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  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
  • Shadowgod - Almost Home
    Parker Owens
  • Author
  • 2,761 Words
  • 1,814 Views
  • 27 Comments

Double Concerto - 6. Pensato

There are no warnings necessary for this chapter.

Humiliation chased Rick northwards from Milwaukee through the predawn darkness. He drove like a madman in the night.

This was bad luck. You've just had a string of bad luck. You did this at the last minute. People make plans, do their bookings ahead of time. You should have known that, idiot. No, you had to be a moron, and do everything on impulse.

Rick's bitter inner monologue went on for mile after mile. You should have made a plan. You need to make arrangements days or a week before you head down. You always gave Marshall two week's warning, remember? Idiot. You really didn't think you could pick someone up at a fucking bar, did you? God, Dad's right. You really do need supervision.

But he hadn't planned his sudden need; hadn't planned this urge to get away from himself in a fashion he understood far too well, but couldn't control. Something about the caramel-skinned piano teacher at Cedarcrest just got to him. If he'd stayed any longer in that sunlit living room, he'd have screwed up everything in his whole life. He'd wanted to stay and get closer to the man, find some way to establish a friendship.

Shit, admit it to yourself, you just wanted him, just like you’ve wanted other guys before. Remember that farm hand out in Crescent Junction?

He blinked his eyes trying to forget. How foolish he’d been to get caught staring on the job.

It was ever more stupid to even think of the piano teacher. Any kind of unwanted attention – hell, flirting with a customer – especially in his own clumsy, stupid way – would have pissed off the tenants at the old Kohler estate. And then the word would spread through Eagle Lake, like a swift, unstoppable tide. There were enough stiff-necked conservatives in town to make him uncomfortable, that was certain. And God knows what would happen if gossip about Rick making advances to a man got back to the old curmudgeon in Arizona. The business would collapse, and he'd lose what little family he still possessed.

The sun was up and over the eastern horizon by the time he finally decided to stop about an hour south of Eagle Lake for gas and something to eat.

Both the old Chevrolet and his stomach were running on empty.

Rick knew he must have looked like hell, but the smell of bacon wafting from the back of the Welcome Home Family Restaurant kitchen drew him in. Rick was hungry. He took in the inevitable chain restaurant décor – this location featured a nostalgic nineteen sixties theme. The place wasn't crowded. Just a few early customers sat scattered across the dining area; a handful perched high on the stools at the counter.

The sign by the door told Rick to seat himself, so he did. A booth along the front window facing the parking lot was empty; he took a spot. He didn't have long to wait.

"Hi, I'm Amy, and I'll be taking care of you this morning." An altogether too-perky voice sounded at his shoulder. He turned his head to see a lively young woman in the pink restaurant uniform smiling down at him. Welcome Home Family Restaurant was an efficient place, anyway.

"Coffee," he croaked. Rick cleared his throat. "Coffee, please. Black. And a couple of eggs, scrambled, and two pieces of whole wheat toast."

"Well you certainly know what you want this morning." The petite young thing laughed.

"Guess so." He tried to smile back. The waitress retreated to get his order. I did know what I wanted. Or at least, I thought I did. I should know better. God, I must look like a wreck. Rick shook his head for about the millionth time.

It took less than a minute for the girl – Amy, that was her name - to return with coffee. "Your breakfast will be ready in a couple of minutes, okay?"

Coffee lived up to its reputation as one of the miracle drugs of all time. The bitter, hot liquid spread a bright sort of fire down Rick's gullet. Within sixty seconds, his outlook on life seemed more tolerable and the weight on his heart just a little bit lighter. The new day looked better, even though Rick knew he'd made a mess of the last twenty-four hours. He sighed.

I'll survive. But I might not enjoy it.

Rick stared out the window into the parking lot. He pondered what might have been if Marshall was still living in Milwaukee. He'd have parked in the driveway of the small, older brick home in an aging suburb. Nothing about the place was remarkable; everything from the tidy shrubs to the white faux paneled front door was so very ordinary. Yet inside, Marshall's home practically vibrated with warmth and cozy hospitality. Even that very first time, when he was so nervous, he was quickly put at ease in that house. Marshall would have offered him a gentle kiss, and a drink – in that order. Then, Rick would have been bustled to the shower, while the massage table was made ready. Later, when Rick was sufficiently relaxed, Marshall would lead him to another room with a very comfortable bed.

And later, maybe Marshall would have helped him make sense of his life and his feelings for a certain piano teacher. He could actually hear the man's soft voice in his mind:

"Rick, Rick, what makes you think he's out of your league? I've told you before, you're a beautiful man."

