The Model Builder
By:
Jess Mercer
(Copyright 2008 by the author)
 

  The author retains all rights. No reproductions are allowed without the author's consent. Comments are appreciated at...

 

This is winter graduation for I'm a semester behind the others that were in my class. I had promised my parents they would see me walk across the stage to get my degree, and I'm not about to let them down, though the promise was made before the freak accident that took my legs above the knees.

 

When the dean calls my name, the muscular marshal assigned to help me up the steps grasps my arm almost hard enough to crush it and half lifts me up each step until I get both my fake feet planted firmly on the stage floor. With my forearm crutches I walk with hesitant steps toward the dean and president of the university to receive my degree in architecture. The only alternative would have been for me to sit in my wheelchair on the floor of the auditorium and watch in humiliation as the dean and president walked to me.

 

A few of my classmates admired my independence in moving to a small apartment as soon as I left the hospital. I love my parents, but I had to get away from their hovering and insistence on doing things for me that I knew darn well I could do for myself.

 

I graduated cum laud and know my stuff, but a conversation with the department chairman a few days before graduation planted seeds of doubt in my mind.

 

"You're a bright young man, Tyrel, but a good residential architect must also supervise the construction of his designs." He shook his head. "I don't know how you'll be able to negotiate rough construction to determine if your specifications are being met."

 

"I'll find some way, sir. This is all I've ever been interested in. Now I can bring real insight into designs for people with disabilities."

 

"I wish you success, then."

 

I know it will be slow establishing myself in an independent practice, so I take an interview with one large firm looking for a handicap design specialist, but their interest in me vanishes as soon as they see me in my chair. I still find my legs difficult to manage even after several months of therapy.

 

While they wouldn't hire me as an architect because of my handicap, they put me on a small retainer as a consultant for their public projects, which the law demands they design with handicapped access. A job for a home for parents of a paraplegic child comes my way also, so I have enough to keep me busy at present, but I begin to long for the workspace I had at home. However I want to retain my independence. Then I happen to remember a comment I overheard one of the reps from the architectural firm make to another.

 

"To hell with more beginning architects. What we need desperately is a model maker."

 

"Absolutely. The boss said he'd pay a professional more than any mid-level guy we've got. If I knew how, I'd opt for it myself."

 

Maybe that's for me, because I've never lost my love for trains and at home I have quite a layout. Though it's not very large, it's super-detailed because my real pleasure came from constructing scale buildings of all types for it. My particular love was old buildings that were a part of the past. When they go, a part of the way life was in earlier years goes with them. I grab the phone and call my dad, telling him I'll be coming home tomorrow for lunch to talk with them about my future. I know it's going to take most of the afternoon to convince them of what I want.

 

The basement of their house opens onto the drive and can be made into an apartment for me at little expense. Dad installed a stairglide for me to use just after the accident, so when I want to be with them it's just short ride up the stairs. This way I'll be able to live my own life. My train layout is still in what can become my workshop. After we talk, they understand that I'm serious about keeping business hours when I'm working and am not to be bothered.

 

While I'm there, I pick up my favorite model of an old farmhouse to take home with me and make an appointment with the architectural firm. I put on my legs, but use my chair so I can carry the model.

 

The head of firm looks it over carefully, then removes the roof to see the detailing I put inside. He calls his partner in to look at it. They agree to give me a trial and had me a set of blueprints asking for a Ľ inch scale model duplicating all the construction specifications. I have two weeks to do the job.

 

On my way home I stop by a well stocked hobby shop and buy everything I will need. The next morning I set to work. It's amazing how fast the skills and pleasure of building a model come back. It's more fun than work but it takes me to the last day of the two weeks to complete it.

 

The owners are delighted and offer me three more jobs with longer time limits. They pay me more than I expected, so if this keeps up I'll have an income I can live on as my wants are few.

 

It feels good when I move back home. Dad helps me set up a workbench and a separate table to hold the models, and Mom insists that I eat with them, though I will start paying them some rent when my income increases.

 

By the end of the month I've completed both models and delivered them to the firm to the praise of the architects involved with each building. The weather turns unseasonably warm and I've nothing at the moment to occupy my time, so on nice days I begin to swim in the small heated pool dad put in when I was younger. The exercise feels good after sitting on my butt for so long.

 

I'm sitting on the edge of the pool to rest one afternoon when a voice says, "Hi."

 

I look over the low fence to see a muscular kid I guess to be about sixteen or seventeen standing there. Mom had told me someone had bought the house next door and moved in, but I had paid no attention. I beckon him over. He vaults the fence with no trouble and comes over to me.

 

"Hi. I'm Tim Curtis. We just moved next door."

 

I hold out my hand. "Ty Wolf."

 

He looks down and I see his mouth drop open when he sees my stumps. He has some difficulty dragging his gaze back to my face.

 

"Would you like to take a dip?" I ask.

 

He grins. "Thought you'd never ask. I've been looking at your pool and wishing I could use it."

 

"Go get changed and come on. I'm going to be another hour at least."

 

When he comes back, he looks amazed at how easily I swim then jumps in and starts doing laps with me. I finally pull myself up on the edge of the pool again to rest. It's only a few moments before he joins me.

 

"Man, you swim good. I didn't think you could keep up with me."

 

"Because I've got no legs?" I ask, teasing him.

 

His face flushes. "I'm sorry. I … I … ."

 

"Don't sweat it. Just trying to get a rise out of you." I look at him and see my statement is more prophetic than I intended.

 

Mom interrupts to bring us a glass of lemonade. Tim thanks her when I introduce him. Mom tells him she's already met his parents. I can tell from her tone of voice she wasn't impressed, and she likes most people. She chats with Tim for a moment longer before going back in to start dinner. He and I talk until Mom comes out to hand me the cordless phone.

 

It's another architectural firm wanting me to do some model work for them. I agree, and they are kind enough to say they will send copies of the blueprints over by messenger. While I'm talking, I notice Tim taking covert glances at my stumps when he thinks I'm not looking.

 

He asks if he can help when I start to get in my chair, but I tell him I can do it. He watches, then says, "You do that so easy."

 

"Had lots of practice."

 

"You in college?"

 

"Graduated at the end of fall semester. I majored in architecture but now I'm a professional model builder."

 

"That a real job?"

 

I nod. "I build models for several firms. Got started when I was in grade school by working on my model trains."

 

His face lights up. "You're a model railroader, too?"

 

"I used to be. Don't have time to work on it now. Want to see it?"

 

"Sure do. I had to leave my layout when we moved. I'd like to get started again, but with school and all I don't have a lot of time."

 

He follows me into my workroom and, when I remove the plastic drop cloth covering it, looks at my layout in surprise. "Oh, man, this is awesome. Mine was nowhere good as this."

 

"I liked building the buildings to go on it. I never was much for just running the trains. I think everything still works if you want to try it." I point to the control panel.

 

He enjoys running the trains, but has more fun playing with each switch, seeing what it controls. Finally he turns the power off. "This is really beautiful. Thanks for showing it to me. I've got to go, but I'd sure like to come back."

 

"Any time I'm not working. When I have a job, I keep regular hours."

 

His grin tells me enough.

 

The next morning the prints arrive and after looking them over I can see I'm in trouble. This is a big remodeling job and the firm wants a 'before' and 'after' model, because the new owners live out of town. I'll need to go over the entire house, a big old Georgian mansion, make measurements and take tons of pictures to work from.

 

I sigh, because I'd really like to have this job, but there's no way I can do what I have to, to get the information I'll need to build accurate models. I'm about to call the firm and tell them I can't take the job when I think of Tim. High school kids are usually looking for ways to make a little extra change. This is Thursday, so if he'll help me over the weekend, it may be possible.

 

When I think he'll be home from school, I get the number from information and ask him if he'll drop over for a minute. A few minutes later he bounds into my apartment with a big smile.

 

"I'm glad you called. What you need?"

 

I toss him a Pepsi and tell him to sit down. "Do you have any kind of after school job?"

 

He shakes his head. "Wouldn't mind one, though. I played football at my other school, but I don't have a chance at the team here until next year. Why you ask?"

 

I tell him the scope of the job. "Can't afford to pay you more than minimum at this point, but if I don't have some help I'll lose this job."

 

"Don't do that, man, I'll be glad to help you out. My mom will be glad, too. She keeps telling me to go find something to do."

 

"Could you come over soon as you get home from school tomorrow? We can get the outside shots, and a start on the measurements."

 

He grins. "I'm hot to trot, man. This is gonna be fun."

 

"Best wait until after tomorrow to say that, I'm a tough boss."

 

"Naa, man, not a great dude like you. I'll be here quick as I can."

 

 

"Okay, buddy, let's get started," I tell him the moment he appears. "Put my chair in the back of my car. I'll need it on the job."

 

He moves so fast he has it in my car and comes back to take the cloth carryall I use for my tools: a 100 foot tape measure, a camera, extra film, legal pad and several pens, before I can walk to the car. I'm still slow even with crutches.

 

I'm amazed at how much we accomplish in just a few hours, for Tim's eager to please. Since my camera is automatic, I let him take the pictures I want because of the time it would take me to get into position using my chair. When the rep from the firm's office comes by to check on our progress, he hands me a set of keys so I can work inside tomorrow.

 

"Think you can manage?" He asks.

 

"It'll be no problem; I've got a good helper. We should be finished by tomorrow night."

 

"Good. I'll pick up the keys sometime next week. There's no rush."

 

We do finish the measurements and interior pictures the next day. Tim helps me up the stairs to the second floor with ease, then finally up into the attic. While we're up there, he pokes around in the few items that have been left for discard. Suddenly he yells, "Look at what I found!" He comes back to me carrying a battered old peg leg.

 

He places his knee on the top but it's far too short for his height. "Damn! I wish it was longer. I’d love to try walking on a peg leg."

 

I have to laugh at him. "Yeah, you might go as a pirate on Halloween or something."

 

He grins. "Bet it would be fun." He tosses the peg back into the pile of rubbish. "We all done?"

 

"That's it. You've been a great help. Now I've got to get home and get myself busy with the models."

 

"Can I help?"

 

"You ever build any models?"

 

"Just a few that came in kits, but I can cut wood for you and things like that."

 

"Okay. I'd better warn you that it gets to be tiring after a while."

 

"I don't care. I've got nothing else to do and I like helping you."

 

He surprises me with the care he takes to do things exactly as I ask, and he's quiet while working. I come to look forward to his arrival after school each day. When the models are completed, he continues to spend a lot of time with me, always willing to be a gofer when I need something. In turn, I occasionally help him with his homework, especially math.

 

One afternoon when he comes in from school carrying the tubes of glue I asked him to pick up on his way home, he hands me the glue with a smile. "I like it when you don't have your legs on."

 

I stop cutting strips of wood and look at him. "Why?"

 

His face turns red, and he stammers, "Cause … well … ."

 

"Yes?"

 

"Forget it."

 

"No. I want to know."

 

"I … I've just always liked to look at guys with an arm or leg missing."

 

"You're a devotee?" They told me in therapy I'd meet a devotee some day, and now I guess I have. I just didn't expect it to be a kid.

 

"I don't know about that, but your stumps are awesome. When we've been swimming I could see how great they look. I … I'd really like to touch them sometime."

 

This blows my mind for a minute. Then I decide he means no harm, he's just curious. "Be glad you have both legs. The lack of mobility kept me from getting the job I trained for and really wanted. I miss being able to move around easily like you wouldn't believe."

 

"I guess." He looks me straight in the eyes. "I wish one of mine was gone. I like to strap my leg up and pretend, but I don't get much chance with mom home most of the time."

