Arturo agreed that Jerry needed a vacation and moved the deck project up so that he could finish in time for spring break. His cousin planned a full-scale, sleepover, work party with all the food and beer Jerry could handle. Jerry jumped at it, he wasn’t overjoyed with the thought of leaving his cousin hanging, and Arturo’s girlfriend Linda could really cook. He could go to California with a clear conscious.
Arturo came to pick him up early Saturday morning. Jerry braced himself for a marathon of hammering, digging and painting. It was going to be a rough day, but Arturo always found ways to make the time go by easier. Working with friends never really felt like work; he and his cousin could have fun even digging ditches.
Arturo’s truck bounced down the dirt road that wound between the scraggly trees and bushes that stood sentry around Arturo’s doublewide trailer. Uncle Ernesto leaned against a king cab truck parked on the dirt in front of the house. Arturo pulled in alongside him and rolled down his window. “We don’t need no green chili today.”
“Your mom raised a real smart ass,” Uncle Ernesto replied.
“She had help,” Arturo called back.
“You’re late. Bad enough I had to come over this morning. Most likely miss the game on ESPN,” The old man griped.
“I had to go get the slave labor,” Arturo said. Jerry often felt he should make a sign reading: will work for beer.
“We’re burning daylight, mijo.” His uncle walked around the dirt patch, examining the ground. “Looks flat enough.”
“Pop, it’s nine thirty, we got all day.” Arturo turns to Jerry. “Give me a hand with the wood?”
“Sure, where does the pile go?” Jerry asked.
“At the edge of the dirt patch, by the pinons.” Arturo pointed to a line of bush-like trees similar to all the other ones that scattered the countryside. Jerry grabbed several long two by fours and started a pile. “Lean the four by fours against the house.”
Ernesto walked up carrying a posthole digger. “Where are we putting the holes?”
“See the big rocks on the dirt patch?” Arturo said. “Those are marking the spots where I want the posts.”
Ernesto looked around, studying the ground as Jerry and Arturo finished unloading the truck. “Yeah, looks like it’ll work okay if we make the holes nice and deep.”
“That was the plan.” Arturo grabbed a couple of five-gallon buckets of weather seal from his father’s truck. “Are you gonna use that digger, or just lean on it?”
“Just making sure the deck isn’t going to fall down on me someday as I sit on it.” Ernesto teased his son. “I’m just making sure you aren’t going to take any shortcuts.”
“Don’t worry. I want this to last a few years.”
“Well, now we have to rush, has to be done in a weekend.” Ernesto kicked a rock away and shoved the digger hard into the earth.
Jerry wanted to tell his uncle they could avoid the rush, had he not chased Ted away. He chose instead to hold his tongue. If he started on that can of worms, they would be crawling around all day.
“Come on, Pops.” Arturo grabbed another posthole digger and went to work. “Don’t listen to him, Jerry; he’s just grumpy. If he wasn’t here, he’d just be sitting in his lazy boy drinking beer.”
“And what would you be doing?” His father said.
“Same thing,” Arturo smiled as he dug. “But I’m not complaining.”
“Ted’s gotta reach out and ruin my weekend?”
“Ted got a house, and he wants his brother to see it. I called you when I got my place.”
“Ted should have had more respect for his grandma. Using the money she left him, to do what? To buy a house in the state your parents died in. It’s not respectful. She looks down from heaven and weeps.”
“Come on, Pops. You know how she was about water.”
“I had to come to your place just to watch Jaws,” Jerry said.
“Do you remember the time she caught us watching the Discovery channel, that documentary on seals? I thought she was going to have a stroke.” Arturo finished his hole and moved to another.
“Hell, she wouldn’t even let us watch Baywatch. At first, I thought it was the big tit, prudish thing. Now I believe it was something else. She seemed afraid.” Jerry brought the next post and placed it in the new hole.
“You should have more respect too, Jerry. Your grandma was a good woman; God rest her. She had her fears, but she had her reasons. Bless her heart; she did her best for you and Ted.” Ernesto took out a yardstick and measured the depth of the hole he’d been digging. “Next.”
