Tim put his arm across my shoulders, and we took our time walking back to the house. Wes was sitting on the porch step looking like he was lost in thought. We made a little noise and he looked up. "There you are. Hurry up, supper's gettin' cold."
We took quick turns in the bathroom, and I went to change my shirt because the one I had on was still damp. During dinner Timmy asked Wes about everything in the barn. He seemed to have a perfect recollection of each item he'd seen. Wes promised to explain the different things in the morning. We asked about the stars last night, and Judy explained that we could see more there because the air was cleaner, and there weren't any bright lights around that obscured things. She explained what obscure meant after I asked, and I thought that was a good word to describe how I was feeling about myself.
Tim and I sat outside for a while after dinner making promises to never keep things inside again, at least not between ourselves. We didn't stay out too late, but when we were going back in Tim looked at the stars for a minute and said, "G'night, guys. Thanks." We slept on the sofa, curled up together.
In the morning Wes spent about an hour showing Tim some of the old tools and explaining what they had been used for. He didn't even know what some of the things were, and gave Tim a few of those to see if he could figure them out. Tim had to leave, though I didn't want him to. We went and sat by the brook for a while renewing our pledges from the night before. He did say that picking me up on Mondays could become a routine, and he'd be able to stay a couple of nights each week, and that he'd bring his own underpants from now on. He also said he'd go see Ken and the guys and tell them we were ok. There was no talk or joking about sex. When Tim was ready to leave we had a long, tearful embrace.
After Tim left I told Wes I was ready to take on some work, and he started having me help him. It meant that I had to get up at 4:30 with him, but I didn't really mind. I learned to drive the tractor and work the baler and some other machines. I actually kind of liked it.
Don and his family came up the next Sunday, and I rode back with them. There was the usual nonsense at Ken's that night, and Ken brought me to Dr. Winslow's in the morning.
It was an interesting session for both of us. I told her about Tim and what we'd talked about. She made me back up and explain. I had to give her the whole history of my dealings with Artie Loomis and all the shit I'd done. She never acted shocked or anything. She turned away from me once, and I was sure she was trying not to cry. That took the whole session, but she said that starting the next week we'd have triple sessions. Most people that were trying to figure something out about themselves saw her more than once a week. I had to travel to get there, so we'd just do more at once. I liked the idea, and I liked Mary.
It became my routine. We had our sessions, then Tim and I had some time in Vermont. We had sex a lot when we were alone, but never went any farther than that first day, just trading blowjobs and hand jobs.
Mary and I were trying to figure my monsters out. We talked and talked, trying to get me to remember little details about my past that might explain things. She had a great sense of humor, and that helped to draw me out. One thing that started to become clear was that I somehow seemed to feel that I deserved everything, that I wanted bad things to happen to me. It did seem that way. As soon as I met Artie Loomis I had turned my back on everything I knew and jumped headlong into the lifestyle that he offered to me, if you can call it a lifestyle. Mary used a lot of words like 'triggers' and 'blocks', but try as we might all of my recollections didn't bring anything to light.
I couldn't go to Ken's Fourth of July Celebration since it was on a weekday. Wes and Judy brought me to the local one and I had a lot of fun. It was a couple of towns away, and almost like a country fair with fireworks. They bought me a funny hat and a lot of junk food. I still have a picture they took of me wearing a hillbilly hat and holding a cotton candy. I was fifteen, but I looked as happy as an eight year old.
Mary and I talked a lot about my feelings for Tim, especially how they worked with and against his feelings for me. Tim was clear and I was obscure. We talked a lot about sexuality and what it meant. She even drew charts showing polarities between straights and gays. She thought that very few people were at the poles, that the majority of people were 'mostly' straight and some people were 'mostly' gay. People closer to the middle were bisexuals, though even they usually chose a side, depending on which one they were closest to.
People right in the middle could and did choose either side, and could go back-and-forth until they committed to a person of one sex or the other. Even that could change if a commitment somehow got broken.