 

"How would you play football without it?"

 

He shrugs. "I don't really care. Football is all my dad's idea. He was a jock in college, so he thinks I gotta be one too."

 

He's so serious, I feel sorry for him because I like him. I can understand his frustration at not having privacy to indulge his fantasies. "Tell you what, buddy; my folks don't bother me during working hours, so if you want to use my old crutches to pretend when you're here, it's okay."

 

"For real?"

 

"Yeah. But always ask first."

 

"Oh, wow!" He throws his arms around my neck and comes close to choking me. "I love you, Ty. Can I do it now?"

 

"Too late. Come over tomorrow after school."

 

"Cool, man."

 

When he comes over the next afternoon, he's wearing a pair of those baggy pants I see on a lot of kids. He immediately drops them and uses a belt to strap his right leg up, then pulls his pants back up. I hand him my crutches and watch as he stands up and starts to walk about. I'm surprised at the ease with which he manages and except for the slight bulge his foot makes, he's believable as an amp. I'm surprised at myself for thinking it makes him more attractive.

 

"You've had some practice."

 

He grins. "Anytime I could. I've got a pair of crutches cause I broke my leg when I was twelve. Mom wanted me to leave them when we moved, but I stuck them in a box. I marked the box, so when we got here I told her it was my stuff and took it to my room." He walks around some more, then drops down in the chair again. "I like your crutches a lot better than mine. Mine are wood."

 

"I know the type you use. I have a pair, but these forearm crutches are better. They build some arm muscles, too."

 

"Man, it would be awesome if we could go somewhere where nobody knows us and I could be on crutches."

 

His flights of fancy amaze me. "You're kidding?"

 

"No way. If my foot didn't show, I’d do it in a heartbeat."

 

I'm not particularly fond of going out in public in my chair, even with my legs on. I've gotten much better at using them, but I do owe Tim something for all his help for which I haven't offered to pay him. "Let me think about it, guy."

 

His smile is eager. "Great. My folks are going out of town weekend after next, so I can pretend all I want. I won't have to tell them where I'm going, either. Please, Ty."

 

In my spare time I try to think of ways for him to hide his foot. It's going to depend mostly on how limber he is. When he comes over the next afternoon I have one of the compression socks I used until the swelling in my stumps went down and a belt I've modified to hold his foot flat against his butt.

 

"Okay, stud, let's see if what I've come up with works. Drop your jeans."

 

He does and sits on the edge of my bed with an eager look. I take his foot in my hand and flex it back as far as I can. "Hurt?"

 

He shakes his head. "Trainer at my old school said I was double jointed."

 

"Good." I slip his foot into the padded surround I'd added to the belt and tighten the belt around his waist. Then I roll the well stretched stump sock over his folded leg to hold it firmly. "Okay, pull your jeans up and let's see how you look."

 

Once he's standing, I roll up the jeans leg. He turns around several times, but if his jeans weren't so snug, I'd see nothing to indicate he's not a real amp. "You need those baggy pants you had on the other day, but take a look in the mirror. Looks convincing to me."

 

His smile when he sees his reflection is beautiful. "Man! I can't tell I'm not for real."

 

"Your leg bother you any?"

 

"That sock feels kind of tight, but that's all. I look great!"

 

"You really do. I'm surprised."

 

He swings over and hugs me. "Thanks, Ty. I can't wait till next weekend. Where're we going?"

 

"I know a nice restaurant where I don't think we'll run into anybody will know you. We'll have dinner there."

 

His forlorn look surprises me. "I wish I didn't have to hide like this. I want everybody to see me."

 

I suddenly hope I haven’t got a budding exhibitionist on my hands. "Think of all the questions you'd have to answer if anyone from your school saw you."

 

"I know. They wouldn't want anything to do with me. But, hey, if they knew some other things about me, it would be the same." He looks at me with longing. "I'm glad I got to know you, Ty. You never put me down, and I can trust you."

 

"I like you too much to do something like that. You're a great guy, Tim."

 

The next Friday afternoon Tim comes over nicely dressed in slacks and a blazer. I've graduated to using a cane, so I've told him he can use my crutches. He sheds his blazer and slacks so I can help him with his leg. He can't seem to manage the stump sock properly because it fits so snugly. When he's dressed again, he incredibly good looking. His blond hair is parted in the middle and frames his face, softening some of the angularity. I like the way he stands straight, showing off a nice build.

 

"You're beautiful, stud. Let me get my coat and we'll go."

 

"I wish you weren't using your legs."

 

"And how would a one legged guy help me with my chair?"

 

He grins. "Guess I've got more to learn."

 

Dinner is a big success. He enjoys the looks he gets and whispers to me, "I knew this would be great."

 

"Any stud that looks like you would attract attention, one leg or not."

 

"Oh, man, if this was just for real I'd be the happiest guy around."

 

I can't believe he's as serious as he looks. "You can go back to having both legs, I can't. It isn't all that wonderful when it's real. You should have learned that from all the things you've had to do for me that I can't. Pretending is fine, if you like it, but don't wish for something you'll regret for the rest of your life."

 

"I'm not playing, Ty. I don't feel I'm normal with both legs. I know that might sound funny, but I've done a lot of reading since I met you, and I'm not the only one that feels this way."

 

I shake my head sorry I've encouraged him. "Please don't do anything stupid, Tim."

 

"I won't. But if I can find a way that won't hurt much, I'll do it. I didn't understand my feelings until I met you. You're so damn fantastic looking with no legs."

 

Fortunately, the waiter comes with our dinner so the conversation changes for a while. Tim tells me he plans to major in computer science when he goes to college. Then he grins and adds "I can do that with one leg."

 

"Let it rest, guy. Tonight was for you to find out what it's like, but I think this had better be the last time."

 

He looks startled, then for a moment like he's going to cry. "Why, Ty? I thought you liked me."

 

"I do, Tim. That's why I don't want to encourage you in a foolish dream that would cause you to be handicapped when there's no medical reason, much less put you through the same mental and physical agony I've been through."

 

"But you've never acted like I'm crazy before now."

 

"We all have our dreams and I'd never laugh at you. I just want you to think long and hard about this one."

 

We finish up our dinner, but Tim isn't as animated as before. I'm sorry for that, and I can sympathize because my own dreams were crushed by the accident, but I've had the good fortune to turn a hobby into a profession that has begun to give me a decent income.

 

After we eat, Tim suggests a movie he'd like to see. I've heard it's a good one, so I agree. It turns out to be a comedy with a gay character whose escapades are as hilarious as I was told they were. Tim and I laugh heartily along with the others in the theatre and his good nature seems to have returned.

 

When we're back home, I can hardly wait to get my legs off. Tim gives no indication of leaving, so I strip down to my shorts and T-shirt, and sit on the bed to take my legs off. He hangs up my clothes and when he sees me start to rub my stumps, he comes over and sits on the floor in front of me. "I'll do it."

 

I'd protest, but his hands are so warm they feel good as they massage my stumps gently. I lay back and let him continue. After a few minutes I sit up and look at him. "Thanks, Tim. That really felt good."

 

He wraps his arms around my neck and kisses me. "I've wanted to rub your stumps ever since I first saw you, Ty. I wish I could live with you."

 

"Are you gay, Tim?"

 

He nods. "I was trying to figure out how to tell you, but it never seemed the right time. Do you hate me now?"

 

"I could never hate you, but I'm not going to let this develop into anything because you're too young."

 

"I'm almost eighteen, Ty. What are you? Twenty-two or so?"

 

"I'll be twenty-three in a couple of months."

 

"That's not much difference."

 

"No, but you'll be leaving for college in another year, and you have a home with your parents. I'm a working man. It isn't right."

 

"I wish I was older so we could work together. Please let things go on like they have. I love being around you."

 

I hear him sniffle, so against my better judgement I put my arm around his shoulders. "As long as you want to, but I expect you to make some friends at school and play football next year if that's what you want. You're too young to confine yourself to me, as much help as you've been."

 

He wipes his eyes. "I'll always want to help you, Ty."

 

"And I'll be your friend, but nothing more. Now, get your leg down. You've pretended long enough."

 

He undresses slowly then I help him out of the sock and belt. "What's the matter?" I ask when he tries to stand only to fall back on my bed.

 

"My leg's gone to sleep. Guess I'll have to use your crutches a little longer."

 

"Not so much fun now, is it?"

 

"I don't know. I never had a chance to go this long before, but I like the feeling."

 

I rub his leg to restore the circulation until he's able to walk normally.

 

"I'd better go, The folks might have called. Wish I could stay with you."

 

"I'll see you tomorrow, then. I'm glad we went out together, it was fun."

 

"Sure was." He leans over and kisses me again. "See you tomorrow morning."

 

Watching him leave, I realize just how much I've enjoyed our time together and how much he's come to mean to me.

 

My mother comments about it when I join them for Sunday dinner. "Ty, I realize you don't get out much and I'm glad you have someone to help you, but that young man seems to spend most of his time over here."

 

"He enjoys making models for his train as much as I did. I'm teaching him how and helping him with some of his homework."

 

"Oh. He does seem a nice young man."

 

"He is. I've been paying him a little when he helps me with my work, but he's also very nice about picking up things I need on his way home from school. He doesn't seem to make friends easily, so it's difficult for him. Next year he'll be able to play football again, so I doubt we'll see as much of him."

 

My work picks up so dramatically that I'm rushed, something I don't like. I would have turned down a few jobs, but Tim has become so adept at basic work I let him do that while I do the finish work. I can also increase what I pay him and he seems appreciative of the money. But when we're working together he misses no opportunity to let his hand stroke my stumps.

 

Spring and summer are my busiest times, so the moment school is out for the summer, Tim all but moves in with me. Mom often feeds the both of us. Tim loves that since I let him ride my stairglide up and down. One afternoon when my parents are both out, he pretends, using my crutches to get on and off the glide. "Fun," he says when he comes back down and goes back to work.  Though I've tried to get him to stop pretending, admittedly not very hard because I enjoy seeing him with one leg, he persists.

 

Two weeks before school is to start, he comes in to tell me he'll have less time to work. He's made the football team and practice has started. He makes me promise to come to every game he's to play. When I tell him I don't dare try to get into the bleachers in a crowd, he grins and tells me to come in my chair, and he'll put me on the sideline where I will be able to see better than most.

 

Their first game is at home. I hate football, but I promised him I would go. He's watching for me, and pushes my chair to a spot on the sideline where I can see everything. I admit to feeling a surge of pride when he goes on the field with the others. I'm close enough to the bench to overhear the coach yelling 'Go boy, go," when Tim gets the ball and starts to run. When he crosses the line for a touchdown I struggle to my feet to cheer with the others. After another play or two, the coach sends in a substitute and Tim comes back to the bench. When he passes me I swat him on the butt. "Great playing!" He grins and sits down.

 

We win, and Tim comes over to me, dirty and sweaty. "Stay till I shower and let me ride home with you."

 

"Your parents aren't here?"

 

He shakes his head. "Dad's out of town and mom hates sports."

 

"Okay then, but make it fast."

 

He gives me a grin and sets off towards the gym at a trot.

 

While he's showering, the coach comes out and, seeing me, walks over. "You must be the friend Tim told me about when he asked if you could sit by the bench."

 

"He's my next door neighbor and works for me in his spare time. I'm glad he made the team. I thought he played well."

 

"Unusually so tonight. I asked him why and he said it was because he had a friend watching who cared how well he did."

 

"I do care about him. He's got potential if he'll just use it."

