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Thursday, August 1, 2013

(“it ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one”)...Creedence Clearwater Revival

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Seven

Cooperstown, New York, April 1968...spring break

Paul threw the Mustang into reverse and started to carefully back out of his spot in front of the diner, while Kenny worked on his smile with a toothpick in the back seat. I couldn’t believe it was still raining so hard, I also couldn’t believe that those two had put away a short stack of buttermilk hotcakes apiece either. Ah well, the legend continues!

“HEY, WATCH OUT PAULIE,” Ken hollered, pulling his knees up to his chest, preparing for impact!

“OH SHIT,” Paul exclaimed! He hit the brakes and we all slumped forward in our seats as an old geezer in a brand new lily white Dodge Ram crawled on past us, absolutely oblivious to the close call he caused.

“Sorry Ethan,” he added sheepishly, looking over at me, shrugging his shoulders and grinning.

“I’m counting on you to make sure that there is a special place in Hell for ‘A-holes’ like that,” Paul said through gritted teeth!

“Don’t think that’ll be my call buddy”

“Well you better make some noise about it then, or it won’t be Father Kelly I’ll be calling ya, it’ll be Father WANKER!”

“Good one Paulie,” Kenny chimed in.

“You know it’s a full time job praying for both of you heathen eejits!”

“Be thankful that we’re not out in this downpour, and catching our death while we put your crumpled bumper into the trunk,” I whined.

“Man, you were a lot more fun when you were just a plain old sinner like the rest of us,” Kenny said coolly, tossing his toothpick at me from the backseat. Paul pulled out of the drive and we rode the rest of the way into town in silence. As we turned onto the main drag the rain started to let up some.

“About time,” Paul muttered under his breath. He slowed down to coast past the ‘Hall of Fame’ so that we could get a good look,

“There it is, the place where the great ones come to live forever,” I said.

“OH YEAH,” we said in chorus. We looked back at one another and grinned like grade school kids. Kenny slapped Paul on the shoulder and said, “Let’s get to your Aunt’s place and get settled, peanut.” Kenny really emphasized the ‘peanut’ part, which he knew drove Paul absolutely nuts, no pun intended!

“In your ear Kenny, I got your peanut, I got you peanut hangin right here paley,” he said sarcastically from over his shoulder!

Peanut was what his Aunt Ester had always called him. I think it was because as a newborn he was so dimpled, and had a head full of wispy white hair, just like a ten-pound peanut shell she would say. She and her husband Bill had lived just around the corner from ‘Doubleday Field’ since he retired in 1950. He had been a steeplejack for 35 years in New York City, and had walked the ‘high iron’ during the construction of the Empire State Building, way back in the day! They had taken his savings and bought a nice and big Victorian home on Primrose Avenue. Several birch and elm trees, as well as Uncle Billy’s prize-winning rose-garden, and a huge wrap around porch surrounded it.

The home was much larger then the two of them really needed, having never had children of their own. But they kept it full of life with a cross-eyed German Sheppard named ‘Prince,’ two cats named ‘Harley and Reilly,’ and a wise cracking cockatiel named ‘Clifford’ who ruled the roost. Aunt Ester referred to the gaggle of pets as her ‘home team.’ It was comforting to know that she had them around, what with Uncle Billy having passed this Thanksgiving last. This was where we always stayed on our annual trips to officially celebrate the start of yet another baseball season. You just can’t beat ‘Spring Training’ in Cooperstown, the town is quaint and beautiful, and besides the Hall, there was usually an ‘old-timers’ game on the first Saturday of April at Doubleday Field.

If you were lucky you might get a chance to watch and meet legends like ‘Stan the Man Musial,’ ‘Pee Wee Reese,’ ‘Gil Hodges,’ or maybe even ‘DiMaggio’ himself! Imagine that, the Yankee Clipper’s name on my ball glove, now that would be Heaven on Earth for true! I had read in the Gazette just before supper, that Yogi would be in town this week, and I hoped to get him so sign our gloves, Dad’s and mine. Man, if I could pull that off, oh man! The first thing I would do when I got home would be lay out on Da’s spot in the yard an tell him all about it. Paul honked the horn as we pulled into the drive. Aunt Ester waived at us from her rocker on the porch as she rose to greet us.

“Hello boys,” she said with that gravely, whiskey voice of hers. “Come over here ‘peanut’ and give your Auntie some sugar!”

“Ahhh, Aunt Essie,” Paul whined.

