DíMatoís Independence

By tuna.dc

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

"Listen, Sam, I canít get back to Palm Beach for the weekend like I thought. Theyíre not gonna start the trial till after the 4th of July weekend. How Ďbout we meet halfway, say Orlando?" Chris begged from his Tallahassee hotel room.

Rita sat in her office, a huge pile of paperwork on the desk in front of her. "I donít think I can, Chris. Iím wrapped up in budgeting right now, and I could really use some extra time to put a dent in all this paperwork." As much as she really wanted to go, she knew this work wasnít gonna do itself. She was really torn.

"Rita," he sighed, "itís been a week since weíve seen each other. I really need you, I need to see you." There was a precious moment of silence between them. "Sam?"

She heard the pain in his voice and couldnít hold out any longer. "Oh, OK. Iíll meet you halfway," Rita gave in. She wanted him to believe that it would be a real sacrifice for her to make the trip, but the truth was, she wanted to meet him just as badly as he wanted to meet her.

"Great, Sammy! Weíll get a hotel, go out for dinner, go back to the hotel... Howís that sound? Iíll make the reservations," Chris rattled on, keeping her from getting a word in edgewise.

Rita grabbed a slip of paper and jotted down the name of the hotel in Orlando where they planned to meet. "How Ďbout we meet Sunday morning, say 11ish?"

"Parfait," Chris said enthusiastically.

"Iíll see you on Sunday, then."

"I love you, Rita."

"I love you too, Sam, but I gotta go now."

"Yeah. See ya, Sam."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Sunday morning came quickly and Chris rose early to get a pre-dawn start. He threw some clothes in an overnight bag and headed toward the highway.

Rita had risen early as well. Since Chris had been away for the trial in Tallahassee, sheíd thrown herself into her work, putting in 15 hour days and only going home to their empty house to eat, take a hot shower, and catch a few hours of sleep. It would be a welcome relief to get away for a few days and forget about work, and she was looking forward to it. Most of all, she was looking forward to seeing Chris. Orlando was almost the exact midpoint, a good three hour drive for each of them. Fortunately for Rita, it would be mostly interstate driving.

But for Chris, it would be a combination of state highways and secondary roads through some of Floridaís smaller towns. He wasnít looking forward to all that stop and start driving, but if it meant being able to see Rita, heíd tolerate it. It was only 9:15 when Chris hit a construction snafu. "Youíve got to be kidding me," he said aloud, "these guys are working on the 4th of July!" The familiar orange barrels directed him off the state highway onto a back-road, 36-mile detour. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed up Rita.

Rita flipped on the phone by the second ring. "Hi, Chris," she said before he could say a word.

"Hey, Sammy, howíd you know it was me?"

"Who else would be calling me so bright and early on a holiday? Actually, I expected you to call hours ago, to make sure I was coming. So, are you there already or what?"

"Itís more like an Ďor whatí. I got booted off the state road and right now Iím on a 36-mile detour."

"Are you gonna be late?"

"Well, things are moving a little slow on the two-laner," he said with a good Ďole boy twang in his voice.

Rita laughed. "Just get there in one piece. Iíll wait."

"Iíll do my best," he promised. "I just wanted to let you know what was happening.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris was finally coming to the end of the detour when the Jeep started making some funny noises. He turned off the radio and A/C so he could hear the engine a little better. Something definitely was wrong, but he couldnít tell exactly what by the sound. Suddenly, smoke started billowing from under the hood, and with one last, horrible cough, the engine died. ĎNO! Not the Jeep,í he thought. This just couldnít happen to a brand new Jeep, it was still under warranty. He slammed his hands against the steering wheel, as a few cars swerved around him, the drivers giving him the finger or honking loudly. He put the car in neutral and rolled it off onto the shoulder then picked up his cell phone once again.

"Hi again, Chris! Iím almost there," Rita blurted out before he could say anything. She figured he was playing his usual game of Ďphone annoyanceí now.

"Uh, hi."

"What is it this time? Another detour, a flat tire?" She could tell by the tone of his voice that had something happened.

"Youíre not gonna believe this, but the Jeep broke down."

"Youíre right, I donít believe it."

"Iím serious! Itís deader than one of our usual clients," he said as he slammed the hood down and hopped back in the Jeep to get out of the hot July sun.

"Very funny," she giggled. "Should I come and pick you up?"

