The Dinner Party Starts at Seven

 

By: Kenda

 

*As with many of my S&S stories, The Dinner Party Starts at Seven is written under the assumption that Jack Simon wasn’t killed until A.J. was approximately ten years old, as alluded to in the aired episode, Revolution Number 9 ˝, and based on a work of fan fiction entitled Journey Into The Past by Brenda A.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

 

Cecilia Simon called up the stairway as she gathered up her purse, hat, and white gloves, “A.J.!  Come down here, please!" 

 

     "Rick!  Andy!  Get a move on!  Your mother and I are ready to leave!"  Jack Simon impatiently added while checking his pockets for his wallet and car keys.

 

     Two sets of footsteps could be heard running through the second story hallway, then bounding down the stairs.

 

     The young men halted in the living room, presenting themselves to their parents on this Saturday morning late in May.

 

     "Dad and I are ready to leave," their mother stated the obvious.

 

     Fifteen-year-old Rick nodded. “Okay, Mom.”

 

     "I've left Irene’s phone number on the kitchen bulletin board, Rick.  The name and phone number of the church where the wedding is being held is there, too.  I doubt that Dad and I will be home before midnight.”  The apprehensive mother turned to her husband. “What do you think, Jack?"   

 

     "I imagine it will be about midnight," Jack agreed.  "Santa Barbara is a few hours up the coast, and the family wants us to go out to dinner after the ceremony."

 

     "I don't know where we'll be eating, but I'll call you from the restaurant," Cecilia informed her oldest.

 

     "Don't worry, Mom, everything will be fine."  Rick was trying his best to sound grown up and responsible on this, the first occasion that he and A.J. were being left alone for such a long period of time.

 

     For just that reason Cecilia was nervous, despite the fact that she had thought this over and consulted with her husband before deciding to leave the boys for a whole day and on into the late evening hours.

 

     "If you need anything you call Aunt Edie or Aunt Pat.  They both promised me they'd be home all day and all night in case you need them."

 

     "Oh, Mom, we're not babies," Rick moaned.  "You didn't have to do that."

 

     "Yes, I did," was all Cecilia replied as she kissed her eldest, then turned to do the same to her youngest who was leaning against the sofa, an expression of boredom written clearly on his face.

 

     "You listen to Rick, A.J.  He's in charge today." 

 

     "I will," A.J. agreed while accepting his kiss.  'Rick's in charge' could only mean lots of fun, as far as young A.J. was concerned.

 

     "Both you boys behave yourselves,” Jack instructed. “Neither of you is to leave the yard today, do I make myself clear?" 

 

     "Yes, Dad," the boys agreed simultaneously to the rules that had been discussed earlier in the week.

 

     "Okay.  I'm counting on you both to prove to Mom and me that you can handle this type of responsibility," were Jack's final words on the subject as he reached out to give his oldest a fake punch to the jaw, and his youngest a thorough tousle of his blond locks.

 

     As hard as it was for Cecilia, she followed her husband to the door. "Goodbye, boys.  Oh, Rick, there's a casserole in

the--"

 

     "He knows that, dear," Jack gently reminded, urging his wife out the front door.

 

     Cecilia's head popped back in the doorway.      "And Dr. Bob's number is on the..."

 

     "He knows where Bob's number is, Cece.  Come on, let's go now."

 

     "And don't let A.J. climb up on a kitchen chair to reach the top cabinets! He likes to do that when you're not looking.  And don't let him--"

 

     "Honey, Andy hasn't climbed on a kitchen chair since he was six-years-old," Jack told his wife.  "They'll be fine.  Now come one, we've got to get going."

 

     Cecilia reluctantly let herself be pushed out the front door.  "Bye!  Oh, and boys!  Finish cleaning your room this morning!" 

 

     Jack gave his boys a wink and grin as he pulled the door closed.  "Have fun," he whispered.  "But not too much," was added half in jest, half in warning.

 

     "Okay, Dad," Rick smiled.

 

     The heavy wooden door closed firmly.  The boys crossed to the living room window and watched the car pull out of the driveway, then head up the street.

 

     When the Buick was finally out of sight A.J. rolled his eyes. "I didn't think they'd ever leave."

 

     "Me neither. Mom acts like they're gonna be gone for two weeks or something."

 

     "Yeah, I know.  Why was she so nervous?" 

 

     Rick shrugged.  "Beats me.  I guess just 'cause she's Mom, and this is the first time they've left us alone when they're goin' so far away, and for such a long time."

 

     "But they'll be back tonight, right?"  A.J. asked, seeking some reassurance.

 

     "Right, after we've gone to bed, but they'll be back tonight, A.J."

 

     "Well then, that's no big deal," A.J. stated, deciding that as long as his parents weren't gone all night, it wouldn't seem like they were really that far away.

 

     Both boys turned from the window, A.J. following Rick as he headed for the kitchen.  "No, it's not a big deal.  We'll be fine," Rick assured the nine and a half year old.  "Believe me, kid, Mom left plenty of phone numbers just in case we do need anybody, and she'll probably call about six times tonight just to check on us."

 

     Rick began pulling out the fixings for sandwiches.

 

     "Rick, it's only ten-thirty," A.J. pointed out while watching his brother.  "Mom never lets us eat lunch before noon.  We just had breakfast at eight.  Besides, she said we're supposed to finish cleaning our room."

 

     From where he had his head buried inside the refrigerator Rick responded,  "So?  Mom isn't here.  I'm in charge," he finished with a big grin, as he emerged with mayonnaise, mustard and pickles.

 

     A.J. smiled back.  "Yeah, I guess that's right.  You're in charge."  The boy scampered to the cookie jar.  "So I guess that means we can have chocolate chip cookies with our sandwiches, too."

 

     "Yep, I guess it does."     

 

     A few minutes later the boys sat down to a feast of double- decker cold cut sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies, and soda pop. 

 

     "Mom never lets us have pop with lunch,” A.J. said while taking a big swig of his favorite orange soda. “Only milk.”

 

     Rick smiled. "That's why I'm in charge today."

 

     A.J. smiled back, his upper lip now stained orange.  "You know, Rick, I think I'm gonna really like you bein' in charge."

 

     Rick laughed.  "I think I'm gonna like it too, kiddo."

 

     The boys finished their lunch in front of the T.V., another no-no, as food wasn't normally allowed in Cecilia Simon's spotless living room.  Three hours and two John Wayne westerns later, Rick decided that they should finish cleaning their room so that job was out of the way.

 

     "The living room's kind of messy now, Rick," A.J. pointed out, taking note of the empty plates, soda bottles, kicked off sneakers, and throw pillows that had somehow fallen off the couch.

 

     Rick assessed the damage.  "Yeah, I guess it is.  Man, how can a house get so messy so fast?" the teen wondered, thinking also of the dirty dishes in the kitchen left over from the lunch preparations, and of the jars he had taken out of the refrigerator that still remained sitting on the counter top, their lids off and scattered about.

 

     "Mom will have a fit if she sees what we've done since she left."

 

     "Well, we'll just have to make sure she doesn't see it," Rick said.  "I'll go up and finish cleaning our room, and you pick up in here.  We'll work on the kitchen together."

 

     "Good idea," the industrious A.J. agreed, already beginning to pick up the room as Rick had ordered.

 

     An hour later the boys were in the kitchen, Rick washing the dishes, A.J. drying.  They were just finishing when the phone rang.

 

     Rick walked over to pick up the receiver.  "I bet it's Mom."

 

     A.J. nodded while coming to stand by his brother's elbow.

 

     "Hello?" Rick answered.  "Hey, Carlos!  What's happenin', amigo?"

 

     A.J. moved to sit at the kitchen table as Rick's conversation with his friend, Carlos, dragged on.

 

     "Yeah, my folks left a couple of hours ago.

 

“No, we're not doing much of anything.

