Episode 1 - Eddie
My best friend used to be Dennis Baxter. Everybody calls him Bax. We were friends all our lives, but really became close at around the age of ten. I was the catcher on our Little League team and Bax was our best pitcher. When it was him and me out there, we could really kick butt. There is no nuance in Little League pitching, but Bax could throw hard and true for an entire game, and I could catch everything he threw.
When we discovered what a good combination we were on the field, we started doing a lot more together off the field too. We had fun doing a lot of things, and we could make each other laugh. Neither of us had any formal singing training, but we could both carry a tune and harmonize together. We spent countless hours singing old fifties 'Do-Wah' songs, usually just for ourselves. Sometimes we'd slick back our hair, put on shades, push up our collars, and sing at family picnics. It was fun and I think we were pretty good. We kept it up until we were thirteen and our voices changed. I could still sing, but Bax lost it entirely. The duets stopped, but Bax still liked it when I sang by myself.
As we got older, we still stayed best friends. Childhood interests faded, but they were always being replaced with new ones. At age twelve, we both got ten-speed bikes and immediately started taking mega-rides to nowhere. We'd ride all day sometimes, with nothing more than a few coins for a gas station soda. We'd get home tired, dirty, and hungry, but happy. We learned to ski at the local mountain that same winter and shared another new passion. We both got season passes for our thirteenth birthdays and skied so often that we got really good at it. Bax's parents were skiers too, and I went with them every time they went skiing at the big mountains up north.
We talked about most everything, and I don't recall either of us ever being mean to or jealous of the other. There was one thing we didn't talk about, though. By the time I was fourteen I was in love with Bax, and I was pretty sure he loved me back. The signals were all there, anyhow. Bax had always been a toucher, but he started doing it more and more. He could never sit beside me without pressing right up to the side of my body. He'd put his arm around my back when we walked, his hand on my shoulder when we talked, that same hand on my leg when we sat. I knew that I loved Bax, and I knew that probably made me gay, though I wasn't altogether positive what that was at the time.
One hot night, right after the Fourth of July, we were riding our bikes around the neighborhood and decided to go and sit by the river. It was a favorite spot for us. I think the city owned it, but it wasn't a park or anything, just a grassy acre beside the bridge. It was about a mile from my house. We heard voices as we approached, but it sounded like kids having a good time. We rode our bikes down the bank and left them leaning against a tree. We knew who the kids were, but didn't really know them personally. It was dark and hard to tell, but it looked like around twenty people. Most of them were guys, but there were a few girls.
We started walking towards the group when one kid named Marshall noticed us and gestured for us to come to where he was. He was grinning as we approached him.
"Hey, guys. Want some beer?"
I looked at Bax, who shrugged and said, "Uh, sure ..." He glanced at me, then back at Marshall. "... we'll have a coupla beers."
Marshall led us to the water's edge where there was a keg sitting in a drum full of ice. He handed us a couple of plastic cups and told us to help ourselves, which we did, though we ended up with more foam than beer. I'd had sips of my father's beers a few times, but this was the first time either of us actually drank any.
The other kids at the party were older than us, but they all seemed friendly. It didn't take long before we were both pretty woozy and wobbly. After about four cups of beer/foam, we had to sit down and, as usual, Bax sat right next to me so that we were touching from about knee to shoulder. We were like that for a while when Bax put his arm around my shoulder and said, "I love you, man."
I looked at his face, only to find him looking at me with a dreamy look in his eyes. We looked into each other's eyes for a long time, then I leaned forward and kissed him on the lips. It didn't last long, but I swear he kissed me back. He suddenly jumped back, then got to his knees. He spilled both of our beers in the process, his on the ground and mine in my lap. He spun around and shoved me so hard that I fell straight backwards, hitting my head on something in the process. Then he started screaming. In my condition it sounded like it was coming from far away.
"He's a fuckin' faggot! Did you see that? He tried to kiss me!"
