Dad Got Mill

With his wife’s urging, a middle-aged man musters the courage to open a luxury men’s store on the brink of the pandemic.

Dad Got Mill

a short story
by Andrew B. Hurvitz

Soundtrack: Dad Got Mill on Spotify

DGM

Kathy Fessenden and I were on our daily walk around the Silver Lake Reservoir to exercise and throw out ideas.

Raised in a small North Dakota town, founded by her family, my wife worked as a Senior Financial Analyst at Disney, her only employer for the last 25 years. Kathy was the reason we could afford a house, a private academy for Nikolas, and last year’s trip to Sardinia. She was frugal. And we were well off from that.

By contrast, I stayed at home, listening to my large collection of jazz records, trading mutual funds, auditioning for voice acting jobs, researching out-of-state houses for sale.

Decades earlier, in New York, I was a junior analyst at Goldman Sachs, then a trader at Morgan Stanley, then a portfolio manager at Fidelity. At no point did I progress at those jobs.

My secret dream was to own a men’s clothing shop.
My reality was pursuing imaginary creative endeavors past 50.

Yet Kathy Fessenden loved me no matter what.
We had a strange, but successful marriage.


Go Forth!

That morning, we stopped on the west side of the lake, near a stark, flat-roofed Gregory Ain house. It was perched on a hill with a row of tall windows overlooking the reservoir.

As she spoke, I looked up at that house, floating back down to her words.

“Listen to me! You love Las Colinas Rojas and Winchester Arcade. You said if you had one place to make a store it would be there. It has all your requirements: glass roofed, English, charming.

“Am I foolish? Am I dreaming? Can we afford it?” I asked.

“We’ve had this discussion so many times. Go forth and manifest what you want in life!” she said.

“Bottom line. I’m a failure. I can’t earn a living. I’m torn up because I’m too afraid to sign a lease and open a little men’s store. I’m a wimp,” I said.

“You have my support and resources. Make 2018 your year of action. Sign the lease. Buy the goods, and get on it,” she said.

We walked, the sun came out, my mood lifted.

“Do you like the name August? I read a novel by that name when I was young, about the month when the therapists go out of town, and since I’m always in therapy with Myra Rubin, it fits,” I said.

“I like it. Nik goes back to school in late August. He can help you set up the store,” she said.

“Maybe I should discuss it with Myra first,” I said.

“She won’t give you an answer. She’ll just ask you what you think,” she said.

“I think I’ll paint the shelves Farrow and Ball Green Smoke. I’ll have perfumes from DS & Durga and dad’s favorite, St. John’s Bay Rum. And handmade socks from Japan, great khakis, nice oxfords, Irish woolen caps, Italian silk neckties, crested navy blazers, and rugby shirts. A traditional men’s store with whiskey, tweed jackets and jazz music,” I said.

“I love it. There’s your answer. You came up with it yourself, without your therapist’s help,” she said.

We hugged and then continued up the steep hill to our dark green 1938 ranch house on Kenilworth Avenue.

It stretched along the sidewalk, garage near the street, stub driveway, no front lawn.

In the back, on our enormous wooden deck, we spent many hours enjoying our expansive views over Silverlake.


Lease

I signed the lease!

Move in date was three months away, August 1, 2018. I spent the summer buying stock for the store, nervous, but excited.

$70,000 on Kathy’s credit card.

Boxes came to Kenilworth Avenue: Trucker’s English brogues, Scottish cashmeres, J Press oxfords, Ralph Lauren neckties; perfumes, wool scarves, tweed jackets, tennis sweaters, university sweatshirts, lambswool caps, brushed cotton flannels.

Nik watched me open a box of Norwegian wool sweater vests.

“Who’s going to wear that in LA?” he laughed.

“People with money go places, they don’t stay in one place. They ski in Switzerland, or they have a winter lodge in Vermont. Those are the customers who will shop at August,” I said.

He chuckled at my Farrow and Ball paint samples, picked up two cans, read the labels.

“Duck Green and Lake Red. Sounds like your new customers. Nobody buys clothes in stores anymore,” he said.


Shad Mill/ Dad Got Mill

The only thing I didn’t have were old style rugbies.

One of my 57 followers was Shad Mill of Dad Got Mill clothing, made in Los Angeles.

He had fine hashtags: #Slow fashion, #handmade, #traditional, #organic, #heirlooms, #rugby.

Shad was a former New Yorker, about my age, now living here in Los Angeles.

Blond models in striped rugby shirts populated his page.

He had a long resume in fashion, most recently as head designer at Chuck Fagan. And he made high end rugby shirts, precisely tailored khakis with old Hollywood names (“Spencer” and “Montgomery”), and unconstructed wool blazers.

He had a vaguely preposterous persona, quite pretentious, but characteristic of his age and profession. I invited him to the opening party at the store.


Colin

Again, on Instagram, I found Colin Chu, a 27-year-old vintage menswear dealer who lived with his parents in Alhambra.

We met for coffee at a little cafe in the Winchester Arcade, weeks before the store opened.

He wore high waisted jodhpurs, tucked in ivory cashmere sweater and cordovan lace up boots. Thin, smooth faced, articulate, he spoke fluently and easily in grosgrain, merino, foulard, lapel, angora and alpaca.

He talked about his eBay store, selling vintage neckties, tweed jackets, oxford shirts, wool caps, and rowing blazers. I liked his positive energy, boyish and eager.

He was active in influencer walks in Los Angeles, groups of guys who walked around men’s stores trying on expensive clothes they never purchased and photographing themselves wearing luxury goods.

I told Colin about my life: growing up in Suffolk County, New York, my love of traditional clothing, my unhappy years commuting to jobs on Wall Street, and my eventual rescue by Kathy, who convinced me to go west to get married, escape finance, and pursue voice acting.

After I spoke, I felt letdown by my autobiography.

My abridged life story was like wood floating down a river: pulled by the current, past landmarks beyond reach, moving along with no direction.

“You gave up voice acting? Why not keep working to achieve your dream?” he asked.

“Good question. No answer. I ended up as a day trader, which was more lucrative, and then I invested in real estate,” I said.

“Owning property is always a good move. One day I’ll own a house, or two,” he said.

I felt old. I referenced the golden age of Hollywood: Fred Astaire, Cary Grant, Steve McQueen, The Thomas Crown Affair, Sabrina, The Philadelphia Story, Holiday, The Birds.

All elicited a blank stare.

Bewildered, he looked at me like a father. We had nothing in common, but love, for clothes.

But he had youth and I had none. I needed him.

He would pull in young clientele, beef up social media, sell online.

He seemed ethical, honest, and trustworthy. He wouldn’t steal or lie. I could leave him in the store, go on vacation, no worries.

“I would be into working with you. I live not too far from here. Commuting is fine. I can borrow my mom’s car. How much can you pay?” he asked.

“$20 bucks an hour. 30 hours a week,” I said.
“Ok. I’ll take it,” he said.

As a placeholder I offered him a bottle of 18-year-old Scotch.

“No, thank you. My parents don’t allow liquor in the house. Our church prohibits it,” he said.


Opening

Kathy, Nik and I drove to Las Colinas Rojas early Sunday morning on the day of the store’s opening party.

The queen city of the San Gabriel Valley was in a mist. We came up through a mansion lined road of sprawling lawns and mature oaks, clouds hiding the sun, and emerged into the shopping district as the fog receeded.

We parked in back, stood in the glass ceilinged arcade, outside the store entrance, viewing it like tourists.

August was painted in Old English Monotype on the window. Behind the sign, a body form wore a double-breasted blue blazer. Spread below it were my jazz albums from the 1950s and 60s: Miles Davis, Art Blakely, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk.

Colin was inside, holding a small paint can and brush, finishing off a cabinet shelf.

He had meticulously hung the Japanese tailored Ring Jackets in the back room, alternating the coats with rigidly ironed dress shirts, grouped by colors, in a rhythm of light blue, navy, and white.

He had steamed, iron and folded.

“Have a donut,” he said, pointing to an open box.

On a round, dark wood table were an assortment of tartan scarves. A chrome liquor cart on wheels held various spirits, wine and highball glasses.

A feather duster rested against a bottle of Dewar’s.

Vintage watches were arrayed under glass at checkout. On the wall behind the register hung framed and matted black and white photographs of defunct New York jazz clubs.

“How did you learn to do all this?” Kathy asked.

“Ralph Lauren. I worked in the Beverly Hills store for two years when I was at UCLA,” he said.

Kathy leafed through a colorful assortment of rugby shirts on wooden hangers.

“Hey, these are nice. Very heavy, weighty cotton,” she said.

I walked over, concerned.

“I don’t know those rugbies. Where did these come from?” I asked Colin.

“Some man dropped a box off yesterday. I thought you ordered them,” Colin answered.

I looked at the labels: Dad Got Mill.

Kathy checked Disney Visa on her phone.

“Yep. Here’s $4,320 on the card by Dad Got Mill,” Kathy said.

“Oh, so I did. My mistake,” I said.


The Party

Trumpeter Kenny Dorham played on LP. Guests drank scotch and craft beer. They looked through the wares, admired the clothes, took photos.

They were Asian-American friends of Colin, young guys, in collared shirts, knit beanies, selvedge jean jackets, expensive rolled up denim, and dark leather shoes.

A good-looking Black man rode up on a Harley-Davidson, parked along the curb, came inside.

I sipped my iced whiskey and walked around.
Kathy and Nik smiled. The party was going well.
I met Shad.

He was a white middle-aged male, possibly fat or thin, 5’10, covered in orange turtleneck, blue and gray flannel shirt, houndstooth tweed jacket, striped university scarf, horn rimmed glasses, and green tweed driving cap, the quintessence of eastern seaboard docked at the liquor cart in Las Colinas Rojas, California.

“Dad Got Mill! Wonderful clothes. Welcome to August. I’m so delighted to have you here,” I said.

“Yes, yes. I’m still getting used to LA. Finding my way. Almost got lost coming here,” he said, toasting with his gin and tonic.

“Delighted you came. You worked for some great designers in New York,” I said.

