|Chapter 11: Steve|
|Danny had "camped out" with Stacey and
Joanna for over two months while finishing his student teaching. Much as
he appreciated their taking him in, he knew it was an inconvenience. It
was a frustrating, unsettled time, and he was anxious to get out of their
way. So it was a relief when he talked to Alex and Stephanie and they
graciously offered to let him stay with them while he was job
He arrived at their small condo on a chilly, rainy afternoon, carrying his bulging suitcase. Stephanie met him at the door, with Samantha on her hip. Sara clung to her mother's leg and made faces at Danny. Beyond them, he could see toys scattered on every surface.
"Come on in," Stephanie greeted, pushing aside a stack of laundry she had been folding so he could sit on the couch. Awkwardly, Danny put his suitcase down by the door and joined her in front of the TV.
"Hi, Uncle Danny," Amy said, glancing up from the cartoons she was watching. Sara climbed onto his lap with her Etch-A-Sketch and demanded that he draw her a picture.
"Hope you don't mind sleeping on the couch," Stephanie said, giving Danny an apologetic smile. "My niece Suzie is staying with us for a while, and she's in the third bedroom. You can hang your clothes in the hall closet."
"Thanks," Danny said. He set Sara on the floor, then got up and opened the closet door. It was nearly full of jackets. He found a few hangers and, opening his suitcase, he took out a couple of shirts and a pair of pants, hung them up, and squeezed them into one end of the closet. Then he closed the suitcase and looked around for some place to put it. Finally, he scooted it up against the end of the couch.
Stephanie got up to fix Samantha a bottle, leaving Danny to watch cartoons and entertain Sara. With a sigh, he leaned back against the couch, noticing a half-eaten peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich on the armrest just in time.
It was nearly eight-thirty when Alex arrived home, muddy and bone tired after a long day of digging trenches and installing sprinkler systems. Stephanie gave him a loving hug and kiss before handing him the baby and going into the kitchen to start dinner. Cartoons temporarily forgotten, Amy and Sara clamored for their daddy's attention. At last, he dropped down on the couch beside Danny.
"Hey, man! It's good to see you!" he said with an affectionate grin. "Here's my baby brother, all grown up and finished with college!" Alex gave Danny a friendly slap on his knee, and Danny grinned back, warmed with a comforting sense of "family."
In a little while, Stephanie announced that dinner was ready. She had fixed fried chicken, coleslaw, and baked beans. Alex and Danny had grown up on a vegetarian diet, and although Alex had grown accustomed to eating meat since he and Stephanie were married, Danny had never before tasted any. But he was hungry, and after taking good-sized helpings of beans and coleslaw, he gingerly added a piece of chicken to his plate. When he'd eaten everything else, he cautiously took a small bite of the fried chicken. He was surprised at how chewy and stringy it was. He chewed for a long time, but it never seemed to get chewed up enough to swallow. At last, he surreptitiously put the mouthful back on his plate and decided he wasn't that hungry, after all.
But Alex had noticed. "It's hard to get used to," he commented, "but after a while it tastes pretty good."
Suzie, fifteen, with long, tightly frizzed blond hair, came in about ten o'clock with her boyfriend. Suddenly, the living room seemed noisy and too small, with everyone talking at once over the sound of the TV. Danny gazed around the room at everyone, feeling strangely out of place.
It was late when Suzie's boyfriend finally left. Stephanie was busy getting three sleepy girls ready for bed.
Alex brought Danny a quilt. "I'm afraid we don't have an extra pillow," he apologized.
"That's OK," Danny answered. "I've got my pillow in the car. I'll go get it."
At last, the house quieted down. Danny found a comfortable position on the too-short couch, but it seemed only a moment later when a light from the kitchen awakened him. Opening one eye a crack, he could see Alex standing in front of the open refrigerator. He squinted at his watch. Five minutes past six. He closed his eyes again and tried to go back to sleep. After a bit, the light went off. He heard Alex tell Stephanie good-bye, then the front door closed.
When Danny woke up again, a gray light filled the room. He got up quickly, then saw that the bathroom door was closed and lay back down again.
"Come on, Amy, wake up! The school bus will be here in twenty minutes," urged Stephanie, coming out of the bathroom dragging a sleepy, uncooperative little girl. Danny started to get up again, but the bathroom door closed behind Sara. She came out a minute later, but then Suzie dashed in. Stephanie was still in the bedroom, struggling to get a grumbling Amy dressed. When the bathroom was free at last, Danny hurried in before he lost his chance.
He had forgotten to bring his clothes in with him, so he had to go get them. When he came out twenty minutes later, showered and dressed, he felt almost ready to face the day. The apartment was quiet. Apparently Stephanie had gone back to bed after getting Amy off to school. In the tiny kitchen, Danny found a box of corn flakes. He poured himself a big bowlful, added milk, and sliced a banana.
