A Charmed Life
Chapter 23: Summer of Love

Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider

03 July 1991 - Main Street, Enfield, Massachusetts

Allison walked back into the apartment while she leafed through a stack of mail. “Jeff, you’ve got a bunch of mail here with those forwarding stickers on them.” It was amazing how good she looked dressed in one of his t-shirts and a pair of her shorts.

She’d been sleeping over almost every night since the alumni event. They’d talked to the Newburys about that at Jeff’s insistence; he didn’t want them to feel he was monopolizing her time at home. The Newburys didn’t have a problem with it because Allison was happy. She’d be adjusting to a new school and city in under two months and being with Jeff would keep her relaxed until then. He smiled at the feeling of sharing space with someone he loved.

Jeff flipped through the envelopes. Most of them were mail forwarded from Fort Bragg. It was almost all junk mail, though some were bills from companies he’d have to contact with a change of address. One envelope stood out. The oversized envelope made from heavy paper had his parents’ address printed on it; the printing was raised. Jeff opened it, curious. The enclosed wedding invitation was written in traditional form with the bride’s parents requesting he attend; he’d been invited to bring a guest. Jeff smiled when he read the names of the bride and groom.

“What is it, Jeff?” Jeff held the invitation out to Allison. “Who are Jenna Farrier and Oscar Infante?”

“Oscar was a soldier in my platoon until he was injured in a training accident. Ken mentioned him when you guys came down, though he didn’t use Oscar’s name. Jenna was his physical therapist.”

“When’s the wedding?”

“End of August. Looks like the Saturday before Labor Day Weekend in Amarillo, the twenty-fourth. That must be where Jenna’s from, Amarillo; I remember Oscar being from somewhere further south, either Dallas or Houston.”

Allison frowned. She knew Jeff would ask her to go to the wedding with him, and she wanted to go. She and her parents planned to be in Austin by then, however; she’d be moving into her unit at UT’s University Apartments complex that weekend. Lucky for her Jeff was still looking at the invitation. She changed her expression back to a neutral one before he looked up.

“You’ve been working on those boots for over two hours.”

“I’ll be marching in the town parade tomorrow with other veterans. I can’t be looking like a rag-bag.” She shot him a blank look. “I need to look my best,” he clarified.

“Is there anything I can help you with at least?”

He put his boots down next to his chair. “I’m feeling lonely...” he said with a wolfish grin while wagging his eyebrows at her. She looked even better with his t-shirt on the floor.

“Nice job, Jeff,” Tom Cavanaugh offered with a smile.

Jeff scowled at him. “Since when is the tradition to have the veteran who’s just gotten out of the service lead the July Fourth formation?”

“Since I volunteered you for it this morning. That’s what happens when you miss membership meetings.”

“I’m not even a member of the VFW yet! How can I miss a membership meeting when I’m not part of the membership?”

“That’s your problem, Airborne, you figure it out.”

Jeff shook his head. Great, I leave the military and I’m still being ‘voluntold’ to do things related to it. Jeff was still shaking his head when a pair of blondes skipped up to the knot of veterans. Many appreciative eyes followed.

“Grampy! You looked so handsome marching in the parade!” Heather chirped while she hugged Tom.

“Alice, someone’s making a move on your man over here,” Jeff commented as more friends and family approached.

Heather stepped over to him. He expected to get smacked, but she wrapped him in a hug instead. “I’m so sorry, Jeff.” Jeff hugged her back to say thanks. Heather and Jane only recently returned from a trip to Las Vegas to celebrate Jane’s retirement from the Air Force. He hadn’t seen Heather since her visit to Fayetteville two years ago.

“Jeff, don’t try to help Tom get in trouble; he can get into it all by himself. Allison, why do you keep hanging around this pot-stirrer again?” Alice Cavanaugh asked.

“I’m not sure, Mrs. Cavanaugh.” Alice shot her a look. “Alice, sorry.”

“You’d think she’d have the answer to that question figured out by now, Alice; she’s pretty smart.”

