ASP--The Concord Five--Chapter Twelve--Bill
Michael and I talked to Jonesy before school Monday about some kind of memorial service or something for the five who had died from the wreck. She said she planned to have David, Deputy Greene, who was at the wreck first, and Dr. Walker come and talk to the students about driving and the fact that, in spite of what they think, teenagers are not immortal.
"I think that needs doing. It's a good idea, but not what the students need first. Even those of us who really didn't know the five are grieving in a sense. I think that's what needs addressing before trying to teach us a lesson," I responded.
"Bill's right. If we make the death of the five into a safety lesson, not only will students resent it, but also it will not help the grief process," Michael added.
"You're right, of course. I guess I was just wanting to get rid of the anger I feel toward those who rode to their death in a foolish accident. But I don't think it can be a religious service. I know one of the students killed was Muslim and I think another was Jehovah's Witness. In spite of what you or I might wish, I think you better come up with a secular service--if that's not an oxymoron."
"I think we can do that," Michael said, "we'll have it together after lunch." As we left the office, he asked, "What do you think? Some poetry, some music, how would that be?"
"Sounds good to me. If you will get some people together to handle the music, I'll take some and we'll talk to Yong Jin about poetry and maybe some other readings."
"Ok, and we'll try to have it together by lunch," Michael said.
We got groups together during homeroom and talked about the service--which, since it was at school, would be called an assembly--and there were some good suggestions. After homeroom, my group got together with Yong Jin and made the selections to be read and decided who would do the reading. Michael had talked to Mr. Smith and had the music lined up before my group finished. He gave me the list of music and we created an order for words and music. Before lunch, we turned it in to Ms. Jones.
"I'll see that there are programs printed and we will have the assembly last period today. I have the times and places for the funerals and will put those in the program. I am sure many students will want to go. I'll attend all I can, but there are three Tuesday--two at the same time--and two on Wednesday. Tuesday Mr. Allan and I will attend one and Greywolf has agreed to attend the third. Mr. Allan and I will attend the two on Wednesday. Michael, you might want to assign members of the student government to specific funerals. I think the student body should be officially represented."
"I'll do that," Michael said. "When will the other program be? I think it should wait at least until the funerals are over."
"I agree. I will check with those who will be speaking and hold it Thursday or Friday according to when they will be available," Ms. Jones said.
"I hope you remember we will not be here Friday," I reminded Ms. Jones. "We are off to a party."
"Certainly hope you drive carefully. Ohio is a long way away," Ms. Jones cautioned us.
"We're not driving. I thought I told you. A friend of Luke's, who was in Ohio with us last summer has a friend whose father..."
"Has a first cousin whose mother's college roommate knows a plumber," Ms. Jones laughed.
Michael laughed and said, "Actually, Douglas' friend's father has a private jet and it and the crew are at Douglas' disposal."
"WOW! Wait until that hits Concord's weekly rag! I hope you get pictures for it and the school paper as well. That will certainly make a big splash. But if you do any driving, be careful. We have already sacrificed too many to the automobile god."
The memorial assembly--that's what it ended up being called--went well. Peer counselors and the school counselors from the other schools, as well as Ms. Norman, had been busy all day dealing with students who were grieving. I guess we were as well, but helping others on the road to recovery also helped us, and I know the assembly did.
Wednesday, Michael said he had talked to Douglas Tuesday night and had two important bits of information. The first was we were to be at the airport in Lexington at 4:30 sharp. That meant we had a fairly easy schedule since school was out at 3:20. If we went directly from school to the airport, we'd make it with time to spare. The second was that we should pack light. "You need to really impress that on the women," Douglas had told Michael. "Janet always tries to bring the whole house when we travel. Anyone bringing too much will not get on board. Do make sure everyone packs light."
Jacob and I packed Wednesday night. We had one medium sized bag between us. I called Linda and asked how packing was going for her. "I can't get all I need to take in my bag," she said.
