Rafe grinned, "Finally! I thought you'd never wake up."
My mind was still cloudy. "How long ya been here?"
"All afternoon, man. You sleep like a dead person!"
I pulled myself up to a sitting position. "Where's Barry and Jerry? What time is it?"
"He looked at his watch. They took a ride to see the sights. It's almost three. You feelin' okay?"
"I get tired easy, that's about all. I'm okay. How'd you get here?"
I was surprised, "You got a car?"
"My Dad's. He went fishin' for the weekend."
"You got your license? When?"
"Last fall. I passed on the first try."
I swung my feet over the side of the bed. "You come up alone?"
"My friend Brian's with me. He went with the other guys and your uncle." He sat on the bed beside me and put his arm over my shoulders. "Why'd ya leave, Dave? I know it was all drugs and stuff, but you didn't have to go away. You fucked over a lot of people's heads, especially mine."
I put my elbows on my knees and leaned my head into my hands. I didn't want to go through this again, but I felt I deserved it. I'd probably have to do it with every one of them at some point. "Why especially you? Everybody else says especially Tim."
"You hurt Tim real bad, but I started it. I'm the guy that got you into that shit. I was just trying to buy friendship. I needed a friend so bad back then. If I just left ya alone when you said you never tried it ... God, I can't stop thinkin' about it. What a fuckin' creep."
"It's not your fault, Rafe. It really isn't. I would'a tried it with someone else and got just as hooked. It's all my fault. I didn't look where I was goin', and I didn't think about anything. I only wanted to get stoned - to stay stoned. I forgot about everything else. It's not your fault, so don't even think it."
Rafe shook his head, "You can say that, but you can't change it. You helped me, Dave, more than you know. And I know I took you away from everything, I just know it."
I moaned, "Can we work on this later? I'm starving here."
Rafe hesitated and looked at me, then put a hand gently on my shoulder, "Oh, yeah. There's some sandwiches in the refrigerator."
I went to the bathroom, then to the kitchen to get the sandwiches and a glass of milk. We sat on the porch steps while I wolfed them down. I took a big glug of milk. "So, who's Brian? His name keeps comin' up. Barry thinks you're in love."
When people with real dark complexions blush, their ears get black instead of red. Rafe's ears were as black as his father's Chevy.
"Oh, my God! He told you that? Oh, fuck. I don't believe it!"
I grinned, "It's true, then? Is he your beeg str-r-r-r-ong Man?"
"Oh, God. Cut it out!"
I grinned, "Spill, then. Tell me about him."
"He's my best friend, Dave. We're just like you and Timmy. He's my soulmate, we understand each other. It's a beautiful thing, just like I knew it'd be. It's just so perfect, bein' together. He can cheer me up better than my Mom. It's ... like I said, it's perfect. And I owe you big time for that."
"Yeah, you! First you brought me to Ken's. And you were right. I eventually told the guys about me and nobody cared. It felt so good to just have friends that didn't want anything from me. After you kicked some ass, other gay kids started talking to me at school. Brian was one of 'em. I'm the only one everybody knows about, but you started a lot of good things when those guys felt safer. It's not just Bri and me - other kids know each other now. Two of 'em were already friends, just never told each other. And nobody bugs me anymore. It's just kinda been dropped. Most people don't seem to give a shit, and I made other friends, too. I really, really owe you for the things you did."
I was stunned. "So. Are you guys ... you know ... ", I made a motion with my hand. Yes! There was a darker shade of black than GM knew about!
"It's none of your fuckin' business, but NO! We are not ...," he made the same gesture.
"Is he cute?" The black spread to his cheeks. I decided to ease up. "Wanna take a walk? I'm supposed to exercise."
We walked to the spot by the brook. Rafe liked it, too.
When we sat down, I asked, "Will you help me try to fix things with Timmy?"
He was silent for a while. Then, very quietly, "I don't know if I should do that."
"You don't know how you hurt that kid. I'd hate myself worse if I helped you and you did it again. How can I trust you? A lot of people said you used to be a creep. Then you changed, and they liked you. Now they think you were just fakin' the good guy shit. I never thought so, but I never knew you before. Timmy's my friend now. I ain't gonna help you if you're gonna fuck him over again. I ain't gonna do it!"
I started to cry. "What about me, Rafe? What about me? I know what I did to Timmy. I know exactly what I did. But it was me! You're not helpin' Tim if you let him go on thinkin' he did somethin' wrong! He never did a bad thing to me, not ever! I flew off into la-la land all by myself. Everybody thinks it's better if we stay away from each other, but isn't it better if he knows he did nothing wrong, and I know he knows? For fuck's sake, you just said you owed me. Pay the hell up!" I put my head in my hands and started crying hard. Rafe pulled me to him and I got his shirt all wet with my tears. He let me cry it out.
