Mike Waters - Arlington Road: August, 2000
I was sitting alone on the porch after Jed got off work and took Pat home. The moving van left right after them. Dave hadn't come back yet, so I snuck over there to write a letter to Jack. On the way through the house I noticed boxes stacked up everywhere, and as I passed the living room I could see that there was furniture. I stopped to look. It was nice stuff, at least compared to what we had in our house.
I started wandering through the rooms. The things in the dining room looked like they belonged in a castle. It was all beautiful and comfortable looking. The kitchen was the biggest surprise. Everything looked like chrome and plastic, kind of like the stuff in Hazen's hot dog place. I thought it looked neat.
I sat down in Jack's room and started writing. I had things to say. I told Jack that we had a new neighbor living in his old house, that Jed was starting school the next week. I told him that I was thinking about forgiving Jed for beating him up, but I'd wait to hear from Jack on that one. Then I started to write about Pat, about the things I'd learned that day and how selfish I felt.
I was interrupted by a crash, then some swearing.
"SHIT! FUCK! DAMN!"
I went running out. Dave was standing just inside the kitchen door with a grocery bag cradled in one arm, glowering at another one that he'd dropped on the floor.
He jerked his head to where I was standing. He stared at me for a second, then smiled. "Oh, hi Mike. I guess I wasn't expecting you. I caught my sleeve on the doorknob and dumped my dinner on the floor."
I scooted over and started picking things up, putting them on the table. Nothing was smashed, it had just rolled all over the place. Dave put the bag he was carrying on the table and started picking things up with me. When we thought we'd found everything, he smiled at me.
"Thanks, Mike. Wanna help me with the rest of the stuff?"
We made a few trips out to his Explorer. He'd bought a lot of stuff, and I asked him about it.
He grinned. I liked his face. "When you have nothing, you need everything. I think I just got everything, now I need to figure out where to put it all so I'll remember."
"Want me to help?"
He had been reaching up to open a cupboard. He turned around to look at me. "You don't mind? I could use some help here."
"I don't mind."
We spent a good amount of time putting everything away, especially all the little jars of seasonings and spices. When we were done, we sat at the kitchen table with two sodas.
Dave smiled at me. "You miss your Jack, huh? Timmy told me."
"It's... more than that. Yeah, I miss him, but I need him back. I need Jack to be... to be... so I can be me."
Dave was slouched down in his chair looking really tired, like he was ready to fall asleep, then he lifted his head and looked at me. "I know, Mike. I know. You'll find your Jack. I'll help you."
I was confused, but hopeful. "Why do you call him 'my' Jack?"
His eyes were half shut, but he opened them wide to look at me. "That's who he is, Mike. He's your Jack like your father is your father, like your mother is your mother. He's not my Jack, he's yours."
I just stared.
"Don't you get it? My father died when I was little, but he's still my father. Nothing can change that. It's just a fact. Jack died too young, but you were connected - he was your Jack then. There ain't anythin' that's ever gonna change that. I don't mean he belongs to you, just that he's a part of you."
I understood what he said, and I thought he was generally right. "You said I can find Jack?"
He yawned. "I said you will find Jack." He yawned again. "Sorry, Mike, but I've been driving all night and most of the day." He looked at me again, and yawned again. "Look, I don't want to leave you hanging with an empty promise. We'll find your Jack, I swear it. It took a long time for me to find my father after he died, but I found him."
"How long a time?"
Damn! "That's a long time."
He smiled. "Yeah, it was a long time. But it was a helluva time." He looked at me, then grinned. "Come back tomorrow, Mike. Help me put this mess together, then we can talk some more. I'll pay you."
"Yeah, I'm sure. Why would I say it if I didn't mean it? How much do you want?"
"Huh? I mean are you sure I can find Jack?"
"I'm positive. You know he's close, don't you? Don't you feel it all the time?"
He knew! This guy drops in out of the blue, but he knows right off the bat what my own parents can't figure out. I was right all along. Jack was close, I just wasn't looking hard enough.
I just stared at Dave.
"Go home, Mike. I need some sleep."
"What should I do?"
"Relax. Have some fun. It's you that has to change. Jack will always be there, just the way you remember him."