"Linda, if that's your large bag, it doesn't matter because it is not going on the plane. Douglas meant it when he said pack light. We'll be there Thursday night through Wednesday afternoon. That's six days, but the Oberlin crowd has a washer and dryer. It will be simple enough to get clothes clean. You need a casual outfit, a dressy one and maybe work clothes and your costume. Oh, and a heavy coat which we can hang on the plane. All, except the coat, will go in a small bag. Jacob and I have a medium sized bag between us. Woman, you have to decide to have a bundle of clothes and things or go to the party. You can't do both."
"Bill, I'm going to look like something the cat drug in," she said, whining.
"Stop the whining, Linda," I said. "You know how I hate that. It will get you nothing."
"Bill, you just don't understand."
"You're right, I don't understand why it takes a steamer trunk for your things when you are only going to be gone six days. Maybe you can get together with the other women and figure out what you can share so you keep the luggage within the limits.
Thursday at lunch, like the teenagers we were, we forgot about the accident and the destroyed lives as we talked excitedly about leaving for Ohio after school. Linda, Susan and Mary Kathryn had managed to figure out things they could share and had only a couple bags among them. The guys had small bags. I guess that's the way it will always be.
After lunch there was another assembly at which David, Dr. Walker and Deputy Greene spoke about teen driving. They pulled absolutely no punches. For example, David described in detail the scene when he arrived at the wreck. His description was so graphic several students lost their lunch. "Better that than losing their lives," I thought.
He also made a point about seatbelts. "The one person in the car who had bothered to fasten her seatbelt, Buffy Leister, is alive and making progress. She almost lost a leg, but had she not had her belt on, she would not be alive." Little did any of us know that, even though she was alive, the accident would almost destroy her.
I must confess I wasn't really attuned to what was going on at school Thursday. My mind was on a plane and a party in Ohio. The final bell hadn't finished sounding before I was out of the classroom, headed for the parking lot. We had decided earlier that Jack and Rachel would drive my car and Michael's Tracker back to Concord. Linda, Jacob, Jack, Rachel and Susan were with me. Mary Kathryn, Keith, Dan and Chris were with Michael. Both cars were crowded, but we didn't care, we were going to a party! When everyone was in the cars you could hear the clicking of seatbelts, but that was not unusual for us. Both Michael and I would not allow anyone to ride with us without a seatbelt. We had put most of the luggage in my car's large trunk when we arrived at school so we would be ready to go.
Everything was going fine and we were a happy crew. Both cars had a CD playing and we were laughing and having a good time. We weren't speeding because we had time to spare until... until we were about ten miles from the airport and traffic came to a sudden and complete halt. There was a string of cars ahead of us, so we couldn't see what was holding up traffic. As time passed, we all began to be very antsy. We had less than thirty minutes before we were due at the airport ten miles away. If we didn't get moving soon, we'd not make the plane. Douglas had told Michael they could wait a few minutes but not long, because of the arrangements made with the pilots.
Suddenly I saw Michael get out of his car and run back to us, waving his new cell phone. "What's the hold-up?" I asked, as soon as he was within shouting distance.
"There has been a major wreck up ahead, a three-car pile-up blocking both lanes. I called the Highway Patrol to find out what was up and how soon they thought it would be clear. The officer told me to expect to be here for at least half to three-quarters of an hour. Douglas has my cell phone number and will call if we are not there at 4:30 to find out if we're going, but he definitely said they couldn't wait long. Since it was 4:00 when I talked to the officer, I explained our situation and asked if he had any suggestions. He told me there was a back way which would get us there in twenty or thirty minutes. I have the directions if you want to attempt it. They sounded pretty weird because twice we're to make a turn at a big cow. I asked him what kind of directions he had given me and he said good ones. He had me read the directions back and said if I followed them exactly, even if the way seemed very strange, we should have no trouble."