“You tell all your customers that.”

“Stop it. That’s not true.”

"Marshall, I don't even know if he's…you know…"

"Come on, Rick, you can say it: Gay. You don't know if he's gay. So what?"

"But…"

"No buts, Rick. If you wring your hands and hide out in the basement, you'll never know, will you?"

“Know what?”

“If he’s interested.”

“With my track record, he’ll be a fire-breathing fundamentalist.”

“So you’ve been unlucky.”

“Like the Brewers are ‘unlucky.’ Right. There’s such a thing as being cursed.”

“You’re so funny. He might be the one to change your tune.”

"Or, he might take offense and when word gets out in little old Eagle Lake, I'm fried and the business is toast. There are some real wackos up there – my dad was one of them."

"Well, even if he's not interested, you'll have at least started doing something about yourself."

Of course, that conversation never happened. But Rick felt sure Marshall would have tried very hard to help. The man actually made him believe, if only for a little while. Rick couldn't resist a small smile. Things were simple to Marshall. Rick knew life was more complex, yet he appreciated the man, and the advice he very probably would have given.

What had made him disappear? If he’d moved, wouldn’t he have left some kind of message? Maybe he found the love of his life.

He was still pondering when his plate of eggs and toast arrived; his coffee was refilled. There was promise in the day. Maybe.

"Thanks, Amy." Rick made it a point to be friendly. He liked learning about other people. It helped him focus outside himself. "Must be hard doing the early shift."

The waitress smiled. "It's not so bad. I'm taking classes at the community college, so this shift fits my schedule."

"Summer school?"

"Absolutely," she nodded. "If I can get through my degree faster, then I can get a better job sooner."

Rick nodded. He understood. "What degree?"

"Accounting. People always need accountants."

"You're right about that. Keeping the books is always tricky."

The girl smiled back at him. "Aww, it's not so hard. Anyway, let me know if you need anything else." Amy the waitress bounced away.

Rick started in on his breakfast. He was hungry, now. Ravenous, in fact. He demolished the eggs in short order, and used one of his toast slices to mop up the leftover bits on the plate. Rick was about to take a bite of his second slice when he heard an unmistakable voice behind him.

"Are you sure the tax was figured right, dear?"

He froze. He didn't hear the reply – the voice came from the general region of the cash register.

“There isn’t an extra half percent in this county, is there?”

He was not going to turn and look. The voice was unmistakable. Rick was in no mood to be recognized by Rita McKee so early in the morning. He didn’t even want to think about what questions she might ask.

"It's just that I thought the discount card applied here, right?"

What the hell is she doing here? A sense of annoyance and exasperation flooded through Rick's brain. And why can't she just pay up and get out? God, that voice could cut down an oak tree.

Apparently, the cashier had similar thoughts – capitulation was the best way to send Rita McKee on her way, and whatever small change she was demanding was worth it. "Oh, I'm sorry. That card is so old, the system didn't want to take it. Let me do it manually."

“If you’d hurry, I’ve got a full schedule today.”

Since when was ‘thank you’ outlawed?

Rick involuntarily cringed down into his seat.

A moment or two later, the owner of the voice emerged from the restaurant and entered Rick's view from the window. He hoped she would not turn and look behind her left shoulder at the window. Rita McKee looked her usual, professional self: smart, stylish skirt and blazer. She passed a hand over her hair, trying to pacify a stray strand, the only indicator of how early a morning it must have been for her. She paused outside on the walkway. Was she waiting for someone?

A moment later, he had his answer.

Another woman, similarly dressed, followed Rita out of the restaurant.

Must have had some sort of business breakfast meeting. Realtors. Funny, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to work with Rita. Rick made a face.

It appeared to have been a good meeting. The two women chatted, smiling and laughing. Rita’s companion grasped her arm and leaned in to share a very private word. Rita smiled and nodded. They hugged for a moment, then walked together across the parking lot.

He watched as Rita came to a halt. She stood stock still for a moment, staring.

Oh hell. Has she spotted my truck?

The woman looked around, eyes searching.

Rick cowered, shifting away from the window, trying hard to be invisible.

Rita must have wondered something. But then the other woman must have called out a farewell or something – Rick could see her wave – and Rita turned back to her acquaintance.

Rick wasted no time in getting out of view. He rose and walked straight to where the sign indicated a men's room. He'd be safe enough there. It was pure cowardice, but he could outwait Rita McKee in the stall, he was certain.

Ten minutes later, Rick emerged, peering around the corner of the passage to the main dining area with cautious eyes. Rita was nowhere in sight. He breathed a little easier.