 

"You must do a lot for him, because he's got the best grades of any of my players. Don’t guess you have time to tutor some of the others."

 

"Sorry, but my business has picked up to the point I could use a full time helper. I wish Tim were through with school so I could hire him."

 

"You must be good for him. He don't talk a lot, but when he does it's about you. He's not the same kid I saw when he came here last winter. He don't have much to do with the other guys, though."

 

"He's awfully shy so I don't think he would have much in common with them. It doesn't bother the other players, does it?"

 

He shakes his head. "Not really. I heard one of them say he thought Timmy was queer because he don't go out with the gang or have a steady girl." He grins. "Disappoints a few of the cheerleaders, too."

 

I cross my fingers where the coach can't see I'm about to lie. "Tim's not queer. He's just shy like I said."

 

"Figured that's all there was to it. Didn't know he was working a part-time job with you. No wonder he don't have time to raise hell with them."

 

"Let's split!" Tim says as he comes up.

 

A few of the other team members come out and yell to Tim while he's pushing my chair across the rough field. He yells back in a friendly way.

 

"You were beautiful when you made that touchdown," I tell him on the way home.

 

He puts his arm around my shoulders and squeezes. "Did it for you, Ty. I'm glad you came."

 

"Thanks for the special seat. I need to tell you something though. You've got to keep your ass covered. The coach told me one of the guys thinks you’re gay because you don't hang around with them. I told him you're not and that you've been working for me in your spare time. I expect the coach will tell them about your job if it's mentioned again."

 

He squeezes me again. "Thanks, Ty. You're my only friend."

 

"Only because you don't try to make new ones. They seem willing to accept you."

 

"Who the hell wants to hang around with a bunch of dumb-ass jocks? It's bad enough my old man makes me be one. I'm damn glad I made the team so he doesn't ask what I do with my time. He'd go for the idea I'm getting some pay from you, but he'd piss his pants if he knew I was helping you make models. He yelled enough when I had my trains."

 

"Don't let me cause any problems with your family, buddy."

 

"No way. What he don't know won't hurt him. He didn't even ask when I told him I had a good friend I was spending time with."

 

"I'm glad. I need all the help you give me."

 

"I'm having fun doing it. Makes me feel bad about taking your money though."

 

"Don't feel that way. You're good reliable help and worth more than I can pay you. I'm going to be lost when you leave for college, unless I can find someone else."

 

"We've got this year and the summer before then. I sure wish I wasn't going. I want to stay with you."

 

"Not a chance. We've talked about this before, and you're going to get an education if I have to kick your butt, no legs or no."

 

He begins to snicker. "Be worth staying home just to see you try that."

 

"I'd probably fall on my ass, but my fake foot's harder than a real one and I’d make sure it hurt."

 

"You would, too, wouldn't you?"

 

"Damn right I would. You quit bitching about going, because I intend to see you cross the stage and get your degree."

 

A few weeks later one of my clients comes by to check on a model I'm doing for him. After discussing some last minute changes he's made to the blueprints I'm following, he looks around my workroom then goes over to look at my layout.

 

"This is beautiful. I remember when that area outside of town looked exactly like this."

 

"I worked from photographs and the few buildings still standing when I was building it. I've always liked to model old buildings."

 

He looks at me thoughtfully for a minute. "I'm a trustee of the city museum. Would you be willing to let us have this on loan for the exhibit we've got planned on the history of the town."

 

"I wouldn't want anyone touching it, especially small kids. I've got a lot of time in it, though I'm too busy to work on it much any more."

 

"We could put it behind a plexiglass barrier for protection and use a timer on it so the trains would run for a minute or two when a button is pressed. Is it movable?"

 

"I built it in modular sections, so that's not a problem."

 

"We're insured heavily for items on loan. I'll find some professional to move it."

 

"In that case I'll loan it to the museum, but it will have to be on a weekend when I'm not busy. I have a young man who will help and I'll supervise both the removal and the installation."

 

"Wonderful! The director will be delighted. I'll get the curator to come see it and work out a protective barrier with you."

 

Everything goes into overdrive, and two weeks later my layout is moved to the museum. Fortunately there's no game scheduled for Friday night and Tim is able to help. He's excited at the thought of my layout being where people can see it. He has to leave before I finish the final check of everything, which pleases me because I have a surprise for him. As a training exercise, I had him model a small barn I'd never gotten around to doing. His work was so good it compares favorably with some of my later work, so I brought it to place in the one spot I intended to put it when I found time to build it.

 

The special opening of the exhibit is for Sunday afternoon and I insist that Tim come with me. I had his picture taken with me by the photographer of the local paper to accompany the article on the exhibit and my layout.

 

We arrive at the museum a few minutes early so I can show my parents and Tim the final result. "Notice anything new on the layout, Tim?"

 

He looks it over, then his mouth drops open. "That's the barn I made!"

 

"Sure is. It deserves to be there." I point to one of the small cards attached to the case to tell the history of each building. "You're credited with making it."

 

"Oh, wow! I made something good enough to be in a museum. Thanks, Ty."

 

"Don't thank me. You did good work, don't you think so, dad?"

 

He often joined me on my rambles when I was younger. "I'd say you trained this young man very well. I knew that barn well and it's looks just as I remember it."

 

The exhibit opens to a large crowd. Tim stands beside my chair. I'm using it because I know I can't stand for the entire opening. Just for this occasion, I'm

controlling the trains myself, instead of the automatic control I installed for public use.

 

I sense Tim straighten and look up to see his coach coming our way with a boy I figure is his son. The kid's about eight.

 

"Tim, what are you doing here?" He asks.

 

"Helping Ty. This is his layout."

 

"Nice work. I remember a few of those buildings."

 

"Hold me up so I can see, daddy," his son demands.

 

He lifts him and begins to read the cards that tell the history of each building. When he reaches the one about the barn, he looks surprised. "I didn't know you built models, Tim."

 

"Not many. Ty had me build that one when he was teaching me to help him."

 

"No wonder you don't have time to hang around with the guys. You did a nice job on it. It's going to be a surprise to the others when I tell 'em to come see how you spend your time."

 

Tim shrugs. "It's not that much. I build the basic models for Ty and he does the rest. He's done some really big stuff. That's his job."

 

"Still, I'm surprised you're good enough to have something here. That was a good article in the paper, too. I cut it out to put on the bulletin board."

 

Tim blushes. "You shouldn't have done that."

 

"I may be a coach, but I like to see my guys doing something besides playing ball. I'm proud of you, and of your grades, too."

 

"Thanks, sir."

 

"I never expected to see him here," Tim says after the coach has moved on.

 

"I'm glad he came and saw your work. That'll help convince him you're not …" I wink at him, "you know."

 

Tim smiles. "Yeah. I hadn't thought of that."

 

A few minutes before closing I hear Tim catch his breath and look up to see a nicely dressed couple coming toward us.

 

"What are you doing here, Timmy?" The man asks.

 

"Hi, dad. This is Ty. I came to help him with the exhibit."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because he asked me to. He lives next door to us and I've been working for him ever since we moved. Ty, this is my mother and father."

 

"How do you do, Mr. Curtis, Mrs. Curtis. You have a fine talented son."

 

He gives me a look of disgust. "Still wasting his time with toys."

 

The curator has come over to join us, but he hasn't said anything until now. "None of these pieces are toys. Everything in this display is an accurate scale model of a building as it was some years ago. Mr. Wolf has kindly loaned us his layout as the centerpiece of our exhibit." He points to the barn. "Only someone of Mr. Wolf's skill or someone he's trained, as he has your son, could do work of this quality. You should be proud of your son's accomplishments."

 

"I didn't know Timmy had enough skill to do this kind of work," his mother replies.

 

"Very few people have the skill and patience it takes. Your son would make an excellent curator of exhibits with proper study. This museum would be happy to have him on staff if he were to make it his major in college."

 

"And work for a pittance," his father snaps. "I intend to see him do far better. Let's go," he says to his wife.

 

The curator shakes his head as Tim's parents walk off. "I meant it, Tim. You're talented. I wish your father realized just how much."

 

"Thanks, sir. He doesn't like much of anything I do, but Ty makes me feel good when I do something well."

 

"You’re fortunate to have a friend like Mr. Wolf. Thank you for helping us and contributing to our exhibit. It's closing time, so join me in the founders hall and have a drink with us."

 

I had been invited earlier but I know Tim hadn't, so I can't resist teasing him a little. "We're really being honored, guy. This is a first for me, too. Founders are people who give fifty grand or more each year to the museum. It's a small closed group."

 

"Swanky, huh?"

 

"More so than Lakes Country Club, kid."

 

Tim's eyes get huge. "Wow! My old man was pissed as hell when they wouldn't let him join."

 

"And you'll meet most of them in a few minutes. Got one up on your old man, haven't you?"

 

"I sure hope he don't find out about this. Maybe I better not go."

 

"Nonsense. I'm going to need you with me, because I'm going to be standing." I really won't need him, but I don't want him to miss out, especially if the society reporter from the paper is present.

 

Tim insists on pushing my chair into the lounge so my entrance is as graceful as he can make it. As we enter, we get a round of applause started by the curator who introduces us. There's a flurry of greetings from most of those present, and several praise Tim for his work, expressing surprise at his youth. He takes it with such grace and manners I can tell he's making a good impression. I allow him to have one glass of champagne, pleased to see him sip at it so slowly. I get involved in conversation with a couple of local historians, while Tim is spoken to at length by several people.

 

When we're finally headed home, he says, "So that's high society. Don't think I want much of that."

 

"Didn't you enjoy yourself?"

 

"It was nice to try one time, but I like being with you a lot better. I don't go for all this party stuff."

 

"Nor do I. But it was nice to be included and I think I made a few good business contacts. One or two of them have built homes from the models we made."

 

"So that's how they knew who I was. I didn't know you put my name with yours on the models we built."

 

"Of course I did. You deserve credit for your work. Some of these people are  detail freaks, nothing gets past them. I guess that's why they're so rich."

 

Tim shakes his head. "You're blowing me away, man."

 

"Enjoy your moment of fame, kid. It doesn't come along that often."

 

He grins at me. "If I ever get rich, I'm gonna get you to design my house, and I'm going to help."

 

"That one will be for free; just for old times sake."

 

"I really love you, Ty. That house is going to have a special suite of rooms just for you."

 

I have to grin. "Better make that first million fast, cause it'll have to be something extra special to get me to move away from home."

 

"Don't think I'm not gonna try."

 

When he comes over the next evening carrying a newspaper, he's grinning from ear to ear. "Boy is my old man pissed! You seen the paper yet?"

 

"No. He's not mad at you is he?"

 

"Oh, hell no. This." He holds out the paper. Half the front page is taken up by a lengthy article on the exhibit and the reception. One of the pictures shows Tim talking with the wealthiest man in the area. I can clearly see why his father is so jealous.

 

"What did he say?"

 

"Said he still thought it was all a lot of shit, but if it got me in with people Iike this I'd better spend more time with you."

 

He throws the paper down and grabs me in a hug. "You're the best, Ty. No wonder I love you."

 

I return his hug. "I love you too, guy, but don't let this go to your head."

 

He backs off and grins. "If I do, legs or not you'll kick my tail, won’t you?"

 

"You know it. Now settle down and do your homework."

 

"Okay."

 

He's even happier when he comes in from school the next day. It seems the publicity has given him a certain notoriety around school and he's milking it for all he's worth. Damn! From a shy kid to a teen idol overnight. I may have helped create a monster here.

 

"And how many of those invitations are you going to accept?" I ask when he finishes his recitation.

