Falling Off a Log
I woke up the next morning when I felt Nick trying to get out of the bed. It took me a few seconds to realize where I was, then the what and why of it came flooding into my consciousness. I worried it through my mind for a few seconds, then started to think it wasn't so terrible after all. At least we'd talked about it, and I didn't think it would happen like that again.
"You want the first shower, Joe?"
"Nah, you go. Just leave me some hot water. And Nick?"
"I'm sorry I freaked out last night."
"I'm sorry I got you freaked. You OK Now?"
"Yeah, don't worry about it. I'm fine."
He smiled, "Thanks, Joey. I need you to be my friend." He got a bathrobe out of the closet and headed down the hall for his shower. I had to dig through the bed things to find my underwear as I'd kicked them off during the night. Then I put on my shorts and went to my own room. After a few minutes there was a knock on the door and Nick stuck his head in to tell me the bathroom was all mine.
After I was cleaned up and had gotten dressed I walked over to Nick's room. The door was open and the beds were made up, but he wasn't there so I went down to the kitchen. He was sitting at the table watching my Mom talk on the phone. It didn't take long to figure out she was talking to Nick's father. It was about what kind of arrangement he wanted her to look for, how much he wanted to pay, stuff like that. When she was done she handed the phone to Nick and he talked to his Dad. He really looked happy while he was on the phone, and that made me happy.
Mom made us oatmeal for breakfast. As soon as he got off the phone, she told me that Nick was going to take a drive with her and look at some places she had in mind after talking to his father, that Nick would have to pick the place since his father couldn't just drive here and expect to find something then. They wanted me to go with them, but I had some homework to do and I wanted to just have a lazy Sunday.
After they left I went upstairs and read my history chapter, then parsed some sentences for English. It didn't take long as I was focused a little more than usual, and I didn't have to read everything three times. When I finished I went down to the garage to see my Dad, but his car was gone so I was home alone.
I called up Scott and told him what Nick was doing. He wanted to know how things worked out last night, and I just said fine. I wasn't ready to tell him the details.
"So, Joey. Where'd ya ever work up the balls to ask Mandy out? Man, you didn't even stutter ... much anyhow!"
"Tell ya, Scott. She seemed so nice when we were talking about Nick. Not stuck-up at all. Just friendly and all worried about Nick. I really liked her. Then when Keith asked if I got her number, I thought if I don't do it now I never will. I was kinda scared she'd say no, but I had ta ask anyhow. Nick thinks she's a real special girl. Anyhow, I did it and I'm glad."
"She sure is pretty!"
I pictured Mandy, and almost didn't hear Scott go on.
"So, you comin' over later? Keith's coming after lunch sometime. Dad wants him in on the secret - doesn't think it's fair if everyone else knows and he doesn't. You're gonna want to see his face, aren't ya?"
"I don't wanna miss that. If Nick's back can he come, too? I really want to see both their faces when they see what's under the barn."
"Oh, yeah! Bring him! Maybe we can have a little practice usin' Dad's stuff."
The doorbell rang. "I'll be right back, someone's here." I ran to the front door. It was my grandparents on my Mom's side. I invited them into the living room, then ran back to the phone. "I gotta go, Scott. Got company."
"Bye, see ya later."
I went back and collected hugs and kisses from Grams and Pops. I explained where my mother was and that I didn't know where Dad went, but probably not far if nobody said anything. I got them beers and a soda for myself. I told them all about our band and what we planned for sometime Thanksgiving weekend. Asked them to come hear us if we actually did it. I told them they probably wouldn't like the music we played, but that I thought we sounded pretty good at what we did. They said to just let them know.
The doorbell rang again. It was Mandy and her mother. I mean Nick's mother. They wanted to see how Nick was doing. After standing in the doorway telling them where he'd gone, I suddenly remembered my manners and asked them to come inside.