I was staring again. Dave stood up and pulled my elbow to make me move. I walked out the door, then turned to look at him. He was giving me a sleepy smile. I asked, "Who are you, anyhow?"
"I'm Dave. I already told you. I'm Tim's brother."
I gaped at him.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. We don't look alike and we don't have the same last name. We're brothers, though. You'll learn that soon enough." He yawned again. "Let me get some sleep. Maybe I'll make more sense tomorrow, okay?"
"Bye, Mike. Everything's gonna be fine."
He closed the door, but I stood there looking at it. Everything was going to be fine. I'd find Jack eventually, I really would. I pondered it in my mind for a minute, and it finally seemed real. I knew Jack was close, now Dave said he'd help me find him. It would take time, but I'd find him. I turned to walk across the driveways to my house, wondering what he'd meant when he said I had to change.
I could change if it meant I'd find Jack. I'd do anything if I could make that happen.
It didn't take but ten seconds to get home, but in that short time I found a world of hope, a whole new set of expectations. I skipped the steps, just jumped to the top one and burst into the kitchen. My parents were sitting there. My father normally worked nights, but he was covering for somebody on days who was on vacation.
Whatever my mother was cooking smelled great. I smiled at Dad, then at Mom.
My father laid the paper down and smiled back. "You look happy. Good day?"
"Up and down, I guess. They had to call 9-1-1 for Pat, but he's okay. I met the new guy next door and I like him. Jed's leaving next week."
My Dad's smile had turned into a look of happy shock. My mother and sisters were all looking at me.
My sisters looked at each other and giggled. I heard Melissa say, "I told you he could still talk," then they both started giggling.
My father said, "You're full of news. What happened to Pat?"
"He tried to walk up here, but he wasn't supposed to. I think he rattled his brain a little."
"He's okay, though?"
"Yeah, at least I think so. He looked okay when he left, 'cept for the cyclops."
My mother turned around again. "Cyclops?"
"Yeah. He's got these glasses that make him look like he has one big eye."
My sisters, who adored the way the twins used to look, were making 'ewwww' sounds. My mother scolded, "I don't want to hear that from you two. Pat was hurt and it's going to take time to heal. Don't you ever make those noises again! Understood?"
They both nodded, looking properly chastised.
My father asked, "Jed's leaving already? It's still summer."
"He said it starts when it starts. I guess it's 'cause he's a freshman and there's things to do before class starts."
My father looked at the table. "He's lucky to get into such a good school."
That's what he said, but I knew what he meant. He didn't have the money to send my brother Raymond to a place like that. He struggled to pay for him to go to the state college. Raymond had been working a summer internship up in Louisville to help pay for his second year.
It was the reason Dad took the night job. It paid a premium, plus he got more because he was a foreman on that shift. It wasn't going to end for my parents, either. I'd be up next, then there were the girls right behind me. I tried not to dwell on it, figuring I didn't need college anyhow. I knew how hard Jed fought to get into Vanderbilt, and I didn't want to fight anything. I was lost in thought when I heard my father saying something.
"I said, didn't you meet Tim before? Did you forget already?"
It took me a second to figure out what he was talking about. "I didn't mean Tim. He's not here yet - it's his brother, Dave."
"Yeah, but I think they must be half's or something. They have different last names. I was just over there."
"What's his name?"
"Dave. He told me the last one, but I don't remember. It sounded Italian or somethin'."
"He's a nice guy?"
"Yeah, I think so. He's the new teacher at the middle school."
My father looked up. "Oh. Taking over..."
I headed toward the bathroom. "Mike?"
I turned around.
"You just said more words in ten minutes than you've said in four months. Is it getting better?"
"I don't know. Maybe. I gotta take a monster wizz. I'll be back."
Things suddenly seemed more real to me, even taking a leak. I'd smelled dinner cooking and it had made me hungry. I hadn't been hungry in months. When I missed a meal I never felt anything. I brought news home instead of having it dragged out of me. I went back to join my family for dinner, then sat on the back porch with my father like we used to do. We were quiet for a while, then my father asked, "What's going on, Mike? Are you suddenly feeling better about things?"
"No." I had to think for a second, "Not really."
He looked at me for a minute, more curiosity than concern this time. That alone made me feel better. "Well, I'm glad you had a good day. Try to have another one tomorrow, okay?"