The next thing I knew, somebody kicked me in the side, really hard. It hurt a lot, then a lot of people were kicking me. In the legs, on the ass, in the head ... wherever they could find a spot. I think I came close to passing out, but I fell or got thrown into the river and it woke me up. I was swallowing a lot of water and I hurt everywhere, but I managed to pull myself out after floating downstream for a while. I was alone there, and just laid on the riverbank, where I passed out. When I came to, I didn't have the sense that I'd been out long, but my face was in my own vomit and I'd peed my pants.
Everything hurt, especially my head and stomach. I could move, so I figured it wasn't too serious. I didn't know where I was, but I could see the bridge, and I must have floated under it and ended up on the other side. I heard a few cars go by, but no party noises from under the bridge. I couldn't get back there without climbing the embankment or trying to swim. The bank on this side was steep, but I was in too much pain to try swimming against the current. I started to climb, and it was tough going. It was steep and without footholds for starters, but there were pricker bushes the whole way. When I finally got to the top, I sat down for a few minutes, then crossed the bridge and went back down the hill to get my bike. It was gone.
I sat down and cried, alone in the dark. I wasn't all too sure what had happened, only that I'd gotten my ass kicked in a big way. I didn't know who'd been beating on me and prayed that Bax wasn't one of them, though I suspected he was. It was his voice that had called me a faggot, anyhow.
I closed my eyes and may have dozed for awhile, then started climbing up the hill to walk home. I wasn't drunk anymore, but when I got to the road the combination of pain and exhaustion made me just stumble along. I hadn't walked very far when a car pulled over in front of me and a guy in a suit got out. He came walking quickly back towards me. "Jesus, kid! What the hell happened?"
"I got in a fight," I said softly, realizing it wasn't a very good answer.
He went to put his arm around my shoulder, but I flinched because it hurt. Instead, he took my wrist and led me to the passenger side door. "I'm taking you to the hospital. Do you know who did it?"
I didn't answer his question. "Can you just take me home instead? My folks'll be there. It's not far."
He looked at me again, doubt in his eyes. "I don't want to get mixed up in anything, kid. I'll give you a ride, but I'm just dropping you off, okay?"
I was suddenly cold and started to shiver, but I didn't want to ask for anything more than a ride. "I appreciate it. Just take the second right, and it's five houses down."
The moment that we turned into my street we could see the flashing lights, and they were coming from my driveway. I knew the guy was just being kind, so I told him to drive right by and drop me a few houses down so he wouldn't have to explain anything. When we went past my house I could see my parents and half the neighborhood in the front yard. There were two police cruisers in the driveway.
When the guy pulled over he looked really worried. "Jeez, kid! You didn't kill somebody or something, did you?"
"Honest, I don't know what's goin' on. Thanks for the ride, mister. Thanks a lot."
He still looked worried, but he gave me a half smile. "I hope things work out. You sure you can walk okay?"
I climbed out of the car. Just before I shut the door I said, "I'll make it. Thanks again."
I turned and looked at my house and yard as the guy drove away. I had no idea what was going on, but it must have been something big to bring everybody out late at night. I had no idea at all what time it was, but it had already been dark when Bax and I left. It seemed like a long time ago.
I started stumbling towards home. One of the neighbor ladies saw me first, and she screamed my mother's name. "LIZ!" My mother turned to look at the lady, who pointed at me. A few other people had seen and were approaching me, but my mother ran past them all.
"Eddie! What happened to you? What's going on?" When she got close enough to see me she screamed. "EDDIE? Oh My God! RAYMOND! EDDIE'S HURT!" She ran up to me and started gently touching the bruises that she could see while she looked me up and down. A police officer was hurrying towards me with my father. My mother screamed for him to get an ambulance. He yelled to one of the other cops to call for one, then came up to me. I hadn't seen myself, of course, but the officer winced when he got close enough to see what I looked like. My father got me to sit down on the neighbor's lawn and started asking me questions, but everybody else did too, so I didn't know who or what to answer. Everything was a blur, then I got loaded into an ambulance and whisked away to the hospital. My mother rode with me, but she wasn't asking anything anymore. Just crying.