ďThis thingís gonna need service, Ďcause I canít fix it. And since itís a holiday, I canít even get a hold of anyone to tow it." Chris sounded so depressed. "Would you mind picking me up?Ē

"Would I mind? Iíve been driving all morning just to see you! Whatís another hour or so?"

"Iím sorry, Sam. Itís not turning out to be much of a holiday, is it? All I wanted to do was see you and be with you."

"Donít worry, I wonít start the fireworks without you," she said, trying to cheer him up a little.

Chris gave her his location, about 16 miles north of Barberville, then closed his eyes to take a nap as he waited in the hot Jeep for Rita to pick him up.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Two hours later, Rita finally pulled up along the other side of the two-lane highway. Chrisí heart jumped for joy when she rolled down her window and asked in a sultry voice if he could use a lift. He jumped out of the Cherokee so fast, an oncoming car nearly hit him. Rita hid her eyes, but everything was OK, and he came trotting over to her with his overnight bag slung over his shoulder.

"I thought youíd never get here," he said, leaning in the driverís side window for a long-overdue kiss.

"Me too," she said, out of breath from the kiss, but wearing a broad smile.

Chris went around the car and hopped in the passenger seat, throwing his bag in the back seat as he slammed the door. He quickly leaned over and gave his wife another kiss. "Mmmm, I missed you so much."

"Me too," she replied again, her fingers combed through his hair, just glad to be so close to him.

"Want me to drive?" he asked.

"Are you kidding? Iím not going to take that chance, I donít want to be stranded!"

"Low blow, Sammy," he chuckled.

Rita pulled a U-turn and headed back toward Orlando.

"I canít believe that Jeep," Chris said disgustedly as he watched it disappear into the distance out the back window. As short ride down the road, they passed a sign indicating a small town up ahead. "Sammy, Iím starving. How Ďbout a quick stop for lunch?"

"Canít we just get where weíre going?" she said impatiently. But a quick glance over at his puppy dog eyes and she gave in. "OK, but just to eat. Agreed?"

"Rita? What are you thinking about?" he mocked her jokingly.

"I know you too well, Sam, thatís all Iím saying!" She laughed as she pulled off toward the small town Barberville.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Barberville, Florida was about as patriotic as one small town could get. Banners of red, white, and blue hung everywhere. The American flag flew proudly from every house and business as far as the eye could see. Childrenís faces were painted with them, and even the dogs wore star-spangled bandannas. Everything Chris and Rita saw, as they drove down Main Street, told them that this town was certifiably American, through and through. Their sight-seeing came to a halt, though, as they came to a minor traffic jam forming in the road just up ahead.

"Great! Now whatís the holdup. I need is a McDonaldís hamburger, for cryiní out loud!" Chris ranted.

Rita glanced over at his irritated face. "It is a holiday, Chris. Weíll be lucky if anythingís open," she stated matter-of-factly.

"Maybe we should just head back to Orlando. Thereís sure to be something open there."

"Now you say so," Rita said, shaking her head at him. Traffic was now at a standstill, nothing moving in either direction, and there was no way to turn off or even turn around. They were stuck. "Well, weíre not getting out of Barberville anytime soon."

"Sorry, Sam," Chris said, rolling down his window. He stuck his head out to see if he could spot the cause of the hold up.

Suddenly, someone was knocking on Ritaís window and she quickly rolled it down, bringing her face to face with an older lady wearing a nametag the read ĎMargeí.

Marge carried a clipboard and quickly asked, "And you are?"

"Rita and Chris Lorenzo," Rita answered, confused. She couldnít understand why in the world this woman needed to know who they were. "Whatís going on?"

"I donít have you on my list, but, then again, itís not all that accurate. You must be dignitaries from out of town. I never did get the updated list of VIPís," Marge babbled, writing down their names.

"Um, what exactly is the hold up?" Rita asked.

"We had a slight breakdown in one of the parade units. Youíll be moving shortly. We do want to thank you for coming," she said, smiling politely. "Would you please put the top of your car down now, so that all the people can see who you are?" the lady continued.

Chris had pulled his head back in just in time to her Margeís last request, but he was still completely baffled by what was happening. Rita didnít know what to say either. She was just about to tell the lady that this was a mistake, but she quickly disappeared down the road, to the next car. Rita looked over at Chris, who merely shook his head. All he wanted to do was eat. He climbed out of the car and release the hooks on the car roof.

