouds, dark, dangerous ones ominously gathering on the horizon...

Five minutes later, Gus gripped the cracked red leatherette of the pickup’s passenger door armrest, recovering from a hefty jolt incurred as the truck vaulted over a heave in the dirt road.

But then again...could Rick be the 'Golden Fish'??? Gus no doubt is hooked...line and sinker!!!

“Um, Rick?” He raised his voice to be heard over the engine and road noise.

“What?”

The truck lunged forward on a straight stretch.

“I’m not bleeding.”

“You’re what?” Rick’s hands held the wheel tight.

“I said, I’m not bleeding.”

“Not bleeding?”

“We don’t have to be in quite such a hurry.”

“Oh. Right. Sorry.”

 

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1 hour ago, drsawzall said:

Another great chapter without the severe weather warnings, somehow I have to wonder if the 'Golden Fish' is something else...still waiting to be reeled in. I fear there are storm clouds, dark, dangerous ones ominously gathering on the horizon...

Five minutes later, Gus gripped the cracked red leatherette of the pickup’s passenger door armrest, recovering from a hefty jolt incurred as the truck vaulted over a heave in the dirt road.

But then again...could Rick be the 'Golden Fish'??? Gus no doubt is hooked...line and sinker!!!

“Um, Rick?” He raised his voice to be heard over the engine and road noise.

“What?”

The truck lunged forward on a straight stretch.

“I’m not bleeding.”

“You’re what?” Rick’s hands held the wheel tight.

“I said, I’m not bleeding.”

“Not bleeding?”

“We don’t have to be in quite such a hurry.”

“Oh. Right. Sorry.”

 

The Golden Fish were meant to be Gus and Rick, who have certainly caught one another. But will they let each other go? Rick feels terrible after allowing Gus to be in such danger. Anything on the horizon must take second (or third) place to Gus’ well being in his eyes. Thanks very much for reading, and for your thoughts. 

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A baseball cliffy !?!  I am sure Zoltan will not be happy with these turn of events and will probably attempt to curtail meetings between Gus and Rick! Plus I have the distinct feeling Rita and Heinrick are  "on deck" waiting to pounce! 

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1 hour ago, KayDeeMac said:

A baseball cliffy !?!  I am sure Zoltan will not be happy with these turn of events and will probably attempt to curtail meetings between Gus and Rick! Plus I have the distinct feeling Rita and Heinrick are  "on deck" waiting to pounce! 

You mean you think the Yankees might possibly lose? It’s a pity Gus and Rick will miss the end of the game, though. Zoltan will hardly be pleased at this turn of events. Add in Heinrich and Rita, and you’ve made up a very difficult batting order to face, with no reliever in the bullpen. Thank you for your observations, and for continuing to read this story. 

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I just binged the first 25 chapters and I’m  starting to feel like a drug addict. The characters seems so real that I’ll be sad not to meet them one day. The pacing and the dialogue are pitch perfect. Reading this story makes me feel like I’m floating out on a lake and enjoying the sunshine on my face. This addiction is bad. I gotta make a plan.

Plan A - Read chapter 26. Okay, nope, that failed. 

Plan B - Imagine what’s going to happen next. Anddd that only makes the addiction problem 100x worse.

Plan C - Start screaming and not stop until the next chapter comes out.

Joking aside, I’ll have to go read more of your stuff. So far everything I’ve read I’ve enjoyed thoroughly.

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1 hour ago, headtransplant said:

I just binged the first 25 chapters and I’m  starting to feel like a drug addict. The characters seems so real that I’ll be sad not to meet them one day. The pacing and the dialogue are pitch perfect. Reading this story makes me feel like I’m floating out on a lake and enjoying the sunshine on my face. This addiction is bad. I gotta make a plan.

Plan A - Read chapter 26. Okay, nope, that failed. 

Plan B - Imagine what’s going to happen next. Anddd that only makes the addiction problem 100x worse.

Plan C - Start screaming and not stop until the next chapter comes out.

Joking aside, I’ll have to go read more of your stuff. So far everything I’ve read I’ve enjoyed thoroughly.

Please accept my thanks for your very kind words. I will not add to your speculation addiction, but will beg you instead to save your voice. Rick and Gus were having such a lovely day until their untimely dunk in Butternut Lake. Even though Rick feels horribly guilty about Gus’ near-tragedy, both men have edged ever closer through it. Perhaps that’s the best outcome. That you should feel the warm sun and cold lake in these pages makes me smile. Thanks again. 

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Since I have been living in Brazil I have discovered two things I like very much about the country: 1. The warm weather is very kind to my old bones and 2. The public health system. Brazil has universal free health care, the only things you pay for are some prescription medications and those are always charged at the 'generic' rate. Whet you go to a clinic you just have to fill out a one page form and show an ID card that says you are a permanent resident, there is even a rule that says elderly patients are moved ahead of the waiting line (for which I qualify). I have been to a clinic once for a mild case of 'the shits', I was in a bed within 10 minutes with a drip for fluid replacement, and except for the two men arguing politics (in Portuguese) in the room next door, spent a relaxing four days before I was wheeled out of the door and loaded into our car to go home. I have also had some dental work done, just cleaning and polishing because, thank you Lord, my teeth are immune to decay. So here I am 89years old, with all my teeth, all my hair, moderately good vision, and retaining most of my brain power.

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2 hours ago, Will Hawkins said:

Since I have been living in Brazil I have discovered two things I like very much about the country: 1. The warm weather is very kind to my old bones and 2. The public health system. Brazil has universal free health care, the only things you pay for are some prescription medications and those are always charged at the 'generic' rate. Whet you go to a clinic you just have to fill out a one page form and show an ID card that says you are a permanent resident, there is even a rule that says elderly patients are moved ahead of the waiting line (for which I qualify). I have been to a clinic once for a mild case of 'the shits', I was in a bed within 10 minutes with a drip for fluid replacement, and except for the two men arguing politics (in Portuguese) in the room next door, spent a relaxing four days before I was wheeled out of the door and loaded into our car to go home. I have also had some dental work done, just cleaning and polishing because, thank you Lord, my teeth are immune to decay. So here I am 89years old, with all my teeth, all my hair, moderately good vision, and retaining most of my brain power.

I salute you, my friend. I hope I reach 89 as hale and hearty as you. And, may I add, kind. Your comments have been unfailingly engaging and interesting. Thank you. 

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