She swatted him on the shoulder with her hand and the flesh on her heavy arm wagged back and forth. Then she grabbed his face with both her chubby little hands as he stooped down to have his cheek bussed. Aunt Ester kissed her nephew and then reset her dentures. Those things were always coming undone. You really had to pay close attention when she spoke to you with all the clicking and clacking and what not.

“OK you two, come and get yours as well,” she said gesturing to Ken and I.

“Oh MAN, this always freaks me OUT,” Ken said under his breath.

We walked over and submitted to the ritual greeting. I laughed out loud as I trailed behind Kenny, actually looking forward to my turn at a geriatric wet kiss, they always tickled and made me shudder. It reminded me of my own Great Aunt Helen who would pucker up from across the room and track me down with her eyes closed. And although I could never prove it, I was convinced that she had her own sonar, just like a vampire–bat. So in comparison, Aunt Essie’s little busses were not so bad. At least Aunt Essie didn’t have a moustache like Sparky’s Aunt Florence. Now that was uncomfortably weird!

“Ethan Kelly, you’re a head taller than the last time I saw you,” she said resetting her smile after kissing me hello!

“I declare you boys are growing like weeds!”

“I hope you’re hungry, I’ve been cooking all morning you know.” We could smell the pot roast and the candied yams from the porch as we walked into the parlor.

“I could eat,” said Ken cheerfully.

“Me too,” Paul chimed in.

“Good Grief,” I said bewildered, knowing that those two were not just being polite! We lugged are bags into the guest rooms and went to wash up for yet another meal, oh brother!

Sitting in a rocker on the front porch after supper, I closed my eyes and enjoyed the sound of the light drizzle hitting the awning. The guys were helping with the dishes and keeping Aunt Essie in stitches with their tales from the neighborhood, as well as Paul’s hilarious imitation of his drill instructor from boot camp. I yawned and stretched in the chair and looked at my watch, it was four in the afternoon. I was looking forward to getting over to the Hall and wandering through all of the displays, and memorabilia. Things like the Babe’s uniform, and the last baseball he ever autographed, not to mention Ty Cobb’s cleats!

I wondered if there would be any blood on those things, what with all the stories of his tendency to spike opponents on the base-paths? Sure, we had seen most of these things over and over through the years, but for my friends and I, each visit was like the first. Maybe this was how if felt to be ‘in love’ I thought? Nah, what a dope Ethan, there had to be more to loving an actual person, after all, they could love you back!

But even so, I hoped that if I were ever to have an opportunity to fall in love, it would come with this same wonderful, toasty warm feeling. You know, the one that rushes through your body like a hot shower on a cold December morning. Or the giddy anticipation you experience while you count the minutes before Christmas morning. Or the rush you feel through your body when someone just gets you. You discover how good it feels to not have to be anyone else but YOU! Of course, baseball may not inspire those things in everyone, but no matter how old we got, the love for the game was always fresh as the day our Dad’s first taught us to catch and throw a hardball. Yeah man, it was still very cool.

“Dude, quit your daydreaming and let’s hit it, we’re burning daylight,” Kenny said, swatting the crossed leg off of my knee as he passed by.

“Yeah, let’s go Father Kelly, before they elect you Pope,” Paul added, following Ken to the Stang.

“Leave the poor boy alone, you ruffians, he doesn’t have to go, he can stay here with me and watch the television,” Aunt Essie said, taking a stance behind my rocker.

“You want to stay behind and take it easy Ethan dear?”

“No ma’am, I’m fine, couldn’t miss the Hall, I’ve been waiting all year for this!”

“Alright dear, you run along and catch up with the others, I’ll be fine here,” she said pouting, making me feel a little like I should hang back and keep her company. Then she shot me a smile and winked saying, “I’m just pulling your leg boy, land sakes, young people are so gullible!” She laughed and laughed as I jumped into the shotgun seat and closed the door behind me.

“Glad you could make it Ethan, thought you might have stayed behind in geezerville to catch Ed Sullivan,” Paul said sarcastically.

“Ed Sullivan’s on Sunday nights stupid,” Kenny said, correcting Paul’s mistake.

“All right Einstein, just because TV Guide’s the only thing you ever read,” Paul chided back.

We slowed down to cruise past a couple of local girls walking toward the intersection. Kenny stuck his head out the window, “Ladies, plenty of room back here for you, need a lift?” Not the most original line, but appropriate given the weather conditions, and it usually worked in a small town like this as well. The two girls giggled and stopped to chat, the taller of the two catching Paul’s eye right away. “Are you going by ‘Mickey’s Place’ on Main Street,” the tall brunette asked?