I was confused. I knew how I felt about Timmy, but I wasn't ready to commit anything beyond friendship. I had love for the kid, but I couldn't seem to make it be a romantic love. At the same time, we were having sex every time we could get alone and I loved doing it with him. Mary didn't think I had to decide anything until I was ready to. There was a deeper problem that needed to be found. She thought getting to that would free me to figure out other things.
I had told Wes about my past. He wasn't judgmental at all. When I told him, he walked me across the road to the barn and pointed out the one other house on the road. His brother lived there, and they hadn't spoken in thirty-five years. He didn't explain any details, just that it was about the inheritance of the farm. What he did say was that a day didn't go by that he didn't think of his brother and the fun they'd had growing up. He said he had a lot of practice thinking of problems not unlike my own, that his own behavior and his brothers were also self-destructive. We talked a lot, but I wasn't getting any closer to my demon. I did feel better that I wasn't alone, and that a decent guy like Wes could live with it all his life and still be a real person.
On the second weekend in August nobody came to visit. Wes said we had to take a ride, and for me to pack some things for a few days. He was very solicitous, making sure I felt good and had eaten enough. He just said we were going to see some friends, and that I shouldn't be nervous.
We drove for about forty minutes, then turned into the entrance for Stratton Mountain Ski Area, then into a neighborhood of fancy looking private homes. We pulled into one, and the driveway was full of cars and trucks. I recognized Barry's van and Tim's Camaro, but there were several others..
"What's going on, Wes? Who's house is this?"
"It belongs to your Dr. Forrester. Some people need to have a talk with you. Looks like a lot of them came to listen."
I had no idea what this could be about. We walked up to the door and Mary opened it. She smiled, but then got a concerned look on her face. "Come on in, David. You must be Wes. Hi. I'm Mary Winslow." She held her hand out to Wes and they shook.
We went into a beautiful, big living room. It was rustic and modern at the same time, with huge exposed beams and a stone wall with a large fireplace at one end. The only word that came to mind was expensive.
I looked around at the people. Ken, Barry, Don, Jimbo, Dr. Forrester and Tim, plus Mary and Wes. Don came over and shook hands, then asked me to sit on the couch with Timmy. People were making half smiles at me, but it seemed that they were all nervous. It was certainly making me nervous. Mary knelt on the floor in front of me and took my hand, then looked up at me. She looked worried.
"Dave, we're all here to support you. Please don't be worried, but you're going to hear a lot of things. I'm sure it will be upsetting to you, but you need to hear everything." She lowered her voice and said, "We're not getting very far with your therapy, but maybe some of this will help it along. Nobody here wants to hurt you. I'm here, and Gerry's here if it becomes too much. We can stop any time you want, so let us know whenever you need a break."
I was really getting scared, but managed to gulp out an okay. Don pulled a chair over to face me.
"Dave, I'm gonna start at the beginning so you get some idea of where this is coming from. When we found you last spring and learned where you'd been and what you'd been doing, we figured we'd do something to get back at Artie before turning him over to the cops. We knew about him because Rafe's friends said they brought you there, and they thought you were hanging around with him. I started asking around. I know a lot of cops, and enough other people know about Loomis that it wasn't too hard to figure out what he was doing. A lot of things didn't make sense to me, so I kept looking into it. It took a lot of time, but I think I finally have the puzzle together. It concerns you a lot more than you realize, and it's gonna be tough for you to listen to it. You with me so far?"
I looked around. Everybody was staring at me. I looked back to Don. "I'm with you."
"Ok. The cops knew some things about Artie. They had their suspicions, anyhow. They were watching him, but he seemed small-time, and they usually try to connect people like that to bigger things. When they just bust a pusher it doesn't get them very much. They really want to know where the stuff is coming from so they can go after the big guys, and maybe make a dent in their operation. Anyhow, they had kinda half an eye on Artie, but they weren't learning very much. He covered his tracks pretty well. They knew he was dealing, but never connected him to his suppliers."
He put a hand on my knee and asked, "You with me so far?"
I nodded, and he went on, " They would'a gotten around to bustin' him someday, but it wasn't a priority."