"If we're stuck here for thirty to forty-five minutes and still have ten miles to go when we can move, if we take the back way we could get lost a couple of times and still be there before we were out of this mess. Let's try it."
"We have to turn around and take the first paved road to the right about two miles back. I hope we can get people to let us cross the Lexington lane. It's really packed here. Let's go."
We got turned around with no problem and drove toward Concord. After driving a couple miles, there were few cars headed to Lexington so we made the turn onto the road without any trouble. It was a farm road, paved, but not marked and without road signs. I hoped Michael had gotten all the landmarks straight because they were the only guidance we had. After about four miles, he signaled for a right turn. I laughed when I saw the unmistakable landmark, a six- or seven-foot-tall fiberglass cow announcing "Thompson Dairy Farms".
The road we turned on wasn't paved, just gravel and very dusty. I had to drop back because, even driving slowly as Michael was, the dust from his car made it impossible to see and hard to breathe up close. After about three or four miles, Michael signaled for a left turn. I guess a large red barn was the landmark. I hoped it was, because I thought sure we had made a wrong turn. We crossed a cattle gate--you know, pipes spaced so cows won't walk across them, but a car goes over them easily. We were driving through a pasture! There was no real road, just the marks left in the grass by farm machinery. It was a pretty rough ride, to say the least, and I was really glad it was only about a mile before we drove out of the pasture across another cattle gate with another fiberglass cow. Michael signaled a right turn onto a paved road, and in two or three miles I could see the airport.
As we parked the cars, I glanced at my watch. It was 4:32. We all ran into the terminal where Douglas and Janet were waiting. There were hugs and kisses for those who knew the old married couple, and then introductions of the new members of the Fellowship.
When we finished greeting each other, Douglas counted noses and asked. "How did you know we could take eleven of you? I didn't know until we got to the plane."
"We didn't. Rachel is a brand-new member and Jack is staying behind to come with her tomorrow when the plane comes back for the old folks," Michael said.
"No need of that," Douglas said. "I didn't know that Marc had qualified to pilot the jet week before last. He's co-pilot on this trip so we can take all of you. Oh, here he comes now."
I am not into men at all, but even I could tell a drop-dead hunk was walking toward us.
"Marc, here's the Concord crew. Few new ones since I was last with them," Douglas said, and then introduced all of us. "Folks, this is Marc Langley, the best friend a man could have. Gals, you all have your man and Marc's not available anyway. Marc, Rachel and Jack were coming up tomorrow since there were eleven of them but, with you sitting in the co-pilot's seat, couldn't we take them all tonight?"
"No problem if they have packed light," Marc answered and smiled, showing two perfect dimples. He could drive any woman--or man if they were so inclined--wild and he had money, I mean m-o-n-e-y.
"There's the little problem of getting permission to leave tonight," Michael said. "Also there's school tomorrow. We sure don't want to upset Jonesy. She's a friend in fair weather and foul and we don't need to take advantage of her. I think we have gone far enough with the letter."
"Michael, get on your cell phone and get permission for... who was it? Jack and Rachel?" Douglas asked, "while we get your bags stowed away. Your bags packed, Rachel, Jack?"
"Mine is in my room ready to go," Rachel said.
"Same here," Jack said, "but in Concord."
"I'm sure we can find something for you to sleep in, if you sleep in anything," Douglas said with a melodramatic leer.
"You'll be among friends, and you can wear what you have on until the plane arrives tomorrow. Michael, think you can have someone pick up Jack's and Rachel's bags?" I asked.
"I'm sure I can. Jack, use my phone to call home and get permission. Also make arrangements about your bag. We'll be thinking of how we are going to deal with Rachel's situation."
While Jack phoned his parents, we discussed how to spring Rachel. "I'll call Jonesy and clear Jack and Rachel's leaving this evening," Michael said.
"Think you could ask her to call Dad and tell him there has been a change in plans?" Jacob asked.