"You can wait for them - they should be right back." They followed me into the living room and I introduced them to my grandparents right after Mandy introduced me to her stepmother. Nick's mother was a very striking woman. Dark like him, and kind of - expensive looking, for lack of a better term. She was well dressed and well groomed. She had that poise that seems to belong to very few people I'd ever met. Gracious and warm. For real, though, not put on like so many people do. She seemed to be the genuine article. She fell right in to a friendly chat with my grandparents. I asked if she'd have a beer, since they both had them. They were drinking from the bottle, but I brought her a glass. I was sure she'd use it, but she drank from the bottle just like them. I got Mandy a soda and we all sat there enjoying the chit-chat. Mandy and I were included in it and it was like we were old friends or something - just yakking and laughing with the rest of them. I wasn't nervous at all.
My Dad came back shortly and, after introductions, got everybody another beer. He brought them all glasses, and they all used them.
Mom and Nick came in then. When Nick came in, his mother stood up and he just ran up and grabbed her and started crying like a baby. Nick's mother started crying, too, and it was a little embarassing for all of us. Mom gently prodded them out of the room and into the den and left them alone there to work things out between themselves. She told her parents who Nick was, and enough of what had been going on to explain all the emotions. My grandparents were all understanding and everything, but I didn't really want to hear everything all over again. I asked Mandy if she wanted to go for a walk and she (gratefully, I think) said yes.
It was a gray day outside, but it was pretty warm for that time of year. We headed down the street side by side.
"Your Mom's real nice. She's got class," I said.
"I know, Joey. She's the best, but she's a wreck over Nick right now. She's not usually very subdued. As a matter of fact, she's a little wild. Nice wild, don't get me wrong. She can have fun with the littlest things - things most people would just never even notice. I mean, she can't just pick some wildflowers - she has to string them in her hair - make bracelets with them. Stuff like that makes her so happy. You can see it. She just loves life."
"How about ... never mind."
"I was going to ask about your real Mom. What's she like?"
"Oh, she's nice too. I love her and all but ... well, there's no comparison. Louise - my stepmom - just kinda shines all the time. You hardly ever see her not happy, and it's catching. She makes everybody around her happy and she's not trying to. When Dad left my Mom I tried to hate Louise. I really tried to. I'm not proud of that. I was really being a brat, but Louise never got mad at me. She had fun all the time, and I made myself miserable. I know my father felt bad for me, but I wasn't havin' it. She didn't ignore me. She was always nice. She never tried to boss me around or anything, just stayed happy and having fun all the time. For a while I thought that if I could be just a little more rotten, she'd hate me and send us back home. It never happened. I hated Nick, too. I didn't want a brother. Especially one who really wasn't. I really tormented him all the time.
"I got to him a little, but Louise would talk to him and then he came back for more. One day I was hassling him about something. Everybody was there. I went on and on about whatever and he just took it. When I finally shut up, he just looked at me and said his dad told him I must have penis envy. I told him, 'Well, Im certainly not envious of yours', and everybody cracked up. It was really funny and I started laughing, too. I've been laughing mostly ever since."
I was laughing too. "That's really funny, Mandy!"
"I know. Nick still pulls that one on me sometimes, and I always say the same thing. We always end up laughing. I hate seeing Louise so upset, I mean it just never happens. I got in a big fight with my father last night. Like, why do you have to be the only jerk on the planet? I told him how all you guys were pulling for Nick and he was just letting him go. Is it worth it? I mean, Nick will probably never leave his Dad, but he sure doesn't need his mother's husband hating him like he does. Know what? He started to cry."
"Cry? For Nick?"
