I smiled. "I will still need frequent boosters to keep my protection up." We finished eating and went to the truck. I drove us to Uncle Billy's. The morning crew was there preparing for the day's business. They let us inside even though the place wasn't open yet.
Karen and I were greeted joyfully. A number of these people worked through supper. They sat Karen and me down at the usual table. Marianne was treated coolly though politely when they found out who she is.
Marianne said, "Why am I getting the chill?"
Karen said, "It's pretty well known here that Brad's family neither appreciates him nor this place. What would you expect?"
Uncle Billy's day manager came to our table and offered coffee. He apologized for not having any breakfast. Brad thanked him but explained that we had breakfast earlier though we were interested in coffee. Brad said, "Marianne wanted to come with us to find out about me. Give her a chance, please."
Barry said, "Well, you came to the right place, Marianne. Brad is well known and liked even more. I met Karen as I was heading home. She is delightful and makes a great cheerleader for our favorite sax player." He looked over at me. "Brad, the band is coming by around lunch to eat and practice. They will be glad to practice with you. I'll bring your coffee." He paused.
"Marianne, do you want coffee, too?"
"Please. May I help?" He nodded. They left.
Karen said, "Brad, I do need to talk to my mother. Do you mind?"
"No. I'm surprised you held out this long."
She smiled. "I was interested in watching Marianne's face this morning. Does Mom know about my ring?"
"Well, your dad knows so I guess she does, too."
"Brad, I don't know if he would keep a secret from her if asked. I hope we will treat each other that way." I nodded. She gave me a kiss and pulled her phone to make the call.
Barry and Marianne returned with coffee for all. She brought a tray with creamer and sugar for Karen. She was a little red faced. She sat down and said, "Brad, Barry knows how you take your coffee and I didn't. We brought the fixings for Karen. Neither of us knew how she wanted hers to be fixed."
I said, "She likes hers the same as mine." I passed a cup to her and received a smile in exchange. Unlike many people, she talked quietly into her phone.
Marianne said, "Next fall, I will be at college with you and Karen." I nodded. "Brad, will you let me be around you or will you ignore me?"
"Marianne, we will be around as much as you want us to be. Karen and I will be together as we work out the details of being married students. It's really up to you. I don't thrust myself upon people."
Karen had gotten off the phone. She grinned as she said, "No, you don't. Mom sends her love. You're right. She is checking dates and making lists. Everyone here at Uncle Billy's will be invited. She wants a list." I nodded and Barry grinned. "She wanted to know about your family. I wasn't sure what to say. Will your parents even come if invited? She wasn't sure if they should be invited to be involved because you've suggested that you didn't want them present."
Marianne's head popped up. I said, "Karen, we will talk to them this evening. I do not want their kind of involvement. Pick a number for a budget and I will write you a check. It's going to be our wedding and we will be involved with your parents in all the planning. My family will have no part in it other than attending if they can spare the time. They may have another business trip."
Marianne said, "May I participate, Brad? It's embarrassing when people at school talk about you and I just have to smile and nod because I don't know my older brother. I'm learning. Barry told me a lot while we were getting coffee. He helped you with the truck after I admitted that I hadn't ridden in it before this morning. There seems to be a lot about you that I didn't know."
I said, "Marianne, you may but don't go telling our parents."
Karen said, "Brad, give them a chance. There is always hope. You had to forgive me and did after I screwed up."
Marianne said, "What happened?"
Karen took a big gulp and said, "I put other persons' words in front of my feelings for and about Brad. I even walked away from him. I had to apologize and earn his trust back. The worst thing was that I knew I was making a mistake when I did it."
She grabbed my arm for a second. I smiled over at her. I said, "Karen, we'll go to the house this afternoon and make an effort. I really don't care about going to the country club tonight any more than you. There won't be anyone there who I want to show you off to. I don't need someone else's opinion that you are beautiful and smart. I know those things."
Karen just hugged my arm. We passed a comfortable morning. About eleven, the band members came in and we practiced for an hour. They regularly played together so practice was primarily a time to work up new material.
Mick asked, "Are you coming tonight?"
"Yeah. Karen and I must talk to my parents but we will be back for supper and the evening. Karen likes this place."
He grinned. "We like Karen. Now, we like her even more." He paused. "Who's the other girl?"
"That's my younger sister, Marianne. She got curious about me but not many people are telling her much. I don't know what she will want to do and whether or not my parents will let her loose even if she wants to come back."
Mick said, "She's nice looking when she smiles. What does Karen think of her?"
