2. Shady Side, Maryland

Maryland
Labor Day, 3 September 2018
E-70 Days

On the drive to their rented berth at the marina, Mike and Hewitt caught each other up on the long weekend so far.

Mike reported the standard man-with-young-family activities at his suburban Virginia home. Time at the grill, games with the kids, some yard work, movie time with Laurie.

Hewitt’s weekend was less bucolic. He lived in the City, on N Street NW, near Georgetown University, where he moonlighted doing evening classes as a lecturer in journalism. With the new academic year about to start, Hewitt had hit the books and worked on his planned assignments for the coming semester. He had to keep his classes up-to-date on all current news, so it wasn’t just a matter of taking last year’s material and recycling. The Observer kept his apartment lights on, but Hewitt’s added income from Georgetown was a big help.

While Mike had been settled down and married to Laurie for over a decade, Hewitt was still officially a free agent. He and Valerie, his girlfriend of four years, had talked about moving in together. But it was just talk for the time being. Valerie worked as a press relations officer for a Washington lobbying firm. Her schedule was as hectic as Hewitt’s. Still, the pair found time to sail the Scribe’s Pride out onto the Bay once or twice a month in the summer.

Valerie was brilliant, and a babe. Mike and Laurie liked her, too. Despite Mike’s feigned reluctance to hear about Hewitt’s escapades as an unmarried man in D.C., he secretly had enjoyed living vicariously through his best buddy Hewitt. And Hewitt was not shy about recounting his amorous encounters in past years, although recently his stories and depictions had tailed off dramatically. Mike figured that Hewitt was simply settling down, and developing a little more discretion as he and Valerie got more serious. Mike was right.

“Val and I didn’t do much of anything,” Hewitt lamented. “I was into the books and she spent most of the weekend at a conference in Town.” We got together for Dinner on Saturday night, and she stayed over after that. But she was gone Sunday morning before I even woke up.”

“Well,” Mike consoled, “look on the bright side. It gave you more time to work on your prep on Sunday, right?”

“I guess so,” replied Hewitt, looking vacantly out the window over the passing countryside. He enjoyed these drives to Maryland, and seldom wanted to take his own car. He was content to watch the farms and trees and well-kept properties slide by on his way to coastal Maryland. It reminded him, just a little, of the countryside around his hometown of Joplin, Missouri. Long stretches of highway, trees, mostly flat ground. Washington and Joplin were almost 1000 miles apart, but in Hewitt’s mind, when he squinted—they could be the same place.

The journey from Missouri to Capitol Hill was not a straight line for Hewitt Blackwood. After high school graduation in 2000, he attended the Park School of Journalism at Ithaca College in Upstate New York. He had just started his sophomore year when the 9/11 attacks stuck. The media coverage of the attacks and their aftermath provided Hewitt and his classmates with a real-life laboratory in which to study the news and how it was delivered.

On graduation in 2004 Hewitt had planned to return to Missouri, but was drawn to Albany after an on-the-job apprenticeship turned into a State House assignment for the Jamestown Patriot newspaper in western New York. He worked the Albany beat for four years, occasionally filing stories that went beyond Chautauqua County and were picked up by wire services for statewide and sometimes national distribution.

As he got more comfortable in his craft, Hewitt Blackwood got restless. By 2007 he was sending out portfolios to newspapers around the country. The Washington Observer replied, among others. The paper liked his writing, attention to detail, and good grasp of politics. It offered him a probationary, junior reporter, job for an initial six months. Despite the risk, Hewitt accepted. He started with the Observer in early 2008, his probationary period turned into a permanent offer, and he moved up in the pecking order over the ensuing years. He was now, at the tender age of 36, one of the senior reporters at the Observer.

Newspapers are notorious for not making reporters rich, so when a guest lecturing opportunity at Georgetown turned into a permanent, part-time gig, he snapped it up. He was a long way from being a full member of the faculty, but was slowly working his way into becoming a fixture on campus for students of American Studies.

Valerie was Hewitt’s first really steady, emotional relationship, after a young adulthood of carousing and partying and hooking up. The only other serious connection he had after arriving in Washington was with a congresswoman from Ohio who was several years his senior, but striking and very good in bed. Hewitt became her Washington recreation, her release—too old to be a “boytoy.” She was discreet, almost too much so, and Hewitt became expert at using back entrances and service elevators to meet her in hotel rooms and apartments over the three years they “dated.” She had a reputation back home in her district as a strong family-values woman. A sordid affair with a young reporter would have dashed all of that. When she was swept from office in the 2012 election tide, it all ended—and just in time for Hewitt. He had enjoyed the physical nature of their relationship, but knew it was never going to be more than that. Even for a horny 30-year-old man, the rocking sex was not enough. But, while it lasted, it was a great apprenticeship in women’s studies, at least of the physical kind.

