4 July 2024

     Two main highways run the length of California. In the middle, it's U. S. 99. Except for starting in the mountains, then climbing through a similar area toward the end, most of its length is through the vast Central Valley, where most of America's food originates. It's also where most of California's human population is located; that is, all that isn't resident around San Francisco Bay or in the Los Angeles Basin. Medium-sized cities and large towns abound, and for most of its distance, Highway 99 is either just entering a town or just leaving one.

   Nearer the western edge of the state, U. S. 101 is quite a different proposition. From the Oregon border to just north of the Bay Area, it's called "The Redwood Highway," and - with the exception of the Humboldt Bay region (population around 25,00) - there are more trees and more twists in the road than there are people. South of the Bay Area, the cities continue through San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley, but by Salinas (population 13,000) they've exhausted themselves. In the next 75 miles, King City - with its 2,300 or so inhabitants - is the best that Civilization can do, and the scenery reverts to wide open spaces until arriving at a big town of about 5,000 people - Paseo de Los Robles (Oak Tree Pass), commonly called Paso Robles (pronounced "robels"), and by the residents most often just "Paso."

   To complete the journey south, U. S. 101 continues  on, dropping almost 2,000 feet at Cuesta Grade to near sea level at San Luis Obispo (14,000 people), about 35 miles from Paso. From there to Mexico, it is more cities, more towns and more people than you can shake a stick at.


   But our destination for this story is back up the road at Paso. As I implied, it's really the only place between King City and San Luis Obispo for gasoline or food, so  the locals do a fair amount of business from traffic off the road. There are overnight accommodations, too, but travelers going south often opt to drive the extra 45 minutes for more selection in San Luis Obispo.

   To the casual visitor, Paso doesn't seem to change much as the years go  by. If you've lived here all your life, like I have, you see a lot of differences. For one thing, Paso only had 3,000 residents in 1940; now, ten years later, it has 5,000. Something must look different. The really obvious change occurred during World War II, when Camp Roberts opened up north of town, and through the war was one of the biggest Army training centers in the country. People in uniform flocked the streets of Paso. In 1947, after all the servicemen were back home, the camp was moth-balled, and Paso became a relatively sleepy town, again. Now, with the Korean War cranking up, they've opened the camp, again, and I suspect we'll see a lot of uniforms again, until the war is over.

   Perhaps almost everyone who travels through Paso - or lives here - has used the most common description of the town - it is hotter than Hell. Of course, that applies only to summer. Temperatures in winter are usually in the fairly mild range of 30 to 50 degrees. A caveat is that "summer" lasts from May through September, and some years from April through October. Daytime high temperatures during those months seldom drop below 90 degrees, often reach 100, and have been known to regularly climb to 110 and above. Almost no rain falls between April and October, and only about 10 inches the rest of the year.

   Nobody seems to know how hot Hell is. The Bible says there's a lake of molten lava there, but people who stand beside the calderas of volcanoes that are bubbling away, find it's barely warm where they are. Maybe it's only the lake that is really hot. There's another old saying, "hotter than Tophet," but nobody seems to know where Tophet is, or how hot it is. I don't think we can positively state that Paso is hotter than Hell, but I still think we must be in the running.

   There are a couple of things that make our heat "better." One, we always have very low humidity. I've never been in the American Midwest or South. They say humidity is what makes their high temperatures really brutal. Also, we have tremendous shifts between daytime highs and nighttime lows - often, a 40 or 50 degree difference, which makes a nice change, and also makes for pretty good sleeping weather, even in midsummer.

   I know that heat isn't the only thing that worries people about Hell, but I think Paso competes pretty "favorably" in other ways, too. For instance, our temperatures cause a lot of "wailing and gnashing of teeth." You often hear residents talking about Paso being "godforsaken." That's a pretty fair match for "eternal separation from God." So, even if we can't prove we're hotter....

   I will say one more thing - since I've wasted quite a bit of your time, already, without getting to the story. Some of the best wine grapes in the country thrive here,  and Paso is universally known for its healing waters and mud baths. If we can have those things, and be somewhat like the conditions in Hell, I think Hell might be worth looking forward to - or, at least, looking into.