"Probably for himself. I think he knows he's really been stupid, but he won't admit it. Not right away, but I know having you guy's fathers yell at him has him thinking. I know him. He knows those guys are OK with Nick and he's the only one that's not. That's what's gonna bother him. It might bother him that he's been rotten to Nick, and he can't take that back anyhow, but not having everyone share his opinion is what's gonna kill him. He'll dwell on it forever. I don't think he ever told anybody about Nick, so all he's got to go by is how your fathers feel. He's a salesman for a living. He needs to have people on his side. It'll come to him someday what a louse he's been, and he'll try to make things right. He's not dumb, and he really is a nice person inside. I mean, when Nick first came my Dad loved having him in the house and they got along all the time. They had lots of fun, and my father was happy with the way things were going. He got along way better with Nick than I did with Louise, but Nick wasn't being a jerk like I was. I knew he missed his father, but my Dad paid for him to go visit all the time. And he got along good with Nick's father, even after the divorces and everything."
"So, you really think he'll be ok some day?"
"I'm sure. It's not gonna do Nick any good. Well, maybe it will. Maybe that he's not really hated. It's been almost two years, though - since my Dad lost it. He can never fix it, but maybe they can make some kind of peace."
"Boy, I hope so. I never ever want to see one of my friends as miserable as Nick was yesterday. I never had anything really bad happen to me but, honest Mandy, it made me feel terrible, like helpless. I was praying for my Dad to show up and tell me what to do."
"Nick said you were the one who got him out of it."
"I didn't do anything, really. Just stayed with him. We didn't even say anything."
"Whatever you did, it worked. He just wanted to die, and now he's all happy."
She took my hand and held it. We walked silently for a long time, taking a left turn every once in a while so we'd eventually end up back at my house.
"Do you think you could ... ever. I mean ... do you think you could .... like me someday?"
"I already like you, Joey."
"Yeah. You're nice, and you're smart. You're funny. And you're cute!"
I'm cute? She thinks I'm CUTE?
"You think I'm funny?"
"Yeah - all that stuff you and Scott do, tripping and crashing into things all the time. I think it's a riot."
"You guys are the only ones with the nerve to do it. And the looks you put on your faces! You act like it's just an accident - all embarassed and everything. Sometimes I even laugh later when I remember something you did. You'll probably be on TV or something when you get older."
When I get older. Not when I grow up! I wanted this to go on forever, but we ended up back at my house.
When we went in, we held hands again and went into the living room. Everybody was there. Nick and his Mom looked a lot better, and she was telling some kind of story to everyone. "Oh, you're back! We thought you went for a little walk, not a long hike, and oh my! They're holding hands. Mandy's so much like me! There's no point in just walking for the sake of it. You should always try to find something along the way to bring back. What a nice looking couple!"
I smiled instead of blushing, for once. I didn't let go of Mandy's hand. Everyone was agreeing that we made a nice couple and all that. I looked at Mandy to see if she agreed. She smiled, giggled, and rubbed her nose against mine. I giggled too. It felt good. I kinda wished everybody would disappear and we could stay there and just rub noses forever. I didn't need anything else. This will do just fine, thank you.
The grandparents got up to leave, then Louise said she'd better go, too. I told Mandy that we were going over to Scott's and asked if she wanted to come. She looked at Nick's Mom and said she'd better not, but reminded me I owed her an ice cream. I walked out to the car with her, opened her door and held it for her. Before she got in she gave me a quick kiss. On the lips. Not that quick, though. It was a real kiss. She got into the car and I went to close the door for her. My foot slipped on a wet leaf when i stepped back and I fell forward with my face and both hands right up to the glass. Mandy laughed, like I'd done that bit just for her amusement.
We went back in the house and heard all about the real estate stuff, how they'd looked more at different types of places instead of something specific. Like there's apartment buildings, duplexes, two and three family places, and the occasional house to rent. Nick had seen something he was sure his Dad would like, and my Mom was going to call in the morning. We had sandwiches for lunch. I'd planned to ride bikes to Scott's house, but it started to rain and Mom drove us over. She said Dad had one beer too many. He looked pretty pleased at the prospect of having a few more, and watching his game in peace.
When we were almost to Scott's driveway I asked my Mom "How many ?"
"I say nineteen."
Nick looked puzzled. "How many what?"