Whispering, he asked, "Whattya want me to do?"
"Help me write a letter. You're the smart guy. Just don't let me say anything that'll make him feel worse."
He thought for a while, then said, "Okay, I can do that, but that's it. I ain't ever gonna mention it to him. If he reads it, that's his business. If he doesn't, that's his business too. Okay?"
"Okay. Can we do it now?"
I hope you read this whole thing. It will help explain how you can tell my ass from a dead pig's.
I know you never lied to me ever. I lied to you twice. The first time was at Ken's after we all had lobsters. You asked why I called you a queer and I said I just did. The truth is some other guys said you were and that was enough for me to start a fight. I was a real asshole to even think that, and I know you don't want to hear it, but I don't want to leave any lies between us. The only other time was when I started staying away from Ken's and told you I had to study. I was really buying drugs. Other than that we were always 100% honest with each other.
You were never anything except good to me, Tim. You were the perfect friend and, I thought it would last for ever just like Ken and those guys. I really thought we were good for each other. We got along so good and did everything together. I was really proud that you were my friend. I was proud of you, not me. I bragged about being your friend to everybody. It was the best part of my life, having you as a friend.
Then I fucked up. Me. Not you. It was just me all by myself. People tell me you thought you must have done something wrong, but you never did. You never, ever did anything to me to make me treat you the way I did. The way I treated everybody that cared about me. Especially you, Tim. I didn't deserve you. I guess you know that. You didn't deserve to be hurt by me or anybody else.
You. My best friend. I just walked away from you and never said a thing. I know a little how you feel because I felt it the night I brought pot to Ken's house. There's a big difference, though. I knew I did something to get you upset, and I knew how to fix it. I can only imagine how you felt, though. I never said anything was wrong, I just stayed away. I was going somewhere else and I knew you wouldn't go there anyhow. I should have told you, Tim. At least you could have had a chance to hate what I was doing. You could have hated me for doing it. That would at least have been fair.
But no, I'm not only an asshole but a coward too. I really never thought I was hurting you, though. I can't say that I would have stopped, like I say I'm a coward and dumb too. But I never wanted to hurt you - especially you. I guess I thought you'd just go on being Timmy.
Tim - I'm sorry. So sorry. I don't know why you bothered to try to find me or how you did. But when you showed up at that motel I was so shocked. And I hurt you again. I was just so humiliated when you came to the door - you had to know why I was there - what I was doing. I just ran.
Then you saved my life. I wanted to die, but you couldn't let me. You're too good of a person, Tim. You never deserved to have me screwing up your life.
I hope you read all that. I don't expect anything back. I don't deserve anything back. I just wanted you to know it wasn't you. It wasn't you at all. It was just me. I'm the asshole, and Jerry came all the way to Vermont just to kick my ass to prove it. It's true!
Ps. Dead pigs HAVE assholes. I AM an asshole. And I don't have a cute curly tail. Start having fun again. You're a good person - the best one I know.
"How's that?" I asked.
"I think it's ok, Barry?"
Rafe handed it to Barry. They'd come back when we were on the first paragraph, and left us alone. I was looking at Brian, who was looking at Rafe. Hardly big and strong, but kind of interesting. He was blonde and wore a bandanna around his neck. He didn't have a shirt on, but a denim vest, and he was wearing jeans. He had glasses, the gold rimmed kind, and he was the kind of guy that probably looked better because of them. Rafe hadn't admitted to being in love, but Brian sure was. I'm not exactly sure how I knew, but I was positive of it.
Barry had bought ribs and beer. The ribs were smoking on the grill, and he asked us to go outside and keep an eye on them. We all grabbed beers and sat at the picnic table. Jerry and I sat side by side across from Rafe and Brian, who were at opposite ends of the table. There was about five feet between them.
"So, Brian. How'd ya meet Rafe?" I asked.
He squirmed. "Uh, we just started talking one day."
"He's pretty cool, huh?"
"Oh yeah, he's cool. We're like best friends," he said more confidently.
I squinted at Brian, "Are you str-r-r-r-ong ?"
"CUT IT OUT DAVE!" Rafe commanded.
I grinned, "I thought you liked that, Rafe." I grabbed Jerry's hand and held it on the table. He tried to pull away, but I sideways kicked him. "Somebody sick?"
"Huh?" Brian grunted.
