On Ahead

Chapter Four

Our Christmas over, we all relaxed for a day and then began our preparations for an open house we were having the afternoon of New Year's Eve day. This was by invitation, of course, with the invitations saying we would welcome the invitee's company from 1 PM in the afternoon until 4 PM. No huge meal, but trays of canapes and appetizers placed strategically around the first floor and the patio. Plenty of soft drinks were on hand in buckets of ice and the boys all carried trays with tea sandwiches around every so often. Wine and beer were available from Missy and Karen in the kitchen, and Lucy kept her post at the opened gate to make sure the invited guest had an invitation. It was a lot of my staff from the library and their spouses or significant others and a lot of the shopkeepers Neil had gotten to know, including John's parents who arrived with Darryl and his spouse.

Everyone was getting along great and we could see some people arranging further get-togethers as the hours passed. Darryl mentioned that the building next to Neil's shop was coming on the market soon as the owner was facing bankruptcy, he had heard. I thought I saw Neil's eyes get bigger at this so I told Darryl to investigate and see what we might be able to get the building for, but we didn't want to have to deal with the bank holding the mortgage, we would purchase it from the current mortgage holder and give him enough to pay off the current money owed on the property and maybe a little for his pocket.

The property was where Lucy's husband had run his family's general store, so it had a very large retail space on the first floor with wonderful display windows facing out on Duval street, the second floor with two, two-bedroom apartments, and a third-floor penthouse style apartment with a rooftop garden and deck. The backyard of the property was just that, a real backyard beyond the small receiving dock and drive. It really was a perfect yard, all fenced in and gated and landscaped well with garden space, a playground area, and a separate three car garage facing the drive. Neil and I thought it would make a nice safe area for the kids to play when they were at the shop and a nice park-like area for the staff to eat lunch at.

Darryl presented us with the information I had asked for and we decided that the property would serve us well, so we came up with a reasonable offer for him to present to the current mortgage holder, enough to pay off what he owed on it, his back taxes, and enough to get out of town. Apparently, it was the little extra that did it and within hours we had a signed agreement in place and a closing date for the next week.

After the closing, we began the extensive renovation of the store on the first floor. At some point this space, which was three times the size of Neil's store, would be joined to Neil's store by a huge archway, so before the holes were cut to make the opening, steel girders were installed to support the two adjoining walls and boy was that a messy job, but in two days the holes were cut, and the two spaces were now one. A false wall was temporarily installed so Neil could still operate until the newly renovated sales area, a new office and storage areas, and a new computer office could be created out of the old general store area. A fourth of Neil's current sales were done over the phone or internet so with a view to capitalizing on this portion of his business he had decided that along with a beefed-up sales staff, he would also hire two or three tech-savvy associates to handle the website orders and also they would keep the inventory up to date so everyone would know just what stock was at hand and he'd get a day to day accounting of what was sold and what needed re-ordering.

The additional space would also require that more than one salesperson be in the expanded shop at all times, as the space was huge, and the display stands, and cases made for a tough area for one person to keep an eye on all the time. The renovation went smoothly, and the space was beautiful, even before the stock began to be put in place.

Plans were being made for a grand re-opening and Neil had invited his two favorite designers to attend, Eric Javits and his partner, and Cody Mitchell and his partner Dan Lawrence, the Australian footy star. The biggest of the second-floor apartments was completely renovated and updated and became a guest space for Eric and his partner and the top floor apartment was repainted and spiffed up so the visitors from Australia would be comfortable for their stay.

We were thankful that the property had such a well-kept and quiet space that was also safe for children because Cody and Dan had brought Tim and Donny with them and Tony and John had a lot of fun with the four boys out there while the adults all visited and got to know one another. The day of the grand opening there were a dozen or more celebrities present from the Miami area for some time in front of the cameras, as this was proving to be a true media event. We all got a kick out of the ladies having their hats fitted by the designers and Neil's group of big spenders had flown in for the event, and to meet the men who had designed their favorite hats. It was a great event and by the time we got home, everyone was exhausted.

Eric and his partner left the next day, but Cody and Dan hung around for a few days, taking in the sun and joining us for several excursions, the kids getting along like the adults all were. Things settled down after all the hoopla, and everyone settled back into their routines.

Neil was busy at the shop, overseeing his new additional crew and ordering stock on what seemed a weekly basis, shipping the mail and internet purchases, and I was caught up in running the business of the library, realizing that it was getting time to work out the next years projected budget that would have to be presented to the county administrators in just a few months for their approval. Things were back to "normal" for this time of year and wouldn't you know, we were happy it was. By sticking to a routine, we had more time to spend with the boys, but they understood when we needed to spend an extra hour on our jobs as well.