"Yeah. How many rabbits we gonna see in Scott's driveway? Whoever's closest wins. How many do you think?"
"Um, one, I guess."
This was a little game we played whenever we went up that driveway. There were always rabbitts everywhere. You had to look hard to see them sometimes, but somewhere between ten and twenty was normal. Today we counted fifteen. Mom won, and was reminding me about it when we got up to the house. She came in to visit with Scott's mother. Scott came crashing down the stairs. He looked disappointed, then he smiled.
"I thought it was Keith. Hey, Nick. You all better?"
"Yeah, I guess. Keith's coming over?"
I'd neglected to tell him the plan. He got as excited as me and Scott. "Keith's gonna shit a brick, man. I can't wait to see it. Are you just gonna tell him?"
"No, Dad said not to say anything. He's got somethin' up his sleeve. I mean we couldn't tell anybody ever, and now he's havin' fun with it."
Scott's father showed up just then. "Is Keith here?"
"Well, there's a message for him. Somebody called. It's on my desk when he gets here."
"OK, Dad. Where you gonna be?"
"In my studio. Tell him to pick up the message when he gets here, then bring him down to the barn."
"Studio?," Nick asked.
"You'll see," I said, trying to sound mysterious.
We grabbed some sodas and a bag of chips from the kitchen and sat out on the porch waiting for Keith.
"Scott. Know what Joey was doin' just before we came over?" Nick asked.
"Makin' it with my sister. They got the hots, man. He just meets her last night, and today he's makin' out with her right in front of everybody, parents and all."
"You're kidding, right?"
"No, man. You had to see it! Holding hands. Rubbing noses. Kissing. Right in front of his mother. My mother, his grandmother. Everybody! He has no shame!" Nick sounded triumphant, and he hadn't actually lied yet. I was working on a comeback when Brians' truck pulled in, and Keith ran through the rain up to the porch.
"Keith, I think Joey just fucked Nick's sister!" Scott said excitedly.
"Nick was just sayin'. Don't stop now, man. It was just gettin' good!"
Now Nick was blushing. "You weasel! I didn't say he screwed her! Just that they were makin' out!"
Keith looked at me, trying to determine the truth from my expression. I just gave him a lazy smile.
Scott yelled, "Keith! Dad says there's a message for you on his desk. Somebody called."
"Yeah, go get it. It's a phone call or something."
Keith went into the house muttering "Who'd call me here?"
When he came back he looked totally baffled.
"What's the message?"
He had it in his hand. He gave it to Scott. "Mr @@@@@ called. Meet him in our barn. He's waiting for you. It's about an audition."
We were all doing pretty good holding in everything. I mean, here's Keith - the nicest kid in the world - and we couldn't wait to pull this over on him.
Nick said, "Wow! Looks like you're on your way man. If @@@@@ wants to hear you, you gotta be good!"
"Yeah, Keith. You won't forget me when you're rich and famous, will ya?"
"Come on, guys. This can't be real. Your Dad's playin' a joke, right?"
"When did you ever see my Dad try to make funny?" Scott did a pretty good job looking incredulous.
"Just go check it out, Keith." Nick said.
This was so perfect!
I cried, "We'll go with ya! C'mon!"
We started running to the barn. It was raining pretty good now. The door was open. There was like one sixty watt bulb in the whole place. We stopped just inside the door. It was all kind of shadowy. I loved this barn. Suddenly, there was some music coming from an acoustic guitar. Great stuff. Some of @@@@@'s best, but I'd always heard it on an electric.
"Is that you, Keith?"
"Y-yes. Yes, sir."
"Come on over here. I'm not gonna bite." We could barely see Scott's Dad sitting on a milking stool by the cow stalls. He was all got up with the wig and a wild shirt. We all edged over that way, until it was plain who was sitting there. Keith's jaw was somewhere near his ankles. The rest of us were having a lot of trouble breathing.
"Do you like my music, Keith?"
