It WAS Tim, standing there looking surprised. I stuck out both hands and ran into him, knocking him on his ass. I bolted right by and ran straight ahead, right across the road, jumping the guard rails. I ran and ran. My heart was pounding. I didn't really know where I was, and certainly didn't know where I was going. I ran between a couple of buildings and into a field. I kept running until I reached some woods, then sat down to catch my breath. How in Hell had he found me? He had to know what I'd been doing. If he knew, everybody must!
Shame floated down on me like a blanket. I felt totally, completely humiliated. I had to disappear! I got up and started going through the woods. It was dark, but there was enough light to at least let me dodge the trees. I knew I had to come out somewhere. I walked, then ran, then walked again. I went up hills and down hills. I crossed a road, but didn't recognize it, then I came up to a pond or a lake. I didn't know whether to go left or right. Just then there was a noise from across the water. It got louder. A train! I could see it across the lake. If the tracks were there I could find my way somewhere. I just had to get there.
It didn't look like a very big lake, but I didn't want to try swimming. I took my chances heading to the right. I ended up having to go back to the road. I walked along it for a while and came to a turn that looked like it might go across the tracks. It didn't quite, but it went to a boat launch. The tracks were right there about a hundred feet away. All I had to do was follow them.
After all the time I'd spent there, I didn't even know what town that motel was in. I'd only left it a handful of times to go somewhere with Artie. I never really paid attention to the roads we'd taken, but I knew the motel was always on the right when we got there. I'd gone mostly straight so far, so Artie's should be to the left if I followed the tracks that way. I figured he was my best bet, and headed left.
My coke high went away really fast, and it was followed by depression like always. After awhile I sat down and cried. I couldn't deal with it anymore. I was worthless to anybody without a hard dick, and then only for a few minutes. I was used up. Spent. I got up and kept walking. It wasn't too long before I came up to a building I recognized. I used to live right across the street from it. I turned right and came to the trestle. Artie's place was just down the road to the left. Ken's a little farther, but to the right. I sat down and cried some more. Artie would get me high and send me back to work feeling better. Ken would kill me. I wanted to die. I really did. I thought about going and laying on the tracks, but then everybody would know. My mother would know. I didn't want that for her. It would be the final insult. Then it dawned on me.
It would be months before anybody went swimming out there. I'd be long gone. Fish food. I got up and headed to Ken's place, ducking off the road for the few cars that passed. I snuck past Whit's and took the dirt road instead of going through the yard. It was really dark now. Perfect. When I got to the trail up to the cliffs I just kept walking. I got out of breath and sat down for a while. I had second thoughts. I could just go somewhere else, do something else. No, I was too tired. Too depressed. I could get to the top of the cliff, I was almost there. I could end it quick and easy. Anything else would be a struggle. A major struggle. I had no strength left. I got back on my feet and continued up. When I got to where they guys used to dive from, I took off my bracelet and tossed it over the edge. I backed up. I looked to the right. Nothing. I started to run forward. Just as I was going over the edge something caught my eye on the left.
A dirt bike.
Black seemed to last for a long, long time. Then there was light. Heaven? I opened my eyes. I was in a bed in a room. Hospital? It didn't look like one. The light was coming through a big window, and I could see sailboat masts.
"Hello?" "HELLO?" I called.
I looked around. I had a tube sticking in my arm. It must be a hospital. "HELLO?"
"Damn, can't a guy take a leak? Be right there!"
I knew that voice! "Doctor Forrester?"
He came in. "That's me!. Your friends are on the way."
"Ken, anyhow, whoever comes with him. I told him you'd be up about now."
"Where am I?"
I just looked at him. He looked like always, kind of chubby, bald and happy. "How, though? I thought I'd be dead."
"You almost were. It's a good thing somebody knew how to revive you."
"How long have I been here?"
"A little over three weeks."
He sat on the edge of the bed and took my hand. "Dave, I don't know what led up to this. You got fished out of the pond with lungs full of water. Somebody took care of that - did the right thing. Ken called me over. He didn't want to use a hospital if we didn't have to. I checked you out, got some blood samples, and a friend of mine opened up his lab to check it. Don't worry, nobody knows. When I got to your anus I saw a major problem. When my friend called back with the list of shit you had in your bloodstream I think I got the picture. Everything else checked ok, but I knew you were major league addicted to cocaine. I brought you here and kept you under enough that you didn't have to feel the withdrawal. That didn't take all this time. I wanted your asshole to have a break, too. The good news is that you don't have any diseases, and all your internals seem normal. You're a healthy boy. Your bumhole's gonna take longer, but it'll be okay. It'll work the way it's intended, anyhow." He looked right in my eyes, "I'm not your judge, and anything I know is between you and me." He smiled. "OK?"
I stared for a long time, then thought to whisper, "Ok. Thanks, Doc. Why'd you do this? Why'd anybody do this?"
"We're your friends, Dave, that's all. That's why. You tell the others whatever you want to. Like I said, what I know won't go past this room." He pulled the bandage off my wrist and pulled the needle out, which stung. "Try to sit up. You're gonna need some exercise before you can do much."
He left and I pulled up a little and just looked at the lake out the window. After a while I heard a noise. Ken came in, followed by Barry, Don and Jimbo. Ken didn't look too happy. Actually, none of them did.