Just as the Easter holidays came to a close we had the annual influx of spring breakers, with thousands of college-aged students here in our little city for weeks. There were the usual drunken nights and sunburned days on the beaches and by the guesthouse pools but there were standouts among the thousands that arrived that year. Two of the best of the bunch were two quiet guys from Commerce TX, who spent a lot of time in our Florida History department where the archives of Key West were kept, and most of the history of Key West and its memorabilia were housed in a huge vault and looked over by a staff of two and some of the volunteers. Brian and Carl, my co-workers and friends of our family, brought them to my office to introduce them to me. Pat and Mike were two really nice-looking guys and Brian told me they were Masters of Library Science candidates at Texas A&M, due to graduate in the late Spring. He said their interests were in history and education, and he thought I should meet them.

I knew what he was up to, as just the day before the aging history librarian had told us at lunch that he was going to be retiring at the end of the year, and he was giving me plenty of notice, so I could get a replacement in for him to train in our large history archive. The Board had wondered for years when he would retire and every year for the last 6 years there had been a contingency fund built into our budget for just this eventuality or his sudden departure due to natural causes, he was at that time close to 80 and a world recognized historian and of course his specialty was Key West.

Pat and Mike sat with me in my office and they were admiring the photos of my family I had proudly displayed there. I pointed out each one of the boys, and then my husband, Neil. The two were very comfortable after that and told me they had first met as freshmen in high school and had been each other's only love since, and had gotten married just last Christmas and this school break was their honeymoon. Of course our talk turned into a job interview, as I assured them that we could afford both of them on staff if they shared the "Historian" title in that section of the library, or if they didn't want to work cheek and jowl, one could be my assistant while the other takes over the history department, but as far as I was concerned, we wanted them working here at the library in Key West. They looked extremely pleased and said they would take over the history department after working with the elderly librarian there until he retired. Pat said they would spend the rest of their week looking for a place to live in when they came back in late May after their graduation. I asked them to join my family for dinner that night, in fact I invited Brian and Carl as well because what I had to share involved them too, maybe.

I had been told by the condo owner in one of the two-bedroom units in the big house that he needed to sell off a few of his investment properties for some quick cash and Neil and I had bought his condo, that one we had used for us and the boys during our cottage renovation. We got it for a knockdown price and we now held the keys to it. I can't explain why, but we had owned it for a month and hadn't even thought about selling it, although that was our original intention. After talking it over with Neil we agreed to offer it for rent to our dinner guests that night. This was a roomy two-bedroom, 2 bath unit and we took into consideration that all the taxes on the property should be covered by the rent, but the guys would be responsible for their own utilities and the maintenance fees, and like all the other condo owners, their own cable and internet fees.

We knew Brian and Carl were dissatisfied with where they were living on the other side of the island and this move would enable them to walk to work. We kept the rent down to what we knew both couples could afford and after seeing how well the four guys got along during dinner we broached the subject of where Pat and Mike might live when they moved here after their graduation. The two couples compared notes about some of the places that Brian and Carl had already looked at and after dessert we left the boys in the family room watching TV and took the young couples over to the condo building and showed them the unit the former landlady had occupied; the one Neil and I had purchased a month ago. It was evident that it could work, the bedrooms with their own bathrooms were at opposite ends of the unit, it was the unit with the largest rooms, taking up most of the whole second floor, and everything they would need was within walking distance.

They all liked the unit and when Neil told them we'd like them to consider sharing the space they were immediately in a huddle and agreed that they wanted to try it and see if they could live as roommates. We told them that by the end of September we might have another property for rent if the roommate situation wasn't working for either couple, but we were pleased they were at least going to try it out.

The board of commissioners approved the hiring of Pat and Mike and in two months they returned, recent graduates. They had kept in touch with Brian and Carl and they all combined what furniture they owned and had the place furnished in no time, only having to go out and get new bedding for their bedrooms. The Monday after their big weekend of moving in, all four guys made it into work on time and Pat and Mike began their enlightening period of working with the town's historian.

I still hadn't found the one person I could take on as an assistant manager, but this was a tough town to attract a single income worker to, so I held out hope that after the summer someone might take the offer of employment I was able to offer at basically starting wages, per the dictates of the board of commissioners.