"He does and we're dead meat," Linda said. "You know we gave him a not very legitimate letter on school letterhead. He will comment on the sociology trip and Jonesy will ask him..."
"I get your point, Linda. But how are we going to handle this?" Jacob asked.
"I'm clear," Jack said. "Asked Dad to take my bag to school and give it to Greywolf or Mr. Stevenson. I explained that there was room for all of us tonight and he said he was glad that I got to be with you all going up. He remembers most of you from the service for Gregory and thinks you are an amazing bunch. He will also go by and pick up Rachel's things and take them to school."
"I think I best call Jonesy now while you all struggle with how to deal with Jacob's dad," Michael said.
I suddenly realized no-one called Jacob's dad by name. He was just 'Jacob's dad'. I still didn't know how we were going to deal with him. I mean, he tossed my buddy out because he was dating a Jewish woman. Strange, Susan was also Jewish.
Linda and the gang were all talking to Marc and suddenly I had a great idea, one that wouldn't even involve a lie, not really a lie, just not the whole truth. "Keep it simple," I thought. "Excuse me, adoring hordes, but I need Marc. Marc, you have a nice deep voice which is totally unknown in Concord. Would you mind talking to Jacob's dad, telling him there has been a change in transportation and Rachel has an opportunity to leave tonight with the main group instead with the group leaving tomorrow?"
"Sure," Marc smiled and those dimples came out again. "Just fill me in on what I need to know."
Linda explained the ruse we had used to get Rachel in on the trip. While we were explaining that, Michael came over and said, "I talked to Jonesy. She was pleased that Rachel and Jack got to go with the whole crew. I also went so far as to tell her we were calling this a sociology field trip and how we came up with the idea. She got a kick out of that. Of course I didn't tell her it had been announced to one guardian on school letterhead. But Rachel and Jack are cleared by the school. So what are we going to do about Rachel?"
I explained what we had come up with and Michael thought it was a good idea. Jacob dialed the number and handed the phone to Marc. As I listened to him deal with Jacob's dad, I was amazed. He was one smooth talker. I could almost have sworn he was a social studies teacher at Independence.
Jack handed Marc a note about Rachel's luggage while he was talking. "Mr. Abernathy, I am sure you are as happy as I that Rachel will be able to leave with her group this evening. Since she was new at school, we had to put her with another group, only two of whom she knew. This way she will be with a group she at least knows...Yes, we realized that was a problem. However, we have made arrangements for her bags to be picked up and sent with the other group. Anything she might need before it arrives she can borrow from one of the girls in the group... Mr. Whitt, the father of another student will be around to pick up Rachel's bag and take it to school... Yes, another group leader has notified the principal that Rachel is leaving this evening and she will not be counted absent... Yes, I, too, am sure Rachel will learn much on this trip as well as have some fun. That's important to young people you know... Yes, I agree young people always want to have everything be fun... Yes, it's not like when we were young and had it hard in school, no fun... Yes, I remember when I was younger enjoying field trips with classmates... Yes, I assure you she will be well cared for. Good evening, Sir."
With the "when I was younger" remark, the whole crew lost it. Marc closed the phone just as everyone had reached the point that they could not hold in the laughter any longer. "Man, you are one damn smooth talker," Michael said, "when I was younger, indeed!".
"Guess we are ready to take flight," Douglas said. "Michael, Bill, you need to move your cars to the long-term parking lot. Rachel, Jack, I saw a grooming aids dispenser in the men's room and I suspect there is one in the women's. You might want to get a toothbrush. Everything else we have and can share."
Rachel looked pained and then blushed. "What's the problem, Rachel?" Susan asked.
"It's kinda embarrassing. I have no money. I intended to get some from Uncle Ab tomorrow."
"No need to be embarrassed," Jack said. "I'll pick up a toothbrush for you. Money is no problem so long as someone in the group has some."