“Yes, yes. I was the head designer for Chuck Fagan and I also worked ten years for Ralph Lauren. Things change in fashion. When I was hired at Polo in 1999, people there still looked like me. When I left they were already into diversity. Dad Got Mill is my salute to our family mill that once stood on the Merrimac River in Massachusetts,” he said.

“Oh, lovely. You take your family heritage and create a brand out of that,” I said.

“I’m the real article. So many pretend to have my heritage. I mean Ralph is an example of that,” he said.

“Well, my family worked in fishing, trucking, farming, and I was the first to go to college,” I said.

“Yes, yes,” he answered, seemingly bored, sipping his drink.

“Are you relocating to California permanently?” I asked.

“I think so. But the problem is nowhere do I really feel at home. I moved to a gorgeous 1929 Spanish duplex apartment near Sycamore and 2nd. I would have killed for something like it in New York. It’s tree lined, quaint, charming. My place has French doors, balcony, wood floors, perfect for my watercolors,” he said.

“Like the West Village,” I said.

“A few days after I moved in, I sat down with my nightly Negroni. I was jolted by loud noise. Upstairs moved an Orthodox Jewish family, The Moskowitz Bunch. They are horrendous. Three brats in yarmulkes, pounding on the floors. The noise is insane. I went up to knock on their door when they got loud, and they wouldn’t open it. They pray all the time. They won’t answer the phone on Friday or Saturday! I hear Hebrew melodies until midnight. They boil everything and the smell comes into my apartment. It’s repulsive,” Shad said.

“Maybe you should look for a place in Las Colinas Rojas,” I said.

“I don’t think I’d like it here either. Las Colinas Rojas is way too Asian, like Flushing, Queens. I’m a normal American guy. I want to live in a normal American place. Every place in LA is infested with Armenians, Asians, Mexicans, Jews. Can you advise me on where not to go?” Shad asked.

I looked around to see if anyone else could hear.

His openly expressed hatreds were startling. That he considered me an empathetic ear was unsettling.

“Please excuse me. Look in your email for the agreement on Monday,” I said.

I watched from a distance as Chad inspected his rugbies.

Colin came over, beaming.

“We have our first sale! Two Dad Got Mill rugbies. $400. And they bought a Drake’s scarf for $375, and Orslow khakis for $225!” he said.

“That’s great news! I just had a talk with Shad Mill. I like his shirts. I like his style. I like his business acumen. But I really don’t like him,” I said.

“Why?” Colin asked.

“He’s an old-style bigot, in the exact mode of his 1940s clothing,” I whispered.

“Ok. Gotcha. Let’s talk later. I see someone at the register,” Colin said, patting my shoulder reassuringly.

Shad was across the room. He sipped his drink, put it down on the tie table, left the store. I wondered how sloshed he was and if he was driving home.

The athletic, good-looking Black man came over.
“Hey, I’m Joshua. I want to shake your hand. I absolutely adore your store. This Dad Got Mill rugby is the best quality I’ve come across. How come it took so long for a shop like this to open in LA?” he asked.

His teeth glistened. His handshake was iron.

“It’s my fault. I procrastinated for twenty years until my wife told me to get my ass in gear,” I joked.

“I’m glad you did. Seriously, this is so pristinely elegant and well-merchandized. And very welcoming and diverse. I feel the love you have for all people, all the glorious rainbows in this city. You have my blessings. I’m going to post myself in this shirt tonight. I only have 43,000 followers but my wife has over 100,000,” he said.


Christmas Season

Kathy and I had planned a three weeklong, family trip to Scotland in December.

I went ahead with our vacation plans and decided to close up the store for nearly 8 weeks, from Thanksgiving to the middle of January.

A working trip.

That was my official line.

Colin was surprised.

“I can’t imagine closing down before Christmas. That’s the prime shopping season. I really need the income. I’m helping my folks with their property taxes,” Colin said.

“I’m going to source goods. I have a trip planned to visit Inis Meáin Knitting Company in the Aran Islands,” I said, half truthfully.

“It’s like throwing money away. This is your first Christmas. What are you thinking? What about all those potential customers who wander in a few days before Christmas looking for gifts?” he asked.

I had no answer.

“Enjoy your time off and come back in mid- January, refreshed,” I said.

“Refreshed? If I am not working here, I’m working at my mom’s dry cleaners. If she doesn’t need me, I’m selling clothes on eBay. And if I don’t sell on eBay, I’ll work at my father’s hardware store. I told them I’ll be working with you for the holidays,” he said.

“Ok, I’ll let you keep the store open. I trust you. Keys will be in your hands and you’ll do it all,” I said.

“Yes! That’s a good plan. We are bursting with inventory now. I counted five dozen cashmeres,” he said.


Elation

We went to Scotland. And we had a grand time. I was calm and relaxed with honest, hard-working Colin minding the store.

We spent a week in Edinburgh. We went to festive Christmas markets, Jenners department store, and the Scottish market in St. Andrew’s Square.

I purchased a $450 oil cloth, corduroy collared, tartan lined coat at Barbour Edinburgh. And a matching one for Nik.

Kathy abstained.

“I don’t want one. We’ll all look ridiculous walking around in the same jacket,” she said.

We traveled to Braemar and spent Christmas at the Fife Arms, a 19th-century inn. We ate smoked salmon, venison burgers, drank scotch and local ale. We drove further and ended up in Glencoe, along the steep sided mountains, with waterfalls and trails, red deer and golden eagles, and spent New Years at the Isle of Mull Hotel along the sound.

We visited the Isle of Iona with her Benedictine abbey and St Oran’s Cemetery, burial grounds for many Scottish kings.

We never made it to the Aran Islands. We went back to Edinburgh, and stayed our last two nights at The Balmoral, a palatial Victorian hotel.

It was a long, tiring trip back to Los Angeles.

After a day and night of insomnia and napping, still high on Scotland, I went to see Colin at August.

The store looked perfect, as usual. The soundtrack was Ahmad Jamal’s Happy Moods.

A Diptyque fig candle burned.

The pressed shirts hung in formation, the sweaters were precisely stacked, the antique wristwatches were laid diagonally across purple velvet under clear glass.

Gone was all holiday décor. Soon the spring shirts would arrive, linen and madras would replace wool and flannel.

“How was business?” I asked.

“We had some good numbers. I sent you daily updates by email. Didn’t you see them?” he asked.

“I didn’t open my email. I apologize,” I said.

“Really? You didn’t look at any of the sales figures for your store for the last two months?” he asked.


s-l1600

Valentine’s Day

I was working alone, one Friday in early February, when model man Joshua Fuhrman came in, smiling, ebullient.

At no angle was he ever imperfect.

“A little Valentine’s present since you weren’t here for Christmas,” he said as he handed me a 1956 collector’s LP: Jazz at Cal Tech, Bud Shank Quartet in Concert.

“My gosh! This is wonderful. Can I hug you?” I asked, throwing myself around his knotty physique and sea green cashmere.

“This record belonged to my dad. I honestly have no reason to keep it, as I have nothing to play it on,” he said.

I admired his outfit.

“Lovely sweater. 6 ply? One of ours?” I asked.

“Oh man you caught me. I saw the Johnston’s label here. I actually got it on eBay. Brother, I’m looking for a tweed coat,” he said.

“Come right this way, sir,” I said.

I showed him a $1,300 jacket, gray Donegal tweed, two button, notch lapel, black buttons. The way he slipped into it was graceful, though a bit tight in the shoulders.

“I work out too much. That’s why I can’t get hired. You have something less pricey?” he asked.

“Dad Got Mill has a less expensive, unconstructed jacket in blue worsted,” I said.

“Absolutely not. Don’t mention Dad Got Mill. Hate that fucker,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“He blocked me on Instagram. Did the same to your boy Colin. Maybe he’s a white supremacist. Why block me? I’m a god damned Ford Model. Wouldn’t you want me wearing your clothes? For free?” he asked.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“You have bigots out there who want to keep Ivy Trad for their own kind,” he said.

“I hope you feel welcome here. I don’t countenance any bigotry,” I said.

“Yeah, I know. I’ll be back. Probably this weekend,” he said.

I thanked him again for the jazz album as he left empty handed.


Numbers

I began to fear my association with Shad Mill. Maybe Joshua was right. I thought of removing Dad Got Mill.

Colin objected. He brought up our Shopify dashboard. A multi-colored circle was divided into percentages pertaining to each vendor.

“Dad Got Mill is 14% of our sales. That’s the largest of any brand we carry. And when the clients buy rugby shirts, they usually get khakis or denim, or both. Dad Got Mill pulls in other labels. It’s not good business to stop selling it,” Colin said.

“How many DGM pieces do we have?” I asked.

“You have 40 rugby shirts, 19 pairs of khakis, 12 sport coats. See your net costs here, and your retail here. If you remove Dad Got Mill that potentially is nearly $20,000 in sales. Keep it. Don’t pull it. You will thank me for this,” he said.


Social Media

On days we worked together Colin was like a therapist. He listened carefully to all my gripes, personal and business. He always had logical advice for my childlike mind.

Colin was also my salesman, my accountant, my merchandiser, my stylist, my social media guru. He brought in new customers. And August got some fame for reviving traditional men’s clothing stores in Los Angeles.

Nowhere in the Southland was anyone else selling handmade velvet slippers with embroidered bulldogs for $550. I fantasized that tweed suits, angora turtlenecks and camel hair coats belonged on men who lived year-round on sunny, palm lined streets.

Even with the hype and Colin’s industriousness, most days we sold nothing.

I cut back store hours. That gave me more time to audition for voice work and browse vintage record stores in Hollywood.

Now Colin came in only two days a week.

I needed him most on Saturdays and Sundays, for the weekends brought social media stragglers, crowds and chaos, nothing but mess. And Colin was highly skilled at clean-up and containment.

They arrived in packs, an obnoxious, unprofitable procession of juvenile influencer pilgrims who never spent a dime. They photographed themselves in everything. They pulled items off hangars and shelves, tried on shirts, sweaters, hats, jackets. They drank my Japanese scotch. They hung out for hours, often congregating in the arcade smoking pot. I had to make sure nobody shoplifted.