 

“Naw, I can't leave the house.  I promised my dad we'd stay right here.  Besides, I've got to baby-sit for A.J."

 

     "Hey!"  A.J. protested the use of the word ‘baby-sit.’

 

     "I've got to keep an eye on A.J.," Rick corrected to please his brother.  "Sure, you can come over.  They didn't say anything about us not havin' friends over.

 

“Okay, see you in a little while."

 

     Rick hung up the phone.  "Carlos is coming over."

 

     "Okay," A.J. agreed.  He liked it when Carlos came over and he got to hang around with the ‘big guys.’

 

     Fifteen minutes later, Carlos arrived on his bicycle.  He and Rick shot the bull for a while about the school week that had just passed, exchanging gossip regarding friends, teachers, and upcoming events.  A.J. sat at the kitchen table with them, only half listening to what they said, his concentration being given to the puzzle he had spread out before him.

 

     Rick rose to head for the refrigerator. “How about a soda, Carlos?”

 

     "Sure, Ricky."

 

     "A.J., you want another pop?"  Rick asked his younger brother.

 

     "Yeah," A.J. nodded eagerly, thrilled with the treat of eating what and when they wanted to.  In light of this fact, the blond rose and headed for the cookie jar again, bringing a plate of cookies back to the table for the three of them to share.

 

     "No more cookies after these, A.J.," Rick admonished.

 

     "But why?" 

 

     "'Cause Mom will notice so many are gone and start askin' a lot of questions.  We'll start in on the brownies the next time we wanna snack."

 

     A.J. was constantly awed by his brother's vast wisdom.  "Good idea, Rick," he agreed.

 

     "What time are your folks gonna be home?"  Carlos asked between swigs of Coke.

 

     "Around midnight."  Rick stated nonchalantly. “Maybe even later.”

 

     "Wow!  And they're leavin' you guys alone for all that time?"

 

     "Yeah," Rick boasted proudly.

 

     "Cool," Carlos nodded with respect.  After some thought he suggested, "You know, Ricky, we should call the girls and have a little party tonight."

 

     ‘The girls,’ were the current girlfriends of Carlos and Rick.  Eva Lopez was a pretty young girl of fifteen whom Carlos would go on to marry after high school.  The object of Rick's affections was his neighbor across the street, Betty Carol Simmons. 

 

     "Yeah.  That's a great idea!" Rick agreed.  "We could have a dinner party."

 

     "A dinner party?” Carlos asked. “What’s that?”  Not coming from the social background Rick did, Carlos had never been to a dinner party. 

     "A dinner party is where grownups get together, have a fancy meal, then play cards, or Scrabble, or just talk, or maybe dance a little."  Rick based his explanation on the dinner parties he'd seen his mother host.  "Here, I'll show you," he said, running off to the living room.

 

     The teen returned with the current issue of Better Homes and Gardens in his hands.  He leafed through it, finally pointing to a picture of three men and three women sitting around an elegantly set dinner table. 

 

     "Gee, that looks kind of fancy," Carlos stated, noting that the women were wearing expensive dresses and the men were in suits and ties.

 

     "That's what a dinner party is all about," Rick informed his friend.  "It's too stuffy for me, but girls really go for this kinda stuff."

 

     "Yeah, I guess Eva would like something like that," Carlos agreed.

 

     "My mom's got a real lace table cloth we could put on the dining room table, and candles, and we could use her best china."

 

     For the first time since this conversation began, A.J. looked up from his puzzle.  "I don't think that'd be such a good idea, Rick.  Using Mom's china, I mean."

 

     "Don't worry about it," Rick dismissed.  "I'll be careful."

 

     "But, Rick--"

 

     Before A.J. could say any more, Carlos said, "What will we have to eat?  We can't cook food like this."

 

     "Sure we can," Rick stated confidently.  He scanned the magazine article before him.  "It says here they're havin' marinated roast beef, potatoes boiled in their jackets... whatever that means, green beans with bacon and onions, salad, and baked Alaska.

 

     "We can't make stuff like that!"

 

     "Yes, we can. Roast beef ain't nothin' but hamburgers. I make great hamburgers, don't I, A.J.?"

 

     "Yeah, he does, Carlos," A.J. nodded as he got up on his knees to study the picture the older boys were looking at.

 

     "Yeah, and potatoes ain't nothin' more than potato chips, and we've got a bag of those in the cabinet.  And who wants a stupid vegetable anyway?  And salad ain't nothin' but lettuce and tomatoes cut up real small; we can do that.  And as for dessert, well..." Rick floundered on that one for a moment, knowing their mother would notice if any more cookies were taken from the cookie jar.

 

     "I can make the dessert!"  A.J. eagerly volunteered.  "I know exactly how Mom makes chocolate cake.  She takes flour, and cocoa, and sugar, and--"

 

     "Yeah, A.J. can make the cake," Rick interrupted.  "He makes a chocolate cake that's almost better than Mom's." 

 

     "Okay,” Carlos nodded. “This will be too cool!"

 

     "First we gotta call the girls and see if they can come," Rick stated, going to the phone to dial Betty Carol's number.

 

     Once the young woman was on the line Rick invited nervously, "Uh...Betty Carol, Carlos and I are hosting a dinner party tonight. Can you come?"  There was a pause while Betty Carol sought permission from her mother. 

 

"You can?  Great!

 

“What are you supposed to wear?"  Rick repeated his girlfriend’s question for Carlos and A.J. to hear.

 

     Carlos held up the magazine picture as a reminder to his friend. 

 

"Well...I guess it's kind of formal.  Not real formal like the prom or anything...but...well, kind of formal.  Carlos and I will wear ties," Rick stated firmly, as if that should give the Betty Carol an idea of what kind of evening the young men had planned.

 

     "The time?"  Rick shrugged in Carlos's direction.  He put his hand over the mouth piece of the phone, "How long will it take us to do all this stuff?"

 

     Carlos looked up at the kitchen clock to see it was a few minutes past four.  "Not that long, I guess.  Tell her seven."

 

     "Seven," Rick informed his date.  "Okay, great, see you at seven."

 

     Carlos took his turn at the phone next, soon having a commitment from Eva for a seven o'clock dinner date.

 

     "Now we gotta get busy," Rick stated as his friend hung up the phone.  He walked over to the refrigerator and pulled hamburger patties out of the freezer.  "How long will it take this stuff to thaw?"

 

     Carlos shrugged.  "An hour maybe?"

 

     "Sounds about right," Rick agreed.  "A.J., can you start making the cake?" 

 

     A.J. smiled, happy to have an important role in the dinner party preparations.  "Sure, Rick," he said, hopping off his chair and going to the cabinet to begin pulling out the ingredients he needed for the chocolate cake.

 

     Carlos and Rick rummaged through the linen closet upstairs, searching for the lace table cloth Rick had seen his mother use for countless number of dinner parties in the past.  Cecilia's organized, neat-as-a-pin linen closet was soon a jumbled mess, tablecloths and bed sheets thrown this way and that as the two teenagers relentlessly dug for the object of their desire. 

 

     "Here it is!"  Rick exclaimed, pulling the white cloth out from under a pile of sheets and pillowcases.

 

     "Wait, Rick," Carlos attempted to halt his friend as Rick headed for the stairway.  "Your mama's closet is a mess now.  We'd better put it back like it was when we started."

 

     "Aw, don't worry about it.  I'll straighten it up later," Rick dismissed, running down the stairs with the prized tablecloth in hand.

 

     A dubious Carlos followed in Rick's wake, helping his friend to spread the cloth over the cherry dining room set that was at one end of the Simons' large living room.

 

     Rick studied the magazine picture he held before him.  "Okay, now we need some candles.” Rick pointed to the big china hutch.  “The brass candle holders are in that drawer over there.”  