 

"None." He grins. "Playing hard to get. But they won't ever know the real reason why. It's fun, though."

 

At the next football game I attend, I see Tim surrounded by groupies, even being treated with a little deference by his fellow players. The coach plays him the entire game, so it's a weary Tim who walks off the field after the game to cheers from the crowd. He deserves them for making three touchdowns.

 

Despite my insistence that he go, he doesn't participate in the after game party, but comes home with me and drops down in the chair he's claimed as his own.

 

"Can I have a beer, Ty?"

 

"I think you deserve one after the way you played tonight. I'll join you."

 

"This is a lot better than the party. I'm glad I didn’t go."

 

"I hate to see you miss out on all the fun, Tim."

 

"What fun? A bunch of silly girls trying to make out with a bunch of guys with no better sense. I wish you'd let me …"

 

I cut him off quickly, knowing what's coming. "We agreed that's not an option when you started coming over here. I'm sorry, but that's the way it's going to be."

 

"Shit! I love you so much, Ty."

 

"I love you, too, stud, but I'm not taking advantage of you."

 

"Yeah." He finishes his beer with a disappointed look and after giving me a kiss, goes home to bed.

 

Orders start to pour in. Though he works every spare minute with me, Tim and I can't keep up. I place an ad in the paper for an experienced model builder. I get two replies, but neither of them demonstrates work of the quality I demand. I'm bitching about it to Tim when he says, "I think I know a kid at school could help. You want me to talk to him?"

 

"Yes, but I want to see something he's built. You know enough by now to tell whether I'll be interested."

 

"Sure thing."

 

"The next afternoon he shows up followed by a small decent looking kid. "Ty this is Aaron. I think you're gonna like what you see. Show him, Aaron."

 

From the shopping bag he's carrying, he takes out a small house he's built. I can tell instantly it was not a kit he put together. "Good work, Aaron. Tim tell you about my work."

 

He smiles for the first time. He's even shyer than Tim was. "Yes, sir. I went to the museum to see your layout. It's beautiful."

 

"How would you feel about helping Tim and me out. I can pay you a little more than you'd get at McDonalds or some place like that, and you'll work only in your spare time and weekends. Your grades have to stay up, too."

 

"Yes, sir. I'd like to try."

 

"Good. You get him started, Tim. I've got to finish this one fast."

 

Later I take a look at Aaron's work. He's slow, but seeing the quality, I know he'll be able to work faster after a few hours of training. I tell him he's hired and I'll expect him each day after school and on Saturdays. He gives me a shy smile when he leaves.

 

"Can I pick 'em or what?" Tim asks.

 

"You done good, kid. Let's go get something to eat."

 

"Where we going?"

 

"I don't care, but I thought we might go to a small restaurant I like."

 

He grins. "I wanta go on crutches tonight."

 

"In that case, we can go back to the restaurant we went to before."

 

"Let's hit McDonalds or some place like that and bring it back here. I'd rather go out to the restaurant Friday night, cause I want to take Aaron with us."

 

"Why?"

 

"He's gay and he catches a lot of shit about it at school, so he don't have nothing to do with anybody."

 

"Then how'd you know he did models?"

 

"I saw him in the library one day looking at a model building magazine, so I asked him. Poor kid took one look at me and started shaking like he was scared to death, but he told me he did. When you asked me to find somebody, I asked him if he was interested and told him I'd have to see his work first. He took me home with him and showed me his layout. It's not big as yours, but it looks really good."

 

"I think you picked a good man, but why do you want to take him with us?"

 

"I feel sorry for him. I'd be in the same fix if I hadn't gotten to know you."

 

"So?"

 

Tim gives me a little smile. "Well, he's kind of cute."

 

"Whoa, boy. I asked you to find me a helper. If you've got any ideas about having an affair with Aaron, it's not going to be here."

 

Tim sticks his tongue out at me. "You know I wouldn't do that."

 

"I should hope not. I'm trying to run a business, not a dating service."

 

"Even if it does happen, Aaron won't ever be as much to me as you."

 

"Why?"

 

Tim grins. "He doesn't have a stump."

 

"Is that all that turns you on, kid?"

 

"No, but yours sure do."

 

"Down, boy. Get your leg up and let's go."

 

I never thought I'd enjoy seeing anybody pretend, especially after my accident, but Tim's so happy doing it, it would be a cruel to deny him the pleasure. He looks good, too.

 

After we've gotten our burgers and eaten them, I tell Tim it's time to quit pretending and to go home.

 

"Why? I'm having fun."

 

"You've got homework to do, and I'm keeping you busy tomorrow."

 

"Okay, boss." He gives me a quick kiss and is out the door before I can say anything else.

 

Damn, I wish I could give the kid what he wants, but I've too much pride for that, and I can't afford anything that might wreck my now prosperous business. 

 

Both boys show up immediately after school the next day and set to work. Tim stops several times to show Aaron how to do something, but Aaron seems less shy and quickly picks up on what Tim and I tell him. By time to quit they both present me with basic models ready to be finished. Aaron surprises me by asking if he can watch me work sometime.

 

"Sure. I think there's a couple more for you and Tim to do, but after you've finished those you can watch me complete one of them."

 

"Thanks, sir. I'll see you tomorrow."

 

"You'd better. It's payday."

 

He and Tim finish up the models quickly, since they're simpler than most. I pay them for their work and Tim leaves for football practice, but Aaron moves a chair next to mine and watches as I start completing the model he's just finished.

 

When I have some trouble putting a tiny piece in place, he asks, "Can I try, sir?"

 

"Please. I'm tired."

 

With his long slender fingers he has the piece in place easily. "This is more fun than what I've been doing."

 

"Do you like working with Tim and me?"

 

"Oh, yes, sir. I don't have much else to do."

 

"Then if you want, I'll teach you how to do what I'm doing, but I expect perfect work. These models are my living and they're used by architects and other professional people so they must be precisely finished, just like the real house will be."

 

He nods. "Maybe I'd better learn more before I try. It's gluing the pieces together that's hardest for me. I'm sorry I messed that one up the other day."

 

"You had to learn to be careful, so don't sweat it. Cyanoacrylate is tough to work with because it dries so fast, but it's the best for models."

 

Aaron comes in earlier than Tim the next day. He's grinning when he holds out something for me to see. "I went by the hobby shop last night and the guy showed me this. It's just come in."

 

I pick up something resembling a ballpoint pen and remove the cap. The tip is a fine point, little more than a fine gauge wire. "What is it?"

 

"Glue pen, sir. It's cyanoacrylate. You just put the tip where you want glue and push on it easy. A real tiny drop comes out. Try it."

 

I do and it's everything he said. This is going to be not only useful in keeping him from making heavy glue joints, but will speed things along as well.

 

"This is great, Aaron. If you've got your bike, how about running down to the shop right now and getting me a half dozen of them."

 

"Yes, sir!" I hand him some money and he takes off.

 

"Where's Ace?" Tim asks when he comes in.

 

"Ace?"

 

"You know. Aaron. He likes to be called Ace."

 

"I sent him to the hobby shop to get some glue pens. Now get to work, guy."

 

"Yes, sir, boss." But he can't resist stroking my stumps a time or two before going to his work. Though he knows Aaron is gay, he's never personal with me if he's around.

 

Teaching Tim and me how to use the glue pens seems to give Aaron new confidence in himself. He grins when Tim hugs him and says, "I told Ty I found a real winner when I found you. Let's get to work."

 

"There's nothing for you to do right now, but you can watch me finish up this one, if you want."

 

"I've got early practice this afternoon, so I'll shove off," Tim says.

 

"I'll stay," Aaron replies.

 

Once again, Aaron's thin fingers are useful. I let him do some of the work while watching him carefully. I'm pleased with him when he removes a piece and trims it carefully to make a perfect fit.

 

I pat him on the back. "Good job, Ace."

 

His look of happiness is genuine. "Thank you, sir."

 

"It's time you started calling me Ty, Ace. Are you getting any static from your folks about working for me?"

 

"No, sir. My dad's glad I'm doing something."

 

"Good. I'm tired. Would you like to get in the pool with me?"

 

"I don't have my trunks, sir."

 

My mother never throws anything away, so I'm betting she has a pair of my old trunks somewhere. I phone upstairs, and a few minutes later she comes down with a pair for Ace. "I think these will fit you," she says as she hands them to him.

 

Being in the water really relaxes me, and Ace is splashing around in the shallow end. It's a genuinely happy kid I send home a little later.

 

I have a phone call later that evening from Chicago. A museum of history wants me to bid on a model of a big turn-of-the-century mansion that's to be razed in another month. I'd love the job, but it will involve a trip there. After explaining my limited mobility and the help I'd need as reasons for refusing, the caller tells me to bring an assistant. He assures me that our housing and meals will be taken care of by the museum, as will the plane tickets. I ask his number and tell him I'll call back no later than the next afternoon.

 

I call Tim to come over. When I tell him about the trip, he points out that the school will be on spring break. He's excited about going, and asks if we can take Ace as well.

 

"They're only paying for two and I need somebody your size to help me, but I'd really like both you guys to see the miniature rooms at the Art Institute. I want to see them myself. The pictures of them are gorgeous."

 

"Would it cost that much more for Ace to go? I mean we could share a room and all."

 

"I can ask. Tell Ace to get over here soon as school's out."

 

Aaron appears the next afternoon accompanied by a thin anemic looking man he introduces as his father.

 

"I came along to see what Aaron was telling me about your wanting to take him to Chicago."

 

"Have a seat, Mr. Williamson. As Aaron probably told you, I'm a professional builder of architectural models. I also do an occasional piece for a museum. I've been asked to come to Chicago to bid on a job, but unless I have some help I can't go and I'll lose any chance at a commission."

 

"Anybody else going?"

 

"Tim Curtis who lives next door and works for me along with Aaron. He's a high school senior, so Aaron won't be alone."

 

"What's it going to cost?"

 

"Nothing beyond a little pocket money for the guys. This is a professional trip, so the museum is picking up our expenses." I figure it's better not to tell him I'll be paying for Aaron to go along.

 

"Please, dad. I really want to go."

 

"I particularly want you to go, Aaron. The Art Institute has some superb miniatures you should see if you want to learn finish work." I say.

 

Mr. Williamson looks surprised. "You're making this an educational trip, too?"

 

"I wouldn't let an opportunity like this pass, especially considering Aaron's interest in models."

 

Just then Tim comes dashing in. "I can go, Ty! Hi, Ace, you going, too?"

 

"I hope. That's why my dad's here."

 

Aaron's dad looks at the size of Tim in amazement, while I introduce them. Then he looks at Aaron. "Since Mr. Wolf is going to use the trip to teach you something and you'll have this big fellow with you, I'm glad for you to have this opportunity. I'd never be able to take you there myself."

 

Ace hugs his dad. "Thanks a lot. I really want to go."

 

"I'll be calling the museum a little later this evening, so I'll call you the minute I have the information about flights and all that. The guys are going to need a blazer and some good slacks in addition to several pair of jeans. The house we're to visit has been abandoned for some time now, so I expect it'll be dirty working."

 

"You're sure Aaron won't be in the way?"

 

"Not at all. Tim is going to need help making the measurements I'll need, and Aaron knows how to do that."

 

Williamson stands. "I want to thank you for this, Mr. Wolf. I don't get much chance to spend any time with Aaron and he's been lonely. Since he's been helping you, he's a changed boy. His grades are going up, too. He told me you've been helping him."

 

"If a young man is going to work with me, I insist he make good grades."