I got treated in the Emergency Room, then admitted for observation. Nothing was broken and there was no apparent internal damage, but the doctor thought I was in a mild shock and wanted to keep an eye on me for a day. They cleaned me up and patched me up, then gave me a shot for pain and wheeled me into a room with three other beds. Only one of them was occupied, but I couldn't tell who was in it. He or she was sleeping on his side facing away from me. After a short while my father showed up with a policeman. They wanted to talk to me, but I fell asleep after a few questions.
I woke up the next day to find my father and a different policeman sitting there. The room was now full of other patients, and there were a few nurses doing things with them. I groaned because I hurt all over ... worse than the night before. My father started to say something, but a nurse heard me and dashed over to do the stuff for my charts, then she brought me a pain pill and a little cup of water.
I hurt, but I could move everything. I made it to the bathroom myself, then after I had some breakfast, I had to explain the night before to the cop right in front of my father. I just said that Bax and I had crashed a beer party and gone overboard and that the next thing I knew I was in the river. The officer took notes, not giving me any indication whether he believed me or not. I kept taking quick looks at my father, and I could tell that he didn't buy a word of it. The cop seemed satisfied after a while, and got up and told me to get better, then he left. I was with just my Dad, but there were other people there and we didn't really say much.
A doctor came in after a while and gave me a final check, asking how I felt. I told him that I ached but was okay otherwise, and he told the nurse to get me out of there. It took a while, then they insisted on taking me to the door in a wheelchair. My father had clean clothes for me, and I changed into them, then an orderly wheeled me out. It was embarrassing, but I hurt enough that I endured the embarrassment. My Dad was waiting with the car and he helped me in and drove away without a word.
We weren't halfway home when he pulled to the side of the road and turned the motor off, then turned to me. "What is it, Eddie? Who beat you up? Who smashed our house? Why did they hurt you?"
I hadn't heard what happened at home to bring the police there. "What happened to the house? Why were the cops there?"
My father didn't answer me, but asked his own question. He was looking directly into my eyes. "Eddie, are you gay? That's what those kids were yelling when they smashed up the house. Is that what it's all about?"
I was shocked that my father would ask me that, and was totally unprepared to answer him. I wasn't really sure what it meant or if it applied to me. "I .. I don't know, Pop. I don't know much about any of this stuff."
He just stared at me, but he didn't look angry at all, just sad if anything. "Eddie, tell me what happened last night. The truth this time, okay?"
I did. I told him everything I could remember, especially the details about what happened with Bax. I'm glad that I was naive enough to just tell him how I felt about Bax and what I thought when Bax had said he loved me, how I had kissed him and brought the heavens down on myself. The expression on his face never once wavered from the love that I'd always found there. Like I said, I was naive. I didn't know you weren't supposed to tell your parents you were gay. It didn't seem to make any difference to my father right then, and it hasn't since.
He did tell me that he wished I'd told him before so he could warn me about things, but he realized that I was just a kid who didn't know what he'd gotten himself into. He started the car and we headed home. On the way he told me what had happened at the house the night before.
My folks had gone to bed fairly early. At around midnight some noises had caused them to wake up. There was a crashing in the living room and they ran out to see what it was, but it was followed by more crashing noises and a lot of screaming and yelling from outside. The crashing noises were windows being broken, and that allowed them to hear the words that were coming from outside. The words all revolved around my sexuality. The cars full of kids roared away and my parents called the police, then went outside to survey the damage. In addition to the broken windows, a lot of shrubs and flowers had been torn up and damaged. My bike was in pieces all over the front yard.
The police came, then I showed up.
When we got home I saw myself for the first time in the hallway mirror. It was bizarre in a way. I was fascinated by what a mess I was. Both eyes were black and puffy, and my face was covered with scratches from the pricker bushes. My left ear was all black and blue too, and none of those things even hurt. Other places did hurt, and I felt an odd desire to get to the bathroom to see what the rest of me looked like.