"Chris, what are you doing?"

"What does it look like Iím doing? Iím doing what the lady asked us to do."

"Chris, we are not doing this," Rita protested.

Chris pushed back the top and hopped into the car. "I donít see that we have much of a choice there, darliní."

Rita gave him Ďthe lookí. "Christopher, I am not driving in a parade."

"Fine, move over. I will," he said seriously.

Rita had to let out a laugh. "Chris, come on. We canít do this."

"The way I see it, the sooner we drive through this, the sooner we get out of here. Come on, Rita, weíre on the list now. Heck, we even got the top down. Letís just drive, wave, and find a restaurant," he said, grinning from ear to ear. "How long can a parade through Barberville possibly take?"

Rita shook her head and climbed over him, into the passenger seat. "I am not driving, but Iíll wave," she said with a smile of her own.

"Thatís the patriotic spirit," Chris said as he slowly edged the car forward. "This town canít be that big. Iím sure the parade is only a block or two long. Weíll just zip right through, then be on our way."

"Mmhmm, sure. Itíll be that easy," Rita said, smiling, already waving at some curious children who were walking along side the car.

The parade, when all was said and done, was closer to 4 and 1/2 miles long. It was one of the largest parades in all of Florida, second only to Miamiís annual parade. It took the better part of two hours to drive the parade route, which snaked through the town, past nearly every home in Barberville.

"I am starving," Chris whined again as they neared the end of the parade. "I cannot believe this is happening to us."

"How Ďbout a tic tac? I have one in my purse"

"Sure, I guess thatíll have tide me over. Better make it a couple." He glanced over at a slightly over-heated and tired looking Rita. "Geez, Sam, Iím sorry about all this. Itís not exactly the holiday I had planned."

She mustered up a smile. "Me neither, but weíve got each other. Thatís independence to me."

"I promise Iíll get you to the hotel in Orlando as fast as I can." He gazed at her until their eyes met.

"Itís all right, Chris. Believe it or not, Iím having a good time." She reached over and put her hand on his thigh, giving it a little rub.

When they finally reached the end of the parade, an elderly gentleman stood at the end of the street, directing them into a parking lot. Chris pulled along side the gray-haired man with the nametag that read ĎPaulí. "Whatís going on?" he asked with a smile.

"Just pull in here and park. The picnic is just over the hill there," Paul said, motioning to the area behind him.

"Well, we just came for the parade," Chris tried to explain.

"Nonsense, thatís just the beginning of the festivities. Weíll be celebrating all night long. Charlie, these folks here need a rundown of what allís happening today," he yelled across the parking lot. A teenage boy of about 15 came sprinting across the lot with a flyer.

"Here ya go, Mister. Sorry for the mix-up. My Pop ended up in the hospital and we didnít get these out to the VIPís in time. Itís got the list of everything thatís going on, and also where youíll be staying tonight."

"ChrisÖ," Rita tried to get his attention, still inside the car.

"Yeah, Rita, hang on second." Chris glanced over to her quickly then looked back toward the boy. "Uh, Charlie is it?" The boy nodded. "Thereís been a mistake. Weíd just like to head out now. Can you direct us back to the highway?"

The boy looked a little hurt. "Geez, Mister. Youíll really have great time. Everyone says so. My Pop is real sorry for the mistake."

"Look, Charlie, itís not that..." Chris was desperately trying to explain to this boy that he and Rita were not on Ďthe listí. He tried to make it very plain, "Charlie, I donít think we were on your list. Thatís the mistake."

The boy pulled out another list from the back pocket of his denim cut-offs. "Letís see," he said, letting his finger scan the names. "Youíre the Lorenzoís, right?" Then Charlie stared at the makeshift sign someone had apparently slapped to the side of their car at the beginning of the parade, to announce their names. He checked the spelling on the sign against the names he had on his list. "Chris and Rita, right?" the boy asked as Chris peered out to see the sign on the side of the car.

"Yeah," he said, dumbfounded.

"Youíre right here," he said, showing Chris the list with their names on it. "You guys are staying with the DíMatoís. They have a great house. Just park over there and head on over to the picnic."

Chris rubbed his forehead and was about explain everything to Charlie, but the boy suddenly dashed off to another car. "I am not believing this," he mumbled.

