By the fifth of July the story of the attack on the Pierpont compound was all over Farnham. Mr. Connors had called Eric and Freddy into the living room of his house first thing that morning to discuss the consequences. It seems he was afraid the publicity was negative, and now he was worried it would hurt the business…but there were other reasons.
"I have to let you go," Connors said, directing his comment to Freddy.
"Whatever for?" Freddy asked.
"Your relationship with that Talbot girl is not the kind of thing I can tolerate."
"You have no idea what you’re talking about. We've become very close and…"
"I think it's immoral," Connors said.
"Immoral? How can you judge that? We are not sexually involved," Freddy said.
"That's not what people around town think…she has a reputation."
Freddy glared at Connors. "Valerie has changed, she isn't like that anymore. So where is this Christian charity you always speak about? Where is the forgiveness for those who turn their lives around? You don't have to let me go, Mr. Connors…I quit."
Freddy stood up and walked to the door. "I hope you ponder these thoughts, Mr. Connors, but perhaps you won't. My relationship with Valerie is not immoral but you are a prideful man if you believe in all the gossip."
He left the room and headed towards the dorm to pack. Eric gave Connors a hard stare. "He's right, you know. Freddy has helped Valerie turn her life around and it's a shame no one believes that. So why am I being fired?"
"Your relationship with that Morgan boy has been…you were seen with him by members of the church at some condo. They said you've been there with him on numerous occasions."
"The building belongs to my family, I live there, too," Eric said. "You know something; I agree with Freddy. You are not the same person I met years ago, you've changed. I don't know why members of your church seem to feel it necessary to spy on me. I find that disgusting behavior.
"You used to have pride in your family and the employees, but now I think your religious feelings have colored your thinking. Your suppositions are irrational and I don't want to be a part of Playland anymore."
"I'm going to speak to your father about what I know," Connors said.
"See, that's the issue…you know nothing except the gossip in your church. Go ahead, talk to my father, but understand this, I am going to speak to Mrs. Pierpont about this matter. This is not going to work out the way you want, Mr. Connors. Perhaps you had better go pray that she doesn't get angry at your prideful ways."
With that he had gone to the dorm and joined Freddy in packing. They both left the Playland shirts hanging in the closet since they wanted nothing to remind them of Mr. Connors' stupidity.
"So…what will you do for the rest of the summer?" Eric asked.
"I'll go home, find a local job and hunt for an apartment," Freddy said. "Val is going to join me in a few weeks. We will have to come back here, you know, for the court date in September."
"Yeah, but I'm sure Granny will be glad to put us both up for the occasion."
"Look, I appreciate what you and Alan have done for me," Freddy said. "None of this was your fault…it's just…" And there was a knock on their door.
Eric tossed his last pair of shorts in the suitcase and opened the door to see who it was.
"Eric…Freddy…I'm sorry," Mrs. Connors said. "I'm sorry to see you go. You both did an excellent job for us…I will pray for you."
With that she handed them each an envelope and turned to go with tears in her eyes. Freddy gave Eric a look. "It's not her fault…she was very nice to me. Will you stay in touch?"
"Yeah, let me give you my email," Eric said.
The arcade downstairs was open and the dorm deserted as they carried their baggage down the back stairs to the parking lot. Eric didn't want to say goodbye to anyone, especially Bobby. How could he explain Mr. Connors' irrational behavior to the son, but perhaps Bobby already understood his father in that respect.
"Enjoy the rest of your summer," Freddy said. "I'll catch up to you again."
They hugged and Eric watched Freddy pull out of the lot onto the street. The sidewalks were filled with people heading for the beach and the traffic on the Coastal Highway would be a bitch. He would never see Farnham in the same light again. Eric closed his trunk and got in the car, it was time to go tell Alan what had happened.
This was supposed to be a joyous day, Alan had turned eighteen…and now this. Alan only shook his head and sighed. "He has nothing to prove his suppositions, but he's going to piss off Granny and that may hurt his business. Do you remember Hurricane Sandy four years ago?"
"Yeah, all the beaches along this coast got hit pretty hard," Eric said.
"The damage to the businesses along the boardwalk in Farnham was enough to cost many of them all the money they had. Insurance companies dragged their feet and people like Connors would have taken years to recover.