By the beginning of October, we were well into our planning for our haunted house for the children's Halloween, to be celebrated the Saturday following the Fantasy Fest festivities all the adults in town and the thousands of visitors celebrated, with the end of the week culminating with the huge parade down Duval Street, through the adult entertainment areas, that lasted for hours. Costumed adults and painted nudes all gathered to watch strippers on decorated floats share the street with civic associations and marching politicians. Beads were thrown to the crowd from float riders and one-night hookups were occurring every few feet along the street that stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic shore. The estimates for Fantasy Fest were 50 thousand extra people in town for the festivities. For our haunted house at the library we had over 700 people come through which felt like thousands to those of us working that night.

It was, beyond a doubt, the most fun any of us had had at the library with the exception of having the writers for the website "The Story Lovers" present a few  workshops for gay writers at the library during the annual Literary Guild workshops. Those guys and gals really spun some great stories and we all had a lot of fun hosting their group for the seminars they held. Of course, there were favorites of Neil and me among them and we hosted them all one night for a barbecue at our house. Surprisingly Lucy insisted that she help with the barbecue as she admitted that she too had a favorite author that was posted on that site and wanted to meet him. She told us she had been searching on the internet one night for an art gallery she wanted to attend a showing at and came across an author's listing on the website and out of curiosity she had started reading his stories, it just happened that that was one of our favorites also. It just goes to show ya, inroads are being made, and in some unusual ways.

We spent our off time with the boys as much as possible, of course Tony and John, being older, had more of a free reign, but Max and Bill, being so much younger, actually wanted our attention, whether it was playing on the swings out back or shopping. Spending a couple of hours at one of the beaches or attending a flea market or outdoor fair was sure to appeal to all 4 boys. After attending the annual fireman's cookout this year at Bayview Park, we were walking the several blocks home, Neil and I following both pairs of boys through the side streets, occasionally running into someone we all knew and chatting. As we left one block and were deciding which way to turn to make our stroll more interesting Max pointed to the little cap perched on his head and Bill followed suit. I asked what they were trying to tell us and they both said, "Move on ahead Dads". So, we crossed the intersection and continued on down Southard Street, staying on our forward path, which we all knew would end at the next corner at the ice cream shop, we'd be there at least long enough for six cones to be prepared for us.

Our stroll home continued after our treats and just about a block from the library we were stopped by another library patron who stopped us to chit-chat. She was a nice lady in her late sixties who often read to the children in the children's reading room. She told the boys that she might just have something they might like and asked John and Tony to come with her for a moment and they returned with two shopping bags with the entire Hardy Boys collection of books. They told us that she asked only that they spend a bit of time reading them to the younger boys. We thought it was a nice gesture for her to make and at home, as I was helping Tony and John put the books into the bookcase in Tony's room I took a closer look and realized they were all first editions and went to the computer in his room and looked them up and was amazed she had just given them to the boys. I told Tony and John to hold up on putting the 50+ books on the shelves and went back to Mrs. Field's house. I asked her if she realized that some of those books were worth thousands of dollars and the rest were hundreds of dollars each themselves. She told me that her son didn't want them when he was alive and now that she was moving into senior housing she didn't want them, she'd rather they go to a child's home and get used. She said the twins might be too young for them now, but that Tony and John were just the right age for them, not too old and not too young to enjoy them and share them with the younger boys. She said she'd like the boys to keep them.

Walking back home I mentally calculated that the books were worth close to $22,000.00 and I made sure that Tony and the twins knew they were not playthings, and they were to take very good care of them.

Neil thought that even though they all had their original dust jackets, maybe Tony and John, when choosing one to read, could make another book cover for each one out of a paper grocery bag to keep the book covers clean and intact. He showed them how to do this and they soon had several of the books double covered, and protected.

The rest of the books eventually got covered as well, and the two young teens read aloud to the twins whenever they had a chance. The twins told me that it was like listening to a TV show without the pictures, but when they closed their eyes they saw it all in their heads.

The rest of our summer went well, and everyone got to go to the several beaches on different coasts around the island. The museums received us as visitors also, all of them from the Truman White House, to the small bungalow that Tennessee Williams had called home. We played tourist all summer and loved it. The aquarium was one of the boys' favorites and they still liked to stand at our pond and mellow out before a "rest" or before bedtime. Our lives were much changed from just a few years ago, maybe that was because we hadn't settled for standing still, we had moved "on ahead". 

 

                                                                THE END


Comments, suggestions and even criticisms always appreciated at Art West