Rita sat and laughed. "I guess we should just go to the picnic and meet the DíMatoís."

Chris pulled the car into a parking spot. "This is the last thing I want to do," he mumbled.

Rita climbed out of the car. "Oh, come on. Itís not that bad. We canít just leave. Obviously, these people have everything planned out."

Chris got out begrudgingly. "You do realize weíre not supposed to be here, donít you?" he asked, leaning over the hood of the car.

Rita walked to the back of the car. Chris followed her. "Can you open up the trunk? I think thereís a blanket in there. And yes, I realize weíre not supposed to be here. But weíre on the list now, so letís make the most of it."

Chris opened up the trunk and grabbed the blanket. He was stifling hot in the blue jeans and light blue T-shirt he wore. "I donít even have a pair of shorts to change into," he complained. There were grease stains from the Jeep smeared on his jeans and a little stain discolored his shirt as well. "I look like a thug, and I need some food!" Chris whined like a spoiled schoolboy.

Rita looked remarkably cool in lightweight, brown-checked shorts and pale yellow T-shirt. She made her way through the makeshift parking lot toward the picnic grounds with Chris following behind her, carrying the blanket. Crowds of people stretched out before them and the smell of food cooking on the grill hung heavily in the air.

"Hi! Welcome to the picnic. Weíre glad you could make it," a man wearing a silly looking straw hat greeted them. Rita smiled warmly and shook his outstretched hand.

"Is there someplace we can buy some food?" she asked.

"Buy? Gracious no! Nobody is selling anything. Just walk up to the grill master over there and eat your fill. The entry fee covers all the costs. Didnít you read the letter?" the man questioned.

Chris cut in, "Yeah, we did. My wife just mustíve forgotten. Iím Chris Lorenzo, and this is Rita."

"Dale Simpson. Glad to meet you both. Iím so glad youíre joining us this year,Ē said the friendly man as he walked with them toward the food area. ďIsnít this something?"

"Yes it is. Who knew all this happened in Barberville!" Rita exclaimed.

"You know, Iíve mentioned that to Tom and Kitty Peters. Theyíve been chairing this thing for darn near ten years now. I keep telling Ďem they need to advertise more . I guess Iíll just tell Ďem again. Hereís the food area. You kids enjoy yourselves now!" He waved as he head off, leaving them standing in front of the worldís largest grill.

"Whatíll ya have?" a very large, muscular, completely bald man of about 24 asked. His nametag read ĎAlecí.

"Letís see. How about two hot dogs and two hamburgers?" Chris asked.

"And for the lady?"

"Thanks, Iíll just share with him," Rita replied, giving Chris a look. Alec gazed at Rita with a big, sappy smile, which irritated Chris a little. But he held his jealous, overprotective side in check cause there was no way heíd ever pick a fight with a muscle head like Alec, even to protect Ritaís honor. Thatíd be suicide . Chris just looked away. Rita noticed it right away and smiled to herself.

"Two pups and two flats, coming right up! There you go, sir. Drinks are just across the way, and the fixingís table is straight ahead. Make sure you try the potato salad," he added with the hint of a smile that was clearly meant only for Rita.

Chris ignored his comments, grabbed the food, and went in search of Rita, who had already headed over to the fixingís table. She obviously hadnít taken Alecís comments with any seriousness, so Chris quickly forgot about it too.

"Isnít this incredible?" she asked as Chris handed her a hot dog.

Chris took a bite out of the other. "Yeah, the food is awesome. I donít think Iíve ever seen so much in one place. Not even at our wedding reception, and that was a chow-fest. I just hope our grill master, Alec, doesnít find out weíre here when we shouldnít be. Old Alec there could take me out like that," he said, snapping his fingers. "Then heíd have you all to himself."

"PL-EEZE," Rita laughed, grabbing a plate and heaping various salads and jellos on top. "Give me more credit than that! Iíd never be interested in a baby-faced, muscle-head wannabe." Chris had to smile inwardly at her comment.

After they had filled their plates, they found a nice spot to spread their blanket, under a nearby tree. Chris got Rita settled then went back to get some lemonade. Returning a few minutes later, he handed the cups to Rita, then plopped himself down on the blanket beside her, giving her a quick kiss. "Sorry about all this. I know itís not what we had planned."

"Itís OK, Chris. Iím actually enjoying myself. Arenít you?"