"Somebody got a germ? You're about ready to fall off the end of the bench." I put my other hand over Jerry's, and he put his on mine. "Jeez - some friends if ya don't even wanna be in the same yard together."
"Please, Dave," Rafe pleaded.
"Look. Jerry kicked my ass today, and we're still friends." I looked at Jerry and blinked my eyes a few times. "We're still together."
Rafe cried, "You are a fucking asshole! I told ya he was, Bri."
"I thought you said ...."
"I said he was an asshole! That's all I ever said!"
Just then Barry came out and asked how the meat was doing. He looked at me and Jerry, then Rafe and Brian. He caught on right away, and sat between the two of them so they couldn't see each other. If they leaned forward, he did too. When they tried to look behind him he sat up. From the other side of the table it was hilarious. I finally took pity and told Barry to give them some room.
He looked between him and Rafe and said there was plenty of room, then yanked Brian's arm to make him move. Just when Brian was going to sit down between them he slid left a little so Rafe and Brian were shoulder to shoulder.
"Jesus, guys. It's ok! Loosen up a little," I laughed.
Barry said, "The ribs are gonna be another hour. Let's do something."
I suggested they take a walk to the brook, but I was too tired. The next thing I knew I was getting my first piggy-back ride since I was maybe four or five years old on Barry's shoulders. When we got there I got plunked down between Barry and Brian. Barry had his arm around me, and the other one around Jerry. Brian and Rafe were sitting there like stones about, two feet apart. We just made small talk for a few minutes, then I took a chance and whispered in Brian's ear, "Tell him, Brian. Tell him."
He shot me a look, and I just shook my head yes. I looked to Barry and Jerry and they were nodding, too. Brian finally leaned into Rafe a little, and put his hand on his back. Barry picked me up like a sack of dog food, and we left with Jerry, telling Rafe and Brian that the food should be ready in about an hour. When we got far enough away Barry put me down, then sat in the field beside me.
Barry said, "Jesus, Dave. You're really a two-headed monster. That was nice. And your letter's great, too. I like that - saying what you did and not askin' for anything at all. I just don't get the other side. How do you do somethin' like you did to Tim and make like you just don't care? I just don't know what gives with you."
I didn't say anything. Jerry did. "He's scared. That's what it is! You call him a prick or somethin' and it's just a joke. You tell him thanks for somethin', and he backs off like you burned him!" He looked at me. "That's it, right? You think bein' good to somebody's weak, at least when they tell you you're good." He looked back at Barry, "He cares! He just won't say it!".
"Fuck you," I growled.
Jerry glowered at me, "You are really an asshole."
"Jesus! I know I am! Lay off, okay?"
Jerry grinned in triumph. "See? SEE? Say somethin' nice and it's FUCK YOU!. Call him an asshole and he says okay, you're right. I'm right. I know I'm right! He wants to be a prick. He wants us to think he's a big tough guy. Don't care, don't give a shit. You're such a liar, Dave! You lie to yourself. How bad can you get?"
We were all silent. I had a lot of thoughts running through my head, but Jerry was right, of course. I had spent my life saying I don't care, I don't give a damn, don't give a shit, Doesn't bother me, what the fuck, Roger - and - out. Was it right, though? Was I really afraid of caring? Was I afraid of somebody caring back? I got along with Timmy for three years, but we never thanked each other much for anything. We never once talked about how we really felt about each other. We just felt it, and it was good. Then, when he thanked me for something meaningful, something he really cared about, I disappeared. And dumped on myself for half a year. What the hell was I afraid of? What the hell was inside my head that would make me turn my back on everything that was good, and deliver myself to the evil of Artie Loomis? How could I think that it didn't matter?
I moaned, "I don't know, guys. I just don't know why I do the shit I do."
We all just stared at nothing for awhile, then Barry said, "Look, Dave. Ken and I talked to Doc Forrester. He thinks you should get your head shrunk - get a pro to help you look at yourself. I don't usually go for that kind of shit, but this time I think he's right. You got some kinda devil in you that you gotta face. It's like you got two different brains or something."
"The lady he's thinking about is a clinical psychologist. I think it's the same thing, except they don't do medicine. I guess she specializes in kids. Think you could do it?"
"I gotta do somethin'. How, though? I'm in Vermont now."
"If you'll do it, we'll figure out a way. It's a nice ride up here."
I was astonished, "You'd do that?"
"Yeah, Dave. We'll figure a way. Jimbo was right. You're our friend. Don's spending a ton of time trying to get the skinny on Artie Loomis so we can fix his ass. The rest of us can try to get you straight. You give me your word you'll stick with it, and I'll set it up."