Their presence was an ordeal.

What could keep the vicarious pigs out? Something expensive, exclusionary and custom.

I proceeded with posh plans for a made-to-measure clothing event with Mr. Ian Humphries of Bosworth Woolens. I fortified our bar with a few bottles of Balvenie 21 Year Scotch at $249 each.

He flew in from London and brought his famed two button jackets with the trademark CelticCross© lapel buttonhole, and several thick books of Irish, Scottish and English fabrics. We invited everyone on our mailing list to a custom fitted weekend of woolens.

It was a dud. We made not a single sale.

It was humiliating to watch Ian run into the parking lot chasing after a young customer, begging him, unsuccessfully, to try on a $1,400 tartan wool jacket.

“You can have it for $1,300,” Ian shouted as the buyer drove off.


The Pandemic

I first heard of Covid-19 on Friday, January 24, 2020 when Nik read aloud a tweet from epidemiologist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding.

“We are now faced with the most virulent virus epidemic the world has ever seen,” Nik quoted.

“Don’t believe everything you read on Twitter,” I said.

“Dad they’re closing down cities in China and people can’t leave their houses,” he said.

“It’s in Asia. They sound like they have it under control. Relax,” I said, never imagining the war to come.


Discovery

Colin had asked for the weekend off to attend a family reunion in Big Bear. Nik came to work with me.

I was happy, for I had a foreboding about the last days of August.

Late morning at the store, Laura F., a petite young tourist with close-cropped blond hair, tried on a medium Viyella tartan button down. She came from Chicago, followed us on Instagram and was excited to shop here.

“I only wear small,” she said.

“We have six different colored small ones in in back,” I answered and asked Nik to retrieve.

He came out empty handed.
“I couldn’t find any,” he said.
“What? We have them in stock. Look at our Shopify,” I said.

Laura picked up a $275 Harley of Scotland wheat-colored Shetland sweater.

“I love this. Do you have it in small?” she asked.

I checked our online inventory.

“Yes, you’re lucky. We have red, navy, forest green and rust, all in small,” I said.

Nik went to get them.
He came out with nothing.

“Sorry, Laura. Missing those too,” he said.

I apologized to the customer.

“This is disappointing. I thought for sure I would be walking out with a few items,” she said.

Nik sat at the laptop, concentrating, jotting down items on paper. He went in back, spent a half hour there, and came out with his verdict.

“Dad you have a theft problem. There are many jackets, shirts, and sweaters that are supposed to be unsold, in stock, but are not in storage,” he said.

“That’s impossible. Colin knows everything. He’s on top of sales to the last penny,” I said.

“Maybe he’s your problem,” Nik said.

I looked onscreen at our inventory.

“Have you checked Dad Got Mill’s khakis? We should have twenty pairs,” I asked.

“I checked that too. You have six pairs in back. What’s your boy’s eBay store?” he asked.

“I can’t remember,” I said.

“Your only employee and you don’t know?” Nik asked, as he pushed me aside to look up Colin’s eBay.

Within thirty seconds, Nik found Colin Chu Superb Vintage Menswear.

IMG_7773

There were many items from August: tweed jackets, khakis, socks, t-shirts, neckties, flannel shirts, dress shoes.

Our $600 cashmeres for $450 each.

My trusted employee was stealing and selling stolen goods.

I was diminished, degraded, betrayed.

“Please don’t tell your mother,” I begged.

“Mom should know. She’s your wife and co-investor,” he said.

“Let me handle it. Say nothing to her. I never thought that respectful, churchgoing young man would steal,” I said.

“He has half your inventory. Mom’s credit card is paying for his eBay,” he said.

“Just shut-up! Show some sensitivity. You don’t have to utter every dumb thing that comes into your head!” I shouted.

“Fuck you,” he said.

He stormed out into the arcade, passing by Joshua, the male model arriving for his weekly no buy visit.

“Hey there. Did I come at an awkward time?” Joshua asked.

“No, no. Just teenage hormones. You know how that works,” I said.

“Indeed, I do. I was there 20 years ago,” he said.

He went straight to the Italian motorcycle jacket, a $1,400 black lambskin number with an asymmetric zipper. He put it on, walked to the mirror to admire.

“Damn, I look good,” he said.
“Last one,” I said.

“I’ll think about it. It looks great over these Dad Got Mill khakis,” he said as he left.

It was always the same routine with him. Never a sale.

Next thing I heard was his motor revving. I looked out the window as he sped off on his Harley.

Nik came back with two cappuccinos.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that earlier. I didn’t mean it dad. I was wrong. I mouthed off,” he said.

“Ok. Apology accepted,” I said.

“Did he buy anything?” he asked.

I took a sip of coffee.

“Nope. He comes in every weekend. Never a sale,” I said.

“He probably sees what he likes, and buys it from Colin on eBay,” Nik said.

“I’ve got bad news. I’m afraid today will be it,” I said.

“Why?” he asked.

“I have half my inventory stolen, my buyers are gone from the pandemic, what reason is there to keep this store open?” I asked.

“I wonder what Mom will say,” Nik said.

“Use Covid as the excuse. She doesn’t need to know about my ignorance concerning Colin and the stealing,” I said.


Covid

The world collapsed and we went to hide in our house, to order groceries online and wash them outside under the garden hose, to wear masks on our morning walk, to conduct work and school online, to look out the window and observe streets without cars and skies without planes.

A month had passed since I found out about the theft. I fired Colin. He left the store keys in our home mailbox.

Kathy commandeered the dining room table for her home office. Nik stayed in bed attending school.

I was going out of my mind, unable to escape them, or myself. I had nowhere to go. Everything was shut down.

While I languished Kathy still had a job. Our entire prosperity rested upon her diligence and hard work.

She was colder, distant, bothered by something she never uttered. I probably knew exactly what that something was. But I had no guts to say it.

While she worked, I slithered out to the deck to work on the New York Times crossword puzzles and browse houses on Zillow and Redfin. Anything to distract.

After 5, I drank bourbon, whiskey or wine. I sat in self-pity, staring across the lake. That was my routine. How long could this go on?

One day I heard the floorboards shake.

Kathy marched out of the house, onto the deck, and stood over me, looming.

“You’ve been lying to me. Colin stole from you. Nik said that he found out the day he went to work with you. That’s why you fired Colin. Yet you came home and said nothing. All these weeks have passed. I knew the whole story. I waited for you to tell me. Nik is worried, terrified of you, and I’m god damned furious,” she said.

“If I had paid attention to inventory and sales, this wouldn’t have happened. My ego has been destroyed by this. It confirms every rotten thing I’ve thought about my own ineptitude. I couldn’t face you. I made an appointment to discuss this on Zoom with Myra Rubin,” I said, referring to my old therapist.

“Myra? Were you going to tell her before me? I don’t care about your oblivious mismanagement. I care about the cover-up. You lied and told our son to lie. What about Nik? When I asked him to be honest, he thought he was snitching. I trusted you. I supported you in every sense. How could you lie to me? How could you recruit him to lie?” she asked.

“I know, I know,” I said.

“How much did Colin steal?” she asked.

“Maybe $20,000 or $30,000,” I answered.

“Did you file a police report?” she asked.

“Of course not. I’m not putting him jail,” I said.

“Then how are we supposed to file a claim? Nik can’t go to college next year. We don’t have the money,” she said.

“Another calamity I brought on us,” I said.

“Do you think of anyone but yourself? All I hear is how bad this makes you feel. What about me? And our son?” she asked.

“What can I do?” I asked.

“I don’t know. You told Nik to keep a secret. It put him in pain. It put our family in jeopardy. And a crime you didn’t report to me or law enforcement. You had to know that eventually the truth would come out. You had no right, no right at all,” she said, as she broke down sobbing.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” I said.

“You took all my love and trust and destroyed it. I despise you. I wish I could leave you. But we can’t go anywhere now. The pandemic took that away. The world is shut down. We are trapped. We must muddle through our pain and heartbreak here under one roof, day by day. Tonight, go sleep in the guest room,” she said.


Blue Star

Thrown out of our bed, I felt, in some way, homeless, tortured by my own histrionics.

Those who had no home, the ones who lived in the Griffith Park, set it afire. Around the city, people moved into RVs, they slept under bridges, pitched tents on the sidewalk, turned the public lands into their private campsites.

I slept in the guest room, fearful and alone, imagining home invaders. Lost was sound sleep and the old reassurances of work and wife.

There was no happiness or peace. Everywhere was catastrophe: mind, marriage and country.

People recorded a man murdered by cop in Minneapolis and every city in the United States rioted. The police were attacked, stores were looted, the President walked through smoke cleared crowds and held a Bible aloft.

There were sick and dying people around the world. The days and nights got hotter.

And everything true was a lie.


Clearance

Nik and I cleared out the store and brought the stock into the garage on Kenilworth Avenue to lay in its crypt on steel shelves behind my Lexus.

Our daily walk was conducted in silence, a masked march around the lake, timed at 45 minutes on the Nike App which always ecstatically cheered:

“This is Coach Sally! Congratulations on another amazing run, you are killing it!”


Alhambra

In August, the month, not the store, Colin texted me.

“I have money to pay you, along with some clothes in the garage. Would you consider coming by my house so I can make good to set things right?”

I drove to Alhambra, to South Monterey off Valley Boulevard, a straight street of Spanish cottages and two bed ranches, steel guarded windows, workaday shrubs, bright annuals, white sedans and garden gnomes.

I parked in front of the Chu Home, a little, yellow, stucco house with metal awnings, red tile roof, and detached garage in back, probably built for some returning veteran of WWII.

Colin, masked, in blue Dodgers cap, black t-shirt, black basketball shorts and sock footed rubber sandals, came out to the curb.

How young he was, how fresh and clean, washed and dried in Tide and Downy.

“Hi,” he said, head down, contrite.

I kept my hands in my pockets and grunted behind sunglasses and N-95 mask.

“You have something of mine?” I asked, coldly.

“Stay here and I’ll bring the clothes to your car. I have four containers. My parents are inside. I told them you were coming. They don’t know nothing, so please just wave if you feel like it. My dad is sick, my mom too,” he said.