Chris avoided answering the question directly but managed a smile for her. He took a sip of lemonade. "I wanted to spend some time alone with you. I had no intention of sharing you with Barberville, of all places," he began. "I mean, itís my Independence Day, too. I want to be free of all these crowds of people and just be with you."

"I know, I wanted that too," she said, giving him a tender kiss on his cheek. "Letís just make the most of this."

Chris ignored her positive attitude and changed the subject. "I figure we can just find the DíMatoís, and give them some cash, you know for the food and stuff. Iíve got about a hundred in my wallet. Do you think that will cover everything?"

"Chris, I donít think we can just give them cash and leave. That would be pretty rude."

"Not as rude as being in a parade that youíre not supposed to be in, or eating food that youíre not entitled to, or staying in someoneís home when you havenít paid for anything."

"Iím gonna find the DíMatoís and explain what happened. Iíll find out what the entry fee was and weíll write them a check," Rita said confidently.

"Wait a minute? Does this mean weíre staying here?"

"Yeah, it does. For tonight, anyway. I saw you standing over there getting the lemonade, chatting with perfect strangers. You canít fool me, youíre having a good time."

"I needed to find out where the rest rooms were," he replied dryly, refusing to admit that he really was enjoying himself.

A softball came rolling over towards them, followed by a boy of about ten. Rita picked up the ball and tossed it back to the boy. He stood and stared at Chris for a moment, sizing him up. "Hey, we need another grown up on our side. Do you want to play, mister?"

Chris grinned then looked over at Rita. "No, Iím here with my wife. But thanks for asking." The boy started to walk away.

"Chris, why donít you go play. Itís OK, Iíll just watch!" Rita started to push him.

The boy stopped momentarily then turned back a little. "Listen, we need a lady, too. Do you both want to play?"

"Youíve got yourself two more players," Rita said, standing quickly and pulling Chris up by the arms.

"Great! Iíll go tell the team!" The boy ran off ahead of them.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Hours later, Chris and Rita strolled slowly back to their blanket under the tree, Chris carrying a trophy under his arm. Their team had won the softball tournament, thanks to ĎMa and Paí, as their ten-year-old teammates nicknamed them. Each team consisted of one male and one female adult teaming up with kids.

Their team of ten-year-olds had never won a game before. But today, they had won a total of three games, including the final. Rita pitched her heart out to the almost all-male opposing team, while Chris roamed center field. He took three-foot tall Michelle and 140 lb. Tommy under his wing. Michelle even managed to make a saving catch, despite tripping over Chris. The kids had begged them to keep the winning trophy, which they agreed to reluctantly.

After softball, there was a mini-golf tournament, a Frisbee toss tournament, an egg toss, water balloon toss, three-legged race, gunny sack race, and lastly, the obstacle course. They never had a momentís peace. Rita got pulled off to chat with some of the women, while Chris tried to hunt down the DíMatoís. Instead, he got hung up with some of the male townsfolk.

It was getting dark when they finally met up with each other and found there way back to the blanket. Chris had grabbed two bottles of homemade root beer and handed one to Rita. "Itís ice cold!"

"Thatís exactly what I need," she said, sitting down on the blanket.

"I still havenít found the DíMatoís, but Earl told me their house is at the end of the next street over. I guess we can just walk over there."

"I think Iím too tired to walk."

Chris leaned back against the tree and reached for her, pulled her into his arms. She gladly leaned back against him and closed her eyes. The fireworks were set to go off very soon, so no one was leaving the area yet.

"I can drive us down to Orlando. We can sleep most of the day tomorrow," he said quietly in her ear.

"Why do you want to leave here?"

"Uh, Ďcause I thought you did."

"Iím tired, thatís all. Itís a good tired, though. I am having a wonderful time, and I thought you were, too. I love being here with you, but all you do is keep apologizing for being here and saying you want to leave."

"Thatís not true. I want what you want," he said softly, "thatís all. I am having a good time. No, make that a great time!"

She turned to faced him. "I want what you want, too." She reached up and gave him a tender kiss then chuckled a little. "I just about died when little Michelle tripped over you. You caught her and she caught the ball."

Chris laughed too. "She certainly is a peanut, isnít she?"

"Those kids loved you. I can see youíre gonna be a wonderful dad someday!"

Chris smiled warmly. "That goes double for you being a great mom! They loved you, too," Chris said, kissing her sweetly.