 

"I wish there were more people like you. Let's go, son."

 

"Call me when you know about the trip, Ty. I'm gonna start getting ready tonight."

 

When they've gone, Tim hugs me. "Thanks a lot, Ty. I'm gonna like having Ace along, and I know he's really excited about going."

 

"You really like him, don't you?"

 

"Yeah. He's still shy, but he's a lot of fun once you get to know him. I've already busted a couple of asses at school for calling him fag boy."

 

"I'm glad you're being nice to him. You're a great guy."

 

"Naa. Just hate to see him picked on. Could be me if anybody knew." He flexes his muscles and grins. "If they dared."

 

Someone must have put in a good word for me, because when I return the call to the museum, they say they'll be happy to pick up the plane fare for Aaron as well. I ask them to book a double room at the Hilton for us because it's only a few blocks from the Art Institute.

 

Both boys are thrilled to be taking their first flight. Tim kindly gives Aaron the window seat on the flight up, saying he'll take it coming back, but both have their noses glued to the window. "The whole world's a miniature," Aaron exclaims. I'm glad it's a clear sunny day so they can see.

 

We wait until most of the passengers have deplaned, then Tim gets my chair and pushes me into the terminal. I hear my name being paged and direct Tim to the information counter. A distinguished gray haired man is waiting for us, a uniformed chauffeur beside him. When he introduces himself, I know this is the gentleman with whom I had spoken on the phone.

 

He leads us out to a limo while the chauffeur is getting our luggage. "I do appreciate your making this trip, especially with your problem walking, but I see that Tim is quite large enough to take care of your needs."

 

"He's a very valuable assistant as is Aaron. With their help, we can have the survey of the mansion done in two days at most."

 

His eyebrows raise. "I'm not sure you realize how large it is."

 

"These young men work hard and waste no time. I want to finish up early enough to take them to see the Thorne rooms at the Art Institute. They'll enjoy seeing them."

 

"Then I'll make an appointment with the director to give you a private tour. He's a friend of mine."

 

"Please don't bother him. We can visit during regular hours."

 

"Indeed not. It's no trouble at all and I'm delighted to find two young men interested in the arts. Would you like to see the place now, or wait until tomorrow morning to start?"

 

I glance at my watch, it's only a little after eleven their time. "If it's not inconvenient, I see no need to waste half a day. We can change at the hotel, grab a bite of lunch, and go to work."

 

I'm surprised to see our host nod. "I was informed you're the best applicant for the job. I like a man who is ready to go to work. We'll eat in the Oak Room and as soon as you've changed after that, I'll have Martin drive you to the house. I'll catch a cab to my office after lunch and leave Martin with you. He will bring you back to the hotel at any time you wish."

 

"That's very kind of you. Is the electricity on?"

 

He nods. "For the duration of visits by the applicants. You will appreciate that there is an elevator in the house. We've had it checked out, so it's safe for you to use."

 

The boys remain quiet during lunch, Ace seeming a bit awed by the surroundings, while Mr. Ammons and I talk about the proposed model. As soon as we've finished eating, the boys and I go up to change. Our room is not a double as I had asked, but a small suite.

 

Tim looks around. "I could get used to this," he says with a grin.

 

"Don't bother. Enjoy your three days of luxury, because that's all we're gonna get."

 

He gives an aggrieved look. "What luxury, when we gotta work?"

 

"This is a working trip, that's why you're along. But you and Ace get a private bedroom, a whirlpool bath, and a little sightseeing, so quit whining."

 

"Yeah. So let's go look at this dump everybody thinks is a treasure."

 

The mansion is on south Lake Shore Drive in an area that was once home to the ultra rich, but has deteriorated into a miserable slum. A few signs of renovation are underway, but it's quickly obvious that a house occupying a full city block is one no one could afford to maintain this day and time.

 

Martin says nothing when he pulls out a large set of keys and opens the huge once beautifully carved front door, and switches on the few working lights. With his jacket open, I'm startled to see he's packing a lethal looking pistol. He moves into the front rooms and begins to open the heavy faded drapes to let in light.

 

"Okay guys, pull your eyeballs back in and let's get to work." I get Tim set with my camera, and tell Ace to help me measure the few areas that have been changed from the original blueprints the museum was fortunate to get from the building inspector's old files and copied.

 

We work steadily until Martin who has been watching carefully, clears his throat. "I believe it would be best if we leave now, sir." There's still a little light, but his tone leaves no choice. I have a feeling he's wanting to leave the area before dark. I tell him we'll be ready to return at eight o'clock tomorrow morning.

 

The three of us get some odd looks as we enter the hotel for we're grubby from our excursion. The boys kindly let me have the first bath. When I enter the bathroom, I'm glad I have Tim along, because the room is not handicapped equipped.

 

He grins broadly when I call him to help me in the tub. "Now I get to see your awesome bod. Want me to wash you?"

 

"I think I can manage that alone, thank you. Now get out of here and let me have some privacy."

 

"Aw, I was hoping."

 

"No Santa Claus here, stud. Scat. I'll call you when I'm good and ready."

 

I love the way the kid accepts me, but I'm determined to maintain our hands off policy. What he and Ace decide to do together is up to them.

 

Our dinner is relaxed and excellent, but by the time we've eaten I see both boys stifling yawns. "Okay guys, we've had a long day, so off to bed with all of us. You can watch TV in your room for a while if you want, but I want you bright and shining at seven tomorrow morning."

 

"Slave driver," Tim says.

 

"If you were a slave, I'd sell your sorry ass and get one that didn't bitch so much."

Ace looks startled for a moment then grins. "And no comments from you either," I tell him.

 

"No, sir."

 

"Then see if you can convince that muscle bound ape beside you that he's never had it so good before." 

 

There's no one else in the elevator with us, so Ace punches Tim on the arm. Tim puts his arms around Ace, lifts him clear of the floor, and kisses him soundly. Ace looks over at me, his face turning red.

 

"Don't pay him no mind," Tim says. "He's cool."

 

The clean jeans and T-shirts we put on for work the next morning attract some glances, especially when Martin pulls up in the limo and we pile in. Tim starts to fold my chair, but Martin takes it from him and places it in the trunk.

 

Ace and I are finishing up the back part of the first floor when we hear Tim yell, "Wow! Look at this!"

 

This is the one room on this floor left to examine. It must have been the music room, because Tim is standing in front of a huge organ console. I'm not surprised there is one in a house of this age and size. I explain that it was a common feature in the homes of the rich in the early part of this century, though it's the first one I've seen.

 

"How does it work?" Ace asks.

 

"The same as any pipe organ, but it also has a player." I lift the music rack so he can see the mechanism. There's a roll still on the player. Ace asks if he can try to get it running, saying they have a player piano at home. I glance at Martin who nods, so we search for the switch. There's a rumble from the cellar as the blower starts, then Ace figures out how to start the roll.

 

The music is a typical popular piece from the period and the instrument is badly out of tune, but I'm as fascinated as the boys. As soon as the roll is finished playing, I shut the organ off. "Break time's over guys; get to work. We need to measure this console and see what type of grill covers the pipes. Take pictures from every angle, Tim."

 

"Why?"

 

"The model is to be as accurate as possible, so this has to be included."

 

"Wonder what they're going to do with this when they tear the place down?" Ace asks.

 

"It will be trashed with everything else," Martin says. "The boss said it's too expensive to move and rebuild."

 

"That's a shame; this is a real part of history. Not many left, I suppose." I say.

 

"It's a pity to tear down a place like this, sir, but nobody can afford a house like this anymore."

 

With concentrated effort, and sending Martin out for burgers and fries for our lunch, we complete our survey of all three floors. The elevator creaks and groans alarmingly, but delivers me safely each time. When Martin says we should leave, only the cellar remains for us to explore. As he's driving us to the street, I look at the overgrown garden and decide I should include the overall design as a setting for the model. I know the measurements overall, so getting each section to scale will be no problem. The only way I can see the entire garden at once is from the air.

 

"Martin, is there a possibility I can rent a helicopter so I can take a few overall pictures of the garden?"

 

I'm surprised when he smiles. "I believe that's all arranged, sir. You're the first to ask, though. Mr. Ammons will be very pleased that you're so thorough. At what time?"

 

"What about after lunch tomorrow? We should finish up the cellar easily in the morning."

 

"Very good, sir. There's a landing strip on the lakefront, so you won't have to go to the airport. I'll ask Mr. Ammons to arrange the time."

 

 

Tim helps me in the helicopter, then he and Ace watch enviously as we take off. The chopper is a two-seat job, so they can't go along. The pilot is excellent and the wind is absent for a change, so he's able to hover over the garden from several angles while I get the shots I want. It's a little over an hour when we return.

 

After we grab a bath, Martin takes us to the Art Institute, where we're met by the director. He's delighted the boys are interested in the miniature rooms, giving us far more information about them than is in the book. I had intended buying a copy, but he insists on giving each of us one.

 

Mr. Ammons invites us to dinner at his club. He beams when he looks at me. "I knew you were the proper choice to build our model," he says. "You're the only applicant to consider the garden as a part of the complete model. I can tell you with confidence that you will be chosen if my word carries any weight with the board, and I assure you it does."

 

"That's very kind of you to say. I'm delighted, of course, but no less with the kindness with which the boys and I have been received. I was as delighted as they with the tour the director gave us."

 

"My pleasure. You have extraordinary assistants. I hope they will continue their education."

 

"I believe that's their plan. May I ask if you will have the model furnished when it's completed?"

 

"Indeed we will. We have photographs of most of the furnishings and are having them reproduced to scale. I was surprised to find it easier to find makers of scale furniture than builders of architectural models. You will find a complete list of requirements for the model in the information packet I've left at the hotel desk for you. The only problem I anticipate is the lighting. We'd like as many fixtures as possible to be functional. The fixtures and lamps are already at hand, but you will have to wire them. After hearing of your model railway, I can't imagine that will be a problem for you."

 

"I'll do my best."

 

"The packet of information I left for you includes a catalogue from the best source of miniature bulbs we could find."

 

"Thank you. They can be difficult to obtain."

 

He smiles at all of us. "If you are awarded the contract, I shall expect all of you to be present at the opening of the exhibit. Do plan to spend a few days at that time so we can take the boys to the Museum of Science and Industry. I'm certain they will find something there to interest them, and one day is hardly sufficient to see it all."

 

"I've always wanted to see it," Ace cries.

 

"Excellent. I'll look forward to seeing you again."

 

Our trip home is good. The day is clear except for one small set of clouds, so Tim and Ace have their noses planted against the window again. It's been fun, but also tiring for me. I spend my time reading over the specifications for the model. It's going to be the biggest job I've ever tackled, so I'm praying the boys won’t desert me. I know if we're not well toward completion by September it will be hard because Tim will be leaving for college. I can manage the finishing with Ace's help, because he has one more year of high school.

 

My dad meets us at the airport. The boys excitedly telling him of our trip while we wait for our luggage. When he drops Ace off at home, Ace hugs Tim and tells him he'll see him later.

 

Tim helps me out when we get home. When dad hands him his suitcase, I tell him, "Okay, guy, take your stuff home. You've got one more day before school starts again, so if you want to take it off that's fine. I'll start working on the estimate I've got to submit."

 

"I'll see. Probably come over, though. Not much else to do." He suddenly hugs me. "Thanks for taking me along. I had a blast. Man, that place was something."

 

Dad leaves me to unpack, but I lay down and get a nap. I work that evening on the estimate until I'm bleary-eyed, then fall into bed.