It had to wait, as my mother came in and we all talked about what had caused the trouble. Mom really went off the deep end, blaming herself for babying me too much. It just wasn't true, but she couldn't be consoled. The truth is, I had never felt babied. I had a lot more freedom than most kids I knew, and they were always envious of me and Bax.
As long as my folks had an idea of where I'd be and when I'd be back, I got very few questions about it. I had my regular friends. As long as I was with one of them everything was fine. If it was somebody new, they'd make me check in if there was a change of plans from what I'd told them. The only thing I couldn't do without my Dad was ride the dirt bike, but that didn't bother me because nobody else had one.
I felt terrible for bringing these things down on my parents. They didn't deserve that first night, but it never let up after that. I tried to call Bax, but was informed by his mother that Dennis wouldn't be seeing me anymore. My parents kept me close to home for about a week, mostly because of my injuries and the way they made me look. I was bored and in pain, and I missed Dennis. I didn't really know what I'd done that was so awful. He said he loved me, then I kissed him.
I felt worse than I looked after the first week. I was alone, without a friend. The first few times I ventured out of the house I got taunted, not only by kids my age and older, but by little kids. Everybody hated Eddie. I got verbal abuse everywhere I went, but it got physical when I tried to join a basketball game at the park or something. They'd let me play, then bash me around and call me names. I went through that whole summer without friends. Every time somebody looked like he was going to forget it and be friends again, somebody else would come along and stir things up.
I finally stopped going out altogether, and just stayed home watching television. Talk about bored! I talked to my Dad a lot. He was worried for me, and worried about what I was thinking. It took awhile, but he finally managed to convince my mother that there was nothing wrong with me, and my being gay wasn't her fault. There were still sporadic attacks on our house, but they weren't too serious. It was summer and tomatoes were in season. A lot of them got thrown against the house. I checked every morning, and if there was a mess I cleaned it off with the hose.
When school started that year the torment really began. There were a few rough guys and a lot of comedians. I tried to avoid the tough guys. The wise asses didn't really bother me with their words. What really hurt was that my old friends just avoided me. I was a non-person. Not one fucking lousy kid in that school would talk to me, let alone stick up for me. Oh, when I was taking a beating somebody might finally take pity and say "Cut it out" or "That's enough," My grades were shit and I didn't care. I just wanted out of there, and I didn't care how I did it.
My first year of high school, which I had really been looking forward to, turned into a total bust. Bax and I had counted on joining the ski and baseball teams, but it wasn't to be. I saw Bax around school. He was even in a few of my classes, but he never spoke to me. He didn't join in any of the torment; he just avoided me completely. From what I could see, he'd turned into a loner of sorts himself. He didn't seem to talk much to anybody else, either.
I'd always been a pretty sociable kid, so having nobody my age to hang around with was killing me. I was all alone. I walked to school by myself, got pushed around and joked about all morning, ate lunch by myself, got pushed around and joked about some more in the afternoon, then walked home by myself. Sometimes I got beat up on the way.
It wasn't just me. My parents were now the parents of a 'known homosexual' in our little town, and their welcome wore out in a few places. My father had been on the town council for eight years, but he lost the next election in a landslide to a guy who hadn't even lived there a year. My mother was informed by the fucking Humane Society that her volunteer work at the animal shelter was no longer needed.
I was seriously pissed off. How could one little innocent act of love ... a kiss ... trigger such hatred for me and my family? We were all having a hard time with it, but I knew it was my fault. I somehow made it through the school year, but I swore I'd never go back there. It was another summer alone for me. The only thing I did was ride the dirt bike with my Dad most weekends.
By August I was convinced that I was the problem and that everything in the world would be better if I just wasn't there anymore. I knew I should die, but I didn't know how to do it. I didn't have access to a gun, which I thought would be best. I really doubted that I could manage to drown in the river because it was shallow to start with, and I was a good swimmer to boot. I thought about trying to hang myself, but didn't know how it worked.