“Not if she keeps hanging around you, she’s not,” Heather added. Jeff stuck his tongue out at her. Heather did the same back to him.

“Yup, you’re brother and sister material alright,” Jane laughed, joined by Jeff’s parents and Kara.

“Well, I don’t know about you comedians, but I need to change. These Class-As won’t be very comfortable in the hot sun at the town cookout. You guys want to check out my apartment, or would you like to meet us over at the common?”

“I wanna see the Love Shack!” Heather yelled. “‘Love shack, baaaabyyyy!’” Allison blushed bright red. Jeff whispered a follow-up comment in Allison’s ear which caused her to blush even more. “Wait a minute! What did you say to her?”

“Nope. None of your business, Heather. Alright, the tour group going to Bilzarian’s Bachelor Pad is leaving. Try to keep up, everyone!” Jeff led the whole group down Main Street to Bilzarian’s.

“Wow! You did all of this yourself?” Heather asked, gaping at the apartment.

“Yep, took me about a week. A friend of Steve Bilzarian gave me some pointers on restoring the woodwork, but the elbow grease was all mine. Before I get changed, can I get anyone a drink?” Jeff retrieved the requested beverages before darting into his bedroom to change. He emerged wearing a 504th PIR “What I Did On My Christmas Vacation 1989” t-shirt, shorts and sneakers.

“It’s a little spartan up here, Jeff,” Jane commented when he reappeared.

“Living out of a wall locker and duffel bag for four years does that, Jane. I’m sure you know that better than I do. Of course, you ociffers live different than us poor enlisted slobs.” Jane stuck her tongue out at him. Their relationship could be more relaxed now that they were both out of the military. Jeff smiled back at her.

“Today’s gonna be a good day, weather-wise,” Allison mentioned as the group stepped back into the sunshine. “A perfect day for a cookout. Tomorrow is going to be another story, from what I understand.”

“Gotta love New England,” added Kara. “Eighty-five degrees and sunny one day, fifty-five and rainy the next.”

“I know what we can do tomorrow,” Jeff smiled.

“We’ve already watched you smash baseballs for an hour, hotshot,” Heather cracked.

“Shaddap, kid.”

“It’s the fifth of July and I’m walking into an ice rink. There’s something inherently wrong about this whole situation,” Allison said. Jeff whispered into Allison’s ear. The heat coming off her face threatened to melt the ice.

“What? What do you keep saying to her?” Heather demanded.

“Still none of your business, kiddo,” Jeff smiled back. Again she stuck her tongue out at him.

Allison, Heather, Kara and Jeff sat in the Thompkins field house bleachers while they tied their skates; the school kept ice on the rink year round. Jeff also brought his gloves, a bag of pucks and a stick with him in addition to his skates. The three young ladies stepped onto the ice and began skating right away. Jeff stepped onto the ice and began to stretch as he was taught when he started playing hockey.

“What time’s the game?” Heather asked.

“Don’t think I won’t take you over my knee and paddle you!”

“You wouldn’t dare. You wouldn’t risk pissing off Allison. I’ll bet she’d get pretty jealous.”

Jeff shook his head while Heather skated away laughing. He started skating around the edge of the rink after he’d stretched. The women gathered at center ice and began talking after a few minutes. With no one in his way Jeff began to skate harder; he was soon skating as fast as he could. The ladies stood at center ice and watched.

“Man, he’s fast!”

“How does he turn backwards on the fly like that without falling?”

“I think he misses it.”

“C’mon, ladies, let’s leave Hans Brinker to his skating.” The women left the ice and arena, preferring to sit in the lobby of the building. It was warmer there.

Jeff saw that the ice was empty as the women passed through the doors to the lobby. He shrugged, skated to the bench area and walked down the rubber runner along the outside of the boards. He dragged a goal onto the ice, closed the boards and returned to the bench. He put his gloves on and picked up his stick and the puck bag, setting pucks down along the inside of the blue line.

