I think I almost passed out. Tim was holding me, and Brian and Rafe looked shocked. The kid with them looked as mortified as I felt. I had gone to school with him, though I didn't know him. I had also spent a weekend with him making a singularly vile porno film.
Rafe looked concerned. "What's the matter? You okay?"
"Long day, I guess." I tried to look normal, but I don't think I did a good job of it. "Who's your friend?"
"Oh. I thought you guys knew each other. This is Adam Danielson. He's a friend from school."
I did my best to smile, then held my hand out to Adam. "Hey, Adam. Glad to meet you."
His smile was pretty shallow, too, but he put his hand out and we shook quickly. His hands were as sweaty as mine. I was afraid of what he was going to say. Even more afraid of what he might already have said. I wanted to talk to him alone, but couldn't figure out how to do that. Brian gave me an excuse.
"Adam plays guitar too, Dave. He's pretty good. You guys should knock around together sometime."
"Really? You play too?" I looked at the other guys. "Call us when the food's ready. C'mon, Adam, lets play a little bit." I grabbed his arm and spun him around, then led him into the house. We went into the living room and I shut the doors. I grabbed my guitar and handed him Kenny's, then I sat on a stool.
"Do you remember me, Adam?"
"Does anybody know ... what we did? What you did?"
"Just you and me, I guess."
I studied him, "You never told Rafe or anyone?"
He shook his head, "I never told anybody. I just try to forget that it happened."
"Why'd ya do it, then? I was there payin' off a drug debt. I was so strung out I didn't even give a shit."
Adam winced, "I... I wanted to go, but I'm sorry I ever did. I felt so cheap after. I still do. I thought it might be fun, but it was so mechanical ... I don't know. It wasn't what I thought. I never even spent the money. I still have it, but every time I think about buyin' somethin' with it I remember what an asshole I was. I'm havin' a hard time livin' with it."
"I know, man. I tried to kill myself. I almost did, 'cept Timmy rescued me. I got a lot of help and I'm pretty much okay now. How're you dealin' with it? Was it just that one time?"
He looked away, mumbling, "Yeah, just once. But it was a big thing. Every time I think of somebody watching that ... watching me ... and you ... I just want to turn into a bug and get squished. I shucked all my friends. I couldn't look at them anymore. I can't tell anybody. It's like that one stupid thing is chokin' my life. I can't believe I could be so dumb. How'd you get over it?"
"I ain't over it, Adam. I was a way bigger asshole than you. I did that crap for six months. I was wiped out all the time. I fucked over a bunch of my friends, too. I'm better now ... way better. I won't ever forget that shit, though. I can't. It'll never go away."
I fumbled for words, "I'm just tryin' to make it less important. I got people that love me, and that's what is important. You must, too."
Adam looked horrified, "How many people know what you did? Did you tell them about me?"
This felt pathetic - the blind leading the blind. I knew how Adam felt, exactly how he felt. If I could help him I would. "There's about six people who know what I did. Nobody knows about you. I never knew your name, anyhow. I ain't gonna tell anybody if that's worryin' ya. I know about it, though. If you need a friend I'll be him. I know what helped me, and you can try it. If it don't work then I know a lady that can help. Are you gay?"
"Yeah," he said immediately.
I smiled, "No doubts, huh?"
"No. As soon as I knew what gay was, I knew that was me."
"Are you okay with it? Does anyone else know?"
"You're the third person. Brian and Rafe know. Brian's been my friend for a long time. We never told each other until we started talkin' to Rafe. Am I okay with it? I guess no's the right answer, but that's not gonna change anything. I'm still hidin' it from most people. Are you gay, too?"
I had to think. "I don't know if I can give ya the right answer. I'm in love with Timmy. That's all, though. I don't look at anybody else, and I never thought about anyone else like that. I think me and Tim are queer for each other. I can guarantee we are. But it's not anybody else. Does that make sense?"
"I don't know - not really. I only look at boys, but I look at all of them. Are you sayin' that if it wasn't Tim it'd be a girl?"
"I'm just sayin' what I know. It's only Tim. If it wasn't Tim it'd be nobody. I'm in love, and I ain't hidin' it, but it's just Tim. He's my guy, and that's the way it is."
He eyed me for a moment, then, "Cool! I never heard of it like that, but it's pretty cool. It's like your own universe then?"
I smiled. "Yeah, Adam. Our own little world. I ain't no expert. I just figured out that I was in love yesterday, but I know I am and I know it's perfect. For us, anyhow."
"And ... you and me ... our ... secret?"
"It's safe with me. You? I mean, you probably have to tell somebody some day, but you don't need to use names."
"I won't. But if I ever do tell anybody, I'll say it was with a really nice guy. Okay?" Now he was smiling.
