We walked for what seemed like about an hour, holding hands all the time except for one pee break. When we were almost back to the house we could see Ken and Mary on the deck. They were holding hands, too. I looked at Timmy. "Want to?"
"Let's do it."
We walked up onto the deck, hand in hand. We were expecting a reaction, but when they saw us they didn't seem to notice. Ken looked at his watch.
"Look, guys, I really should head back. I got projects I need to put some time in on. Dave, come with me for a sec?" I followed him to the side of the house. He wagged his finger at me. "Dave, you are really trying to be a prick, but I told ya it wouldn't work. She didn't believe a word of it. I had to try to convince her that what you said was true. You're definitely takin' a dive the next time you're home."
"You wouldn't really do that, would you?"
"A promise is a promise. Here's fifty bucks. There's not much food left, so you and Tim go find a restaurant. Doc's leaving, too. You can stay here or go back to my aunt's. If you stay here, just call and tell them."
"We can stay here by ourselves?"
"Why not? Doc can show you how to shut the place down. Just make sure you clean up. I just wanna tell you one thing."
He smiled, "I'm really proud of how you handled all this. I never would'a thought you had it in you. I always thought you were a hard person to like, but guess what?"
His smile warmed up, "I like you, Dave. You're gonna be just fine."
I'm not sure why, but that was the nicest thing I ever heard in my life. Not so much Kenny liking me - he liked everybody. He thought I was over the hump, though, and that meant I probably was.
For all his shenanigans, he was always kind of an aloof person. He was close and hugging with his own pals, but the most the kids ever got was mussed up hair or a bop on the shoulder. I'd never asked him why he did what he did for all of us.
"Why do you do it, Ken? Why do any of you guys? Why do you try to help all of us kids? What do you get out of it?"
"I don't know, Davy. I guess I don't get anything out of it. I don't want anything. I've screwed up some things in my own life, but mostly I'm a happy person. I don't really do anything for you kids. Well, you're case is a little different. Mostly I just give you some space where you can judge yourselves.
"Nowadays everything's school and sports and competition, where you get judged by a grade or a score. Kids need to figure out some things on their own, without a teacher, without a coach, without rules. You decide what you're going to do, then decide yourself how well you did it. That's all I try to give you kids. I let you measure yourselves on whatever you do at my place. I just give you some space to grow up in."
"You did way more than that for me. You're still doin' it," I said.
I saw Ken think about that, and we both broke out in smiles.
"You want an explanation? I don't know if I have one. Kids have been coming to my place for a long time now. Some stopped coming, and I never asked why. Most of the kids I hardly knew. You really got in my face, you're so damned talkative and opinionated. The only kids I really got involved with at all were Richie, Timmy and you. Richie was really because his stepdad's a friend of mine. Timmy kinda fascinated me. He was so quiet, so gentle. But start an engine and another kid jumped out. I guess that when the motor's running he just reminds me of myself."
"I asked him if you guys were related."
"I can see why you thought that. I see a lot of Timmy in my own son, too. He's quiet and reserved, but when the fun starts, watch out!"
"Do you think I'm queer?" I asked, nervously.
He smirked, "I think you're Dave Devino."
"I mean, did you ever? I don't think I am, but I love Timmy."
"I never thought either of you was queer. I'm no expert, and I know you talked to Mary. Go with what makes you happy, Dave. If you love Tim, then that's all it means - you love him. If that makes you queer then so be it. You're always lookin' for reasons not to do something. You're approach to life sucks. Do and be whatever it takes to make yourself happy. I told you before to just be a good person and other good people will find you. Now one of the best people you'll ever meet is trying to do that. Let it happen, Dave. Just let it happen. Stop being afraid and let it happen. Weren't you guys just holding hands?"
"Did you like it?"
"Then stop being a dumb ass! Today is today. Make yourself happy today. Do it again tomorrow. Do it again the day after. Do it every day. Maybe the same things won't make you happy again next year, so do it for today! Get used to being a happy person, then you'll figure the rest out. Sheesh! This ain't rocket science, Dave. Be good, be happy, everything else falls into place."