Just then, two of Ďtheir teammates" wandered by. "Oooohhh, Ma and Pa, itís not that dark out yet!"

"Funny, Pete!" Chris called out, recognizing the voice.

"Hey! The fireworks are over here!" the other boy shouted to the people in the area.

"Thanks, Sean," Rita added with a laugh.

Just then, the fireworks started going off overhead. Everyone watched the hour-long extravaganza. After that, a small hometown band came onto the parkís gazebo and began to play. A few couples made their way to the makeshift dance floor in front of the gazebo and began to dance. After awhile, a beautiful, slow song began to play and Rita nudged an almost-asleep Chris and asked him to dance.

Lying here with you, listening to the rain,

smiling just to see, the smile upon your face,

These are the moments I thank God that Iím alive,

and these are the moments Iíll remember all my life,

I found all Iíve waited for, and I could not ask for more.

Looking in your eyes, seeing all I need.

Everything you are, is everything to me.

These are the moments I know heaven must exist,

and these are the moments I know all I need is this,

I found all Iíve waited for, and I could not ask for more.

I could not ask for more than this time together.

I could not ask for more than this time with you.

Every prayer has been answered, and every dream I haveís come true.

And right here in this moment is right where Iím meant to be,

here with you, here with me.

These are the moments I thank God that Iím alive.

These are the moments Iíll remember all my life.

Iíve got all Iíve waited for. And I could not ask for more.

I could not ask for more than this time together.

I could not ask for more than this time with you.

Every prayer has been answered, and every dream I haveís come true.

And right here in this moment is right where Iím meant to be,

here with you, here with me.

I could not ask for more the love you give me,

coz itís all Iíve waited for, and I could not ask for more.

I could not ask for more.

Chris held her close as they lingered on the dance floor, thinking of their own relationship and the special words theyíd just heard.

Chris broke the silence, "Thatís a beautiful song."

"I think itís new. Iíve only heard it on the radio a few times, but I love it. Almost as much as I love you." Rita reached up and gave Chris a kiss, which he gladly reciprocated.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

As midnight approached, people began to head for their homes. Chris and Rita picked up their blanket and started walking slowly down the street where the DíMatoís lived. When they got to the house, it was completely dark. They sat in the rockers on the porch for a little while, hoping the DíMatoís would come home soon. People walked by and waved at them, saying their Ďgoodnightsí. Before long, the streets were clear and the only sounds in the night were crickets and an old dog barking far off in the distance.

"I donít think the DíMatoís are coming home, Sam," Chris said. He peered into the house, but it was too dark to see anything.

Rita got up and tried the door. It was open. "Shall we?"

"Sure, why not." They entered and called out, but no one answered. Rita found a switch and flipped on the light. The house was beautifully decorated, but was clearly empty. They found a note left on a table. It read:

Welcome!

Welcome to our community. We hope you enjoyed the festivities today and we hope you will enjoy our hospitality.

Thereís no need to thank us, itís just our way of celebrating our Independence.

Please continue to share it with all those you love as well.

Come back soon!

The DíMatoís

Rita had a tear forming in her eyes. "This is so beautiful."

Chris gave her a hug. "This is one fantastic town. I know Iíll never forget this."

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris woke up first early the next morning, and quietly got out of bed without waking his still-sleeping wife. He wandered around the tiny house. It was immaculately clean and looked like it had never been lived in. The furniture and design seemed frozen in another time, circa 1940.

He walked into the living room and noticed a black and white picture of a young couple inside a china hutch. He opened the hutch to get a better look at the picture. There was nothing there to identify who the people were. Always being the detective, he carefully turned the frame over and slid open the back, to see if he could find anything on the back of the photo. In pencil, he saw faint script letter, ĎLou and Adela DíMatoí. So, they were the DíMatoís, he thought. Or maybe it was their parents.

He carefully sealed up the picture and put it back on the shelf, then he went outside onto the front porch and sat down on the porch swing. Just then, Earl Pomerant came walking by. "Good morning, Chris! Howís everything?"

Chris got up from the porch swing and went down by the road to talk with Earl. "Iím just fine, Earl. How are you this morning?"

"Very good. Just finishing up my daily walk."

"Mind if I ask you a question?" Chris asked, as Rita came strolling lazily out of the house. She went over and wrapped her arms around her husband.

