Everyone gathered in our suite again when it was time to head down for dinner. Just as we walked in, Mr. Nixson said, "I see no way. Mounting an exhibition is always a hassle and we cut time pretty short, very short for this one. Now we have four days before the opening reception. No way." Mrs. Crandall was clearly frustrated, Mr. Everest obviously wanted to use some oil field language and Mr. Nixson was ready to pull his hair out. Apparently things had not gone smoothly at the gallery where Mr. Nixson's exhibition was scheduled to open Friday.
"Problems with the exhibition?" Bobbie asked.
"It's impossible," Mr. Nixson said. "It would be difficult enough, but last night, for some unknown reason, the sprinkler system in the gallery went off. The space is ruined. The walls will have to be removed, the floor redone; it's a mess."
"The paintings?" I quickly asked.
"Fortunately, they were all still in their packing cases and well-protected. None were damaged, but unless we display them on the sidewalk, looks like the exhibition is off."
"Actually, we did find another space but it, too, is a mess. It hasn't been used in a couple years, so it's dusty and dirty, the lighting is all wrong and the walls really need a paint job," Mrs. Crandall said.
"Getting walls painted shouldn't be a major job,' Michael said. "I may not be an expert, but I have done a lot of painting."
"Marc and I have done plenty at the store as well," Justin said.
"Is there any lighting at all?" I asked.
"It was once a gallery, so it had some track lighting, but it's in poor shape," Mr. Everest said. "Ideas?" he asked, looking puzzled.
"I'm sure a nice gallery waiting for your paintings would be nice, Mr. Nixson, but we have a crew here with at least some experience. I know we could handle clean-up and painting. Justin and I can at least help with the lighting and all of us are good for any grunt work. Mrs. Crandall and Mrs. Metzer can get on the publicity announcing a location change. I think we can handle it," I said.
"Hell yes! Oops, sorry," Adam exclaimed. "When can we take a look at the place?"
The four adults -- Mrs. Metzer had joined the group as we were hearing the bad news -- looked at each other and finally Mrs. Crandall said, "It's a bit late to go tonight and all we would accomplish is viewing the mess." Are you up to an early trip in the morning?"
Adam, not at all a morning person as I am not, asked, with a grin, "Just how do you define early?"
"Breakfast at 8:00 could mean we were there by 10:00."
"With half the day gone," John, a morning person, responded. I was surprised when Adam nodded agreement. "How about an early night, breakfast at 6:30? That's not too far from what we've been used to during the school year."
Mrs. Metzer looked surprised and Mrs. Crandall shocked. "You are enjoying a holiday after the end of school and graduation," Mrs. Crandall said. "Isn't getting up at 6:00 going above and beyond the call of duty?"
"Yes, but we have a friend in need. Seems like going above and beyond is called for," Susan responded and it was settled.
As Mrs. Metzer indicated we should get drinks, Wolf and Derek walked in looking like cats who had found the cream. The smiles on their faces couldn't have been bigger without doing permanent damage. "From the look on your faces, it appears you didn't enjoy doing laundry and house cleaning," John said. "Sorry you wasted an opportunity to have a good day. We all had a wonderful time."
Still holding Derek, Wolf said, "Well, sometimes you just have to help out a friend in need." The five male Tarheels almost lost it! Wolf, looking innocent, asked, "Wasn't that what you were talking about when we walked in?" We quickly filled him in on what had happened and he responded, "Then I guess I need to stay around." He turned to Derek and said, "You know how sorry I am, but I really do need to help out here."
"Of course I understand," Derek replied, obviously disappointed. "I wouldn't expect otherwise." I had liked Derek from the start, but he went way up in my estimation when he said those words.
"That won't be necessary," Mr. Nixson said quickly.
"Look, Wolf," John said, "We all know you and your good heart. Frankly, if Mr. Nixson thought having you stay would make the difference between pulling off this exhibition and it not happening, I'm sure he would say so. If your being here would make that difference, I might ask you to forgo your excursion to Dry Tortugas, but that's not the case. This excursion will be a unique experience and you should go." Wolf looked undecided; Derek looked hopeful.
"I second that," I said. "I know we could use your expertise with lighting, but Justin and I can manage -- not as well as you might -- but no way would I want you to miss this trip or not enjoy it because of feeling guilty or worrying about the situation."