"I'll try." How do you try to have a good day?
"You up for some fishin' on Saturday?"
"Isn't the picnic this weekend?" Our street picnic, where all the families got together to play games, eat and drink beer.
"Oh, yeah, it is. We can go fishin' on Sunday if you want."
"Let's see what the weather's like. I could go for some fishin'. I didn't catch squat when I went with Jed."
"Are you goin' to the picnic?"
"I guess. You think I could ask Dave to come?"
"Why don't you tell Bob Surdiak he's living here and let Bob ask him? Make it official, okay?"
"I guess that's the right way. Dave asked me to help him unpack stuff tomorrow. Is that okay?"
My father was smiling, like my question had made him happy. "That's fine, Mike. You never had to move, but unpacking is way worse than packing up. It took your mother and me about two days to pack up the old place, then about six weeks to unpack once we got here."
I didn't get that part. "Why's that?"
"When you're packing up you just put stuff in boxes until they're full. When you unpack you have to find places for all those things. You'll find out tomorrow." He stretched. "I'm goin' to bed. This shift change really knocked me out."
"Okay, Dad. Sleep tight."
He grinned. "Hey, that's my line!" He stood up and ran his fingers through my hair. "I love you, son."
"I love you, too."
I sat by myself for a while, then decided to go to bed early. I couldn't go next door to write, and I didn't feel like watching TV with my sisters. I walked into my room and started to get undressed, looking at my picture of Jack while I did it. It was part of my little ritual that I'd performed since even before Jack got killed. I'd look at the picture until it was just time to jump into bed, then pick it up and kiss the glass over his lips. Jack had a copy of the same picture on his dresser, and he did the same thing every night - kissed my lips.
When I got into bed I always did the same thing. I'd pick a happy moment that Jack and I had shared and try to relive it, make it happen all over again. I don't know why, but it usually led to a happy dream and a good night's sleep. It worked again, and the next thing I knew it was morning and the sun woke me up by shining on my face.
I laid in bed for a little while, then got up and headed to the bathroom for the usual morning shower. When I was taking my underpants off I realized pretty painfully that I'd had another wet dream. They seemed to happen every three weeks or so, and I didn't really worry about them. It was just nature taking its course.
When I was ready, I went into the kitchen and got a bowl of cereal, then ate it on the porch. I was watching next door as I ate, trying to discern some form of life. I didn't see anything, so I went back to my room. I could tell it was going to be a hot day, so I traded my jeans for a pair of shorts. I walked over and knocked on the back door.
I heard Dave shout, "Come in!" so I did. He was in the kitchen making breakfast. He was barefoot and wearing just a pair of shorts.
He turned to look at me. "Hi, Mike. You hungry?"
"I just ate."
The smell of bacon frying got to me. "I guess I'm still a little hungry."
"Good. I hate eating alone. Scrambled eggs okay?"
"You drink coffee?"
"There's juice in the fridge. Help yourself. This stuff'll be up in about two minutes."
I headed toward the refrigerator, then stopped when I got just in front of it. It looked brand new, but I'd never seen one with a shape like that. Everything was rounded. I looked at Dave. "Where'd ya get this?"
"You like it? That's Tim's pride and joy. He rebuilt it himself."
"Rebuilt? It looks brand new!"
"It's a 1951 G.E. He even fixed the ice cube trays."
I opened the door, having to actually pull a handle to do it. The inside didn't look like anything I'd ever seen either, but it still looked brand new. Instead of having a separate door for the freezer, there was a metal box at the top with metal ice cube trays in it. There were no bins for anything, just some shelves, and the inside of the door looked like the other side of the outside. No shelves, no butter compartment. I didn't know much about refrigerators, but this was definitely a strange one. I found the juice and took it out, nudging the door closed with my elbow. It just bounced back open.
"You have to shut it with your hand, Mike. Pull the handle, then close the door and let go."
I did what he said, and it worked. "Where're the glasses?"
"We're using paper and plastic until we get unpacked. Right beside the toaster. Grab some plates and that package of knives and forks while you're there. Hurry. This stuff's comin' up soon."