"My father and Granny pushed many of the local banking companies into loaning out large sums of money for repairs, or at least what the insurance didn't cover. It took almost the whole winter to get the town back in shape in time for the tourist season.
"I'm not supposed to know this but I overheard Granny talking about the payback schedule for those loans and Connors is on that list. The businesses were all given seven years to pay back the loans and almost all of them have kept up payments. But Connors is having financial difficulties."
"You're kidding, look how busy the arcade is…how can he be hurting?"
"Granny thinks he spent a lot of his own money repairing the church and that put him in debt. I'm not supposed to know any of this so don't bring it up."
"I won't say a word." And he didn't, but Granny sure had some choice words for Mr. Connors.
"That ignorant man…look what he's done to poor Freddy," She said. "And you, Eric. This was supposed to be a grand summer, and now…what an ignorant bastard. What will you do?"
"I'll just go home, Mrs. Pierpont."
She turned to look at Alan. "You'll miss your friend…I'll not have it. I don't think Farnham will seem the same without Eric, in fact I know it won't. How about we move your little vacation to Washington? You can stay in Georgetown, visit the city, and still spend time with Eric."
"But, Mrs. Pierpont…" Eric began to say.
"Enough of that Mrs. nonsense…you may call me Granny like the rest of my grandchildren. Goodness, you’re practically family around here."
Eric grinned. "Thank you…Granny. But unless you're planning to go home to Georgetown for the rest of the summer won't this be an imposition? Alan could always come stay at my house."
It was her turn to smile. "Well, yes, I suppose he could…but then you two wouldn't get any private time together."
That comment left a big hole in the conversation. Eric was stunned and Alan didn't look like he was doing much better. What did she mean? But Granny had turned away, perhaps to hide a smile. "I'll go tell your father," She said. "When are you leaving, Eric?"
"I had better go today…my parents don't know anything about this."
"Yes, that's probably a good idea. Alan can spend the day packing and I'll hire a car to take him into the city tomorrow morning. Franklin and Sarah will be there to help him unload and set up his room. Have I forgotten anything?"
"No, Granny…thank you," Alan said.
"This is what grandmothers are for, we have to take care of family. So, Eric, you had best go say goodbye to the rest of the family, you won't see them again until Christmas. And while you do that I think I'll call your mother and tell her what Connors has done. Now go on, and have a safe trip home."
"Thank you, Granny," Eric said. "I…I…"
"Just give me a hug and go about your business," Granny said.
They hugged and Alan took Eric's arm and pulled him from the room as Granny reached for the phone. The rest of the family was out in the backyard but Alan led them up the stairs to his room.
"Who are Franklin and Sarah?" Eric asked.
"Butler and housekeeper…you didn't think I was going to live in that big old house alone, did you? Do you think she knows?"
"How could she? We haven't done anything, at least nothing overt," Eric said.
"I don't know, she's pretty aware of things in life." Alan smiled. "Did I ever tell you how my grandparents met?"
"Um…no, you haven't."
"My grandfather walked into a jazz club in New York City…I guess it was sometime in the early sixties. Granny won't reveal her age so I'll never know just when. But it was unusual for a white woman to be in a place like that except she knew some of the musicians and was going to review the performance for the Village Voice newspaper.
"She was just out of college and her brother was friends with Norman Mailer, among others, he was one of the founders of that tiny newspaper. But my grandfather was attracted to her, introduced himself and sat down at her table. The way Granny tells it she never did write that review, she was so smitten with this man.
"She didn't find out until after they fell in love that my grandfather came from a wealthy New England family. So despite the high born manners and the image she projects Granny is just a simple New York girl who got lucky."
"And how does this help us understand if she knows or not?"
"Her brother, my great uncle Alan, was gay. He died of AIDS in 1990…nine years before I was born…I'm named after him."
There was a knock on the door and Beetle pushed it open and stared at Eric. "Granny says you’re leaving Farnham…but why?"
"I don't have a job at the arcade anymore so I have to go home," Eric said.
"Oh…I'll miss you," Beetle said, throwing his arms around Eric's waist. "You better go talk to my Dad. He's very pissed off at that bastard Connors."
Alan laughed. "Beetle, watch your language. Okay, let's get this done…it is not going to be a fun conversation."