   Now - finally! - with that word portrait of Paso Robles firmly in your mind, we can get on with my story.


   My name  is Dylan O'Brien. That sounds rather Irish, and I suppose it is. My father and his father were of Irish origin, but my mother, and my grandmothers on both sides of the family, were Mexicans. I have black hair and a somewhat darker complexion than my father, but I don't think anyone would say I was Hispanic. I am nearing 30 (much quicker than I thought possible!), and am single. I am the current manager of O'Brien's Hotel and Restaurant, a job relegated to me when my parents - the owners and former managers - "retired" to the edge of town, to spend some 30 hours a day growing grapes, olives, and other mid-Coast delights.

   I grew up in the hotel, worked here all through my 'teen and young adult years, and love the place. We have really good food  and very nice rooms, and we've worked hard to improve the quality of both, even though we don't have much local competition. I have some big ideas I'd like to incorporate, inspired in me by the tremendous success of Split Pea Anderson's, down Highway 101 halfway to Santa Barbara. With their famous (and excellent) split pea soup, a good menu, a bakery and a gift shop, they've turned their establishment from a restaurant and hotel to an actual destination for many people. I just can't help thinking how great it would be if people down in San Luis Obispo would suddenly start saying, "Let's drive up to O'Brien's for dinner, tonight." Pipe dream? Maybe, but I have some ideas.

   I said that I'm single - and I am - but I've had the same female friend for almost a quarter of a century. She's definitely a girl, but the emphasis is on "friend." She's been my best friend at least since First Grade - maybe from Kindergarten, but neither of us can quite remember. She was the first one to call me "Dyl." That prompted some pickle jokes among our classmates, but I fairly quickly grew bigger and looked stronger than most of the other kids in our class (I wasn't, really), so the joke didn't go on very long.  Everybody calls me Dyl, now, with no pickle references.

   This girl - well, young woman, now - Marjorie Lowe - and I are pretty much inseparable. I think we know more about each other than any other two people in the world know about one another. We hug a lot, but have never kissed, and I don't think have ever shared a romantic word of any kind. Preachers seem to always be saying that men can't be just friends with women, or women with men. It's apparently a Garden of Eden problem - eventually, that old serpent (in the form of S-E-X) will rear  its head. I think after nearly 25 years, we've proven them wrong...

   Or, at least, I thought we had. In the past year or so, I have found myself thinking about Jo in ways that I would never think about a sister. The thoughts are exciting and pleasant, but they scare me. Could the kind of relationship we've had all these years transform itself into a husband-wife, mother-father situation? I don't know. It could fail, and ruin the friendship. On the other hand, we know each other so well, that a marriage starting with that knowledge could turn out to be a very wonderful, very romantic affair. Now, that is a thought worth thinking!

   Well, more of this, later. I just introduce it here to introduce Jo, and the meat of the story I want to tell.


   Jo teaches English at Paso High School, and that's how we happened to get on the subject we found ourselves on.

   "There's a girl in my Literature class who is decidedly pregnant," Jo began.

   "Yes, I understand that is something that can happen," I replied, helpfully.

   "This girl is Lucy Duncan," she continued, ignoring my helpful comment. "You probably don't know her - I don't see you hanging around with high school girls very often - but you might remember the name. Both her parents died in a car crash near town earlier this year."

   I did remember that,  and said so.

   "Apparently, she doesn't have any family here - and maybe none, anywhere. Inquiries are being made, but nothing's turned up. For the time being, the court has placed her in the care of the high school principal, Doug Toone, and his wife, Willy. It isn't an official guardianship - she doesn't need a guardian, does she, since she's 18? - but just kind of for the courts to keep track of her until her parents' estate is settled.

   "Doug is a good guy, but I don't think he would even notice her pregnancy, until it was super-obvious. I guess Willy knows about the birds and the bees, but she just doesn't seem like the type who can be very helpful to a pregnant high school girl."

   Jo stopped, and looked at me, expectantly. (Well, that may be the wrong word, under the circumstances.) "You are telling me this story for general information and sharing, or...?" I left it as a question.

   She gave me a look that I have learned to recognize - and dread. "I'm coming to you because you're my Mr. Fixit. Whenever something comes up that needs particular insight and understanding, I turn to you."

