In about a minute, Ken yanked the door open. He was wearing a bathrobe and didn't have his glasses on. His face had a stubble of beard, his hair was every which way, and he didn't look too happy. I could tell he was blind as a bat, because he leaned up almost to my nose.
"Dave? What the hell time is it? Whattya need?"
"Sorry, is it too early?"
I could see his shoulders sag. "Not anymore, I guess. C'mon in."
He backed away and I followed him. He asked "Do you know how to make coffee?"
"Yeah, where's the stuff?"
He showed me, and said he was going to take a shower and try to wake up. As I was getting it ready, I was really getting nervous, thinking I'd already screwed up. How was I to know he wanted to sleep late? When he came back into the kitchen he looked transformed. He had shorts and a t-shirt on, and his hair was all wet, but he was smiling like at a private joke or something.
"You hungry?" he asked.
"Good, because you're cooking. Did you bring the paper up?"
He went into a cabinet and handed me a big skillet. "Know how to cook with gas?"
"A gas stove. Know how to use one?"
He lit up the biggest burner and showed me how to adjust the heat. Then he dug into the refrigerator and handed me two pounds of bacon and showed me where the eggs were. "I'll get my own damn paper. You just make something to eat." He banged out the door, then I heard a motorcycle start up and roar away. I was really starting to fear that I'd made him mad, but in about two minutes he came back in with the paper and sat at the table sorting it out.
"I wouldn't even get the paper on Sunday 'cept for the crossword. Bunch of bullshit! They make it look all big, but it's nothin' but lousy ads. How much longer for coffee?"
I got him a cup and brought it over. I kinda hoped I was making a good impression, but he just took it and started drinking.
I was making the bacon the way my father had shown me. Me and him had made Sunday breakfast for the family for as long as I could remember. I couldn't imagine how long it would take to make two pounds. I could only do seven slices at once, and there must have been twenty in each package.
"Dave ... come here," Ken whispered. He pointed out the window. There was a doe and a fawn over near the trees. "Aren't they beautiful? You usually only see them just before dark."
I didn't say anything, but I was thinking that it was really neat having deer right in the back yard.
It took a while, but I finally had breakfast ready. Ken was doing the crossword puzzle, and he pushed it aside when I brought his plate over. "Shit. How much bacon you givin' me here?"
"Half of it."
"Maybe three or four pieces, I can't eat all this."
"You gave me two pounds."
"Not for just us. Other people usually show up for breakfast on Sunday. Take this back to the counter."
We finally started eating. Ken looked up at me. "So. You're good friends with Richie?"
"Okay, I guess. He's kind of a jerk."
"Dave, watch what you say. I think Richie's a better friend than you think. He's been pesterin' me to let him bring you here for three weeks. He's worried about you."
"Yeah, worried. He says you really changed since your dad died. For the worse. You're drivin' everybody away, always mad at the world. He's hopin' that comin' around here will cheer you up."
"Richie thinks that?" I'd only known the kid for about a year. He was okay to hang around with, but I never gave a thought to the idea that he might care about anything besides having fun.
"Are you surprised that other people have feelings? Richie's a good kid. A nice kid. He thought we could help you just like we helped him."
"You helped him? How?"
"When his mother married his stepdad he hated it. He was already mad about his mom and dad getting divorced, now there was another guy in the house and he couldn't stand it. Made life miserable for everybody like you're doing. His stepfather's an old friend of mine and a good guy. He couldn't understand why the kid hated him so much. I thought the kid just needed to have a little fun. I went to visit over there a couple of times with the street buggy. He wanted a ride in it, so I gave his father the keys and made Richie go with him. I'm sure Bud didn't drive like I do, but those things are open and low to the ground, so it's kind of exciting even if it's parked. A couple of weeks later they came over here and we went dirt biking. I made him ride double with his dad, just to let him get used to being close. Another time I took his dad for a ride in the woods buggy - nice and slow so he wouldn't shit his pants. He came back all grinnin' and Richie wanted to go. I gave him a wild ride and scared hell out of him. He was cryin' when we got back. I just ignored him and let Bud calm him down. It took a while pullin' shit like that, but now he knows Bud's there for him and cares for him. They're pretty tight these days."
"I know. I'm a little jealous of him."
"Jealousy's not a good thing. If somebody's got something you like, be happy for them. Then go get your own if you really need it. If what they have is a person, you gotta leave it alone. Richie's just kinda found his father and you just lost yours. I know that hurts, but when you see a good relationship you shouldn't envy it. Be happy for the people that have it. A big part of you IS your father. You've got that and you have memories, and that's all there's gonna be. You can't be blaming somebody else for what happened to you. Am I making any sense?"