We finally got everything together on the table and started eating. It was good, and I was hungrier than I realized. I looked at Dave. "You're a good cook."
"Thanks. I've been cooking breakfast since I was a little kid. I like starting the day with a good meal."
"It takes a long time. We hardly ever have a big breakfast at home."
"It's worth gettin up early for, Mike. You should try it."
"Do you really think I can find Jack?"
He looked at me with a serious expression. "I guess I should define this. Mike, Jack's dead and we both know that, right?"
"You can't bring him back to life, Mike, not flesh and blood anyhow. You'll never have that again. You understand that, don't you? Damn! Don't start crying yet, I'm not finished."
I had started leaking tears.
"Mike, I know exactly how sad you are right now. I was like that for a long, long time. It made me do some really stupid things, things I'll always regret, but when I started to learn better things the bad things had their place in all of it."
I wiped my eyes on my sleeve. "I don't get it."
He smiled, and it turned into a big grin. "Mike... you can't find Jack because you don't know yourself yet. Tell me about your friends."
"I... uh, I don't really have any."
"Why? I dunno. I mean, I like people okay. I used to drive everybody nuts askin' 'em questions all the time. I just really never connected with anybody before Jack."
"I saw you with Pat yesterday. He thinks you're his friend."
I thought about that. "Not really my friend. We grew up on the same street is all."
Dave was quiet for a second, then he leaned toward me and stared into my eyes. "You know who you are, Mike?"
"So do I. You're me... exactly like me when I was your age. Do you like me?"
"I guess, yeah. I don't really know you."
"Forget the know part. Do you like me? So far, anyhow?"
"Yeah, I do."
"Do you think we'll be friends?"
"I don't know."
He leaned back and picked up his last piece of bacon. He just stared at me while he crunched on it, then he smiled. "I know. I already know that we'll be friends. Great friends. Whattya say to that?"
"How do you know that?"
He stood up, picking up his plate and coffee cup. "Time to get to work, kid. We'll talk more later."
I was confused, but we soon busied ourselves opening boxes and putting things away. My father had been right. It was slow going. He had to find a place for every single thing we unpacked. He didn't want me handling some of Tim's valuable antiques. He wouldn't even move them himself, just put them back in the box. He said we'd feel terrible if we damaged something ourselves, and thought it was smarter to let Tim wreck his own stuff.
After several hours with nothing but bathroom breaks, we had finished the kitchen and were part way through the dining room. They had a lot of things. Dave made a couple of sandwiches and we went to eat them on the screen porch off the back of the kitchen.
We had barely sat down when somebody started banging on the kitchen door. Dave got up to answer it, then got followed back out to the porch by our neighbor, Bob Surdiak. He'd come over to invite Dave to the street picnic, saying he'd noticed that somebody moved in. He had a basket of tomatoes and peppers from his garden and handed them to Dave as a welcoming gift.
Bob was a guy I was always happy to see. He'd been on the street long before my family moved here. His kids were as old and older than my father. He always seemed to be in a happy mood, and always knew everything that was going on. He was one of those people who you'd think couldn't possibly be as old as he must be.
He grinned when he saw me. "Hey, Mike. I figured you'd beat me to the punch." He looked at Dave. "Mike here's been buggin' everybody on the street since he could talk. I never saw such a curious kid."
He looked back at me, still smiling. "Where you been hiding these days? You never stop over anymore."
I hung my head. "Sorry. I'll come by."
He rubbed my hair, then looked back to Dave. "I just stopped to invite you to our picnic Saturday. It's a neighborhood thing, and most everybody comes. It's a good way to find out who's who around here."
Dave seemed thoughtful, as if he was pondering it. Then he smiled. "Thanks. I'll be there! Um, where's there?"
"Just four houses down heading toward town. Bring your own meat - we'll have lots of grills. If you can, bring something to share. We charge five bucks for everything else, but that means everything. All the condiments, booze, all that." He grinned. "Nice to have you here. You'll like it just fine. You bought the piece out back, too?"
"That's some nice land. Have you walked it yet?"
"Not yet. It's nice out there?"
"You'll be pleased. Have Mike show you around. He probably knows it better'n anybody else." He grinned again and held out his hand. "Welcome to Morton. I'm happy to know you, Dave."