“Covid?” I asked.
“Yes. Thank God they are not worse,” he said.
“And you?” I asked.
“Nothing. Only God knows why,” he said, scurrying up the driveway to retrieve the illegal goods.

Mr. and Mrs. Chu came to wave at the picture window. I waved back to the old parents, born in Taiwan, the father and the mother in face masks, pajamas and bathrobes.

I was heartbroken. Seeing them I lost pity for my own life of inherited advantage.

They were sick but alive, their faith and their son keeping them going.

I lost my anger too.

I thought my judgment was sound in not going to the police.

Sometimes, for the sake of justice, silence is the superior testimony.

I opened the car trunk, and Colin came down the driveway with a hand truck and boxes. He loaded in the garments, fitting the containers in neatly, the remaining inventory of August.

“Can you come over to the other side of the car?” he asked.

We stepped to the driver’s side, to hide from the watchful eyes of the parents, as Colin opened a large manila envelope thick with banded cash.

“This is all the money I made selling on eBay. I won’t keep none of it. $15,000. I pay you everything. I’m taking down my store for now. I’m applying to business school at UCLA.” he said.

“How are you able to afford graduate school?” I asked.

“I have a Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. Undergrad and grad school. Fully paid,” he said.

“You must make your parents proud,” I said.

“They think well of me. If you can find it in your heart to also forgive me, that would be the biggest gift,” he said.

“I do forgive you, Colin. You and I are settled. Good luck with your future. I think you will do very well. Please give your parents my best wishes. When times are normal again, maybe we can all meet for dim sum,” I said.

“Goodbye boss. Thank you for the wonderful opportunity you gave me, truly, you believed in me,” he said.

His mother and father remained at the window. I was the big V.I.P. who had employed their son. Perhaps they stood there to honor me, another elder, like attendees at a parade.

If they looked upon me with admiration, surely, I was undeserving of their respect.

I got into my car, opened the windows, and waved good-bye to Colin on the lawn, and to his mother and father behind the glass, all of us in our masks, all making life in pandemic time.


Home

I drove back to my street, my house at the end came into view.

Kathy was outside, dressed in a cotton top and yoga pants, leaning against the garage, cold and shivering. From a distance she was again a young woman.

I parked along the curb and got out.

“What’s wrong? Are you sick?” I asked.

“No. I locked myself out of the house. Nik rode off somewhere on his bike. I don’t have my phone. Where were you?” she asked.

“Colin’s house, Alhambra. He gave me back what he has. Clothes and 15 grand. Let me get a sweater out of the car for you,” I said.

“You’re kidding? Cash and clothes? I guess that’s good news,” she said.

I pulled out a white woolen cardigan, brought it over and placed it across her shoulders. Her teeth were chattering.

“Thank you. I was so dumb. I closed the garage, because I wasn’t thinking, and then you were out somewhere, and Nik was gone, and I was alone and freezing and had nowhere to go. I couldn’t break into our house you know,” she said, and then she cracked a smile.

“No, that wouldn’t work,” I said.

Nik rode up on his bike.

“What the hell? My parents have to come outside to wait for me! What am I like 7-years-old? So fuckin’ embarrassing,” he said.

“It’s not what you think. We are just here, quite accidentally,” I said.

“You didn’t know the code?” I asked Kathy.

“I always use the car opener to drive in. I never needed to enter it,” she said.

Nik opened the garage with the key code and rode his bike in.

We parents stayed out front.

“He made a virtual August store on eBay for you. I think he’s already had some sales,” she said.

“That’s a hopeful development,” I said.

“I think he feels some responsibility. And he knows how expensive college is,” she said.

“Colin has a full scholarship to UCLA business school,” I said.

“No kidding. Business school. That figures,” she said.

“I thought he was an angel. Then he was the devil. Now he’s redeemed. He was only trying to help his parents,” I said.

“Everyone has a motive,” she said.


Unpacked

I was happy to see a yellow and black striped Dad Got Mill rugby with white collar and the DGM monogram.

It was the last one. I made it mine.

I looked at Dad Got Mill’s webpage on Instagram.

There were black squares to honor Black people, and a Black person in every post of Dad Got Mill. All the blond men were gone, now replaced by Black men, and texts decrying racism, standing for justice, saluting tolerance, promising inclusion, remembering George Floyd.

It was the new dawn of civil rights for rugby shirts.


Epilogue

The store has been closed for over a year now.

Sometimes I’ll go into the garage and unpack the dwindling supply of sweaters and shirts and colognes and debate whether I should keep any as souvenirs.

Every so often I make a sale on eBay. Nik showed me how to use it.

I have time on my hands. We all got vaccinated. Kathy went back to work at Disney in Burbank.

Nik moved to Riverside and is in his sophomore year of college.

I am wary of going out, but tired of staying in, my life is in lived in limbo. Perhaps that is all I can ask for.

END

Blueprint, Blueprint: a story of Castle Green

Blueprint, Blueprint
by Andrew B. Hurvitz

Early afternoon, Angela and Adam, in their red Ford F-150 pickup truck, exited I-10 at Blythe, into a dust blown asphalt lot beside 7-Eleven.

She turned the engine off.

“What do you want? I’m getting Red Vines and a Coke,” she asked as she got out. Denim shorts, sandals, strapped top, blond spiky hair, coral lipstick, plastic necklace, she outfitted herself like a 42-year-old teen.

“We’ve been driving five hours and that’s your lunch? Can’t you wait another two? You want to eat licorice? Now?” her son Adam asked.

“Fuck it. I’m hungry. I promised you Sushi Michi, Pasadena’s best. This will tie me over,” she said.

He watched her hurry in. His mother. He turned the cold air on, slumped, and shut his eyes. His lanky frame and long legs curled in fetal posture.

After a while, he heard the door open. She got in, poked him.

“Stop it! You’re so irritating. Like a 7-year-old girl,” Adam said.

“Take one. You’ll be sorry if you don’t eat something,” she said, offering red licorice from a freshly torn bag.

Late afternoon, they arrived in Pasadena and parked along Raymond Avenue in front of the 7-story Castle Green and its expanse of turgid Victoriana: iron balconies, awnings, turrets, cornices and ornate embellishments, curved windows. And a deep, elongated, Doric columned porch running under a red-tiled overhang, amongst a wooded garden of many flowers, shrubs, plants, mature trees and well-watered lawn.


“This is your horrible, 19th Century home of Dickensian deprivation and cruelty that you ran away from?” he asked.
“Oh, shut up. I know it’s very grand. I need to pee, so bad, let me out!” she said.
“Go in. I’ll wait here,” he said.
“Please come. What if I bump into Aunt Denise?” she asked.
“First you have to pay the meter,” he said.

“Fuck meters. I parked here free in high school,” she said.

“Twenty-five years ago! Now they have an app to pay for parking. Look at the sign!” he said.

“This ain’t Tuscon. The Southland, as they call it, has no cops, no laws, and no parking tickets,” she said.

“Angela, use your common sense,” he yelled.
But she was on her way.

He got out, grumbling, following her to the security gate. She punched a code on the panel. A door buzzed open, and they rushed into the garden, along the sidewalk, up the steps, into the building.

She hurried to a bathroom off the grand ballroom, stayed in there a while, came out. And then he went in.

At the sink he wet his longish blond hair and threw water on his face to wake up.

Out in the lobby, she brushed the hair of her tall young man, pushed it back, away from his eyes.

“You look tired,” she said.

“I’m not looking forward to picking through your father’s apartment to gather souvenirs tomorrow,” he said.

“You knew we had to come here to sign the papers, to ready the place for sale. It’s not like you do this every weekend,” she said.

“I’m sorry. I’ve just always heard how you hate coming here and how Aunt Denise makes you feel inadequate. You roped me in,” he said.

“Yeah, she does provoke my insecurity. But she’s also done a great deal for me, for us, over the years: supporting grandpa, sending us money. When this place sells, we also get half the proceeds. I think that’s a pretty sweet deal, don’t you?” Angela asked.

Casual dressers, in bright Puma; suede sneakers, cheap backpacks, water bottles, bucket hats; they stood amidst the ornate elegance of an 1899 former hotel, incongruous to the setting.

An entryway floor was paved in black and white decorative tile bordered in Greek key. There were potted palms, marble stairs, decorative iron railings, ceilings with inlaid wood painted in green and gold. A grand piano was tucked under the stairs, next to an illuminated, multi globe light mounted atop an iron newel post.

“Looks like an old western bordello. Where’s madam and her ladies?” Adam asked.

“Madam Angela! Let me show you around sir,” Angela said, licking lips, eyelashes batting, hands on hips, sauntering into the maze.

“Thank God nobody is around to see you walk. Can’t you ever act like a proper mother?” he asked.

He followed her to a beamed sitting room with an expansive fireplace framed in black glossy tiles, decorative fire screen, and stacks of wood logs in two symmetrical brass containers. There were two red velvet armchairs. And a high backed, Empire style sofa with mahogany carved arms.

There was a patterned rug. And gold, green and red walls. Shiny red drapes draped every single doorway.

“A 1990s condo board interpretation of 1890s décor,” he said.

“Don’t insult it. I love this place. This was my youthful reverie,” she said.

“They need to hire design professionals. Like me,” he said.

She led them both to a spartan sunroom, enclosed in tall, dark framed windows covered in creamy lace curtains. There were wicker seats, black metal pendant Mission lights hanging above.

“Look at this room, isn’t it exquisite? You can feel the happy presence of spirits,” she said.

He didn’t see it. The room was colorless, empty of people, silent.

“When we moved here in 1988, artists came almost every month and performed. Werner and Giovanna were in heaven. A French flutist played baroque music. Another month a quintet performed Bach and Richard Strauss,” Angela said.

“Your parents were cultured Europeans. Unlike their white trash runaway daughter,” he said.

She ignored his insult. This room evoked her memories. She recalled her mother.