"I ... ."
"Don't promise yet, Dave. It might be painful ... you might have to face things you don't want to see. Things about yourself or your family. And it might take a long time ... years even. It's in there somewhere, kid. It just might be hard to find, and hurtful to look at."
When that sank in, I steeled myself, "Then I gotta find it, don't I? I can't go on like I been. Look at all the shit I got myself into, the trouble I caused. I ain't a damn car that needs a part! I need help! I know I need help. I don't care what it takes, Barry. I'm fifteen years old. I gotta do it now, okay?"
Barry started mussing up my hair. "That's all the promise I need. I'll get it set up on Monday. Let's go eat. RAFE, BRIAN! TIME TO EAT!"
We went back to the house, and Barry eventually had to send Jerry back to find Rafe and Brian.
They sat side by side this time, and we all really teased the shit out of them. Not mean things. Not mean at all. And we embarrassed them, but you could tell they liked it. They liked knowing that we knew what they knew, and feeling good that we could tease them just as if they were any other couple that finally decided they were in love.
Ken's aunt and uncle were there with us at the table, and they just joined in with the gentle humor that was going back and forth. Judy had made fries and a salad. Barry's ribs were delicious, falling off the bone. We took a long time eating, just enjoying the evening and great conversation. Both Judy and Wes could really tell a story. They played off each other for a couple of hours.
I was thinking like, holy shit, a lot of stuff happens even in Vermont. Eventually Barry had to leave, but Rafe and Brian wanted to stay. They said they could sleep in the car, but Judy said the couch was a fold-out and they could stay there. Then she smirked and said Wes could fix up a board between them. You could see their embarrassment even in the dark as they swore up and down that it wasn't what we thought.
I stood at the van while Barry and Jerry decided how much beer they needed for the ride home. Barry put his hands on my shoulders, then he kissed the top of my head. "Good luck, kid. This shit'll work itself out one day, then it'll just be the past. We're all pullin' for ya."
I hugged him. I had tears in my eyes. "Thanks, Barry. Just ... thanks." Jerry was standing there. "Jerry ... you're a good person, you really are. Thanks for coming up."
"Hey, no problem. Just remember who kicked your butt! Next time ya fuck up I'm gonna run ya over!"
I laughed, "You and who's army?"
He asked, "Any messages for anyone?"
"Um, yeah. Tell the guys I miss 'em. Tell 'em I'm sorry, okay?"
"I'll tell 'em you said hi."
I snickered, "You can be a prick, too, ya know."
He grinned, "I'll tell 'em what you said, Dave. I'll tell 'em."
They drove off, and I went to bed after making sure Brian and Rafe were ok in the living room.
The next morning after breakfast, I walked back to the brook with Rafe and Brian, teasing them about sleeping together. They swore that's all they did.
"So are you guys happy now?" I asked.
Rafe started. "Dave, I gotta thank you again. We both knew we loved each other, but we never said it. Sayin' it makes it a whole lot better, like it's really happening. Its nice to think it, even to know it. But it's not real until you both say it."
Brian said, "Thanks, Dave, for helpin'. I am so happy I could scream! I love Rafe and I knew he loved me, but I was just too chicken to come out and say it. And last night - just to be us with everybody there. It was just so nice, even with you guys ribbin' the shit out of us."
I smiled, "Hey, that's my job."
"Anyhow, thanks. Now we both owe you one."
They stayed for another hour, then started the drive home. It seemed kind of cool seeing Rafe get in the drivers seat and just drive away.
The next day I learned how to use a rural mailbox, and I put Tim's letter in, raising the little flag. I stood there for a little while wondering if it was the right thing, but I ended up hoping it got to him, and that he'd read it. I wished it a safe trip.
Barry called that Wednesday and said I was all set up with the Doc. I'd have Monday morning appointments starting in two weeks. That way I could go back on Sundays with whoever came up to see me, then one of them would bring me back to Vermont.
I spent the next few weeks taking longer and longer walks. I felt a little better every day. Judy's cooking helped a lot. I liked everything she made and ate lots of it. I was getting my strength back pretty quickly, and gaining a little weight too. People came up each weekend, and Don even drove up during the week once. He worked odd hours as a fireman. He told me he was finding out a lot about Artie and it wasn't too pretty, but he didn't give me any details. I played with the guitar every day. I hadn't really forgotten anything, but my fingers got pretty sore.
I was trying to get healthy.
I wondered every day if Tim got my letter. If he read it. If he'd respond somehow.
... to be continued
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