Dave shook hands and smiled back. "Thanks. I know we'll like it here."
"Me and my brother. He's Tim, but he won't be down 'til next week."
"Oh." The smile lit up again. "Well, you'n me'll know each other by then. You just bring your brother down to say hello when he gets here."
"Thanks, I will. And thanks a lot for the peppers and tomatoes. They look great!"
Dave walked Bob out, then came back and sat down, picking up his sandwich. "He seems nice."
I'd been chewing, and had to swallow before I could answer. "You won't find better. Bob'n Karen are always there when somebody needs somethin'."
"How 'bout we finish eating, then you show me around out back?"
We finished up and cleaned off the table, then Dave tied on an old pair of sneakers and we headed out. He stopped dead when we got to the barn.
"That wasn't there before!"
"No shit, Sherlock. It ain't even done yet."
He just stared at it, then smiled a little. "That fucker! I wondered what the hell people were doin' in the back yard yesterday." He was glancing around, looking astonished. "Wait 'til I get my hands on him!" He wasn't talking to me, kind of to the barn. "Let's look inside."
I followed him in. All of the workers must have been eating lunch somewhere. Their cars and trucks were inside, but we couldn't see any people. The barn itself was just a big empty thing, so I tapped Dave's arm and led him into the guest house. The door from the barn went into a laundry room with a toilet, sink and shower stall. It was mostly finished except for the walls.
The door from there led into a hall that had a door to the outside and opened up into the kitchen. Dave stopped there. The kitchen did look finished, and it was beautiful. "Damn! Hot damn! What the hell's he thinkin'?"
I led him out of the kitchen and we went through the other downstairs rooms, ending up in the room at the back. There was now a wide deck beyond it, and the construction guys were out there eating. Dave was looking around, first at the massive fireplace, then at the woodworking, then at the view beyond the deck.
He looked funny, like he was eating something only he wasn't. His mouth was moving for a while, then it turned into a smile, then a grin. "Son. Of. A. Bitch!" He looked at me. "Did you know this was going on?"
"Never mind. Of course you did. The question is why didn't I?"
I looked up at him. "You don't like it?"
He looked at me in surprise. "Oh, Mike, if you only knew. I absolutely like it. I love it! I designed it! I dreamed it!"
I decided that this was not a good time for more questions. I just stood there and watched while Dave walked around looking at things, touching things. He was acting like a little kid seeing new things for the first time, and it was pretty funny. He walked up close to the stone fireplace, then put his hand tentatively onto a rock, feeling it. Then he started to scratch it with a fingernail, proving it was real stone and not some plaster imitation. His jaw would drop, then he'd put on a knowing smile.
I didn't know what was going on exactly, but it was like watching somebody have the best birthday ever. He finally stopped, bopped me on the shoulder, and said, "Let's go see the woods."
We walked out onto the deck and Dave introduced himself to the builders while I sat with Jed for a minute to see how Pat was. He was fine. The worst of it was that his parents were pretty pissed that he'd done something that was strictly against orders, and had threatened him with a lifetime being chained to the washing machine if he did something that stupid again. I asked if they were mad at me, and Jed said no. I had no way to know Pat's restrictions, and he had fibbed to me about them. I was off the hook.
Dave and I finally headed toward the woods. When we got to the stream we sat down for a few minutes. Dave looked happy, but I think that was his normal look.
"Any fish in here?"
"Bait. I mean, there's minnows where it gets deep. Nothin' you can't catch with a can."
"It's really nice here. I mean right here, where we're sitting."
"That it is." I totally agreed. The same stream went past the back of our house and half the houses on the street before it joined a larger one and went in a different direction. Many generations of kids had sat there watching it flow by, splashed in it, built dams of rocks to make swimming holes, tried to catch non-existent big fish, then decided that the minnows made great bait for other fishing spots. It was August, but it was flowing almost as strongly as it did in April. It never dried up, never in the worst droughts. If anybody needed an anchor in nature, this would be a good choice.
There was only one way across, though, and that was to get your feet wet. It was way too wide to jump, too deep to find rocks to walk across. I stood up and sloshed through it, then turned to wait for Dave only to find him right beside me. He'd bought a big hunk of land, and I wasn't positive where the boundaries were. We started walking toward the right, along the stream. We walked for a while, then found a little surveyor's flag sticking out of a piece of pipe.