   This was a joke. She knew I couldn't even clip my own toenails efficiently, let alone solve a real problem - and a pregnant high school girl was about as far out of my wheelhouse as one could get.

   "I know you, Marjorie Lowe. You put me on the spot, and I look even more dimwitted than I usually do, then you tell me what you've already figured out. You are cruel!"

   "I am, aren't I? Actually, I don't have it figured out, but I do have some ideas and concerns. First, I don't think she has any support. I think Willy Toone will probably be sympathetic, but that's probably about all she has to offer. Lucy seems to have a lot of friends, but mostly girls. I don't recall ever seeing her with one particular boy, and I don't get the feeling that she has dated regularly. When I was a high school girl, I don't think there were any pregnant friends to talk to - or talk about. I don't know how girls react. Are they sympathetic, helpful, judgmental? Do they think she was stupid to get in trouble?"

   "Probably all of the above. I guess it just depends on which friends turn out to control the conversations."

   "Okay, that makes sense. So, she needs somebody objective, but caring, to talk to."

   "If she will."

   "Yes, if she will."

   "We're talking about you being the one she talks to, right?"

   "Of course. Aren't you following along, here?  You are correct, we don't know how she'll feel about outside help. She knows me as her teacher, but I've never had any other contacts with her. She might not want to talk.

  "But let's put that aside for the moment. She's going to need someplace to stay. I don't think the Toone household will be the place, once Lucy gets farther along."

   "I could give her a room in the hotel. She'd be around people, and we could help her get supplies, and help her get to doctor appointments, or whatever. There wouldn't be anybody to help her with her more personal needs, of course. Are there nurses, or home care people, who will come visit a pregnant person?"

   "I'm not sure. I think so. I'll have to do some checking. The idea of having her stay at the hotel is a good one, I think. She'd be in generally familiar surroundings, but wouldn't have to see anybody around town that she didn't want to."

   "So, say she wants to handle it that way," I put forward. "What happens when the baby arrives?"

   Jo gave me a look that made me think she'd forgotten the ultimate outcome of this particular adventure. "That's a good question, isn't it? We don't even know if she would plan to keep the baby. I mean, she's a kid with no family, no local ties, no job. She might want to put her or him up for adoption, right away. That's another thing to figure out, ahead of time."

   I let Jo have a minute to rearrange her  thoughts. "So, Miss Meddlesome, you have a pregnant girl who barely knows you - who doesn't even know you know about her situation - who may not understand why you want to become involved - who might not want your involvement - and who may have everything already figured out, and taken care of.  How do you approach her?"

   "I think I just ask her to stop after class, and I tell her what we've been talking about. If she flat out tells me to mind my own business, I do. If she wants to meet to talk about it, I'd like you to come with me."

   "Whoa! You think a pregnant high school girl wants some man she doesn't know hearing about her sex life?"

   "Maybe not, but when I explain to her how sympathetic and objective you are in these kinds of situations..." She gave me a big, insincere smile. "I'm sure she'll want you involved."

   I smiled back, just as insincerely. "One thing we haven't talked about. The Toones are her guardians, for now. How do you approach them?"

   "I hadn't really considered that. See how helpful you are? I guess before I talk to Lucy, I talk to Doug, and see what he says. I have a feeling he'll want all the help he can get."


   Jo talked to the principal and, as anticipated, he was eager for any intervention we could offer. He did know about the pregnancy - his wife had mentioned it - but neither had talked to Lucy about it. Jo suggested they not talk to her until later. Doug agreed.

   The next day, Jo asked Lucy to stop and talk to her a minute. This is how she described the meeting to me, later.  

   "Lucy, I've noticed you're putting on a little weight."

   Lucy gave her an odd look, then smiled. "It is becoming a little obvious, isn't it?"

   "Look, you don't know me, except as your English teacher, but I suspect - with your recent losses - that you don't have a lot of people to talk to. I'm kind of a busybody, but a discrete one. I'll listen to what you have to say, answer any questions I can, and maybe suggest some things for you to do. Are you interested?"