The thoughts went round and round in my head. I was going to do it, I just didn't know how. Slit my wrists in the bathtub? Electrocution? Motorcycle crash? Any one of them should do it. I was leaning towards crashing the bike or riding it off a cliff. It had two advantages: it seemed heroic in a way, and my parents would be more likely to believe it was an accident. I thought they could handle that better than a suicide, and then their problems would be over.
It was the last week before school started. I walked over to the playground early, before other kids got there, to think how best to do this. I was sitting alone on the bench, like I always was, when a kid started to walk by bouncing a basketball. I knew him from school, though not his name. He was one of the comedians. He was almost past me, and I was breathing a sigh of relief that he hadn't said anything when he came and stood in front of me.
I tensed up waiting to hear his latest fag joke, but he just sat down beside me and said, "You wanna be friends?"
I just looked at him, pulling away a little.
He looked serious. "Listen, Eddie. I'm sorry for all the crap I said last year. I was bein' a real asshole and I want to make up for it. You never did anything to me and I'm sorry I joined in with the other assholes. I'm serious."
I was getting scared. I was sure it was a trick and he was trying to lure me into a trap of some sort. I couldn't think of what to say to extricate myself, so I remained silent.
He shook his head slowly. "You're afraid of me, aren't you?"
"I'm not afraid of you. I just know that if I kick your ass I'll get my own kicked ten times by your friends."
He was quiet for a minute, like he was thinking. "Nobody's gonna kick your ass, man. I'm just trying to apologize and make friends. Those yoyo's will think twice before jumpin' you if there's two of us, anyhow."
I wasn't getting it. Last year this kid had a new fag joke every day. He got everybody to laugh at my expense, and he laughed just as hard as they did. Now he was making it sound like he'd stick up for me in a fight. I didn't believe him. "Just leave me alone. Please?"
He rolled his eyes, then backed up a little bit to give me some more space. "What'm I doin' wrong here, Eddie? I just apologized for being a jerk all that time. I'm not gonna hurt you. I just wanna be friends."
"Yeah, sure. What's in it for you? I don't even know your name."
He held his hand out to shake. "Sorry. I'm Richard. Richard LaFleur. Everybody calls me Richie."
I did shake hands with him, but I still didn't trust him, or know what he really had in mind.
"I'm not scammin' ya, Eddie. I just found out that a couple of other guys I know are gay. I still like them, and I know what you've been goin' through, so I just want to be a friend and try to help you through it."
"You really know other gay kids?"
"Yeah ... where I used to live. Want me to tell you about it?"
I just nodded, then became mesmerized as he told me the story of going back to his old town to look up friends. He learned that one of them was gay and went ballistic, but another kid threatened him, then talked to him until he realized what an idiot he'd been. He met a few other kids who were gay, and ended up deciding he liked them anyhow. He said he felt bad about the way he'd treated me and decided to try to be my friend. If that didn't work out, he was going to try to stop the torment anyhow. He didn't expect to see me until school started, but when he did he just stopped to talk.
His story seemed a little too complicated to be made up, but I still didn't really trust him. Why would I trust anybody? How could I?
I did tell him that it was a good thing he didn't wait for school to start, because I wouldn't be there. He thought I meant I was going to private school or something, so I told him what I had planned. His reaction was what made me start thinking that he might be for real. He looked horrified at first, then he got tears in his eyes. He seemed dumbstruck. I sat there and watched him. When he finally gathered his thoughts, he started to beg me not to do it, not to even think about it.
I started to believe that he really wanted to be friends. We took his basketball and shot hoops for a while. When a couple of other kids came and saw us, they started to make comments about me, but Richie told them to shut up and play or just leave. They stayed, and we had a pretty good time for about an hour. Richie walked home with me afterwards, and we sat on the front steps for hours talking about things. He was trying his best to convince me that I could still have a life, and I was starting to believe him.