He stretched again before skating to the right point to face the net he’d dragged onto the ice. The rink narrowed down to just him and the net. He squared up and fired a rising slap shot at the net; he aimed at the near-side top corner. A sharp metallic <ting!> rang through the arena as he wound up for his next shot. The puck struck the inside of the post and ricocheted into the net. The follow-on shot did the same. <Ting!> after <ting!> sounded as puck after puck found post and net.

Jeff fired his last shot and bolted for the opposite end of the ice, again skating as hard as he could. He circled around the far crease and streaked back down the boards. He stopped on a dime next to his net spraying shaved ice against the glass. He picked a single puck from the group with the blade of his stick, then repeated his trip around the boards. He pushed the puck in front of him as if on a breakaway. He fired one more slap shot as he approached the blue line he’d started at. The puck found the back of the net just under the crossbar.

“You gonna try out this season?” a familiar voice called. Jeff turned to see Coach Kessler stepping onto the ice. The man skated over and shook his hand. “Kara says you’re home for good? That you’re out of the Army?”

“Both true, Coach.”

“‘John, ‘ Jeff. ‘John.’ You don’t look like you’ve lost a step, or anything off that shot of yours.”

“First time I’ve skated or picked up a stick since high school, John. I’m kinda surprised myself. Feels good, though; I’ve missed it, if truth be told.”

“You’re still collecting blondes too, I see.”

Jeff raised an eyebrow. “Oh, you mean Heather? Yeah, I guess. There’s a raven-haired woman out in Washington state you’ll likely meet one day, too.” Now it was John Kessler’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “A battle buddy’s little sister. I don’t know how I know, but I know she’ll be my wife within five years. Don’t ask, John; I can’t explain. And, yes, Allison knows.”

“Your business, not mine, Jeff. You been keeping up with those workouts you used to do?”

Jeff nodded. “Five hundred each and six miles or so every day. The cadre in the 82nd took a dim view of troops that couldn’t measure up. I gotta join a gym or something soon, though. I need to start hitting the weights again.”

“You’re starting an EMT class over at SRVCC in the fall I hear?”

“Swerve? Yeah. I’m working at Bilzarian’s again and living in the apartment upstairs, so I’ll walk to and from class. The campus is right across Main Street, after all.”

“What’s your class schedule going to be?”

“They run the class Tuesday and Thursday nights, why?”

“Would you be interested in doing some assistant coaching for me this season? Most of our games are scheduled for Wednesdays and Fridays.”

Jeff blinked. “Wow, John, are you serious?” John nodded. “To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever considered it until you asked. Yeah, if we can work out scheduling, yeah, I’d like to try it. Defensive stuff?”

“That and some real-world conditioning. None of this steroid BS that’s going around.”

“Yeah, definitely. Maybe Steve Bilzarian will let me open, and I can get my workouts in here before we practice? That might work. I’ll ask when he gets back from his vacation next week.”

“Excellent! Let me know; you know where my office is. Now, you’ve got three lovely ladies waiting on you in the lobby. What are you doing standing here talking to me?”

Jeff sat on the deck over the store’s loading dock, his drink abandoned on the table next to him. The ice in the glass melted away fifteen minutes ago. He looked up into the dark night sky searching for his old friend but clouds behind Bilzarian’s obscured his view of Orion tonight. The screen door from the apartment creaked when it opened. An arm snaked gently around him while a familiar face pressed itself to his. Jeff’s hand came up to stroke the arm over his chest.

“Jeff? It’s almost two in the morning. What’s wrong?”

“I’m sorry, Allison.”

“For what? Because you stopped earlier? Jeff, I know Keiko was being honest when she told you to keep yourself open to love while you were apart, but I wonder how kind that was to a person like you. Underneath it all you’re a gentle, caring soul. I think we were both hoping for, expecting, too much when we ran into each other when you got home. How long have you been awake?”

“I haven’t been able to sleep yet.”

“You’ve been keeping yourself awake over-thinking things, haven’t you?”

“You deserve better than this, Allison. You deserve someone who’s not holding back.”

