Rescuing Nick Klick (R)
Nick Klick was sitting in his sister's mother-in-law apartment watching television when the phone rang, something that didn't happen all that often.
"Hello?" He answered after picking up the cell from the nearby coffee table.
"Yeah. Who's this?"
"Yeah, Sparks! Don't you remember me?"
Nick ran through his mental rolodex file. "Well, I knew a Sparks in the Navy..."
"That's me!" Sparks laughed.
"How the hell did you find me?" Nick asked with surprise.
"It wasn't easy," Eddie replied. "Elvis Newton had your number."
"Yeah, he tracked me down several years ago."
"Hey, sorry about..."
"Yeah. So what's this about, Ed?"
"We're having a reunion, man!"
"A reunion?" Nick rubbed the top of his head. "You mean of the old squadron?"
"No, of your high school, Nick!" Sparks laughed. "Of course the old squadron! Hasn't Sharkbait tracked you down yet?"
"Yeah, him and a couple of other guys are setting this all up," Sparks said. "Here, take down his e-mail."
"Hold on a second," Nick said, grabbing a pen off the table behind him and getting ready to write down the info on a napkin although he really wasn't sure why.
. Got it?
"Yeah, sure," Nick replied as a flood of old memories started flashing through his head.
"So, the reunion is the weekend of September 30th," Sparks told him. "Me and Lapointeless and Gwyane are driving down. You in?"
"I don't know, Ed..."
"Come on, it will do you good. E-mail Sharkbait and get all the details."
"I guess I can do that much."
I'm going to meet Lapointeless at his house in Connecticut and then we'll pick up Munster in New Jersey. You can meet us at Lapointeless' place."
"If I go," Nick replied, still trying to get his head wrapped around the very idea.
"You're going, Klick," Sparks laughed. "Plan on it."
Then the line went dead.
Nick fell back on the couch and sighed. It was a blast from the past he didn't expect and the thought of going back in time and seeing guys he hadn't seen in over thirty years left him dizzy. Had he ever been that young?
It was his first tour after boot camp and "A" School, reporting to a newly established Navy helicopter squadron in Jacksonville Florida as a young eighteen year old "yeoman" apprentice. He went on to be career Navy serving a twenty-year career but it was that squadron was his first command and it really trained and prepared him for his career. He met some great people, was mentored by some terrific professional Sailors, grew up and matured, became an excellent Sailor, and went on to serve in five more commands after transferring and when he looked back on it that first squadron was really the best unit of his career.
But Nick really didn't want to go to a reunion with his life in shambles. Some people might judge him or treat him differently as if everything he accomplished since leaving the squadron really didn't matter once the accident happened.
He mentioned the reunion to his sister landlord a few days later and she was encouraging.
"You haven't done anything in so long, Nicky," Valerie said when she came into the apartment to check on him like she did every few days when he failed to make an appearance in her adjacent house.
She was a year older than him and still in great shape for her age with bouncy blond hair and a shapely figure. She didn't wear that much makeup to hide her age lines and crow feet and she still had the best looking teeth in the family.
The apartment had been empty for several years following the death of Valerie's mother in law used mostly as a hang out and clubhouse by Valerie's kids but it was a perfect place for Nick to live after the accident. He couldn't bring himself to stay in his own house with too many memories and too much emptiness. He sold the house and got rid of most of the furnishings at a tag sale, moving into the already furnished mother-in-law apartment with very few memories of his own home and family that weren't boxed and stored in his sister's garage.
Sadly, the mother-in-law apartment had become a self-imposed prison for Nick and Valerie felt he was still isolating too much nearly five years after the tragedy forever altered his destroyed life.
"I think a road trip with some of your old shipmates to see guys you served with all those years ago will be good for you," Valerie said with encouragement. "You should go."
"What if I fall apart?" He sighed. "What if I just can't do it?"
"It's just a few days, Nick," Valerie said. "I'm sure you'll be okay."
"I'll think about it," Nick said. "But I'm not committing to anything."
"That's fine," Valerie replied, giving him a hug.
Nick decided to send an e-mail to Sharkbait a few days later and he got a fired up, excited, encouraging and cheerful response twenty minutes later with several attachments describing the reunion plans - a Friday night meet and greet and several Saturday activities (including a golf tournament, base tour, and the Navy-Air Force college game at a local sports bar) before the formal sit down dinner on Saturday night with guest speakers. Those attending were asked to send in a mini-bio so others would have background material on each other prior to the reunion to save having to ask and answer the same few questions a hundred times. Nick knew he'd have a problem composing something.
Nick got a couple of other e-mails from some of the guys during the next few months after Sharkbait added his name the list with guys checking in and encouraging him to come to the reunion with repeated reminders from Sharkbait to get his mini-bio in. Nick learned that a few other guys had suffered personal tragedies over the years, including death of spouses and kids, illness and other challenges so he knew he wasn't alone in that department but he still didn't want to have to tell the story of his loss over and over again.
He dug out his old cruise book and other mementos from that tour to remember the good old days and one of the guys had over two hundred photographs from that era that he e-mailed to the group and posted on Facebook and it was easy to become nostalgic for those times. Valerie also found all the letters Nick had written to her during that period and he smiled at some of his younger dreams and outlooks.
Of course, that period of his life was before marriage and parenthood and it felt like he had been a different person then. Now, thirty years removed, could he pretend the last five years of hell had never happened? Nick tentatively decided that he would attend the event and he mailed in his sixty bucks to Sharkbait and he told Sparks to go ahead and reserve a hotel room that he'd split with him. After some struggle, he also wrote his mini-bio for the collection.
Nick "The Klick" , Yeoman Seaman - Yeoman Second Class, Admin, 1976-1979. Left squadron and NIMITZ in Naples Italy transferring to Naval Education Training Center, Newport RI. Follow on tours included Naval Station Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, Instructor, YN "A" School, Meridian Mississippi, Ships Company, USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN 69), Navy Recruiter Northeast Region, and finally Captain's Staff, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) before retiring as Senior Chief Yeoman in 1998. Served eight years as Human Resources Director of Hillsboro Mental Health Services, a non-profit mental health agency. Married Angela Robinson in 1987. Daughter Katie born 1988 and Maryanne in 1993. Widowed. Presently Employed by Ward Cleaning Services.
It was hard enough to type in 'widowed' but he just couldn't bring himself to acknowledge Maryanne's death as well.
With Valerie's continued support and the encouragement of Sparks among others, Nick decided to attend the reunion and make the road trip with three guys he hadn't seen in more than thirty years.
October 29th was a rainy day and Valerie gave her brother a hug and a kiss on the cheek and a happy send off as Nick left Hillsboro and headed south on the interstate, following directions to Lapointeless' house in Windsor to meet up with his two ex-shipmates, both aircrew who flew anti-submarine surveillance and search and rescue operations when they were with the squadron.
Lapointeless was divorced and lived in a handsome middle class ranch in a pleasant neighborhood not that far from Bradley International Airport. There was an SUV with Mass. plates parked on the front yard and Nick assumed that was Sparks' vehicle. He climbed out of his car and walked around to the back of the house when a middle aged guy came out of the glass sliding doors to the deck.
"Wrong house, asshole," Sparks joked and then he reached his hand out. "Nice to see you again, Klick."
"Same here, Eddie," Nick replied, accepting the handshake.
Sparks was incredibly pale and thin with long graying hair to his shoulders. He had been a burly guy in the squadron but Nick knew he had been sick in recent years and that had obviously taken its toll.
"Lapointe's inside," Sparks said, motioning with his head toward the sliding door. "Making sure everything's okay like we're leaving for three months instead of three days."
"Hey, Nick!" Lapointe said warmly when he saw Klick enter the kitchen. "Great to see you!"
"Hi, Stan," Nick said, taking his hand in a shake.
Lapointe was a short guy and still incredibly thin but his blond curly hair was long gone. Now he was mostly bald and what hair was left on the sides was thin and gray. He also wore wire-rimmed glasses and if Nick had crossed him on the street he never would have recognized him.
"Nice house," Nick observed, glancing around the premises.
"Thanks," Lapointe replied. "I've invested a lot of time, energy and money remodeling it since moving in after the divorce."
Lapointe gave Nick a quick tour of the house and then grabbed his overnight bag and headed outside. Nick noticed the large three bay expanded garage and peered in through the door window to see three classic cars in various conditions inside.
"Wow, are you a collector?" Nick asked.
"Well, I guess," Lapointe replied. "More of a investment really. I restore them and then sell them."
"For profit, of course," Sparks remarked as he joined them.
Lapointe let them in the garage and Nick took a long long at the '61 Ford Pick up, '64 Dodge Dart, and '68 Ford Mustang that were parked inside. "Nice cars," he said with appreciation.
"Thanks," Lapointe replied. "It's been a good hobby since the divorce."
"Everything's been a hobby with you since the divorce," Sparks remarked. "Now can we get going? I told Munster we'd be at his house by three."
Nick left the garage and dug his luggage out of his car that was parked behind Lapointe's late model pick up truck.
"Okay if I leave the car here?" Nick asked.
"Of course," Lapointe replied. "It's a safe neighborhood."
Nick locked the car, stuffed the keys into his overnight bag and lifted the luggage into the back of Spark's SUV and Lapointe did the same.
"Who's driving?" Sparks asked.
"I guess I am," Lapointe replied and Sparks tossed him the keys before he climbed into the back of the spacious vehicle.
Nick was the only one of the four who had made the Navy a career. The other three got out after one tour although Lapointe and Gwayne did some reserve time later. Nick never saw those guys again after their time together in the squadron but those three stayed friends over the years, attending each other's weddings and just recently the wedding of Gwayne's daughter.
It was still raining as Lapointe headed for the interstate and Sparks was asking various irrelevant questions that got Lapointe worked up, so much so that he missed the ramp to I-91 south which threw Sparks into a tizzy.
"For Christ sakes, Stan, you live here!" Sparks yelled. "How the hell can you get lost in your own home town? We're not even five minutes into the trip and already you've screwed it up!"
"Stop yelling at me," Lapointe protested. "You're making me nervous!"
"Just drive the friggin car!" Sparks screamed.
It didn't take Nick many miles to figure out that the two friends had a love-hate relationship - Sparks loved to harass Lapointe and Stan hated Eddie's attitude and ability to get under his skin. Nick also figured out that Sparks always had to have the last word and that he always had to be right so no discussion or debate ended unless Sparks was satisfied with the outcome.
Nick mostly kept his mouth shut and watched the scenery passing by while Lapointe and Sparks jarred back and forth. Sparks was clearly liberal in his politics and while Lapointe sounded pretty middle of the road it was clear he was a thin-rift who loved his money and hated giving a dime more than necessary to Uncle Sam. Because those two had the history, it was easy for Nick to sit back and listen to them banter while the satellite radio played soft music in the background.
As they travelled west on I-80 from Hartford to eventually head south over the Trapenzee bridge and on into New Jersey, Nick listened to Sparks tell the story of his near death experience when advanced heart disease had him on the ropes before he turned forty. A heart transplant proved successful put a few years later he developed liver complications and other organ failures that once again had him in the ICU and now, at 53, he was battling a bout of cancer.
"I'm a walking medical test case," he bragged.
"Eddie has more lives than Morris the Cat," Lapointe laughed.
Sparks was disabled from his factory foreman job and not working while his wife had some fancy office manager job at some well to do insurance company outside of Worcester MA where they lived along with their 21 year old son "Who will probably never move out," Eddie sighed.
Lapointe moved back to his hometown after his Navy tour and did some reserve time at Naval Air Station South Weymouth but he got tired of the commute and quit that after a few years. He had more than twenty-five years in at the Hamilton Standard aircraft propeller plant that merged to become Hamilton Sundstrand twelve years ago. He married his high school sweetheart who waited for him to come home from the Navy but "it didn't go well" according to Stan.
"She became a cow," he explained with disappointment. "She didn't want to work. She sat around and ate all day."
They had a son who was born with special needs and that added stress to the marriage. Stan was proud that his son was now living independently "before he became as fat as his mom" and working a part time job but he wanted nothing to do with his ex-wife "who seems content on sitting around eating herself to death."
Lapointe was happy to talk about his girlfriend of nearly ten years, Madison, a nurse nine years his junior who "likes to fuck like rabbits" he said happily. "I get more sex now than I did when I was twenty!" He bragged.
"Good for you, Stan," Sparks deadpanned.
"Did you happen to see the handcuffs in the bedroom when I was showing you around?" Lapointe asked with interest. "She likes it kinky too!"
It was clear that Lapointe liked his life. Madison had her own place and their relationship was casual enough where he could come and go as he pleased, still having time to restore the cars, hang out with Sparks and Gwayne a couple of times a year, yet have Madison available when wanted or needed.
"I live the best of both worlds," he smiled.
Neither of those guys asked too many questions of Nick knowing there had been a huge tragedy in his life. They really didn't know anything about him until Sparks got the story from Elvis Newton - how The Klick was career Navy and then came home and was a Human Resources guy but then his life fell apart after his wife and daughter died. But they remembered him best as the young Sailor yeoman who was well liked and respected around the squadron, always willing to help out, always quick with a joke, and definitely one of the more dedicated and helpful guys around.
His last name actually fit his personality and they called him "The Klick" because Nick seemed to make things click when needed.
"I remember you bringing the mail to us in the barracks on Saturdays," Sparks remarked.
"Yeah, that was illegal but I did it anyways," Nick replied. "I know how you losers were desperate for mail from home!"
Nick was a yeoman, sitting behind a typewriter most of the day but listening to Sparks and Lapointe talk about their helicopter experiences and the training they went through just to become search and rescue swimmer qualified was impressive and Nick gained a new respect for the sacrifices those guys made and the professionalism they displayed putting their lives on the line whenever they had to jump out of the back of the helo into the water to save somebody.
They made good time to New Jersey even though Lapointe missed a exit twice and had to endure Sparks' wrath all over again.
"For Christ sakes how many times have you been to Munster's house?" Sparks screamed.
"A dozen?" Lapointe guessed.
"And you still don't know how to get there?" Sparks yelled. "You've got the friggin' directions right in your hand and you still screw it up."
"Shut up, Eddie!" Lapointe insisted. "I get nervous."
Nick figured out that these two had an Unger-Madison, Laurel-Hardy, Abbott-Costello type relationship so he didn't sweat the load to much when they would argue back and forth, yell and scream at each other, and call each other names. It was clear despite the conflicts and confrontations that they had a mutual respect for each other. Nick could tell when Stan would talk about Eddie's near death experiences and health struggles.
"Every time I drove over to see him I wondered if it would be for the last time," Lapointe remarked.
For his part, Eddie was quite complimentary toward Stan's special needs son Josh, "just an amazing kid and much better looking than his Dad!"
Although Nick had been career Navy, he had also been retired from it for nearly a dozen years and after all that happened in his life since then it seemed like a life time ago, but Sparks and Lapointe talked about their Navy experiences like they just left yesterday even though it had been nearly thirty years for them and Nick found that interesting. He gathered that he took his career more for granted because he spent so much time in uniform whereas those two guys missed it so much after just one tour that it meant a lot more to them. They were constantly making Navy references and talking about their time in the squadron even though they had been civilians forever while Nick had a hard time remembering which tour was which.
But because he was career Navy, Sparks and Lapointe were constantly asking Nick questions about how the Navy had changed over the years and Nick told them about going from a IBM Selectric II typewriter to the most modern computers, from ditto and Gesner machines to advanced copier machines and printers. Women on ships, don't ask don't tell, and political correctness were the other big changes over the years.
"I'm not sure if you two would have made it," Nick replied. "Stan, you probably would have been busted for sexual harassment and Eddie you would have pissed off too many people to have lasted."
