Outside the Foul Lines - Book VI

by Rick Beck

Chapter 6

Apple Butter Love

There were ten tables in Sammy's place. Two tables were occupied when we got there. We'd been waited on by the woman who came over as soon as we sat down. She gave us a big smile.

"Morning, gentlemen. Coffee?"

"Just me on the coffee. Water with ice in it for him," I said.

"I want toast," Andy said. "Dark, rye toast. Not burnt, just well done."

"What do you want on that, hon. A little gravy, some sausage is nice with the rye toast."

"Toast, dry, well-done, not burnt."

"I'll take pancakes. Bring an extra plate in case I can get him to eat one."

"Oh, hon, you're not feeling well. What's wrong?" she asked, focusing on Andy.

"Chemo," Andy admitted. "Nothing wants to stay down. It goes down, takes a look around and comes back up. The toast will be safe."

"Now, you let me take care of this, hon. I've put up the most incredible apple butter last year. I'm going to put just a little on your toast. It'll give you something with nourishment in it. I'll fix you up a cup of tea, mild, with a tiny twist of lemon. You'll see. It'll go down like it was meant to be in your stomach. You leave it up to Lula-May, you hear?"

"You aren't from Indiana," I said.

"Jackson, Mississippi. My husband lived up here. We came back when the work ran out down our way."

"Lot of that going around," Andy said. "Put the apple butter in a side dish so I can try it first."

"You'll eat it all. Trust me," she said with a smile.

"It's not her I don't trust. It's my stomach," Andy told me.

"She seems to know her stuff," I said, hoping.

When the pancakes came I buttered my two and slid the third onto the extra plate. I used the blackberry preserves on mine, after floating some butter on top of the steaming cakes.

Andy slid the plate with the extra pancake on it in front of him and opened some butter, spreading it on liberally. He usually didn't want anything greasy, but I wasn't going to interrupt him. He checked the packages of jelly until he found the last blackberry preserves and spread that on the pancake.

"Is it good that way?" he asked.

"I love blackberry preserves. It's delicious on pancakes," I said.

Andy was still smearing it around as I was finishing my two. He cut it with his fork and began eating it. I waited for the fork to go down, but it didn't. He ate every bite, amazing me. Andy's color had changed from a pale white to a pinkish white. He showed no sign of distress on his face.

Lula-May returned to pour my cup full of coffee.

"What did you do to my apple butter?" she said, peaking under the table in a mock exercise to indicate she was looking for it. "Does Lula-May know, or does Lula-May know? I ask you?"

"It was good, Do. Lula-May knows. You have a little more of that tea?" Andy asked.

"Coming right up. I'll give you a doggy bag with some of the tea from my box I keep in the kitchen. It's what I drink. It's really easy on the tummy. You ate all your toast and a pancake. That's good. You'll feel better. Having an appetite is half the battle, hon."

"I do appreciate it, Lula-May," Andy said. "I'm on the way for my chemo. I'm afraid this will be a fleeting digestive event by this afternoon, but I did enjoy it."

"Oh, hon, I know. My James…. Well, he had that," she said, not saying what she began to say.

"He didn't make it?" Andy said, understanding her look.

"Passed almost two years ago. A man who don't find work to keep him believing he's a man, it et him up. That cancer kilt him before you could whistle Dixie. He didn't want to live if he didn't feel like a man. What do you do, hon?"

"We play baseball," I answered.

"Baseball? James loved his baseball. He knew the teams and the names of the good players."

"Might of known his name," I said, indicating Andy. "I doubt he knew mine."

She looked at Andy and wanted to talk more but she decided not to get on unsteady ground. She could see he wasn't well enough to be playing much ball.

"What's the damage?" Andy asked, after he'd finished his second cup of tea.

I gave up the $5.38 receipt Lula-May let me take from her. Andy looked into it for the apple butter, tea, and such, but she only charged us for toast, hotcakes, and one cup of coffee. She certainly wasn't taking advantage of us.

Andy tossed down a twenty dollar bill for the tip and moved toward the door to pay the bill.

"Thank you, hon," Lula-May said, beaming when she saw her handsome tip.

"Lula-May," Andy said, turning as he put away his change. "Do you put up blackberry preserves?"

"I do," she said proudly. "Some say they're the best this side of Jackson."

"I'll buy two bottles from you. We'll be back Friday morning. I won't pay a penny over ten dollars per bottle," Andy bargained. "Two apple butter if you can spare them."

"Hon, I don't sell them. I give them to my friends."

"That's my final offer," Andy said. "Friday morning, same time, same place. Ten dollars a bottle. Final offer. Take it or leave it. I won't let you take advantage of me."

"You are a very nice man," I said, after we were out in front of the diner.