“I know she did. But it didn’t exactly make life easy. I think Ted went to California out of respect. He had to close up all her affairs.” Jerry brought a four by four post over and put it into the hole.
“Ted told you about it, did he? He never thinks of anyone but himself.” Ernesto slammed the digger into a fresh patch of dirt. “When you’re in California be sure to leave your checkbook behind.”
“Ted wouldn’t rob me!”
“No, but he has been known to talk you into…less than legitimate business deals. I won’t be there to bail you out this time.” Arturo continued to dig.
Jerry went and got the next post. “Come on; I was fifteen.”
“I’m just saying, it’s better safe than sorry. You should get Ted to sell the place and come home. You tell him I have a job for him if he wants it. You too, Jerry, if you ever get that college thing out of your system. I owe your father that much.”
Jerry did not like the idea of twenty plus years of manual labor. In fact, it was the best motivation he had to buckle down and pass his classes. “I’ll think about it.” He lied and placed the new post in the hole his uncle just finished.
“I just think he should have shown more respect for her memory.” Ernesto wiped the sweat that was building on his brow as he leaned against his truck.
“Come on Pops; we have two more to do.”
“I’m on break.” He said. “I’m going for some water, be back in a minute.”
“I got it.” Jerry grabbed the posthole digger, went to the next rock, and kicked it away. With all his weight, he thrust the tool into the hard ground.
“Don’t mind him,” Arturo said once his dad had walked around the rear of the trailer. “He’s got some kinda bee in his bonnet about Ted. He reminds him too much of your father. He says he’s wild like your pop was. I think he believes Ted’s gonna get himself hurt too.”
“Does he consider boating an extreme sport?”
“He thought your parents shouldn’t have gone in the first place,” Arturo said. “He told me once that they lied to your grandma about where they were going. She never knew where they were until the sheriff called. She never got over it.”
“I know. Grandma brought it up every time I had a swim meet in high school.” She agreed to sign the waivers so he could join the school swim team, but she never went to meets, not even when he won the city championship in the two-hundred-meter freestyle.
“Pop is still sore at Ted,” Arturo said.
Ernesto came back out with a large plastic cup of ice water. Jerry tried to avoid his uncle’s gaze. He was angry that he would not share what he knew about Ted, that he let him think his brother abandoned him. Jerry took the digger and attacked the last hole.
He worked silently, speaking only in one-word answers as they continued to build the deck frame. His uncle did not approve of much of what Ted did. When Ted dropped out of high school, Jerry got the lecture. Still, it didn’t give him the right to withhold such important information.
As they finished filling the holes in with dirt, a little black Jeep pulled up. “What have you done to my house? How am I supposed to get the groceries inside?” Linda yelled.
“Use the servant’s entrance.” Arturo pointed to the backside of the trailer.
“I’m not a maid.” Linda grabbed a couple of overly full grocery bags from the back of her car.
“Well, then, I’ll have to send back that little French outfit I got at Fredericks.” Arturo smiled mischievously.
“Oh, see,” she said. “When do I get my front door back?”
“Servants go in the rear entrance,” Arturo said.
“I’ll show you servant.” she walked around the back as Ernesto smiled.
“You’ll be on the couch tonight,” Ernesto said.
“Nah, she loves me.” Arturo hammered the last crossbeam into place.
“You kids have no respect. She’s too good for you, and if you don’t marry her soon, she’ll realize it.” His father added. “Then you’ll be all alone.”
“If I treat her too good, she will realize she’s too good for me,” Arturo said.
“I remember you when you were single; it wasn’t a pretty sight.” Jerry threw in his two cents.
“I’m not the one who wants to wait,” Arturo said.
“What’s she waiting for then?” Uncle Arturo grabbed a two by for and placed in on the frame.
“Him to mature.” Jerry hammered the board down.
“Hell. I’ll never get grandkids.”
“Who wants a cold one?” Linda leaned out a window with two beers.
“Thanks.” Jerry handed one to his uncle. Linda pulled her head back in as Arturo dutifully waited at the window like a baby bird that wanted feeding. He waited and waited.
“Hun?” he finally called out. “Where’s mine?”