"That's why he only did one tour to begin with," Lapointe laughed.
"Yeah, I wasn't the most well liked guy in the squadron," Sparks admitted. "But I didn't take shit from anybody."
Both guys admitted that their Naval tours made them better and more disciplined workers when they gut out.
"Show up, do the job, be responsible," Sparks said. "I couldn't believe the attitude of some of the rift raft at the factory," he said. "I think that was the biggest cultural shock for me when I got out of the Navy. Nobody gave a shit."
With all the political discussion in the car with Sparks making it clear where he stood politically and berating Lapointe whenever he disagreed, both of them warned Nick about Munster who they were about to pick up in New Jersey.
"Ted is about as far right as they come," Sparks said.
"Sometimes I think those two are going to come to blows," Lapointe laughed.
"The best strategy with Munster is to not engage him on political stuff," Sparks advised.
Nick remembered Ted Gwayne because of his size - he was a huge guy - at least six feet five and a tough guy from New Jersey. He earned his nickname 'Munster' and 'Herman Munster' not just because he had the same last name as the actor who portrayed the character but because he also sort of looked like Herman Munster in size and facial structure although Herman was pretty laid back and Ted Gwayne was pretty intense, tough and in your face. He was a funny guy but he also had a temper in his younger days and he was known to take on guys when there was a problem.
Nick assumed they would simply take turns with the gas - each one of them taking a turn filling up when they stopped but Sparks had this insane system of having everybody throw in twenty bucks each time they filled up - no matter what the cost. The money would go into a fund to help cover tolls too and whatever was left at the end would be split evenly. The system made no sense to Nick - especially since Lapointe had already paid for some of the tolls out of his own pocked (and he made sure to note that point!) but he wasn't going to argue with Sparks because there was no point in arguing with Sparks because Sparks was always right!
Although Lapointe had been to Gwayne's house countless times and had the directions written in his hand, Stan still was confused and uncertain which got Sparks yelling some more from the back seat.
"What the fuck are you yelling at me for?" Lapointe screamed. "You've been here just as much as I have!"
They eventually found their way through several neighborhoods and made their way to the Gwayne's curvy side street coming to a stop in front of an attractive house in a lovely neighborhood with four cars parked in the driveway.
"You know, back home in Windsor you could probably get a house like this for two hundred grand," Lapointe remarked. 'I bet here its more like four hundred and fifty grand!"
"And Ted bought this place in 1985," Sparks pointed out.
They climbed out of the SUV and stretched and then headed to the house hopeful to use the bathroom. Gwayne greeted them at the front door, standing massively in the door frame and taking up the entire view. He had shaved his head which made him look even more imposing (gone was the back curly mane he used to employ) and he was intimidating even with the huge happy grin on his face.
Hellos and handshakes were exchanged and Ted's beautiful wife Amy (Dwarfed next to her husband even though she wasn't a small woman) showed them to the bathrooms and introduced herself to Nick for the first time, acting as though they had always known each other with her friendly smile and conversation.
Gwayne started with his well known caustic and sardonic remarks from the start, asking insulting questions about the trip so far, telling Sparks he looked like he was bulimic, and questioning Lapointe's sense of direction and general IQ.
Amy had made eight grinders for the road and Gwayne held them along with chips and other snacks in a couple of brown paper bags along with a cooler full of sodas. He also had a large suitcase which he dragged to Sparks' SUV, although he criticized the make and model, claiming the brand was "a piece of shit".
"Would you rather walk?" Sparks replied. "Besides, it's my wife's," he defended. "I drive a pick up truck."
"Yeah, but yours isn't as good as mine," Gwayne claimed, pointing to his late model truck backed into the driveway.
"Well, I'm on disability, Ted," Sparks replied. "I'm not as rich as you."\
"Yes, another hapless victim on the government dole," Gwayne noted. "This is where my hard earned taxes go."
"Would you rather I died?" Sparks asked, sounding slightly hurt.
"No, Eddie, I didn't wish you rather died," Gwayne replied.
It took them ten minutes to get Lapointe back into the car as he was having a pointless ongoing conversation with Gwayne's wife.
"Stan could have an interesting conversation with a corpse," Gwayne noted as he slipped behind the driver's wheel after kissing his wife goodbye.
"I can drive," Lapointe offered.
"Shut up and get in the back," Gwayne replied. "I know the short cuts."
Gwayne weaved his way through several side streets and back roads through busy intersections and across main drags and they were to the highway and then to the New Jersey Expressway without much trouble with Gwayne offering a description of the area and an explanation of the expressway merits. He had his toll reader on the dashboard which put a dent in Sparks' money pool system.
Gwayne talked about the construction and expansion on the expressway and about his two hour daily commute to his executive job in NYC and then the conversation switched to matters at hand, although there was a repeat of much of what had already been discussed to bring Gwyane up to date. Nick found himself saying "we already talked about that" when the conversation went into playback loop.
Gwayne would let Sparks go off on his routine rant and raves and commentaries and then calmly reply "Eddie, you're an idiot," or "Sparks, please shut up". Nick was greatly amused by Gwayne's knack for shooting Sparks down with a deadpan stare through the rear view mirror or a quick insult.
"Were you born brain damaged, Eddie?" Gwayne would ask after another one of Sparks remarks.
Nick kept quiet and listened to the three friends update each other about what was going on in their lives, including Sparks health, Lapointe's money situation ("Stan could have ten grand in his savings account and still think he was broke" - Ted) and Gwayne's job situation ("I show up at work every day wondering if this is the day I get sacked").
They also talked about the last time they were all together - the wedding of Gwayne's daughter that summer in which Lapointe got drunk and got into a fight with his girlfriend Madison and Ted talked about all the money he spent on the wedding and how much fun he had ("Even though we went broke paying for it!)"
The talk of that wedding brought on the discussion of Gwayne's marriage twenty-five years earlier and how Lapointe had gotten smashed the night before, got lost trying to find his way back to the motel, ended up sleeping in a field and barely made it to the wedding, stumbling through the side entrance of the church and actually cutting off the bride and her father as she started her procession up the center aisle!
"We have it on the wedding tape," Ted said, shaking his head. "Could you have been anymore pathetic, Stan?"
They pulled over for gas and Sparks tried to explain his money pool system.
"That makes absolutely no sense, Eddie," Gwayne replied. "You really are an idiot."
But Gwayne threw his twenty bucks in anyway before lighting up a cigarette outside the SUV.
"Smoking stunts your growth," Nick joked and Gwayne threw him a 'I'm not humored' look in reply.
Back on the highway through Delaware and Maryland, Sparks and Lapointe dug in on the sandwiches in the back seat while Gwayne continued to drive and Nick listened in to the various conversations. The topic turned to some of the guys who would be attending the reunion, whatever happened to so and so, and stories about some of those guys. Sparks dug out a copy of the mini-bios Sharkbait had e-mailed everybody and they went through the list adding their commentary on some of them.
"So Ren Dickey went LDO – Limited Duty Officer - and made it a career," Sparks said.
"That guy was movie star handsome," Lapointe replied.
"Are you gay, Stan?" Gwayne asked.
"He runs his own construction company now in Georgia," Sparks reported. "He's been married for 38 years with two kids and seven grandkids."
"I remember him as one of the jocks," Nick remarked. "Played on all the squadron sports teams."
"Bob Swanson also went LDO and made it a career," Sparks said. "Now he's a warehouse supervisor in Florida, married 37 years with three kids and six grandkids."
"I remember his wife," Nick replied. "Diane. She was the Squadron Ombudsman. She was always up on the second deck of the hangar schmoozing with the Old Man."
"Speaking of The Old Man, I didn't realize Buzz James started out as Army enlisted way back in 1955," Sparks commented as he glanced at the mini-bios. "He had more than 5,000 flying hours when he retired in sixteen different aircraft and ten different squadrons."
"Remember how they used to call us the James' Gang because he's the guy who reestablished the squadron?" Lapointe asked.
"He lives out in Montana now, retired from his civilian job as a civil defense guy," Sparks let them know. "Been married for 53 years! Three daughters and four grand kids.
"Didn't you know one of the daughters, Klick?" Lapointe asked.
"Not really," Nick said dismissively.
"Buzz was good people," Gwayne remarked. "He really set the tone and gave us our swagger."
"He was a bit of a free spirit," Nick agreed.
"He used to say you can teach a monkey to fly but you can't teach it to think," Gwayne recalled. "He rode our asses when we were in the helo to make us better air crewmen."
"Brad Gilman's coming," Sparks informed them.
"My first Assistant Admin Officer," Nick replied.
"He made Captain. Now he's a court administrator. Married, no kids out in Arizona.
"He was good people too," Gwayne determined.
"Brice Raulston will be there," Sparks said.
"He's the guy who e-mailed us all those photos," Nick revealed.
"He was one of the cool guys," Lapointe recalled.
"He did his twenty and now he's a college professor in Virginia," Sparks said. "Remarried for a couple of years. Has three daughters from his first marriage. Lost a son in a car accident ten years ago."
There was a pause and the others waited to see if Nick was going to comment on that but he glanced out the window and didn't say anything.
"Who was better looking, Dickey or Raulston?" Lapointe wondered.
"Are you gay, Stan?" Gwayne asked again.
"How bout that young kid Chuck Christoper?" Sparks asked. "He was just some young clueless squirt and now he's some big deal doctor out in LA."
"He was definitely better looking than either Dickey or Raulston," Lapointe announced.
"You are definitely gay, Stan," Gwayne decided.
"His wife is a doctor too," an impressed Sparks remarked.
"I always liked Chuck," Nick spoke up. "He was a cool and fun guy. Down to earth. Friendly. Trustworthy. Dependable."
"I almost didn't come when I found out Clark Kent Paulson was coming too," Sparks grumbled.
"Yes, Superman was never one of your favorites, Eddie," Gwayne concurred.
"He wasn't anybody's favorite!" Sparks announced.
"I worked for him in the Admin Shop," Nick replied. "I got along with him okay."
"You got along with everybody, Nick," Gwayne pointed out.
"Superman was a super asshole," Lapointe admitted.
"I see here he got out of the Navy," Sparks said, reviewing the autobiographies. "Probably before they kicked him out!"
"What'd he do after the Navy?" Lapointe asked.
"He's an investigator for the National Flight Safety Board in DC," Sparks replied. Still married although I don't how with a couple of kids. You know, I'm going to tell that guy just how much of an asshole we all thought he was," Sparks decided.
"What difference does it make now?" Nick wondered.
"Huh?" Sparks frowned.
"It's been over thirty years, Eddie," Nick replied. "Let it go."
"Hey, I should be able to tell the guy he was jerk if I want to," Sparks said.
"I thought we were going to have a good time," Nick remarked. "Not to grind axes."
"Can't we do both?" Gwayne joked.
"Well, I'm going to give him a piece of my mind," Sparks determined.
"Who else is coming, Eddie?" Lapointe asked, sitting next to him in the back seat.
"Dan David," Sparks replied, glancing back at the mini-bios.
"He was definitely one of the good guys," Nick said.
"He went LDO too," Sparks replied. "He retired from the Navy and he just retired from his civilian supply job on the base a few months ago. His son just died of cancer a while back."
There was another pause waiting to see if Nick was going to say anything but he again glanced out the window at the passing scenery and said nothing.
"He's got a couple of other kids and ten grand kids," Sparks said. "Dog Luber is coming," he added. "He's going to be the reunion Chaplain because he's a Baptist minister now down in Alabama. Says here he met his wife on a blind date but it took another five years for him to convince her to marry him! He was career Navy and made Senior Chief. Has four kids. Works for some Christian missionary organization."
"All I remember of him was that he was a big guy," Lapointe remarked.
"You mean fat," Gwayne corrected. "I never knew how he could get up on the bird to do some of the maintenance.
"That was before all the body fat requirements and PT stuff," Nick replied.
"Dick Hoft is coming," Sparks said. "He got out after one tour."
"He had worse acne than I did," Nick recalled.
"He's an electrician now in South Carolina. Married with a daughter and grandson."
"I'm glad things worked out for him," Nick replied.
"Oh God, Blaine Brooks is going to be there?" Sparks groaned.
"Now, he may have been better looking than any of those other guys," Lapointe laughed.
"You really are gay aren't you, Stan?" Gwayne wanted to know.
"How in the hell did a guy that dumb become a nurse?" Sparks wanted to know.
"He was dumb?" Nick asked with surprise.
"He didn't have any common sense," Gwayne clarified. "He was book smart but a flake."
"He got out after our squadron went to Nursing school and became a nurse but after ten years he realized that he missed the camaraderie of the Navy and went back in as Navy Nurse," Sparks said. "Now he's retired from the Navy and teaches Nursing at some university in Delaware."
"You never looked him up, Ted?" Lapointe asked.
Gwayne shook his head no as he continued driving, lighting up a cigarette and rolling down the window a crack to blow the smoke out.
"He's a single father of three kids, all of them in college now," Sparks added.
"Guess he wasn't good looking enough to keep his marriage going," Lapointe remarked.
"I'm glad that Dirk Tracy is going to be there," Sparks said.
"He was one of the best officers," Gwayne agreed.
"Made Captain and retired with 31+ years of service," Sparks remarked. "You name it, that guy did it. Now he's a defense consultant out near Pensacola. Remarried with two kids from that marriage and two kids from his first marriage. He's also got five grand kids, one of which is older than his own kid! He coaches football and baseball and is a fitness guru."
"I was sort of intimidated by him sometimes," Nick admitted.
"He could be intense," Lapointe agreed. "But he was a great pilot and a great officer."
"Says here that Command Master Chief Dan Hilton is in ill health and may or may not come," Sparks reported. "He's a widower and his son died too."
A glance at Nick who said nothing and glanced out the window.
"He was so laid back you didn't realize he was dissecting you with his words until about two days later," Gwayne recalled.
"Pretty Boy Denny Hasden is coming," Sparks announced.
"He may be better looking than Blaine," Lapointe remarked.
"You have to be gay, Stan," Gwayne replied.
"He became an officer too and did thirty years."
"He was a poster boy Navy guy and aircrew man," Nick said.
"Perfect in every way," Lapointe concurred.
"He's been married for twenty years, lives right there in Jacksonville, and is some executive for a local baking company," Sparks said.
"I enjoyed flying with him," Gwayne remarked.
"Little Joey Issack is coming," Sparks replied.
"He was a good looking young officer," Lapointe laughed.
"Gay, Stan, Gay," Gwayne groaned.
"He did twenty years and now he works for the Florida state environmental agency," Sparks said. "He's married with two kids and five grand kids.
"Grand kids?" Nick asked with surprise. "Man, he was the youngest officer in the squadron and now he's a grandfather? We're all getting old!"
"He had the biggest porn collection I ever saw," Lapointe recalled.
"Really?" Nick asked with surprise. "I always thought he was the innocent naïve type."
"Too bad Elvis Newton can't come," Sparks noted. "But according to his mini-bio he did okay."
"That guy was the biggest pervert I've ever met," Nick remarked.
"He wasn't a bad pervert," Gwayne clarified. "He just liked to get laid. He was at the strip bars every night!"
"He was career Navy, made Senior Chief, survived two helo crashes, and finally settled down out in California and got married," Sparks reported.
"He had a great car," Lapointe recalled. "Grand Torino."
"Ironically, he's a car salesman now," Sparks laughed.
"Well, he was pretty good at bullshitting!" Gwayne laughed. "Why can't he come?"
"He's going to a wedding in Hawaii that weekend," Nick replied. "He called me a couple of times recently. My old boss Phil Franklin can't come either. He's sick."
"Carrot Top! I remember him!" Sparks laughed, glancing at the mini-bios. "He made chief and retired and then worked for Catholic Charities until he got sick."