“We are now,” Kenny answered for the car!

“OK, you guys look harmless,” the girl said, whispering something into her friend’s ear.

“I’m Rebecca and this is Bridget,” she said gesturing to her shy blonde friend.

“Well I’m Ken and the big man at the wheel is Paul, and the silent one next to him is Ethan,” Kenny said making the introductions.

“Oh yeah, Ethan is going to be a priest, so you don’t have to worry much about him,” he added grinning.

“Scoot up and let the girls in doofus,” Paul said tapping me on the arm with his finger.

“Uh, sorry,” I said weakly, scooting forward in my seat and opening the door.

The two of them climbed in back and I closed the door behind them. Paul put the car in gear and off we went on our little detour before the Hall. Paul fiddled with the pile of eight track tapes on the floor and selected a little Santana for the ride over to “Mickey’s.” Nothing like some hot Latin licks to warm up the honeys he always said. I had to admit, it did get the blood pumping, but I only had his word for the rest.

“Nice, I love Carlos Santana,” Rebecca said from the back, she was sitting behind Paulie. Ken had maneuvered himself between the two girls before we had even pulled away from the curb, the boy was quicker than greased lightning!

“Yeah, he’s one of my favorites too,” Paul said.

“Hey man, I heard that there was going to be a big-ass festival or concert somewhere around here, later this year,” Ken said. He had already managed to work in his patented ‘yawning move,’ and had positioned an arm around each girl. They leaned forward in the seat and looked at one another.

“Oh my God,” Bridget mouthed to her friend as they looked back at Kenny with a peripheral glance. Rebecca just waived her friend off and leaned back in her seat.

“Yeah, I heard that too, it’s supposed to be at some farm near Woodstock, Nester’s farm I think,” Rebecca said chewing loudly on a stick of gum.

“Bitchin,” Kenny said using only his coolest vocabulary.

“Yeah, I think I heard that Santana will be there, and Jimi Hendix, and The Who, hey, maybe the Beatles will show up,” Bridget said excitedly!

“Nah, the Beatles are breaking up, we heard that on the way down here,” Paul said glancing back over his shoulder.

“Yeah, well you never know,” I said hopefully, trying to be supportive, Bridget was awfully cute!

“Shut up Kelly, you don’t know jack,” Kenny scolded!

He was right of course, I really wasn’t much of an authority on this subject, and even less of one when it came to girls. I suddenly had the feeling that I was about to be ditched. Let’s see, I’m with a sailor on leave, and a major horn-dog, yep, they’re gonna to send me into a drug store for sodas or something and then ditch me as soon as I get out of the car. I thought about it for a minute, was there any way out of this situation?

Hmmm, not likely, at least not without tipping their hand, thereby risking a decent ass kicking, or, at the very least an atomic-wedgy. Spoiling my buddies’ chance at making out with some of the local talent would be sorta un-cool I reasoned. So, I decided that discretion would be the better part of valor, opting for the ‘silence is golden’ path, and prepared myself for the inevitable. These guys were going to earn me tons of extra credit in the prayer department back at Holy Cross, they were a virtual warehouse of material!

“Hey, who’s thirsty,” Kenny said grinning ear to ear, oh brother, that didn’t take long! Paul pulled up to the curb in front of the five and dime. He put the Mustang in park and reached into his jeans pulling out a couple of bucks.

“Ethan, you’re closest, be a pal and run in and get us some root beers,” he said, winking at me. I looked at the money in my hand, four dollars, exactly the price of admission at the Hall of Fame up the street, gee what a surprise!

“Yeah, OK, I’ll be RIGHT BACK,” I said, shooting him the three-fingered ‘boy scout’ salute, hoping he could ‘read between the lines.’ Now technically I didn’t actually say the word, but it was implied, so I felt compelled to find a way to work it on there. Thinking to myself, “he does see it all ya know, damn it!” Oh man, there’s another one, this was just going to be one of those days! Jumping out onto the sidewalk I closed the door behind me. I could see Rebecca climbing into my vacated seat through the reflection in the storefront window. I smiled to myself and went inside hearing the car peel out, they couldn’t even wait for me to get out of earshot, my pals!