Valerie’s arrival in his life a few years later allowed Hewitt to become a more rounded person. She didn’t use him to sate any craving; rather, she genuinely seemed to like this rascal and saw in him someone she could spend her life with. Hewitt, though, was poor at reading the signs. He couldn’t tell how serious she was about their relationship.

The ring of Mike’s phone jolted Hewitt out of his semi-consciousness. Mike stabbed at the Bluetooth button on his steering wheel after seeing the caller ID flash on his radio’s display panel.

“What’s up, Dear?” he asked Laurie.

“Maddy just told me she needs glue sticks for school tomorrow. Can you stop somewhere and pick some up before you get home?”

“Sure thing. Not sure what’s open but I’ll grab a package somewhere. Say hi to Hew.”

“Hi Hewitt. Are you behaving yourselves?”

“Hi Laurie-babe,” Hewitt exclaimed cheerfully. “We’re a little behind because we stopped at a strip club in Forestville on the way out. I had to drag him out, but he’ll be back home in time for supper.”

“Gee, thanks,” replied Laurie. “Drive safe, you perverts.”

Mike laughed and hit the hang-up button. “You are a real piece of work, you prick.”

“You’re welcome,” said Hewitt. “You know she loves it when I try to make you into a ‘play-a,’” gesturing with air quotes.

Mike and Hewitt arrived at the marina, cleaned out the cupboards of perishable food, prepped the Scribe’s Pride for storage, arranged for the haul out and parking, and by late afternoon were on their way back to D.C. along the number 4 highway; soon to turn in to an extension of Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Don’t forget your glue sticks,” reminded Hewitt.

“Right, yeah,” responded Mike. “What would be open on Labour Day?”

“Probably any Walgreens or Rite-Aid would have a school supply section, and most of those should be open.”

“Yeah, good idea,” replied Mike. “Maybe we should get them now before we get back into the city.” Just rounding north of Joint Base Andrews, Mike turned off the highway and made his way up to a drug store, where he quickly picked up Maddy’s glue sticks. Back in the car, the two resumed their trip into the city.

“It’s a shame to miss a few more weekends of likely very good weather,” said Hewitt.

“I know,” replied Mike. “I’m not looking forward to these next three Saturdays away.”

“What’s up, anyway?” asked Hewitt.

“Next weekend we’re visiting Laurie’s folks in Hagerstown. It’s a little too far for just a day trip, so we’re going to stay up there Saturday night and come back on Sunday.The girls haven’t seen their grandparents since they got back from Europe a few weeks ago, so there will be presents I’m sure,” chuckled Mike.

“The week after that Laurie has a show in Chicago, and I’m going with her to that. We’ll be leaving on Friday afternoon and coming back Sunday night.

“Then, the third Saturday, I’m in New York at a talk by Ted Koppel. Remember him?”

“Sure do,” replied Hewitt. “I watched him every night on Nightline when I was in college. What’s he up to these days?”

“He’s got some speaking gigs about the book he wrote a couple of years ago called Lights Out, and I’m going to one of them in Manhattan.”

Hewitt furrowed his brow, trying to place the title. “Is that the one about cyber attacks on the power system?”

“You got it. It’s a really scary book. Did you know that you could knock out all the power in America just by hitting a certain few big transformers at the right time?”

“That’s a little far fetched isn’t it?” queried Hewitt.

“Well, I’m going to find out. I have an interview booked with him when I’m up there, and I hope to dig in a little bit.”

“Sounds interesting,” replied Hewitt. “Me? I have the next three weekends off, basically, but I’ll have lots of prep to do for my classes so I’ll be able to stay busy. Then, on the last weekend, Val and I are going to the wedding of one of her sorority sisters up in Pennsylvania.”

“Jesus, hold me back,” said Mike, feigning excitement.

“I’m actually looking forward to it. I want to see her reaction to the whole wedding scene. We’ve been together for a while, but this is the first time we’re going to a wedding together. I’m looking for hints on her feelings about marriage, and I’m just too scared to ask in case I’m reading it wrong.”