"Karen is a one-woman education committee. We'll see. I think Karen is grading her on how well she listens." Mick grinned at that.
It was almost five when we left for the house. We walked inside and my parents were in the den. Malcolm had been told to send us there.
The three of us walked in. My mother said, "Brad, it's bad enough you pick up on some cheap girl from college but now you're bringing your sister down."
I said nothing. I could tell Karen was fuming. Marianne jumped in and said, "Karen is wonderful and is on the Dean's List with Brad at school. She isn't cheap in any way, shape, fashion, or form. They are deeply in love. I was with them at Uncle Billy's. Everyone there likes Brad, not because we're rich but because Brad is a truly great guy. They like Karen, too. Neither of you know them. I'm just now beginning to know him and realize how much of what you have said about Brad is wrong."
My father said, "Who is she, Brad?"
I said, "She is Karen Monroe. I've met her family. I've asked her to marry me and she accepted." Karen held up her left hand smiling.
My parents eyes widened. My mother almost shouted. "Where did she get that ring?"
I kept my voice down. "I gave it to her. Granddad left me their rings along with his truck. We will be married as soon as she and her mother can work out a date."
My mother said, "Do you have to get married?"
"Yes. But not in the way you mean that phrase. I have to marry her because she is a great lady with intelligence and beauty. I love her."
Karen was simmering next to me. My father started to say something and telegraphed his disdain for me. Karen screamed at them, "Shut up! Mister Gilman, Missus Gilman, neither of you know me but you don't know your son either. Brad is on the Dean's List at school. He graduated from high school with honors but you wouldn't know about that because you missed his graduation. He will graduate from college with honors and is already approved for his masters' degree program. He is popular at college with students, faculty and staff because of his unfailing kindness. I feel honored to have his love.
"You look down on Uncle Billy's but those people all care about him and he cares about them. He is a star there because he has a great talent as a tenor saxophonist.
"I was with with him at a concert at a church where he and the organist discussed Bach's organ work for half an hour at the reception.
"He drives his grandfather's truck. You've never been in it so you don't know that it is more luxurious than your fancy cars and Brad did the work from design to finished product. It has a sound system that concert halls would envy. His interests aren't your interests but it's you who are poorer for not being interested or involved. We will marry, be rich in love, in devotion, and in happiness. You will miss having known an amazing man and our eventual children. The only thing that confuses me is how such a smart person like Brad can have such stupid parents."
I was holding her hand and I trusted in her love. She had the strength to face down anyone. It was quiet for over a minute. She turned to me. She said quietly, "Love, let's pack. We can get rooms at a local hotel for the night Tomorrow, we'll be back at school and will go about making our plans." I nodded slowly. I took her hand and we began to walk out of the room.
My father said, "Wait, please. Rather than shouting at each other, could we talk? There is another side of this story. We may not know Brad's side but he doesn't know ours either."
I gently guided Karen to a sofa and pulled her down beside me. "Be quiet, Karen. I think I need to handle this. One way or another, it's going to be resolved." She nodded.
My father said, "Thank you. We have been involved with the business. Many people are dependent upon it."
I said, "At the first of the month, reporting showed four hundred twenty-three full time plus about fifty part time. Add in their families figuring an average of three and a half persons for the full-time people, you have a direct impact on one thousand four hundred seventy-seven individuals directly. You've been in charge since I was five. After almost seventeen years, you should have operations down fairly well."
My father seemed surprised but said, "That sounds about right. I didn't know you kept up with things."
I replied. "The company still makes up just under half of my portfolio, forty-seven point eight percent. I keep up with the reporting."
My mother said, "You have your grandfather's stock! That's the largest single voting block left! What is your net worth, Brad?"
I said, "Sufficient. That's not really important to me. Karen is important to me. I told Marianne this morning over breakfast that Irene was welcome to run the company when you were ready to retire. I didn't want to do it. It would be too confining. I have other worlds to conquer.
"Now, I'm not interested in discussing the company, its operations, or its ownership. I'm even less interested in going to the country club tonight and proving that I can be as plastic as the rest of the people there. Karen and I are going to Uncle Billy's again."
Marianne said, "I am, too. I want to get to know my brother."
My mother looked at my father. She said, "We used to go to Uncle Billy's, Archibald. We enjoyed it back then. Now, we could go and watch our son play with the band. Your father and mother loved that place and those people. We did, too, until we thought we wanted more status and bought this mausoleum."
My father grinned. He said, "Brad, take us to see your eye sore while we get to know Karen." My mother was already standing and smiling.
Karen pulled me along toward the front door and I thought, "I'm into IT now!"