It had been well over a year since I'd had a real talk with someone my own age, and I didn't really remember how. Rich made up for it. He told me about his summer in Australia, then more about his old friends and their escapades in another town. He was really a good story teller, so the afternoon flew by. When he had to go home to eat, he made me promise that I'd still be there tomorrow, because he was coming over.
He didn't even wait for that. He called that night and we talked for another two hours on the phone.
By then, my parents weren't any more trustful than I was. I still had the lingering fear that I was being set up somehow, and I think they shared it. They wanted to know how I knew him and if he knew about me. The fact that he'd verbally tormented me for a whole school year didn't exactly endear him to them, but it didn't seem reasonable to any of us that he'd spend a whole day being nice just to do a turnabout the next day.
He was there the next morning before my parents left for work. I was still in bed, and I guess they gave him quite an interrogation before they called me down.
When I got to the kitchen, he looked a little uncomfortable until he saw me, then he seemed relieved. I'm not sure if it was because I was alive or because I'd rescued him from the inquisition. It made me smile, anyhow, and that hadn't happened in a long time. That little smile wasn't lost on my parents. They both took another look at Richie, then at me. They left for work smiling themselves.
Richie didn't leave me alone much for the next two days. We didn't do a lot, but we talked. I was getting better at holding a conversation, then I mentioned that I had a dirt bike. He knew how to ride, but didn't have a bike of his own. He wanted to see mine. We'd just walked all the way to the park, then we turned around and walked all the way back. I always kept my bike spotlessly clean, and that blew Richie away. The machines he was used to only got washed off when it rained. We talked about biking all day, then that night he called to see if I could go to a picnic with his family that Saturday. There were bikes there and we could ride together.
My parents were very reluctant to let me go, and I didn't really want to. Richie said other gay kids would be there, but that sounded somehow like a trap to me. I was starting to believe him, even like him, but the mistrust wouldn't leave my head. Richie was persistent, though. He got his mother to call my mother, then his father to call my father. They urged my parents to let me go to the picnic, even to come themselves if they wanted to. They were sure I'd have a good time, and even agreed to bring me home right away if I didn't. Richie threatened to cut off my dick with hedge clippers if I didn't go, and I finally decided to take the chance.
Rich picked me up on Saturday morning with his family. Our parents talked for a few minutes while I sat in the car with Rich and his little sister. I was scared to death, if you want to know. I'd spent the early part of the week determined to commit suicide before school started. I'd found a peace in my own head about that, but I wanted my demise to come at my own hand and not at somebody else's. I still had the thought in my mind that this was just an elaborate trick, and that Richie's 'family' were just hired actors. At one point, I scared myself enough that I was trembling
When we got to the picnic it was at a house with a huge yard, just like Richie had described. There were lots of people there ... all kinds of people ... too many people to count. They all knew each other and Rich knew some of them, but I didn't know anybody, so I was still nervous. Rich had promised other gay kids. There were lots of kids around my age, but I didn't know how to tell if somebody was gay or not. My nervousness stayed with me..
People were talking to us, but it was mostly adults that Richie knew. Finally two boys came over grinning at Rich. He introduced them as Dave and Tim. Dave made a wisecrack about me being nervous, then Tim dragged me over to a dune buggy and we went for a ride.
I'm glad I'd taken a pee. Tim was a wild man behind the wheel and he scared me to death at first, but after a while I realized he knew what he was doing and started to just thrill at the ride. When we were about bounced to death, he pulled into a field and stopped the car. We got out and climbed a little hill just to rest and settle our insides. Tim was a funny kid and he had me laughing for a while, then my laughter changed to tears. It just happened.
Tim looked worried and asked me what was the matter. He thought he'd gotten too extreme with the car. I just cried, then Tim put his arm around me and asked what was really wrong. I took a good look at his kind face, then started telling him everything, especially about my plans for suicide. By the time I'd finished, Tim was crying too. He told me a lot about himself and his relationship with Dave, which had just come to be after a lot of years.
I realized then that Richie hadn't been feeding me a line of shit. There were other gay people my age and I was sitting in a field with one of them. A very nice one, who I felt an instant connection with.