Walking up towards 25 Main Street and the Hall, I chewed an Abba-Zabba candy-bar and sipped on some Hires Root Beer. Fortunately the rain had not started up again, even though the clouds were dark and fat with water. The wind was blowing the maple trees along the parkway in a northerly direction up the street, almost as if they were guiding me to my destination. I turned up the collar on my jacket and tossed the half empty root beer bottle into the waste barrel next to a newspaper stand. And there it was, big as life across the street, the brick shrine that was the focus of our trip. Well, at least it still was for me at this juncture I thought, smiling to myself. I paid my four bucks and went inside, the building smelled of old leather, and horsehide, it was wonderful. Soaking up all of the ambiance, I went immediately to the Yankee shrine and counted up all of the championship pennants that hung from the ceiling. I looked at all the team photos, ‘the Bronx Bombers,’ ‘Murder’s row,’ as well as pictures of all the great ones like, ‘DiMaggio,’ ‘Ruth,’ and ‘Gehrig.’ This was always my first stop, and I touched the glass of each display twice, once for me and once for Da, he was with me, I felt pretty sure of that. It was a long time before I checked my watch, and I was not surprised to learn that I had killed three hours roaming from room to room.

It was nearly 9pm and I could see that the place was getting ready to close. Nine o’clock was pretty late in a small town and I’m sure that most of these people had supper waiting for them, so I made my way towards the exit. Stepping out into the night I caught a chill as the wind hit me in the face. It was just starting to rain again as well, and the guys were nowhere in sight.

I thought for sure that they would have been back by now, crap, now what was I going to do! It was not that far of a walk, but it was beginning to rain pretty darn hard. I didn’t want to call Aunt Essie because she couldn’t see worth a flip in the daytime much less at night and in a rainstorm, Lord above, I was screwed. Oh boy, two more for the list, I was turning into Paul! I decided to wait it out at the coffee shop across the street, at least I would be warm and I had enough dough on me for some pie and a cup of coffee. The bells attached to the door jingled lively as I waked in and I stamped my feet and shook off the weather while I removed my jacket.

“Sit anywhere son,” the elderly waitress said as she tidied the booth in the corner. I sat at the counter and turned the big white ceramic cup right-side up to indicate that I was ready to be served. I checked out the pies and cakes in the revolving display case to my left and set my sights on a piece of coconut cream pie.

“Coffee,” the waitress asked, already pouring?

“Yes ma’am” I reached for the creamer and the sugar bowl, guiltily scanning for Uncle Chuck, just in case.

“You hungry?”

“That pie there looks pretty good, I’ll have that.”

“The banana cream or the coconut cream?”

“Coconut please,” I said smiling back at her. Actually it was more of a grin, why was I so awkward around women I wondered?

“Coconut it is, last piece, made it myself you know,” she said giving me a quick wink.

I stirred my coffee and blew on it a little while I took a sip, sweet and creamy, just the way I like it! The rain was hitting the window pretty hard now almost falling sideways in all of the wind. I wondered where the guys were, but shrugged it off, wherever they were they were dryer and warmer then I was, a lot warmer I suspected.

“You going to be alright in this rain son, you want to call someone for a ride,” the waitress asked, concerned?

“Do you think it will rain much longer,” I asked?

“I expect so, maybe you should call someone.”

“Yeah, guess you’re right, where is the payphone?”

“It’s in the back by the john, can’t miss it”

“Thanks,” I said and took another sip of my coffee.

I walked over to the front door and looked out through the glass to see if Paul had pulled up in front of the Hall across the street. I mean, he knew what time they closed the place and he knew I was on foot. No luck though, the museum looked deserted, so I walked over to the payphone, digging for a dime in my pocket on the way. I dialed Aunt Essie’s number and she picked up on the tenth ring.

“Hello,” she said softly, I could Prince barking in the background.

“Hi Aunt Essie, it’s Ethan.”

“Oh Ethan, I’m glad you called, your Mother and Uncle Liam are here.”

“What,” I said surprised?

“Is everything alright, is Shannon OK, why are they there, what’s the problem, what’s going on any---?“

I was cut off in mid sentence by the sound of my Uncle Liam’s voice, “Sonny, where are you and the boys now,” he asked? His voice was very business like and it didn’t make me feel very comfortable. I told him where I was and that the fellas were out on a date, sort of. Uncle Liam said that he would be by straight away, and he would tell all about it when he got there. I hung up the phone, went back to the counter and sat down. “What on Earth was going on here,” I wondered to myself. My face must have given me away, and the waitress returned asking, “Everything OK young man?” I looked up startled and said, “Oh, yeah, no problem, nothing really.”

“Well, you don’t look like everything is OK.” “Did you find a way home anyway?”