I took his arm in spite of our conservative posture whenever we went out in public. He smiled and put his hand on mine. I was so happy to have him, but I knew in a few hours I'd be watching him fighting the chemicals they'd use on him early that afternoon. Happy didn't last long these days.

"Too few nice people in the world," Andy told me. "When I find one, I want to do business with them if I can. I have mine, Do. We have ours. Being kind to people who are kind to me is the least I can do.

"I'd never had blackberry preserves before. Sounded pretentious to me. Good stuff. I saw you using it before. I wasn't even curious. Funny how things change in time."

"Speaking of good stuff," I said, patting Andy on the ass as we stopped next to his car.

"You're bad, Do. I think you're trying to seduce me."

"Appreciating the finer things in life is all," I said.

"One day, Do. One day," he said, letting me know the love was still there even if the body wasn't up to his desire.

I started the car and turned toward Indianapolis on the road Sammy's was on. It was over three hours on a secondary road, but there were things to see and places we might want to stop. We both liked riding in his Town Car.

Harold came home shortly after we returned from Indianapolis on Friday. Andy went straight up to bed. He didn't want anything to eat. I was sitting on the couch in the living room when Harold came in through the kitchen, opening and closing the fridge before making his appearance.

"Where's dinner. Your kid comes home from school and there's no dinner? Is this a way to raise a kid?"

"You have classes on Saturday, Harold. You shouldn't be home. You need to study."

"I could teach those classes, J. D. Besides they give me the assignments and it's mostly reading. I told them, 'I need to come home to be with my sick dad."

"They met Andy when you enrolled last year. Don't you think they suspect he may not be your father, even though he is buying you a diploma?"

"Buying it. I have you know I been working my ass off."

"You just told me you could teach those classes."

"Do you believe everything I say?"

"I've got to. You're my only child, Harold. I saw it written somewhere."

"That's another thing. I got two fathers. It's a biological conundrum."

"'I'll take your word for it. Can they cure it?"

"Cure what?" Harold asked.

"A conundrum doesn't sound like something to fool around with," I said, and he laughed.

"You think they think he isn't my father?" Harold asked with seriousness in his question.

"You're black. He's white. They're doctors. I think they probably suspect something isn't kosher."

"Is this your way of telling me I'm a Jew?"


"I can't be a Jew, J. D. I'm thinking about being a Muslim."

"I didn't think you believed in a higher power?"

"I don't, but being Muslim gets everyone's panties in a bunch. I figured I'd be Muslim. Give the boys at the office something to talk about."

"They'll find plenty to talk about without you helping. Keep a low profile and it might make it easier on you. You might consider that option. Your life hasn't been a picnic. He went upstairs. Wasn't feeling like much when we got home."

"I told them A. G. needed me to be home. I wanted to be home. He doing okay, J. D.?"

"Not really. If he can sleep through the night he might feel a little better tomorrow. He's a tough man but this stuff… if the cancer don't kill him the chemo might."

"Don't say that. I don't want you to say that," Harold said, becoming suddenly serious.

"It's tough on all of us, Harold. He'll get through it and once this crap is done with, he'll be his old self again. What do you want for dinner?"

"Got any hamburger out? French fries. Soda."

"I think we can handle that. We're almost out of French fries. We'll go into Seymour in the morning. Andy might want something. How is school?"

"It's okay. I have a term paper to write and a lot of reading to do. I can do it here. They know I want to be home and I'm far enough ahead they aren't worried I might fall behind. I'm almost a year ahead on my credits. I'll buckle down when baseball season starts."

"How's Melinda?"

"Melinda?" Harold questioned.

"You met her at the library. You were going to the movies at the student union. You were in love with her as I recall. She was going to have your children right after the movie?"

"Oh, Lindy. Haven't seen her. I really think you and A. G. are having a negative impact on my ability to get girls. I been told that kind of stuff rubs off. I think I am being influenced by your deviant lifestyle."

"How so," I naively asked.

"The girls all keep getting away from me. I meet one I like and we go out a few times and that's it. We stop seeing each other. Do you think you're influencing my love life? Both of my parents being guys and all."

"I thought you said you didn't want to get serious with a girl until you became a doctor?" I said.

"Oh, you remember that. I suppose that could be the cause. It's difficult changing girls each week. I might run out. I wouldn't want to think it was my fault."

"I'd suspect your cavalier attitude toward women."

"Yeah, that could be it. Not as psychologically challenging as being the product of having two fathers. I've read that can be a problem for heterosexual lads like me. Confuses our sexuality."

"Harold," I said. "There are no lads like you. You are one of a kind. It's why we love you. Never a dull moment, and if you fail at becoming a doctor, you can become a comedian, and in your spare time you can operate on the audience for laughs."

"Don't be silly. That would go against all the rules of the American Medical Association."