"Double ditto," Bobbie said, and the rest of the group agreed.
"Just so you won't feel left out and wonder what is going on, I'll make sure you get a nightly report," Mrs. Metzer said.
"You all are sure about this?" Wolf asked, still with a bit of a worried look.
"We're sure," Justin said.
"Yeah, no shit," Adam said, making it official. He then, of course, apologized to Mrs. Crandall and Mrs. Metzer for his language, but not quickly enough to avoid a bop on the arm. With Wolf convinced, the smile on Derek's face made obvious his feelings about the situation.
We then sat down for another delicious dinner which began with a wonderful salad followed by a very British roast beef with Yorkshire pudding served with fresh asparagus. Dessert was strawberry shortcake with tiny Alpine strawberries. Luscious!
After dinner, when we headed for the library for coffee or tea, Derek and Wolf took their leave. As soon as the rest of us were seated and Mrs. Crandall had poured our coffee or tea, she said, "Mrs. Metzer is calling about the old gallery. We probably should have secured it as soon as we saw the ruin in the other one, but I was sure getting it ready was impossible. I'm almost positive it will be available. We'll take a look in the morning, determine what needs to be done and decide whether or not we can do it. Maybe it would help if we got organized a bit before bed. Suggestions?"
"We need a cleaning crew," I started. "I'm sure there will be junk to remove, maybe some of it heavy, before we get down to the actual cleaning. We'll need a dumpster there by 8:00, no later. Once things are cleared away, we'll need shop vacs to remove the dust and not just push it around. As an area is cleaned, we can start cleaning the walls, getting ready for paint. A crew can look into the lighting while the painting is being done and as soon as the paint is dry, Mr. Nixson can direct the placing of the mounting hardware." Mrs. Crandall's mouth was hanging open when I finished. I guess she had never really observed the Clan moving into action. Bobbie looked kinda puzzled as well.
"Good head on your shoulders," Justin laughed, "one reason I love you."
"Not just the one on his shoulde..." Adam sputtered to a stop, turned bright red, hung his head and said, "Sorry, ladies."
Mr. Nixson said, quietly, "Good one."
Mrs. Crandall tried to hold back a laugh when she said, "Apology accepted."
"We five guys should be able to handle any heavy lifting. Anything we can't move, we'll wall off. I assume the walls are moveable?" I asked looking at Mr. Nixson, who nodded.
"I'll head up the cleaning crew," Susan said. "Mrs. Crandall, we'll need four shop vacs, sponges, buckets and cleaner for the walls. We can start as soon as any heavy trash is removed from an area."
"I'll take charge of the painting," Michael said. "Mr. Nixson, you'll need to select the paint color and get the paint, rollers, brushes and drop cloths for the painting. I'll give you an estimate on how much paint we'll need once I have a look. We'll need eight or nine rollers and a dozen cheap, two-inch chip brushes and a couple of the heavy plastic or paper drop cloths."
"Justin and I will check on the lighting," I said. "Maybe it's all in working order and just needs new bulbs. Mr. Nixson, you'll also need to see to the mounting hardware," I concluded.
"Mounting hardware I have," Mr. Nixson said, I think in pretty much of a daze at what was going on.
We talked a while longer about the job and I think we were all pretty excited about it even though it was not how we expected to spend our post secondary school week!
We then said goodnight to the 'adults' and headed upstairs. The whole crew ended up in Justin's and my sitting room. As soon as we were settled -- I was sitting on Justin's lap -- Bobbie said, "Marc, I was surprised at you. I mean, I can't remember when you took charge. You're a great fellow and follower but, let's face it, you've never, that I can recall, stepped out as the leader. Don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining, just observing and, in fact, I'm delighted."
"Agreed,' Susan said. "Somehow or other, you've changed while I wasn't looking. What happened?"
"Justin and Mr. Sanford," I replied. "Justin because he has loved me and given me a much different feeling about myself, and Mr. Sanford -- and I must say his son -- because he allowed Adam and me to be responsible adults and we have been. Think Adam and I both owe Mr. Sanford a lot for that, but also we have been a team and I appreciate that. Just thought we were a team tonight and I guess I saw pretty much what the job was and how to get it done.