 

To my surprise, it's Ace who knocks on my door early. I'm awake, but barely, having just poured my first cup of coffee. I wheel over and let him in.

 

"What are you doing here so early?"

 

He gives me a puzzled look. "Early? It's almost ten, sir."

 

"Damn it, Ace, I've told you my name is Ty, so why do you persist in calling me sir?"  For some reason it bugs me this morning.

 

He drops his head. "I'm sorry, Ty. It's just that my dad makes me say sir to him and anybody older than me."

 

I now regret jumping him on so trivial a matter, but I tend to be a morning grouch until after a cup of coffee. "I'm not criticizing you, Ace. It's just that I thought we were friends."

 

"We are. I like you a lot, Ty."

 

"Good. I worked longer than I should have last night. Why don't you take a look at the list of stuff I've laid out for the model, and see if you spot anything I've missed. I want Tim to look at it as well. I can't afford any mistakes on something large as this project." While I'd rather Tim be looking at it since he has more experience with model building, Ace will be better at checking projected cost as he's good in math.

 

The trip seems to have impressed Ace with the seriousness of my work, because he sits down and spends over an hour studying the list, while I work on additional needs. When he looks up, he says, "I guess you aren't finished with this, but you haven't included wire and a power pack for the lights, and if you're going to include the organ pipes, why don't you let me make them from dowel rods? You'll have to buy them, too."

 

"Good thinking, Ace. I hadn't gotten far along enough to think of those, but I wouldn't have thought of the organ pipes until I was nearly finished. Thanks a lot, buddy."

 

He grins. "I want you to get this job, cause I want to help you build it."

 

"I'm sure I'll need those long fingers of yours, but you're going to have other things to do when school is out for the summer."

 

He shakes his head and looks downcast. "Not much. Tim's the only friend I've got besides you. I like the way you don't laugh at me when I make a suggestion. You treat me like an adult and don't put me down because I'm gay. That means a lot."

 

"You're a lot more mature than most of the other kids, that's why I'm glad Tim found you. You're a good worker, too."

 

"Thanks, Ty." He jumps up and hugs me.

 

That afternoon Tim comes over. I tell both boys I won't need them until the next Saturday morning, when I want them to check over my work to see if they can spot anything I've missed, just as Ace did, then all three of us jump in the pool for some relaxed fun.

 

I spend the entire week in deep concentration. The model, being quarter inch scale, will require far more materials than I had thought. My estimated costs, even at wholesale prices, come to a little over four thousand. Counting the amount of time I estimate it will take to build, even with the boys' help, there's no way I can make the bid less than thirty and come out ahead.

 

Tim's eyes bug when he looks at the cost figures. "Wow, man! Nothing I ever built cost this much."

 

"It wasn't as detailed as this, nor used as many types of materials."

 

"What you gonna soak 'em for?"

 

"Sorry, guy. My prices are confidential information. This is the way I make my living."

 

He has the grace to look chagrinned. "I know better than to ask something like that, but this is so special since we saw the real thing and all. Sorry, Ty."

 

"Forget it, Tim. I can promise that you and Ace will be paid proportionally to your help, if you want to work on this with me."

 

"You know we do, man. Hey, I've been working on a diorama since I had to leave my layout behind. Wanna see it?"

 

"Very much. Can you bring it over?"

 

He shakes his head. "Too big for that, but you can come over to my house, can't you? There's some stairs to the cellar, but I'll help you if you put on your legs."

 

I'm curious enough to want to see if he's put into practice what he's learned from working with me. "Okay, just for you."

 

He watches in fascination as I struggle into my legs, helping only when I ask him to pull my jeans up. I could do it, but I'm hoping he'll learn enough from this to discourage his wanting to be an amputee. But darn him, he doesn't miss the chance to feel me up. I slap his hand lightly. "I thought we agreed there'd be none of that."

 

He smiles. "Always hoping. You're a turn on, Ty."

 

"What am I going to do with you? I thought you and Ace had something going."

 

His smile turns into a grin. "He's a good guy, but he don't have a stump for me to love. It's mean of you to have two and not let me love 'em."

 

"You should be so lucky. I'm not messing with jail-bait."

 

"Me?" He asks with mock innocence.

 

"You! Even if you were eighteen, I'd think two or three times before I'd let you make indecent advances on my bod."

 

"Nothing indecent about loving a guy."

 

"I didn't say there was, it's a matter of difference in our ages."

 

He shakes his head. "Must be awful to get old."

 

"Old!" I swat him hard on the butt. "It's you little kids cause all the problems."

 

"Geez, you sound like my old man. Let's go."

 

Seeing his diorama is worth the effort it's taken me. It's as super detailed as any I've ever built, but his trees are the most realistic I've ever seen anywhere.

 

"Where'd you learn to make trees like those?"

 

"Like 'em?"

 

"They're beautiful! I want you to start making trees for the model the minute I get the contract."

 

He looks surprised. "They're that good?"

 

"Never seen better, guy. You've done great work." I wave my hand toward his diorama. "This is as good as mine will ever be. Sure you don't want to get into the business?"

 

"No way. Takes too much time."

 

"You will do them for me, won't you?"

 

He gives me that evil grin again. "Any fringe benefits if I do?"

 

I know what he means. "Damn, kid! Is that all you ever think about?"

 

"A guy like me's gotta have some dreams."

 

"Dream on, stud." I start to change the subject then I'm irritated with myself for being so stupid. "Tim, come over tonight after supper. I think I can show you something will keep you happy."

 

"Like what?"

 

"You'll find out tonight. Now I'd better get back and fax that bid to Mr. Ammons."

 

I've hardly eaten when Tim is in my workroom. "What is it I'm going to see?"

 

I wheel over to my computer and close the spreadsheet I'm using to keep track of the costs of materials I'll use for the model and get on-line. The boys understood from the beginning they are not to touch my computer.

 

One of my college roommates was a websurfer and showed me two sites, one with pictures of actual amputees, and another of e-surgery done by a talented college student. Though he bookmarked them for me, I have never gone to either site since. Tim's eyes bug out when I bring up the second site.

 

"Wow! Are these for real?" He points to one picture. "That guy's on TV, so I know damn well he's got both legs. How's he got only one here?

 

"Doctored pictures. If you send this guy a picture, he'll 'amputate' your leg for you."

 

"Can you do that?"

 

"Change a picture, or send him one?"

 

"I don't care which. Man I gotta see how I'll look with one leg!"

 

"Don't you have a computer and scanner?"

 

He shakes his head. "Got a computer and a printer, but that's all."

 

"Go get a picture of yourself and I'll scan it for you and send it in."

 

He gives me one of his stranglehold hugs and a kiss. "Be right back."

 

The picture he hands me is very sharply focused. He's wearing a Speedo and nothing else. He watches me scan it, then attach it to an e-mail request that his right leg be 'amputated' just above the knee, the stump to be tapered like mine have become, then hit Send.

 

"How long before he does it?"

 

"He usually updates his site sometime during the weekend. If you promise not to mess around with anything else, you can look at all the pictures he's done." I show him how to bring up each page and enlarge the thumbnail pics, then go back to some preliminary cost figures I was working on.

 

Tim is still drooling over some of the pics when I chase him home so I can go to bed. Actually, I'm glad for the diversion he's provided because it keeps me from worrying about the reply Mr. Ammons will make to my bid.

 

The next couple of days I work on a small job I can do by myself, but Tim comes over every day to ask about the bid and look at more pictures. I finish up the model and ask Tim to go with me to deliver it. That evening I pull up the site for him and it's been updated. If I hadn't already seen Tim pretending, I would be drooling at his picture as badly as he is. Not only has the guy amputated Tim's leg as we asked, but provided him with forearm crutches. He adds comments to many of the pics he puts up. By Tim's pic is the note: 'I sure wish those arms were wrapped around me. What a stud!'

 

Tim keeps staring at his pic. "Oh, man, I look awesome. And he likes me, too."

 

"Down, boy! Narcissism doesn't become you."

 

"I wish I had a modem so I could look at that picture any time I want. Bet Ace would like it, too."

 

This is a surprise. "You've told him you pretend?"

 

"Yeah. He was cool about it. He said he'd like to see me sometime, but he's scared for me to do it with you around."

 

"Okay, you've been a good boy. Hand me that pack of photographic paper in the cabinet under my printer." I keep it to get a good copy of some buildings I find on the net that interest me.

 

I insert a couple of sheets and copy the picture for Tim. The color is even nicer on the print. I'm immediately kissed. "Thanks, Ty. These are awesome. I've wanted pictures like this for long as I can remember."

 

He floats out the door toward home. I have to smile at the pleasure I've given him, but I hope his parents never see the picture.

 

With nothing further to occupy my time, I'm miserable, but the boys coming over for an occasional swim helps. It happens that on Thursday afternoon we're all in the pool when my mother comes out holding a special delivery and calls to me. I swim over and lift myself to the edge of the pool. Both boys join me when mom hands me the envelope after I've dried my hands.

 

I scan the first page of the contract and hand it back to mom to put on the table until we're finished swimming. I try to keep a blank expression because Tim and Ace are watching my face closely. I push them both back into the water.

 

"What you do that for?" Ace asks when he comes up spluttering.

 

"Fun time's over, guys. I got it!"

 

Tim is the first to realize what I've said. "Oh, wow, man!" He hugs me. "That's great!"

 

"Fantastic!" Ace screams, hugging me, too.

 

"I'm really going to have to depend on you guys for help, because this is going to be one damn big model, bigger because I'm including the garden."

 

I can only hope the guys maintain their enthusiastic promises of help as I sign the contract that evening and hand it to my father to mail the next day, along with the first order for supplies to the wholesaler.

 

I spend the time the boys are in school working out how to do the work in sections for convenience to me as well as for shipping. Once that's done we can begin work. I'm pleased when Tim tells me he's begun working on the trees.

 

Precious few shortcuts on this job. I will build the mansion the way it was originally built, a stick at a time. Even the bricks and stonework duplicating those from which the house was originally built will be plaster cast in small blocks in special rubber molds to give a 3-D appearance of individual bricks and stones. That alone will keep the three of us busy for more than a week with my having to teach the boys how to do it with uniformity in texture and color. Fortunately, I had picked up a loose brick from the house and another from the crumbling garden wall while we were in Chicago and brought them home to use for color matching.

 

To the disgust of Tim and Ace, I give each a clipboard and a paper grid, demanding they keep a record of the time they spend on each part of the work and describe what they did. They ask if I don't trust them, but I tell them that this has nothing to do with trust, but is a necessity for this type of job.

 

Both boys work more diligently than I expected. On the day of Tim's graduation from high school, I take him and Ace to dinner in a nice restaurant before the ceremony. He's disappointed when he comes over and I'm wearing my legs.

 

"Aw, why don't you leave 'em off?"

 

"Because I've been working, too. Long as there're no long flights of steps, it's no more crutches or cane, guy. In a way, I'm graduating, too, so get used to it."

 

We pick up Ace and have dinner in a nice, but relatively expensive restaurant I've heard Tim say he wanted to try but his father would never take him to. When we're back home after his graduation, he looks unbelievingly at the model I made for his diorama, one he said he wanted badly, but could never build because of the complexity. It did try my patience a few times during its construction.

 

"Oh man! I never dreamed I'd ever have a piece of your work. I know you get a lot for it."

 

"Look along the base in the back." I've signed it and added a note – For a special friend who is always ready to help.

 

When he hugs me, it's with tears in his eyes. "This is the best gift you could have given me. I'll think of you every time I look at it. Thanks a lot, Ty. I love you, man."