“Yes ma’am, there’s someone coming right over.”

“Good! Well then, eat your pie before your ride gets here,” she said sliding the desert plate a little closer to me. I really had lost my appetite since the phone call, but I wolfed down the slice in record time, more to please the waitress than anything else. I finished off the coffee as well and declined on a refill. Uncle Liam pulled up out front in his big blue Caddie and tooted his horn.

“Gotta run, thanks for the snack,” I said waiving goodbye, leaving the folding money for the tab on the counter, and a buck and a half tip in quarters in the saucer.

“Hi Uncle Liam,” I said climbing into the front seat next to him.

“Hello Ethan son, this weather’s a fright boy, you could catch your death.”

“No need to worry, I was waiting out the rain in the diner, it was plenty warm in there Uncle.”

“Ah, you’re right of course sonny, good thinking.”

“So what brings you and Mother out here when I’m due to be home tomorrow?” My Uncle didn’t answer right away and that bothered me. “Uncle, is there something wrong, is everyone OK, what’s up anyways,” I asked a little sterner than was polite from a child to his elder.

“Ethan, don’t worry son, everyone is healthy and happy, there are no emergencies that brought us here,” he said calmly.

“Well then what’s so important that it couldn’t wait until I returned home to tell me about?”

“Truth is Ethan it was your mother that insisted we come today, if it were left to me I would have waited until tomorrow,” he said waiving his hand in the air in a dismissing manner.

“What’s she all fired up about Uncle?”

“You got some mail today sonny, and she wanted to open it because it was from the Selective Service Bureau, you know, the draft board!”

“What the… But I’m in college, I’m supposed to be exempt from service as long as I’m a full time student, right?”

“That’s what I tried to tell her, but she wouldn’t listen to reason, you know how it is when she gets her Irish up!” That was true enough, mother was uncommon stubborn when she was angry, scared, or confused.

“Is everything well at school boy, I mean you’re not flunking out are ye?”

“No sir, nothing like that, I can’t imagine what this is all about,” I said chewing a little on my thumbnail.

“Well, not to worry, there’s nothing to be gained in that, for now I think your Mom would just be feeling better if you were at home.” I nodded without answering, looking out the window at the driving rain, thinking to myself, “my gosh, these seats were posh, more like sitting on a sofa than riding in a car.” I guess I should have been worrying some, but I just tuned everything out and we rode in silence back to Aunt Essie’s.

Paul’s car was in the drive and we pulled in behind it. We ran up to the house and shed our goulashes and coats on the mud-porch. Everyone was sitting at the dining room table, Mother and Aunt Essie were drinking tea and the guys were eating chocolate cake. I waived at the fellas and walked over to my mother. Leaning over I kissed her on the top of her head and pulled a chair up next to her. “Uncle Liam filled me in on your afternoon,” I said, looking at her, my chin resting on my folded arms as they hugged the back of the chair that I was straddling.

“I see,” she said cool, calm, and collected.

A ruse I suspected, I sensed that she was on her emotional edge. I waited for her to say something else, but she just sipped her tea and stared back. This was a crucial moment, because the wrong word on my part would start an avalanche of Gaelic of which I would only understand half. Being a veteran of many mother/son discussions since Da passed, I knew to be quick to listen and slow to speak, like the good book instructed.

I raised an eyebrow slightly, trying to get her to smile and make the first move. That was the key to surviving one of her moods. Don’t give her anything to tee off on. She put her hand to her mouth slowly, pretending to dab the corners of her mouth with the cloth napkin. I relaxed and smiled, game set and match, I had won the waiting game.

“Darn you Ethan Kelly, I came here to be mad at you!”

“Why would you be getting a letter like this from the government son,” she asked, waiving the envelope in front of me?

“Come now my dear, I’m sure the boy is not a radical,” Uncle Liam said reassuringly.

“Liam, I’m asking Ethan, now let him answer for himself!” She looked back my way and studied my face, wrinkling her nose and squinting slightly.


“Well what Mom?”

“Are ye bad mouthing the President, God Bless Him, are you sitting in with all that hippity yippity rabble on campus?” That was it for Kenny, he couldn’t control himself and he had an Uncle Chuck ‘through the nose’ moment, colorfully complete with milk and cake.

“Good gravy,” Aunt Essie exclaimed, stepping up behind Ken and patting him hard on the back as he choked up his little snack.

“Are you going to be OK,” she asked.

“Yeah, yeah, urrgg, I’ll be fine,” Kenny said, clearing his throat and blowing his nose into Aunt Essie’s linen.