Ken said, "Dave! We want to hear your story, all of it. Right now! You fucked over a lot of people for a long time." He pulled out a pocket knife. "I'm gonna cut off a toe for each word you leave out. Get started!"
I told them. Everything. Every sordid detail. More than I've written here. Way more. I stopped to cry once in a while, but they were crying, too, especially Ken. Don got pretty bad a few times, too. I had to stop talking for them once in a while, they were sobbing so bad. It finally dawned on me that those guys both had kids.
It was taking a long time. Doc brought the guys sandwiches and me a bowl of broth. He apologized, but said I wouldn't be able to take anything solid for another day. I finally got to the end where I jumped into the quarry. "Who yelled?"
"What?" Ken asked.
"Somebody yelled when I was going down."
Ken frowned, "Tim Atkins. Your friend. He fished you out of the pond, gave you artificial respiration, then carried you up to the house. He saved your life, Davy. He could'a killed himself doin' it. You owe that man big time."
I was confused, "How'd he get there, though? I left him at the motel."
Barry looked at me. "Think! Try it again, Dave. I thought ya had it workin' for a while. Do ya really suppose time stopped for us when you were gone? Timmy turned sixteen, got his license, bought a car. When you took off he called Ken from the room, then drove over to the house. It was really the first nice night of the year and everybody was there. Nobody knew where you'd go, but the cliff was one place. People went everywhere - the motel, your house, Loomis' house, the fort ... everywhere. Tim ended up with the quarry. He was taking a leak when you came up and didn't see you soon enough. You just jumped in and he jumped after you. Timmy saved your life, Dave. Timmy Atkins. Your best friend. Maybe you can turn friendship on and off like a light switch, but he couldn't. Whoever was there would'a gone after you, but Tim's the only one that would'a drowned with ya if that's what it took."
He started crying. "Don't you care, Dave? I really thought you were coming around, but you're so fuckin' selfish, so fucking self centered ... You're still the little prick I thought you were on day one. Don't you care about anyone 'cept yourself? How the livin' fuckin' hell can you stand yourself?"
Ken had his hand on Barry's shoulder. He looked at me, then at Barry, then at me. I was crying out loud, too. Ken said, "Dave, I think we're all pissed at you, but we got other things to handle right now. Doc says it'll be a week before you can move. Your Mom wants to see you. All she knows is you got a drug problem. If you want her to know the rest it's up to you." He started to sniffle again. "How the fuck could you do that, kid? Your own mother ... just take off like that?" He waited until he calmed down. "Anyhow, you can't stay here, Doc's done enough. You can't go back to town either. There's gonna be a stink. I got an aunt in Vermont where you can stay, or you can stay with Jim in New York. There's way fuckin' less temptation in Vermont, and somebody'll always be there. You'd be pretty alone in New York. It's up to you, but I think you'd be better off up North."
I was bawling. "I didn't wanna hurt anybody. I like you guys ... love you guys. Barry's right. I'm just a little germ. I wish Tim let me drown. That's why I jumped - I wanted to die. Now I'm still alive but I just wanna die. I can't face you guys, I can't face my mother. I sure can't face Tim."
"SHUT THE FUCK UP!" The windows were rattling. It was Jim. "Dave, you're still alive. You'll be ok." He looked at the other guys. "I thought we never got pissed at our friends! Tell me this kid's not a friend and I'll shut up. If he is, we do what we gotta do." He glared at me, then his look softened, "Dave, I think you'd do better in Vermont. Where I live is a hell hole. There's drugs everywhere. You'd just get caught back up in it. You've had a tough time. Go chase butterflies for a while. Get it back together."
Don piped up. "Jimbo's right. We've all fucked up lots'a times. Give Dave a break, at least another chance. He's gotta figure things out for himself. Dave, we all tried to help you. Maybe we came down too hard, I don't know. I vote for Vermont, too. Just go there knowing you've got friends. Lots of friends."
I was still crying. "W-w-what about the other kids?"
Barry looked at me. He still had tears in his eyes. "Let us take care of the kids, Dave. You go get better. Ok?"
"Can't I see 'em before I go? How long, anyhow?"
Ken said, "All summer, probably. Maybe longer. We gotta take care of Artie Loomis, and you just can't be here. I'm sorry I got on you so much. Artie's the real problem. Don't worry, we'll come and visit. It ain't that far."
"How is everybody? How's Rafe?"
They all looked at each other. Barry looked at me. He smiled. "Rafe's happy. He's got a friend, thanks to you."
"Dave, you defended him. Kicked some ass. Really kicked some ass, right in front of the school. Some of the other gay kids in school got a little braver. They talked to Rafe. He hit it off with one of them. The kid's name is Brian. He comes over with Rafe all the time. I think they're in love." He looked at the other guys. "Don't you think so?" They were looking at the ceiling and making like they were whistling. Barry blushed. "Anyhow, you pull any more shit and I'm rippin' your teeth out. Capiche?"
"I capiche. I capiche big time. What day is it?"
"Sunday. Vermont or New York?"
"Vermont, I guess. What's there to do there?"
"Nothin', Dave. Absolutely not a thing."
... to be continued
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