 

"I love you, too, guy. Now get your butt to that party with your friends."

 

"You sure?"

 

"Damn right I am. Why would you want to spend an evening this special with an old man?"

 

He grins. "I take it back. You're not old, just awesome."

 

"Get! And I want to see you sometime tomorrow." I point a finger at him. "Without a hang-over, too."

 

"Would I get drunk?" He says in mock horror.

 

"I know damn well you will." I remember my own high school graduation all too well.

 

He gives me a kiss, picks up his model, and goes.

 

The sheets of marine plywood arrive the next morning. My dad, with Ace's help, gets them into my workroom and laid out flat on a couple of sawhorses. Ace helps me start drawing lines on them to position the parts of the model. By mid afternoon I can see I've planned well.

 

Tim shows up looking sheepish. "Sorry, Ty. I guess I forgot what you told me, but" he grins, "I did finish the big tree I was making."

 

It's probably the most difficult one he'll build, but when he brings it out from behind his back, it looks almost alive, even under my halogen work lamp. "How'd you do that?" Ace asks softly.

 

"Slowly," Tim replies.

 

"Super good, guy. Now you and Ace get out of here and," I point to Tim, "I want you here bright and early tomorrow without the hangover. We've got to start work for real."

 

"'Kay, boss."

 

It takes two days to set up the base, because it's two levels. The upper level will be the ground and garden. The space between the two sheets of plywood will contain the cellar of the mansion. The roof, then each floor will be removable, so the interior of each floor and the cellar will be visible if the museum so desires. The cellar will be the fastest to model since there's little detail other than the mechanical things like the furnace, organ blower, and elevator machinery. The wine cellar, once I build the little racks and find some bottles to fill them, and the silver vault with it's steel door, are going to be the only real detail work.

 

The stone walls I have already cast in the appropriate color, so it's a matter of gluing them in place. Because Ace has such long but slender fingers I start him building the stairway to the first floor. Tim helps me with the basic framework, something he's become skilled at.

 

The various catalogues begin to pour in, so the boys and I spend a day going through them for the detail items we'll need. We all get so fascinated, I'm glad that mom brings us sandwiches and something to drink for our lunch.

 

Tim is proud when he locates model cars that match the description of those the family had at first. He's also working on the carriage house that had been turned into a garage.

 

One Saturday Tim comes to work earlier than Ace, and immediately sets himself up to pretend. Ace's expression when he comes in and sees Tim on crutches is priceless.

 

"What you think, Ace?" Tim asks.

 

"Why?" is all Ace can say.

 

Tim grins. "I like the way I look with one leg, don’t you?"

 

Ace shakes his head. "I love you, man, but I want you like you really are, not like this."

 

Tim can't believe it. "You mean if my leg was gone for real you wouldn't love me?"

 

Ace looks at him for a moment, then finally nods. "It wouldn't stop me from loving you, but I'm not turned on by it like you are. I see how Ty can't do some things and it makes me feel bad."

 

"I've tried to tell Tim it's not all that wonderful. Maybe he'll listen to you," I tell him. "But don't feel bad for me. I'm learning to do most of the things I want, and thanks for not treating me like I'm a cripple."

 

Ace comes over and gives me a hug. "You're a great guy, Ty. I'd never do that. I like you a lot."

 

"Thanks, buddy. Now let's get to work."

 

By the time school lets out, the basic structure is almost complete. Both boys are now so immersed in what we're doing they work as hard as I. I make them stop each afternoon for an hour or so in the pool to relax.

 

When the third week of August rolls around, Tim is almost tearful when he comes over one evening to say he'll be off to college the next morning. He looks at the basically completed model and says, "God, I wish I could stay to see it all finished. I tried to get the old man to let me wait until spring semester to start, but he screamed."

 

"And so he should have. Your education is more important."

 

"But I feel like I'm letting you down."

 

"I knew you had to leave before we started this, stud, so don't feel that way."

 

"Yeah, I know, but as much time as I've put in this, I want to see it finished."

 

"You will. Save up all your cuts so you can go with Ace and me to Chicago for the opening. You'll see it then."

 

"I guess, but it won't be the same."

 

"It wouldn't be as accurate and beautiful if you hadn't made those gorgeous trees and shrubs for the garden. Be proud of what you've contributed. I think you'll like the check I'll be sending when I get paid and can pay you in full."

 

He throws his arms around my neck and hugs me tightly. "I love you, Ty. Never forget that."

 

This time I'm the one kisses him. "I love you, too, Tim. And for all your work for an old cripple," I tease to lighten the moment.

 

"Oh, shit!" He reaches down and strokes my stumps, then kisses me and runs for the door, tears streaming.

 

Ten weeks later, Ace and I finish up the model. Thanks to Ace's suggestions, all the wiring for the lights is hidden in the walls and he's wired the tiny fixtures, his thin fingers perfect for the job on the most complex ones, while I did the simpler ones. The several tiny glass chandeliers I know must have cost a fortune to duplicate cause Ace to swear out loud while he's wiring them, but when he's finished they're exquisite.

 

Ace insisted on using tiny plugs he found in a catalogue and talked me into ordering, so that each fixture is connected to individual switches on the control panel he suggested we install behind a hinged flap between the two plywood bases so it's hidden. By the time he completed the panel it was far more complex than I ever imagined. He's not only turned into a real professional at modeling, but he's a detail freak. His organ pipes are a work of art within themselves, each so perfectly formed from thin metal they look as if they would work on a real organ. To my great surprise, he lifts them out and shows me the small hidden speaker he wired in. His research proved the original organ we saw and heard was an Ćolian. He shows me a CD made on a similar sized organ of the same make. I'm not certain the museum will use it, but it's planned for. I congratulate him again on his through research.

 

Together, he and I 'plant' the last tree in the garden and back off to take a look at our completed work. "Gee, Ty, I feel like I could walk in the front door like we did when we were there."

 

"Me, too, guy." I reach over and hug him. "Thanks for sticking with me. What you've done has made this the finest model I'll ever build."

 

He hugs me back. "Thanks for giving me a job. The money you've paid me means a lot, and Dad's happy with the way I've used what I've learned from you in school. My grades are all A's." He gives me a longing look. "Could my dad see this before you ship it off?"

 

"That's a great idea. Your parents should see what beautiful work you've done."

 

 "There's only my dad, but he'll come. I want Tim to see it, too."

 

"So do I. Tim will be home next week for Thanksgiving, so I'll have a small party that evening. You and your dad, Tim and his parents, and my folks will be here."

 

As soon as he gets home for his holiday, Tim comes running over. "I gotta see it, Ty," he says as soon as he's hugged me. I've purposely closed and locked the door to my workroom.

 

"No way, stud."

 

"Why not? I put a lot of work in that model."

 

"You certainly did, but I promised Ace he'd be the one to show it to you. Be here tomorrow evening at five."

 

"Ah, hell! I want to see it bad, but I did promise Ace we'd look at it together."

 

"You've kept in touch?"

 

Like almost every day, man. He used the money you gave him to buy a computer, so we use e-mail. He's kept me informed of your progress all along. That's how I knew it was done."

 

"Still love him?"

 

"Oh, man, do I ever. There's one amp on campus I'd love to get to know, but he's straight. Just my luck, damn it."

 

"Wait 'til you see Ace. He's changed a lot this fall."

 

"How?"

 

"I think you'll be pleasantly surprised." I smile at him knowing he'll likely not recognize Ace. From a skinny little guy with nondescript looks, he's turned into a handsome young man, actually better looking than Tim.

 

I have been expecting Ace to drop by as soon as school is out, so it's just a few minutes before he walks in.

 

"Tim!" He yells, and hugs him.

 

Tim just stands there with his mouth open for a moment before he recognizes Ace. He crushes him in a hug, kisses him, then pushes him back. "What's happened to you, Ace?"

 

"I finally grew up. Like what you see?"

 

"Oh, man, do I ever!" He kisses Ace again.

 

They get so involved in talk, hugs, and kisses, I finally run them home for dinner, so I can join my parents for mine.

 

 

As soon as the idea for the party hit, I called Mr. Ammons and invited him to the first public viewing. I was amazed when he practically screamed his acceptance, telling me he'll fly in and rent a car. I gave him my address and invited him to spend Thanksgiving with us. Mom always fixes a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and twice as much as we can possibly eat, so she'll love having company. As soon as I told her of Mr. Ammon's acceptance, she also invited Ace and his father.

 

Ammons arrives just after lunch and begs to see the model. I want to show him how we've constructed it so that the roof and each floor lift off so the interior can be viewed as an entirety. When I open the door to the workroom and switch on the lights, the man gasps. I look at him and I'd swear he's near tears. He grabs my hand and squeezes it so tightly I'm almost afraid I'll never be able to use it again.

 

"It's … it's just as I remember it from when I was a kid, Wolf. I can't believe the perfection! This is a museum piece if ever there was one! How I wish the furnishings were in."

 

"I wish so, too. Let me show you something you didn't ask for."

 

He expected the roof to be removable, but when I unplug the wiring and lift off each floor so he can see the interiors he's unbelieving. "But … but there was no seam showing when I looked at it!"

 

"The you feel you chose the right men for the job?"

 

He completely forgets himself. "Hell, no!" He screams. "You and your boys are not the right men, you're geniuses! You've given me a perfection I never expected! The garden setting is the absolute finishing touch. Show me more."

 

"I promised the boys I'd wait until the party, so I can't show you everything now. Please bear with me, I don't want them disappointed."

 

He nods. "Nor would I want them to be. You told me in your reports they had contributed far more than you dreamed they would, so they deserve to be here."

 

"Thank you, sir." We put the model back together. "Let's go back into the living room and I'll answer any questions you have. It's only another hour or so until they get here."

 

He must have forgotten any questions he had, for he can't stop reminiscing about the place as it was, and the memories the model has brought back. After I introduce my mother to him, she quietly sets the table with party food. Ammons excuses himself long enough to go out to his car and bring in a case of imported champagne.

 

"I wasn't going to bring this in unless I was satisfied with your work. Now I wish I'd brought my butler along to help your mother. She is a gracious lady, Mr. Wolf. I've never felt so welcome in anyone's home before."

 

Knowing the circles this man must move in, I'm surprised, but pleased he feels so at home in our modest house.

 

The moment the boys come in, Ammons is wringing their hands and praising them to the skies. Both are red with embarrassment and try to downplay their work, but Ammons is having none of it. Ace turns even redder when Ammons starts praising him to his father, who hasn't the faintest idea what to say.

 

As I expected, Tim's parents don't come, so as soon as we're all settled down, I open the workroom door. For a moment I think Ace is going to have to hold Tim up. For once, Tim's speechless. After everyone's looked at the model carefully, I slowly turn the dimmer on my strong work lights down and as the room darkens, Ace begins to flip switches. The tiny fixtures begin to glow. Ammons can't decide which window to look in first. He finally looks through a French door from the garden into the drawing room.

 

I hear him gasp, "Dear Lord almighty!"

 

"What, sir?" Asks Ace.

 

"I didn't request that crystal chandelier work. The maker told me it was too fragile to wire."

  

"Thank Ace for that, sir. He insisted he could do it, so I let him start on one of the less complicated ones."

 

"You mean they all work?"

 

"Of course! Every fixture does."

 

"Take a look, sir." Ace shows him the concealed control panel.

 

"Ace designed that, also," I tell him.