The first thing to do, he decided after eating, is to buy a newspaper. He folded his quilt and laid it over the end of the couch before slipping quietly out the door. Just as it clicked shut, he realized that he didn't have a key.
Oh, well, I can sit in my car to look at the paper, he thought. He drove to the nearby shopping center. Sitting there in the parking lot, he opened the thick newspaper to the Help Wanted ads. Before long, he concluded that there really wasn't any job an English major qualified him for. His computer skills, as well as much of his student employment experience, made some kind of office job his best bet, he decided.
Chewing on his pencil, he studied the positions listed under "Secretarial' and "Administrative Assistant," circling those that looked promising. He looked at his watch. Nine thirty. Stephanie should be up by now. He drove back to the apartment and knocked on the door.
"Well, I wondered what had happened to you," Stephanie said, opening the door.
"I went out to get a newspaper so I could start looking for a job," Danny explained.
"Wow, you're not wasting any time, are you?" laughed Stephanie. Samantha was wailing in the background. "Scuse me. I've gotta fix a bottle for the baby."
Danny followed her into the kitchen. "Mind if I use your phone to call about some of these ads?"
"Help yourself," Stephanie said good-naturedly.
The only telephone hung on a wall in the kitchen. Turning his back on the sinkful of dirty dishes, Danny creased the newspaper open and found the first ad he had circled. Taking a deep breath, he lifted the receiver and dialed the number.
"Good morning. Western Graphics," a cool, clipped voice said.
"I'm calling about your ad for an administrative assistant," Danny said in as confident and assured a manner as he could muster.
"I'm sorry, but that position has just been filled." A click signaled the end of the call.
She didn't sound a bit sorry, Danny thought. Not a very promising beginning. His eyes moved down to the next ad.
"Redwood Custom Framing." This voice was definitely more friendly.
"I would like to apply for the secretarial position you have advertised in today's paper," Danny said.
"Can you tell me what experience you have had?" asked the friendly voice.
Danny described his previous jobs.
"That sounds good, but have you held any regular, full-time positions since you were a student?" she asked.
Danny had to admit that he hadn't.
"I'm really sorry, but we are looking for someone who's had at least two years' experience in this type of position, so I'm afraid we can't consider you at this time. But good luck in your job hunting!"
Too bad. That sounded like it would have been a nice place to work, Danny thought regretfully as he hung up.
The next firm wanted someone with some accounting experience. After five calls with no results, Danny was beginning to feel pretty discouraged. But the next two calls netted a request to send in his resume and an actual appointment for an interview.
Feeling elated, he hung up. During the last call, he had been dimly aware of some sort of distraction, and now he realized it was Sara tugging on his pants to get his attention. Swinging her up exuberantly, he went to find Stephanie and share the good news with her.
"Terrific!" she congratulated him. "You'll be a working man before you know it!"
But a wonderful job did not immediately materialize. After several days of following up newspaper ads without success, Danny decided to sign on with an employment agency, as well as a temporary service.
One evening, shortly after moving in with Alex and Stephanie, Danny was browsing through an area of small shops and wandered into a secondhand bookstore, cleverly named Twice-sold Tales. Spotting a table of used classical music tapes, he began looking through them and found one of Smetana's Ma Vlast that looked interesting.
He took it over to a tall blond man behind the counter. "Could you play a little of this tape for me so I can see what condition it's in?" he requested.
"Certainly!" responded the young man, who, as it turned out, was the store manager. "Do you like Smetana? This is one of my favorites."
Danny smiled. "My mother had a record of this that I remember her playing from the time I was just a little kid. I especially like The Moldau. My mom told me the story about the two little streams that joined together to make a big river. I used to sit and look at the picture of the river on the record jacket while I listened to the music."
Danny had been very lonely since he and Mike had decided not to pursue a relationship. He sensed a kindred spirit in Steve, the bookstore manager, and they enjoyed an animated conversation that lasted until time to close the store.
Danny dropped into the bookstore frequently after that, and Steve was always glad to see him. One day Danny stopped by to browse through the children's literature section, looking for ideas for a book he wanted to write. The quiet store held no other customers. Not finding anything he wanted, he stopped to talk to Steve.
"Do you work Sundays?" Danny asked, longing for something to look forward to during this frustrating period of his life.
"No, I have Sundays off," Steve answered. "I sing in the choir at St. Andrew's Church every Sunday morning. Would you like to come and hear the choir sing this Sunday? I think you would enjoy it. Our choir is small but very good, and we sing some great music."
Danny was intrigued. "I'd like that," he agreed enthusiastically. Steve gave him directions.
The following Sunday morning, as the rest of the household slept in, Danny stood in front of the bathroom mirror carefully knotting his maroon knit tie. Pulling on the jacket of his gray pin-stripe suit, he closed the door and ran down the steps to his car.