"Not at all. Whatís on your mind?" Earl said, giving them both a warm smile. "Morning, Rita." Rita smiled and nodded, still not quite awake.

"Are the DíMatoís around? I mean, they just let us stay at their house, but theyíre no where to be found. Weíd really like to thank them."

Earl grinned and kicked a pebble out of the road. "No oneís told ya, huh?"

"Told us what, Earl?" Rita questioned.

"About the DíMatoís. Interesting couple," he said with a laugh. "They came to town nearly 50 years ago, I guess. They moved into that house shortly after the 4th of July. The story goes that they had gotten stranded out on the highway sometime in late June that year. Well, back then, cars and gas were hard to come by. But somehow, they managed to make their way into town and they became the townís first 4th of July VIPís. They loved our town, loved our parade and picnic, loved the games and the fireworks. We put them up in this little cottage while their car was being fixed. I guess they loved it so much, they decided to buy it and settle down here in Barberville."

"What happened to them? Where are they now, on vacation or something?" Chris asked.

"Nope. Later that year, Lou got his draft notice and went off to Germany. He never came back from the war. Adela decided to move back up north where her family was. She died about ten years ago. After she moved, the town bought the house from Adela and decided to keep it in their honor. Anytime we get some stranded VIPís, well, we open the door and welcome them to our town."

Rita smiled at the legend. "You knew Chris and I were stranded?"

"We knew you were VIPís, letís put it that way," Earl said with a smile.

Chris held out his hand and took Earlís, shaking it warmly. "Earl, youíve got yourself one amazing town here. How can we ever say thanks?"

"You just did. And the smiles on your faces are all we need." Earl started to walk away but turned back and added. "Just remember what the note said. Share this with others. Share it."

"We will, Earl. We promise, we will," Rita said, waving to him as she gave her smiling husband another hug.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Chris heard a car horn blow, over and over. Then he heard the faint sound of a car door closing. Someone was tapping him on the shoulder and calling out his name.

"Chris, wake up! Hey, letís go! Come on now!" Ritaís voice sounded distant.

Slowly, he began to wake up. "Hey, whatís going on?" he asked, seeing her beautiful face staring at him. He flashed her a smile.

"Letís go! Didnít you hear me honking at you? Sorry it took me so long to get here. I ran into a delay in Barberville. I think theyíre having a parade or something. We should probably take another road to Orlando. Are you coming?" she prodded impatiently. A broad smile began to form on Chrisí face. "What are you so happy about?"

Chris opened the Jeep door, rolled up the window, locked the door, and followed Rita across the highway to her car. Getting in, he said, "You know what, Sam? Iím hungry. Why donít we stop in Barberville for a bite to eat?"

"Hmm, you really surprise me! I thought youíd want to get to Orlando right away."

"Iíve got all Iíve ever wanted right here with you. As long as weíre together, Iím not in any hurry. I couldnít ask for anything more. Besides, we might have some fun in Barberville. I mean, theyíre having a parade, right? Whatta Ďya say?"

"I would say youíre thinking ĎIndependentlyí," she said with a smile as she started the car. Rita flipped on the radio and the song they had danced to in Chrisí dream began to play.

"Thatís what today is all about, right?" Chris grinned as they drove off to the town of Barberville. He turned up the volume on the radio and hummed along.

The End.

July 1999

Just a little summertime fantasy. A change of paceÖsomething a bit shorter and lighter. Actually I love writing these little things. Please feel to free to comment if youíd like. I love hearing from you.

Chris and Rita are borrowed (lovingly) from Stephen J. Cannell and Stu Seagall and the USA NetworkÖ..BRING IT BACK SOON!

All the other characters in this little fantasy are mine. Marge, Paul, Charlie, Charlieís Pop, Dale Simpson, Tom and Kitty Peters, Alec, the softball boy, Michelle, Tommy, Earl Pomerant, Pete, Sean and Lou and Adela DíMato

The songÖI Could Not Ask For More is recorded by Edwin McCain and can be found on his CD Messenger. Diane Warren wrote the song

Thanks are again given most humbly and sincerely to:

JudyÖfor proofing and editing, T for the wisdom and conversation, Joy for always wanting moreÖand for listening, Linda & Lisa for posting and hosting, and everyone who reads and gives me such wonderful feedback

Write to me at tuna.dc@excite.com

 

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