After a while, Dave and Rich came roaring up to the car on dirt bikes. Tim told me to talk to Dave, then he took off to ride with Rich. Dave and I talked for a long time, and for a kid my own age he had to be the most understanding person I ever met. He was a talkative person too, but he was really taking thoughts from my own head and putting them in his, then trying them back on me. It worked! I don't know how long we talked, but by the time we headed back to the picnic I was full of hope.
Hope that I could survive - make friends - have a good life. He told me I'd meet a kid named Rafe who had been through the same shit as me and come out of it as a real leader. Then he started asking me if I liked blondies, but I didn't hear it all after he started the dune buggy.
When we got back to the yard, I met Rafe and his friend Brian, who were a gay couple a few years older than me. Rafe's story sounded a lot like mine, and he had overcome similar problems. He said that the place we were at .. the people we were with, combined to give him the confidence to work his way back to popularity.
I learned a lot from him, especially the lesson that I shouldn't have given up so easily. I'd always been reasonably popular, but Rafe made me realize that if I hadn't been so tight with Bax I probably would have been more popular, because I would have shared more with other people. I really liked Rafe and Brian, and by the time we got back to the yard, we were joking around like old friends.
I wasn't really paying attention to where we were headed, but then I saw him. The most beautiful face I'd ever seen was staring at me with his mouth open a little. I stopped talking and walked straight to the face, sitting down when I got close enough. We just looked at each other, eyes staring into eyes. Other people were talking and I think someone may have actually introduced us, but we had already met.
After a while, and after we ate, we took a walk down to a pond and sat on a rock with our feet in the water. He sat close to me just like Bax used to. We were in contact from shoulder to toe. For a long time we alternated between looking at the water and looking at each other, then we started to talk. We talked for most of the afternoon before we thought to exchange names, and that made us laugh. His name was Adam. We talked about a few general things, but it was mostly about ourselves. Adam felt bad about the treatment I'd been getting, but I felt just as bad for him. He was ashamed of himself, and afraid that the feeling was never going to go away.
I don't know if feeling bad for each other is any way to start a friendship, but I was glad to be starting one anyhow. I finally knew somebody my own age who was like me in a lot of ways, and I felt a determination building inside myself to somehow make it work, to make a friend out of Adam. I wanted a friend again. Adam and I talked about Richie, and I realized I already had a friend, and that brought tears to my eyes for all the doubts I'd had about his intentions. I didn't really chastise myself too much, because those doubts were based solidly in fact, even if it was an old fact.
I taught Adam how to ride a motorcycle that day, starting with a little bike but graduating him to a bigger one after just an hour. He had an aptitude for it, so we rode together for a long time and had a ball. I loved motorcycles and riding with my father, but I'd never ridden with another kid before. I was thinking that I was falling in love, but Adam kept telling me to wait until I was sure. He thought he was falling for me, too, but said it took Tim and Dave years to really figure it out.
That meant nothing to me, but I could see the wisdom in spending a lot of time together before we did anything foolish.
We did end up holding hands at a campfire that night, and I don't think I ever felt so close to anybody before in my life. I sang some songs and people seemed to like them. I liked to sing, but I never did it quite like that before. If Adam hadn't accompanied me on the guitar I would never have done it in front of strangers. I'm glad I did, though, because when we finished the second song Adam took my hand in his and kept it there. I didn't know if he meant anything by it or was just looking for comfort himself, but we were holding hands in front of twenty or so other people. Not one of them seemed to notice, much less care.
Adam and I got permission and stayed the night, sleeping by the campfire. The next morning Dave gave us some really good lessons on how to handle ourselves in a fight. We rigged up a punching bag with a face drawn on it and Dave showed us how to put somebody's lights out if we had to, also how to defend ourselves if the other person in the fight was good. We fooled around fake fighting with each other for a while. We were pulling our punches, but I managed to really clock Adam on the jaw when he got distracted and turned his face into a punch. I felt terrible for Adam, but good that I could hit somebody that hard with even a pulled punch.
