For the first twenty strides his left ankle hurt, then it went away. Then his right knee made its unhappiness know. Ten strides later that pain disappeared too. Finally, about a half mile down North Shore Drive, Tony found his stride. His’6 mile’ pace. Runners have different paces for different distances and Tony was beginning to learn his.
After a mile sweat formed on his temples and ran down his red cheeks. His shoes gound the sand beneath them. He watched the million dollar houses along North Shore pass by. He passed Shawna and Hoss’s place, one of the most prominant structures along this stretch. There were a few old but well kept homes mixed in. These were the ones that caught Tony’s eye. He and Jill dreamed of one day owning a home on the lake. But it was just that, a dream.
After talking to Shawna on the beach, Tony couldn’t stop thinking about Hoss. He thought about the many times they spent on his salmon boat, the stories he shared. And did he ever have the stories. Hoss had travelled the world. Hunted in Africa. Fished in Alaska. There was no shortage of interesting talk when the salmon weren’t biting.
“These women will break you, Tony. In more ways than one.” Hoss often said. Usually holding a tumbler of scotch. “They break your heart then they break your bank account. Both wide open.” Tony would smile, but not comment. Shawna was Hoss’s third wife. From the stories he told, the first two had cleaned him out. But Hoss bounced back and at the tender age of 75, he met Shawna, 40 years his junior. “It was love at first sight. I loved her smile, and she loved my yacht.”
During their first salmon trip, after the fish were caught and the scotch was poured, Hoss began, “I made my first five million pouring concrete all over Chicago. You name a downtown road and I can tell you a project I worked on. A lot of concrete.” Hoss tipped his scotch. His shirt was open in the front showing his grey chest hair and dark fisherman’s tan. “Rosie took half of that.” He stared out at the water for a beat. Tony knew better than to ask. “Bitch!” Another sip of the scotch. “I decided to do something different after that. My roommate in college was a stock broker and he set me up with a trading system that ‘couldn’t fail'” Hoss made the quotations with the finger of one hand but couldn’t with the other, it was wrapped around his scotch. “He was right, it didn’t fail. What failed was my second marriage, Laura. Met her in a club in Vegas.” Hoss looked out over the lake again. The sun was bright but the temperature was mild. A perfect morning for fishing, Tony thought.
“That one only lasted a year, year and a half.” Hoss whiped his face with his meaty hand. “I gave her two million to shut her mouth and leave. I heard she’s dancing again. Put the whole two million up her nose. Oh, well.” Hoss shrugged his shoulders.
“Now, Shawna…she’s a keeper. That woman came around at the perfect time.” Tony grabbed the scotch bottle between them and filled Hoss’s glass. “I was drinking too much, chasing every warm thing I could find… all around the fucking world.” The booze was making it’s way to his tongue now. The words became slurred and harsh. “She’s everything to me Tony.”
Tony could see the Sunset Palace in the distance as he finished the last mile of his run on the beach. The kids would certainly be up by now. Probably zoned out on the pods and pads. There was already activity at the home next to Shawna’s. Two shirtless college kids were filling coolers and laughing. They threw an arm up then they saw him. Tony waved.
That evening, after another day at the beach, Tony and the two kids wandered down the beach toward Shawna’s. “Now remember, Hoss hasn’t been gone long. Shawa is still upset.” His words directed more toward seven year old Joey than the, mature for her age, Sam. Music bumped from the cottage where the college kids were staying. There were about 10 kids dancing and drinking on the deck. The girls were in bikinis and the guys were shirtless. A blender was in the middle of the table, no doubt, filled with something strong.
One of the boys that Tony saw earlier saw him and yelled,”Hi.”
“Have a good time.” Tony yelled back. Sam and Joey couldn’t take their eyes off the party. As they approached Shawna’s, she came out on the deck. Her blonde hair was down and flowed in the breeze. She had on a thin sun dress that went down to her ankles. She certainly enjoyed the attention from the college boys next door, Tony thought.
“There you are.” Shawna said. “Look at how beautiful you are Samantha. And Joey, what a handsome little guy you’re becoming.” She hugged the kids, then turned to Tony, “And you, you already know how handsome I find you.”
“Thank you.” Tony said. Tony wrapped his arms around her but couldn’t give her a proper hug with a bottle of wine in each hand. “Thanks again for having us. I hope you didn’t trouble yourself.”
“Of course not. It no trouble at all. Not as long as you’ll man the grill. The usual grill guy couldn’t make it.” She smiled.
“Hoss.” They both smiled. “Kids, you know you are welcome to go downstairs.” Hoss had a hand crafted pool table set up in the walk out basement. The kids spent many a night playing pool while the adults sipped wine and watched the sunset on the deck above.
The kids went in the house. “Shes beautiful Tony. I mean, she could get started in the business right now. I have a contact in New York that works with teenagers. He’s a nice guy. No nudes, no drugs.”
“I don’t know if I’m ready for that, but thanks.”
“Its a wonderful career. She could see the world, make a lot of money.”
“I’ll let you know.” Tony said. They went into the house and Tony went straight for the kitchen. He knew where the corkscrew was. Just as he opened the drawer.