"He's still married with five kids out in Ohio," Nick replied. "He hopes to beat the Big C this time. It's his second go-around."
"Tough break," Gwayne remarked.
"Guy Barnicle is bringing his kid to this thing?" Sparks asked with surprise as he continued to review the mini-bios."
"What did he end up doing?" Gwayne asked. "He was a bit of red neck psycho if I recall right."
"A good mechanic though," Lapointe replied.
"He's Manager of Maintenance at some community college in central Florida," Sparks reported. "Oh, looks like Gerry Williams the tech rep is coming too."
"That guy's still alive?" Gwayne asked with surprise. "He was old thirty years ago."
"I always liked it when he was on the ship," Nick said. "Having a civilian around made if feel just a little bit less military."
"Hap Frigon is coming," Sparks commented. "He switched to P-3's though"
"Traitor," Lapointe remarked.
"He was in Desert Storm and now he's a defense contractor," Sparks added. "Harris Overland will be coming too. He made it a career and was an XO/CO and made Captain. He's retired from his civilian job as a contractor in Norfolk. He's been married for 43 years and has two three kids and five grand kids."
"We're all getting old," Gwayne sighed.
"Yeah, I was one of the youngest guys when I reported in and I'm 53 now!" Nick remarked.
"Black Jack's widow is coming, apparently," Sparks announced.
"I remember Black Jack telling us a story about her fucking him in the car on the way home after we got back from one of the detachments," Gwayne laughed.
"He was one of the best Commanding Officers I ever had," Nick replied. "I couldn't believe it when I heard he was dead."
There was a momentary pause as all four reflected on their former Commanding Officer for a few moments.
"Jed Snow's coming," Sparks said.
"One of the shortest guys ever," Lapointe recalled.
"He was my first room mate in the barracks for a few months," Nick said.
"He made Senior Chief and now he's a cop in Florida," Sparks revealed.
"Can a guy that short be a cop?" Lapointe wondered.
"Hey Ted, the guy who replaced you is coming," Sparks said. "Jim McCoy."
"I was the first aircrew guy to leave the squadron," Gwayne bragged.
"McCoy wasn't anything like you," Nick recalled.
"Yeah, he was a bit of a wimp," Lapointe agreed.
"Well, he made senior Chief and now he's a cop too in West Virginia," Sparks laughed. "I'd say he'd okay for himself. It says here he accumulated over 4600 hours in H-3 and SH-60 aircraft, sailed almost seven years haze gray and underway and was awarded four Navy Commendation Medal and four Navy Achievement medals. He's got his bachelor's degree, is still married and they have three adult children."
"It'll be interesting to see him again," Gwayne said. "I think he was there for like three days before I left."
"Allen Jeffries will be attending," Sparks said. "Oh, wow, he went and pushed boots after leaving the squadron! Made Chief, did a tour in Sigonella, and now he's a furniture maker right there in Jacksonville. He's been married for forty years. He's got a kid and two grand kids."
"Jeffries was a pretty good looking guy too," Lapointe recalled.
"My God, so gay, Stan," Gwayne complained.
"The Rat is coming," Sparks said happily. "He sounds just as deranged as ever. He lives on some island off of Mexico."
"The most non-officer officer ever," Gwayne laughed.
"Is anybody going to say anything to Blade about what happened to his career?" Sparks asked.
"Of course not," Nick replied. "And you don't say anything either."
"Why not?" Sparks wanted to know. "It's a matter of public record."
"Listen, the guy was one of the best ever. Losing command and being forced to retire is no way to end a career," Nick said. "Why bring up something so unfortunate?"
"Because it happened," Sparks replied.
"Just let it lay, Eddie," Gwayne advised. "He's not going to want to talk about it."
"He did okay for himself after his career went up in flames, right?" Lapointe asked.
"After the Navy no longer desired his services, he became an executive at Disneyworld," Nick said. "He became very well known in the business and even popped up on television a few times."
"He's retired from that now," Sparks said. "He's got three kids and eight grand kids."
"I'll be proud and honored to see him again," Nick replied. "He was one of the best officers I ever worked for."
'I like what Senior Chief Joe McHale did after he retired," Sparks said.
"What'd he do?" Lapointe wondered.
"Nothing!" Sparks laughed. "Plays golf in Jacksonville all day!"
"Yeah, that sounds fun," Gwayne agreed.
"He's got a son who is career Navy officer and a son in law who is career Air Force officer," Sparks added. "And he and his wife lost a daughter."
Again, a pause to see if Nick would comment but he just looked out the window and sighed.
"Dan Boone will be there," Sparks continued. "He came back and was a CO of the squadron a few years later. He retired as a Captain and now he runs a non-profit up in Virginia."
"I worked for him too," Nick replied.
"Yeah? Who'd you like better? Blade or Boone?"
"They were two different officers and personalities," Nick replied. "I worked for Blade first - he made quite the impression on me. I liked Boone too but I was a little older when he took over and not quite so easily impressionable."
"I can't believe Dizzy Dixon is going to show up," Sparks laughed.
"Now, that guy was dumb," Gwayne had to admit.
"I guess that's why he became an officer," Nick remarked with a laugh.
"Made Lieutenant Commander before he retired if you can believe it," Sparks said "Flew in all sorts of crafts."
"What's he do now?" Lapointe asked.
"Some sort of useless government job there in Jacksonville," Sparks replied. "He's got two kids."
"The guy was the thickest rock I ever met ever," Lapointe said.
"Waterworks is coming," Sparks said, turning the page of the mini-bio folder. "He got out after the squadron and went to work as a civilian on the base, doing pretty much the same thing he was doing in the squadron!"
"Except no cruises," Gwayne pointed out.
"He says most of the buildings on the base have been replaced, our hanger is gone and all but one of the barracks that we lived in has been replaced with a parking lot," Sparks read.
"You can't go home again," Nick remarked.
"He's married and has a kid and a grand kid and he can retire in a couple of years," Sparks continued. "He says when he remembers us in his mind, we are all still young!"
"What happened to us!" Lapointe laughed. "Where's my hair!"
"Once we thought we'd never get old," Gwayne agreed. 'Now look at us!"
"Crap, Jerk Springs is coming?" Sparks groaned.
"The most egotistical officer I ever met," Nick admitted.
"And the worse pilot," Gwayne offered.
"Even his mini-bio reads like a self-love letter," Sparks observed.
"We don't want to know," Gwayne said.
"Is anybody surprised that he went into local politics when he retired from the Navy?" Sparks asked with disgust. "He's a state representative out in Illinois."
"I'm sure he'll be snowing all of us! Gwayne remarked.
"Oh, your old pal Jimmy Rae Rivers is coming, Klick," Sparks said.
"Jimmy Rae was okay," Nick said diplomatically. "Once you got to know him."
"Some guys thought he was a con artist," Lapointe recalled.
"He could push the limits," Nick agreed. "But I learned a lot working for him."
"Even though he never made Chief?" Sparks asked.
"Well, he did push the limits!" Nick replied with a smile.
"He became a cop," Sparks read. "In Arkansas."
"Where I'm sure he pushed the limits there too!" Nick laughed.
"Then he got sick and retired," Sparks noted. "Now he goes fishing, hunting and basically does whatever he wants, it says here. He's still married and has six kids, 26 grand kids, 8 great grandkids and a great grand kid on the way."
"Somebody started early," Gwayne remarked.
"Sam Samuel will be there," Sparks reported.
"He was even fatter than Luber," Gwayne recalled.
"That's probably why he got out," Sparks replied. He's got three kids and a grand kid now. He's an engineer and still a devout born again."
"Oh yeah, he was one of those barrack preachers," Lapointe recalled. "We'd get drunk listening to him tell us about the evil sins of drinking!
"Nate Yancy is coming," Sparks told them.
"Great guy, great aircrew man, great shipmate," Gwayne said with approval. "Can't wait to see him!
"He got out after our tour too," Sparks read. "Joined the reserves and went into the family construction business in Iowa so he became a Reserve Seabee and he married his high school sweetheart."
"How romantic," Lapointe gushed.
"She came down for the dependents day cruise just a few weeks before he got out," Sparks said. "They have two children and the son just got out of the Marines this past June."
"This is going to be fun," Gwayne said with excitement. "Seeing these guys after thirty years."
"Jim Sette is coming," Sparks said.
"First guy I met when I reported in," Nick reported. "Poster boy image of what a Sailor is supposed to be like. Never forgot him."
"He made Master Chief and retired after 26 years of service," Sparks said. "Now he works on a farm!"
"Didn't see that coming," Nick admitted.
"Ken Black will be there," Sparks said.
"He was the only officer in the squadron who wasn't a pilot, I believe," Gwayne recalled.
"Supply Officer," Nick confirmed.
"He retired and now he's in banking in Atlanta," Sparks said. "Two kids and four grand kids. Married forty years."
"I think he's the guy who set up the viewing of the Navy-Air Force game on Saturday," Nick noted.
"Mick Norman is coming," Sparks said. "He did thirty years."
"I remember reading his name in a helo crash newspaper article out in Washington State," Nick remarked.
"He's some big cheese at some corporation out in Portland Oregon now," Sparks replied. Married for forty-five years with a daughter."
"I think Sharkbait said Mick was coming down early to get some golf in," Lapointe mentioned.
"Red Corral will be in the house!" Sparks said happily.
"Might as well call that guy Dad," Gwayne said.
"He was your Leading Chief the whole time, right?" Nick recalled.
"We drove him crazy, drove him to drink, and kept him hopping, but he saved our asses time and time again," Gwayne recalled.
"He probably saved your career, Ted," Sparks said.
"At least twice," Gwayne agreed.
"He's still married to Trudie and they have two kids and three grandkids," Sparks said. "Married 50 years, retired from his civilian job there on the base."
"I came just to see him," Gwayne announced.
"Cappy Richards will be there," Sparks said. "He's a banker now down in Naples Florida."
"Great pilot," Gwayne said.
"I worked for him too in the Admin Office," Nick mentioned.
"Was he better than Blaine and Boone?" Laplante teased.
"He was probably the funniest of the three," Nick admitted. "He never sweated the load."
"Yeah, he was cool to fly with too," Gwayne said.
"Sonny Stevenson is coming," Sparks said. "He made it a career and now he's a cop out in Idaho eligible to retire in five years."
"He was a great mechanic," Lapointe said.
"Hugh Paulson is coming," Sparks said.
"Good ole Hugh," Gwayne replied.
"Yeah, he was definitely one of us," Lapointe said.
"He got out, went back in, changed his rate and stopped flying, got out again, and then went back in and got out for a third time," Sparks laughed. "Now he's a taxi driver in Chicago!"
"Can't make that one up!" Gwayne remarked.
"And of course Sharkbait will be there," Sparks said.
"Is that good or bad?" Gwayne laughed.
"Why?" Nick wondered.
"Ah, Sharkbait was okay," Lapointe defended.
"If you like two faced political yes men!" Gwayne remarked.
"Well, he made Master Chief," Sparks pointed out.
"Yeah, because he was a two faced political yes man!" Gwayne said.
"Now he sells real estate," Sparks noted.
"I bet he's real good at it," Gwayne grumbled sarcastically.
"Well, we wouldn't be driving down for a reunion if it wasn't for him," Nick noted.
"This is true," Lapointe agreed.
"He's married with a bunch of kids," Sparks added.
"Good for him," Gwayne said sardonically.
"Danny Dodge is coming," Sparks said. "Another one of those guys who went LDO and made a career of it."
"I remember him as a good petty officer," Nick said. "Electronics."
"He made Lieutenant Commander and retired after thirty years," Sparks said. "Now he's in defense contracting in Norfolk. He's remarried with two older kids from his first marriage and two kids from his second marriage and six grand kids."
"Lots of success stories out there," Gwayne said.
"Including the best one," Sparks said. "The Admiral!"
"I spent twenty three years in the Navy and served with hundreds of officers and only two out of all of them made Flag," Nick remarked.
"Z was a great junior officer and a fun pilot when we knew him," Gwayne recalled.
"I worked for him too," Nick said. "He was the personnel officer for a while. Great guy even then, but I would have picked Blade or Tracy to make it first," Nick admitted. "Or even Black Jack if he hadn't died."
"Black Jack was too controversial," Gwayne argued. "Blade for sure if that hadn't happened to him."
"So Z commanded two helicopter squadrons, served as Executive Officer of USS ENTERPRISE, and deployed as Commanding Officer of two capital warships and then as a flag officer he had eleven more commands," Sparks reviewed.
"Definitely the most successful of all of us," Gwayne noted.
"He did thirty-three years and now he's an Executive with Sikorsky and serves on a zillion boards," Sparks said. "He's married with three kids and one of them is in the Navy now."
"It will be fun to see him again," Nick said.
"Rock Meyers ended up with over 5000 hours logged as H-3 crewmen launching& recovering weapons, logistics support, three live rescues and three body recoveries," Sparks reported.
"Wasn't he a mechanic when he was with us?" Gwayne asked.
"He changed rates later," Sparks explained. "He married some blond bombshell, had two kids, started his own consulting firm, and lives in Louisiana."
"Sounds like fun," Lapointe said.
"Should I give Ollie Parry a hard time for almost killing me?" Sparks asked.
"What'd he do?" Nick asked.
"Misread the instruments and had be jump out from seventy five feet instead of fifty," Sparks said.
"Is that bad?" Nick asked.
"Much higher than that and you can kill a guy," Gwayne explained.
"I remember thinking, 'Man, this is a long way down," Sparks groaned. "It sure did hurt when I finally hit the water."
"The ocean can turn into a rock if you hit it from too high up," Gwayne noted.
"He made it a career and then he taught for fifteen years and now he's retired from that too," Sparks said. "Married for forty years with two kids and two grand kids. They live in Panama City, Florida."
"Don't say anything," Nick advised. "Why make the guy feel bad?"
"Jesus, Klick," Sparks complained. "You should have been a mediator."
"Well, I was in HR for a while," Nick reminded him.
"So, can you believe your old office pal Dalton Waters is still in the Navy, Klick!" Sparks laughed.
"No way!" Gwayne replied.
"He had like sixteen years of broken service and then went back in," Nick explained. "Reserve time mostly and he was a civilian at the Pentagon and then after 9/11 he was mostly active duty. Joint mobilizations to Iraq and Afghanistan."
"Wow!" Gwayne was impressed.
"That's something to be proud about," Lapointe said.
"Adam Thomas is coming," Sparks said. "He was career Navy and now he's one of those guys who travels the country in a Winnebago!"
"I liked flying with AT," Gwayne said. "He was a good senior Air Crew man."
"Heck Wallace is also coming," Sparks announced.
"The coolest of the cool officers," Gwayne remarked.
"He was career too," Sparks said. "Never got command though."
"He was too cool," Gwayne explained.
"He's divorced but has a kid and he works on the base," Sparks said.
"I think we will be consuming beer with him," Gwayne predicted.
"So, there sure are a lot of guys coming to this thing," Sparks remarked.
"Yeah, but a lot of guys aren't," Gwayne complained. "What's wrong with some of them."
"Maybe they can't afford it," Lapointe said.
"Hey, when you're our age and in our stage of our lives, you can pretty much afford anything if you put your mind to it," Gwayne replied.
"Some guys didn't like the Navy," Nick offered. "Or Sharkbait couldn't find them."
"Or they're dead," Sparks sighed.
The sun was going down when Gwayne asked Sparks to pass up a couple of sandwiches for him and Nick but there were only two left.
"You assholes ate three a piece?" Gwayne asked angrily.
"We were hungry," Lapointe replied sheepishly.
Ted chomped down on his sub as he drove and Nick enjoyed his from the passenger's seat as they each recalled the times they drove up and down I-95 from Jax to home during their squadron days. Gwayne also made the trip a few times from Norfolk when they were embarked onboard NIMITZ - "I made pretty good time at warp speed in my GTO" he recalled.