 

     Rick ran into the kitchen to hunt for some candles and to check on the progress of that night's dessert.  "How's it going, A.J.?" 

 

     The blond boy was covered from head to toe with flour.  Cake ingredients were spilled all over the counter top, but A.J. was happily stirring the batter with a big spoon.  "Fine.  It'll be ready to go in the oven in a few minutes."

 

     Rick walked over, stuck a finger in the chocolate batter, and licked it clean.  "Mmmmmm.  This is great!"

 

     A.J. smiled with pride.  "Thanks."

 

     Rick left the room, calling over his shoulder, "Come get me when you're ready to put that in the oven.  I don't want you burnin' yourself."

 

     "Okay," A.J. agreed.

 

     Rick returned to the dining room.  "These were the only candles I could find, but I guess they'll work."

 

     Carlos watched as his friend stuck one long red Christmas candle in a brass holder, and one long green one in the other.

 

     "They're not like the white ones in the picture, but they are kind of festive," Rick appraised with satisfaction.

 

     "Looks pretty good to me," Carlos agreed.

 

     "Come on, let's set the table while the hamburgers thaw," Rick said, heading for the big cherry hutch with the glass front.

 

     Rick handed four plates to Carlos. 

 

"Wow, these dishes are really nice," the Hispanic boy commented of the delicate dishes with their hand-painted rose pattern.

 

     "They're my mom's best.  My dad brought 'em home from Europe after the war."

 

     "Are you sure we should be usin' them?" 

 

     "Sure.  You always use your best china for a dinner party."

 

     Since Rick knew far more about dinner parties than Carlos, the boy said no more as his friend kept handing him dishes out of the hutch. 

 

     "Rick, I'm ready to put the cake in!" came a yell from the kitchen - a yell that caused Rick to move too fast and drop the saucer in his hand.  The fragile little dish shattered at Rick's feet.

 

     "Oh, no," Carlos moaned.

 

     A.J. ran out of the kitchen at the sound of breaking glass.  "Mom's good china!" he exclaimed, wide eyed with horror.

 

     Rick acted as nonchalant as possible considering this disaster could garner him big trouble.  "Don't worry about it, guys.  We can clean it up."

 

     "Yeah, but, Ricky, it's one of your mama's good plates," Carlos pointed out.

 

     "Mom will really be mad, Rick," A.J. contributed.

 

     "She won't even know," Rick dismissed.

 

     A.J. shook his head.  Like a little old man he scolded, "Yes, she will, Rick.  She'll know.  She always knows.  I tried to tell you not to use her good china, but you wouldn't listen to--"

 

     "Can it, A.J., will ya'?  Your yappin' is givin' me a headache," Rick complained.  "I'll clean it all up and...well I'll tell her someday.  It's not like she uses this stuff all the time.  Maybe only six or seven times a year.  She probably won't use it again until Thanksgiving.  That's six months away.  I'll

worry about it then."

 

     Rick headed to the kitchen for the broom and dustpan. Carlos and A.J. exchanged looks of doubt, but both bowed to Rick's wisdom on this matter.

 

     The three boys finished setting the table with no further mishaps, then went back into the kitchen to start the dinner preparations.

 

     Rick put the cake in the warm oven A.J. already had set at the correct temperature.  "You watch the cake, squirt.  Don't let it burn."

 

     A.J. set the minute timer that was setting next to the stove just like he'd seen his mother do hundreds of times.  "I won't let it burn.  I promise.  Mom always bakes this cake for forty-five minutes exactly."

 

     "I'm glad you pay so much attention to stuff like that," Rick praised.  "I could never have baked this cake all by myself."

 

     Again, A.J. beamed proudly at being such an important part of the upcoming dinner party.  "What do you want me to do now?"  he asked eagerly.

 

     Rick looked up at the clock to see that it was four forty- five.  "You can pour the potato chips in a big bowl and set it on the dining room table."

 

     "All right." A.J. ran to the cabinet where the snacks were kept, then looked through another cabinet until he found a deep serving bowl.

 

     "This hamburger's still frozen solid," Carlos observed.

 

     Rick walked over and tried to stick a finger into the wrapped patties.  "Geez, they sure are.  I thought they would be almost thawed by now."

 

     "What are we gonna do?" 

 

     Quick with answers, Rick replied, "We can get the salad ready.  By then I'm sure the hamburgers will be thawed."

 

     "Good idea," Carlos agreed, watching as Rick dug through the refrigerator for lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and radishes.

 

      "Let's start cuttin' this stuff up.  Carlos, you slice up the tomatoes and cucumbers, I'll do the carrots and radishes, and A.J. can shred the lettuce."

 

      Soon the three chefs were busy going about their assigned tasks, laughing and joking while they worked.  An impromptu food fight occurred, parts of vegetables flying around the kitchen before Rick finally put a halt to it. "We'd better quit goofin’ around so I can get the hamburgers cooked."

 

     A large bowl of salad was soon ready to adorn the dining room table.  Carlos opened the refrigerator door and peered inside.  "Where does your mama keep the salad dressing?"

 

     "She doesn't keep any,” A.J. informed the teen. “She makes her own."

 

     Rick had forgotten this one important detail.  "Do you know how she makes it, A.J.?"

 

     "Nope.  I only help her make cakes."

 

     "What are we gonna do now, Ricky?" the panicked Carlos asked. 

 

     "Just let me think a minute. I know she uses vinegar and oil, and...some seasonings of some sort.  She makes a lot of different kinds, but the one I'm thinkin' of she calls Italian.  We can make that one."

 

     The boys set about retrieving the ingredients as best as Rick could remember them. 

 

     Carlos held the bottle of vinegar in one hand and a measuring cup in the other.  "How much vinegar does she use?"

 

     "I don't know.  Six cups maybe?"  Rick guessed.

 

     "Sounds good," Carlos agreed, pouring the vinegar into a bowl.  "What else?"

 

     Rick added two cups of oil, while A.J. sprinkled various seasonings from Cecilia's spice rack.

 

     "Mix it up, Carlos," Rick instructed.

 

     Carlos did as he was told, then put his nose close to the bowl and breathed in deeply.  "Whew!"  he cried as he jumped back.  "That's strong."

 

     Rick took his turn at smelling the dressing.  His eyes squinted and he wrinkled up his nose.  "It sure is.  I think we've got too much vinegar in there."

 

     "Now what are we gonna do?" 

 

     For once, Rick didn't have an answer.  "I don't know."

 

     "You could just give the girls a big bowl of salad, and only put a little bit of this stuff on it," A.J. suggested.  "That way it won't taste so bad 'cause they'll have more lettuce than dressing."

 

     Rick smiled.  "Yeah.  That's a great idea, A.J.!"

 

     "Yeah, A.J., good idea," a happy Carlos agreed.

 

     Again, A.J. beamed proudly, thrilled with the older boys' praise.

 

     A minute later, the timer on the stove dinged.  Carlos and A.J. watched as Rick pulled the chocolate cake out of the oven. 

 

     "It looks perfect, A.J.," Rick assessed while setting the cake on a hot pad on the counter.

 

     "It sure smells good," Carlos said.

 

     A.J. checked his cake over, seeing that is was, indeed, perfect.  "I'll frost it when it cools," he informed the older boys.

 

The phone rang at just that moment. Rick hurried to answer it. 

 

 

"Oh, hi, Mom!

 

“Sure, everything's fine.

 

“Yep, he's fine!

 

“What are we doin'?  Oh, not much of anything.  A.J.'s puttin' a puzzle together, and me and Carlos are just talkin'.  He's gonna stay for dinner, is that okay?"  Rick asked into the phone, while winking at his brother and friend.  "Okay, sure.  We will." 

 

Rick wrote down the name and phone number of the restaurant where his mother was calling from, then handed the phone to his little brother, who talked to their mother for a minute, then hung up.