 

The tiny red/yellow bulbs Ace installed behind the wood in the fireplace to make it look as though the tiny logs he charred so carefully are realistically burning is a surprise to me and the final surprise to Ammons, almost. Ace starts his personal CD player with the Ćolian CD, opens the 'glass' French doors of the music room, and the sound of the organ issues forth. My dad grabs a chair and shoves it under him, for Ammons looks as if he's going to collapse at any moment. I've never seen such a dumbfounded expression before. Ace begins to switch off the lights, and I bring the dimmer back up. Ammons is just sitting there mouth open and shaking his head in disbelief.

 

He suddenly jumps up. "A toast to the men who have created the finest scale model I've ever laid my eyes on anywhere in the world."

 

As much as he praises Ace's work and mine, he's equally enthusiastic over Tim's work, particularly the garden and the gates and other decorative ironwork Tim cast in pot metal from molds he made.

 

Then he springs a surprise on all of us. He tells both boys his company will give them scholarships for their college education, but when he tells me the model qualifies for a five thousand dollar bonus the museum board voted to give me if Ammons was satisfied with my work puts me in my wheelchair, literally.

 

Ace's dad rushes over to shake Ammon's hand with tears in his eyes. "Oh, God bless you, sir! I wanted Aaron to have a college education, but I don't have the money. This is the answer to my prayers."

 

"You have a fine son, Mr. Williamson. I doubt my people could find a worthier recipient. I'd like to suggest that if Aaron's interested, you allow him to major in a field useful to Mr. Wolf. I think he's going to need a full time assistant in a short time, especially after people see this glorious work in the museum. I never dreamed we'd be able to find someone whose work is as fine as this. Model makers are rare.

 

"We plan to move the model to Chicago the week after Christmas. I rather think Mr. Wolf will want these young men to go with him to help set up the model for the opening, so I hope you will allow your son to accompany him. You will be invited to the grand opening at the Museum as will Mr. and Mrs. Wolf, so you may accompany them. We have scheduled the event for a Saturday evening so your son and Tim will miss only one day of school. Your transportation and lodging will be taken care of by the museum."

 

"I …  I don't know what to say, sir."

 

"There's only one acceptable answer. Yes."

 

As the party winds down I experience deep satisfaction watching the boys' expressions as they open the envelopes I hand them, containing a check for the rest of their pay and their part of the bonus which I've split equally. Each check is for eight thousand dollars. For the second time this evening Tim is speechless, while Aaron hands his father the check and hugs him with tears streaming.

 

 

The day after Christmas Ace is over so early I'm just out of bed. Tim comes in a few minutes later and shocks me by announcing that he's switching his major to architecture over his father's protest. I let Ace show Tim everything about the model he didn't see the night before, because Ammons has called to say the museum has decided our work is too precious to trust to commercial movers and two men from the museum's staff will arrive tomorrow to move it. Once I'm fully awake and mobile, the boys and I begin to break down the model and pack each section in the crates the museum has sent ahead. I don't know what I would have done without Tim and Ace, because while I'm wearing my legs continually now, I still can't bend over and keep my balance.

 

The one time I forget and fall flat on my face, Tim laughs as he helps me up. "It's not funny, kid." I snap. "But now that you've seen what it's like, you still want to have one leg?" I ask him.

 

"Sorry, Ty. I wasn't laughing at you. It was just your expression." He looks into my eyes with a sober expression. "Yeah. I still want it. You don't know how much." 

 

"Still pretending, then?"

 

He shakes his head. "Only alone. Ace doesn't like it when I do."

 

"Good." But this tells me the depth of Tim's love.

 

The moment the truck is packed by the two men from the museum, one of the men hands me an envelope containing plane tickets for the boys and me. Dad drives us to the airport that afternoon.

 

Ammons joins us the next morning for our visit to the Museum of Science and Industry and serves as our guide. I think the boys are as disappointed as I in the huge train layout because it isn't as nicely detailed and scenic as those Tim and I had built, but to go inside the vintage streamliner behind the museum compensates.

 

"Wish they still had trains like this. I'd love to ride one," Ace says.

 

"It was quite a thrill back then," Ammons reminiscences, "the equivalent of riding the Concorde today. Now everyone wants to move fast, but you miss so much beauty by not being on the ground."

 

We're all fascinated by the tour of the coal mine after lunch. Then the other exhibits. The day is over before I realize it.

 

Ammons smiles when I mention it. "That's exactly why I wanted you to have two days to see it all. The truck won't arrive until late tomorrow."

 

When the boys and I go to the museum to supervise the setting up of the model, there's precious little of what Chicago has to offer that we haven't seen, although swiftly.

 

"It's a real pleasure driving you gentlemen around," Martin says as we get out. "Most people don't take the time to see what's here."

 

'And we wouldn't have learned so much if you hadn't told us what we were seeing. You must enjoy history."

 

"I do, sir. I wish I could have gone to college to study, but I had to find work to help out my folks."

 

"I'm sorry about that, Martin, but the boys and I couldn't have had a better guide than you."

 

"Thank you, sir."

 

With modular construction we used, the model is in place by the end of the day. Ammons almost has a heart attack when he finds one small scratch near the base of the house and sees one of Tim's trees has been slightly mashed. We assure him that we can repair the damage with no difficulty the next morning, because we've brought along small bottles of touch-up paint and a glue pen.

 

The electricians are busy installing special lighting so the effect we created in my workshop when Ammons saw it at the party can be duplicated. Our work done, we lunch with Ammons at his club again, then the boys and I go back to the hotel for some rest before the opening. Ace looks disappointed when I ask him to share one of the bedrooms in our suite with his father, while Tim shares my room. I refuse to let Tim sleep with me as he wants, but let him rub my stumps as compensation.

 

When we're ready for the opening, I have to admit that Tim and Ace are really outstanding in their tuxedos. Oh, yes, this is a black tie event. Fortunately the people at the rental place know how fit clothing perfectly, so we all feel comfortable, though Ace swears his tie is choking him.

 

Martin smiles broadly when he holds the door of the limo for us, so I can't resist teasing him. "We cleaned up rather well, didn't we?"

 

"Sir?" He looks shocked.

 

"You don't remember the three filthy bums you had to haul around on our last visit?"

 

He catches on and grins. "That old place was dirty, sir. I'm hoping I'll get a chance to see the model you built of it. I can't remember ever seeing Mr. Ammons so excited about anything before."

 

"I hope so, too."

 

Ammons leads us into the gallery where the trustees have gathered for a preview before the party begins. After we're greeted enthusiastically, he asks Ace to control the lights, when the museum lights begin to dim. There are oooh's and aaah's over the effect, but like the boys, I'm eager to see the completed interiors.

 

When the main lights come back up, the two men who moved the model and I had instructed earlier on taking it apart, lift the roof and then each floor off setting them on the racks I designed to hold them so we can see the furnishings. I'm astounded to see that the paint, wallpaper, rugs, and accessories have been perfectly duplicated in miniature.

 

I mention how beautiful it is and Ammons says he's terribly sorry that the man who made the furniture refused to come, but tells me that he's a descendant of the man who made many of the furnishings for Colleen Moore's famous doll house, which we had toured at the fantastic Museum of Science and Industry.

 

As we're talking, a man in a white jacket pushes a wheelchair toward us. In it is a little old lady, must be ninety some if she's a day, swathed in a sable coat. Her makeup is a mess from the tears streaming down her face. From Ammon's expression, she must be someone very special.

 

"Is this the young man who constructed the model?" She asks him in a tremulous voice. 

 

"Quite. Mrs. Hymes, may I present Mr. Tyrel Wolf."

 

She looks at me and holds out her tiny hand. "Young man, I went to live in that house as a bride, so I knew and loved every inch of it. I was horrified when the city condemned it and tore it down, but you have given me something very precious. I can not thank you enough. It's just as I remember it when it was new."

 

"I am delighted that it's to your complete satisfaction, ma'am."

 

"It wouldn't have been if you hadn't included the garden. I spent many happy hours in it." Her tears start again and she dabs at her eyes with a fine lace handkerchief. "And to hear the organ! One of the pieces I loved to play on it. Are you responsible for that also?"

 

"No, Ma'am." I wave Tim and Ace over. "These are the two young men who are responsible for recreating the garden from the photographs we had of it." Arron was fascinated by the organ when we toured the house and installed the audio so it could be used if wanted." I introduce them to her, and she's most gracious in her remarks to them as well.

 

When her attendant wheels her away, Ammon's looks at the three of us. "I can tell you now that Mrs. Hymes donated the model to the museum, along with most of the artifacts in this room, many of which came from that house. I've known her for some years, and," he grins, "she may be old, but she's a tough cookie. This is the first time I've seen anything affect her enough for her to show her emotions. Though it was against her physician's orders, she insisted on being here for at least a few minutes, so I must thank you and these young men again, this time for bringing her real pleasure."

 

"But she was crying, sir." Ace says.

 

"Tears of joy, Aaron. Though she may never see your work again, she will  remember it to her dying day."

 

 

I haven't even dressed when the phone rings the next morning. It's the desk clerk telling me a messenger on his way to my room. I pull on a robe just as there's a knock at the door. When I open it, Martin is standing there. He extends an envelope to me.

 

"Mrs. Hymes expects no reply, sir. I will return at two to take you to the airport."

 

"Thank you, Martin."

 

I sit down on my bed, open the heavy vellum envelope, and take out a single sheet of heavy velum. It's hard to read the spidery penmanship.

 

 

My Dear Mr. Wolf,

 

I have always prided myself in being fair in business dealings, and I was assured by Mr. Ammons that your figure for constructing the model of my home was most reasonable.

 

However after seeing the immense amount of obviously loving care that was given even the tiniest detail, I feel that you have gone far beyond what a reasonable person could or should have expected. Therefore, I trust that you will share the enclosed with the young men who worked as diligently as you to provide me and our museum with the best.

 

In deepest gratitude,

 

(Mrs.) Anna Hymes

 

I reach into the envelope and pull out three certified checks, one for each of us for ten thousand dollars. Never before have I been touched in such a way. Tim wakes up and sees me wiping my eyes.

 

"What's wrong, Ty?"

 

"This." I hold out the note and his check.

 

He reads the note, then looks at the check. "Damn, man! That old dame is really something. I gotta tell Ace."

 

Needless to say, it is a happy group that boards the plane for our trip home.

                                           

Epilogue

 

So what happened? While my old workshop at home remains for my convenience, Tim and I opened an office in a building downtown as soon as he joined me in the business after graduating with a degree in historic preservation. Ace, thanks to research by Ammons' people, has just graduated from a college offering a new specialty in scale model building and is joining Tim and me. We can now afford to refuse all but work that intrigues us and offers a challenge to our skills. How has a business just six years old become so prosperous that we can be so picky about our work? Partly because of our spreading reputation, but about six months after the model opened in Chicago, I received a call from Mr. Ammons one evening telling me that Mrs. Hymes has passed away.

 

To my surprise he tells me that though he hasn't actively practiced law for several years now, he maintained his position as her personal attorney. Despite her doctors' screams of protest, one week before she died she returned to the museum to spend nearly an hour in private looking at the model again including the lighting effects that I had used in my shop and the museum installed, with a CD of an Ćolian organ playing all the while. That's when he tells me she looked up at him and said she could now die happily, and so she did, but not before having him add a codicil to her will. Tim, Ace, and I are now each a hundred thousand richer, thanks to her. As a result, Tim and Ace have just moved into the home I designed for them. Yes, it does have a specially equipped suite for me, but as much as I love the guys and despite their begging me to move in with them, I'm perfectly content to remain in my familiar surroundings, though we spend a lot of time together outside of work.

 

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Posted: 01/25/08