“No Huns here, just us maids. We don’t bring beer. We just clean!”
“Told ya so. It’s the couch.” Ernesto said.
“Kinda looks that way,” Jerry mumbled.
“Excuse me,” Arturo muttered as he walked to the back door.
“Kiss up real good now.” Ernesto put down another piece of wood. Jerry nailed it. Together he and Jerry got into a rhythm. It went quickly and without conversation. When Arturo returned with the beers, they had nearly finished.
“Remember Jerry; there is nothing more important than keeping the women in your house happy.” Ernesto confided. “An unhappy woman is a hellcat that loves to share the misery. A happy wife will let you watch your games undisturbed.”
“Real modern outlook you got there.”
“Wow, you guys made some progress,” Arturo looked at the progressing deck.
“You take this edge, and I’ll get the middle. We only have five or six more to lay down.” The three men shifted positions and were quickly working in harmony. The remaining boards went up swiftly.
“It’s a deck.” Arturo climbed up and started jumping up and down. “Solid too.”
“It’s a deck without railings or steps.” his father said. “I’ll do the steps, and you two get the railings.”
“Fine with me.”
Linda brought out sandwiches and drinks. “Wow, it looks like it might just hold up in a windstorm.”
“Babe, it’ll stand up under the weight of a kegger,” Arturo said. “Which I plan to have next week. Too bad you’ll miss it.”
“Beaches and bikinis,” Jerry replied. “I think I can make due.”
Linda did a couple of jumping jacks, listened for the creaking, which never came, and smiled. “Good.” She announced and went inside.
“I got two bosses,” Arturo said.
“Well just make sure you get to work on time after your ‘kegger, ‘ or you’ll only have one.”
“If I have to choose one, she’s cuter than you are Pops.” Arturo placed a railing board in place, and he and Jerry nailed it into place. Then they went on to another. They quickly had the rail done except for the handrail up the stairs. They sat on the deck as his uncle finished.
“You do good work,” Arturo said.
“Don’t worry; you’ll get it eventually. It’s inherited. You get to be good after I retire.” Ernesto sat on the deck and opened his beer. “Not too bad for a quickie, mijo. I think she’ll hold up for a couple of years. All that’s left is to weatherproof.”
“Jerry and I’ll do that after dinner. It’ll give it all night to dry without being walked on,” Arturo said.
“Good, I might just catch the rest of the game then.” Uncle Ernesto stood up.
“Unless you want to stay for dinner?” Arturo said.
“Nah, your mother is making her ‘famous’ tofu tacos.” Ernesto grimaced and set his empty can on the deck.
“You’d rather have tofu?” Jerry asked.
“I’d rather have a happy wife, and not one who’ll make me sleep on the couch,” Ernesto said then turned and walked over to his truck. “Have fun guys. “Jerry and Arturo stood and watched as he got in the car and drove away.
“That didn’t take as long as I’d planned,” Arturo said.
“Well, now what? Do you want to start the sealing?” Jerry asked.
“Nah, I’m tired. We’ll get it after dinner. Let’s get more beer and the lawn chairs.”
“That’s a plan.”
Jerry grabbed his backpack and settled into a chair. Before opening the bag, he opened a beer. There hadn’t been a chance to look over his Western Civilization test, but Jerry noticed a considerable amount of red ink before shoving it into the bag. He took several deep chugs and then looked over the paper. From the amount of red ink, he was not surprised to the “F” on that last page.
“How’d you do?” Arturo sat next to him.
“Am I stupid?”
“Compared to what?”
“I mean it. Am I dumb?”
“The college man is asking a construction worker if he’s dumb,” Arturo said. “I barely passed high school. You got into college. Don’t pay attention to Pops. He’s just jealous that he couldn’t get into college.”
“You never answered the question.”
“What got into you?”
“I study and study. None of it sticks. Words blur on the page. How am I supposed to get through senior classes when I can’t hack freshmen ones.”
“I think you are smart Jer, much smarter than Ted or me. Definitely more than Pops. It’s been a hard year, that’s all. You’ll do okay.”