 

     "Mom says hi, Carlos," A.J. informed Rick's friend.

 

     "That was real smooth, Ricky," Carlos complimented of the phone conversation.  "I like your style."

 

     "Thanks," Rick smiled as he checked on the progress of his hamburger patties.  "Man, these things are still pretty frozen."

 

     Carlos looked up at the clock to see that it was five- thirty.  "Maybe you should start cookin' them now."

 

     "Yeah, I guess I should," Rick agreed. 

 

      Hamburger grease was soon splattering all over the stove as Rick flipped the patties from side to side.  "We'll wrap 'em in foil and keep 'em warm in the oven until the girls get here," Rick told his friend.  "My mom does that when my dad's gonna be late for dinner."

 

     Carlos nodded his agreement, wrapping the patties as Rick took them out of the frying pan. 

 

     That job was soon finished, and more dirty dishes were added to the growing pile in the sink.  Rick checked the cake, decided it was cool enough to frost, and set A.J. to doing that.  When that job was completed, the weary boys sat at the table, each with a bottle of cold soda.

 

     "Man, these dinner parties are a lot of work," Rick sighed, taking in the messy kitchen.

 

     Carlos agreed.  "Boy, they sure are."

 

     "Yeah,” A.J. nodded. “And now we gotta clean up the kitchen, too."

 

     "We'll do that later," Rick decided.  "After the girls leave tonight.  It's already six o'clock, so we really don't have time right now."

 

     "Rick, Mom wouldn’t like that.  She never leaves the kitchen looking like this."

 

     Rick looked around, taking in the dirty dishes piled in the sink, the grease splattered stove, the fingerprints on the front of the refrigerator, and the flour and cocoa spilled on the counter top and floor.  "Well, Mom's not here.  I'm in charge, remember?"

 

     "But, Rick--" 

 

     "Don't worry about it.  We'll clean it up as soon as the girls leave.  We'll have plenty of time before Mom and Dad get home."

 

     Once again, A.J. bowed to Rick's wisdom in such matters, although he seriously thought it might not be a good idea this time.

 

     Carlos rose from the table.  "I'd better go home and change my clothes."

 

     "Yeah, I'd better get cleaned up, too," Rick said.

 

     Carlos left the house, promising to be back by six forty- five.

 

     Rick and A.J. trooped up the stairs.  When A.J. saw that his brother was going to take a shower, the younger boy followed suit. He went into their parents’ bathroom, while Rick used the one the boys shared.

 

     Rick was dressed in black pants, a white shirt, and a tie, when A.J. came back into the bedroom.  Again, the younger boy copied his brother in clothing choice, finally gaining Rick's attention when he asked, "Rick, what tie should I wear?"

 

     Rick turned from the bureau mirror where he was busy combing his hair into a perfect ducktail.  "What do ya' mean?  And why are you dressed like that anyway?"

 

     "For the dinner party."

 

     "You're not gonna be at the dinner party."

 

     A.J. frowned.  "What do you mean?"

 

     Rick turned back to the mirror and resumed combing his hair.  "Just what I said.  You're not gonna be at the party.  It's just for teenagers.  Just for me and Carlos and the girls."

 

     "But I helped set the table, and filled the potato chip bowl, and helped make the salad, and--"

 

     "So?” Rick stated, in total disregard to his brother's feelings. “You're not going to be there,"

 

     "But, Rick," A.J. protested.  "It was my idea to only use a little dressing on the salad, and I made the cake.  Just for that I should get to be there.  Just 'cause I made the dessert I should get to be at the dinner party."

 

     Rick casually tossed his comb on the dresser.  "Sorry, squirt.  No way.  It's only for grownups."

 

     "You're not a grownup," A.J. pouted.

 

     Rick reached out and gave his brother's head a solicitous pat.  "Tonight I am."

 

     A.J. ducked away from his brother's hand. He followed Rick down to the kitchen, protesting the whole time. 

 

     Rick put the finishing touches on the meal, then poured 7-Up into the wine glasses that were by each place setting on the table.  The whole time he ignored A.J.'s angry protests and pleadings.

 

     Carlos arrived soon thereafter, and any more A.J. had to say on the subject matter was lost in the excited and nervous conversation of the older boys.  When the doorbell rang, signaling the arrival of the girls, Rick turned to his younger brother. "Why don't you start cleaning up the kitchen for me, kid.  Carlos and I will help you after the girls are gone."

 

     The older boys exited the room in a rush.  As the swinging door closed behind Rick, A.J. stuck his tongue out at his brother, then pounded his fist on the table in frustration and hurt at being left out of the fun.

 

     Eva and Betty Carol both arrived in Sunday dresses, wearing black patent leather shoes and white gloves. Carlos thought they looked just like the picture of the women at the dinner party in Better Homes and Gardens.

 

     The two young men were on their best behavior, trying their hardest to be excellent hosts.  Carlos followed Rick's lead, as the Simon boy imitated what he had seen his father do at parties.

 

     Rick held up a soda bottle for all to see.  "May I offer you ladies a before dinner drink?  A 7-Up perhaps?"          

 

     Both girls smiled and nodded shyly, not used to seeing their boyfriends in such a setting.  "Carlos, turn on the radio please," Rick requested.

 

     Soon music was playing softly in the background as the two couples sat on the couch drinking 7-Up out of the wine glasses.  Just as their nervousness began to subside a bit and their conversation picked up, loud music blasted from the kitchen, drowning out the soft music Carlos had selected in the living room, as well as the couples' ability to hear one another.

 

     "A.J.!” Rick shouted. “Turn that music off!" 

 

     When no response came from the kitchen but that the music got louder, Rick shouted again, "A.J.!  I said turn that music off!"

 

     Rick tried to play the part of the calm host, not showing his anger as he rose from the sofa.  "If you'll excuse me, ladies, I'll be right back."

 

     Once the kitchen door had closed behind him, Rick shouted over the radio, "I said turn that music off!"

 

     "Make me!"  A.J. challenged.

 

     That wasn't too hard for Rick to do.  He simply reached up on top of the refrigerator where Cecilia kept the radio and clicked it off.  As quick as he did that, A.J. jumped back up on the chair he had pulled next to the appliance and turned the radio back on.

 

     "A.J.!  Damn it!  Stop that!"  Rick demanded, once again turning the radio off.

 

     The teen grabbed the nine-year-old hand that was once again headed for the radio's dial.

 

     "Ouch!  Let go!  You're hurting me!" 

 

     "Then don't do that again!"

 

     "But I wanna listen to the radio."

 

     "Then keep it turned down low," Rick ordered.

 

     "I don't have to.  I can listen to it as loud as I want."

 

     "Not when I'm entertainin' my friends you can't.  I mean it, A.J.  I better not have to come in here again and turn this down," Rick warned right before marching back into the living room.

 

     A.J. scowled at his brother's retreating back, then went to the swinging door, cracked it open, and peered into the living room.

 

     He heard Rick apologize, "Sorry about that, ladies.  I'm baby-sitting my kid brother tonight.  Sometimes he can be a real pain."

 

     His feelings hurt, A.J. let the door close quietly as he moved back into the kitchen.

 

     A few minutes later Rick and Carlos returned to the kitchen, this time to get the salad, the hamburgers, and the cake.  "A.J., would you help us carry some of this stuff?"    A preoccupied Rick asked.

 

     Although he didn't answer his brother, A.J. picked up the cake he had made and carried it out to the dining room table, setting it in the middle between the two burning candles.

 

     "Everything looks very good," Betty Carol complimented the three boys.

 

     "Yes, Carlos,” Eva said, “I didn’t know you could cook like this."

 

     Carlos stuck out his chest.  "Me and Rick...we do okay.  We even made homemade dressing for the salad."

 

     Both girls smiled, very impressed by the meal that was being laid out before them. 

