Symphony 77

“It’s all right, and it was cheap.”

“I don’t mean your apartment; I mean the town.”

“Ugly? I guess. I thought so at first, but I am getting used to it. Parts of it are okay, and the countryside is pretty.”

“This billiard table, pretty? You’ve got to be kidding.”

Neil grinned and admitted, “You have to look close to see it. But the foothills are pretty and the mountains are beautiful.”

“Do you get up there much?”

“Not at all since school started. They keep me pretty busy.” He stopped long enough to open the door to his apartment, then went on, “I spent the summer in the high Sierras.”

“Alone?”

Neil met his eyes and said, “Yes.”

“That must have been a rough time for you.”

“Damned rough. But let’s not talk about that.”

Tom shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He headed for the refrigerator and said over his shoulder, “Don’t you have anything to drink?”

“There should be a six pack of coke.”

“Beer?”

“No. I don’t keep it on hand.”

Tom pulled a pair of cokes out of the refrigerator and a tray of ice. He was sure enough of his welcome to make himself at home. Neil was surprised to find that that made him uncomfortable. It never had before. Tom took two glasses from the cabinet, added ice and poured them three-fourths full of coke. Then he crossed to his bag, pulled out a bottle, and held it up for Neil’s inspection. “Better than beer any day,” he said.

“None for me.”

“Come on!”

“No, Tom.”

Tom poured a liberal draft of rum into each glass and held one out to Neil. He said, “It’s almost vacation time. Let loose.”

Neil stood for a moment with the glass in his hand. He could smell it and it smelled good. Then he crossed to the sink and dumped liquid and ice in a single, decisive motion. Standing with his back to Tom, he rinsed out the glass and rebuilt it of ice and soft drink only. Before he turned around, he said softly, “Don’t push me on this, Tom.”

“All right.”

Neil crossed to the couch and motioned Tom to join him. Before he sat down, Tom said, “I’m sorry, Neil. I guess I’m pretty clumsy sometimes.”

“Forget it. You stood by me when almost no one else would. I won’t forget that. Ever. I’m not being unsociable, but when I drink, I dream of that bitch. And I don’t ever need to see her face again!”

Tom sat beside him and said, “Cheers!” Neil smiled and they touched glasses together. 

“Is your school out already?”

“Sure.”

“We have to go until Friday.”

“That’s stupid. It will cut things close for you. You are driving home for Christmas, aren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“I wanted to get down here early enough to spend the evening and go on in the morning. I hope I’m not messing you up, but the chance came up suddenly and I didn’t have time to call ahead.”

“Of course not. You are welcome here any time. I don’t do much that you could interrupt; just work mostly.”

“How are you doing, really?” Tom asked.

“Really?” Neil paused. “Really, I am doing quite well. Much better than I had anticipated. I had a terrible day today, but that isn’t typical.”

“How do you like working with little kids?”

“I like it. There is a freshness about them that I haven’t experienced before. I never realized until this year how jaded high school students are.”

“How about teaching reading instead of literature?”

They looked at each other, and then they both laughed. Tom waved his hand and said, “Okay, dumb question. Let me ask instead, is it as bad as we imagined it would be?” more tomorrow

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