We woke to the phone ringing. We were curled up naked together on the living room carpet. Tim got up and answered. It was Ken, and he wanted to talk to me.
Tim handed me the receiver, "Hi!"
"Hey, kid. How goes?"
"Good. Real good. Well, we got into a fight this morning, but we're good."
"You had a fight? That sounds like you, but not like Timmy."
"Not with each other! Some guys hassled us when we were having breakfast. I decked one of them and Timmy smashed the other guy."
The astonishment in his voice made me smile. "Timmy did? What are you feeding him?"
"You'd be surprised."
"Suddenly I don't wanna know. You sure you're ok? I got somethin' I want you to do."
"I'm fine. I'm really happy, Ken. I'm taking your advice and making myself happy. Nothing's botherin' me anymore. I'm seein' with my own eyes now, and I like what I see."
"Good! Finally! You got somethin' to write with?"
I looked around and found a pad and a pen in the drawer under the phone. He had me write down a number. "Who's number is this?"
"Artie's. I talked to Don and he thinks you should try to call first. If he won't talk to you, then Don'll take you to visit. If he does talk, you won't have to see him. I guess we both think it's better if you can stay away from him. He'll never find you where you are. I don't know what his connections are here, but if you can find out what you want without comin' back to town it'll be safer for everybody. Think you can do it?"
I was getting nervous just thinking about it. "I ... uh, I guess so. What should I say to him?"
"Whatever you say, don't tell him where you are. Don't give him that phone number, either. I don't know the guy, but just call and say hi. See what reaction you get and follow your own head. He can't hurt you over the phone, Dave. You're a good bullshitter. Ttry to get him to say what you want to know. If he tries to fuck with your head, just hang up. Think you can do it?"
"I can do it. When should I call?"
"Right now. Call me back when you get done, ok?"
"Okay, I'll call you back."
I looked up at Tim. "He wants me to call Artie from here. I'm a little scared."
"I'm here with ya. Why don't you wash up and get dressed first? Take two minutes to think of what to say."
It sounded like good advice. I took a quick shower and put on the last of my clean clothes. I went back down to the kitchen to use the phone in there, where I could sit at the table. Tim sat right beside me. I dialed. It rang twice.
"Artie? It's Dave."
"Dave? Dave? Oh, man!. Where have you been? I been makin' myself crazy worryin' about you!"
"Let me call you right back from inside. There's a bunch of people here."
"I'll call you. Five minutes." I hung up and looked at Tim. "There's people there. I'm going to call back." Tim just nodded. I watched the clock, then called back. He picked up on the first ring.
"Oh, man. What happened? Why'd you disappear on me? I've been looking everywhere. I'm a wreck thinking something happened to you."
I was getting pissed. "What the fuck? You're tryin' to tell me you're fuckin' worried? About what? Losing your best customer? Don't try to fuck with me, Artie. You were fuckin' killin' me, and you didn't give two shits. Who the fuck do you think you're kiddin', anyhow? I might be an asshole, but I ain't no fool!"
Silence. Finally, very meekly, "Why are you yelling' at me like that? What'd I ever do to get you mad at me? I thought we were friends."
"Some fuckin' friend, Artie! Some friend you are! Is that how you treat your friends? You get 'em all strung out on coke and turn their assholes into Grand Central fuckin' Station? What the fuck do you do with your enemies, Artie? Drill holes in their heads?" I was starting to cry.
Surprisingly, it sounded like Artie did, too. He certainly sounded choked up. "Oh, God! I thought it was what you wanted, Dave. You came here! You're the guy that wanted the dope. I don't mess with that shit. You wanted it and I tried to help you get it. I could never hurt you! Especially you." He started crying out loud, and he was pretty convincing.
I was totally confused. Tim could see that I was upset, and told me to hang up the phone. I didn't. I had no clue what Artie was talking about, but I couldn't just end it. "I don't know what you're talkin' about. Are you tryin' to tell me you thought you were fuckin' helping me?"
He was really crying now. "Wait ..." I heard him sniffling, then he blew his nose. "I ... I always tried to help. Why do you think I paid so much for this stupid house? I was just trying to keep a promise."
"I made a promise. I can't tell you about it. I promised that, too."
"Fuck ya, then. If you can't tell me, then goodbye!" I slammed the phone down hard.
Tim stared at me. "What'd he say? You all pissed off now?"
"Jesus, Tim. He's trying to say he did it for me! Who's he think he's kidding? He said he was trying to help - to help me. Some help, huh?"
"Call him back, Dave! You gotta find out what he's thinking."
Did I? Tim's opinion was the one I respected at that moment. I dialed again.
"Artie? I'm sorry I hung up. I need to talk to you."
He still sounded like he was crying. "I don't know why you're mad at me. If I hurt you I'm sorry. I just wanted what you wanted, okay? I wouldn't ... I couldn't hurt you, Dave."