“Nobody could sing like your grandmother, Giovanna Tommaso, coloratura soprano from Sacile, Italy. When we moved from El Monte to Castle Green she was delighted. This would cure her sadness, or so we thought. She could walk to the symphony, the Norton Simon and Asia Pacific Museums, the library, the post office, Vroman’s bookstore. We were all so happy. Because she was so happy,” Angela said.

Here was the retelling of the tragic story of his maternal grandmother, who had thrown herself off the Colorado Street Bridge in 1991. He heard the story many times before but let his mother tell it again.

“I was 12, reading Nancy Drew on my bed. The phone rang out in the kitchen. Pasadena Police. Daddy screamed, “No, no!” I ran in. He was on the floor, bawling. Denise was a freshman at USC, in class. Then Daddy had to leave to go to the coroner. Before he left, he said, ‘Don’t worry my angel. This is a mistake. I’m sure she’s alive. She wouldn’t suicide.’ Then he went to identify her body. I was all alone. 12 years old. Can you imagine? I barely remember her. I lost my mother when I was a girl,” she said.

“You’ve suffered. I’m sorry. I wish I could have been there to console you. You never told me about the way Werner left you there,” he said.

“He was a wartime father. He didn’t bring his daughter into battle. I stayed at home. Crying alone,” she said.

Adam hugged her.

“What was that funny story you once told me about a harpist who played the Bewitched theme?” he asked, stroking her hair, diverting to cheerful.

“Ah yes. JoAnn Turofsky. Superb harpist. Played here on New Year’s Eve, 1989. I was giddy when she performed the Bewitched theme in the style of Debussy. Daddy was appalled after he learned it was a TV show theme song. But he adored JoAnn. And Debussy,” Angela said.

“Didn’t you have a boyfriend, a singer, you met here?” Adam asked.

“Denny Walters. Handsome, muscular Black tenor, Juilliard voice student. Magnificent voice. And body. Everything. I met him when he performed at a Gay 90s event, in the summer of ‘95,” Angela said.

“Gay 90s?” Adam laughed.

“Castle Green was bedecked in flowers, bowls of punch, women in long dresses, Fuller Theological Seminary boys in blue seersucker suits, madras neckties, white bucks, straw hats. I think Talbots or Brooks Brothers sponsored it. There were hundreds of red, white and blue balloons throughout the rooms. They strung white lights on the porch, and put tea lights in paper bags along the garden paths,” Angela said.

“I drank too much gin and champagne punch. I hooked up with Denny after the show ended. He was wonderful, passionate, and insatiable. We did it in the utility closet. We met there several times on other nights that summer,” Angela said.

“An Only Fans conversation with my own mother. Stop sharing everything!” Adam said.

“I’m truthful. Give me that. Denny started my downfall,” she said.

“How so?” Adam said.

“Someone at the front desk learned about me and Denny and told Werner. My father proclaimed, verboten,” Angela said.

“Because he was Black?” Adam asked.

“Yes, of course. And because I was loose, of course. And Denny was older and I wasn’t legal yet. Werner was protecting my virtue, which only promoted my promiscuity,” she said.

They went into a red room with rounded walls, Moroccan tables and chairs, and Marrakesh dark wood cabinets hung on walls, softly illuminated by a hanging Fortuny floral light fixture, shaped like an inverted pagoda, strung with Murano glass beads.

“This place never ends. Every room is another story, another space, to wander and dream. Why did you run away?” he asked.

“After I got into drugs, music and men, after the Denny debacle, this place seemed old and confining. I had to escape,” she said.

“Zunk-382?” he asked.

“I was a Zunk groupie from 16 to 19. I met them in Solana Beach. I was dating their lead singer Drew. Louis was a drummer in their band who also lived with Drew. I started dating Louis. Drew was actually OK with that. I went on the road with Zunk. Louis drank. We fought constantly. Louis was fired. I got pregnant. Louis went to rehab and we broke up. Wonderful story of your loser mother,” she said.

“I hate how you put yourself down. Every single time. You don’t give yourself any credit. Raising a kid by yourself, working as a waitress, nail salons, making leather belts at home. Teaching me to ride a bike, walking me to school. You did more for me than Louis ever did. Why can’t you be easier on yourself?” he asked.

“Because I come back here and it’s like I never left. Aunt Denise still runs the show. I still compare myself to her. Perfect student. Full scholarship to USC. Law degree. Tax attorney. Century City office. Framed diplomas up the wazoo,” she said.

“So, what! If I gave you a framed award for great mother you would be her equal!” Adam said.

Angela hugged him.

“Thank you,” she said.

“We better go upstairs. Are we going to eat Sushi Michi with her? Take her out?” he asked.

“Oh shit. The truck. We left it on the street. I’m sure it’s fine. Let me go out and move it,” she said.

He stood alone in the red room with the Moroccan chairs. He examined the Moorish tiles and Art Nouveau woodwork bedecking yet another fireplace.

She ran back in, breathless, white ticket in hand.

“I knew it. I knew it. Damn! You just don’t listen!” he said.

“Fucking parking ticket. $75. That could pay for sushi. How could I have been so dumb? Why do I always do the wrong thing?” she asked.

The Apartment

The unit was unchanged since the late 1980s.

Especially the kitchen.

Angela turned on the ceiling light: fluorescent tubes with plastic cover, many little bugs trapped inside.

Brown Formica cabinets, tile counters and tile backsplash adorned with Mexican scene of a woman making tamales; electric Kenmore stove and oven, orange vinyl floor, white Maytag double door fridge and freezer.

The rest of the musty apartment had bare brick walls, beige carpeting, oversized floral sofa, yellow tiled bathroom and pink pedestal sink. The primary bedroom was dark paneled with a king bed and fur bedspread. The second bedroom, like a nunnery, had two iron beds where the two sisters once slept. A cross hung over a shared night table. Moth eaten pink curtains covered a big plate glass window.

Angela parted the curtains. On the sill was a dusty ceramic German beer stein decorated with a village scene of Rothenberg.

“Daddy brought this from Germany,” she said.

“This whole apartment is truly ugly. Can this be a landmark? No air con?” Adam asked.

“Daddy believed in fresh air. He died before global warming,” Angela said.

“Great. Hot and dusty apartment. Ugly. How will it sell?” Adam asked.

“Pasadena is very sought after,” she said.

“Just not in here,” Adam said.

“Wait ‘til Aunt Denise gets here. She will talk, ad nauseum, about her time on the condo board, how she saved the building from collapse, how she examined all the books and balanced the budget, and how important she was in officially registering Castle Green to get fed money for rehab. She considers herself the savior of this property. Wonders why nobody appreciates her,” Angela said.

“She saved historic Castle Green. But forgot this unit,” Adam said.

Out in the living room, Adam found his grandfather’s framed paintings stacked against a wall.

He bent down to examine them, flipping through.

Auschwitz, Hiroshima, nuclear war, dead bodies in war scenes, slaughter, atrocities, corpses, hangings, gassings, burnings.

All the catastrophes of the mid-20th Century.

Surrealism painted in petrochemical colors.

“Cheerful stuff here,” Adam said.

“I know. I’ve wanted for years to take something- but somehow- I’m always revolted by his work. Daddy saw many dark things during the war. I guess he was fighting injustice through his art. But it never sold. Rich people don’t want to hang genocide over their fireplace,” she said.

“Art isn’t always pretty. I think these are extraordinary,” Adam said.

“Denise has a friend, Tommy, who is an amateur art appraiser. He thinks this can fetch a fortune. Along with the $49,000 condo, now worth nearly a million, we may come out all right,” Angela said.

“He didn’t sell any paintings when he was alive. Yet he was so talented,” Adam said.

“He scrimped by. Mostly he made money by translating German into English for American publishers. He gave up after mom died. Denise stepped in to pay for the condo. She paid for his mortgage, utilities, HOA. Wait ‘til she gets here. She’ll let you know all that!” Angela said.

“Where is she already? I’m starving. I want Sushi Michi,” Adam said.

“She works late. She is very industrious, very prosperous, works very long hours in the law office, and is very, very busy. She is married to her profession. Please be understanding of her very important needs!” Angela said, laughing.

“I’m already sick of her and I haven’t even seen her yet,” Adam said.

“She is an overachiever. We must give her that,” Angela said.

Denise and Tommy

The door burst open. Aunt Denise in blue pants suit and high heels, and her friend Tommy Stompanato, 55, a short, fat man carrying trays of silver foiled food and a bag of wine and dessert, with a big camera and long lens hanging on his neck.

Aunt Denise reminded Adam of Hillary Clinton: a lined, legal face, sensible blonde bob, probing blue eyes.

“Tommy, please meet my gorgeous sister Angela and her extremely handsome son Adam!” Denise said.

Denise threw her arms around Angela, hugged and kissed Adam. Then she went to the bathroom.

Tommy was piled high with his trays, anxious to unload.

“Hi, hi! Nice to meet you Angela, Adam. Let me drop off dinner first!” he said, rushing into the kitchen with his delivery.

“What’s all that for?” Angela asked.

Denise yelled from the open-doored bathroom as the faucet ran.

“A feast awaits! Tommy brought it down from San Francisco. He drove seven hours. Can you smell that garlic?” she asked.

“We also drove seven hours. I know you don’t tolerate lateness. From others,” Angela said loudly.

“No sushi?” Adam asked.
“Sorry,” Angela said.

Denise walked back in, shaking the water off her hands.

“Your hair is nice sis. I never know what color it will be. Blue, purple, shaved head,” Denise said.

“I’ve never shaved my head,” Angela said.

Denise looked Adam up and down.

“University of Arizona! College of Landscape Architecture! You must be what six feet tall? Don’t believe everything your mother says about me,” Denise said.

“Yeah, I’ve grown. Tommy thinks Gramps’ artwork is valuable, huh?” Adam asked.

“He is certain of it. He has been invaluable in researching price points for Daddy’s art. He also found our realtor, got the condo appraised. He wants to talk to Angela about investing in real estate. He has half a dozen properties in several states earning rental income. He’s a genius. Oh, and he has a very successful blog, Tommy Knows Best, with 18,000 subscribers who each pay $49 a year,” Denise said.

“What a go-getter. And he brought food too. We were going to take you out for sushi,” Angela said.