Soon, fully fed and refueled, Rick turned the truck northward again toward home, and another day of work. At least Irene would be pleased to see him back on the job so promptly.

 

Back in Eagle Lake, Rick stopped at his house to throw on a quick change of clothes and grab the keys to the van. He'd shave later.

He got right into his work – he nearly threw himself into it. The footings and pipes at the Henderson place got finished off and he did the work to open up the cottage on West Bay. With those crossed off his list, he sped down to Grace Bulow's on the east side of town to install a new dishwasher. Actually, he was re-installing it, after the big-box store she'd bought it from botched the job the first time. Later, there were a couple of summer cabins out of town and up the river that needed him to do the usual kinds of early season chores.

In a couple of weeks, every one of these houses would be occupied with vacationers and weekenders, he reflected.

Rick congratulated himself on surviving the morning without mishap. There was time for a late lunch, and then he'd see about checking out a refrigeration pipe in the cool room at Kristie's Big Cuts grocery. Their meat department, and its large, well-stocked cool room, were Jim Kristie's claim to fame. In the heat of the June afternoon, he'd be glad to feel a little chilly.

Rick stopped off at Jahnke's for a sandwich – he hadn't taken time to make himself anything that morning. Before he went in, he took out his phone and logged onto the cruising app he’d used the night before.

You’ve gotta stop doing this. It’s pointless.

The tiny map on the screen showed exactly four profiles of men within a thirty-mile radius. Rick sighed. There was the guy down in Springfield who was a boor, someone in Rushing Creek who never showed any activity, a person purporting to be a forty-year-old in Wauhena with a picture that Rick knew for certain came from an underwear website – and himself.

There are more moose than gay men in this part of the world. Maybe I'll take the canoe out tonight. Some time on the lake would do me good.

In a way, the resolve lifted his spirits. He closed the app, switched off his phone and got out of the van.

The lunch crowd had thinned out, and Rick was the only customer at the long counter. He had his pick of high stools on which to perch.

The taste of turkey club and root beer flooded Rick's mouth with salt and sweetness. Food took the edge off his weariness, he found, though he certainly didn't feel any lighter. Maybe water with lemon would have been a better choice instead of root beer.

Rick sighed.

He took another healthy bite as he heard the bell chime with the front door to the diner opening behind him.

"Ricky! There you are!" An all-too-familiar voice shattered the illusion of a lovely day. He had the sudden feeling of being hunted and cornered.

Geez. Twice in one day. I must have won the anti-lottery.

"Hi, Rita," Rick said, turning.

"I knew I'd find you here!" she went on, oblivious to the unenthusiastic greeting. "I've left you two messages on that phone of yours."

Rick passed a hand over his face. Would she say something about seeing his truck that morning? Or had she truly missed it? But what he said in reply was, "What do you need?"

"Oh, you're such a guy, Ricky. What makes you think I need something?"

Rick shrugged, suddenly very tired. "I don't know, just a guess. So…?"

"Well, you're right in a way, Ricky, I do need something. I need…" Rita paused in her gush for dramatic effect. "I need you, Ricky darling, tonight, at six thirty on the dot."

"What for?" Rick frowned.

"What for? Because I want to take you out to dinner tonight, you silly man." Rita leaned forward and placed a hand on his forearm. "Because I've been promising you and promising you, and you haven't been very forthcoming about making a date, Ricky."

"You don't have to…"

"Nonsense, Ricky. I've been waiting for you to call, and I know you're so busy because of all the different jobs you've been doing for me, but tonight is very good for me, and I was hoping it would be good for you, too." Her tone somehow changed magically to pleading by the time she ran out of air.

He didn't want to do it. But maybe if he agreed, and was his usual dull, indifferent self, she'd back off. Maybe if he went on a date, his father would back off, too. "Sure. Fine. Where?"

Rita wagged a finger in front of him. "Ah, ah, that's my secret. Just make sure you're all dressed in your best by six. I'll be picking you up. My company car is a lot more comfy than your van."

"Now, wait a second…"

"And Ricky, don't you think it's high time you gave me your address? I can't pick you up without it."

Rick sighed again, another protracted, unhappy exhale. It was going to be a very long afternoon.

@AC Benus and @Carlos Hazday deserve my great thanks for their help and advice with this story. If you feel moved to leave a comment, I'll be glad to read what you have to say.

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



1 hour ago, Carlos Hazday said:

Between his father, Rita, the Brewers, and Kohler's ghosts, Rick can't catch a break. The poor man deserves some light in his life.