Jack dashed in to the men's room and, as he did, Douglas said, "All of you better make a pit stop unless you want to use the plane's head. No problem with that except the last time I used it, we hit an air pocket and I got my head bumped." We all went to the restroom and as soon as we were back, walked out on the tarmac to the plane.
I knew the plane was a jet, but I wasn't prepared for how large it was and how luxurious it was inside. We all got in our places. Jack lost no time in claiming a place beside Rachel which made it obvious that Keith was odd man out as we were all coupled up. As the engines were starting Marc's voice came over the speaker, which was kinda silly since the cockpit door was open and he was looking back over the co-pilot's chair, grinning at us. "This is co-pilot Marc Langley who, on behalf of Captain John Kelly and myself, would like to welcome you aboard Broomstick Flight Thirteen, destination Haunted House, Ohio. And we are especially honored having friends of Douglas and Janet Armstrong aboard this evening."
Marc continued in a very good cabin attendant voice, "You will find safety instructions on a card somewhere. Please read them. In case we have to land in water, your seat cushion will do you no good. With it or without it, you're going to get wet. It will, however, keep you afloat. As soon as we reach cruising altitude your cabin host, moi, will be serving refreshments--courtesy of Marc Langley Sr. Meanwhile, be sure your seatbelts are snug and fastened, and just relax and enjoy your flight."
Marc turned around and another voice came over the speaker. "This is Captain Kelly. I would like to personally welcome you aboard. Both Marc and Douglas have told me much about you and I am delighted to be a part of your Halloween party. As soon as the cabin host finishes serving refreshments, I would like to turn the flight over to your co-pilot Marc Langley and come back and chat with you a bit."
The plane was still climbing but, after several minutes, it leveled off and Marc said over the intercom, "We are now at cruising altitude. You may unfasten your seatbelts and move around the cabin. When you are seated, please keep your belt fastened, otherwise you may bust your butt." Marc then left the co-pilot's seat, walked to the back of the plane, took a container out of a compartment and started walking back up the aisle. When he reached Rachel and Jack, who were closest to the aft, he said, "I have Coke, Seven-Up, Dr. Pepper and root beer drinks, and cranberry, orange and tomato juice." As each of us told him what we wanted, he handed it to us along with a bag of peanuts. "I hope you knew this wasn't a dinner flight," he laughed, when he had given us the drinks and peanuts.
"We did," Douglas said. "I phoned Matt and Luke last night and told them we would be starved when we arrived."
"Good, I haven't eaten since lunch and I am starved now," Marc responded. "Keith, I'm headed for the driver's seat. How'd you like to keep me company? Captain Langley will be back here and I'll be on my lonesome."
"Sure, I'd love to. I really would."
"Then come along."
ASP--The Concord Five--Keith
I didn't know why Marc selected me to join him in the cockpit but, man, I was glad it happened. He was one good-looking hunk! As soon as Captain Kelly was gone, I slid into his seat. "How long did it take you to learn to fly this thing?" I asked.
"It took a while, and not because I wanted it to. I started pestering Dad's pilots to let me fly when I was just a kid, maybe eight or nine. When I was thirteen, I guess to get me out of his hair, Captain Kelly told me I had to go to flight school and get my pilot's license before he would talk to me about flying. I surprised him, I think because, while it took a year, I had my pilot's license shortly after I was fourteen--I couldn't drive a car, but could pilot a plane. Go figure. Of course, I wasn't ready to fly something like this, but I gradually worked my way up. I love flying and was real happy when I was able to fly this. So it's no big deal, just something I wanted bad enough to work for. I guess that's why it's important to me. I had to work for it. Almost everything I have is handed to me on a silver platter. I want for nothing except a Dad who cares. My Mom died so long ago I hardly remember her, and I have had so many stepmothers and stepmothers-to be I lost count. Dad loves young, good-looking women and making money. I hardly figure in the picture at all. Douglas and I had absentee parents in common. Of course, when his finally paid attention to him it was for the wrong reason. 'Good riddance' Douglas said when he got them out of the house. You know Douglas' and Janet's story?"