   They talked a little longer, and Lucy agreed to meet the next evening at Jo's apartment. Lucy was hesitant about having an unknown male at the meeting, but said yes to that, too, after Jo explained what a great guy I am.

   The next evening, we met. Lucy was obviously a little uneasy, but not about me - just in general. I controlled myself very well, and just listened for quite a while. Well, that lasted until Lucy described herself as "more or less" still a virgin. I couldn't resist.

   "I don't think you can use "more or less" and "virgin" in the same sentence."

   Lucy gave me a quick glare, but immediately turned back to Jo. "I thought you said he would be helpful."

   Jo gave me the evil eye, but declared that I was, usually. "What you said is a little odd, though. I've heard an old saying about somebody can't be 'a little bit pregnant.' Can you be 'almost' a virgin?"

   Lucy relented. "No, you're right. I shouldn't have put it that way, but that's kind of how it seems, in my memory. Let me tell you my whole tale.

    "He's a boy I've known for a while. He's always been nice, but we'd never done anything romantic, before. We went over to his house when his parents were away on the weekend. I was suddenly feeling very sad about my parents - that happens to me, every week or so. He had enlisted in the Army, just kind of because his friends did, and he regretted it, and was a little bit scared about being sent to Korea. Well, we started consoling one another, got kissing pretty hard, and lay down on the couch together. I'd never had sex with anybody, before - never even close! - and I don't think he had, either. Anyway, I just kind of lost control, and told him to move off me. He did, and I stood up, took off my panties, and lay back down again. I don't what he would have done if I hadn't done that. Anyway, I just lay there, and kind of looked at the ceiling. I was pretty sure he was unbuttoning his jeans, and pulling them and his shorts down, but I never looked to see. I had on a dress, and he lifted it enough to lay against me, but I don't think he really looked at me, either. He pressed hard against me, and I felt a little rip or something - I guess it's what the kids call 'breaking my cherry?' Anyway, that had barely happened when he gave a little moan, got up off me really fast, and had his pants pulled back on before I could even look up. He muttered that he was sorry, and went into the bathroom. I pulled my panties back on, he came out of the bathroom, and immediately drove me back to the Toones. I don't think he said another word to me. I haven't seen him since, and I assume he left for the Army the next day, as planned.

   "So, that was my first sex. I really didn't know if anything had happened for a few weeks. Then, I went to the school nurse, and she told me I was pregnant. Quite a surprise, for what was probably not more than 30 seconds of togetherness, altogether!"

   Again, I spoke without thinking. "Not an immaculate conception, but about as close as you could get to one."

   They both glared at me, but then the ridiculousness of the whole situation set in, and all three of us started laughing. It took us a while to calm down, again.

   Jo asked if the school nurse had given any kind of advice. "Not really, just come in every week or so, and let her check me over." Did she intend to keep the baby? "Definitely." I told her that she could stay in the hotel the whole time of her pregnancy, and she liked that idea.


   Jo and Lucy talked over the situation with the Toones, and Lucy moved into the hotel. She insisted she would pay me as soon as her parents' estate was settled. I said "okay," and started running a tab for her. However, I'd talked it over with my folks, and they agreed with me that Lucy was a "guest," and I'd never really charge her for anything.

   She stayed in the hotel most of the time during her pregnancy but, of course, she wasn't an invalid. She enjoyed the work of both the hotel and the restaurant, and got on well with our employees. She liked to help our housekeepers straighten up the rooms each day, and as soon as they were sure I approved - and that it didn't affect their paycheck in any way - they welcomed her assistance and company. She especially liked to check visitors in and out of the hotel. When I saw how well her friendliness and competency went over with the guests - and of course delivered up with youth and prettiness - I regularly assigned her that duty. It only took me a few months to also realize that, for an 18-year old, she had the makings of a pretty good office manager. She started helping me with the payroll records, ordering supplies, and such.

   Her good, and increasing, work made it easy for me to clear up the subject of her increasing hotel bills. I told her that she was doing enough work to easily pay for her room and board and, if she took on any more assignments, I'd sign her up as an actual employee, and put her on the payroll. She didn't object. She knew she was earning her keep.