I couldn't think of anything to say. There was a long pause. "You're my brother, David. How could I ever hurt you?"
For maybe the third or fourth time in my life I was stunned into silence. I felt a rage building within me. Tim could see it. I looked at him and he winced.
"Artie, you are NOT my fuckin' brother! You're playin' with my head, man. I should'a known better than talk to you. Who the fuck do you think you're messin' with?" I had tears in my eyes again, but they were tears of anguish and rage. I should just hang up. I didn't.
Artie was crying again. "Dave, you are my brother! We have the same father!"
"You are totally nuts, Artie! My father's dead, but he was never your father! Your father lives in Washington. You are so fucked in the head! Why don't you just die or something?"
"Can I tell you a story ... so you'll understand?"
"I understand, Artie, believe me. I understand. You got fucked up as a little kid, and I understand that. But you took right over fuckin' up new little kids. You're evil, Artie, and there ain't a thing you can say that'll change that. You're an evil person and you are not my fuckin' brother!"
"Please, Dave. Just listen?"
I didn't say anything, but I didn't hang up. I rolled my eyes at Tim.
"When my parents sold me, your uncle brought me there. He always brought me. The last time didn't seem any different, except when Sal left they took me somewhere else. They brought me to Vic's motel, Dave. But it didn't last. I didn't even stay there a day."
"I didn't know until after, but when Sal came to get me I wasn't where I was supposed to be. He told your father, and they went to find me. They stole me back, Dave. That same day. They came to the motel and just took me away in the car. They brought me to your father's club. Your father and Sal looked and looked for my real parents, but they couldn't find them. Nobody knew what to do with me."
"You're sayin' my father and Uncle Sal rescued you? I thought Sal kidnaped you."
"Sal didn't know what was going on. I hate to say it, Dave. Sal was a great guy and everything, but he was pretty dumb. He just did what he was told. He never knew shit about what was really takin' place. When I disappeared he told your father what he knew. It took your father to figure it out and find me."
"So, what happened?"
"Like I say, they didn't know what to do with me. My family disappeared, so they couldn't just bring me home. They couldn't bring me to the cops without facing life themselves. I knew I had relatives, but I didn't know where they lived, only that it was far. They were over a barrel. They had me and they felt bad for me, but they couldn't find any place to put me. They ended up building me a little apartment in the basement of the club. I lived there for almost nine years."
"In the club? How the hell could you live there for nine whole years? Didn't you even go to school?"
"I couldn't, Dave. They had no way to explain me. Your father and Sal and another guy, who was a real teacher, gave me my education. Sal made me read all the time and your father taught me math. The other man helped me with writing and history. Everything else I got from reading and watching TV."
"But who took care of you? You were just a kid."
"Sal and your father. They took care of me as well as they could. They got me my meals and kept the apartment clean. They bought me clothes and toys and a TV and stereo. They got me Christmas presents and birthday presents. They treated me just like I was their own kid. Your father was always there in the morning, then when he went home Sal came by."
I had tears pouring out of my eyes. No wonder he thought my father was his father.
"After awhile it was like I had two fathers. I loved those guys so much. They were my family. They were all I had, but they were great guys and it was good enough."
"Artie ... you really loved my Dad?"
"He was my father, too. So was Sal. I loved them both, and I think they loved me, too."
"They never said it?"
"Not in words. Just the way they were. I know I started out being a problem for them, but after a while I knew they liked me and cared about me. They were always happy to see me, and proud when I learned something new. I knew I could never meet you and Sal's kids, but I heard about you guys all the time. Dave, your father called you my brother when he was braggin' about you. I had pictures of you and your sisters and Sal's kids in my room. You were all my brothers and sisters."
I was silent, just trying to absorb what I'd just heard. Was it the truth, or was Artie a world-class bullshitter? How could I ever know the truth?
"Did my uncle ever call me by a nickname?"
"Yeah. He always called you Bimmy."
"Did he tell you where it came from?"
"Yeah. I guess when you were little it was always 'bimmy dis or bimmy dat'. He thought it was funny. I thought he was funny making fun of how somebody else talked.. I was always having to un-learn words when I learned them from Sal. It drove your father nuts when I said deze or doze."
It had to be true, then. My father hated the way Sal talked, and Artie couldn't have learned the Bimmy thing anywhere else. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to see him, to hear this in person.
"Artie? If I can get there, will you meet me someplace?"
"Just tell me where."
"Will you come alone? I won't be by myself. I want somebody else to hear this."
"It's not the law or something is it?"
"No. Just some friends. Nobody's gonna hurt ya."
He didn't answer right away. I supposed he was thinking about it. "When?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe tomorrow, maybe on the weekend. I'll call, ok?"