“Well, look at you,” laughed Mike, “all settled down and such. So you think you might pop the question?”

“I’m not sure. We never really talked about it so I don’t know how she’ll react. She might not want to take that step right now. I’ve been waiting for something like this wedding to maybe break the ice on a conversation.”

“Well if she’s favorable you’ll want to be ready. Have you thought of a ring?”

“No.” Hewitt looked down at his hands. “Well I’ve thought about it but not actually looked. I’d have no idea where to start. I would like it to be a surprise, so I’ve avoided asking Val any questions.”

Mike slowed for the gathering traffic as they approached the bridge across the Anacostia River. The drive to Hewitt’s place took Mike past all of his favorite D.C. landmarks: the Jefferson Memorial, the Tidal Basin, through the Mall on 17th St. NW, past the Washington Monument, the Ellipse, the Executive Office Building, and up toward Dupont Circle.

“Well, my friend, it’s a shame you don’t know anybody who could help you with a jewelery purchase.” Mike exited right to take the 395 along the river. “Oh, wait a minute, I believe I’m married to one of the fastest-growing independent jewelery makers in the United States. Did you ever think of that?”

“Well, yeah, I guess so.”

“Jesus, man, I guess we’re going to have to drag you kicking and screaming into wedlock. Val is your perfect match, and you’re going to lock this down now.”

Hewitt gazed out at the people strolling under the trees along Maine Avenue. “What if she’s not ready?”

“Then she’ll tell you a date when she is ready. In the meantime you can bang your brains out and just enjoy the finer things in life. Don’t worry about it.”

“What if she says ‘no’ altogether?”

“Well,” said Mike, thinking carefully, “you’re young enough to start over if that’s a dead end.”

Mike stopped the car in front of Stu’s apartment in Georgetown.

“See you tomorrow, loverboy,” he said, waving Hewitt out of the car.

Hewitt flashed Mike a glance, and then grunted as he stood upright on the sidewalk. Try as he might, Hewitt was unable to some back with a sharp-witted retort for his best friend. He just waved, nodded, and made his way to the entrance.

***

Mike pulled the car into his driveway in Chevy Chase 20 minutes later, and got out to find the girls playing in the yard while Laurie stirred through some paperwork on the deck.

Mike put the glue sticks on the kitchen counter and slid the patio door aside to join Laurie outside in the fading September sunshine. He sat in the chair beside hers and looked out at the kids, playing with a bubble maker and watching the wispy, rainbowed, orbs drift up into the trees.

“What do you think Val’s ring size would be?”

Laurie sat bolt upright. “Well it’s about fucking time!” she yelped, before clamping her hand on her mouth — hoping the girls were out of earshot.

“I love it when you talk dirty,” Mike replied, deadpan. “He’s scared shitless, though. He’s thinking of the end of the month.”

“Scared of what? She’s been ready to go for a year now. She was wondering if he’d ever get around to it.”

“Well, that’s a relief. Why the hell don’t people talk about this stuff together instead of waiting and worrying?”

“Are you kidding me?” Laurie replied. “Is this Mike Evans speaking? Do you remember how we got engaged? Do you remember that I had to propose to you?”

“Well,” Mike replied. “It shouldn’t always be the man anyway, what about equal rights?”

“Equal rights my ass. You were too scared to ask me, and Hew’s the same way. You guys crack me up. All investigative-reporter-and-shit, asking politicians and scientists the tough questions and getting to the bottom of things, and you can’t even investigate when your girlfriend might be open to becoming your fiancée.”

“So, if you’re finished, are you happy or sad?”

“I’m thrilled, and Val will be too. Her clock is ticking and his deadline was running out. She’s been waiting for Hew to show he was settled down enough to be serious.”

Mike, looking perplexed, asked, “How do you know all of that?”

“Girls talk, my dear. While you and Hew are pulling on ropes and throwing beers at each other, we’re in the back of the boat with our wine and our stories. Luckily for you two, most of our stories are good ones,” she said with a wink. “She’s crazy about Hewitt.”

Mike sat back contentedly, smiled, and looked at his watch. “I guess I should light the grill.”

“The steaks are in the fridge, dear,” Laurie replied, giving him a ‘thumbs up’ sign.

“Oh, Mike?”

Mike stopped and turned around to face Laurie.

“She’s a size six, and wants a traditional solitaire on a plain band. Cut and size not important. I can do something up and give him a sweet deal.”

Mike smiled, shook his head, and went inside.

***

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