“Wait a minute, wheres Jill?” Shawna said. She had opened the refrigerator and set a bowl of raw meat on the counter.
“She didn’t make it this time. Let’s have a glass of wine.” Tony turned to her and handed her a stemmed glass. “To Hoss.” They held the glasses together.
“He was a good husband.” Shawna said. “I miss him everyday.” She cast her eyes down. Just that quick the subject of Jill was open and closed. Tony was relieved. Then, with a smile on her face, she handed Tony the bowl. “I’m starving.”
Tony balanced the bowl on one hand while holding the wine glass with the other. He went to the deck and lit Hoss’s grill. It was the best money could buy. That’s how Hoss lived, Tony thought. The best house, filled with the best stuff.
Music was still bumping next door. Two guys were holding a broom while the girls limboed under it. An over-boozed girl in a bikini top and shorts, zipper and button open in the front, gave it a try and fell on her back. The whole deck exploded in laughter. Tony couldn’t hold back his smile. But his smile was because he was thinking about Hoss, and how much he enjoyed the young visitors next door each summer.
Tony put all the meat on the grill then wandered down the deck stairs to the sliding door leading to the basement. The kids were playing pool. When he entered the room looked much different than last year. The room, once filled with stuffed big game animals, was empty except for the pool table. The shelves on the walls no longer held Hoss’s extensive scotch collection. “I wonder where the big bear went, dad?” Joey gestured to the corner where the mount of a huge bear once stood. Hoss shot it in Canada and told the tremendous story to Tony and Jill many times.
After dinner Tony noticed more and more changes around the house. As a matter of fact, he couldn’t find a sign of Hoss anywhere. The fish mounts were missing from the walls. Pictures of him and Shawna were replaced with sunsets. He found it surprising since Hoss had only been gone two months. Shawna had to move on, she was still a young beautiful woman, but to rid the entire house of seventy years of treasures was eerie. Almost like his life was erased.
The four of them sat on the deck after dinner. The party next door was growing wilder. Tony noticed that a couple that were kissing earlier had disappeared. The sun was beginning to set over Lake Michigan and couples walked hand in hand along the beach.
“Dad, were gonna go watch a movie.” Sam said. She had grown bored with Tony and Shawna catching eachother up about mutual friends. Tony watched the two kids walk down the beach toward the Sunset Palace.
After the sun went down the second bottle of wine was opened. The two listened to the music and laughter next door as Tony steered the conversation away from Hoss and Jill. He noticed how little Shawna mentioned his name during dinner. And he was happy that his two kids didn’t ask her about the absence of Hoss’s wild game mounts in the basement.
After the sun went down, the cool breeze from the North was too much for Shawna, “Let’s go inside.”
“I should go. Its late.” Tony said. His wine glass was empty.
“Come in for a little bit, its only 10. The kids are fine. I have something I want you to taste.” Shawna smiled. It was the type of sexual innuendo they had shared throughout their friendship, only this time, there were no spouses around. Tony felt a sense of excitement grow in his stomach. “I have a bottle of red I want you to taste. A special bottle I’ve been saving.”
“One more glass. Then I have to go.” Tony got up and went into the small bathroom near the kitchen. When he came out, Shawna was standing in front of him. She reached up and put her hand on his cheek. They smiled at each other. Then her hand went around to the back of his head and pulled his head toward her’s. Their lips met and then parted. She kissed him aggressively, holding his head firmly. Tony put his hands around her small waist. She felt good, tasted good. Their bodies were now pressed together. He could feel her small breasts against his chest. Her free hand ran down his back to his ass, then around. He felt her pull his zipper down and reach inside, finding him aroused. Tony took his lips away from hers and exhaled. “Shawna, wait. We shouldn’t.” Their foreheads were pressed together now, his eyes open and looking deep into hers. Her hand was still inside his shorts. “Shawna…really…this is a mistake.”
“Do you not desire me?” Her lips brushed against his as she mouthed the words.
“I do desire you. But right now, we shouldn’t.”
“It’s been a long time, I need to feel a man in my bed.” It surprised Tony to hear her plead. She wasn’t the type to ask a man. But Tony knew it was a mistake. He knew it would complicate many things in his life. He also thought about Hoss. About their friendship.
“I should go.” Tony stepped back from her and she pulled her hand out of the front of his pants. He smirked at her. “Thanks for dinner.” He moved back toward her and took her in his arms again. This time a hug of friendship. He kissed her forehead. “You’re beautiful.”
He walked to the door and down the deck stairs. The party continued next door. The music was lower and there were less college kids on the deck, but the party continued. Tony waved to the one familiar boy as he walked by.
“Shawna!” One of the boys yelled. Tony turned his head back and saw Shawna climbing the step to their deck. She had a bottle in one hand and her wine glass in the other.
As she reached the top of the steps, she said, “Mind if I join you?” Tony continued home, kicking the soft sand in front of him. He thought about the kiss, and how her hand felt on him. He was proud that he was able to hold back from her advances. It could have been so easy. And he’d be lying if he said he’d never thougth of what it would be like to make love to her. But it would have been a mistake, he thought. She would certainly get the attention she needed from the college boys.