.."... Oh! Yeah! Hell, Yeah! I love it!"
"Think you can keep up with it? I hate being embarrassed." Scott's father wasn't in much better shape than us right then. We could tell he was right on the edge of cracking up.
Keith got more confident. "I can keep up with anything. I think I can play good. You're stuff's good. I love listenin' and playing to it, but it's not hard. I'd really love to play with you!"
That did it! We all cracked up, Scott's father included.
"Think you could blow him off the stage?" I asked.
"NO! No! Try blowing him on the stage!" Scott giggled out.
Keith didn't have a clue! It was such a dumb joke, but it worked. What could he have been thinking right then? All along, for that matter? He gets a message that one of the most popular musicians in the world wants to meet him. And he bites! But the guy's waiting for him in Scott's barn? And he bites harder! And there's three boys and a man surrounding him, all in hysterics, and all his look says is kinda "NOW what?"
Scott's Dad stood up and put his arm on Keith's shoulder, led him through the door to downstairs. The lights came on. Keith got pulled around the bend at the bottom, into the studio. His eyes about popped out of his head. Nick had the same expression.
Scott's Dad led Keith to the drum set, kinda pushed him down on the stool. He picked up an electric guitar and pushed some buttons. He moved in front of the drums and looked at Keith. "Simple, huh? Play with this, Keith!"
Then he started to play some stuff that sounded fantastic. Keith looked back at him, finally convinced that this might be a joke, but it couldn't be a dream. Only one man on earth sounded like that. And he was right in front of him. Scott's father moved over to a mike and said softly, but it was loud through the speakers, "Play, Keith. Pick up the sticks."
Keith did. He started to hit those drums, perfect for what @@@@@ was playing. It was fantastic! I looked at Nick, and he made believe like he fainted. Just rolled up his eyes and crumbled to the floor, but he was grinning when he landed. @@@@@ and Keith played for a few more minutes, then the music stopped. Scott's father looked at Keith and said "That was good, kid. You're real good. Your friends have something to talk to you about right now. I'll be around when you're ready to jam."
We weren't in on the plan, but knew what Scott's father wanted us to get from Keith. It didn't take long to extract his promise on the threat of death. Keith promised, like we all had. Then Scott's father came back over, looking like Scott's father but wearing @@@@@'s clothes and holding his wig in his hand. To his credit, Keith got it right away. I'm not sure he believed it, but he got it. Scott's Dad said "Let's make some noise!"
He handed me a guitar and Nick a bass. Everything was in tune. He wanted to hear what we'd been working on. He stood at his control panel and we played the song Scott and I wrote. It sounded fantastic with all good equipment. When we were done, he played back the tape he'd just made. It was really hard to believe it was just us. I mean, we could listen to it as a whole, and it really rocked! Scott's Dad suggested trying changing keys just after the singing part. He thought it might add some excitement. We were ready to play it again and try it, but he did something electronically that shifted just me and Nick up a fifth just after Scott stopped singing. It did sound fantastic, and we asked if he'd record it again with that change. He just smiled and pushed a button and another tape popped out of a different recorder.
We played for the rest of the afternoon with Scott's father sitting in every once in a while. We were all so pumped up that the time just flew by. When we finally quit, Scott's father told Nick that the bass he'd been playing was for him, and that he could go down to Mike's and pick out a new amp. Then he gave Keith a full set of expensive cymbals. The guys were almost moved to tears and protested his generosity, but he wanted to do it, so it was a done deal.
We talked a little about actually playing for some people on Thanksgiving weekend, decided that Sunday was the best, and that we each should invite some people. We figured that around thirty would be a good enough crowd and left it at that.
My Mom drove us home, dropping Keith at his house with his new cymbals. We got to my house and Mom made soup and sandwiches. I went to bed early, leaving Nick downstairs with my parents.
I went to sleep thinking of Mandy Fleming. She already liked me! She thought I was cute! I was one happy camper.
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