"Tell me you're ok, Dave. I'll do whatever you want, but the weekends aren't too good for me. Better if it's early on a weekday."
"I'll try. I'm fine, Artie. I'm doin' good, but no thanks to you. I got friends that know what I need."
"I'm sorry, Dave. I only knew what you wanted."
"Bye, Artie. I'll call." I hung up. I crossed my arms on the table and laid my head on them. I felt drained. Just when my life had started to become simpler things were complicated again. It was all just too strange. Tim started to massage my shoulders.
"You okay? What'd he say?"
I didn't answer.
"What did he say, Dave? Are you upset or just zoned out?"
"Zoned, I guess. I gotta call Kenny. Why don't you just listen so I don't have to do this twice?"
"Okay. You want me to call him?"
"Might as well get it over with."
Tim dialed Ken's number and he picked up after one ring. I told him what Artie had said. Tim sat there in shocked silence. Ken asked a few questions, and I could tell that he found the whole thing to be not what he expected.
"Kenny, I wanna come home. I gotta see Artie. I wanna see everybody. I don't want to be here anymore. I love Wes and Judy, but I need my friends. Can I come home, Ken? Please?"
I could hear someone else in the background, so I guess some of the other guys were there. He must have had his hand over the mouthpiece. I could hear voices, but not words.
"Pack your bags. I'll call Wes. Make sure you don't leave a mess at Doc's. I'll see you later, okay? You can stay here tonight."
"Tonight? We can leave now?"
"Come on down!"
"Thanks, Ken. You're the best."
"Yeah, right. The brightest, too. See ya in a bit." He hung up.
I jumped up and hugged Timmy. "I'm goin' home, Tim. I can't believe it! I'm goin' home!"
We spent a hurried twenty minutes making beds, vacuuming, and cleaning the stuff in the kitchen and bathroom, then closed up the house per Doc's instructions. A half hour later we were at the farm. Wes and Judy had packed up my things.
"I'm happy I'm goin' home," I said, "but I'm sad I'm leavin' here. You are the nicest people I ever met. I don't know how to thank you for takin' in a dumb stray like me".
Wes looked at me and winked. "You're not all that dumb, Davy. You're a good strong kid. I watched you this weekend. You faced your problems like a man. I just called my brother and he's coming for lunch tomorrow. Watching you has helped me, too. I've been proud and stubborn for too long. So has Arlie, but we're ending our feud right now. You come back anytime you want, but I could use your help in October."
"I'll be back in October, then. Thanks for everything!"
After a round of hugs, kisses and handshakes Tim and I left. Judy gave us a bag of sandwiches for the ride.
We didn't go very far. Both of us wanted to walk down to the brook one more time. That spot felt special to us. We stood hand in hand and watched the water tumble over the rocks for a while, then shared a long, tender kiss before heading back to the car.
Tim cranked the radio up and we headed home, sandwiches in hand. We hit a little traffic, and the trip took about two hours.
It was just becoming dusk when we pulled up to Ken's house. It looked like the usual assortment of people there, but as soon as we got out of the car Ken, Don and Barry came over to us and took turns hugging me and Tim.
That was an important moment for me. These guys only hugged each other. They were making us part of that! We were included! What made this happen? Was it because they'd done so much, or because we'd come so far? These men had always been friendly to me, to all of us. Their hugs were telling me that we were part of the inner circle, now. It was Ken and Barry, Don and Jimbo, and introducing ... Tim and Dave. We could all sit on one side of the campfire. They'd show us the rest of the words to their funny songs. The Knights of Jabberwocky had two new members. Two very happy and proud new members, with a long tradition of goodness to live up to. I thought I'd bust.
Ken asked, "You guys hungry?"
I said, "We just ate about twenty of Judy's sandwiches. Whatcha got?"
"Crabs. We got a whole garbage can full."
One of my favorites. Oh, well. If pride can't make me explode, maybe food can. "I love crabs! Where are they?"
Ken smirked, "Waiting for you guys to cook them."
I laughed, "First night on the job, huh?"
"First night back on the job, Dave. Welcome home. I'm really glad you're back. I've missed your face and your cooking. Not your mouth, though. Everything's set up. Just add garlic and cook your butt off. Everybody's hungry!"
I called, "Hey, Tim! Wanna give me a hand?"
"Whatever you want. Why do you need three? And what'm I gonna do with just one?"
I laughed, "You're hilarious, ya know that?"
Tim posed, "It doesn't matter. I'm beautiful, and that's what counts."
"You were beautiful yesterday. You were cute this morning. Now you're bein' a pain in the ass. You know how to cook crabs?"
"Um, heat them up?"
"That sounds like a plan. Gotta light?"
Tim went to find matches. I looked around and saw Jerry sitting by himself and called him over.
He walked over to me with a thoughtful smile on his face, and I asked, "Howcum you didn't say hi?"