"Can I have a hug?
"Fer Chrissakes, now you think I'm some kinda fag, too?" He looked at me and grinned, then pulled me into a gentle hug. "Dave, listen one more time. Be happy. Make yourself happy. Happiness is all around you. It's waitin' to jump your bones. LET IT! Stop rejectin' it!"
"I'm gonna try, Ken. I promise."
"Trying's not good enough! You tried enough things, now you gotta just do it." His voice got real stern. "Do it, David Devino. Do it!" He started to tickle me. "I'm David, the happy fool." Tickle, tickle. "I'm David, the happy person." Tickle, tickle. "I'm David. I loves Timmy". Tickle, tickle. "I'm David and I'm gonna learn how to love life." Tickle, tickle, tickle ....
"Augggghhh! Stop! Please stop! I can't .."
"I bet that cleared your head," Ken grinned.
I was panting. "Ken, you are the ... kindest person I ever met."
"Drop the flattery, kid. We're still goin' swimmin'."
"Kindest prick is what I meant to say."
"You're still goin' in."
"Alright! Fuck it! When?"
"I gotta call Donny. Whenever he can set it up, okay? You talk to Artie Loomis, then we swim."
"Okay. I think you're bein' a prick, but okay. If I hit my head on a rock I'll sue ya."
Ken gave me a strange look. "There ain't any rocks, kid. You think I'm nuts or something?"
We walked around front and found Doc and Mary talking to Tim. They had their suitcases on the deck. Ken ran in to get his stuff. Doc brought me and Tim inside and gave us a paper with a list of what to do to close the house up. He showed us where the water and power shutoffs were, then we went back outside. We all said our goodbyes. Ken told us he'd call Wes when he knew what was going on. He told Mary he'd call her when he got home. Tim and I got hugs from Mary, and Mary told me what a wonderful person she thought Timmy was. Then they all left.
I was excited, "Timmy! Ken gave me fifty bucks so we could eat out somewhere."
"Really? Doc gave me a hundred for the same thing. I hope you're hungry!"
"I'm dirty, first. I never got a shower this morning."
Tim nodded eagerly, "You go get ready. Doc's got a bunch of brochures for places around here. He doesn't think many of them will be open this time of year. You want anything special?"
"Steak sound good?"
He licked his lips, "I was hoping you'd say that. I'm hungry, so get a move on."
"I won't be long. Call Wes and Judy, okay? Tell 'em we're staying here tonight."
I ran upstairs and grabbed some clean underwear and socks from my bag, then went and took a shower. When I was combing my hair, I tried to really look at myself in the mirror. I still looked like a kid, younger than my age. All I'd been through hadn't changed that. I found myself wondering what Artie had been through to make him look so old. I shuddered at the thought.
I finished getting ready, then went back downstairs feeling pretty good. Tim looked up. "Ready for our first date?"
I was appalled! "DATE? Fuck you, Timmy. Please don't start talking like that, okay? We're just gonna go eat. Did you find a place?"
"I think so. There's two year round steak houses. One's up on the mountain and one's on the highway."
"Does one sound better than the other?"
He shrugged, "I can't tell. There's no menus or anything. Let's go up the mountain and see what it looks like."
"Let's go eat!"
We drove up towards the ski area and found the place. It looked pretty nice, so we went in and got a table. It was quite dark inside, the only light at the table coming from a candle in a glass globe. The place was rustic, but the table was set with heavy linen napkins and nice glassware. Our waiter, Ron, came over to bring us menus and tell us about the specials. We both ordered sodas and looked at the menu.
I looked across at Tim. His eyes were sparkling in the candlelight, and his lips were moving a little as he read the menu. I had always admired his face, but that night a thought came groaning and creaking out of my brain. I kept trying to push it back, but I couldn't. Tim looked beautiful. He looked up and saw me staring.
"Tim, you're not gonna believe what I was just thinking."
"Right. Now you want me to believe you can think? When did this start happening?" He was smiling.
"About two minutes ago. Tim, I was just thinking that you ..."
"May I take your order?"