   Her relieving me of some of my duties gave me a little time to think about my dream of making O'Brien's more than just a good restaurant and hotel. I've mentioned Pea Soup Anderson's, and I had something like that in mind. Well, not pea soup, but something that would be unique for the area, and therefore worth people's time to check out. One thought I had was to devote a couple of nights each week to Basque food and Basque dining. I had been to a Basque restaurant in Bakersfield several times, and I liked the food, and especially the atmosphere - everybody sitting around long tables, passing good food to one another, drinking red wine, and having a good old family time, even with total strangers. I tried the idea on Danny, our chef (an excellent one, by the way), and he liked the concept. We're working on it.

   About a month before Lucy's baby was due, I got quite a shock. Well, "shock" may be too mild a word. I was flabbergasted! She asked if we could talk about something, so we went into the hotel office. She didn't waste any time.

   "I want my baby to have a father, and a last name. I would like the father to be you. Will you marry me?"

   I didn't know why she would joke about something like that, but I looked carefully, just to make sure. She wasn't. "Lucy, I can't marry you. I don't love you."

   "Well, that isn't always necessary in a marriage."

   "It would be, for me. Besides, we really don't even know each other. Besides that, I'm ten years older than you."

   She seemed to just brush those objections away. "You're not romantically involved with anybody else. We'd get to know each other. I bet a lot of couples are ten years apart in age."

   I guess I could have just said "no,"  and ended the discussion, but I knew she must be feeling a lot of pressure and uncertainty about the future. "Lucy, a lot of children have no father present, and grow up just fine. Some are in situations like yours, where one sperm met one egg at an inconvenient time. Some have their fathers die young, some are products of divorces, where the father is alive, but elsewhere. Sometimes, a father is around, but you wish he wasn't because he's abusive - maybe physically, maybe emotionally - or a drunk, or not a good person to have around a kid. What I'm trying to say is that a real father isn't just a last name, or part of your genetic makeup, or a presence. It's somebody who loves and cares and helps a child grow up in the way they should go, as the Bible says.

   "You're young, but you've proven yourself competent to support yourself and your child. It'll be a year or two before he or she starts to wonder about fathers, present or absent. I have no doubt that you are going to meet real husband material - real father material - before too long. I think you just need to give yourself a little time.

   "I'll be very happy to be "Uncle Dylan" to your baby, and provide some good male influence. I think that's what will be best for all three of us."

   Lucy seemed a little disappointed, but not very. I think she was just feeling a bit panicky, and was trying out one idea that came to her. We settled back down to our usual routines, and I didn't notice any change in our relationship.

   When I talked to Jo about the "proposal," there was one thing I didn't bring up, but that had surprised me. Lucy and Jo had become very good friends in the past few months, and it seemed odd - knowing how close Jo and I are - that Lucy would ignore that. I guess her comment that I wasn't "romantically involved" with anybody made my relationship with Jo less relevant.

    I didn't expect Jo to be upset about Lucy's presentation, but I also didn't expect her to take it the way she apparently did. "Marrying her would give you a good opportunity to sleep with a pretty young woman, and relieve some of your sexual tensions."

   I had no idea how to respond to that, and I didn't. I just sort of stood there, with my mouth probably hanging open, wondering what had just happened. When I didn't respond, Jo continued to talk. "Perhaps you'd prefer to relieve your sexual tensions with an older woman?"

   Now, I was really confused. "Jo, I'm lost here. Sexual tensions? What are we talking  about?"

   I'd been standing, and she'd been sitting. Now, she gestured for me to sit next to her on the couch. I did. "Dyl, as we often point out, we have been best friends for a quarter-century. As best friends, we have openly, candidly, and sometimes bravely delved into almost every aspect of our personal lives, and the world we inhabit. I say "almost," because there is one rather large area that has been off-limits - not off-limits because we've wanted it that way, but just because we didn't feel the need. That has pretty clearly changed in the last year or so. We talk the same, we react the same, we approach circumstances the same. But one thing is different.

   "When you look at me, I see questions in your eyes that I never saw before. I think I see longing there - wanting something. I think I know what it is because I find myself looking at you the same way. I have dreams about you that are quite disturbing, but not in a scary or unpleasant way - far from it! I think, my dear Best Friend, that we are both seeing something that needs to be added to our Best Friends repertoire - romance, passion, S-E-X."