"It's like delivering shit to Grandview. For most deliveries, we have to be a team, but especially when we head to Grandview," Adam laughed. Of course, there were questions about that and Adam and I regaled the crew with tales of appliances delivered and installed in impossible situations. They found especially funny the story of our difficulty in convincing a meth-head his new washer and dryer couldn't be installed in a shed where there was neither electricity or running water. As we talked, I suspect several of us were thinking about last year and how different Adam was this year. I was.
Everyone headed off to bed by nine. Justin and I snuggled together as we had said we'd have an early night, said we'd forgo making love, said we'd just exchange soft kisses. Which we did -- at first -- but then the kisses became hotter, passion increased. First thing you know, our resolve to just go to bed and go to sleep was forgotten as we rediscovered our favorite number, seventy minus one. After we both gave our gift to the other, we once again snuggled together, exchanged a goodnight kiss and fell asleep.
Six o'clock came very, very early and it took a raucous, annoying alarm clock to rouse me from Justin's arms and him from mine. After a quick, no playtime shower, we dressed in the rattiest clothes we had, which were still nice since we hadn't anticipated becoming a cleaning crew on our trip to Florida. We all fell out for breakfast at 6:30, some awake, others as myself, operating by instinct.
When we had finished breakfast, we found a minibus waiting for us out front and all piled in. I leaned on Justin and got a bit of a nap on the trip in, but was wide awake when we pulled up in front of a large, old building. At first I thought it was impossible to hold anything decent in it but, then again, it did have character. As we stood looking at it, Adam said, "Reminds me of some of the shacks we've seen around the swamp."
"It sure does," I replied.
"Wonder if Mr. Nixson has painted any of them?" He asked.
"If I have painted what?" Mr. Nixson asked, walking up behind us.
"Any of the shacks around the swamp. This reminds me of them."
"As a matter of fact I have. Several of them. One of the few large paintings I have done is of a shack IN the swamp."
"Might use it on the posters and brochures announcing the change in location of the exhibition," Adam said as he turned to walk inside. Mr. Nixson stood, stroking his chin.
When we stepped inside, I think all of us had the same thought, "It ain't happening here."
A large roll-up door at the back was open to reveal a dumpster right beside it. Michael took a look and said, "Ok guys, it time to remove the trash."
"Before you start," Mrs. Metzer called, "I have something for you." She opened a box filled with blue jumpsuits with 'La Casa' embroidered on the left chest pocket. "Knew you didn't have grunges with you, so slip these over your clothes, or strip first. It's up to you."
"Given the heat we're likely to have before the air-conditioners are turned on, I'm stripping," John said. We separated by gender and we guys went behind a wall, stripped, put on a jumpsuit and were ready for work.
There was a lot of junk scattered around the large room -- old pallets, crates, boxes, etc. Adam found a pallet truck and we put a pallet on it and used it as a bed for hauling trash. Two hours after we arrived, Mrs. Crandall, also dressed in a jumpsuit, called a break and had Michael and Adam bring in a cooler filled with soda and juice as she brought in a basket of snack crackers. As we were taking our break, Alex and Daniel showed up, grabbed jumpsuits and were ready to go to work.
"Mr. Nixson," Adam started.
"Look, I know how you guys are trained to address adults," Mr. Nixson interrupted, "and I agree, most of the time. But here you are working your buns off for me and I definitely think we should drop the 'Mr.' bit."
"First names seem reasonable," Mrs. Crandall agreed.
"Ah, well, Mrs. Crandall," I stammered.
"Come on, Marc, you can say it. Betsy. Try." She was laughing like mad.
"Well, while we're working, maybe, Betsy."
Break over, we pitched in again and soon had the trash removed. As we got an area free of trash, the cleaning crew started after the dust and dirt. I was surprised at how little there was. When we broke for lunch -- catered no less, ain't money wonderful? -- we were ready to start on the walls. While the others attacked the walls, Justin, Adam and I checked out the lighting. Mrs. Crandall had a licensed electrician check out the fixtures themselves and all were working or required only minor repairs which he did. At least the electrician said all would work with new bulbs. We expected to hop down to the closest hardware store, pick up bulbs and have the place lit in minutes. As it turned out, we spent two hours chasing down bulbs. The fixtures were obsolete and bulbs were scarce. We finally located enough with two spares and started replacing the non-functioning ones. Meanwhile, Mrs. Crandall was on the phone, locating others so we wouldn't be caught short.