 

     The food was soon in its place, and the boys took their seats at the table. 

 

     Rick frowned as A.J. pulled out a chair.  Not wanting to create a scene, he leaned forward and whispered, "Hey, get out of here."

 

     A.J. didn't much care at this point if he made a scene.  "I wanna eat too, Rick." .

 

     Rick stage whispered, "That's fine.  But not here.  In the kitchen."

 

     "No!"

 

     "Yes!" 

 

     "No, Rick, I'm going to--"

 

     Before the blond boy could finish, Rick grabbed him by the arm and pulled him off the chair.

 

     "Rick, stop it!"

 

     Rick dragged his brother all the way to the kitchen.  When the door had closed behind them, he yelled in a hushed tone, "I told you before this party isn't for you!  Now you stay in here and stop embarrassing me in front of my friends!"

 

     "Rick, I helped with everything.  I should be able to--"

 

     "A.J., put a lid on it!  I said no!  Now I left stuff in here for you to eat - a hamburger, salad, and some chips.  Get yourself a soda out of the fridge.  I'll bring you a piece of cake later."

 

     "But, Rick--"

 

     "A.J., just stay outta my hair tonight, okay?" came Rick's angry request as the door closed behind him.

 

     The furious young boy left alone in the kitchen crossed his arms and plopped himself into a chair, fiercely kicking at a table leg with his right tennis shoe. 

 

     The young people out in the dining room were getting down to the business of eating.  Eva took a bite of her salad, only to start vigorously coughing as tears streamed down her cheeks.

 

     Carlos pounded his girlfriend on the back.  "What's wrong, Eva?  What's wrong?"

 

     "The...dressing...it’s...it’s...very...strong," the girl got out between coughs.

 

     Rick carefully tried a small bite of his own salad, agreeing with Eva as he, too, began to cough on the strong vinegar flavor it contained.

 

     "We'll...uh...well, maybe we'd better not eat the salad," Rick decided after his coughing spasm had subsided.  "Let's pass the potato chips and eat the hamburgers now."

 

     The girls nodded politely, Eva dabbing at her eyes with a napkin.  Soon the teens were piling their burgers high with lettuce, tomatoes, and slices of cheese that the boys had arranged on a platter.  Ketchup, mustard, and pickles were passed, then the group was ready to eat.

 

     The first few bites of Rick's hamburgers were excellent, but suddenly he noticed an odd expression on Betty Carol's face. 

 

"What's wrong, Betty Carol?"

 

     "Uh...nothing, Rick.  Nothing."

 

     With the next bite of his own hamburger, Rick knew why his girlfriend's face had bore such an odd expression.  The hamburgers were still frozen solid in the middle.  This proved to be true of Carlos's and Eva's burgers, as well.  Not knowing what else to do, Rick acted the part of the host ready to face any crisis. 

 

     "I'm sure we've all had enough anyway.  Those hamburgers were pretty big." 

 

     Carlos wholeheartedly agreed, simply because he was following Rick's lead, and the hungry girls agreed simply because they were too polite not to.

 

     "We've got dessert.” Rick announced as he stood to cut the cake.  “Chocolate cake.”

 

     A young voice called, "I made it!"

 

     Rick turned around and scowled at the face he saw peering out from the kitchen.  "Get back in there," he growled.

 

     A.J. quickly disappeared from view.  Rick turned back to his guests, smiling as if nothing out of the ordinary had just transpired.

 

     Large pieces of cake were cut and passed around the table.  Soon all the teens were agreeing that this was the best part of the meal, as A.J.'s cake was delicious.  Just as good, if not better, than what their mother made Rick thought with satisfaction.  The teenagers all had a second piece of cake before agreeing they were full.  Rick poured another round of 7-Up for everyone, then led the girls back to the sofa.  The four young adults visited for a while, laughing and talking about school events and the upcoming summer vacation.  It was sometime later before Rick suggested that they all play a game.

 

      When everyone agreed to that he went upstairs, returning a few minutes later with Monopoly and Scrabble. 

 

     Rick and Carlos pushed the dirty dishes to one side of the dining room table, then spread out the Monopoly game.  While this was going on A.J. snuck out of the kitchen, and before Rick realized it, was seated once again at the dining room table.

 

     "Get lost, A.J.," Rick mumbled under his breath.

 

     "No!"  A.J. challenged.  "I'm gonna play too."

 

     "No you're not."

 

     Not wanting a scene, Carlos said, "Ricky, let him play.  It's not gonna hurt anything."

 

     Rick turned to his friend.  "No. This is just for us.  He's too young to be a part of it."

 

     Betty Carol came to A.J.'s defense next.  "Rick, it's okay.  A.J. can play."

 

     "Yeah, Rick, I can play.  I want the race car."  A.J. reached over and started to grab the coveted race car.

 

     Rick pushed his brother's hand aside.  "Get your hand outta there.  You're not playin!"

 

     "I am too!"

 

     "No you're not!"

 

     "Yes, I am!"

 

     Rick leaned close to his brother's face, snarling, "A.J., I told you that you're not included in this party, and I meant it!  I told you not to embarrass me in front of my friends!  Now, get lost!"

 

     A.J. crossed his arms over his chest and jutted his chin out in defiance.  "Make me!"

 

     With that, Rick grabbed his brother's arm and yanked from the chair so quickly that it fell to the floor.  He dragged A.J. toward the kitchen, the young boy leaning all his weight backwards so that Rick had to drag him across the carpeting. 

 

"Stop it, A.J.!  Walk!"

 

     "No!"

 

     Rick turned around and pulled the youngster to him.  "I said stop it!"

 

     "No!"

 

     Later, Rick would look back on this entire evening and wonder when things got so out of control. Wonder when he moved beyond the point of really knowing what he was doing. 

 

     Rick had a hold of A.J. by the boy's upper arm.  He spun the blond around, and gave his little brother four hard swats on the rearend with his open palm.  "You're being a little brat tonight!"  Rick shouted as he spanked A.J.

 

     A.J. jerked his arm out of Rick's grasp and stumbled backwards to the stairway.  He stopped for a second as he came to the first step. He stared up at Rick in shock, lower lip trembling.  A.J. turned away from the anger he saw on Rick's face and ran up the stairs, the slamming of the bedroom door signaling where the young boy had gone to seek refuge.

 

     The living room was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.  The girls sat at the table in uncomfortable silence, throwing glances at each other that clearly said, ‘Maybe we should leave now.’

 

     Carlos stood by the table, nervously shifting from one foot to another, wondering too, when things had gone so wrong.  He didn't blame A.J. for the evening. He didn't really blame anybody. He just couldn't figure out when their perfect dinner party had fallen apart.

 

     Rick stood with his back to his guests, staring up the stairway his brother had just ascended.  He wasn't exactly sure how a gracious host went about fixing an evening after all that had just happened.

 

     Carlos finally broke the silence in the room.  "Ricky, um...maybe you shouldn't have done that.  Spanked A.J., I mean.  I--"

 

     Rick turned.  "He deserved it.  He was being a brat.  My dad woulda' spanked him if he acted like that during one of my parents’ dinner parties.  He knows better."

 

     "Still...I don't know if you shoulda' done that," Carlos said, thinking of the look of shock and hurt on A.J.'s face right before he ran from the room.

 

     Rick had to admit to himself that he was already feeling guilty over what had just transpired, but impressing his girlfriend was important, too.  "I'll talk to him later," was all Rick said to Carlos.  He put on his best smile and crossed to the table.  "Now, come on. Let's play Monopoly."

 

     It was shortly after ten-thirty when Eva's father came to pick her up.  Betty Carol had an eleven o'clock curfew, so while Carlos saw Eva to her father's car, Rick walked Betty Carol to her home across the street.