Harold staked out a corner of the couch and laid out his books on the coffee table. He read until I took him two hamburgers and the last pound of fries we had. I filled his glass with ice and left the 2 liter bottle of soda beside it.

Andy got up around nine and he came down to build up the fire. He was getting cold again and the fire had died down from its earlier peak. He sat for a while but didn't have much to say.

Harold looked over the top of his book at him from time to time and there was a pained look in his eyes. He'd be home a couple of times a week until the chemo was done.

It wasn't easy on a boy who never had a family to see the people he'd adopted going through hard times. Harold was tough in the way you've got to be tough to survive when you're on your own. He'd let down his guard around Andy and me, and now he felt our pain and accepted it as his own. He was quite a kid. Having a genius in the house was a little intimidating.

I was sure Harold would make an excellent doctor.

Andy caught me daydreaming at the kitchen window again early in November. The trees had all gone bare and the sky was mostly gray. Black birds came in flocks, settling in the treetops, and then soaring off all at the same time, as if by design.

"There's money, Do," Andy reassured me, although the subject hadn't come up during his ordeal.

The money was Andy's and I never asked where it went or what he was doing with it. He had an investment advisor and tax account that his club recommended when the numbers on his contract went over seven figures.

Andy didn't know anything about money and neither did I. I mowed lawns to go to college and Andy played ball. Ball had paid off big time for Andy by the time his career went on hold. We hadn't talked about money because it was too final, and that suggested something neither of us had a stomach for at the time.

"I know," I said, watching the birds ballet above our trees.

"There's lots of time before ball starts, you know?"

"I know."

"I don't have another treatment until next month. I even feel half way decent today. Almost, anyway. It hasn't been a whole week since the final treatment in this series. I'm bound to feel better."

"That's good," I said. "We'll have a good time then."

"What's bothering you then?" Andy wanted to know. "You'll never want for anything again."

"We've never been anywhere. Don't tell me about the front yard and the backyard. We travel with our teams but they're different teams. We haven't traveled together since my junior year in college and then only to other ball parks. I want to go somewhere."

"Where do you want to go, Do?"

"Somewhere warm. Not like when it's sweltering in Louisville in July. Somewhere nice, so I can get you outside. We can walk and maybe even swim if the sharks aren't in season. It would help your rehab. Swimming is good for you. Warm is nice. It won't be warm here for a while."

"Sharks don't have a season, Do. They live in the water year round. It's their home like Indiana is our home."

"I know. Let's get in the car. Your car, and let's drive. Let's just go. Be together."

"Harold?" Andy said.

"He's so wrapped up in doctors and hospitals that he won't even notice us being out of reach for a month. Now that the chemo is done, he'll be back to impressing doctors and chasing girls. He doesn't see us for most of baseball season each year. He'll be glad you're feeling well enough to travel."

"I know," Andy said, and we laughed. "What do you want? Just tell me what you want, Do. I'll call my money man and we'll get enough to do anything you say."

"What do you want? What would be fun for you?"

"Right now I want a cup of coffee with a little bit of that white stuff you put in it."

"You do?" I asked. "You are getting adventurous."

"Okay, half a cup but I want the white stuff."

"That's half and half."

"Yeah, that's it. It makes it easier going down. Can't imagine myself doing that to coffee. I must be getting old."

"Maybe you should drink some milk. It's supposed to build strong bones," I said. "Easy on the stomach."

"Did you get me a cow?" Andy asked.

"No. They sell it in stores. If I got you a cow we couldn't go away. We'd have to feed the cow to get the milk, and you'd need to spend all your time drinking it, because a cow makes a passel of milk."

"Cows haven't been finding their own way all this time? We got to feed them. I thought they ate grass. We got plenty of grass."

"I'll make a fresh pot," I said, moving over to the sink to get rid of the used grounds. I got down the coffee and filled the basket to make another pot.

"I only want a half cup, Do. When I say we have money, I don't mean we can afford a whole pot of coffee every time I want a little."

"I know," I said, pouring the last of the old pot into my cup before making another pot. "I might drink another cup or two. Fresh will go easier on your stomach."

"Do we have any chickens or do the eggs come from stores too? I don't like milk that much. Let's cancel the cow and get us some chickens. Do we have to feed chickens?"

I turned around to look at him. His color was pale but not that ugly gray that had hung on the last few weeks he was taking the chemo. He was standing up straight. He washed his face before he came down. We were making progress. He no longer wore his hat in the house. I was getting used to his bald head. Maybe a little tan up there would make him even sexier.

"One or two eggs?" I asked.

"How many chickens do we have?"

"No chickens but I bought a dozen eggs last week. I can scramble them in butter the way you like. No oil. Rye toast. Well-done, not burnt."

"Yes, two of those and toast the way I like it. Maybe a whole cup of coffee since you're making a whole pot. Don't want you drinking too much. Will the half and half hold out?"

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