"I don't get what this has to do with me."
"In time, Dave. You have to see the whole picture. Ok?" I nodded again.
"They didn't have anything that connected him to anything else. I don't think they even knew about the pornography and prostitution. I couldn't ask directly, anyhow. I was just tryin' to seem like an interested party. There's an old saying 'Know thine enemy' and that's all I wanted. We figured that if we wanted to get to this guy, we had to know as much about him as we could. If you want to fuck with somebody's head you need to know how he thinks first. That's all we wanted to do. Well, we really wanted to dump him and all his shit in the quarry with cement weights attached. We're not killers, though. We just wanted him to know anonymously that he'd fucked with somebody that had friends. We didn't want him to know who that somebody was, just let him think that there's enough going wrong in his life that he'd best close up shop and move away. That's why you need to know who you're dealing with. You can't punish a guy with whips if he happens to like being whipped, if you know what I mean."
I shrugged, "I guess it makes sense. I'm really nervous and I don't know what's going on. Can I have a beer or something?"
"Sure ya can. I think I could use one, too." He got up and asked if anyone else wanted a drink. Everybody did.
I looked at Timmy. He had a pained look. I tried to ask him with my eyes if he knew what was going on. He nodded yes, then his chin started to quiver. He took my hand in his and gave a squeeze, but he was trembling.
Don came back with a tray of drinks. I grabbed a beer, then he passed them out to the others. Don and I finished our beers and got two more before he continued. I felt better, but not much.
"Ready? A lot of things about Artie just didn't add up. Nobody knew where he came from, for one thing. Nobody knew how old he was. He just showed up in town about four years ago, and he was like a man without a past. That's not all so unusual, he could have just moved from another town or state. Some things aren't easy to learn. Some things really knock your socks off when you learn them. Dave, do you know how old Artie is?"
"I never asked, but he seems like around thirty or thirty-five. A little younger than you, maybe, but not much."
"That's about what everybody thought. One thing I could find out was stuff from Motor Vehicles. He got his license when he showed up here. He didn't transfer it from another state, it was his first one. He took the test in a car owned by a private driving school. He'd just finished his lessons. It shows his age as nineteen. That was four years ago, making him twenty-three now."
"Twenty-three? I don't think so. He's older than that."
"He's twenty-three, Dave. He really is. Anyhow, what really baffled me was that he showed up here out of the blue, but he was in business on day one. He was living in a dump apartment over on Second Street, but he was peddling dope and luring kids into pornography and prostitution right from the get-go. Just like he'd been here all along. Only he hadn't been here, at least nobody knew anything about him. The local cops had done a routine FBI check on him, but there was nothing. Absolutely nothing with that name. I figured like everybody else that it was a fake name, not the one he'd been born with. When I thought of born, I decided to check the birth records. I had the birthday from his driver's license. I didn't expect to find anything, but I guess I did. He's using his real name, and he was born right in town. His father was James Loomis and his mother was Janet Hayes. I started trying to find out things about them."
I was shocked. "Artie's twenty-three? Man, what the fuck happened to him?"
Don's soft gaze leveled on me, "A lot, Dave. A whole lot. It took a lot of looking, but I'm gonna tell you what I found out. I need some air first. What say we go outside for a minute?"
Everybody agreed. People took turns in the bathrooms, then we walked out in the yard. Timmy pulled me aside. "You're gonna be ok, Dave. I'm stayin' here even if I lose both jobs. Everybody came in their own cars, so if somebody can't stay they can leave by themselves."
I had a sense of foreboding that I couldn't understand and couldn't escape. Nothing Don had said involved me in the least, but I was feeling a primal fear in my gut. It seemed irrational at the time. I was just hearing things about Artie Loomis, but my insides were churning as if I was being chased through the night by an axe murderer.
"Aren't ya gonna tell me what's goin' on?" I asked Timmy.
"I can't, Dave. I promised. You have to hear it from Don and Ken. It's the only way it's gonna make sense. I couldn't anyhow. I just couldn't do it."