Marc glanced at me and his dark, dark blue eyes with their long, long black lashes made my heart skip a beat. He was one beautiful man. "Yea. Michael and Mary Kathryn told the Fellowship about them when he called about the party."
"Yea, the Fellowship of the Rings.
"What's the Fellowship of the Rings? It sounds mysterious and maybe kinda spooky."
I laughed and, when I did, Marc said, "Hey, nice laugh. It tells you a lot about a man. I'd guess you're bright--smart, you know--feel things deeply and have suffered more than a little, right?"
I laughed and said, "I'm not sure about being smart, but the other things, yea, I guess you're right. Speaking of which, we have one thing in common. I haven't a mom. My parents split the summer before my freshman year and I seldom see or hear from my mom. But our dads are definitely different. My dad and I are very close. He knows just about all there is to know about me. He probably could have provided every little thing my heart desired, but he refused to spoil me. I'm sure you would agree that having a dad who spends time with you, listens to all your problems--well, the ones you tell him about--is worth a lot more than money."
"Yea. Douglas and I would have traded just about everything for that, but it didn't happen and it's not going to. It's too late now, I think. But about this ring thing."
"I'm the second newest member--Rachel just came along this past week. You know about the Fellowship in general terms from tales around school, and if you are a member you find out the tales aren't nearly as interesting as the reality. I guess you could call Bill the father of the Fellowship." I then told Marc about the Fellowship, beginning with the previous year's school election, the rings, all I could think of. I didn't realize just how much of the history of the group I really did know. About half-way through I said, "I guess you already have heard more about the Fellowship than you ever wanted to hear."
"Not at all, this is really exciting to me. Man, I would like to be a part of something like that. Most of the friends I have--Douglas is the big exception--are friends because I pick up the tab for just about everything we do. No, I want to hear it all. Besides, I like your voice. You ought to use it some way."
"I guess I do. I have a teen radio show on Saturday mornings--well, most Saturday mornings. I have a sub this week, of course."
"That must be kinda exciting. I mean having your own radio show."
"I enjoy it, but don't let it give me the big-head since the station is a small one with a very limited audience, but the teen show does get a lot of attention from kids in the town and country."
"Bet it gets you loads of girlfriends."
"I guess it could, but I pretty much keep to myself at school because I'm not interested in having girls hanging all over me. Of course, now that I'm with the Fellowship, I'm not as much of a loner as I was. I certainly enjoy being with them and getting involved in things they do."
"Tell me more about this Fellowship thing."
"Are you sure I'm not boring you to death?"
"Hey, not at all. I'm thinking about joining up."
"You'd be welcome if you are into something creative and, I guess, having few secrets. They--we--tell each other just about everything. It really is one for all and all for one." I talked more about the Fellowship and when I thought I had covered everything---every time I stopped for breath Marc urged me on--I said, "That's all I know and now I am sure you have heard enough to make you sick of having asked the question."
"Not at all. I really think it's great. And you all wear rings?"
"All except Rachel. She was so new no-one remembered to tell her. I'd show you mine but you're flying."
Marc laughed and said, "Not really. We've been on auto-pilot since I took over."
I held up my hand, Marc took it and looked at my ring. I just about flipped when he took my hand.
"Kokopeli, the deformed flute player?" he asked.
"Yea, I chose Kokopeli because he's different and entertains people."
"It's beautiful," Marc said, looking at my ring.
"It really means a lot to me," I replied.
Suddenly a buzzer went off in the cockpit and I jumped. "What's that?" I gasped.
"Just a warning that it's time to begin our approach to the airport. Sorry to say so, but you have to get back so the captain can come forward. He wouldn't trust me to bring the plane in with this number of people aboard. Thanks, Keith, I've enjoyed our time together and I hope to talk to you more this weekend."