“Sushi tomorrow. Tommy brought some delicious food from North Beach. They have the best Italian food up there,” Denise said.

She went to set the dining room table, with an old lace tablecloth. She took a box of silver out of a drawer, opened the glass cabinet and took down the daffodil Heinrich and Co. plates, the frumpy German made china they grew up with.

“I came here yesterday after Tommy told me he was bringing food. And I hand washed all this last night,” Denise said.

“Thank you. That must have been a chore,” Angela said.

“I don’t mind. I was excited for you to meet Tommy. He has worked at the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco for 25 years. I met him when I stayed there in the 90s. You could say he is their Senior Concierge. Wisely and strategically, he buys cheap properties in forgotten places, and advises friends on where to invest. And he’s nearly never wrong. Or so he says,” Denise said.

“Are you two dating?” Adam asked.

“My boy, are you that naïve? Don’t they educate you about the birds and bees in landscape architecture school? Tommy is gayer than these daffodil plates. Sit down everyone. Tommy is serving,” Denise said.

Adam leaned over to his mother.
“No sushi,” he whispered.
“Sssh!” she said.

Tommy wore a flowered apron tied around big dad sized Lee jeans, his blue oxford cloth shirt sleeves were rolled up and each hand was covered in acid green oven mitts. He laid down platters of steaming Molinari’s meat lasagna and eggplant parmesan. He uncorked a bottle of Sangiovese wine, arranged a basket of warm garlic bread, and a tray of roasted onions and clams.

The food smells clashed with his perfume.

Tommy was drenched in Diptyque Olene. An odiously fem swarm of jasmine, wisteria, and honeysuckle. His fragrance dominated the room.

“This is from a great bakery in my town. Stella’s cannoli and rum soaked sponge cake. That’s for dessert, of course,” he said as he removed a lens cover and put the camera up to this eyes.

Without asking, he began to photograph the food and the guests.

He moved and advanced, arranged and directed.
Like the host in his own apartment.

“I’ll probably post these on my Tommy Knows Best blog. I love to write about my good friends and old buildings,” he said.

Adam saw his mother’s pained expression. He got up and opened a window for ventilation.

But the stagnant outside air knew better and refused to come in.

After dinner, Tommy dozed on the sofa with his neck strapped Nikon DSLR camera and telephoto lens. It rested on him like Coit Tower on Telegraph Hill. His white leather elevator sneakers, comically bulbous, pointed upwards, amusing Adam who saw him as the sartorial embodiment of a baby boomer.

But Angela seethed. The intrusion of this overzealous zealot into her private family visit was unsettling.

He reigned over them, even as he snoozed.

For Angela, it was strange, indeed, to sit in her parents’ living room waiting for the evening to end. The purpose of the visit was to sort out personal belongings, take anything she wanted, and then sign off on selling the condo. Tommy upset all those plans.

As Tommy snored, Adam fell asleep in a chair.

Impatient, Angela got up, went into the kitchen to talk to Denise who was cleaning up.

“We have to go to the Luster Inn Motel on East Colorado and check in before 10,” Angela said.

“What do you think of Tommy?” Denise asked.

“Oh gosh. I’m so tired. What does my opinion of him have to do with anything?” Angela asked.

Denise put a tied-up bag of garbage down.

“He’s been very helpful. I’ve been so busy at work. And he has come here and priced everything in the condo for the estate sale. He worked with a realtor to appraise the unit. He brought in an art dealer to estimate daddy’s paintings. Tommy flew down from San Francisco three separate times to make this work. You can’t buy a friend like him,” Denise said.

“He sure knows a lot. About art, property, and every personal thing. I didn’t know he would be here. It’s a lot for me and Adam to absorb. It’s like Tommy is taking over. Is that right? Shouldn’t you have asked me first? This is our family’s condo. Our inheritance,” Angela said.

“Now you show an interest! Where have you been for, like, the last 20 years?” Denise said.

“Raising my son! Working jobs, surviving!” Angela screamed.

“And not getting child support from that Zunk-382 fool. Who walked out on you! Who left you destitute! Only your foolish sister cared. I picked up the pieces for Daddy and you, I never wavered or hesitated,” Denise asked.

“Not again. Not another accounting of all your expenditures and sacrifices! Haven’t I told you a thousand times I was grateful? You didn’t have a kid to raise,” Angela said.

Denise sprayed, wiped, dried and lectured.

“30 years of property taxes. Who paid the HOA every month? Who paid for Daddy’s dental implants? Nursing home? Ethan Allen leather sofas, cable TV, mobile phone, Mr. Coffee? Who bought the kitchen set at K-Mart? Who paid for water and electricity?” Denise asked.

“You just can’t stop. I know all this! Can I change history? Should I live it all over again? Should I write a check to you with my proceeds from the property sale? Let’s ask Tommy!” Angela said.

“Tommy has been a rock to me. Like a brother I never had. Like a sister too. You should kiss the ground he walks on. He’s only got our best interests at heart!” Denise said.

“He’s too much. He doesn’t own me, run my life, tell me what to do. Maybe yours, not mine!” Angela said.

“You could never stand any guy who didn’t want you,” Denise said.

“How low!” Angela said.

Adam heard the arguing, got up and hid behind the wall listening to the fight.

Aunt Denise sobbed, and her voice broke.

“Daddy called you Mein Kleiner Engel until the day he died. Tender, loving. And what did he say to me? He told me to keep my life in order. Like a file cabinet. Halte dein leben in ordnung,” Denise said.

“And you called me tramp, slut, drunk, druggie, whore, loser, self-destructive, selfish!” Angela said.

Adam felt a tug at his shirt. Tommy ushered him out the front door, into the common hall.

So, in Love

“Let’s go up to the roof. The sun is setting. Fresh air! It’s glorious up there!” Tommy said.

“Ok. I was sort of entertained listening to them fight,” Adam said.

“You are better off not hearing,” Tommy advised.

They took the stairs. Adam bounded up the steps, two at a time, his powerful legs and young lungs no match for the labored, slow, climbing Tommy and his large swinging camera and oversized lens.

Up there, all around, was Pasadena, bathed in hues of the setting sun, pinks and salmons, cirrus clouds in the sky.

Castle Green was adorned with twin-turreted, red-tiled, conical pagodas, supported by embellished stone columns which encircled shaded, open-aired lookouts.

There was a tower, with a red observatory shaped top, adorned with three Islamic styled horseshoe windows and Fleur-des-Lis carvings.

“Is this Pasadena or Morocco?” Adam asked.

Tommy gazed at him. Adam’s beauty was evident, his portrait inevitable.

“Stand over there. I’ll take your picture,” Tommy commanded.

Adam, flattered by favorable light and temporal youth, leaned against a railing on the east side of the rooftop as Tommy shot photos.

“Oh, so beautiful. You and the light. You should model. I know talent agents in San Francisco. Come up and stay in my hotel. I’ll get you a free room. You could be on the cover of Vogue Hommes,” Tommy said over rapid shutter firings.

Then Angela arrived.

“What is this? What are you two doing?” she asked.

“We’re just enjoying some fresh air,” Adam said.

“Adam you’re done! We’re going back to the hotel. We’ll come back tomorrow to see what we want to take from the condo. I’m very tired. I don’t understand why you two are up here doing this!” she said.

“I assure you we are only innocently enjoying the evening. Relax,” Tommy said.

“You don’t have permission to photograph my son. We don’t want to be a post on your blog. We don’t want to read Tommy Knows Best and see photos and a story about our family. Delete everything!” she said.

“I see you’re reliving your own bad days at Castle Green and projecting them onto your boy. He’s done nothing wrong. And neither have I,” Tommy said.

“Thank you for dinner. And for your other services. But we are done here,” she said.

“Good night,” Tommy said, leaving the rooftop to ring his elevator man for a pickup.

Her nemesis gone from sight, Angela looked at Adam in anger and disgust.

“He’s a manipulator. I don’t trust him. He is after something. Or everything. Just stay away from him,” Angela said.

“Now you’re being an Aunt Denise,” Adam said.

They left the roof in silence and fury. And trudged down the stairs.

In descent, near the second floor, they heard music: an operatic melody and poetic lyrics.

A woman and a man sang a duet, accompanied by a piano player.

Angela and Adam stopped at the landing and watched the singers. It melted their icy mood.

Angela was stunned by the sight of the well-built, middle-aged male singer, a handsome Black man. It was her old boyfriend, Denny.

“So taunt me, and hurt me,
Deceive me, desert me,
I’m yours, till I die…
So in love… So in love…
So in love with you, my love… am I.”

The song was “So in Love” from the musical, “Kiss Me Kate.”

“Denny! Oh, my goodness! Denny Walters! That was beautiful. This is my son Adam,” Angela said.

“Angela Pfade! Lolita and her grown-up son! How can this be? Nice to meet you, Adam. This is our soprano Mei Lan, and pianist Sean Liu. We are rehearsing the songs of Cole Porter for a show next Friday evening. Will you be there?” Denny asked.

“I’m sorry. We are leaving tomorrow afternoon,” Angela said.

“Angela and I dated in high school and college,” Denny explained to Sean and Mei.

“So young looking. You can’t be older than 29,” Mei Lan said.

“The lighting flatters me in this space. In daylight I’m old, but thank you,” Angela said.

“I hope I see you again,” Denny said.

“Yes, perhaps. We are late checking into our motel. It’s wonderful to see you again Denny. And nice meeting you all,” Angela said as she and Adam left.

Garden Walk

Morning fog, gray sky, damp grass.

In that gentle hour, they walked in the east garden with takeout coffee and croissants.

Adam ran his fingers over the wood pecked trunk of a tall, stately Japanese Oak.

They strolled past profuse pittosporum hedges, ballooning in groups, against the long veranda wall on Castle Green’s east front.

“They must have big water bills here. You wouldn’t plant all these thirsty varieties and moisture starved lawn now. It drinks up money. Xeriscaping fits the Moroccan architecture better. This design looks like it belongs in rain-soaked England,” he said.