Oh, groan! "Um, sure," I said. "I'll have the 24 ounce sirloin, nice and rare, and a baked potato with just butter."
"Would you like sour cream with that?"
"No, just butter."
Tim ordered the same thing and got asked the same thing. Where do they find these guys? We headed off to the salad bar and piled the stuff on, then went back to the table and dug in.
Ron came with our colossal steaks. I had no idea what a 24 ouncer would look like, I just ordered the biggest one they had. It was big, okay, and it looked and smelled great. My potato had a huge glob of sour cream on it and no butter, but I figured I wouldn't be able to eat it anyhow. We both dug in to the steaks, and they were really good. We didn't even try to talk while we were eating.
I did a pretty thorough job on my steak, only leaving one end that looked like gristle and fat anyhow. I looked over at Tim and he was still chewing. I sat back, put my hands on my stomach, and watched him. He was almost done, but he still smiled every time he bit into a new piece. He finally put his fork down and leaned back.
"Good, huh?" I asked. Tim looked like he needed to burp.
"I'm so stuffed," he said. It was real good. I'm glad they fucked up the potato. I think I'd explode if I had to eat that too."
"Are you gentlemen finished? May I take your plates?" Ron asked.
"We're finished. You want a coffee, Tim?" He nodded. "Two coffees, Ron."
"Coming right up. Was there something wrong with the potatoes?"
I rolled my eyes, but Tim said, "No. We just didn't have room for them."
"Very good. Would you like to see the dessert menu?"
Geez! I listened better than this guy. If we couldn't finish the meal, where the hell were we supposed to put dessert?
"No, just coffee, thanks."
The coffee was good. I kept staring at Tim while we sipped it. The candlelight was still doing the dance in his eyes, and after the big meal he looked not only beautiful, but serenely beautiful. "Timmy ... you're ..."
"May I freshen your coffees?"
TAKE A FUCKING HIKE, RON! "No, we're all set. Just the check."
"What were you gonna say?" Timmy asked.
"Wait'll we get the hell away from here. Ron's got goo-goo eyes for you, and he ain't ever gonna let me finish a sentence."
We paid up and left. It had gotten chilly out, so Tim brought in some wood and lit a fire in the fireplace. We sat Indian style on the floor in front of it, looking at each other. Tim got up and came back with two glasses of wine.
I looked at Tim. The firelight was doing the same thing in his eyes as the candlelight had. "You know something, Tim?"
"You're a beautiful person. Inside and out. Kenny said I should make myself happy day by day. I hope it makes you happy, too." I lowered my voice. "I love you, Tim. I really do. I love you the way you want me to."
He didn't start sobbing or anything, but huge tears started coming out of his eyes. I put my wine on the table, then moved over and took his glass. I took a sip, then held it so he could have a little. Then I put it on the table and sat on top of his legs facing him, wrapping my arms around him and pulling him to me.
"I love you, Timmy. I've just been too much of a jerk to realize it. You're the best person I know."
I leaned back to see his reaction. I had tears in my own eyes, and my vision was blurry. At first I thought he looked scared, but it quickly changed into a searching look. I could see his own yearning in his face. He leaned forward until our noses touched and grinned his best grin.
"I think it's probably just a phase."
"You know ... like a phase you're goin' through or something." He looked at what I presume was a shocked expression. He grinned again. "I'm kidding, asshole! You really love me? Tell me again! I love you so much! Tell me again!" Then he kissed the end of my nose.
"I love you, Tim."
He kissed me on the lips. Just a short kiss on the mouth.
He should have done that three years ago! The kiss surprised me, but it felt good. It felt excellent. I wanted more! For the first time in my life my heart took over from my humble little brain. I was in love. I was in love with Timmy. I grinned and leaned forward until he fell over backwards. I kissed him. Over and over, until he rolled onto his side. We kept kissing. Longer and deeper kisses. More passionate kisses.
I had no sense of time right then. Every kiss seemed to last forever, then it seemed like it barely happened at all. Tim finally pulled back a little and looked at me.
"Is it bedtime?" he asked meekly.
"Yeahhhhh. It's bedtime, Tim!.
... to be continued
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