"I enjoyed it too. See you after we land."
When I got back in the cabin, Michael said, "You missed a good discussion with the captain. He's a great guy. Been flying for the Langleys for almost twenty years. He started a year or so before Marc was born."
"I may have missed a good discussion back here, but I enjoyed talking to Marc. He's a nice guy, which is pretty remarkable considering he's been spoiled rotten--no, that's not right, he has been given anything he ever wanted."
"Not quite true," Douglas said. "We both have been given any THING we wanted, but I think we both would have happily traded it for a dad who cared."
"I know exactly what you mean," Jacob said. "Although I have been given things, I sure never had a father who cared a great deal and, when the chips were down, he didn't give a shit about me."
"Having no idea who my father is, and having a slut for a mother, you guys who have parents don't know what a blessing you have," Chris said.
"I know both sides of that question," Bill commented. "My dad paid practically no attention to me until Jacob kinda gave him a poke in the ribs, and now I don't think I could ask for a better dad."
"Of course, the winner of the asshole dad goes to Eugene," Michael said. That, of course, meant telling the new Fellowship members about Eugene. They had some vague idea of Eugene's situation from the trial, but didn't know a great deal about it and, of course, Rachel knew nothing.
"He got off easy," Dan spoke up. "I had to go the full course with McBride." We talked a bit about that, but not long as Marc came on the intercom and said, "Be sure you are seated and your seatbelts are fastened. We are headed down." Ten minutes later, we touched down on the runway of a small airport--about the same size as Lexington's--outside Cleveland.
The plane pulled up to the terminal and the captain cut the engines and, a few minutes later, Marc came out of the cockpit and said, in a lispy voice,"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Halloween Land. The aircraft is now stationary and you may prepare to deplane." He then shifted into a different voice and called, "De plane, de plane". I guess all of us had seen the reruns of "Fantasy Island" because we all started laughing. Switching back to his lispy cabin attendant voice he said, "As you deplane, Honeys, please take all your personal items with you. Gentlemen, remember to take your personal woman or man according to your preference." Finally, in his own voice, he said, "Gang, we are here! The captain has given me the word to open the hatch and we can leave. He will set your luggage on the tarmac, so pick it up as you leave. His flying partner should be waiting for us here to fly back to Concord with him tonight. They'll sleep in tomorrow and pick up the next load."
ASP--The Concord Five--Michael
As soon as we stepped off the plane, we were met by the Oberlin crew. There were wild exchanges of hugs and kisses. Standing back from them was a tall, ruggedly handsome guy. After all the excitement died down, Paula reached back, got his hand and dragged him forward. "Crew, this is Kent. Kent, the Concord bunch, including some I don't think I know."
"Kent, I'm Jacob and know you have latched onto one great woman." As he spoke, Jacob shook hands with Kent and then kissed Paula again. "And this is Susan, the only woman who could have ever taken Paula's place." Paula hugged Susan and said, "Welcome to Ohio, Susan".
"Now that we have the potentially nasty bit out of the way," I said, "I'll introduce the others," which I did--except for Marc. "Douglas, I'll let you do the final honors."
"God, I am so glad to see you guys. This is my best friend in the whole wide world--and he was before I needed his plane--Marc Langley." After the hand-shaking, Matt said, "We are ready to roll as soon as you get your luggage."
"I'm pretty sure we all need to make a pit stop," Douglas said. "The head on the plane is certainly ok but a bit cramped, so I think we all waited."
"Make your pit stops and we'll start getting the luggage," Eugene said.
We were on our way back from the first load of luggage when Douglas emerged from the men's room. "Since all of you are here and there's a dozen of us, how are we going to fit in your cars?" he asked.
"Don't think you are the only one who can provide transportation," Matt said. "This way." When we got to the front of the terminal, there was a mini-bus in the parking lot with a luggage carrier on top. Luke climbed up and stashed the luggage as it was tossed up to him. Five minutes later we were on our way to the house.