When Richie's parents came to pick us up, they had my folks with them. Adam's father came to get him at about the same time, so they all got to meet each other. Adam and I gave our parents a little demonstration with the punching bag before we left. My father and Adam's both warned us about not getting in fights, but I could tell they were proud that we'd be able to handle ourselves if somebody else started one.
Adam came to my house the next day. It was a little strange having him there at first. It may have been that I'd been without friends at the house for so long that I just forgot how, but I felt really awkward until we took a walk to the park. On the way there, the connection we'd started to form began to come back. It didn't take long before we were laughing and joking.
There weren't many people at the park, but there were five kids shooting hoops. Adam wanted to join them, but I told him they were from my high school and would only give us grief. He wanted to play, and reminded me that we could at least see if what Dave taught us worked if they decided to be assholes. We hassled the idea back and forth between us for a while, then nervously approached the other kids. We put on smiles and asked if we could join them. I knew these kids. They'd all been in the group that had ignored me. No brutes or comedians here, but they'd all hurt me in their own way just the same.
They all just looked at us for a few seconds, then the one I knew best, Al Lemieux, said, "You think you guys can keep up? We're just playing horse, so we'll have to take turns."
Just like that. I introduced Adam, then we started to play.
There were no jocks here, so everybody was as good or bad as everyone else. It was fun, and not one of them even so much as looked at me funny. I didn't know what was going on at first, then it struck me. The vast majority of the kids at school ... the silent ones ... weren't avoiding me. I'd been avoiding them ... avoiding everybody. I'd put it in my own head that everybody hated me, so I just avoided them all. I put myself into such a hard shell that these other kids never had a chance. My actual tormentors numbered maybe twelve out of a school population of about five hundred. Subtracting Richie made a noticeable dent in their number.
When we'd gotten hot and sweaty enough, we walked to a nearby gas station and got sodas out of the machine, then sat along a split-rail fence and drank them. We talked while we were sitting there, but it was just normal kid type chit-chat. Popular music, sports, school, even zits and the best ways to take care of them.
When we split up to go home the other kids all said they'd see me in school Wednesday. It was like nothing had ever happened which, in their minds anyhow, was the truth.
Adam and I started walking back to my house. I looked at his feet. "What size shoes do you wear, Adam?"
I turned off to the side and bent over, poking my butt up at Adam. "Stick your size nine right up my ass!"
"Kick me, Adam! I'm the biggest asshole that ever lived. Just use your foot to prove it!"
"I'm not kicking you! What're you talkin' about?"
I sat on the grass next to the sidewalk feeling like the stupidest person ever born. Rafe had been exactly right the other day. If I hadn't been so wrapped up in my friendship with Bax, I would have had other friends to fall back on when the shit hit the fan. I hadn't been deserted by everybody at all. I'd deserted them in advance, never given them a chance to know me or tried to get to know them. The kids we'd just played ball with might turn out to be good friends or they might not, but I'd never know if I kept avoiding them.
Adam said he did the same thing the year before, shutting out his own friends for something he'd done all by himself. In his case it was shame, in my case it was fear. It all added up to the same thing. We had both turned away from the very people who could have made life liveable for us.
I looked at Adam. "I feel like a fool."
We were quiet for a while, lost in our own thoughts. "Adam?"
"Can we get it back?"
"I don't know, maybe. I mean, look at Dave. That kid's got more goin' for himself than the Yankees, but he still thinks he's a jerk. He had a hard time since his father died, but he's gettin' it together. He always makes me feel good about myself, though. He did it to you too, didn't he?"
I laughed a little. "Yeah, he got to me." I had an idea. "Let me give you a little test. What are you thinking about right now?"
"Dave ... and you."
"Brrrrrp! Wrong answer! You're thinking good thoughts!"
Adam laughed. "You learn fast, Eddie. What're we gonna do next?"
I couldn't help but grin. "Good things!"
"Um ... let's go someplace private."