"Is it that bad?"
"It's as bad as it gets." He had tears in his eyes. He pulled me into a tight hug. "I'll be right here, Dave. Right here. Don't worry, I ain't leaving until I know you're ok."
I was starting to feel physically ill. I had a weak and hollow feeling like I was going to throw up. Barry came over and wrapped his arms around both of us. When he saw my condition, he called Gerry over. "He's gettin' sick, Doc. What should we do?"
Doc pulled me from Tim and Barry and looked at me with concern. "I think that's it for now. Why don't you lie down, Dave. Take a break from this. I can see we're scaring you. Stay with him, Timmy. Take a walk or take a nap, just disappear for a while. Let me talk to Mary and see if there's a better way to do this."
Barry and Tim helped me up onto the deck and we sat in lawn chairs. Wes came and joined us. Tim got up and stood behind me, wrapped his arms around me and leaned his chin on my head. "It's gonna be ok, Dave. I promise. I can take care of him, guys, if you wanna do something else."
Barry looked at Tim, then me. "I have an idea. I'll be back in a minute. You're doin' a good job, Timmy. Come on, Wes, we need to find Ken and Mary."
They got up and hurried over to where everyone else was. Tim just held on to me. He started humming a little, and I recognized the tune. It was 'My Bonnie' and after a bit I started to remember the words the guys had for it. It made me laugh a little at first, then the enormity of what I'd done since I last heard it washed over me and I started sobbing uncontrollably. Tim squeezed me a little tighter and kept on humming, then singing the words very softly. It got into my head after a little while, and I started to giggle through my tears.
I think we must have stayed like that for a half hour, then Doc Forrester came over. "You doing better, now? I'm the chef tonight and we're having pasta. I could use some Italian hands in the kitchen. You guys up to it?"
"Timmy's not Italian," I protested.
Timmy said, "Maybe I'm not, but I know all about tomatoes and zucchini." Then he started to laugh, one of his best ones. It made me laugh. It made the Doc laugh. Other people started to laugh. They hadn't heard Tim's comment, just his laughter.
We cooked up a mountain of spaghetti and sauce, and ate it with a green salad and hot garlic bread. Everyone had loosened up a little, and I was feeling better. Ken pulled Tim into another room for a few minutes, then they went outside together. Mary asked if I wanted to continue, saying they were going to try something different to make me more comfortable. I agreed to give it another try, explaining that I didn't know what had come over me earlier.
We went back outside. It was getting dark and Ken and Tim were sitting at a campfire they'd started in the back yard. Barry, Don and Jimbo sat down with Ken and pulled a blanket over their shoulders. I figured out what they were doing and thought it was a pretty good idea. I sat in front of Tim and he wrapped his arms around me. Somebody put a blanket around us, too. Wes, Mary and the Doc sat somewhere behind me. I was comfortable, and the guys were smiling at me.
Don started again. "This'll be better, huh Dave? More like home."
I had to smile. "Much better, guys. Thanks."
"Anyhow, I was telling you about Artie. I found out what I could about the family. They seemed like decent enough people. His parents both worked for the phone company, and they had their own house in a good neighborhood. Now that I knew where they'd lived, I asked around until I found somebody that lived nearby back then and had known them. They remembered Artie as a nice enough kid - not a troublemaker or anything like that. He played little league ball and belonged to the cub scouts. The family stayed in the same house until Artie was ten, but the people I talked to said they hardly ever saw him during the last year they lived there. When Artie was ten they moved out, but it was very strange. They left during the night and never said anything to anyone. One morning people woke up and the house had a for-sale sign out front. Nobody ever saw them or heard from them again."
I said, "This is getting weird."
Don nodded, "It sure is. I asked a friend at the phone company if he knew anything about the Loomis family. He asked around and found that Artie's parents had just walked in and quit one day, using their vacation time as their two week notice. He couldn't find anybody that knew if they gave any kind of reason."
"The whole family just disappeared?"