Sparks told the story of driving home with Lizzotte who was also from Massachussetts one time and getting lost in DC trying to get gas in the middle of the night. Nick recalled falling asleep behind the wheel one time and the car breaking down another time and being stuck in Hicksville South Carolina for a couple of days waiting for the car to be repaired.
"It was sort of like Doc Hollywood," he remembered.
The mention of Lizzotte caused Lapointe to the tell the story of the time that Lizzotte went out on a detachment and left his car in Stan's care.
"I fucked his girlfriend in it," Lapointe revealed.
"Hold on, you fucked the guy's girlfriend in his own car!" Nick wanted to know.
Lapointe shrugged. "Why not?"
"Jesus, Stan it was bad enough you boned the chick on the guy but doing it in his own car seems beyond scandalous," Nick remarked.
"Guys cars are sacred," Gwayne agreed.
"Shut up, Ted, you sucked my girlfriends tit," Lapointe protested.
"Oh God, here we go again," Sparks moaned.
"Hey, she let me," Gwayne defended.
"What's this all about?" Nick asked.
"Ah, I was dating some stripper," Lapointe explained. "Ted came out with us one night and we stopped at a liquor store to get some booze and when I came out I saw that the chick was sitting in Ted's lap holding her tit out and Ted was sucking on it."
"Is this true?" Nick asked Gwayne.
"Yes, it is," Gwayne confirmed proudly. "But come on, Stan, she was stripper."
"Yeah, it's not as if she was really going to be my girlfriend," Lapointe agreed.
"Are we shocking you with such horrible stories, Klick?" Spark asked from the back seat.
"I guess I missed out on most of the fun stuff," Nick replied.
"I seem to recall you having something going on with Buzz' daughter," Sparks remarked.
"She was a seventeen year old high school kid," Nick replied with a groan. "I wasn't going to touch the old man's kid for gods sake!"
"Well, something happened between the two of you," Sparks argued.
"Nothing did," Nick insisted. "I mean, she came around the hangar a few times and I talked to her but that was about it."
"You sure?" Sparks challenged.
"My career would have been over if I had tried to put the moves on Buzz' daughter," Nick said, rolling his eyes. "I was young and naive back then but I wasn't stupid!"
"What was her name again?" Lapointe asked.
"Zoey," Nick recalled.
"What'd you talk about?" Gwayne wondered.
"Nothing, really," Nick replied. "I mean she was just waiting around for the old man. She came into the Admin Office a few times and sat by my desk because it was the closest to the door. That's all. And once Carrot top made me keep her company in the old man's office waiting for his flight to come back."
"Did you do her on the desk?" Lapointe grinned.
"You guys are still perverts," Nick groaned.
"Well, I think Sharkbait said she's going to be there," Sparks pointed out.
"Really?" Nick asked with surprise and the others laughed at him.
"Na, I was just bullshitting you!" Sparks grinned.
"It was dark now and they were well into Virginia as they continued the drive with Gwayne still behind the wheel. He called his wife on the cell a few times to give her updates on their progress and when Lapointe asked Sparks if he was going to call his wife, he replied "What for?"
This led to a hundred mile Sparks discourse on the ups and downs of his marriage and his role as father when he was continually overruled and outvoted by his wife who tended to pamper the kid, even at twenty-one.
"I was hoping when I almost died she's give me break but its worse now more than ever," he complained.
"That's why I got divorced," Lapointe laughed. "I'm telling you, I have the best of both worlds," he bragged. "I get to be the bachelor in his own place when I want to be alone and do my own thing and then I've got the girlfriend a cell phone call away when I want a piece of ass."
"We're happy for you, Stan," Gwayne said sarcastically.
The conversation turned to Politics. It was clear that Gwayne was strongly conservative especially on fiscal manners while Sparks was pretty far left. Lapointe was somewhere in the middle, appreciative of the social safety net that helped his special needs son get the funding and assistance he needed but not happy with the tax rate or the penalties he was hit with for being single.
"Sometimes I think I'd be better off if I just quit my job and lived off the dole like you, Eddie," Lapointe remarked.
"I don't live off the dole," Sparks argued. "I paid into my social security and disability and I have no apologies about using it when I needed it. I'm disabled for god sakes. It's not as if I'm faking it." He lifted up his shirt to show his surgical scar that was down the middle of his chest.
Nick tried to stay out of the political conversations and debates but when Gwayne would press him for a comment on the various discussions Nick usually came across as liberal in thought and philosophy although he revealed that he was a practicing Roman Catholic and tried to follow his faith teaching as best he could.
"I don't think I would have gotten through...it....without my faith," Nick revealed, commenting on his personal tragedy for the first time since the trip began.
"Aren't you pissed at God?" Lapointe asked.
"Sometimes," Nick confessed. "But without God, where would I turn to get through this? Folks from the Parish were there for me and my daughter and that really helped."
Sparks brushed off organized religion as cult like and Lapointe was neutral on the subject but Gwayne was spiritual enough to make sure his daughter had a religious wedding. Nick argued that his belief in God gave him the Faith to know that he would see his departed loved ones again.
Gwayne talked about the death of his father - sudden and unexpected - while Lapointe talked about the slow and agonizing passing of his father. Sparks shared how he grew up with a single mother and two younger siblings and he was basically the father figure in his house.
Lapointe said he really should have turned out gay because he grew up in a house with five sisters, a strong mother figure and a somewhat passive Dad.
"Well, you are gay, Stan," Gwayne replied in his usual deadpan style.
"I always had a lot of friends because everybody wanted to come over my house and see my sisters," Lapointe said.
"Naked," Gwayne laughed.
They stopped for Gas at the South of the Border tourist trap on the North Carolina-South Carolina state line with Sparks collecting the twenty dollar tariff and Nick took over driving duties for Gwayne while Sparks took a nap which really quieted down the car.
"You going to be okay driving through the night?" Gwayne asked Nick after they had switched places and were back out on I-95 South.
"Yeah, I work nights, I'll be okay," Nick replied.
"What do you do again?" Gwayne asked.
"Clean offices," Nick replied, trying not to be embarrassed. "All those mini-bios with guys who are doctors, lawyers, executives, cops, professors, teachers, nurses and I clean offices."
"But you were in Human Resources before that?" Gwayne asked.
"Yeah, I liked that job."
"I just couldn't go back to work after the accident," Nick sighed. "I took all the bereavement and sick time I could but the boss finally said I needed to shit or get off the pot so I quit. I had already sold the house by then - I just couldn't live there without them - and I just couldn't deal with going back and listening to all the petty grievances and whining and complaining about idiotic nonsense when I had buried my wife and daughter."
Gwayne tossed him a look but didn't say anything.
"I vegetated for a year and a half doing nothing. I moved into an apartment in my sister's house with my oldest daughter so she could finish high school but she wasn't around much and we were both too traumatized to be there for each other. After she graduated and eventually joined her boyfriend out in Colorado, I realized I needed to do something but I just couldn't bring myself to be around people. I was too moody and impatient and insensitive and intolerant and I died all over again whenever I saw a teenage girl around the age my daughter had been out in public so I tried to find something where I wouldn't have to deal with people. Seeing little kids was just as bad because it made me think of my daughter when she was that age and all the good times we shared together. Cleaning carpets at midnight in empty office buildings fit the bill pretty well of avoiding all people all the time."
"How long's it been since the accident?" Gwayne asked.
"Almost five years," Nick replied.
"Well, you're doing this," Lapointe spoke up from the back. "That's something."
"It's only been twelve hours, Stan," Nick noted, glancing at him in the rear view mirror. "I could still have a melt down break down at any moment."
Gwayne and Lapointe weren't sure if he was being serious.
"Maybe getting out of town will be good for you," Sparks spoke up, apparently not asleep after all.
"It was long after the squadron when I met my wife so going back now is like returning to a whole other pre-life," Nick remarked. "Nobody I'll see this weekend knew her or my daughter."
"How's the other one doing?" Gwayne asked quietly.
"Okay," Nick replied. "Getting out of our home town and away from the memories has been good for her, I think."
"How come you didn't leave?" Lapointe asked.
"I couldn't," Nick admitted. "I had to visit the graves. My family is there. Besides, it wouldn't matter where I went. They would have still been with me."
There was a long silence.
"I'm glad you came," Gwayne said in a rare display of compassion.
Nick glanced in the rear view mirror at Lapointe. "Tell us another sex story, Stan!"
"Well, there was the time when I went out on a double date with Newton - he was dating some broad who had a kid sister and that's who I got," Lapointe recalled.
"Please don't tell us she was underage," Gwayne groaned.
"No, she was at least eighteen," Lapointe replied. "I think! No - just kidding. She was definitely out of high school, living with her sister in an apartment. Anyway Newton takes the older sister into one of the bedrooms to bang her and I ended up in the other bedroom with the younger sister and I fucked her brains out. But I guess we were in the wrong rooms because the next morning the older sister comes into the room I was in to get dressed and ready for work. I pretended I was asleep but I remember she came into the room in the buff so that was a great way to start the day!"
"Stan never met a girl he didn't fuck," Gwayne remarked.
"You know, I bitched a lot about a lot of the crap we put up with but I must say I remember those days well and my time in the Navy was among the most memorable of my life," Lapointe said. "Man, did we ever party!"
"We personally kept the world safer for democracy!" Sparks said.
"Greatest people I had the privilege to serve with," Gwayne remarked.
"All that 'thank you for your service stuff really didn't start until after 9/11," Sparks pointed out. "We didn't hear a lot of that stuff back when we were in."
"Thank you for your Service, Eddie," Gwayne deadpanned.
"Well, you guys especially deserve it," Nick pointed. The pilots and you air crew guys who trained so hard in SAR Swim school and did such great and important work in those helos. I didn't realize how you guys did something so very special."
"I've thought about the folks in our command many times over the years," Sparks said. "They were some of the greatest people I've met in my life."
"Some of those older guys taught me some valuable lessons I''ve never forgotten," Nick said. "I tried to pass them on as I progressed through my career."
"Those were some good times and I remember them fondly," Gwayne said."
"What's really amazing is that so many of the events and people and stories are still vivid now after more than thirty years," Lapointe said. "Once when I flew off the ship early with the advanced party gang and I took the Sharkbait mobile from where he had it parked over at the air terminal to get back to the barracks. That flight in fact was Black Jack, Boone, Chief Boomer and myself. We hadn't gotten to far from the ship when we had almost every chip light ON, no compass other than the wet compass on the dashboard, all kinds of other crap going but Black Jack said we were going to press on and land at Mayport if necessary. We ended up landing at Jax though. Black Jack asked if anyone had any Rolaids cause his stomach was pumping acid on all cylinders. It was pretty scary because we launched before sunup and it was dark most of the way. Anyway, Sharkbait's car was full of empties of all flavors, the drivers seat was held up with part of a cue stick wedged in between the back seat and the drivers seat. I couldn't wait to get home for fear I would be impaled on the stick if I got into an accident. I decided to clean it up for him. Took two garbage bags to hold all the shit in the back. I checked the oil and there was NONE in the engine. The dipstick had dust on it! I gave him hell about it when I gave it back to him. He of course just laughed that laugh of his. I don't know why it didn't seize up. God protects little children and drunks and Sharkbait was pretty well covered."
"We all enjoyed "story time," Sparks remarked. "It always made beer drinking easy. We had great pilots and people. It was a good time to be an HS Air crew. Looking back, we used to have a scary job best done by the young and dumb. I was perfect! I was visiting with Rocky Racoon this summer and we were talking about Red. We decided he had his hands full with us, poor guy, everybody was constantly scamming him. Even at my best, I couldn't do it"
"I still can't believe Sharkbait made Master Chief," Gwayne groaned. "No way! It's hard to imagine a spritzer drinking light loafered Cashchew with a New Yaaawk accent being a leader of leaders. My time enduring memory of Sharkbait is leaving a JAX Liqour's at closing and I couldn't fit in the "Sharkbait Mobile" because the back of the car was filled with empty beer bottles!"
"People think I'm crazy when I tell them that there used to be drive through liquor stores in Jacksonville when we were stationed there," Nick remarked.
"It does seem pretty unbelievable," Lapointe agreed.
"Of course, Stan is the only one who actually put one in the drink," Sparks pointed out.
"That was one of the main reasons I got out after one tour," Lapointe replied. " I was giving General Custer a check ride, HAC was Cappy and we lost the Main "transcription" about a mile or two from the ship. Bright, clear day, gentle swells but we went ahead and tried to launch one of the POS life rafts we had. It did not inflate of course so we got into the water. Prior to abandoning our first duty station I deployed the sea anchor (what the hell for I don't know) but me and Custer were off the starboard side and a large white object came towards us underwater and that chicken shit General pushed me in front of him just in case it was a lone shark looking for a snack. I failed his ass for that on his check ride. Red and his crew came over top of us so I went up the hoist first which apparently pissed off the Co-pilot because he erroneously thought he outranked me. I guess he thought we were in the chow line and he had head of the line privileges or something. I told him later, hell, bud, first come first serve. We ain't got time to be polite and besides Red was up there grinning like a jackass eating a Slim Jim and pointing at me. The CO mumbled something about us enlisted guys being swimmers so we could stay in the water longer!"
"You were never the same after that, Stan," Gwayne mentioned.
"We trained for years for that sort of stuff," Lapointe sighed. "I went into the water several times as a swimmer but when that Bird when down I really thought it might be the end for us. I was honesty afraid of flying after that."
"It's weird but the other day I was going through some old photos where we had some kind of cook out / toad suck in Jax. Yarcy, Sparks, Sharkbait, Manilow, Red and a bunch more were in the photos. Everyone looks so young, even Red!" Gwayne laughed.
"I remember one of my first flights," Sparks recalled. "We were part of a three aircraft screening mission and we had spent most of the time looking at sharks. All I could think about was the movie 'Jaws'!"
"Those were days when the ship were made of wood and we Sailors were made of steel," Gwayne joked
"Looking back on it, it was my honor and privilege to have served with all you guys,' Lapointe said.
"You're not going to start crying are you, Stan?" Gwayne teased.
"Of course, there was the time I almost killed an Admiral," Sparks recalled.
"Oh yeah? Nick asked.
"Yeah, we were transporting him from the NIMITZ to some shore base," Sparks said. "We were flying at about 150 feet and going about 80 mph. I'm standing at the open cargo door watching the ocean below and I glance over and there's the Admiral standing there, nodding his head and smiling. I nod my head in return and smile but then it occurs to me that he's not wearing a safety belt! One bump, one stumble, one air pocket and he's out the door and I've got a dead Admiral on my hands!"
"What'd you do?" Nick asked.
"Tackled the guy right into the cargo seats!" Sparks replied. "At first he thought I was nuts but then I told him he wasn't wearing a safety belt and he said 'Oh yeah, I guess that was pretty stupid!'"
They laughed at that one and the conversation turned to other VIPs they had meet during their careers. Frank Sinatra and Ed McMahon in Israel. "The Pope who was only Pope for 30 days," as Gwayne put it. Nick said he met George H.W. Bush later in his career, along with Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Borda, and Tom Cruise while filming Top Gun. Sparks bumped into Larry Bird on the streets of Boston and Lapointe saw Katherine Hepburn in Mystic CT. Gwayne said he saw Celebs all the time in New York City but after a while you don't even look twice.
They also talked about some of their memorable liberties - Coastal Del Sol In Spain, Naples Italy, Veince, Lisbon Portagual, Portsmouth and London England, Hafia Israel, Norfolk Virginia, and of course Jacksonville Florida.