"Property marker." I looked to my left and saw another one, so we headed that way. There must have been a new survey when they bought the place, because we could always see the next flag. I knew the land anyhow, but after we made the second turn I realized something.
"Dave, you bought yourself a real decent hole."
"Spencer's pond is on your property. You like bass?"
"For eating, no. For catching, yes. It's good?"
"It's the only place I ever always caught a fish. I swear, you could catch 'em with your hands." Dave looked near tears. "What's wrong?"
"Is it nice? I mean, is it just a hole or is it in the woods?"
"Half in - half out. Come on, it's a nice place."
I started out walking, Dave following right behind. It wasn't far. Spencer's was a real pretty pond. It was long and fairly narrow, shallow in the woods and deep at the sunny end. I'd fished and swam in there since I could remember. The direction we were coming from brought us to the deep end in the field. We walked around into the woods, where there was a spot with a flat rock where I'd fished a million times. It was cool on the hottest day, and if you took your shoes off and dangled your feet in the water you might feel a fish checking out your toes. I'd always loved it there, and I could tell that Dave did too.
We sat on the rock, feet in the water, and he looked like he'd gone to heaven. I looked up at him for a minute, but he seemed lost in it. I looked back at the water. Black here, but that was only because the woods were pretty dense. I knew the water was clear. I'd swum in it many, many times. You could swim to the bottom and anybody on the rock could see you clear as day.
It had been a favorite spot for me and Jack, one of the ones I remembered most fondly in my dreams. Aside from our bedrooms, it was the place most likely to cause us to make love, such as we did. I kicked myself all the time since Jack died for not doing it more. Jack was a bundle of desire, but I was mostly a sack of fear. I loved it... absolutely loved it... every time we had sex, but I was always afraid of the next time. I turned Jack away more times than I consented, and he always backed off. He loved me and he respected my feelings. He loved me far more than he felt a need to get off.
I never understood myself then, and I still didn't. I loved Jack to the core, yet I denied him his urges time after time, denying my own at the same time. I always thought there was forever ahead of us and there was no rush. We never coupled, though he wanted to. I loved having him in my mouth, being in his, I loved all of it while we were doing it, but it scared me at the same time.
Sitting there, I remembered it was the last place we had really loved each other... before it got cold... before that stupid snow storm in April.
I'd been leaking tears, but that thought made me sob out loud. Dave noticed, and he moved closer to me.
"Take it easy, Mike. This was a bad place to come?"
I was getting myself into a real runny-nosed cry. I put my palms over my eyes and let the tears flow. Dave was patting me on the back, but I really wanted a hug. I leaned toward him, but he backed away.
"Mike... I can't."
I looked up at him and he seemed distressed, then he managed a smile. "Mike, I know you want me to hold you, but I can't. Look at my face and consider it a mental hug."
I looked into those soft brown eyes. My sobbing slowed down, but I didn't understand. "Why?"
"I'm a teacher." His own sadness started to show. "Mike, I can't. I won't. I know you're hurting, and I'll give you all the verbal support, all the moral support I can. I just can't get physical with you."
I just stared at him, tears still coming out of my eyes.
"It's the law, Mike. I don't always agree with it and right now is one of those times, but it's a good law. There's no room for gray. Let's get you home so you can get the comfort you need." His eyes looked pleading. "Okay?"
I was old enough to understand what he was saying. "Okay. Thanks, Dave."
We started walking back. It was uneven ground and I stepped cockeyed a few times and bumped into him, but he just moved farther away from me. We walked across the stream, through the woods, and back into the yard.
When we got to the new barn, Dave found the contractor and asked him to get Jed. When Jed came out Dave whispered something to him, then told me to stay with Jed.
We walked over to my yard. Jed looked at me. "You need a hug?"
"He told you that?"
"Yeah. He feels bad, Mike."
I fell into Jed and squeezed him with a death grip. The tears and snot and drool started pouring back out of me and onto Jed's shirt, but he just wrapped his arms around me. It felt good, but it wasn't the chest I wanted to be pressed into.
It wasn't Jack, and it wasn't Dave.
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