Mr. and Mrs. Morgan quietly listened to Eric explain what Connors had done to Freddy and how they had both quit the job. Mr. Morgan looked furious while Mrs. Morgan looked out in the yard at Beetle playing tag with his sisters.
"He's going to miss Freddy…what an awful thing to happen," She said as Granny joined them.
"All taken care of," Granny said. "Your mother is expecting you home for dinner, Eric. Now let's discuss Alan's birthday before he runs off to Georgetown…"
* * * * * *
Summer plans had been disrupted, but Georgetown became the refuge that Farnham could never be. Eric was glad to leave behind the town's attention to the news about Freddy and the brawl at the Pierpont estate. All that did was bring back the focus on Beetle's kidnapping.
Marty Cushing and his hired thugs had been turned over to the FBI and faced Federal charges. Without any money to hire a good lawyer, Cushing pled guilty and was facing twenty-five years in prison. Eric, Alan and Freddy would not have to testify, and life would go on.
The issue with the Talbots would not go away, Granny was pressing charges. The local prosecutor just added her complaint to the list of robbery and vandalism charges at the businesses in Farnham by the Sea. By now Ethan probably wished he could have stayed in the Army.
The remaining six weeks of summer vacation gave them a chance to explore the city of Washington. It was all pretty new for Alan although Eric already knew a great deal about the attractions.
As Mark Horn, their Rehoboth friend had suggested, they discovered DuPont Circle as the center of gay city life. They had managed to miss the gay pride events of early June, but there was still a lot of activity around town to be seen.
Eric gave Alan a tour of the Bethesda Prep campus and collected a student handbook along with some paperwork. They would have to make time for Alan to purchase a school uniform and assorted sports related gear…but not now, maybe tomorrow. It was mid-July, and vacation still loomed large…and so did Connie.
Facing the parents when he got home was pretty easy. They had questions but it seems Granny had paved the way and no one was angry. But there were forty-six texts on his iPad when Eric turned it on, a new record. Two-thirds of them from Connie. He deleted everything and called her.
"I'm back," Eric said.
"Okay, that didn't take long. Lunch at the club, say one o'clock tomorrow?"
"Aw…why the club?"
"My aunt is in town, parents demand my presence, at least for a while. We can have our own private table."
"I will need to bring someone," Eric said.
"The very best. I got my wish this summer."
"Sweet…can't wait to meet him."
Alan knew a little bit about Connie but he was about to learn the rest. Eric would not have chosen the country club to introduce Alan, but he was sure the boy would not feel uncomfortable there. Kenwood was all about golf, but they had a nice pool and a dining room in the old club building.
Eric had warned him but Alan was still surprised when Connie threw her arms around his neck and gave him a big kiss.
"Damn…you are gorgeous," She said in his ear while they hugged.
"Hey, save some of that for me," Eric said. And so of course both Connie and Alan gave him a hug, which ended in laughter.
"You never answered my texts, ignored my calls, and blew me off the minute you left town," Connie said.
"I didn't take my phone, I told you I was going to do that," Eric said.
"Yeah, right…I didn't believe it. So let's sit down and you can tell me everything."
"Everything?" Alan asked.
"I'm not a mind reader. My brain requires information to process thought, and from the way you look at one another I seem to be missing the best parts. So when did you meet?"
"Memorial Day weekend," Eric said. "We had the whole summer at the beach ahead of us…well, almost."
Alan smiled. "Eric was herding elephants in the arcade."
"I felt these eyes looking at me," Eric said. "I turned around and there he was…the most handsome guy I have ever met."
Connie sighed. "Go on, I'd die for a good love story about now."
"What, no new interest in your life? What happen to Jim?"
"That didn't last two weeks," Connie said. "I've been a nun all summer."
Eric smiled. "I seriously doubt that, you're not the religious type."
"You're no help…so Alan, you were just standing around looking handsome and Eric fell in your lap…go on."
"It wasn't that easy," Alan said, and he went on to explain the events of that holiday weekend.
Eric was perfectly happy to let Alan tell the story of their summer in Farnham. It was great fun to watch the dynamic developing between these two, his closest friends. Senior year at BPS was starting to look like it might be the best year of his life. Of course there would be ups and downs, there always were.