Gwayne took a power nap and Sparks had nodded out again but Lapointe kept Nick company by telling the story of the time he and Addison had sex in a movie theater with other people around. He also called some of his favorite squadron memories and revealed to Nick the story about how he was in a car accident not long after he got out of the Navy in which a young woman was killed.
"I know you're going through you own stuff, Nick, but I wanted you to know that I know how it feels," Lapointe said after telling the story of him being broadsided on the passenger's side of the car when a drunk driver blew through a red light, killing Stan's date.
"I didn't know her very well but she was a friend of my sister's and it was just an awful situation," Stan sighed. "I think about that night often and while I had a lot of guilt about what happened even though it was an accident and I was cleared of any wrongdoing, but I did learn to life with it and move on and I know you will too, in time."
"I wasn't even there," Nick said quietly. "They had gone to a birthday party on the river. A family friend was giving motor boat rides. He was going faster than he should have and they hit a log in the river. The boat capsized and four people were killed."
"It made the national news," Sparks spoke up. "I saw it on CNN. It was one of the first cases of drunk driving in a boat."
"I still see him around town sometimes," Nick revealed. "For the longest time I was full of rage and anger and bitterness and I wanted to kill him but I had to learn to let it go because it was killing me. Hillsboro is too small of a town to totally avoid him or his family. One day I was sitting at the counter of the local diner and I realized that his kid was sitting next to me. He was probably fourteen and I wanted to grab him by the scruff of the neck and throw him through the window or stick his face on the grill. I think the owner of the diner could see that I was about to go postal because he physically escorted me from the premises and the cops came and brought me home. I was shaking for hours because I realized I really truly desperately wanted to hurt that poor kid. It wasn't his fault but I was so full of hate that I was going to explode if I didn't do something about it."
"So what'd you do?" Lapointe asked.
"Had myself committed to the local psych ward for a few days," Nick replied with a shrug. "I wasn't safe."
"Wow," Sparks said. "You put yourself in the loony bin?"
"Just for a few days," Nick said.
"When I thought I was dying I fell into a pretty deep depression," Sparks revealed. "They wanted to give me happy pills but I knew I needed to deal with the situation on my own and I just sort of willed my way back. I knew I should have died and all this was part of the bonus round so I make the best of what I have and I'm grateful to be alive."
The sky was beginning to lighten in the eastern sky as they drove through Georgia, clearly way ahead of schedule as it looked like they'd be in Jacksonville by six o'clock which was pretty good time considering the number of stops they had made and the long break at Gwayne's house. They continued the idle chit chat as the night began to give way to dawn and once they crossed the Florida state line they knew they were almost there.
"I had forgotten how long of a drive it is," Nick said. "Christ, North Carolina and South Carolina go on forever!"
"Yeah, it was one thing doing the drive when we were twenty but now it's a killer even with four guys sharing the driving," Gwayne said.
"Eddie hasn't even driven yet," Lapointe pointed out.
"Has anybody been back here since we left?" Gwayne asked.
"I drove through on the way to Disneyworld once but we didn't stop," Nick replied.
"I was here in the early 1980s once," Lapointe recalled. "It had changed some even then."
As the sun began to rise and the road trippers approached Jacksonville with the early commuters it was clear that there had been massive changes in the last thirty years. The highway had been redone with modern new overpasses. There were new strip malls, malls, and office parks along the side of the highway.
"I have no idea where we are," Nick admitted as they passed the airport and continued to approach the city. "Everything's different."
"What are we going to do?" Sparks grumbled. "Check in time isn't until like three."
"Maybe they'll let us check in early," Lapointe said hopefully.
"Six o'clock early, Stan?" Gwayne asked.
"Hey, you never know," Lapointe said cheerfully.
Nick was frustrated as they approached downtown. "Where the hell is the ramp for Route 17?" He asked. "It used to be right up here on the left but everything's redone."
"Just keep going south," Gwayne ordered. "We can catch the I-295 bypass and circle around to Orange Park."
There wasn't a lot of conversation as the four travelers stared out the windows at the sights from their past, most of which they didn't recognize anymore. Nick found his way to the I-295 bypass and they got off at Route 17. If they turned right, they'd head toward the Naval Air Station where they had been stationed together, but instead they turned left to find the new Orange Park Holiday Inn which was different from the old (abandoned) Holiday Inn that they remembered and drove pass. There was little else they recognized as Orange Park and been built up to point that they could have been anywhere and not recognized their surroundings.
"This is Twilight Zone stuff," Gwayne acknowledged.
The travelers found the new Holiday Inn - plush and impressive and pulled into the parking lot even though it was only 6:15 a.m. They used the lobby bathroom and for the fun of it stopped at the front desk to see if they could check in early. When the front desk worker (Navy spouse) realized they were part of the Navy reunion group she handed them the two magnetic card keys to the rooms and told them they could check in then. Relieved, impressed and grateful, they thanked the nice lady for her kindness
"Well, I had a few laughs along the way," Nick told his fellow travelers as they headed for the elevators. "Thanks for the shared camaraderie and the shared experience. It was a pleasure to ride with you."
They found their rooms, stowed their luggage in their comfortable, attractive and pleasant rooms and then regrouped to grab some breakfast. There were a few people coming and going around the lobby and Nick wondered if any of them were reunion guys.
Walking out to the parking lot and the car, an older gentleman with a southern twang approached them. "You guys here for the reunion?"
They stared at the guy.
"Do we know you?" Sparks asked.
"Jimmy Rae Rivers," the guy replied and Nick burst into a wide smile.
"Hi, Jimmy, remember me?" Nick asked.
Rivers, graying, balding, slightly plumb, glanced at Nick. "Can't say that I do," he admitted.
"It's Nick KIick," Nick informed his former office co-worker and superior.
"Oh, wow, Nick, how the hell are you?" Jimmy asked with surprise. "You look...different." They shook hands.
"Everybody looks different, Jimmy," Gwayne remarked, offering his hand. "Ted Gwayne."
"What happened to your hair?" Jimmy asked.
Laughing, Sparks and Lapointe shook Rivers hand too.
"We're going to breakfast, Jimmy, you want to come?" Nick asked.
"Na, I'm on my way to the airport to pick up The Rat," Jimmy replied. "I'll see you guys later."
Nick watched Rivers stroll toward his pickup truck, remembering their times working together.
"You know, if I had passed him on the street, I never would have recognized him," Nick remarked as they headed for Sparks SUV.
"I think that's true for all of us," Gwayne replied.
"We might need a scorecard for this gig," Sparks laughed as he climbed behind the steering wheel of the vehicle.
With Gwayne yelling at Sparks on to which way to go, they drove around for a few minutes before settling on a Waffle House on Route 17 which was bustling with activity. The head cook was overly friendly and went out of his way to make sure they were taken care of and satisfied with their meal. The foursome were tired from their long road trip but they talked about the memories of late night (or early morning) meals after long nights of partying.
"I was never into that stuff all that much," Nick admitted. "Elvis Newton used to drag me out to the some of the strip bars and all that but I was happier taking in a good movie every night."
"Are you gay too?" Gwayne wanted to know.
After breakfast, they gassed up the vehicle one more time with Sparks insisting on the twenty dollar payment plan, took a quick spin down Route 17 and were distressed to see that most of their old hangouts outside the main gate had been torn down long ago. They were slightly disjointed trying to remember what was where and confused by all the changes.
"Were we ever really here?" Gwayne wondered.
They returned to the impressive Holiday Inn and decided to take a nap. Nick laid down but found he couldn't sleep after an hour of dozing so he slipped out of the room and went down to the lobby where he saw Jimmy Rae Rivers eating breakfast alone.
"Hey, Jimmy Rae," Nick greeted, taking a seat across from his old shipmate.
"Nick Klick," Jimmy Rae replied with a grin. "Man, you were such a young kid when we met and look at you now," he said, shaking his head.
"Middle aged, gray, and getting fat," Nick replied knowingly.
"Well, I have fifteen years on you so how do you think I feel?" Jimmy laughed.
"Where's The Rat?" Nick asked.
"Shit, shower and a shave after his long flight," Jimmy replied.
Jimmy gave Nick the update on his life over the last thirty years including all his kids and grandkids and even great grandkids. He was content with his life despite a few health scares along the way and the recent passing of a guy he knew for more than forty years.
"I guess I came to this reunion to be reminded that I was young once," Jimmy remarked in his southern drawl.
He asked Nick about his life since he left the squadron and Klick gave him an abridged version of his career and personal life.
"But you made Senior Chief, right?" Jimmy asked.
Nick shrugged. "Yeah, but I was lucky, mostly.
Jimmy frowned and sighed deeply. "I was greatly upset that I never made Chief," he admitted.
"How long have you been retired, Jimmy?" Nick asked.
"Just about twenty-eight years now," he replied.
"Does it really matter?"
"It would matter in my retirement check," he laughed. "But yeah, it matters," he said. "It always bothered me all these years."
"You were a good supervisor and teacher for me," Nick replied. "You had a good career. You've got a big and loving family who care about you. You have your health and you're enjoying retirement. What difference does it really make now whether or not you put the Khakis on?"
"I guess I should let it go," Jimmy replied sadly. "But I can't."
"Look, we both know that there were plenty of guys who made chief who had no business being a chief and that there were plenty of guys who never made Chief who should have," Nick said. "All we can do is show up and do the best we can, make a difference when we can, and at night sleep knowing we did the right thing. I clean offices now and nobody really cares that I made Senior Chief in the Navy."
"What the hell are you doing cleaning offices?" Jimmy wanted to know.
"Hiding out, mostly," Nick admitted.
"Well, I'm going over to the Navy Exchange to pick up a few things for back home," Jimmy announced after he paid for his breakfast. "You want to come?"
"Na, I think I'll hang around here and see if anybody else shows up," Nick replied.
"I've seen a few guys already besides The Rat," Jimmy replied.
"Oh yeah? Like who?" Nick asked with interest.
"Brad Gilman. Mick Norman. Sonny Stevenson. I've been here since yesterday. I tried to stop and see Jim Sette at his work but he wasn't around."
"I'm sure you'll see him later," Nick replied.
"Mick has been here since Tuesday playing golf," Jimmy reported. "He really wants to win tomorrow."
"You playing?" Nick asked.
"You betcha," Jimmy grinned.
"Okay," Nick said, walking Jimmy of the restaurant. "It's really great seeing you, Jimmy. Cheer up. Everything's good."
"Thanks, Nick," Jimmy replied before shuffling off for the front door and Nick wondered if he looked sad as Jimmy seemed to be.
Nick never second guessed his Navy career and he really didn't think about it all that much since retiring from the service but now that he was around some of his old shipmates again he wondered if he had been wasting his life since the accident.
Nick walked out the back door of the hotel to the pool area and noticed a guy sitting alone at one of the tables wearing a red tee shirt that was the color of the old squadron, long since disestablished. Nick knew it was one of his old shipmates but he had no idea who.
"Do I know you?" Nick asked as he walked across the patio toward the guy.
"Do I know you?" the guy asked in reply with a hearty laugh.
"I'm Nick Klick."
"Mail Call! Mail Call! The guy laughed. "Nick! How the hell are you?"
"Who the hell are you?" Nick asked.
"Sonny Stevenson! Have I changed that much!"
Well, he was a round and burly guy with gray hair and a pencil mustache and a deep voice. As soon as Sonny said his name Nick recognized him and remembered him.
"Sonny! Best mechanic the squadron ever saw!"
"Bullshit!" Sonny replied. He gestured to the twenty-four pack of beer sitting in front of him. "Want one?"
"It's a little early for that isn't it, Sonny?"
"Hey, I'm here to have a good time," Sonny replied. "I left the little woman behind so I could!"
"Married?" Nick asked, taking a seat across from him at the table.
"Na, girlfriend," Sonny replied. "She's a cop too."
"Does she outrank you?" Nick teased.
"Only in the bedroom!" Sonny replied with a grin. "Anyway, I've set my stake here by the pool waiting for the arrival of more guys. I've already seen Rivers, Norman and Gilman. Who else is here?"
"Well, Gwayne, Lapointe and Sparks are in the rack up on the fourth floor," Nick reported. "We drove down together."
"Hell, that must have been quite the road trip," Sonny laughed.
"Yeah, I can hardly wait for the trip back," Nick noted with a smirk. "Jimmy just brought The Rat in from the airport a while ago."
"The Ratman!" Sonny exclaimed. "I wonder if he's still in an alternate universe."
"I haven't seen him yet," Nick replied.
"When you guys leaving?" Sonny asked.
"I'm heading out Sunday afternoon," he sighed.
"Ah, lets stay in the moment," Nick replied. "I'll be right back, Sonny. I gotta take a leak."
"I'll be here, man."
Nick went inside and used the public lobby restroom and when he was coming back through the lobby he noticed a guy with graying hair and sun glasses strolling around the place as if he was the hotel's house detective monitoring suspicious activity. Nick was pretty sure he was a reunion shipmate but he couldn't place the face.
"Excuse me, Sir, but are you here for the reunion?" Nick asked as he approached the individual.
"Sure am," the guy replied, reaching out his hand. "Brad Gilman."
Nick accepted his hand. "Nice to see you again, Sir. I'm Nick Klick."
"Yeoman Klick!" Gilman laughed. "It's really great to see you."
"You too, Sir."
"Please, call me Brad, Nick."
"That feels so weird to tell you the truth, Sir...Brad. I mean, I remember you as Lieutenant Gilman."
"Those days are long over, Nick. We're all equal now."
"Oh, I doubt that," Nick laughed.
"Who else is here?" Gilman asked.
"Sonny Stevenson is out by the pool," Nick reported. "Lapointe, Gwayne and Sparks are catching some zzzzz's upstairs."
"Oh My god, those three together again?" Gilman laughed.
"You should have been in the car with them driving down," Nick replied, rolling his eyes. "They really haven't changed that much at all."
"We're all in trouble," Gilman laughed.
"Jimmy Rivers just brought The Rat in from the airport," Nick added.
"Oh yeah?" Gilman asked with interest. "I should try to find him. I wonder if I'll recognize him."
"Yeah, I think the mantra for the next few hours is going to be 'Who the hell are you?'" Nick grinned.
"Well, most of us haven't seen each other for thirty years so without the aid of name tags or old photo on the lapel it's not going to be easy recognizing old friends," Gilman remarked before walking off to see if The Rat was hanging around.
Gilman's words proved prophetic because over the course of the next few hours lines like 'Who the hell are you?' and "Hey, are you...?' could be heard floating around the lobby and the pool area as various people arrived to check into the hotel.
The poolside patio became the primary staging area for initial socializing. Stevenson and Nick watched as a huge Winnebago pulled into the roadway behind the motel and a guy wearing a red squadron tee shirt stepped out of the vehicle with a cooler in one hand and the hand of a woman in the other.
"Who the hell are you?" Sonny asked as the couple approached their table.
The guy glanced at Sonny's red squadron tee-shirt. "I'm Adam Thomas," he answered. "Who the hell are you?"
"Sonny Stevenson," Sonny replied. "And this here is Nick Klick."
"This is my companion, Helen Carson," AT said.
They all exchanged hellos and AT took a seat and cracked open a beer. He looked weather worn and beaten down by life but pleased to be poolside.
Lapointe and Gwayne had awaken from the slumber and were making their way to the table.
"Your former Leading Petty Officer is here," Nick said, gesturing to AT seated at the table and the hellos began all over again.
Sparks appeared a few moments later, his long graying hair slicked back from his recent shower and the introductions were made all over again. It was barely noon but Lapointe and Gwayne borrowed Sparks SUV to make a beer run just as Nick's former office co-worker Dalton Waters arrived and helped himself to one of Stevenson's beers. The others razzed Waters for still being on active duty.