"What am I supposed to do? Just forget my father?"
"You're hearing what you want to hear. You gotta start listening. You can't forget your father. You're part of your father, and he's part of you. It's clear that you loved him. That won't go away. You can carry your memories forever. They won't go away if you hold on to them. You can't have him back the way he was, but you don't have to let him go. It's up to you, kid. If you lose more of your dad than you already have, it's your own fault."
I was thinking about that when a car pulled up. Ken jumped up and started clearing off the table.
"Girlfriend. Give me a hand here."
We just dumped the dishes in the sink. I looked out the window and a lady and two kids were right at the door. They didn't knock, just walked in. The lady was kinda pretty with short black hair. She had a boy about my age, also with black hair, and a girl of about seven with brown hair. Ken gave her a quick kiss, then introduced us. She was Nikki, her son was Kevin and her daughter was Cindy. Ken started making Nikki some eggs, but the kids didn't want to eat, so I went outside with them. Kevin seemed okay in an excitable kind of way, and I think Cindy had an instant crush on me. She kept grabbing my hand, and when I sat down she tried to sit in my lap, but I stood back up. We yakked about nothing in particular for a while, until a van drove up. It was Barry. He stopped and talked to us for a minute. It was obvious that he was Cindy's first love, and she followed him when he went inside. A little while later Richie walked up the driveway pushing his bike.
"You came back!. You must'a had fun yesterday," he cried.
"It was real fun. I kinda like it here. We saw some deer a few minutes ago." I pointed to where they'd been. "Wanna go in the woods?" I wanted to see if we could find the fort. Kevin went in the house, and we walked up the hill.
"Ken says you been worryin' about me," I said with curiosity.
"Howcum? I mean, I never did anything for you."
"So what? It just bothers me how much you changed. You used to be fun, now all you do is swear and fight. An' you're gonna get hurt. One of those kids is gonna have a big brother and you're gonna get pounded."
"I just didn't think you gave a shit."
"Course I do. Lots'a kids do. You're the one that don't give a shit about anybody. You hang around and do stuff, but you don't know nobody. You don't know me, for sure. I only stuck with you 'cause I liked you before, but you're no kinda friend. You don't know what I think about things. And you never say nuthin about yourself. You don't let anybody know you. All we know is that you're pissed about your dad dyin', and that's all you let anybody know."
I was getting mad, but he was right. I never thought about other people actually thinking about stuff, having feelings. I mean, I thought about all kinds of things and had a normal enough range of feelings, but I never shared any of that with anybody.
Not even my father. I loved being around him, doing whatever it was at the moment. But never once had I told him what I thought about things. How things made me feel. I didn't know I was supposed to communicate that stuff. I mean, obviously, some things showed through. Happiness, anger. I just never talked about it. I didn't know how. We got down to the little pond and sat on a big flat rock, just looking at the water.
"What do you want'a know?"
He grinned, "Um ... what's your favorite color?"
"Green. Favorite sport?"
"Me, too. Favorite food?"
"Spaghetti. Best teacher?"
We went on like this for about ten minutes until he started to repeat questions. This dumb little game told me more about the kid sitting next to me than I'd ever known about anybody, and it was just stuff we liked, superficial stuff at that. But we'd gotten into each other's heads a little, and I liked it.
"You're pretty ok. That was neat." I moved closer to him. I Looked at him, and he looked back. I liked what I was seeing. For the first time in my life I felt like I was looking into the eyes of a friend. Somebody who actually gave a shit, wanted to know what was inside me. I was wondering if he was the only one, or if everybody was like that and I was the odd man out.
We heard the dune buggy roar to life, and in about a minute it went screaming along behind us. It went back and forth a few times, I guess Ken was giving rides. The next time we heard it, it stopped right behind us. We looked around, and Ken and Nikki were walking our way. Ken was holding out the ignition key.
"Trade ya the car for the rock, guys. Take turns driving and don't hit anything."
Rich let me drive first. We headed towards the field of high grass. I was going really slow, but I still kept just missing trees. When we finally got to the field there were a few trails that were knocked down enough to see ahead, so I started going faster, then faster again. Elation was gradually replacing my initial fear. I started spinning out and doing donuts. We were both grinning like fools, screaming to each other. Freedom and speed and lots of noise. No adults around. Just me and Richie.
My friend Richie.
... to be continued
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