I went into the house with Rich. So far, I'd only seen the hall and the kitchen, but I needed to use the bathroom. Rich told me how to get there and I went through this big empty knotty pine room, I mean nothing in it, then turned left, which led past some doors on the right and a stairway on the left, into a small room, also knotty pine, that just had a couch and a lamp in it. The bathroom was to the right. It wasn't real big or anything, but I still had never seen anything like it. The far wall was some kind of glass tiles over the tub. You couldn't really see through them, but they let the light in from outside. The rest of the room was paneled with what looked like barn siding. There was a beautiful green patterned carpet on the floor. Everything was sparkling clean. When I flicked on the light it came from everywhere. There were recessed lights in the ceiling and about a dozen big ball things around and over the mirror. The glass wall suddenly changed all kinds of colors. I thought it was the most amazing bathroom I'd ever seen. When I went back out I found Ken and said, "That's some bathroom!"
"Well, yeah, I guess. I never really got around to finishing the house. Just the kitchen, bathroom and my bedroom. I mean, everybody's gotta eat, sleep and shit. It's all a waste of time, so it might as well be a pleasure. You hungry?"
"Didn't we just eat?"
"I mean lunch. I gotta get out of here by about two. I got a long drive."
"Where ya going?"
"Maine. I should be done up there this week. Gotta fire off a boiler, then I'm finished."
"You travel a lot?"
"All the time. If that puppy works, I should be able to stay around most of the summer."
Barry came over. "So, Dave. You want to help me with the garage? I'll be here tomorrow."
"I don't know how to do anything."
"Not to worry, I just need someone to hand me up stuff. No big deal."
"Uh, okay. What time?"
"Early. Like six o'clock. Get the hard stuff done before it gets hot."
"I'll be here."
Ken was looking around. "Isn't anyone else hungry? Fuck it! I'll eat all by my lonely."
He got out a lot of stuff for sandwiches and told everybody to dig in, saying it'd spoil by the time he got back. Pretty soon, everyone was eating again. I asked Ken how long his drive was. He kind of looked at the sky and counted on his fingers. "Two six-packs."
After eating he went and packed a bag full of clothes and a cooler full of ice and beer. I guess he wasn't kidding. He was really getting ready to go, but nobody else was moving. He took a little walk with Nikki, then I saw them kissing. I was just wandering around when he came up to me and put a hand on each of my shoulders. He was looking at me kind of funny, like I had something on my face. "You gonna be okay, Dave? Barry'll look out for you 'til I get back."
"Richie will, too."
His eyes widened, "You guys had a good talk?"
"Good, then! You're gonna be fine." He bopped my shoulder and turned to leave.
I hung around there with Rich for a while, but when Barry was leaving he offered us a ride. We put Rich's bike in the van and he brought us to my house. He wanted to know where I lived. My mother asked Rich to stay for dinner, but when he called his mother she was already cooking, so he had to leave. He came back afterwards, and we knocked around the house for a while, then went outside when it started to get dark. We sat on the top of the picnic table getting to know each other. We laid down and he started pointing out different things in the sky. He showed me the planets that you could see, then tried to point out the constellations. I could figure out the big dipper, but the rest took more imagination than I had. He didn't understand why I couldn't make out at least Libra. I just couldn't get the picture. What surprised me was that he knew all of this stuff. I had always thought he was a little doofy. My mother sent him home and me to bed at about nine thirty.
The next morning Barry and I got to Ken's place at about the same time. We looked at the garage, which was a separate building and pretty dilapidated. I guess that's why there were no cars in it, just junk. He explained what we were going to do, none of which I understood, then we started taking things out of the van. He told me what each tool was and what it did. I understood that stuff, but wasn't sure I'd remember. The lumber was already inside, and he showed me what was what. That was pretty easy because it was just sizes, and you could look and tell a 2 x 4 from a 4 x 4 from a piece of plywood.
Then he showed me how to measure and mark stuff, making sure to measure twice. He had me practice on some scraps, telling me to mark something like two feet one and a sixteenth. He checked what I did until he thought I had it right, then showed me how to use the skil-saw. My father never even let me use the lawn mower. Now this guy's gonna let me use a power saw! He showed me how to hold it, how to make it run, how to brace myself so it went straight, where to put my hands so I didn't cut them off, how to set angles. Then he had me cut up junk wood until I could do it right and without scaring myself to death. I was all excited and pleased. He was treating me just like another guy, not some dumb kid. When we finally got started, I felt like I could actually be useful here.
Barry worked fast. He had bracings and stuff up in no time, then started cutting out rotten wood and replacing it, having me cut most of it except where there was a funny angle or something. Even when he did that he showed me how and why. We had a piss and soda break after a couple of hours, then broke for lunch. He had a lunch and I didn't.
"You didn't tell me to bring food."
"You should'a thought of it."
"I didn't. Should I run home?"
"Look in the house. You'll find something."
"How do I get in?"
"You have a key?"
"Ain't no keys. It's open."
"He doesn't lock the house?"
Barry rolled his eyes, "I told you. He doesn't have a key. If he locked it he'd be stuck outside."
I had never heard of such a thing and thought Barry was probably joking, but sure enough the door was unlocked. I found some bread and peanut butter and made a sandwich, then went out to eat with Barry.
"Doesn't he ever get robbed?" I asked.
"Howcum? I mean anybody could just go in there and take anything they wanted."