 

     The two boys met back at the Simon house, both agreeing that at least once the meal had ended the evening had been a success.  The four teens had enjoyed playing games, and had each eaten another piece of cake - the cake that made Rick feel guilty over what had transpired earlier between him and his brother.  But those thoughts had soon been pushed aside when the teens began playing Scrabble, a favorite game of the two girls.

 

     "I'd stick around and help you clean up, amigo, but I gotta be home by eleven, too," Carlos said.  "I'm gonna have to ride real fast to make it."

 

     Rick took note of the time, ten forty-eight, and agreed.  "Yeah, you get goin', Carlos.  I don't want you to get grounded.  My folks won't be home for at least another hour, maybe even longer.  I'll have this place spic and span by then."

 

     "Okay.  I'll call you tomorrow."

 

     "Okay, talk to you tomorrow, amigo!" Rick called out the front door as Carlos hopped on his bike and sped toward the street.

 

     Rick went back into the house, surveying the mess in the living room that awaited him.  He didn't even want to think about the kitchen. 

 

Oh well, I've got plenty of time before Mom and Dad get home.  I'll just have to get goin' on it right away.

 

     As Rick began collecting dirty dishes it suddenly dawned on him that he hadn't seen A.J. since he had spanked him. 

 

I suppose he's fast asleep.  I'll have to make it right with the kid in the morning.  He was bein' a brat, but I guess I shouldn't have gotten so mad.  I didn't mean to hit him like that. 

 

     The teen took the stairs two at a time, coming to their closed bedroom door and opening it quietly.  He walked over and flicked on the bedside light, then looked around the room, startled.  A.J.'s bed was empty.

 

     "A.J.! A.J., where are you?"

 

     When there was no answer, Rick made a circuit of the entire second story, even looking under the beds and in the closets when his calls went unanswered. 

 

     "A.J., I'm not kiddin' with you now!  I mean it!  Where are you?  Don't hide on me, A.J.!  I swear when I find you I'll skin you alive!  This isn't funny, A.J.!"

 

     The frantic teen ran down the stairs, searching the main floor just as urgently as he'd searched the upstairs.   

 

     "A.J., knock it off!  I mean it!  Please!  I'm sorry about what happened!” Rick yelled to the empty house. “I really am!  Please, A.J.! Please!" 

 

     The boy jumped when a stern voice behind him asked, "Lose somebody, Richard?"

 

     Rick turned around to see his parents standing in the foyer, A.J. between them, his dirty face streaked with tears.

 

     In all the commotion Rick hadn't heard the car pull in the driveway, or the front door open.  "Where'd you find him?" was all Rick could think to ask. 

 

     "In the garage sitting underneath my tool bench," the angry father replied.

 

     Cecilia's fury at the state of her dining room was held in check by the fact that she was ushering her upset youngest to bed and soothing him with soft, maternal talk as they climbed the stairs.

 

     Jack gave his oldest son a look that only parents possess - a look that easily conveyed his anger to the teen.  He walked to the kitchen door and peered inside the room, not surprised at the mess before him.  A.J.'s explanation in the garage had given Rick's parents a pretty good idea as to what had gone on in their absence.

 

     It was late, and Jack knew his own temper well enough to know that now was not the time to discipline Rick for his latest escapade. 

 

     "It's been a very long day.  We're all going to go to bed.  But first thing in the morning, Richard, you will be cleaning up the mess in here, and in the kitchen.  I expect this house to be in the same spotless condition it was when your mother and I left."

 

     Rick bit his lower lip.  "Yes, sir."

 

     "I doubt that I have to tell you that all privileges are suspended for one week.  You're to come home right after school every day this week, and you can forget about that beach party you were invited to next Saturday night."

 

     Rick hung his head. "Yes, sir."

 

     "As for your brother...well, I don't really know what you're going to do about him."

 

     Rick looked up at his father in puzzlement.  "Dad?"

 

     "You hurt his feelings tonight, Rick, and you scared him.  I'm leaving it up to you as to how you're going to mend that.  I honestly don't know if you can.  He wants to sleep in the guest room."

 

 

     "Mom's not gonna let him, is she?" 

 

     "Yes, she is.  Andy’s very upset.  That's where he wants to be."

 

     "But, Dad--"

 

     Jack held up his hand.  "Let's just let it drop for tonight.  You've got a lot of work to do tomorrow, and a lot of explanations to give your mother and me...and a lot of apologizing to do to your brother.  I think that's enough to sleep on, don't you?"

 

     Rick sighed heavily. “Yes, sir.”

 

     Rick's mother only gave him a nod and a "Good night," as she came out of the guest room and closed the door. 

 

     "Can I go in there and talk to A.J. for a minute?"

 

     "He's already asleep, Rick.  It'll have to wait until morning," was all Cecilia would say before moving toward the master bedroom.

 

     Rick entered his own room, shut the door, changed into his pajama bottoms, and realized how lonely the room seemed without A.J. in the bed across from his. 

 

     It took young Rick a long time to fall asleep that night.  His mind wasn't on his punishment, or the fact that he had to face his parents in the morning, or the fact that he had a big mess to clean up, but rather on the fact that he hoped he hadn't somehow ruined the close relationship he and his younger brother had always shared. 

 

     Man, how could I screw up something so good?  the young man thought right before drifting off into a fitful sleep.      

   

 

___________________

    

      

     Rick was up early the next morning and cleaning in the kitchen before the rest of his family was even awake. 

 

     At nine his father popped his head in the doorway.  "I see you're already hard at work," Jack Simon commented with a bit of surprise, taking note of his oldest son standing by the sink washing dishes.

 

     A mournful Rick stared at the mountain of soapsuds and shrugged. "I didn't sleep too good so I figured I might as well get an early start on this stuff."

 

     "Wise idea, Richard," Jack agreed.  "I'm taking Mom and Andy out for breakfast.  We'll be back later."

 

     "Okay." Rick watched through the kitchen window a few minutes later as his family piled in the car and drove off down the street.

 

     Later that afternoon, Rick sought out his father who was working in the garage.

 

     "Hi, Dad," came Rick's quiet greeting.

 

     Jack looked up from where he was standing at his tool bench.  "Hi.  Did you get the house cleaned up?"

 

     "Yeah.  It even passes Mom's inspection."

 

     "Good," Jack nodded, his attention returning to the project he was engrossed in.

 

     Rick walked over and stood beside his father.  He idly fingered a screwdriver for a moment while watching his dad work.

 

     "I wish I knew why things went so wrong last night," the teen said after some time had passed.

 

     Jack continued to work on the toaster he was fixing, accepting the various tools Rick handed him.  "Why don't you tell me what happened.  Start from the beginning."

 

     "Well, everything was going fine after you and Mom left - between A.J. and me, I mean.  Then Carlos came over, and he and I decided to host a dinner party for Eva and Betty Carol."

 

     "That was your first mistake."

 

     "What?"

 

     "Rick, you don't have young women over when Mom and I aren't here."

 

     "Why?"

 

     "Because it isn't proper, that's why," was all Jack would say on the subject.  "A young man fifteen years old doesn't play host to a young woman when his parents aren't home.  Mom and I already discussed this earlier today, and we take part of the blame for what occurred last night.  We should have made it clear to you that this isn't allowed."

 

     "Oh," was all Rick said in return, somewhat confused by all these parental rules and regulations a poor guy could never hope to keep straight in his head.

 

     "Now, tell me the rest of the story," Jack requested.

 

     "We invited the girls over, then made hamburgers, a salad, and A.J. made a cake.  Only the hamburgers were raw in the middle, and we used too much vinegar in the salad dressing.  The only thing that came out right was the cake A.J. made."

 

     Jack had to hide the smile that threatened to break through at his son's explanation and woeful expression.

 

     "So if I have my story straight, Andy made the cake for your dinner party, but he wasn't included in it?"