“What’s that?” he asked, pointing to a two-story high structure jutting out from the building, an enclosed bridge sweeping high over the garden, abruptly stopping at the edge of Raymond Avenue. It was long, multi-arched, a promontory in stucco, with Romanesque framed windows and decorative columns, red tile roof, copper gutters.

It culminated in a pentagonal lookout embellished by an Arts and Crafts frieze.

“It was connected to the now demolished Hotel Green on the east side of Raymond. Guests would arrive on the Santa Fe Railroad. And their luggage would come across the bridge, wheeled in carts, riding on steel tracks that are still imbedded in the floor,” Angela said.

“You do know some history. I guess it wasn’t all drugs and sex,” he said.

“Werner taught me a lot. We would come down here, sit on the porch and talk. He was often a great father. When I was young, I would sit on a stool, and watch him paint, astonished by his skill, asking how he chose colors, why he held his brush just so, why he got up and stood back, examining his half-completed work,” she said.

Adam looked at his phone.

“I wish we could stay and chat but I’d like to head over to Huntington Garden. I should be back by mid-afternoon,” he said, disposing of his coffee and pastry bag in a trash bin.

“Great. Leave your mother to the wolves. Just kidding. Enjoy yourself. Drive safely!” she said.

She kissed him, watched him walk to the street gate.

He was nearly out when he stopped, turned around and jogged back to her.

“We need to talk,” he said.

They sat in two wicker chairs on the shaded porch, facing the garden.

“After graduation, next spring, I have a job offer with Yanez Architects in Culver City, Sophia’s dad. I know this is crazy, but please don’t sell the condo. It’s paid off. I could live here, alone, affordably,” Adam said.

“Well, that’s quite a request. I know you are serious with Sophia, but I didn’t know you wanted to work for her father,” Angela said.

“I don’t’ tell you everything. But that’s my plan for future employment,” Adam said.

“Aunt Denise does everything by the book. It has to be 100%, legal and proper. And it doesn’t sound like anything is wrong with your proposal. But she is stubborn. I’m not exactly on her good side. Our unit is worth nearly a million,” Angela said.

“She has money. She has her own condo in Beverly Hills. Partner in a Century City law firm. She’s not hurting,” Adam said.

His expression was pleading. He clasped his hands under his chin, devoutly, tentatively, waiting for her answer.

“This is all I ran away from. Would you be happy here?” Angela said.

“That was your life. This is mine,” he said.

“True, true. Your Aunt Denise still holds the cards. Why the sudden spark of enthusiasm for Castle Green?” Angela said.

“I’m mad for this place, for LA and Pasadena. There’s so much to do! I really love it here. You had to know I would be seduced by the architecture and garden. It would be tragic if you gave it all up. I don’t want to graduate and live my whole life in Tuscon,” Adam said.

“I will take your request into consideration. I want you to be secure and happy,” she said.

“Promise?” he asked.
“Yes. Go and enjoy yourself,” she said.

Watching from a distance was Denny Walters. He walked up to Angela who sat alone, lost in thought.

“Oh Denny! You scared me,” she said.

He sat down.

He wore a denim shirt and golden khakis, work boots, an ensemble of solidity and masculinity.

“You scared me! Last night! I didn’t think 45-year-old me would be rehearsing Cole Porter and have an old flame, from 25 years ago, walk down the stairs with her son to watch me sing,” he said.

“How have you been?” she asked.

“Oh, pretty good. Juilliard graduate, Broadway, Lincoln Center, on stage, working. Then 9/11. A wife, a daughter and a divorce. She gets Julia. I get AA, auditions, tours, stinky motels in worn down towns. The usual American dream,” he said.

“I’m also sort of divorced. Well, I never quite got married. But you met Adam. He’s studying landscape architecture. We came back here to sell my late father’s apartment,” she said.

“Ah, Werner. Yeah, remember the man. Darn it. I wish you still lived here. You look good. Fit, sexy,” he said.

“Thank you. Why are you here so early? You must rehearse long hours,” she said.

“I live here. Bought a place in 2004. Thank God. I couldn’t afford it now. Still can’t afford it. But this is the right place for me. A lot of creative people. A lot of big dreamers. That’s Castle Green. Most people have small dreams. If, once in their life, they make it to Disney World they are happy. The people who live at Castle Green, even if their jobs are small, their dreams are big,” Denny said.

“You are still so handsome. How did a man of your size fit into a tiny utility closet with me?” she asked.

“My hard-on pushed the door open,” he said.
“You’re embarrassing me,” she said.

“If you want to see something a lot bigger, if you have the time, come upstairs to my spacious condo,” he said.

“I have to meet my sister at 10,” she said.

“It’s 7:30. I think you can spare a couple of hours. C’mon Angela,” Denny said, standing up, extending his hands to raise her up and out of the chair.

They walked with his arm around her. He radiated warmth and gentleness. And he still spoke with that sonorous voice: arousing, stimulating, authoritative, comforting.

They entered the cast-iron lift.

Jimmy Loh, the elderly operator, ushered them into the open-air machine, oldest on the west coast. They rode up to Denny’s fourth-floor apartment, up to adventure, excitement, passion and intimacy.

Briefly, that morning, she again found youth, freedom, and joy.

But it was their talk that made her happiest. He was interested in her. He seemed to crave her company. He listened, he laughed. He was gentlemanly and complimentary. And a good kisser.

Tutankhamun Throne Chair

After the unexpected romantic encounter came the drudgery of Denise and Tommy.

Tommy had appraised and tagged all of the apartment furniture, accessories and artwork.

Angela walked around the unit as Tommy arranged and dusted.

“If you want anything else in the apartment just carry it into our old bedroom. How about Daddy’s 1949 oil painting of refugees on a train fleeing Pakistan?” Denise asked.

“Not that one! Let her have a lithograph. The oils are our cash cow,” Tommy said.

Tommy arranged a Tutankhamun Throne Chair in Aztec fabric next to a brick wall, polishing its arms, examining it for flaws.

It definitely was not here last night. It came from the card room downstairs.

“What’s this?” Angela asked, forgetting the refugee painting.

Denise interjected.

“Oh, it’s just that Egyptian chair. I told Tommy to bring it up here. The board is getting rid of a lot of junk from down there,” Denise said, offering an excuse.

“You stole furniture from the lobby to sell up here? That’s unreal,” Angela said.

Tommy quickly slipped out of the apartment, anticipating another argument.

“I have to get his approval for which paintings I can keep? Unbelievable,” Angela said.

“He wants us to make money. You never think of money, do you? Do you know what pro bono is?” Denise asked.

“Yes. I’m not a lawyer but I understand that term,” Angela said.

“That’s right. I’ve spent hundreds of hours and my considerable legal skills assisting this building in the documentation of historical items, not to mention zoning issues, as well as federal, state and local tax write-offs and subsidies. I worked with architects, engineers, designers, all in my spare time, without pay, to help preserve Castle Green. If I take a fake Egyptian chair from the lobby and sell it for $799 it wouldn’t begin to cover what they owe me!” Denise said.

“That is disgusting. You don’t remove historic items from a landmark! It is a small thing to you, but hugely unethical. I think you could be disbarred for this. I’m serious. What malign influence does this Tommy have on you?” Angela asked.

“I don’t have time for all this pettiness. The estate sale is for our benefit, selling the unit is for our benefit. Who cares if Tommy is in charge?” Denise asked.

“Someone is always in charge at Castle Green. It’s just never me! How I wish you could understand that!” Angela said.

“And I wish you could see I brought him into this to relieve our burdens, and contribute to a successful outcome,” Denise said.

“And skim off a percentage into his own pockets!” Angela said.

“He’s a stand-up guy! Stop attacking him!” Denise screamed.

Now Denise was infuriated. She walked out and slammed the door. Angela had paranoid visions of Tommy and her sister conspiring.

But Tommy walked right back in. He smiled and evinced a gentle, conciliatory demeanor.

“You and Denise need to work collectively to solve pressing problems. Or are you obsessed about how the other side is evil while your sibling problems fester?” he asked.

“It’s hopeless. She and I are too different,” Angela said.

“You’ll make out all right. Especially when you sell the condo and your father’s art. I know. I had it all appraised. You have one and a half million here. Trust me dear. I’m your ally,” he said.

“I don’t mean this disrespectfully, but just curiously, how do you come in and establish dominion over our family? The condo? The art? You are not a relative. I didn’t hire you. What professional training do you possess to proclaim yourself an expert on everything?” Angela said.

“Life experience. I’ve worked at the Mark Hopkins for 25 years. Bellhop, concierge, tour director. I’ll die with a pension. I got top notch health care too. Not bad for a high school dropout from Fresno. I’m smart. I buy cheap property. I earn income owning and renting houses. And organizing estates and transforming lives. My good friend Elaine on Nob Hill is 88 years old. She had a fortune left to her by her husband. She gave me complete control over her portfolio, wrote me into her will. She calls me the unheralded genius of the Hotel Mark Hopkins,” he said, like an infomercial.

“Ok. Great. So happy for you. I’m fine. I don’t need a guru or genius,” Angela said.

“And I have a very successful blog: Tommy Knows Best with 18,900 subscribers. They each pay $49 a year. Nearly a million a year from that blog! Does your home business making Navajo hipster belts earn you that income?” Tommy asked.

“Navajo hipster? I’ve had it up to here with your smarminess. Your presence is very disturbing, quite intrusive, thoroughly unsolicited, arrogant and rude,” Angela said.

He heard nothing and persisted.

“I have an idea. Why not take some of your winnings when you sell here and invest with me? You can buy a beautiful home in Akron, Ohio for $99,000, rent it out and pay it off in ten years. Think about the future. Renting an apartment in Tuscon? How long can that go on? What about your boy? He’s got to have something when you’ve passed on,” Tommy said.

His products and services pitch was relentless.

When she didn’t buy it, he went on the attack.

“You fucked up and you live on the edge of ruin. I’m secure. Let me help you become secure too,” Tommy said.

“Oh, fuck off. You don’t know anything about me! What do you know about me or my family! Nothing!” Angela screamed.

“Your mother jumped off a bridge. Are you going to do the same with your finances? You fucked boys in the broom closet. You were a groupie who did drugs and got pregnant. Had a kid at twenty. Denise stepped in to save your father and you from destitution,” Tommy said.