“I want what I’ve got, Jeff. I’ll find my forever guy, my male Keiko, some day. Here and now, I want you and what you’re able to give. I’m happy, Jeff. That’s what matters to me.”

“How, Allison? I don’t get it, how are you able to be happy with a guy who’s in love with another woman three thousand miles away?”

Allison released him. She walked around the chair and sat in his lap as she’d done in the kitchen a month ago. “Do you love me?” He nodded, pain and sorrow on his face. “I love you too, you big dummy. If our summer together is limited to stopping at third base, then we should be happy with the triple; I’d much prefer that than getting thrown out at home, to losing our friendship. I can feel that you love me when you touch me, see it in your eyes when you look at me. I know my place in your life is as your friend now, and not as your wife or lover. Keiko is a lucky woman; I’d better be on your guest list when the time comes.”

He smiled gratefully at her. “I’m the lucky one, Allison, to have you and Heather as my friends still.”

“Come back to bed,” she whispered as she led him back inside to his bedroom. She held him while he fell into a dreamless sleep.

“Lift with the legs, boys!” Jeff called to the summer stock staff. They were restocking the bags of mulch, lawn fertilizer and pet food around the stock room. Jeff was restocking with them; he wasn’t one to stand back and watch. Genius, which is what Jeff still called Eric DuBront, had given Jeff a wide berth since Steve introduced him as the stock foreman to the summer help. Charlie smiled and gave Jeff a thumbs-up from the back of the room on that day.

There was one small, wiry boy that summer named Paul Ezekiel who’d do any job assigned to him without whining about it. Unfortunately, other than Charlie, Paul was the exception rather than the rule when it came to the summer staff; he was the only other non-Bilzarian Jeff would recommend for retention after that summer. Jeff asked Paul to help him replace the mulch in front of the store when the stocking was complete.

“How are things going this summer, Paul?”

“Better now that you’re in charge of us.”

“Getting shit before that, were you?”

“You could say that. Charlie tried to block some of it, but there was only so much he could do.”

“Why do you think things changed?”

“Because you could snap DuBront in half like a rotten tree limb!”

“Because I wouldn’t back down when the genius tried to act all superior when I first started cleaning upstairs.”

“That was great,” Paul laughed. “I thought he was going to shit himself.”

“He won’t be BMOC forever, Paul. There’s always someone bigger and badder around. Me, I’m pretty easy-going until you push me, then I’ll go for your throat. Bullies don’t like to be called on their BS. Sometimes you get your ass kicked, but you take it and keep stepping. Don’t change who you are for anybody.”

“Isn’t that what the Army did to you, though? Change you?”

“Not so much change me as file the rough edges off the high school kid I’d been. They do that so you’ll fit in the Army. Underneath it all, I don’t think they changed me all that much.”

“And now you date a supermodel.”

Jeff laughed. “Oh, Allison will love you when she hears that! Do you know who Allison was in high school?” Paul shook his head. “She was our class valedictorian, Paul; she’ll tell you she was the ugly duckling until our senior year. She was my friend first. She didn’t become my girlfriend until after New Year’s our senior year. And wait until I introduce you to Heather.”

“You know more than one supermodel?”

“Heather’s more like my older sister than a girlfriend. She grew up in Greenwich and went to VRHS, but we didn’t meet until ‘88.”

“Do you have any guy friends you hang around with?”

“I used to, Paul. My best friend from Thompkins is in medical school in Baltimore.”

“What about from the Army?” Paul saw Jeff get a far-away look in his eye. “Sorry, I should have known that one.”

“What do you mean?” Paul pointed at his right arm. The kanji for “Takahashi” was visible.

“I know what a ‘Gold Star family’ is. That day we were moving the ice melt out? When it was about ninety-five and you had your shirt off? I knew what I was looking at.”

At lunch Jeff made two phone calls. “Hey, Paul, can you hang around a few minutes after we close today?”

“Yeah, Jeff, not a problem.” Paul lived a few streets away and would walk home.

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