The lighting pretty much dictated the placement of the walls, but Jess supervised their placement using all the leeway the lighting allowed. Soon all except four, which still had wet paint, were moved into place. By 4:30, all we had left before the hanging could begin was moving the four walls into place and attaching the mounting hardware. As we were taking off the jumpsuits and getting washed up, Dakota arrived with a stack of posters and brochures. Featured on both was Jess Nixson's 'Swamp Shack.' "Great suggestion you had, Adam," Dakota said as he placed a poster and brochure on a worktable. "I've got posters being put up all over town and brochures being distributed as well. Put a phone bank to work calling from your mailing list, Jess. Thought occurred, has anyone told the caterer the reception has been moved?"
"Taken care of," Mrs. Metzer replied.
"I suggest we all head to dinner," Mrs. Crandall said.
I'm sure everyone, as I, felt pretty grubby as we walked out of what was almost a gallery ready for an exhibition. We had washed up, but we had been doing some pretty nasty work all day. I was surprised, therefore, when we headed into a nice restaurant. The maitre d', who obviously knew Mrs. Crandall and Mrs. Metzer, nevertheless, did not look happy with the motley crew standing before him. "I believe I have a private room reserved," Mrs. Crandall said. The maitre d' looked pained, consulted his chart and finally snapped his fingers for a waiter. We were shown to a private dining room and when we were all seated, John said, reflecting my thoughts, "Suspect you might not be welcomed here again, Mrs. Crandall, having dragged this motley crew with you."
"Oh, I'll be welcomed," she laughed, "and I am sure the management will have no complaint once they see how much of this evening's business involves this so-called motley crew since, still for the most part being teenagers, food consumption is a major preoccupation and they do sell food here to make a living."
We had a delicious and enjoyable meal, said goodbye to Jess and Dakota, Daniel and Alex, and headed to La Casa, arriving shortly before 7:30. Within minutes, the showers were occupied, most I suspect having double occupancy. Mrs. Crandall -- we all had reverted to Mrs. Crandall at dinner -- had suggested we gather in the library for coffee or tea after we had showered and dressed. Tonight there would just be the Tarheels since the older couples had stayed in town for the night.
We were all relaxing in the library when Mrs. Metzer said, "I think today was really remarkable. Not just because we pulled an ox out of the ditch -- which we did -- but because a group of quite remarkable teenagers did much of the pulling out and, in point of fact, I don't think it would have occurred to us older ones that it could be done."
"Agreed," Mrs. Crandall said. "I guess when you're young, you never see much as impossible."
Just as Mrs. Crandall finished speaking, Mavis came in carrying a phone. "A call for you, Mrs. Crandall."
After asking to be excused, Mrs. Crandall spoke into the phone. After she listened for a few minutes, she said, "I am so, so sorry. Do let me know what you can work out and let me know if there is anything I can do down here. Yes, yes, of course." She then said, "Michael," as she handed him the phone.
Michael took the phone, an anxious look on his face and said, "Hello... What's wrong, babe? ...Damn!" As he continued to listen, I could see he was battling tears. "Of course. Love you too, Babe." As he handed the phone to Mrs. Crandall, tears were running down his face. We all, of course, were on pins and needles.
He finally looked up and said, "That bitch -- sorry, Mrs. Crandall -- old Miss Stevens got her revenge. She gave Sandy a failing grade so he couldn't leave school today even though he's finished everything. Mr. Thurmond has talked with her and she will not budge even though Sandy clearly has at least a passing grade. So far she has refused to allow him to see Sandy's final. Mr. Thurmond hasn't been able to see the principal yet so Sandy will not be here tonight. It will probably be tomorrow night before he gets to come. Damn!"
Michael was soon in the middle of a group hug and when we had all finally calmed down, Mrs. Crandall said, "Michael, I know you are disappointed, but he will be here as soon as he can. Now, if I may, I'd like to say goodnight."
We chatted for a while longer, then all headed for our rooms. The hot tub in ours was soon full of bodies with some rotating in and others out for the next hour and we all were in bed, if not asleep, by 9:00 with the consolation of a late -- 8:30 -- breakfast Wednesday.