The church was in a part of town he wasn't familiar with, but Steve's directions were clear. He heard bells pealing as he drove up the street and saw the imposing Spanish colonial-style building.
A number of people stood on the steps of the church, and Danny saw more coming from all directions. He pulled into a parking spot across the street and got out. Feeling both strangeness and anticipation, he walked up the steps and entered the vaulted nave of the church. A few worshipers were already seated or kneeling in prayer.
Self-conscious, Danny slipped quietly into a pew near the back and looked around, fascinated by the magnificence of the decorations. The dark polished wood of the pews, the slate floor, and the deep red carpet contrasted with the gorgeous stained-glass windows along the side walls and the clerestory. White pillars with beautifully carved moldings supported the clerestory, and gold-tiled walls behind the two side altars reflected the light of flickering candles.
Danny was entranced by the pure, chaste flow of music from the organ loft above and the hushed, reverent atmosphere. Soon people began streaming into the church, as the service was about to begin. Then the sweet, ethereal voices of the choir singing the introit came floating down from the balcony, and Danny caught his breath at its beauty. The minister, in flowing black clerical robes richly trimmed with velvet, approached the main altar, and the congregation knelt as he began to pray. The service consisted largely of Scripture and liturgy, read responsively by the minister and the people.
When the service was over, Steve, wearing a black cassock and white surplice, found Danny and invited him to come and meet the rest of the choir. Danny was surprised to discover how small it was. The live acoustics of the church made twelve voices sound like a much larger group.
"The music was just beautiful!" Danny exclaimed. "I'd love to sing in a choir like this!"
"Well, come join us!" Steve invited enthusiastically. "Are you a tenor or baritone?"
"Baritone," Danny answered.
"That's just what we need!" Turning to the organist/choir director, Steve announced, "Marilyn, Danny's a baritone, and he'd like to join the choir." Turning back to Danny, he amended, "Wouldn't you?"
'"Why . . ., of c-course, if I could," Danny stammered eagerly.
Marilyn and the other choir members were very friendly and encouraging, and Danny agreed to come to rehearsal on Wednesday evening.
Later, standing on the steps of the church, Steve asked, "Would you like to eat lunch with me? I know a great little French restaurant down on the square."
Delighted, Danny followed Steve in his car. La Gare was small and rustic looking, with wooden floors, lace curtains, tin lanterns on round tables covered with blue-checked cloths, and pots of geraniums in the windows.
They were seated near a window. Steve studied the menu for a moment. "The poulet roti is very good, "he suggested. "Or if you prefer something lighter, they make delicious omelets."
"That sounds good," Danny said quickly. He wasn't really that fond of omelets, but he preferred them to chicken.
"Try the omelette aux champion," Steve advised. "You'll love it."
Three years older than Danny, Sieve seemed very sure of himself. As they ate, he told Danny about his hobby of gourmet cooking and his musical studies with a well-known Bay-area musician. He played both the piano and organ, and besides singing at St. Andrew's, he sometimes substituted for the cantor at the Russian Orthodox Church. Danny was impressed and a little intimidated by how knowledgeable Steve was about classical music.
"Have you ever done any two-piano music?" Danny asked. "I'd love to play 'Scaramouche' with you sometime." To his surprise, Steve wasn't familiar with the piece.
"It's by Milhaud, and it's full of these stirring Latin rhythms and dreamy impressionism," Danny said enthusiastically. "I learned it when I was in high school, and it's so much fun to play. One of my classmates and I played the last movement for a talent program and won first prize."
"I'd like to try it," Steve said. "But where could we find two pianos?"
"Maybe we could find a studio with two pianos in the music building up at my college," Danny suggested. "Anyway, my stuff s still all stored up there, so we'd have to go there to get my music."
They decided to drive to the college that afternoon. After rummaging through an untidy box filled with books and music, Danny finally found what he was looking for, and they headed for the music building. After Steve had read through his part a few times, they tried it together.
"Hey, this is really great!" Steve exclaimed. "No wonder you like it!"
Danny glowed, both from the fun of playing one of his favorite pieces and from Steve's approval.
As the weeks turned into months, Danny's job search continued to be disappointing. He made it to the final interview for several promising jobs, but the other finalist was always selected because of having more experience. And most of his temporary jobs were boring "dead ends."
As kind as Alex and Stephanie were, he was getting very tired of living out of a suitcase, sleeping on the couch, and sharing a bathroom with six other people. He longed to get settled in a place of his own. He began studying the ads for rentals and checked some of them out, even though he knew it was an impossible dream until he had a steady job.
At last, after three months, he took a temporary job with the office of the city water district that looked as if it might develop into something permanent.
Meanwhile, Danny's friendship with Steve was growing into something deeper. One evening, Steve suggested that maybe Danny would like to move in with him. He was living in a