 

     Rick looked up at his father.  "Dad, he's just a little kid.  It was a party for teenagers, not kids."

 

     "That's all good and well, Rick, but did Andy know what your intentions were when you asked him to make the cake?"

 

     "You mean that he wasn't going to be included in the party?"

 

     "Yes."

 

     Rick looked down at the tool bench. "No, I...I guess he didn't."

 

     "And do you think that was fair?"

 

     "But, Dad, I thought he knew--"

 

     "Rick, that's no excuse.  You were left here in charge of your brother.  Part of that responsibility includes keeping him entertained, not entertaining others and ignoring him.  You've baby-sat enough in the past for Andy to know what Mom and I expect from you."

 

     "Yes, sir," was all Rick could reply to his father's truthful words.

 

     "Now you tell me what you should have done differently yesterday," Jack requested.

 

     "Well...I shouldn't have invited the girls over--"

 

     "That's right."

 

     "And I suppose I shouldn't have let Carlos come over."

 

     Jack smiled.  "Right again.  You and Carlos have a tendency to get into too much trouble if there isn't someone around to...quell some of your enthusiasm."

 

     "And I should have paid more attention to A.J.  Just done things with him."

 

     "Right again," Jack agreed.  "The next time your mother and I leave you in charge, which might be a while based on Mom's anger over all this, but the next time you remember these things you've just told me."

 

     "Okay, Dad,” Rick promised. “I will."

 

     Jack returned his attention to the new cord he was putting on the toaster.  "At some time in the future, oh, let's say this summer after your mother has had a chance to cool down from this entire incident, you speak to her about you and Carlos hosting a dinner party for Eva and Betty Carol."

 

     "Uh?"

 

     "I believe it's important for a young man to show his girl a good time, and your mom's a wonderful hostess.  With her help, you and Carlos can have quite a nice dinner party for your girlfriends.  It will kind of make up for what happened last night, don't you think?"

 

     Rick recalled the prior evening with embarrassment.  "Yeah, I guess it kind of will."

 

     "This time you can do it right.  Mom will help you and Carlos cook the meal.  I can treat Andy to dinner and a movie so he's not here, and Mom will stay out of your way once the girls arrive."

 

     Rick brightened.  "Yeah...that's a great idea."

 

     "I wouldn't mention it to Mom today,” Jack advised, “but in a couple of weeks you carefully broach the subject with her."

 

     "Okay, I will.  Thanks, Dad," the grateful Rick said.  "Um...there is one more thing, though."

 

     "What's that?"

 

     "Well...I...uh...kinda broke a piece of Mom's good china when I was setting the table."

 

     "Oh...I see," Jack replied thoughtfully.  "I'll tell you what, Rick, you don't mention that to Mom right now.  When I think the time is right, I'll tell her."

 

     Rick sighed with relief. “Thanks, Dad.”

 

     "That doesn't mean you won't be punished for it," Jack warned.  "I'm sure your mother will have several ideas as to how you can work off that broken dish."

 

     "I'm sure she will, too," Rick mournfully agreed, not looking forward in the slightest to the day Cecilia Simon found out a coveted piece of her china had been broken.

 

     Jack changed the subject.  "Have you talked to Andy today?"

 

     Rick shook his head.  "I tried, but he just walked away from me.  Now he's playin' at Danny's house.  I really screwed up, didn't I?"

 

     "Do you think you did?" Jack tossed back.

 

     "I didn't mean to, but yeah, I guess I sure did."

 

     "Why'd you hit him, Rick?  You know we try to avoid spanking as a means of punishment in this house."

 

     "I know.  But he was bein' really bratty, and embarrassing me, and...and I just lost control.  I didn't know how to handle him anymore. I thought he deserved a good spanking...that it would help."

 

     "Did it?"

 

     Rick’s eyes dropped to his father’s tool bench. "No.  It only made things worse."

 

     Rather than the stern scolding he expected, Jack's soft spoken words surprised Rick.

 

     "Rick, you and I are a lot alike, do you know that?"

 

     Rick looked up at the man who his little brother was going to be the spitting image of someday, the man who was organized and neat like A.J.  The teen really had never thought that he and his father were anything alike.

 

     "Well, we are," Jack went on to say.  "And one thing we have in common is our tempers.  We both quite often allow our hot heads to work well ahead of our common sense.  Don't make some of the same mistakes I've made in the past, Rick.  Don't lash out at someone before you've had a chance to think things through.  Especially a child.   I made mistakes like that when you were small, and to this day I still regret them."

 

     Rick nodded, remembering quite well those mistakes his father was referring to. "But how do I make it right with A.J.?"

 

     "First, you have to talk to him."

 

     "But I've tried.  I tried to talk to him three times today."

 

     "Then you have to try harder."  

 

     "What do I do after I talk to him?"

 

     "After you talk to him, and smooth things over, you'll have to prove to him that you won't hurt him like that again."

 

     "I won't," Rick vowed, ashamed that he'd actually done something that had caused A.J. to fear him and to hide from him.

 

     "It may take a while for him to believe that, Rick, but if you show Andy by your actions that you mean your words, he'll learn to trust you again."

 

     "Man, this is so complicated," Rick moaned. 

 

     "It's hard to believe something that seems as insignificant as a spanking can cause so much trouble, isn't it?"

 

     "Yeah,” Rick agreed, “it sure is."

 

     Jack gave his oldest an encouraging pat on the back.  "I have confidence that you can right this with your brother, Rick.  Talk to him.  Make him listen to you.  If that doesn't work I'll step in and do what I can to help your cause.  But I think you can straighten this out if you really try.  You and Andy have always been able to talk to each other."

 

     "But he wouldn't listen to me this morning," Rick reminded.

 

     "Maybe he just needed a little distance from the whole thing.  You can't blame him for being mad, son. You try again when he comes home from Danny's."

 

     "Okay, I will." Rick turned to go back into the house.  "Life sure gets screwed up sometimes," was the last thing the teen said as he left the garage.

 

     Jack smiled at his son's retreating back.  Softly, he agreed, "Yes, Rick, it sure does."

    

 

___________________

 

                

       

           

     Rick was in the kitchen washing windows for his mother as part of his punishment, when he heard the front door slam. 

Footsteps on the stairway indicated to the teen as to who had just returned home. 

 

     Rick turned to his mother, who was busy preparing dinner.  "Can I go upstairs for a minute and talk to A.J.?"

 

     Jack had already talked to his wife and given her a good idea as to how upset Rick was over this whole mess.

 

     "Go ahead," Cecilia nodded her permission, recalling a time when she, too, had delivered a spanking without thinking of the consequences.

 

     Rick ran up the stairs, knocking softly on the closed door of the guest room.

 

     "Who is it?"

 

     "It's me, A.J.," Rick said softly.

 

     "I'm busy."

    

     "A.J., come on, let me in," Rick pleaded.  "I just wanna talk to you."

 

     "Go away, Rick!" 

 

Geez, Dad and I may have bad tempers, but this kid can really hold a grudge.  

 

     "A.J., come on, just for a minute.  Please.  I really wanna talk to you.  I want to...to say I'm sorry about last night."

 

     There was a long pause before A.J. reluctantly granted his brother permission to enter the room.  "Okay...you can come in, I guess."

 

     Rick walked into the room to see A.J. sprawled on his stomach on the bed, reading a Hardy Boys mystery.

 

     The suddenly nervous Rick perched on the edge of the double bed.  "Is that a good book?"

 

     A.J. didn't look up from the page he was reading.  "Yep."

 

     "Where'd you get it?"

 

     "The library."

 

     "Can I read it when you're through?"  Rick asked, attempting to make small talk.

 

     "I guess."

 

     "A.J., put the book down, sit up, and talk to me...please."

 

     A.J. ignored his brother, acting as if he hadn't heard a

word of what Rick had just said.