When we pulled into the drive, it was hard to believe the house was the same one we had worked on in summer because the grounds were, obviously, carefully tended.
Luke parked in front of the house, climbed up and tossed the bags down. As we walked into the house, there was a wonderful aroma of food. "Man, I am teetotally starved," Bill said, "and I know I smell food. Who's cooking?"
"Kent, Luke and I," Matt answered. "We have learned a lot of secrets about preparing ahead of time, using a slow cooker and an oven timer. We sometimes do a whole meal that way, so when we get home it's ready and waiting. This wasn't quite that way, but enough to allow us all to meet you."
All the guests took their luggage to where they would be sleeping that night, and ten minutes later we were all in the living room. There was a great fire in the huge fireplace. "That fire sure feels, looks and even smells good," Susan said.
"It's apple wood," Kent said, "from our pruning last summer. You should feel honored. We are very selfish about using it, because there's not a lot of it and it does make a beautiful and sweet-smelling fire. But please excuse me, I'm needed in the kitchen."
After Kent left, I asked Paula to show us around. "I'm afraid I'll have to be excused as well. Larry and I are in charge of setting the table."
"I'm not as good-looking as Paula, but I don't have anything to do until cleaning-up time comes," Eugene said. "I'll be happy to be tour guide." Before he started, he called," Matt, Luke, your room off limits?"
"Nope, it's fine," Matt answered.
"Paula inspected it and gave me a gold star," he called from the kitchen.
"Then let's start at the top and work our way down--ending, don't you think, in the dining room."
The rooms were neat as pins, yet they definitely looked lived in. Marc was bowled over by the painting of Matt in Luke's and Matt's room. "Don't want to embarrass anyone," he said, "but I think anyone looking at that painting could tell the artist has looked on the subject in a very special way. Luke painted that, you said? And he and Matt are partners, right?"
"Not embarrassing at all. Matt and Luke are married--not legally of course, but they certainly consider themselves married," Eugene said, and briefly told Marc about their commitment ceremony.
"And you and Eugene are..."
"Partners. We have a very different feeling about a ceremony. We don't think it is necessary for us. I believe it was for Matt and Luke. All that aside, our commitment to each other is the same as Matt's and Luke's."
"Isn't this Paula's room?" Linda asked as we stepped into another room.
"It was Paula's room. It is now the guest room. After Kent came to live with us, Paula moved downstairs--leaving the upstairs as what she calls the bullpen."
"This is Kent's room. I guess he'll have to tell you how he came to be a part of the household. All you old-timers in the Fellowship know, but you new guys don't. I think it's his story to tell, so it can wait.
We continued the tour downstairs, ending up in the dining room, where the table was set with the magnificent crystal, silver and china that came with the house. There was a low arrangement of some kind of very pretty flowers in the center of the table, and a jack-o-lantern with six faces--the house crew no less. "That's some jack-o-lantern," Marc said.
"Luke's, of course," Matt said.
"And those certainly are beautiful flowers. What are they?" Susan asked.
"They are asters and still beautiful although we got them a couple weeks ago," Paula said.
The two Oberlin couples started laughing. I noticed Kent was kinda grinning and turning bright red. "Kent and Paula took a ride in the country a few weeks ago and stopped at a roadside stand. Paula couldn't decide on the flowers, so Kent bought out the stand. We had ice cream tubs full of flowers. They seem to last forever. We just take away the dead ones and re-arrange what's left. There are still arrangements all over the house," Larry said.
Larry directed us to our places at the table and said, "Paula".
Paula lifted her hands and blessed God for the food, the friends, for giving us a safe flight and for "the fruit of the vine which gladdens the heart of His people". The "Amen" was full of life.
The guys seated the women and we were ready to dive into a delightful and delicious meal after there had been a couple toasts with the wine at each place.