   She stopped, and waited for me to say something. It took a while. "S-E-X?" I finally spelled out, with the added question mark.

   "I think I might have mentioned that."

   "Did you also say something about sleeping with an older woman?"

   "I think I did. That could be arranged for the price of a wedding ring and a certificate of marriage, if you were interested."

    I was thinking I might be very interested, but I found I was pretty scared. I thought I should lighten the mood a little more. "Could I just give you the price I'd pay for a ring?"

    She had a quick response for that. "No, Dyl. We're not talking about a business transaction, with a payment to me for certain services that I might render. We are talking about a ring as a symbol of a new facet of our already very nice relationship, but one that I think we might find was an especially desirable addition."

   I thought she was correct, but I really was afraid. I think I need to tell you a little about our lives that I haven't mentioned. Although we never felt romantic toward one another - until then! -  we both dated regularly. Some connections lasted quite a while, and we both had some good times with some very nice people. None lasted past very early romantic feelings, because there just didn't seem to be that (maybe mythical) "spark" that would have moved us onward.

   There were three other times - twice for me, and once for Jo - when the relationships fell apart specifically because of my and Jo's friendship. These were the three that were worrying me, now. In each case, we were told that marriages couldn't tolerate outside friendships - at least, not friends of the same sex as the potential  bride (in my case) or groom (for Jo). One woman - whom I actually liked quite a lot - told me very bluntly that I couldn't have two "wives" - that, if we got married, I would have to give up my friendship with Jo, altogether. Of course, that was unacceptable.

   That attitude seemed crazy to me. I know the marriage vows say that bride and groom "forsake all others," but that didn't mean that it was suddenly just them against the world, did it? Was it jealousy - nobody could be as close as your spouse? - or was it a fear of sharing "family secrets?" As I said, it didn't make sense.

   Then, there was the question of marriages, themselves. A lot of them failed, and ended up in divorce or just continuing loveless liaisons. If a marriage failed, didn't any friendship involved fail, also? Of course, there was no way to tell how their relationships had been before marriage - were they anywhere near as strong as ours? - but it worried me - maybe more than it should, but try to tell somebody that!


   Obviously, we didn't forget that discussion, and Jo mentioned several times that I was looking at her again with my "goo goo eyes." I suspect I really was looking and acting like a silly ass, wanting her so badly, but being so afraid of ruining what we had. In any event, it became kind of a side drama as Lucy's delivery date approached.

   Jo had found someone she called a "midwife," apparently not a trained medical person, but someone who had dealt with a lot of childbirths, and knew how to make them as safe and pleasant as possible. According to Jo and Lucy, she did a great job, and a charming little girl, Jennifer, joined the hotel family. Mother and daughter continued to do just fine.

   A couple of weeks later, Lucy asked to talk to me about something important. I couldn't imagine what it could be about, but we met in the hotel office.

   "Dyl, I'm not satisfied with your earlier refusal to marry me. My child needs a father, and I still favor you for the job. Yes or no?"

   If I had been surprised the first time around, there was no possible description for my feelings this time. I didn't have to think about my answer, however. "Lucy, I'm very, very fond of you. You're too old to be my daughter, but we're something like father and daughter. What we definitely can't be is husband and wife."

   "Is it because there is someone else?"


    "If her name doesn't start with M-a-r-j-o-r-i-e, I'm going to be very disappointed in you."

   If I have used the phrase "I just stared at her" previously, it was just as appropriate here. "How did Jo suddenly get in this conversation?"

   "Just a little meddling on my part. I needed you to admit to yourself - and eventually to Jo, herself - that you want very, very badly to be married to her."

   I felt a little tricked, but not unhappily so. "Did you and Jo come up with this fake marriage offer to get me motivated."

   "You know that Jo would never be a part of such a ruse," she chided me. "She is probably the most honest woman in the world, and not one who will stoop to subterfuge to get her way. I, on the other hand, are not above such tactics. This was all my own idea, and I think it's working."

   I stood up, went over and hugged her. "Thank you for your dishonesty."