"Where's your uniform, Senior Chief?" Sparks ribbed.
Dick Hoft the former Navy aviation ordnance specialist arrived and his lovely wife Kara and soon after that former Navy electrician Biz Larson showed up with his styling cowboy boots with his better half Olivia along with former shipmate and still best friend, former aircrew man Sam Rocket and his beautiful bride, Lois. The others were greatly amused to learn that the Larsons and Rockets were actually neighbors.
Rocket had been good friends with Sparks and they often flew together so it was a great reunion for them and Lapointe and Gwayne (back from their beer run) and Thomas soon joined in on all the old air crew memories and stories. Larson ran his own construction company and Rocket was a foreman for another construction company. Soon another aircrew alumni, Stump Jackson arrived to join in the festivities and Sonny Stevenson was greatly amused.
"Jesus Christ, we're outnumbered, guys," he told the non-aircrew guys.
Former Navy mechanic Rock Meyers and his beauty queen wife Annie showed up next, Rock relieved that he was able to get some time off from his work commitments to attend and he looked around at the those gathered and grinned.
"Looks like I found the Enlisted Man's Club!" he joked as he grabbed a beer and took a seat.
By now, the reunion group had commandeered just about every chair on the patio, dragging them around Stevenson's original table. The afternoon wore on and the game of 'Who the hell are you?' continued as more squadron alumni appeared from the past, including the cheerful and relaxed Cappy Rogers and his wife, Louise. Rogers looked relaxed and laid back but Nick had a hard time recognizing his old boss as his curly black hair had been replaced by straight gray and his famous thick moustache was long gone. He was still thin and trim though.
"Nice to see you, again, Sir," Nick greeted Cappy.
"Who the hell are you?" Cappy asked, shaking the former yeoman's hand.
"I used to work for you, Sir," Nick replied.
"I don't remember you, Nick," Cappy admitted with some embarrassment. "But please call me Cappy. I gave up Sir when I retired!"
The lovely Patty Reynolds appeared representing her late great husband Black Jack, the squadron's respected Executive Officer under Buzz James and later the honored Commanding Officer who served a stellar twenty-four years in the Navy before passing away unexpectedly while on active duty, leaving a hole in the fabric of the squadron all these years later.
Mrs. Reynolds had to be in her mid sixties but her hair was still jet black and she wore enough make up to make herself look fifteen years younger. She was weepy eyed from the start as everybody who said hello to her had a Black Jack story to pass along and although she already heard most of them she was very happy to hear them again.
"I feel like Jack is here with us now," Mrs. Reynolds said on more than one occasion.
Nick would duck into the lobby from time to time to get out of the hot Florida sun for a few minutes and try to catch others showing up for the reunion. It was almost standing room only on the patio as Brice Raulston had his wife, Blane Brooks and his girlfriend, Jim McCoy, Jeff Spring and his wife, Mick Norman, Nate Yarcy, Jim Sette and his wife, Hugh Paulson and his wife, Jimmy Rivers and The Rat (wearing a sombrero) and Carl Bozeman all stopped for visits of varying durations, each with their own story to tell and memory to share and there were four or five conversations going on at the same time.
It was during one of the times when Nick slipped into the lobby to get out of the sun when he saw the squadron's first Commanding Officer, Buzz James, the leader of the James Gang with his reputation as the squadron's father slowly strolling into the lobby. Buzz was in his late seventies, slightly hunched over and walking slowly but it was hard not to recognize him and Nick stood watching as he was escorted by his wife Tina and there was no denying that the middle aged woman walking behind the older couple with her skin tight jeans and cowboy boots and hat was none other than Zoey James, the high school girl who used to chat with Nick while waiting for her father.
"Hello, Skipper," Nick said as he approached Buzz at the check in counter.
"Hello,' Buzz replied with a smile, throwing Nick a glance but it was obvious the CO had no idea who he was talking to.
"Well, well, well, look Dad, it's Seaman Klick!" Zoey laughed and Nick was amazed she recognized him so quickly.
"We just drove down from Savannah where we were visiting some old friends," Buzz reported. "Now we're here for the reunion!"
"Glad you could make it," Nick replied.
"Seaman Klick," Buzz said, extending his hand. "You were such a young kid back then."
"Not as young as me!" Zoey laughed as she made her way to the check in counter with her mother.
"Hello Mrs. James, Zoey," Nick greeted. "Most of the squadron is out there by the pool."
"Oh, we're just going to freshen up and get ready for tonight," Mrs. James replied. "Tell everybody we say hello and we'll see them later."
"Yes, Nick, we will definitely see you later!" Zoey said with a smile and Nick couldn't help but do a double take.
He hadn't so much as looked at another woman since Angela died but he was definitely noticing Zoey James as she stood at the counter smiling warmly at him. She always made him nervous because he felt like he was going to get in trouble even talking to the Skipper's high school daughter but Zoey always seemed amused by the situation when they were together.
Nick nodded and left the family when a few other squadron guys came over to say their hellos, returning to the patio to let the larger group know that Buzz James was in the house.
Nick enjoyed his many conversations with his old shipmates, all of whom were glad to see him. They relived old times and plenty of people extended their condolences to Nick for his double loss.
"I lost my son in a car accident," Brice Raulston said. "I couldn't imagine losing my son and my wife at the same time."
Brice had been a young, cool, good looking junior officer when Nick served with him. Now he was older and it appeared the tragedy had caught up to him as he was bloated, overweight, and a bit sullen.
"How'd you deal with it?" Nick asked.
"Not very well," Raulston admitted. "My marriage fell apart because of it and now I'm just trying to pick up the pieces with my new bride." Raulston studied Nick for a moment. "How 'bout you?"
"I never talk about it," Nick replied as they walked away from the others for a moment. "Telling the guys in the car driving down here was the first time I spoke aloud about it."
"Well, that's a start," Raulston replied. "I didn't mention my son's name publicly for about two years. Now I fund a scholarship in his name to keep him alive in a way. You'll find your way, Nick. Just be patient."
Nick's fear that he was going to fall apart and become a basket case appeared to be unfounded. To his surprise, he was feeling relaxed and at ease and at peace for the first time since that tragic day when his world fell apart. He was smiling and joking, something he had forgotten how to do, and he was glad to be around people when he had spent the last five years avoiding people.
The afternoon began to wane and some of the guys drifted off to get ready for that evening's meet and greet. Nick returned to the room and took a shower and changed into casual clothes - shorts, sandals, and the red squadron tee shirt and ball cap that Jim Sette had made up for the reunion.
Sparks eventually made his way back to the room and Nick was amazed at how much liquor the guy could hold. He, Lapointe and Gwayne had been drinking all afternoon but Sparks looked to be in pretty good shape.
"This is fun," Sparks said with contentment. "Those are some great guys."
The foursome met up in the lobby and said hellos to some of the other squadron guys coming and going. They piled into Sparks SUV with Nick driving since he was the only one who hadn't been drinking and Gwayne insisted they stop for cigarettes but finding a store on the right side of the street proved to be fruitless and Nick ended up zipping and zagging and making u-turns just to find the store Gwayne approved of.
The meet and greet was held at a private club called 'The Bank' along the riverbank of the St. John's River, nestled and hidden in a neighborhood of old houses. The club was old too but a great location with three tiers of decks spread out from the main building toward the river. Entering the club for the first time, Nick and the others were greeted by a sea of red shirts and squadron mates packed among the decks.
"Christ, there must be a hundred people here," Gwayne remarked.
"Yeah, a who's who of legendary squadron personalities," an impressed Sparks replied.
"Looks like we're going to be playing the 'Who the hell are you?' game all over again," Nick grinned.
Not quite as the reunion committee provided name tags to make it easier to identify attendees.
"But that means we'll have to stare at wives tits to find out who they are," Lapointe noted.
There was a map to denote where attendees had come from, old photo albums, scrap books, and other mementos, a guest book, and a huge welcoming banner.
The 'who the hell are you?' question morphed into 'Are you really...!' as attendees matched faces with name tags. Reunion Committee member Jim Sette's wife had taken charge and was stage managing the event by showing people where to go and what to do. There was a buffet of finger foods, chips, veggies, meatballs and other tasty delights and a large bar in the center of the middle deck.
Ken Black, still lean and trim in his mid sixties, served as the unofficial reunion photographer much to the chagrin of his wife who was often left in the company of others while her husband clicked away. The reunion attendees were a virtual who's who of the all time best the squadron had to offer, led by Sam Blade, still movie star handsome and The Officer's Officer who was everybody's mentor and hero during his exemplary military career, Dirk Tracy, who looked like he could bench press two hundred pounds , Dan Boone the dominative pilot, Gerry WIlliams, the squadron's valued Tech Rep, Red Corrall, the highly regarded Division Chief for all those air crew guys, and Dan David, perhaps the squadron's most respected enlisted man who only increased his respectability when he went LDO.
The three levels of decks were full of smiles, laughing, grinning, back slapping, hugging emotional shipmates who were being reunited and acquainted after so many years apart, helped by photos, scrapbooks, and other memorabilia on display not far from the delicious food.
Stealing the show were the Navy wives, reunited again and led by Tina James, Patty Reynolds, and former Ombudsman Diane Swansonand accompanied by such beautiful brides as Barbara Blade, Beth Boone, Lorraine Richards, Carol Franks, Sue Kent, Chris Spring, Mary Parry, Dixie Corrall, Tammy Hasden, Diane Dodge, Debbie Dickey, Pam Issack, andSherry Jeffires among others, holding their own emotional reunion while reminding their Sailors of their mutual support, understanding, and friendship during difficult times of deployments and other challenges. The proud reunion salute, praise, embrace and love all of their wives, spouses, and significant others who allowed them to have successful careers because of their unshakable belief and support.
The legendary Sharkbait, slightly overweight in retirement, was holding center court and accepting accolades for pulling the reunion off. He was loud, good humored and happy to accept the praises and be the star of the night.
Time travel appeared to come true as several shipmates seemed to be stuck in a time warp loop from the 1970s. Not aged were Ren Dickey, Dr. Chuck Christopher, Blaine Brooks (who's hair was darker now than it was 30 years ago!), and PeteBurnham and they were all duly razzed by the others, especially those who weren't so lucky!
The squadron's former Master Chief Dan Hilton was able to attend the celebration even in failing health and was seated in a wheelchair on the upper level, happy to be present but weak and barely able to speak. Holt Wallace was one of the squadron's more popular junior officers back in the day and he showed up with his date Roberta Paul who was able to witness first hand from a neutral perspective what the squadron was really all about.
Nick made the rounds saying hello to as many familiar faces as he could and joining in on the various conversations and getting his photo taken with various groups. He spent time with his former bosses like Sam Blade, Dan Boone, Cappy Richards, The Rat, Brad Gilman and even Superman Paulson who appeared to be having a good time with everyone. They talked about the Admin Office and those missing shipmates who were unable to make it (or were never found), like Carrot Top, Jed Roberts, Dog Ward, Soup Syales, Astro Houseman, Lew Lott, and Seth Davenport, all guys they served with.
Jimmy Rivers, Sonny Stevenson, and Dalton Waters set up camp at the bar and others joined them in a revolving display of visits. No matter where Nick was, he could hear Gwayne's loud voice and laugh above the crowd noise.Nick saw Dan David standing with some of the other maintenance guys and said hello.
"Sorry to hear about your son, Dan."
"Yeah, well he had been sick for a while," Dan sighed, his face weathered. "It was almost a blessing when he went. He was a Man of God who believed in the promises of Eternal Life so he died a good death and I know I'll see him again," he said, sounding surprisingly serine and accepting. "Sorry for your sorrow too, Nick."
"Yeah," Nick said quietly, glancing out toward the river. "How do you deal with it?"
"Believe it or not, you're going to be okay, Son," Dan replied. "Just hang in there and do the best you can and tomorrow might be a little better."
"Thanks, Dan," Nick said with a smile.
Nick was surprised to see Grady Gleason, another one of the aircrew men guys, hanging out with Lapointe, Gwayne and the other air crew guys. Sparks had mentioned on the trip down that Grady was a widower who hadn't been dealing well without his wife and Nick made it a point to say hello.
"Nice to see you here, Grady," Nick said.
"I didn't think I was going to come," Grady admitted. "Red Correll really talked into me into it and I came as a favor to him but now that I'm here and I'm actually glad I came," he said. "Seeing the guys again is the best thing I could have done for myself."
"Yeah," Nick agreed, glancing around. "It has been uplifting, hasn't it?"
"I hear you had your own loss, Nick."
Nick shook his head in acknowledgement. "It's been an endless torture."
Grady shook his head in compassionate understanding. "My wife just didn't wake up one morning," he sighed. "She was usually the first one up - started the coffee, let the dog out. That morning she was still in bed and when I rolled over and touched her she was cold and I knew it was going to be the worse day of my life."
"I got a phone call," Nick revealed. "My older daughter was hysterical. I still get shivers just thinking about it." His voice broke.
"It's okay, Man," Grady said. "I know."
Joe McHale must have seen the two talking because he came over and put his arms around each of their shoulders.
"No father should have to bury his child, Nick," The former Senior Chief said. "And Grady, I remember your wife fondly."
"I'm sorry about your daughter, Joe," Grady replied.
"She was such a great kid. Drugs did her in. We never knew she had a problem. It's been twenty years and it feels like yesterday." Joe smiled sadly. "But here we are. Carrying on smartly because that's what we're supposed to do."
Nick nodded and continued to circulate around the gathered, enjoying the tidbits of conversation, the handshakes and hellos and as he made his way around the various groups he found himself continuing to circle back to Buzz James, his wife and of course Zoey, listening in to the conversations, adding a comment or two and continuing to throw Zoey interested looks
She smiled in return and Nick followed her through the buffet line of finger foods and meatballs making small talk. When they were done nibbling, Zoey asked Nick if he wanted to walk down by the river bank and he said sure. She was wearing a pretty summer dress with sandals and her reddish auburn hair flowed down her back.
"I can't believe you recognized me so easily," Nick admitted as they reached the water's edge. "I've seen you since what, 1977?"
"It was your eyes, Nick the Klick," Zoey replied with a smile. "It was always your eyes."
"Is that why you always talked to me when you came into the office even though there were plenty of other guys there?"
"Those other guys ogled me and looked at me like I was naked," Zoey replied. "I was just a kid. It made me feel...uncomfortable. But you, Nick the Klick, were always polite, kind, respectful and you talked to me like I was a person." She took off her sandals and stepped into the river.
"I didn't want your father to hate me," Nick admitted sheepishly.
"I used to tell my girlfriends at school that I had a boyfriend who was a Sailor," she giggled. "They were so jealous!"
"You told them I was your boyfriend?" he asked with surprise.
"Yeah, I know it wasn't true but it made me feel important and special and I liked it," she replied. "I hope you're not mad at me."
He smiled. "No, I'm kind of flattered, actually," he said. "I wish I knew back then. I was kind of shy and afraid to say anything to you."
"You said a lot," Zoey recalled as she finished with the wading and walked up the bank, taking a seat on an old overturned row boat.
"I did?" Nick asked as he sat on the boat beside her.
"You told me to study and do my homework," Zoey told him. "You told me that I was smart and pretty and talented and I believed you because you weren't trying to come on to me or anything like that. I could tell you were being sincere and honest and helpful."
"You told me how you hated moving around all the time and never making real long lasting friendships," Nick recalled. "I felt sorry for you and I sensed you needed to hear something that would help your confidence."
"I went to eleven different schools, moved fourteen times and lived overseas twice," she said. "It wasn't easy being a gypsy."
"And now you're in Montana?"
"Yeah, I teach horse back riding!" She laughed. "I'm divorced with two kids grown up and out of the house. I live alone and I like it."