He had started the summer with a series of questions about his life, and now many of them were answered. The importance of understanding he was gay and could honestly share that with others was a huge load off his mind.
Now he could focus on other things, like the reading assignments Gillette had handed out. Alan was a gifted student and Eric would feel the pressure of keeping up, but so what. The rewards were endless. I wonder where that Shakespeare book is, Eric thought?
It took a lot of his free time to wade through Hamlet, but he would not shame himself in front of Gillette by ducking the assignment. Splitting his days between Georgetown and Bethesda ate up the final weeks of summer vacation, but this was one thing Eric knew he had to accomplish.
They were seated in the garden behind Granny's house on 31st Street when Eric finished his reading and shut the book. Alan looked over with a smile.
"You finished?" He asked.
"Finally…what a convoluted tale. The Prince is such an indecisive character…almost a coward."
"Strong father, weak son," Alan said. "I read somewhere that Shakespeare was a drug user, smoking more than tobacco in his pipe."
"After reading this I don't find that hard to believe," Eric said. "I don't suppose I will bring that up with Mr. Gillette. He's rather fond of his old English writers."
"Artists of any age in time seem to be on the fringe. And speaking of eccentrics, what time are we due at Mark's house?"
"He said seven o'clock for cocktails," Eric laughed. "But don't get your hopes up, I doubt if he will serve us anything alcoholic."
"I know he won't," Alan said. "I never thought our summer would end this way."
"End what way?"
"Think of it like this…four months ago I thought I was doomed to a boring week at the beach with my parents. Instead I met you, we met Mark, and now we've managed to find ourselves in the middle of Washington's gay social life."
"Doubt thou the stars are fire; Doubt that the sun doth move; Doubt truth to be a liar; But never doubt I love," Eric said.
"Lovely sentiment, but Hamlet saw Polonius as a tedious old fool."
"Damn, boy…did you memorize the whole play?"
"I have a good memory for certain things. Like I know Granny won't be back for another three hours…so how about some quality time up in our room?"
* * * * * *
"What a piece of work is man. How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty. In form and moving how express and admirable. In action how like an angel. In apprehension how like a god. The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals. And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no, nor Woman neither; though by your smiling you seem to say so."
Eric smiled, still a little self-conscious at reciting this piece of Hamlet's speech in front of his classmates. This was only the first week of the fall semester and Gillette would be testing everyone.
"Very good, Mr. Tolliver," Gillette said. "Did you enjoy reading Hamlet?"
Eric stood beside his desk, his fingers touching the book titled The Complete Works of Shakespeare that sat on the surface. What could he say, he had to be honest.
"I don't think I would use the word enjoy, Mr. Gillette. Shakespeare is slow reading for me, and there is just too much to absorb. The language of his time is often difficult to understand."
"Granted," Gillette said. "What did you think of the characters?"
"I found Prince Hamlet to be a confused and uncertain young man," Eric said. "I would say that Shakespeare gave us a look at death and how indecisive actions can lead to tragedy. That seems to be the theme of the work."
"Interesting perspective, Mr. Tolliver. I see you had a good summer in which to gather your thoughts and meet your assignments," Gillette said with a smile.
"Yes, Sir…it was a remarkable summer in every way. Thank you for asking."
Gillette nodded. "And you, Mr. Jenkins, which of Shakespeare's plays did you read this summer and what did you enjoy about the work?"
Eric sat down and ran his hand across the book's cover before looking over at the boy sitting beside him. Alan had told him of all the Shakespearian plays between the covers of this book the best read was Hamlet if he wanted insight to the author. Alan was right as usual and the smile he got back seemed to say he had done well.
It was probably for the best that Alan was here in Gillette's morning section, they could share the homework. Eric sighed. The next semester was where his grades would be critical and possibly threaten his ability to play on the lacrosse team. But now he had a secret weapon to assist in his studies.
Alan Morgan had slid right into the senior class at Bethesda Prep like he had been there all along. His friendship with Eric was noted by one and all so they gave the boy a pass at all the usual newbie harassment.
The lacrosse team members would get a surprise come spring since they had no idea how well Alan handled himself on the field. Oh, but they would find out he played the game when he wore the Brunswick lacrosse shirt to the school picnic next week. It would be the cause of some interesting discussion all winter long. Eric was looking forward to that.