"No reason. I was just thinkin' about things."
"Anything important?" I asked.
We shook hands, then hugged.
Jerry said, "I don't know. Barry told me you got your head on the right way now, and I was just wonderin' if I did. I used to just not like my parents, now I hate them."
"What's wrong, Jerry?"
He scowled, "They just make it harder and harder for me. Now they're pissed at Whit about somethin', and I'm gettin' all the heat on both ends. They don't want me stayin' there, and Whit doesn't want to get in their way. They want me home, but I might just as well be another table in that house. I got a girlfriend now, and they won't give me a fuckin' dime to go do anything. I guess I'm just out of it. I'm glad you're back, though. At least I'll have someone to talk to."
What a day! Better and better. Worse and worse. Better and worse. Worse and better. I was somebody to talk to? I was flattered and scared at the same time. Tim came with matches and lit the burner. We all sat down on the grass.
I said, "I don't know, Jerry. Maybe we should all just find barrels and climb in the bottom of them."
Tim looked at me. "Now what?"
"Jerry's not happy. Now his folks don't want him stayin' with Whit. What gives with parents anyhow? If they want you home they should make it a place you want to be. Shit, listen to me, huh? I had it all, and I left anyhow. Jerry just want's normal, but he's not out gettin' tanked every two minutes because of it. At least you're not a fuck up, Jer. You're a smart guy. You'll figure somethin' out."
Jerry sighed, "I know. I just wish it wasn't so hard. You all better?"
"Yeah, I'm better. I still got some shit to deal with, but I'm better. The best I've been, anyhow. Did they tell you about me and Tim?"
"Nobody told me anything. You guys are in love, aren't you?"
I blushed, but it was getting pretty dark out, so it probably didn't matter. "Yeah, Jer. Yeah we are. You knew?"
"I guess I always thought so. I'm not pretendin' to understand. It was just always there. Aren't ya scared?"
"I'm not scared, really. I just never felt like this. I'm glad about it, if ya really wanna know. Tim defended my butt this morning. Nobody ever did that before. We are in love, Jerry. I ain't afraid to say it. I'm glad to say it! It took me a long time to get here, but I'm a happy person today."
Jerry smiled gently, "That's what counts, isn't it? I can see it. You look happy. I never saw you look happy before. Different strokes, right?"
"Yeah, that's a good way to put it. You seen Rafe lately?"
"He'll be here when he gets off work. I'm glad you brought him around. He really helps me to stay sane. When you see the shit some people put up with, your own problems don't seem so big."
I wanted to be alone with Tim. I wanted to make out with him. Just a kiss would do, and looking at Tim I could see that he was feeling the same.
"Mind taking a hike for awhile?"
He grinned, "Not a problem. I. Am. Gone!" He stood up and walked away.
Tim and I fell back on the grass into a gentle kiss. It wasn't passionate, just loving. It was our best one yet.
No hoop de doo.
Plain and simple. It was just love.
We were in love. Me and Tim. Timmy and me.
Like he said that morning. Head over heels. Ass over teakettle (whatever that meant). Like the old Turtle's song 'Happy Together'.
I could hear it in my head. 'I can see me lovin' nobody but you, for all my life ...''
I faded with the thought, the sound of the music still in my head.
"I love you, Tim."
"I love you, too."
"Are you happy?"
"Very happy. You?"
"I'm happy, Tim. I was just thinkin' of that song Happy Together."
"That's us, isn't it?"
"It's us, Timmy. Still got that hand?"
"Yeah. You still need it?"
"I was just wonderin' if you could check my vegetables."
"Think they're almost ripe?"
"I'm pretty sure."
I suddenly remembered where we were. I poked Tim and we sat up. We were just in time, as about two seconds later Rafe came walking over. I jumped up and gave him a huge grin.
"Hey, Rafe! It's good to see ya. How's things?"
He beamed, "Great! Oh, man. I'm so glad you're back. We're gonna have so much fun! You look great!"
I looked around, "Where's Brian?"
"He's here. He's talkin' to somebody."
"You guys still happy?"
Rafe smiled broadly, "Oh, yeah. It's great. I know I'm happy."
I took Tim's hand in mine. "We're happy, too, Rafe. Me and Tim."
His surprised look turned into a huge grin. "I knew it! I fuckin' knew it. I am so glad you guys finally put it together. It's perfect! You are really crummy as individuals, but when you're together you're a great team. I'm so happy to see this. I just can't tell ya. I gotta go find Brian."
He turned and trotted away. I looked at Tim. "Jeez! Did everybody know but me? Rafe told me I loved you last year, and I told him he was full of shit. Jerry knew it, too! Do I have a sign on my back or something?"
Tim's attention was behind me, "Here they come."
I turned to look. Brian and Rafe were walking towards us. There was another guy with them.
My knees buckled.
... to be continued
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