Nick nodded. "You see your parents a lot?"
"I live a few miles from them," she replied. "Dad's starting to slow down some and I want to be around to help out when I can."
She reached out and took his hand in hers. "How are you doing, Nick the Klick?" She asked softly. "I know you're alone for all the wrong reasons."
"You're the first woman I've had a conversation with in years," Nick admitted.
She smiled. 'That's good," she said. "I'm glad you're here. I've thought about you over the years."
"No," she laughed. "Really. In a lot of ways, you were my first boyfriend."
"We didn't even kiss."
"Hell, we didn't even hold hands," she exclaimed. "But I was more emotionally and spiritually intimate with you in just those five or six conversations we had back there then I was with some of the guys I slept with." She glanced up at him. "That's why I thought of you. I missed our talks."
"I wasn't going to come," Nick said. "Now I'm glad I did."
"I thought my father was joking when he mentioned the reunion," Zoey replied. "It's the best thing that's happened to him in twenty years. He's been talking about it for months. He was at ten different commands but this one was always his favorite."
"Why did you come?" Nick asked.
"Oh, to look up some old high school friends," she said. "I haven't been back here since...1977," she laughed. "And to help my parents. And to do some visiting. We're going to Pensacola on Sunday to see some old friends."
"And I wanted to see you, too," Zoey revealed with a grin.
"You weren't on the first list Sharkbait sent Dad," Zoey smiled. "And I was hemming and hawing about coming but then when Dad said you were on the list I said I was in."
"I didn't want to come," Nick admitted. "I haven't wanted to do anything in a real long time."
"But here you are anyway," Zoey smiled.
"Here I am," he smiled. He glanced up at the club. "We should get back."
"I suppose," Zoey sighed, standing. "I've got to be the dutiful daughter and schmooze the crowd. I'll look for you in the lounge back at the hotel later, after Mom and Dad go to bed. We can continue...talking."
"Okay," Nick agreed, walking her back to the gathering.
Jimmy Rivers had gotten accidentally hammered and was sitting at the bar unable to move. Sonny Stevenson was buying drinks for anybody who passed by and while the crowd had started to thin out there were still plenty of people to chat and reminisce with. Nick posed in a few more group shots and chatted with some of the guys he hadn't seen much of, including Bob Swanson and his wife Diane (the former Ombudsman) who were worried about Patty Reynolds drinking too much, Chuck Christopher the LA doctor, Doug Luber who offered to say a few prayers for Nick and his family, Blaine Brooks, Dirk Tracy, Denny Hasden, Little Joey Issack, Guy Barnicle and his daughter, The Rat who was singing Spanish songs, Dizzy Dixon, Waterworks, Sam Samuels, Jim Sette, Hugh Paulson, Dumpster Wayne, Biz Larson and Sam Rocket among others.
Nick was among those who closed the place, along with Sparks, Gwayne and Lapointe of course but Sharkbait kicked everybody out by eleven, insisting that was all they booked the place for and they were required to leave. Nick drove Sparks and Gwayne and Lapointe back to the Holiday Inn since he was the only one sober and most of the ride was spent commenting on the evening and some of the conversations. A few old grudges were brought up - mostly Sparks complaining about Superman and Gwayne dissing Sharkbait who was never among his favorites while Lapointe made several lewd comments about some of the wives and girlfriends, mentioning which ones he was willing to sleep with.
Nick wasn't sure if he would find Zoey waiting for him in the lounge but sure enough she was sitting there with Biz Larson and his wife and Sam Rocket and his wife. Sonny Stevenson had reclaimed the poolside table and some of the group went out there but Nick and Zoey took a seat at the bar and had the nightcap Zoey suggested.
"Do you remember any of these people?" Nick wondered.
"Oh, most definitely," Zoey laughed. "My mom was the Skipper's wife don't forget. She was in charge of the Wife's Club and they were always over our house, especially when you guys were out at sea."
"I guess I didn't pay attention to a lot of that stuff," Nick admitted. "I was eighteen, nineteen, living in the barracks."
"I liked the special treatment my parents got being the Skipper and his wife," Zoey said. "I knew Dad was an important guy and that everybody looked up to him."
"The James Gang," Nick smiled. "He really was well liked by everybody."
"He was Buzz Lightyear long before there was a Buzz Lightyear," Zoey laughed.
Zoey asked Nick about what the squadron was like after the change of command when Black Jack took over. "We moved to Newport Rhode Island and I didn't hear much about you guys after that."
"Black Jack was a much different leader and Skipper than your Dad," Nick said. "Your Dad was much more laid back, easing going, and trusting of the guys under him. Black Jack was intense, sarcastically funny, and very opinionated. Your Dad was like Grandpa Walton - full of sage advice and good counsel while Black Jack was like somebody Bruce Willis would play."
"But everybody like Black Jack, right?" Zoey asked. "I felt sorry for my Dad when he had to give up his command."
"They were both good officers and good Commanding Officers," Nick replied. "They just had different styles and personalities. I think everybody is thrilled that Buzz is here but everybody misses Black Jack too."
"Yeah, I feel sorry for his widow," Zoey replied. "She was half-bagged tonight."
"It's hard losing a spouse," Nick replied.
Zoey gave Nick a long hard look while a few of the squadron folks passed by and said their hellos.
"I have my own room," Zoey let him know when they were alone again. "Would you like to go up there for a little more privacy?"
Nick was taken aback and didn't know how to respond. Was it an innocent offer or an attempt at a seduction?
"I don't know," he said nervously.
"It'll be okay, Nick the Klick," Zoey assured him, hopping off the bar stool. "Come on."
"What about your parents?" Nick asked.
She burst out laughing. "Nick, I'm fifty one years old. I don't think they concern themselves with my life that much."
"I don't think I'm ready for this, Zoey," Nick confessed.
"Just stop by for a few minutes," she suggested. "It will be okay. I promise."
He nodded and followed her out of the lounge, to the elevator and up to the fourth floor feeling slightly awkward and naughty as he followed her to her room. She slid the magnetic room key through the slot and stepped into the room when the door opened.
Nick followed - the room wasn't that much different from the room he and Sparks shared but it smelled of her.She took a bottle of hooch from her suit case and poured two drinks into the plastic hotel cups on the dresser. "Sit," she said, motioning toward the end of the bed.
Nick obeyed and she sat next to him, handing him the drink.
"When did you leave to come here?" she asked.
"Yesterday, noon," he replied.
"Have you had much sleep?"
"No, just a quick nap this morning," he replied, taking a sip.
"You must be very tired."
"I'm emotionally fried," Nick acknowledged. "This has all been very overwhelming.
Zoey knelt down and pulled his sandals off his feet. "Why don't you lie back?" she suggested. "Rest."
"I don't think this is a good idea, Zoey," Nick replied.
"Just relax, Nick," Zoey said softly, standing and pushing him back on the bed by putting her hand on his chest. "You look like you've been to hell and back."
She dimmed the lights and put on some soft music on the radio, sitting beside his prone body on the bed while stroking his hair and humming quietly. He hadn't been given some tender care like this in a long time and he tried to enjoy the moment.
"Just close your eyes and forget about everything," Zoey urged. "Let everything go and have a peaceful sleep."
He closed his eyes and tried to do as she said.
When Nick awoke in the morning he found himself lying on Zoey's bed still fully dressed with Zoey cuddled against him still in the dress she had worn the night before. He had slept the night through and he actually felt relaxed and peaceful as he trying to collect his thoughts as he lay next to her.
Zoey popped opened her eyes and smiled."Hi," she said.
"Hello," he replied.
"Yes, but I've got to get going," she said, sitting up on the bed. 'I'm supposed to be meeting my high school friends and I'd better check in on my parents too."
Nick sat up. "I should probably be on my way."
"We'll see each other later, right?" She asked.
"I'll be around," Nick replied with a smirk as he put his shoes on. He glanced over his shoulder at her. "This was nice."
"Yes, it was, Sailor."
He smiled and stood. "Thanks."
She nodded and watched as he left the room.
Sparks had gone of to the helicopter simulator on base that Sharkbait had set up so Nick didn't have to face him. He showered, freshened up and changed clothes and stepped out into the hall in time to bump into Gwayne and Lapointe.
"Sparks went with McCoy," Gwayne said, holding up the keys to the SUV. "We're going to breakfast. You coming?"
Nick nodded and following the two to the elevator. Sparks' absence meant that there were no long debates to had or Gwayne yelling 'Shut up, Sparks," or Sparks having to get the last word in but even though Gwayne and Lapointe both took the opportunity to bash and insult the guy as they drove to a different Waffle House for breakfast, Gwayne also spoke of their long lasting friendship and how they both though that Sparks was going to die when he was gravely ill.
"I drove up from New Jersey two or three times," Gwayne reported. "The last time he was gray almost blue and I thought I was saying goodbye to the guy. Eddie can be a real pain in the ass and a total moron but it sure is nice to have him around."
They bantered with the friendly and cheerful waitress who enjoyed their ribbing.
"We're getting so old now that the waitresses are younger than my daughter," Gwayne remarked. "I don't like flirting with them anymore. It makes me feel perverted."
"I'm fine with it!" Lapointe laughed before returning his attention to Nick."Where'd you disappear to last night?
"I was around," Nick replied. "What'd you guys do?"
They had mostly hung around the pool patio and the lounge until they were kicked out, drinking beer and telling sea stories.
"I gotta tell you, I really wasn't all that keen about coming down for this," Gwayne admitted. "I was supposed to go to Pittsburgh this weekend for my cousin's 25th wedding anniversary. But now that I'm here I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Seeing all the guys again has been great. I really didn't think I'd give a shit or that it would matter but everybody's been great and its just a lot of fun talking to guys and finding out what's been going on with them for the last thirty years."
They returned to the hotel to find that Sonny Stevenson had set up shop at the same place on the patio again on another picture perfect Florida day. Those who weren't still sleeping, or off at the helicopter simulator on the base, or on the golf course playing in the squadron reunion golf tournament joined him for a morning of more talk.
Sparks and some of the other guys who had done the helicopter simulator came back full of thrilling and exciting stories of their fun being "back in the air" again. Former structural mechanic Guy Barnicle and his daughter took hundreds of photographs of the fun among those would be pilots riding the simulated joy stick were Dr. Chuck Christopher, Waterworks, Nate Yarcy and his wife, Jim McCoy, Curly Branson, Blane Brooks, and Hugh Paulson and his wife.
Jimmy Rivers and Dalton Waters were among those off golfing in the reunion golf tournament and Sonny seemed to be missing them but it didn't take Gwayne and Lapointe long to get the party going in their absence.
Nick caught a ride to the local sports bar with Jim McCoy and Curly Branson where Ken Black had reserved a corner for the reunion guys to watch the Navy-Air Force College football game. Ken had his camera going non-stop and among those present to watch the game among the beer, buffalo wings, nachos, and tacos cheering on the midshipmen were Brice Raulston and his wife, Brad Gilman, Chip Ringman, Dizzy Dixon, Sam Samuel, Nate Yancy, Blane Brooks and Sparks, Lapointe and Gwayne who showed up later. Raulston, never gave up cheering on the Midshipman and Navy came back to tie the game 28-28 late in dramatic fashion before finally losing in overtime, but most of the reunion guys were cheering their hearts out until the end and everybody had a good time. Nick had a chance to talk to some of the guys during the commercials but he ignored Sparks repeated inquires about 'how come you didn't come home last night?"
Nick returned to the hotel with Gwayne, Lapointe and Sparks where the afternoon patio party continued taking on the appearance of a makeshift Enlisted Man's Club (Officer's welcomed). Nick went into the lobby and found some of the Navy wives sitting around drinking wine and eating crackers and cheese.
"Nicky!" Mrs. Reynolds called him over and Nick knelt down next to Black Jack's widow. "You know, Jack's been gone for over twenty-years," she said and Nick could tell she may have had a bit too much wine for the afternoon.
"I know, Patty."
"But I had to carry on because I was the Captain's wife, the Commanding Officer's wife and there were plenty of people looking to me for strength and example and I owed it to Jack to carry on for him."
"I also had three kids at home depending on me to be there for them," she said.
"So what the hell are you doing?" she wanted to know.
Nick glanced at the other wives who didn't have much to say in response.
"Don't look at them," Patty told him. "I'm talking to you."
"What am I doing, Ma'm?"
"Apparently, nothing, from what I'm told," Mrs. Reynolds replied. "Son," she said, leaning over close to him. 'It's okay to live your life."
"I know, Ma'm."
"Do you?" She challenged. "You know, I could have crawled in bed and never climbed out but I couldn't so I didn't," she told him. "I stayed busy. I stayed involved. I did Charity. I raised my kids. Now I'm a grandmother. I'm living my life. I miss Jack every day but I live my life. For God sakes, Nick, live your life."
Nick stood and nodded. "Yes, Ma'm."
The other wives smiled at him as he walked away, feeling as though he had just been dressed down by Black Jack Reynold's widow! He hung out on the patio with the others until it got closer to the banquet time. Nick was the first to return to his room to get ready for the main, event, putting on a suit and tie for the first time since his wife and daughter's funeral, wearing a tie he had gotten on their last Christmas together.
The semi-formal dinner was held in the hotel banquet room following cocktail hour in the social hall which featured more photos and other collectables, including Patty Reynolds command scrapbooks from Black Jack's era.
Nick hung around in the lobby to greet people who were not staying at the hotel since the banquet room was tucked away down a side hall and not easy to find at first glance. Former Pilot Freddie Harris and his wife who missed Friday's festivities had the honor of being the first arriving guests at the Saturday evening event having just flown in from Dallas on business and he and the Misses quickly caught up on the "Who are you again?" game until the name tags were reapplied.
Stepping off the elevator around the corner was the squadron's favorite Son The Admiral who had also just flown into town and had missed the earlier festivities. To have a man of the Admiral's accomplishments and stature joining the little reunion was a huge honor for the rest of the gang.
"Hi, Admiral," Nick said when he saw the good looking guy stepping off the elevator.
"Hello," The Admiral replied pleasantly and Nick knew he had no clue who he was talking too.
"I'm Nick Klick, Sir, from the Admin Office?"
"Nick!" The Admiral beamed. "Great to see you! It's been a long time. You didn't have the beard back then, did you?"
"My hair was blond back then too, not gray," Nick laughed.
The Admiral shook Nick's hand and slapped his back and Nick led him to the festivities.
Buzz James and his family showed up and Zoey immediately took Nick by the arm. "You're sitting with us tonight," she informed him.
She looked great in a skin tight red dress to her knees with a chain belt around her middle.After the informal cocktail hour was held in the social room with plenty of socializing, conversation, reviewing of the scrapbooks, photo albums and other mementos, Sharkbait ordered the group into the banquet room for the sit down dinner and Nick found himself sitting with Zoey, her parents, The Admiral, and Mrs. Reynolds.
"What am I doing at the VIP Table?" Nick joked.
Dog Luber led the opening prayer remembering those lost shipmates who had passed away (Bart Roberts, Burk Stevens, Duke Bell, Black Jack, Freddie Edwards, Roy Jarkins (who worked with Nick in the Admin Office), Pete Jeffries, Tripp Alfred, and Rabbit Martin) in a stirring remembrance and Patty got a little teary eyed at Nick's table.
Nick tried to fit in with his former skipper, his other former skipper's widow, The Admiral and of course Zoey who was acting as if they were out on a date, making small talk, talking Navy, and telling sea stories. Nick had to admit that he was enjoying her company.
Following a delicious and satisfying meal, Sharkbait introduced the guest speaker The Admiralwho gave a terrific speech about the start up of the squadron and how the plank owner group got to launch the outfit together as a strong team from the start. He also spoke of the successes of so many enjoyed in their Naval Careers and in their professional lives which was a testament to their squadron experiences.