   "You're welcome. I couldn't marry you, anyway. I have a serious boyfriend - Danny."

   "Danny -- as in Danny, my chef?" She gave me a big smile, and nodded. "Lucy, you need to be very careful of him. Chefs can be very moody and temperamental."

   "I know, and he's already found out that I can be that way, too. He loves Jennifer, and I think he loves me almost as much. I think we're going to do just fine. Now, why don't you go and find "the other woman?"

   "I think I will." I did, but first I stopped by the jewelry store, and purchased a plain, silver wedding band. The saleswoman told me I could bring it back to get it re-sized, if necessary. "I'll be back," I assured her, "To let her pick out her engagement ring and - if possible - to exchange this one for one she likes better. But, for now, this is an emergency purchase."

   When Jo came home from teaching, she found me sitting on the floor in front of her apartment door. Instead of opening the door, she sat down beside me in the hallway.

   "Not much of a view, but the company is nice," she commented. I agreed. "Were you just in the neighborhood, or were you here for a specific reason?" "The latter," I said. "Do you want to go inside?"

   "No, I think we can handle this right here." I brought the ring box into view, and opened it for her to see inside.

   "That looks very much like a wedding ring." I think I expected a little gasp, or something, but she was pretty dead-pan. I assured her that it was indeed a wedding ring. "Well, since you are showing it to me here, I assume it is meant for me. If it is meant for me, it can only be for one of two reasons. If it is the first, that requires a certain piece of paper before it is effective."

   "I am looking forward to that - immensely! - but this is for the second reason, now.

   "Then, you are asking me to join you in marriage?"

   "Well, I think it is actually you asking me if I am asking you to marry me but, yes, that is what I am doing."

  "Then, I accept. Can we go inside, now? There's something that needs doing." She got up easily, and helped me get to my feet. I don't know if I really needed the help, but I was feeling a little light-headed, for some reason. She unlocked the door, and we went inside. She sat down on her sofa, and invited me to join her. I did.

   What followed was a long, long, long kiss - 25 years in the making. It was worth waiting for.


   We got married a few weeks later, a fairly simple affair in the hotel restaurant with us, Jo's parents, my parents, all the restaurant and hotel staffs, and some miscellaneous friends from around town. Danny made the wedding cake - his first ever - and it both looked and tasted magnificent. Then, he and his staff catered a full dinner for everybody. It was a great occasion.

   Jo and I didn't go on a honeymoon immediately, but we pretty much disappeared into our apartment for the next two days. During that time, I used our wedding certificate and Jo's wedding ring to complete a certain deal discussed previously. I won't provide  you with the details of all that happened during those two days. I'll just say that, like our first kiss, the S-E-X was pretty amazing.

   Well, I will say one thing about it. Some time in those two days, one marauding sperm bumped into an unsuspecting, but ready, egg, and began the creation of a new human, who we named - appropriately, I think - Lucy. We hadn't planned it but, on the other hand, we hadn't not planned it, if you know what I mean. Later, I told Jo - lovingly, of course - that she seemed a little old to be having our first child, but she did look radiant and beautiful.


   That was all a few years ago. Lucy and Danny got married shortly after Jo and I did, and now have a little boy - Josh - of their mutual creation, to join big sister, Jennifer. Jo and I - ancient as we are - are also working on a second addition to our family. Jo is still teaching - why not? She loves it. The hotel and restaurant are doing well. Danny and I haven't quite pulled off our fabulous Basque family dinner, but that's a work in progress.

   Marriage hasn't hurt our personal relationship. We are still  best friends, and with additional benefits not enjoyed in earlier years.

   To the passers-by, Paso probably looks much the same as it did in 1950, but it is changing. The Korean War lasted only three years, then Camp Roberts was once again shuttered - until the next war! Not many Army uniforms to be seen in town, these days.

   A lot more grapes have been planted, and Paso wine is as good as anywhere in California - and better than some. We can still be called "Almond City" - we still produce lots and lots of them,  but our number one ranking in that crop is losing out to areas in the San Joaquin Valley. Olives are becoming one of our biggest market crops, locally.

   Paso Robles is still (maybe) hotter than Hell.

   But it's a dry heat.


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