“I appreciate that,” Luis said. Then he turned and faced Jase. He knew Jase could have left him alone and gone home without him. Most young guys Jase's age would have left a stranger alone. “I'm curious about something. Why are you helping me this way?”
Jase looked at him and shrugged. “I kind of feel sorry for you, is all. You seem like a decent guy, but kind of helpless, too. And for some strange reason I feel like I know you somehow. I know I don't. I know we've never met. It's weird.”
Luis smiled. “I feel the same way about you, Jase. Thank you. I'll do my best to pay you back for all your help. I won't forget it, ever.”
Jase opened the car door and said, “No need to worry. You're starting to sound like my mom. C'mon, let's go inside and get this over with fast. My folks are pretty cool about me bringing friends around. I'm an only child, so they like it when I bring friends home. They like to get to know my friends.”
Luis glanced at the front of the house. Parked outside, right in front of where Jase had just parked his Grand National, was the same Jeep Wagoneer the Nicholas family had owned for years. Though it was newer and shinier now, it was the same car they would one day keep parked in town to get them around whenever they went in by boat. And the house hadn't changed much either. It was still the same old massive rambling shingle style house with a thick stone foundation all the way around and bright white trim. A warm feeling passed through Luis, as if he'd come home again. But he couldn't mention this to Jase. He smiled and said, “Nice place.”
As Jase loped to the front door, Luis followed at a slow, distant pace. When Jase opened the door, two large standard poodles came running through the hall and jumped all over him on the front porch. Jase turned to Luis and said, “This is Millie and Mollie. They're very friendly and they love people. Don't be afraid of them. They're big but harmless.”
Luis smiled. He'd heard about Millie and Mollie many times from Isabelle. Millie and Mollie looked like they could have been sisters to the future Nicholas family dog, Sweetie-Pie. They had as much energy and their tails wagged as fast. And when they spotted Luis standing at the bottom of the front steps, they left Jase and ran over to see who this stranger was.
They jumped all over Luis and licked his face. Luis laughed and tried to pet each one of them at the same time. “They really are friendly,” he said. “Even friendlier than Sweetie-Pie.” Sweetie-Pie could be moody at times.
Luis gulped. Of course Jase wouldn't know Sweetie-Pie. She wouldn't be around until the beginning of the next century. He wanted to kick himself. “It's a dog I know from back home where I come from.” Good thing Luis hadn't mentioned Camp, their little bald Chinese crested.
“I'm sorry they're jumping all over you,” Jase said. “They can be a little too lively sometimes.” He clapped his hands and told them to stop jumping. But they wouldn't listen.
Luis wiped his lips because Mollie had licked his face ... or was it Millie ... and then he climbed up the steps to join Jase. “Don't be sorry. I love animals. They're great.”
The front door was wide open and a familiar voice from the other end of the center hall rang out. “Is that you, Jase? I'm in the kitchen getting a few things ready for the trip tomorrow. I want to make sure your father has all his vitamins.”
Luis recognized Mary's voice. He'd know it anywhere. He felt a thump in his chest and he wasn't sure how to react when he saw her. He also knew no matter how many vitamins Mary packed for Barry or how many healthy foods she forced him to eat, he'd still die young.
“Yeah, mom,” Jase said. “It's me. I brought a friend home.” Then he turned to Luis and motioned with his head for Luis to follow him back to the kitchen.
The inside of the house had changed quite a bit. There were still exquisite antiques Luis had always admired. But the walls were pale blue, the hardwood floors were darker, and the furniture was upholstered in pastel shades of green, blue, and mauve. Luis remembered all these colors from the l980's. His mother's entire living room had been tacky shades pink and blue. But instead of being repulsed by all these pastel shades, a warm feeling of comfort passed through Luis's entire body and he felt like hugging someone.
He followed Jase into the kitchen, where Mary was packing pill bottles into a small expensive designer overnight bag. This was the kitchen before Mary's huge remodel in 2005, with white cabinets, a shiny gray linoleum floor, and fake marble Formica countertops. Luis pressed his palm to his throat and gaped at the small TV on the counter next to an old fashioned Mr. Coffee Maker. The TV had knobs and dials and two rabbit ear antennas sticking out of the back. He hadn't seen a TV like this since he'd been a kid. And when he glanced at the telephone hanging on the wall above the TV, he almost laughed out loud. He hadn't seen a phone so large in years. He hadn't seen a phone hanging on a wall in years either.
Mary turned and faced them both. When she looked at Luis, he felt a tug in his heart. She had always worn her brown hair straight and all one length. It was a little longer in 1986; it fell below her shoulders in this time. With the exception of a few little wrinkles, Mary's face still looked the same as it would twenty-five years from now, and she was as svelte in l986 as she would be in the next century. Luis reached out with both arms, crossed to where she was standing, and hugged her. “It's so good to see you. You look wonderful.”
He'd forgotten she didn't have a clue as to who he was. Mary hugged him, but she sent Jase a look and Jase shrugged his shoulders. “It's nice to meet you, too, honey,” Mary said, as if amazed at his friendly tone.
Jase must have noticed the surprise in her voice. He jumped in and said, “This is Luis. He's a new friend of mine. We got to know each other at school. He's from Tennessee and he just graduated from high school. He's traveling around Alaska this summer and he'd looking for work. I said he could stay here for a while and bunk with me. Maybe gramps could get him some kind of temporary summer job.”
Luis regained his composure and he stepped back. He smiled at Mary and said, “I hope it's no trouble, Mrs. Nicholas. If it is, I can find somewhere else to stay. I don't want to impose.”
Mary looked at Jase and then at Luis. At first, she didn't know what to say. It was evident he'd caught her by surprise. But being the gracious woman she'd always been, she eventually shrugged and said, “It's no trouble at all, sweetheart. And if you're a friend of Jase's, you're more than welcome to stay here as long as you like. Just make sure Jase doesn't lock you up in his bedroom.”