The Admiral introduced the guest of honor Buzz James who received a well deserved standing ovation as he approached the podium and Nick noticed that Zoey's eyes watered up in proud tears. The Leader of the James Gang thanked those gathered for "asking him to attend this geriatric and pre-geriatric conference" and devoted most of his remarks to the subject of 'shipmates'.
Buzz sat down to another standing ovation (and a hug from his wife and daughter) and he was followed by Patty Reynolds who made her appreciation and love for the Wife's Club be known. Dog Luber closed the official program with a final prayer but nobody wanted to leave and many more conversations, stories, reminisces and other memories were shared in the banquet hall, the outside hallway and eventually the hotel bar (and enlisted man's club pool patio despite the unusually cool Florida evening).
Zoey left to help settle her parents in but returned for a night cap (or two) with Nick and others who partied into the night (and watched some of the college football games on the lounge television).
Nick enjoyed several conversations with various people and he felt like he was going steady as Zoey rarely left his side throughout the rest of the evening and joined in on the conversations with the other wives and girlfriends. IF Nick didn't know any better, he would have thought Zoey was his girlfriend!
There was talk of another reunion in three or five years and Nick and Zoey were seated at the bar with Dalton Waters discussing that possibility when Dalton got a bit teary eyed, although he was pretty well plastered too.
"My wife won't be here for that one," Dalton sighed. She hadn't made this one either although Dalton never explained why.
"She's sick?" Nick realized.
Dalton nodded his head sadly and took a long swig from his beer.
"I'm sorry, Dalt," Nick replied.
"I don't know what I'm going to do without her," Dalton admitted with true emotion.
"You'll find your way," Nick replied, speaking from experience.
Rocket also talked with Nick for a few minutes about their late shipmate The Rabbit who was one of the funniest and most popular guys in the squadron.
"I cried like a baby when I heard from Sharkbait a few months ago that Rabbit had died," Rocket revealed. "Hadn't seen the guy for thirty years but there I was blubbering like a fool."
"Rabbit was a good guy," Nick acknowledged.
"I guess we all cry for our past when we find out some of those guys are gone for good," Rocket sighed.
"I guess," Nick said.
Zoey and Nick helped close the lounge and said goodnight to the others, including Mrs. Reynolds who was again half-bagged but very appreciative of "Jack's boys" for watching out for her. Nick walked Zoey to her door.
"You're coming in, right?" She asked when they arrived at her room.
"Should I?" He asked nervously.
"Sure, why not?" She laughed, unlocking the door and leading him inside.
She acted as if they had been together forever, totally unself-conscious as she kicked off her shoes as she talked about the night's activities, unzipping her dress and slipping out of it as she continued to talk. Nick tried to look calm as he listened to her talk. She disappeared into the bathroom for a moment without stopping talking and returned a few moments later wearing a white terri-cloth robe.
"Don't you want to get more comfortable too, Nick the Klick?" She asked. "Take off your coat. Get rid of the tie. Relax. Stay a while."
He swallowed but removed his coat, took off the tie, and even removed his shirt. Zoey was stretched out on the bed smiling at him. He kicked off his shoes and then boldly removed his trousers and sat next to her on the bed in his underwear and tee shirt.
"Hello, Sailor," she said warmly. "About thirty years to late, but better late than never!"
He lay next to her and put his arm around her waist. "It's been a real long time for me, Zoey," Nick told her.
"For me too, Nick," She let him know.
"I find that hard to believe," he said, toying with her hair which was sprawled out across her pillow.
"I divorced nearly four years ago and we weren't exactly intimate for a while before that," she admitted. "And I've pretty much not dated since."
"Why not?" Nick wondered. "You're an attractive, humorous, interesting, intelligent and fun to be with."
"So aren't you," she replied. "What's your excuse?"
He chewed on his lip. 'I've been grieving," he whispered.
"Me too," she said quietly. "Grieving my marriage. My past. I just wasn't interested in starting anew so I doted on my parents, concentrated on my job, spent time with my sisters, did some travelling, and helping out when my daughters asked for it."
"But now?" He wondered.
"I've been thinking about you since I found out you were coming," she admitted. "Remembering back when we were young, when I was pretending you were my Sailor, and how nice you were to me and I want to give you something back now that we're here together. And I figured you'd want to give me something too."
"Are you sure?"
"I wouldn't have asked you in if I weren't, Nick the Klick," she said warmly.
He leaned over and gave her a kiss. "I really don't know what I'm doing," he admitted.
"Me either," she said, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him into her.
They made out like they were young again for a good while and during the exploring Zoey's robe somehow fell open and Nick was surprised to see that she was naked underneath.
"I wish you had seen me naked thirty years ago before my tits sagged and my ass fell," she said with a sigh.
"I think you're beautiful," Nick assured her as they continued to make out and did some exploring with their hands, Nick feeling his way across her exposed stomach and making his way to her breasts. She rolled on her side and allowed him to slip her robe off as they kissed and continued to explore, him with his hands around to her naked backside with her hands up underneath his tee shirt.
When they had displayed enough foreplay to get each other ready to launch, Zoey jerked his underwear down his legs and found his penis with her hand and aimed it where she wanted it to go.
"Are you sure?" He asked again.
"Please," she asked softly in return.
It was a bit awkward at first for the both of them but once they relaxed and found their comfort level together they developed a rhythm and were able to get in sync and bring each other to pleasure as Zoey's panting and moaning increased and Nick found himself building up to a point where they managed to climax together and when Nick fell on top of her to catch his breath and come down from the natural high, she hugged him tight and held him close.
"Not bad for two middle aged geysers," Zoey remarked with a happy smiled.
"Not bad at all," Nick replied, kissing her on the cheek. "Thank you for rescuing me."
"Thank you for letting me," she replied.
Nick rolled off of her and looked at her as he lay on his side. "I feel alive again, finally," he admitted.
"Me too," she replied. "My Sailor."
They fell asleep cuddling each other.
When Nick woke up in the morning he couldn't believe he was in bed next to a beautiful naked woman who was wrapped around him as if they had been together for the past thirty years.
He kissed her on the forehead and she opened her eyes and smiled. "Good morning, Sailor."
"I guess it's really goodbye Zoey though, isn't it?"
He put his finger on her nose and smiled sadly. "I guess so."
"I don't suppose you find your way out to Montana much."
"My daughter is in Colorado."
"I have a cousin in Boston."
He nodded. "That's good."
She rolled out of the bed and he admired her lovely backside as she went into the bathroom. Zoey returned a few moments later, still naked, and jumped back on the bed to kiss him and gave a feel of his morning hard on.
"I'm glad I'm back in the saddle again," she smiled. "But you'd better get dressed and get out of here before my parents come snooping. We're supposed to have breakfast downstairs and then head on out for Pensacola."
"Maybe I'll see you down there before you leave," he said hopefully.
"Yeah, but you won't be able to kiss me like this if you do," she giggled as she gave him a wild kiss and tongued him while pulling on his dick.
He rubbed her breast affectionately for a few moments before they both broke from the embrace and Nick reluctantly got dressed while Zoey found her robe on the floor and slipped it on.
Nick gave her another farewell kiss before leaving the room and returning to his. Sparks was awake and packing his bag for the trip home.
"I'm not even going to ask," he replied when he saw Nick come in half dressed.
"Good," Nick replied.
"We're going to have breakfast with Rocket and Biz and Hoft and Rock on our way out," Sparks said.
"I went down to Rocket's room to double check and I think I interrupted Rocket getting a blow job from his wife in the shower," Sparks said.
"Why would you think that?"
"She told me," Sparks replied sheepishly.
Nick showered and changed and packed and went down to the lobby.
Saying goodbye was a lot harder and less fun than saying hello and there were many sad goodbyes on Saturday night and now again on Sunday morning over breakfast and at the front desk check out as various shipmates checked out and headed home.
Nick stepped into the lounge where some of the folks were having breakfast, including Gilman, Boone, and Cappy Richards, Patty Reynolds, and the James among others.
"Well - It is over," Brad remarked. "I'm already going through a little letdown and I haven't even left yet but everyone had a great two days seeing friends most of us had not seen in 30 years. A few extra pounds here and there and some gray or missing hair but all in all we looked pretty good. What a Squadron and what a great group of guys."
"It's been fun," Nick said.
"I enjoyed watching the initial meeting between friends at the Meet & Greet on Friday nght as they recognized each other - open mouths, the recognition in the eyes and a handshake or hug that closed that thirty year gap," Dan Boone remarked. "No one wanted the night to end. Then Saturday nights more formal sit down dinner. What struck me most was the fact that everyone was talking with everyone and by that I mean the Officers weren't just talking with Officers, the Enlisted guys weren't just talking with Enlisted guys. Each group was talking as FRIENDS and that was what made the weekend special."
"What about you, Nick," Zoey asked with a knowing smile on her face as she sat with her parents at a nearby table. "What'd you think?"
"As successful as all of us have been in our personal lives and professional careers, it has not been without challenge, pain and loss," Nick replied. "Some have faced employment challenges and unexpected career changes. Some have suffered unbelievable loss - of a spouse and of a child. There have been illnesses and other issues to overcome. Yet here we are - still doing what we need to do to make it until tomorrow and perhaps the new found group collective of this reunited squadron will be able to offer support and help when new challenges arise for any of us. Just put the word out and we will respond in any way we can."
"I like that," Buzz replied.
Nate walked the James to the front lobby when they were done with their breakfast and Zoey gave him a farewell hug after he shook Buzz's hand.
"So long, Sailor," Zoey said bravely, kissing him on the cheek.
"Goodbye, Zoey," Nick sighed, stroking her hair and giving her a hug.
She smiled over her shoulder and she helped her parents take the luggage out the front door.
Lapointe and Gwayne finally stumbled into the lobby after a long night of doing god knows what and when Rocket Biz and the others checked out everybody who wanted to have breakfast together car trained to a local popular chain restaurant to eat. The place was packed and they didn't get to sit with Rocket and the others but Dalton Waters and Sonny Stevenson ended up a few tables away and they talked a bit.
"So, what'd you guys do last night?" Nick asked as they waited for their food.
"Apparently, not the same as you," Sparks replied.
"We almost got arrested and killed," Lapointe revealed and Nick sat back and listened to how Lapointe, Gwayne, Sonny and Dalton Waters called a cab at two in the morning and got themselves dropped off at some dive downtown.
"I was smart enough to tell the cab to wait," Lapointe replied. "Those assholes went into the joint and nearly got beat up by a couple of transvestites."
"Alleged," Gwayne pointed out.
"They were both black and six foot eight," Lapointe groaned. "What'd you think they were!"
"Anyway, Stan dragged our asses out of there and got us back into the cab before disaster struck," Gwayne said.
When they were done eating they said their final goodbyes to those they could find in the crowd and then hit the road north and the reunion was officially over. Sparks drove to start. It was noon and if they were lucky they'd be home by six the next morning. They talked about the reunion and Sparks was giving his play by play opinion on everybody and everything.
"I thought Sam Blade looked pretty good," Sparks observed.
"You didn't say anything about what happened to him, did you?" Nick asked from the back seat.
"I said 'I heard you had some trouble'," Sparks replied, glancing at Nick in the rear view mirror.
Nick shook his head. "Didn't I say not to say anything to him?"
"You're not the boss of me," Sparks retorted.
"What did he say in response?" Gwayne asked from the passenger's seat.
"Nothing," Sparks replied. "He just walked away."
"What'd you think he was going to say?" Nick grumbled.
"Hey, nobody asked you," Sparks snapped.
"Actually, I heard him joking to Tracy that while Z was becoming an Admiral he was hanging out with Mickey Mouse," Nick replied. "So I guess he didn't mind talking about it with some people."
"Yeah, just not Eddie," Lapointe laughed.
"What about Superman?" Nick asked Sparks. "Did you confront him too?"
"Yeah, last night out by the pool," Sparks replied. "I asked why he was such a dickhead."
"And what did he say?" Nick asked.
"He just said that was his leadership style back then," Sparks explained. "That was how he was taught and he didn't think he was going anything wrong. And then he apologized if he offended anybody."
"Well, that was big of him," Nick replied. "You satisfied now?"
"Of course not," Sparks complained. "It doesn't change what he did back then."
"But he apologized," Nick noted. "What the hell more do you want from the guy?"
Sparks spent the next hundred miles arguing that what Superman did thirty years ago wasn't right while Nick kept making the point that the guy had apologized and explained himself and that Sparks should be willing to forgive and forget but Eddie was either unwilling or unable to do that.
Gwayne wasn't interested in Sparks endless drabble so he found some NFL games on the satellite radio and that kept some of the conversation limited while they listened to the Lions beat the Cowboys 34-30 followed by the Giants beating the Cardinals 31-27 and finally the Ravens beating the Jets 34-17.
Sparks and Lapointe weren't big football fans so Gwayne took over driving duties and Nick took the front passenger's seat while Sparks sat in the back and shot the shit with Lapointe with occasional input from Gwayne and Nick although they were more interested in the games.
They were almost through South Carolina when it started getting dark and Gwayne asked if anybody was interested in stopping for dinner.
"We could just stop at McDonalds to save time," Nick suggested and Gwayne looked at him, horrified.
"McDonalds?" He asked with disgust. "Are you fucking nuts?"
Nick shrugged. "Maryanne and I used to go there a lot together."
It was the first time anybody had heard Nick mention his dead daughter's name out loud.
Gwayne pulled the car off the highway and the next exit and drove the car into McDonalds.
"For Maryanne," he remarked as they climbed out of the car.
It was mellow when they got back on the highway, Nick driving this time as the Jets played on the radio and some quiet mellow conversation continued in the car with observations and remarks about the reunion and several stories some of the guys had shared.
They were making good time until they hit northern Virginia around midnight and there was miles of rubbernecking and back up due to road construction. Lapointe took over driving duties and Gwayne was cat napping in the front seat as they drove through the night.
"So, did you fuck Buzz' kid, Nick?" Sparks asked after several miles of silence, the last football game long over.
Nick laughed but didn't say anything.
"I'll take that as a yes," Sparks replied.
"Good for you," Lapointe spoke up.
They reached the exit for Gwayne's house at around four in the morning.
"You know, the three of you guys were all rescue swimmers in the Navy," Nick remarked as they headed for Gwayne's house. "But this trip might have been your best rescue yet."
"You talking about you, Nick?" Gwayne asked.
"Yeah, I think I've been saved this weekend," Nick replied.
"You mean you found God?" Lapointe asked.
"No, you sap, I just mean I finally started living my life again," Nick revealed.
"Well, you deserve it, Nick," Sparks said. "The one thing I realized from almost dying that it is okay to live."
"Yeah, it is," Nick agreed.
"So, you did fuck her!" Gwayne laughed and Nick couldn't help but laugh too.
They dumped Gwayne off in front of his sleeping house in the dark neighborhood, shaking hands before taking leaks on the side of the garage and piling back into the SUV for the final three hours to Lapointe's house. Lapointe was still driving and it started to rain somewhere in New York.
"Hell, it rained when we left and now its raining when we get back," Sparks observed.
Nick dozed in the back seat by himself while Lapointe and Sparks continued with their usual irrelevant mindless banter in the front seat for the last leg of the journey while Nick thought about his future and what he wanted to do with his life. He knew it wasn't cleaning offices at midnight.
Lapointe pulled the SUV into the driveway at a little after six thirty in the morning, in the rainy dawn.
The three shook hands and Nick tossed his bag into his car and drove off to resume his life.
Valarie was waiting for him when he drove his car into his sister's driveway.
"Well, how'd it go?" She asked her brother as she followed him into his mother in law apartment.
"I was rescued," he replied with a smile.