“You dare to speak of my mother’s death? And tell me I fucked boys in the broom closet? You spill out personal, hurtful, vile things to win your argument? What a fine friend of the family you are!” Angela said.

She left the apartment.

Alone in the hall, walking through the corridor, she wept.

Restitution

Adam drove up to the guard house at Huntington Garden in San Marino. A sign said the grounds were closed for a television production, “Antiques Roadshow.”

Disappointed, he drove back to Pasadena, stopped in Old Town for an iced coffee.

He sat in a chair, under an umbrella, in a restored, slate-stoned alley, Mills Place, enclosed with repurposed brick buildings, softened by shade trees and container flowers, not far from Castle Green.

Passing the hours, avoiding an early return to Castle Green, he looked at his smartphone, checked the weather, texted his girlfriend, browsed shoes on Amazon, looked at his photos, Googled his family name.

And he came across a Pfade item.

Former Tax Lawyer, Denise A. Pfade, 49, Facing Five Years in Federal Prison for Evading Back Taxes Owed to IRS.

“Oh Jesus,” he said, covering his mouth in shock.

He read the facts of the case.

$1.5 million embezzled from clients of the law firm. $778,000 owed to the IRS. Two shell companies to evade taxes. Phony bank accounts opened in other people’s names to deposit money and cheat on taxes. A judge ordering Ms. Pfade to repay $1.9 million in restitution and to surrender her law license. Five years in Federal Prison. Sentencing next month.

He sat there, dumbfounded.

Aunt Denise was going to jail.

He looked up from his phone just as his mother walked past him, unaware of her son. Her head was down, she seemed to be talking to herself, shuffling along the alley like a lost soul.

“Angela! Angela!” he called. He rose from his chair and hurried over to her.

She turned to him, swollen red eyes.

“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you at Huntington Garden?” she asked.

“They were closed today. Why do you look so upset? Aunt Denise?” he asked, caressing her hair.

“The other monster. He said some vile things to me, crushing, personal, hateful. I feel so low, so rotten,” she said.

Adam hugged her. He spoke softly.

“I know something about Aunt Denise that you won’t believe. You might feel differently about her when you hear it,” he said.

“I have had enough. I’ve been attacked. Mentally assaulted. I have no strength left. I can’t stop crying. All the cruel things are true. I’m the cause of all our misery! Just let me walk to the bridge like mother and die,” she said.

He let go of her and looked her dead in the eye.

“You’re going to kill yourself because a pompous ass said some mean things?” Adam asked, sneering, mocking.

“No, no, no! Can’t you let me be immature for once?” she said. She burst out laughing, releasing despair into air, a relief.

“Immature? For once? For once? I’ve got something big to blow your mind,” he said.

He guided her out of the sun, to a large awning at the Burke Williams spa, tucked into a shaded corner.

“I just read a few news stories about your sister. She is a convicted felon. She is going to prison for five years. She lost her license to practice law. She owes millions. It’s in the LA Times. And the Wall Street Journal. And KTLA,” he said.

“I don’t believe it. Are you sure it’s not fake news? Maybe an enemy planted it,” she said.

“Fake news? Are you insane? She has been convicted in a court of law. Angela wake up! Stop punishing yourself. Denise is in turmoil. She needed Tommy for support. That is the truth,” Adam said.

“Tell me everything. Let’s go back to the castle,” Angela said.

They walked as he read the crime story aloud.

They went down Green Street, past the old brick stables and carriage houses matured into high priced retail stores.

At Fair Oaks, they stopped to wait for the walk light. She looked up to her son, towering over her, the young guardian, in loco parentis.

“This is unbelievable. She was the one to emulate. She was the gold standard. A perfectionist. The higher she went, the lower I fell. She had a blueprint for life. I floated like a leaf down a river of no return,” Angela said.

“She is wounded. You have the upper hand. We both do,” he said as they crossed the street.

“Denise was Phi Beta Kappa. USC JD Business Law & Master of Business of Taxation. Partner at age 34, six years after joining her firm, youngest ever, only woman, $900 an hour. Beverly Hills condo. Did her life of accomplishment really come to an end on your smartphone?” Angela asked.

Now they stood outside the gate at Castle Green.

“Go in. Don’t say a word. We know the truth,” Adam said as they entered.

Redemption

By accident, they reunited under the arches of the disconnected bridge.

Stripped of virtue, associated with crime, naked stood the convicted sister.

Seeing Adam, Denise was pacified. She carried a small, white papered, box of candies.

“Adam came back early. The Huntington is closed for a TV show,” Angela said.

“Good. I can spend more time with him. I want to hear about your school, your plans for work,” Denise said.

“Is Tommy upstairs? If he is, I won’t go in,” Angela said.

“I sent him away. He told me some of what he said to you. He’s insulted me on many occasions, but I drew the line when he attacked you. I made him put the Tutankhamun Throne Chair back in the card room and he left for good,” she said.

They walked into the garden and coalesced under the shade of the Japanese Oak.

“I heartily and sincerely apologize. I was wrong. Tommy shouldn’t have come here. His presence was disruptive. He’s a blunt Calabrian. He’s crude and bare knuckles. I didn’t anticipate he would turn his venom on you,” Denise said.

Angela stood silent, stone-faced, wounded.

“All the fighting we did was about him. He’s gone and now we have peace. I love you my little angel. Don’t keep me incarcerated in your grudge. Comme ça?” Denise said.

“I accept your apology. I’m relieved he’s gone,” Angela said.

“I recruited him because I thought his managerial skills would support us. I didn’t trust you or I to make decisions. And frankly I still thought of you as the party girl. Not the woman you really are. You and Adam are solid and grounded,” Denise said.

“Thank you, Aunt Denise,” Adam said.

“Well maybe one thing about you hasn’t changed. This is a box of chocolates from See’s Candies. With a lovely note card. Left at our front door,” Denise said.

Angela took the box and opened the card.

“Dark chocolate. So, in love, Denny.”

She burst out laughing, stuffing the card into her pocket.

Adam shook his head. “What trouble have you gotten into now?” he asked.

“Don’t you have something important to discuss with your aunt?” Angela said.

He took a deep breath, now presenting his case.

“I’m graduating next year. And this may sound nuts. But I wonder if you and Angela would consider not selling the condo?” he asked.

“Are you planning to get a job down here?” Denise asked.

“Yes, that’s the plan. I want to work in LA and move into Castle Green,” he said.

“I see nothing wrong with that. I only wanted to sell to help you and your mother. But if this condo can give you a fresh start in life, and if your mother agrees, why of course you can live here. As you know the mortgage is fully paid off,” Denise said.

“I researched salaries and the average starting salary for a landscape architect is high 40s, low 50s,” he said.

“Your HOA is about $1,000 a month. With utilities add another $300. Property taxes come out to about $80 a month. If you can swing $17,000 a year you can afford to live here,” Denise said.

He hugged her.

“Thank you so much. I will be super responsible and you won’t have any trouble from me. This is so exciting! My own apartment in a new city! I have an offer with Yanez Architects, in Culver City, next to the Expo Line light rail. I won’t even need a car. I date the owner’s daughter, Sophia,” he said.

Angela bunted Adam’s pitch.

“Adam is also minoring in Real Estate Development, and has taken courses in finance and land development,” she said, tag teaming his ambition, diligence and business minded strategy.

“I like what I hear,” Denise said in firm corner office voice, evincing family pride.

“I’m making some changes in my own life. I plan to leave the firm, sell my Beverly Hills condo, and explore other options. I discovered, after nearly 20 years, that I despise working as a tax attorney. Hate it. I tried to get out of it, into entrepreneurial ventures that crashed and burned,” Denise said.

“Anything else happening in your life?” Angela asked.

“Isn’t that enough? Let me treat you both to Sushi Michi,” Denise said.

Brenda

On the road back to Tuscon, he drove, she slept.

He timed it, so they came across the state line at golden hour, as glorious light washed over the Sonoran Desert, the furious heat surrendering to dusk, dry wind, and the coming of night.

He exited I-10, in the red pickup, onto slower US-60, window opened, elbow resting, steering one handed, peering over the land, surveying the natural inhabitants he knew by name: cactuses saguaro, yucca, organ pipe, ocotillo, prickly pear, pin cushion, staghorn, buckhorn and rainbow.

And Joshua Tree.

He needed to grab some food before they got home.

He pulled into Buckaroos Country Store and Sandwich Shop, a false fronted western market with cold drinks and hearty portions near Brenda, Arizona.

The gravel on the tires was loud. But Angela slept.

He parked, took his wallet and keys, locked the door, and went inside.

She woke up, disoriented, looked around, and saw the store sign.

Everything from their two-day visit to Castle Green imploded in her mind: Adam, Denny, Denise, Werner, Giovanna and Tommy.

Everything was unsettled.

Only love remained: bruised, battered, resilient.

She just had a wonderful, sensual dream, fresh in her mind, lovemaking with Denny, set to soundtrack: so in love, so in love, so in love with you am I.

Long ago and far away, she had run away from Castle Green and woke up in Solana Beach with the boys from Zunk-382, Drew and Louis.

Thoughts flew past.

Adam should get a DNA test.
Denise is going to prison.
I will visit her.
I will never stop loving her.
She did everything for me and dad.
Sometimes I acted like a spoiled child, resenting and comparing.
Denny might be my new boyfriend.
Adam will live at Castle Green.

What else are you hiding, my Castle Green?

All the random things, all the men, all the myths, yesterday would never be the same.

Night fell, flood lights went on, the parking lot was orange and strange.

Adam come out with a paper bag of groceries, like her parent.

She quickly closed her eyes and pretended to sleep, laying her head along the closed window, giving him that attitude he had in Blythe when she brought him red vines and coke.

He stood outside her door, bent down and peered into the passenger window. His shadow fell over her. She kept her eyes shut, bit her lip to hold it in, but her deceit failed.

“I know you’re awake,” he shouted.

And then she opened her eyes, and they both laughed, through the glass, knowing the game.

END