Rick's memories haven't been kind to him, and neither has the present, it seems. At least there was coffee in the morning, and plenty of work to do. Many thanks for your thoughts.

Edited by Parker Owens
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5 hours ago, pvtguy said:

What a way to start the day!  Rita in the morning and Rita in the night?  Yuck!  At least Rick was able to construct what might have been a very helpful discussion with Marshall.  If only he would listen to and act upon that advice... 

Rick definitely seems to have won that anti-lottery he groused about to himself. I'm glad that you liked what Marshall might have said to Rick, even if it's only in his imagination. Rick hasn't often felt safe in stepping forward before, however. Thank you very much for reading, and for your comments.

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4 hours ago, Mawgrim said:

Wonder what Rita ws up to? Maybe it was just a dodgy deal; something that she wanted to keep away from home, or maybe she has some secrets and chatting up Rick is just a front to divert attention. Can't wait for the next instalment.

That's an interesting question, and you supply a number or possible answers. Rick just wants to remain unseen, get back to work, and try to live his life. Of course, Rita didn't much want to help with that, did she?  Thanks very much for reading, and for your response.

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2 hours ago, Headstall said:

I was on the edge of my seat when Rita was at the restaurant in the morning... felt as trapped as Rick, which is a compliment to your writing. So much relief when he managed to avoid her, and then you do it to me again. :huh:  *shudders*  It was heartbreaking when he kept calling himself an idiot. This man is a mess... and I understand that. Another hard hitting chapter, Parker. I think I would rather drive my car into a ditch than go to dinner with that awful woman, but Rick has to take some of the blame for the position he's been put in. I hope at some point he'll find the courage to rescue himself. Cheers!

Rita, it appears, puts Rick on edge, that is certain. It's good that you can feel that too. Without giving anything away, Rick will stay out of ditches; Jerry would never let him hear the end of such an event. Your thoughts about his position aren't far off - and he must take some initiative one day to change the way things are. I am so glad you continue to read this story, and I'm very grateful for your thoughts.

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2 hours ago, jt15136 said:

I think what Rick saw was Rita and her g/f. Just a guess. But it would give Rick a true advocate. Maybe Rita knows the piano man and can hook Rick up. 

That's an interesting speculation.

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1 hour ago, weinerdog said:

I was thinking the same thing does Rita play for the same team? @jt15136 is looking at this in an optimistic way and it is certainly possible.I tend to be cynical is Rita using Rick to keep up appearances?Maybe during the course of dinner they will find out about each other.BTW I know when a guy does something like this the lady is referred to being his beard is there an expression for when a women does that?

Rita is becoming a larger thorn in Rick's side, even as she makes one wonder about her motivations and actions. What seems true from Rick's limited vantage point is that Rita plays for her own team, in her own interest, which is moving real estate. I fear I can't recall the term you're looking for when a woman dates a man as a cover. Perhaps another reader can help us both. Thanks again for reading, and for your comments.

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3 hours ago, jt15136 said:

I think what Rick saw was Rita and her g/f. Just a guess. 

I thought the same thing. 

I hope things start to look up for Rick soon.  The 'date' with Rita will be interesting.  He needs to go back out to Cedarcrest soon, right?  Maybe fix something in the music room?  :whistle:  

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I commented in Chapter 4 that I dislike Rita, and this chapter only served to strengthen that feeling.  She has this conniving pushiness that seems part real (what kind of person argues over a 1/2 percent sales tax ?!) and part pretense.  She’s obviously scheming something and did see Rick’s truck.  Bring on the dinner, we are ready for her...

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1 hour ago, Valkyrie said:

I thought the same thing. 

I hope things start to look up for Rick soon.  The 'date' with Rita will be interesting.  He needs to go back out to Cedarcrest soon, right?  Maybe fix something in the music room?  :whistle:  

Rick does good work. If he fixed something, it's likely to stay fixed, more's the pity. Something else besides the furnace will have to break. Right now, he's likely to want to break Rita's neck. Not that Rick would do such a thing, mind you. Thank you for reading this chapter, and for adding your thoughts.

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43 minutes ago, 84Mags said:

I commented in Chapter 4 that I dislike Rita, and this chapter only served to strengthen that feeling.  She has this conniving pushiness that seems part real (what kind of person argues over a 1/2 percent sales tax ?!) and part pretense.  She’s obviously scheming something and did see Rick’s truck.  Bring on the dinner, we are ready for her...

Rita isn't exactly a sympathetic character, is she? On the other hand, she didn't get to be a successful real estate agent without a knack for driving a hard bargain. She must be used to watching her pennies. Your warning about bringing on dinner ought to run chills down her spine, assuming Rita took time enough to pay attention. Let's just hope he doesn't fall asleep at the wheel. Thanks very much for your comments, and for reading.