“I’ll just get you some water,” she said, walking quickly to the kitchen, Prince getting up from his blanket to follow.

I got up and got out of the way, walking with Mother and Uncle Liam into the parlor where we sat ourselves on the sofa. I assured my mother that I had not become a subversive in any way and that my grades were quite good actually. We would just have to wait until Monday to straighten this whole thing out, there had to be a logical explanation after all. My Mom seemed to be surrendering to our reasonable argument, my Uncle’s and mine, and the mood around the house lightened somewhat. Aunt Essie and the guys joined us in the parlor and we decided to play crazy-eights, Aunt Essie’s favorite card game.

While she and Mother were getting the table set up for the game, I picked up the envelope and took a close look at it. UNITED STATES of AMERICA: SELECTIVE SERVICE BUREAU it read, so official, almost made me feel important. I tore open the envelope, removed the letter, and unfolded it carefully. Walking over to the reading lamp by the recliner I sat down and read it for the first time. GREETINGS the letter began, the rest was a blur of unrecognizable acronyms, confusing explanations and unbelievable instructions. None of it really registering, except for the last sentence, which simply read, ‘You are ordered to report to the U.S. ARMY induction center, Buffalo New York, 23 May, 1969 where you will receive further instructions.’

I looked over at my family and friends, they were laughing and teasing Kenny about his little episode. I made eye contact with my mother and smiled at her, folding the letter and placing it back into the envelope. There would be no sense in discussing this now, no good could come of it, no need to spoil the evening. I would wait until I could speak to someone in authority on Monday. I planned on getting up early that day and finding someone to assure us that this was all some innocent paperwork snafu.

This was obviously a terrible, terrible mistake, some machine had been programmed incorrectly, something like that. I was only nineteen after all, and a future priest for goodness sake! What good would I be in a jungle ten thousand miles away? I would never carry a weapon, I could never take a life, kill another human being, that was just nuts. I looked over at Paul and wondered what the future held for him, I mean he was already in the service, would he be going to Viet Nam? Did everyone who received these kind of notices end up on the other side of the world? I was getting a headache just thinking about it, and shook my head a little to clear away the pictures forming in my mind. I got up to join the others at the dining room table.

“Don’t start without me,” I called over to Aunt Essie who was shuffling the cards.

“You all right sonny,” Mother asked?

“Yeah Mom, I’m fine ma’am,” I replied.

“I’m just gonna grab a soda from the fridge,” I said, rubbing her shoulder as I passed by.

Opening the refrigerator, I stuck my head deep inside and felt the cold air on my face. Grabbing a Coke, I straightened up and closed the door. Paul was standing right next to me, it startled me and I almost dropped the bottle of pop.

“What did it say Ethan?”

“Nothing, it was just a clerical thing, you know, they needed my social security number and student ID number, stuff like that,” I answered unconvincingly, taking a long drink of Coca-Cola. Paul stared me down for a couple of seconds, making me a little uncomfortable.

“WHAT,” I said sharply.

“Don’t bullshit me Ethan, what was in the letter, or do I need to kick your ass and read it myself?” I swallowed hard and handed him the envelope. He didn’t need to open it, the information was all over my face. My friend put his big hands on my shoulders and leaned forward so that our foreheads touched.

“We’ll make some calls when we get home buddy, I got a couple mates in admin that can steer us to the right people.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll work it out Peepers, you’re the good one in the group, I’m sure God has better plans for you than busting your hump in some rice paddy,” Paul said mussing my hair.

“Dude, you really need a haircut,” he said making a face! I laughed and wiped a tear from the corner of my eye, then put the ice-cold pop bottle to my head to compose myself.

“You gonna be OK?”

“Yeah Paulie, I’ll be fine, thanks ye heathen, I knew I wasn’t wasting my prayers on you,” I said slapping him on the shoulder. He laughed and put his arm around me as we walked back to join everyone else. Just before we reached the kitchen door Paul pulled me close to him and whispered in my ear, “By the way, I know about you and Sandy. I’ve always known.”

I stopped breathing and froze, waiting for the hammer to fall.

“It’s cool with me, she was gonna lose it sooner or later anyway, better it was you than some loser!”

“Besides, now I have a ‘get out of Hell free card’ and a ‘guaranteed pass’ at confession for as long as you live,” he said, laughing his ass off as we went through the door and sat at the table with the others. Oh man, ass, that’s another one for the list, this pious stuff is really hard!

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