"Think, Davy. Think. You're a burglar, ok? And you want to go burgle something. You gonna go where you can see what's there or where you can't? You gonna walk up eight hundred feet of driveway to see if somebody's home? If you have that much balls, you gonna keep going when you see a bunch of cars and bikes in the driveway? How about if you notice a cannon looking at you? If you're already that stupid, what're you gonna take from here? Groceries? I don't know if you noticed. Kenny's got a lot of stuff, but it's all big stuff. Nobody's gonna take his stereo, it's all screwed onto the cabinet. They'd have to take the whole thing. Clothes? Who wants them? Guitars? Everybody knows his guitars. Don't worry, kiddo. Nobody's gonna burgle this place."
"What about the kids that come around?"
"They're their own cops. They like coming here and don't want to lose it. A couple of 'em tried to swipe stuff, but they just got their heads pounded by the others."
I thought about this stuff, and I guess it made some sense.
We worked until about three, and had made some progress. I was happy with myself, and Barry told me I did a good job. He offered me a ride home, but I wanted to poke around the woods for a while. I went down to the pond and sat on the rock where Richie and I had been the day before. It was nice and quiet and I was just tossing pebbles into the water, watching the patterns the ripples made.
I must have jumped a foot. I pressed the palm of my hand on the rock so hard it hurt. I looked around to see Jerry laughing and pointing at me.
"What're you dreamin' about? Talk about lost in space!"
"Jesus, you jumped me!" I said, "I ought'a bust your head."
He pulled back a little, "Jeez, I'm sorry. Don't get all bent about it."
"Forget it. What're you doin' here?"
"I live across the street."
"I thought that was your grandfather's or something."
"It is. I usually stay there."
"It's more fun. Gramps likes me."
"More fun than what?" I asked.
Jerry shrugged and looked at the water, "Home. I mean, it's okay, but I get ignored all the time. I don't even know why they had kids."
"What'ya mean?" I was confused.
Jerry looked disgusted, "My parents. They don't give a shit about me. They don't even know me. My mother tries sometimes, but my Dad never does. If I try to tell him something he acts like I'm from outer space, like I'm a talking puppet or something. Like he's surprised that I can talk. So I just hang out with Gramps. At least he talks back."
"I met him. He's nice."
"He is. He drinks too much, but at least he listens when you say something. Like he hears what you say. And he's good to my friends. I never bring anybody home anymore, it's kind of embarassing. But Gramps'll talk to everybody. He really likes Rich LaFleur."
I thought about that for a second, then started laughing. "They must have great talks! How do they understand each other?"
Jerry laughed too. "They both got accents, don't they? I'm used to Gramps, but Richie I'm always saying, what? So, you hangin' around here now?"
I looked around and smiled, "Yeah. I like it here. It makes me feel good."
"Beat anybody up lately?"
"No. That was stupid, huh?"
"Most people beat up their enemies. I thought those guys were your friends."
I shrugged, "I guess they wanted to be. I'm just a jerk. I don't know how to have friends."
Jerry stared at me, "You seem ok to me."
"Really? Wanna do something?"
"Where's this fort you're making?"
We walked around the pond and up a hill. It was really just woods there, no paths or anything. I was wondering why they'd build a fort so far back, until I saw it. It was in a clearing, with cliffs dropping off on either side. Not high up, maybe ten feet, but straight down. The whole area was about forty feet around. The only way here was the way we came. It dropped down on both the left and the right, then to the front it went straight up again. It was like a little island between high and low.
The fort was really nothing. Just a little lean-to type thing that you might get out of the rain in. Four kids could probably fit in it. But the location seemed to be the nicest place in the world right then. You could see off to the left and the right. There wasn't anything special there, but you had a view. The rock wall ahead seemed somehow comforting and challenging at the same time. It was just there, and nothing could bend it. But if you figured it out, you could find a way up. And behind you was the way home. It seemed so perfect.
"How'd you find this place?" I asked.
"There's lots of good spots out here. This one's the flattest."
"I love it. It's beautiful." I sat down on the ground, hanging my feet right over a cliff. "You guys are so lucky. I wish I knew this was here."
Jerry sat beside me. "It's nice, Dave. But nobody's lucky. We're all Kenny's refugees."
"Most of the kids that come out here got some kinda problems."
"What kinda problems? Who else comes?"
"Mostly lonely, I guess, or sad, or beat up."
"That sucks. Who's some of the other kids?"
"The D'Allesandro's come sometimes. Tim Atkins, Bobby Knight, a couple of others."
Great. I'd beat up on both Joey D'Allesandro and Tim Atkins. Joey pissed me off one day, and Tim was a real loser. He's about two years older than me and a lot taller, but I still kicked his ass. He didn't know how to fight at all. Everybody figured he was a faggot, anyhow. I was thinking that I might not fit in very well there.
Jerry said "I gotta get goin'. We eat pretty early. Coming?"
I walked him home, then kept going until I got home. I was pretty tired from working all day, so I just ate when it was ready and went to bed early.
The next two days I worked with Barry. I was learning stuff, and he was fun to be around. The garage was starting to look pretty good by the end of Wednesday, though it still needed siding and a roof.
I didn't know what I'd do if I ran into some of the kids I'd had fights with. I was afraid they'd tell Barry and I wouldn't be able to come around anymore, so I started going straight home after we were done working.
... to be continued
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