Don had picked up a stick and was poking the fire with it. "They just vanished, Dave, like they went up in smoke. I just couldn't find anything else out. I was running out of ideas. One day I was in the library looking around to see if anything might hold a clue for me. They had high school yearbooks going all the way back. I didn't know if Artie's parents were from around the area, but it was worth a look. I didn't really know how old they were or when they would've graduated, so I just started with 1930 and worked forward. It wasn't really hard since it was all alphabetical. I found James Loomis in the 1947 edition. Then I looked through all the sports teams and the clubs. He'd been in the science club, and there was a list of all the other members. I wrote down all their names, then went through the phone book to see if anyone was still in the area. There were a couple of people with the same names, so I wrote them down."
I smiled in amazement, "You're a good detective. I would'a never thought of anything like that."
"I didn't know if it was worth the effort. I mean, so they left town - so what? The thing that still bothered me was Artie being right up in business as soon as he showed back up in town. Ken and Barry thought it was worth the effort to call the numbers I had, so I did it from Ken's house. I struck out on a couple of them, but one guy remembered Artie's father from school. He hadn't kept in touch with him after graduation, but he gave me a name of a guy that was his friend and still lived in town. His name's Tom Hillyer. I called him up and, well, bingo!"
"Bingo? He knew a lot?"
"He was best man at Artie's parent's wedding. He didn't have a lot of time to talk that first time, so we arranged to go and visit him. Ken went with me. He was a nice guy and really tried to help. He'd stayed friends with Artie's father until they left town. He wasn't positive what it was about, but he'd thought for a while that James Loomis had a gambling problem and was having money trouble. He was sure he was in some kind of trouble. For the last year that he was in town, James was getting more and more paranoid about it. He never told Tom anything directly, but always hinted that he was in deep shit, and didn't know what to do about it. Loomis never told him about leaving town, and he's never heard from the guy since."
"So, where'd that leave you. Another dead end?"
"Not totally. His wife had been friends with Artie's mother. She didn't know anything more about them disappearing, but Janet had a sister, and Tom's wife had an old phone number for her in Delaware. We figured it was worth a shot, but somebody else had the number now. We had her married name and her maiden name, so I asked my friend in the phone company if he had a way to check the Delaware phone books to try and find her. He said he could order some, but maybe somebody in long distance had a better way. If you ever want to meet a living saint, go down to the phone company and ask for Dottie. She's the supervisor for the AT&T interface. She had us a new phone number in twenty minutes."
My foot was asleep and I needed to stretch. I poked Tim with my elbow and he let me go. We both got to our feet, but I could only feel one of mine and almost fell into the fire before Timmy grabbed me.
"You look wobbly, Dave. Why don't we call it a night?" Don said.
"I'm ok, my foot's asleep. Is it gettin' late?"
"Late enough. Let's pick back up tomorrow. You doin' better?"
I nodded, "Much better. This was a great idea. I was really feelin' funny in the house with everybody lookin' at me."
Barry grinned. "I could see that. You must'a felt like you were under the inquisition or something. When I saw you and Tim on the porch it made me think of the campfires back home. That's when you were always at your best, so I thought it was worth a shot."
Wes came over. "I'm goin' home, Dave. You can come with me or stay here. I'll be coming back after lunch tomorrow."
I looked around again. I wanted to stay, but I didn't want to learn another strange bed. "Can Timmy come with us?" I asked Wes.
I looked at Tim. "Do you want to stay with Wes tonight?"
"I'm goin' wherever you go. I already told you."
I looked at the guys. "Is it okay? I'd rather be at the farm."
Ken looked up. "It's fine, Davy. We got plenty of company here. You go get some rest."
Tim and I grabbed our things and drove home with Wes. It was the latest I'd ever seen him stay up, and the latest I'd been up since I started helping him on the farm. I was pretty tired, and when we got back I was going to go straight to bed. When we were walking to the house Tim grabbed me and held me until Wes was inside. He pointed to the sky and it was another glorious night.
Tim leaned his head back so he was looking straight up at the stars.
"Don't let us down, guys"
... to be continued
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