They sat in old chairs on the new deck, talking about old times as they watched the moon rise three-quarters full marking a new night. Eventually, Linda called them into dinner. Jerry’s muscles felt stiff as he rose. It had been a couple of years since he had swung a hammer like that. He stretched and followed his cousin inside to clean up for dinner
The kitchen table was set with a large salad and a steaming hot casserole dish full of enchiladas. Linda grabbed the plates and filled them. Jerry loved her cooking. It was not as traditional as Aunt Vivian’s was, but it was good.
“When are you leaving?” Linda handed him a plate.
“Next Friday, Art said he could give me a ride if that’s okay?” Jerry took his plate.
“Sure, maybe I could go, and we can go to a movie afterward. There’s that new one with Morgan in it.” She took Arturo’s plate to fill.
“This is great,” Jerry said.
“Art says that Ted’s got a beach house,” Linda said.
“That’s what he said,” Jerry answered between mouthfuls.
“Maybe you could get us an invite. I’d love a vacation on the beach.” She filled her plate.
“That’s an idea,” Arturo said. They were all quiet for the next few minutes as they each made headway on eating dinner.
“I ran into Rebecca at the store,” Linda announced.
“Ted’s Rebecca?” Jerry almost choked.
“Ah, huh,” Linda said.
“What’s she up to?” Arturo sneered.
“Well for starters, her new, rich boyfriend just dumped her,” Linda smiled. “She was all upset and crying about how he cheated on her. I guess he found someone better.”
“Wouldn’t be hard,” Jerry commented. “Something poetic in that, I guess.”
“Can you believe she had the balls to ask about Ted?” Linda took another bite.
“You didn’t tell her anything, did you?” Arturo looked at her.
“Damn right I did.” she said, “I was all like, yeah he inherited a lot of money and now he’s got a beach house. You should have seen her jaw drop; it was absolutely priceless.”
“No, you didn’t. Really?” Arturo looked up from his food.
“Hell yeah, I did. The bitch had the gall to ask me if Ted was dating. I said he was dating a fashion model.” At this point, Linda was beaming.
“I wish I could have seen it. Does she really think he’d take her back?” Jerry asked.
“She’s the type of skank that thinks they can get what they want by spreading their legs and showing their cleavage. I don’t know; she had Ted wrapped around her finger.” Linda said.
“He honestly thought she was the one,” Arturo said.
“Like she knows what only one means. She can’t even stick to one at a time. Boy, did she get mad when I wouldn’t give her his address.” Linda said.
“Why would she want his address?” Jerry asked.
“She said she wanted to call him and tell him how sorry she was for his loss and all. I didn’t tell her anything, not even what city he’s in.” Linda took a drink, “She stomped off in a huff.”
“Do you think we should tell Ted?” Arturo asked.
“Probably better left alone.” Jerry took another bite. If she had not cheated on him and then dumped him, Ted might have married her. He’d had a ring picked out and was trying to save up for it. There were times when being poor could save a person’s life. “He may not be over her.”
“Perhaps if I sat him down and told him just what a skank she is, it might help. Art and I could come to visit sometime, “she said, “I’d love to see his new house.”
“And the beach,” Arturo added.
“And the beach,” she conceded.
“Yeah, I’ll ask. Ted sounded a little lonely. I’m sure he’d love to have you over, but your dad definitely won’t approve.”
“He’s just upset Ted ignored his advice. He’ll get over it. Hell, Ted’s got a beach house. That’s something.” Arturo said.
“Yeah, at least he has a place,” Jerry said.
“You know you can always stay here. Don’t you?” Linda said.
“I’d be in the way,” Jerry said.
“No, you can use the room Ted was staying in.” Arturo added, “This place is real big.”
“I’ll think about it.” Jerry looked around. It was a large doublewide, but he knew that a new couple needed their space and, no matter how good their intentions were, he would get in their way eventually.
“Good, now eat up. I got a cream pie for desert.” All he would have to do for Ted to offer an invitation to Arturo and Linda would be to tell him about the meal he’d just finished. He was sure his brother would be easily convinced, that is if everything works out in California. Jerry was not certain at all what to make of his brother’s promises to explain his complicated affairs.