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10 hours ago, pvtguy said:

At least Rick was able to construct what might have been a very helpful discussion with Marshall.  If only he would listen to and act upon that advice... 

I really liked Rick’s ‘discussion’ with Marshall, too!   So often workers in sex industries become the primary source of kindness, human interaction and advice for those they work with.  Unfortunately, society can be pretty harsh and unfair to those individuals.  Marshall entered Rick’s life at a critical point and although it wasn’t best for the long term, their relationship really helped Rick.  It was neat that when Rick was driving back and in such a negative head space, looping demeaning thoughts, ‘Marshall’ stepped forward with positive, affirming ideas. My hope is someday soon Rick will recognize those thoughts were actually his own. 

Edited by 84Mags
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3 minutes ago, 84Mags said:

I really liked Rick’s ‘discussion’ with Marshall, too!   So often workers in sex industries become the primary source of kindness, human interaction and advice for those they work with.  Unfortunately, society can be pretty harsh and unfair to those individuals.  Marshall entered Rick’s life at a critical point and although it wasn’t best for the long term, their relationship really helped Rick.  It was neat that when Rick was driving back and in such a negative head space looping demeaning thoughts, Marshall stepped forward with positive, affirming ideas. My hope is someday soon Rick will recognize those thoughts were actually his own. 

I'm glad you brought that up. Rick will always have a fond place in his heart for Marshall, and that he constructs such a conversation with the man in his mind says a lot about the thoughtfulness and kindness he received at Marshall's hands.

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I think what Rick needs is not a hookup but a therapist. In my opinion, a professional's input would help him better than 'imaginary Marshall'.

That Rita woman never reads the room, does she? I was glad she didn't see him the first time, but of course it was short lived; she materialized out of thin air to torment him. Rick needs to turn her down for good since he apparently neeeverrr made it obvious he was not interested in her. She's so irritating! ---But now, after reading previous reviews, I only hope I haven't judged her too harshly if it turns out she has other motives that could work out for the best for Rick and herself. Even though, I think that is unlikely? I mean how did she find out they play for the same team?

I so invested in this story, haha! Can't wait to read the rest.
 

 

 

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3 hours ago, HanselMuffin said:

I think what Rick needs is not a hookup but a therapist. In my opinion, a professional's input would help him better than 'imaginary Marshall'.

That Rita woman never reads the room, does she? I was glad she didn't see him the first time, but of course it was short lived; she materialized out of thin air to torment him. Rick needs to turn her down for good since he apparently neeeverrr made it obvious he was not interested in her. She's so irritating! ---But now, after reading previous reviews, I only hope I haven't judged her too harshly if it turns out she has other motives that could work out for the best for Rick and herself. Even though, I think that is unlikely? I mean how did she find out they play for the same team?

I so invested in this story, haha! Can't wait to read the rest.
 

 

 

I’m very glad you find this story interesting! Rita seems driven by her own priorities. From what Rick has seen, she is on her way to becoming a force to be reckoned with in real estate. She must be far better with prospective buyers than with the people she gets to provide property management and support. Rick’s therapy may involve simple pursuits and chores as he tries to clear his mind. Rita never seems to give him much time for that, these days. Thank you so much for reading, and for your thoughts.

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Rita in the morning, Rita at lunchtime, and now Rita in the evening!  Can Rick's day get any worse.  Maybe he'll fall asleep at the diner table!!!  That woman is too much!!! Great story Parker!  Thank you.  

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3 hours ago, KayDeeMac said:

Rita in the morning, Rita at lunchtime, and now Rita in the evening!  Can Rick's day get any worse.  Maybe he'll fall asleep at the diner table!!!  That woman is too much!!! Great story Parker!  Thank you.  

Nodding off over the salad? That would be certain to dampen the evening. Then again, Rita talks enough she might not notice. I’m glad you’re enjoying the story so far. Thanks very much for your thoughts.

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We know that Rita moans about tax amongst other things, but I would have thought a tradesman would have been beneath her high esteem of herself, how does she know that he is not married? I suppose the gossip in town has told her as much 

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1 hour ago, Bft said:

We know that Rita moans about tax amongst other things, but I would have thought a tradesman would have been beneath her high esteem of herself, how does she know that he is not married? I suppose the gossip in town has told her as much 

Gossip and conversation around town will tell Rita many things, including details about Rick. For a person in real estate, information gleaned through such interactions can be invaluable. She may have good use for what she learns. Thanks for your thoughts and for reading!

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