 

     The teen reached out and tentatively touched his younger brother's arm.  "Please?" 

 

     A long minute passed before A.J. finally did as Rick requested.  He closed his book, set it aside, and slowly sat up until his feet dangled over the edge of the bed, hands resting in his lap.

 

     Rick copied his brother's body language.  "A.J....I...I'm really sorry about last night.  About spanking you and all.  I'm sorry about the way things turned out."

 

     A.J. scowled.  "I helped you and Carlos.  I made the cake."

 

     "I know that.  I'm sorry.  I was wrong to leave you out after you had given us so much help.  I thought you knew the party was just for teenagers."

 

     "I didn't.  You didn't tell me that.  You didn't tell me you were gonna leave me out, Rick," A.J. accused.

 

     "I know.  I made a mistake. I shoulda' never planned that stupid party in the first place.  My job was to watch you...to keep you entertained, while Mom and Dad were gone.  I was wrong to push you aside."

 

     A.J. looked down at his Keds.  "That's all I am to you.  A job?"

 

     Realizing he'd just made things worse, Rick quickly rectified, "No, A.J., no.  That's not it at all.  But with Mom and Dad gone I was supposed to be watchin' you, and I couldn't do that and have my friends over, too.  We were havin' fun before...well, before the girls arrived, weren't we?"

 

     A.J. slowly nodded.  "Yeah, we were."

 

     "So, see, you're not just a job to me," Rick told his younger brother.  "I was wrong to spank you and I'm sorry about that."

 

     Silence hung heavy in the room for a moment.  "You scared me," A.J. finally admitted softly.

 

     Rick put his arm around his brother's slumped shoulders.  "I know I did.  I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to.  I...I wasn't thinkin' when I did that, A.J.  You were actin' bratty--"

 

     A.J. looked up, protesting, "I wasn't acting bratty!" 

 

     Rick disagreed.  "Yes, you were."

 

     The young blond chewed on his lower lip, thinking about his behavior from the previous evening.  "I guess I was," he finally acknowledged.

 

     "You were, but I still had no right to do what I did.  I shoulda' handled it another way.  I shouldn't have hit you.  I'm really sorry.  I didn't mean to scare you, or to hurt you."

 

     A.J. merely nodded his understanding.

 

     "Are you okay?"

 

     The nine-year-old gave his brother a puzzled look.

 

     "Your...butt I mean.  I didn't hit you too hard, did I?"

     That question got a small, teasing smile out of the young boy.  "You didn't hurt me.  You hit like an old woman, Rick."

 

     "Hey!"  Rick protested at the teasing, gently jostling his brother.

 

     The brothers scuffled for a moment, teasing and laughing a bit.  When they finally settled down, A.J. confessed to his older brother.  "You didn't hurt me, but you scared me, Rick.  You were...like someone else.  Someone I didn't know anymore.  You...your eyes, they were all shiny, and your face was red and you just kept raising your hand and hitting me.  I was afraid you weren't going to stop."

 

     With a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach, Rick could recall clearly feeling exactly the way A.J. had just described when he was a little boy and their father had spanked him for some misdeed.

 

     "I'm sorry, A.J.," the teen apologized past the lump in his throat.  "I'm really sorry.  I didn't mean to scare you like that.  I'd never want to do that to you in a million years.  You believe me, don't you?"

 

     A.J. could clearly see the distress on Rick's face, and he heard the choked tightness of Rick's voice.  "I believe you, Rick.  It was an accident."

 

     Rick pulled the boy to his chest.  He rested his chin on top of the blond head.  "That's right," he whispered.  "It was an accident.  An accident that will never happen again.  I promise."

 

     The boys sat there like that for a few minutes, A.J. finally pulling away and standing.  Rick watched with puzzlement as his brother scurried around the room, collecting this and that. 

 

"What are you doin'?"

 

     "Gettin' my stuff."

 

     "Why?"

 

     "So I can move back in our room."

 

     Rick smiled.  "I was afraid this was going to become your permanent home.

 

     A.J. shook his head.  "No.  I want to move back.  This bed's too big, and besides, this room looks too girlish," A.J. wrinkled up his nose in distaste.

 

     Rick looked around, observing his mother's guest room and the decor she had chosen.  A pink ruffled bedspread, and wallpaper that was pink and white, was definitely not to the liking of her rough and tumble sons.  Rick could recall his mother telling his father when she was redecorating the room a few years back, "I don't have a daughter, but that's not going to keep me from decorating at least one room in my house as if I do.  If nothing else I can come in here and get away from footballs, toy soldiers, and model cars."

 

     "Yeah, Mom really blew it when she decorated this room," Rick agreed.

 

     A.J. retrieved a doll from where he had thrown it under the bed the night before.  He put her back on the bed, resting the dainty, bonneted girl against the pillows where his mother had had her sitting.  "She sure did," the youngster agreed.  "Why did Mom go out and buy a stupid doll, anyway?" 

 

     Rick shrugged.  "Beats me.  It's not like anyone's ever gonna play with it."

 

     "That's for sure," A.J. emphatically agreed.

 

     The blond boy gathered up all his prized possessions; his book, his baseball mitt, his rock collection, his puzzles, his basketball, his football, and a model airplane he was working on.

 

     "Need some help?"  Rick offered.

 

     A.J. plopped half his load in his brother's arms.  "Yeah."

 

     The two boys walked across the hall to the room they shared.  Rick watched as his orderly brother began putting things back where they belonged.

 

     "I'm glad your movin' back in here."

 

     A.J. shrugged.  "I guess I missed your snoring."

 

     "I don't snore, but you sure do," Rick teased right back with the brotherly joke.

 

     "No, you're the one who snores."

 

     This old argument was good for several more minutes of teasing and joking. 

 

     Down in the kitchen Cecilia and Jack heard the commotion above.  Jack smiled and gave his wife a wink.  "Sounds like things are back to normal."

 

     Cecilia smiled in return as a chair crashed to the floor.  "Yes, Jack, it sure does."  She raised her voice, calling, "Boys, don't be so rough up there!  Do your wrestling outside!  Now get washed up for dinner and come down and set the table!"

 

     Rick got up off his knees, thereby releasing A.J. who had been pinned under him. 

 

     "I'll get you for that later," A.J. playfully threatened.

 

     "Yeah, sure, kid," Rick scoffed as the boys ran for the bathroom sink.

 

     While they washed and dried their hands, A.J. offered, "Hey, Rick, if you have your friends over again sometime I'll make another cake.  And I won't be a pest either."

 

     Rick smiled at his little brother.  He reached out and tousled the boy's hair.  "Thanks, A.J.  Your cakes are the best.  Don't tell Mom this, but they're even better than hers."

 

     A.J. smiled  at the compliment.

 

     "As soon as I'm not grounded any more I'll treat ya' to a movie," Rick offered in return.

 

     "Really?  Just you and me?  Not even Carlos?"

 

     "Not even Carlos," Rick assured.  "Just you and me, kid."

 

     "And you're buyin' and everything?  Even popcorn with extra butter?"  A.J. asked with wonder.

 

     "Hey, you make me sound like I'm some kinduva cheapskate!" 

 

     "You're not a cheapskate, Rick.  It's just that you're usually broke."

 

     "Well, I've been savin' my allowance lately, so I've got plenty of money put away.  Even enough for a movie and popcorn with extra butter."

 

     "When can we go?"

 

     "I'm only grounded until next Saturday.  So Sunday afternoon, I guess.  How does that sound?"

 

     "Sounds good. I can't wait."

 

     The two boys left the bathroom, heading down to the kitchen.

 

     They entered the room talking and laughing, actions that prompted their mother to say, "I see you two have smoothed things over."

 

     Rick casually draped an arm around A.J.'s shoulders.  Both boys smiled broadly as Rick stated firmly, "We always do, Mom.  We always do."

 

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

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