"Okay, deal! Now play something so we don't have to go out and lie to everybody."
He started to strum out a basic rock beat, but as soon as I started we stopped. My guitar was drastically out of tune. I tuned up to him and we started again. He was pretty good and I was pretty rusty. We switched off, with me doing the rhythm and him playing lead. It sounded much better. Halfway through our tune, Tim burst in and said the crabs were ready. We put the guitars away and headed back outside.
Adam elbowed me and whispered, "Tim's cute. You're lucky, Dave."
"He ain't cute, he's beautiful. He's the best person I know, Adam. You should talk to him and you'll know what I mean."
He asked coyly, "You won't get jealous?"
"You blind or something?"
"I said talk to him. If I catch you using braille I'll rip your fuckin' lungs out through your nostrils!"
"Uck! Braille's reserved, huh?"
"Braille is totally reserved. When I was a blind fucked up asshole it's the only way we had to communicate."
"You know what?" Adam asked.
"Rafe said I'd like you. I didn't expect you to be who you are, but I do like you. I can see that you're the kinda guy that takes care of his friends. I like that."
"I like you too, Adam. I'm glad we talked. I wanna help you get past the shit that's in your head. I'm a total doof and I managed to. Did you ever talk to Ken or Barry or Don?"
"Not really. Just to say hello."
"Talk to them. Any of them. Check out their scope on life. They've got it figured out, Adam. They all wake up every mornin' expectin' another good day. They just let the pissy stuff bounce off, knowin' that they can make it good if they're happy."
Tim came over with two plates of crabs. "I didn't know how hungry you were, so I just grabbed us ten each. Is that enough?"
I really wasn't hungry at all, but I couldn't pass up on crabs. "Where we sittin'?"
"At the picnic table. You take these and I'll get something to drink."
I went over to the picnic table and sat down, putting Tim's plate opposite me. Adam sat beside me, then Rafe, Brian and Jerry joined us. Tim came back with a couple of beers and we dug in. Crabs are delicious, but they're a messy pain in the ass to eat. We were all squirting ourselves and each other every time we cracked a shell, then getting our hands and chins all covered with butter as we ate them. Ken came to the table and made a little small talk with us, then told me to come find him when I was done.
When I finished eating, I went in and washed my hands and face at the kitchen sink. I really needed a shower and a change of clothes, but I went looking for Ken instead. He was sitting by himself on the patio.
"What's up?" I asked.
"I want you to call Artie. Set up something for tomorrow morning at nine, but don't tell him where yet. Just get him to agree on a time, okay?"
"What do you have in mind?"
"I just don't want him to have a chance to plan anything. From what he told you it doesn't sound like he will, but we don't know that for sure. I want to make sure he comes alone and doesn't connect you to anybody else. I want to be able to watch, too, just in case he tries something."
"Should I call now?"
"Soon, anyhow. Just set up a time, okay? Nothing else. His number's by the phone. It just says 'AL'."
I went in and called Artie. I just told him I wanted to see him at nine sharp the following morning and that I'd call back to say where. He agreed. I told Ken, but he didn't say anything for a while. He looked like he was thinking pretty hard. He turned to look at me.
"Dave, I want you to go alone. You already know what he said about your father and uncle. Try to lead him up to what happened after they died. Find out what you can about how he got into drug dealing and the other crap. Nothing Don ever found out made it seem like your father was any different than you always thought. There's got to be somebody else in the picture. Don't tell him a thing about where you've been. Don't even tell him how you feel. Get him to finish his story if you can."
"Howcum alone? I thought Don was goin' with me."
"Dave, I don't want to put you at risk, and I think the spot I have in mind will be safe. We'll all be there, just not where you can see us. If Artie tries anything we won't be ten seconds away. We may have to do some things to him someday, and I really don't want him to have a clue where it's coming from if we do. I don't even want you to tell Tim 'til it's over. I want your face to be the only one Artie sees."
"Why can't I tell Tim? I can't lie to him."
"Not tellin' ain't lyin', Dave. I need Tim to stay out of it, too. I don't want him gettin' into trouble trying to protect you. We'll be there for that. You can tell him after, okay?"
"I guess so. I ain't afraid of Artie. I'm more afraid of myself. If he starts anything, I might kill him. If he's been lyin' about everything, I know I will."
"Just try to stay calm tomorrow. Be a listener for once. Let him talk. Lead him on if you have to, but try to hear everything he says, and try not to get mad about anything. Try not to react at all if you can. I want Artie to start thinkin' that you can come in and out of his life whenever you want. Treat it like you're watchin' a TV show or something. You're gonna have exactly an hour and ten minutes, so it shouldn't be too bad."
"I'll do it, Ken. I'm just so sick of havin' a past that won't let me go. I need to know what Artie knows. I just want it to get over some day. Ya know what I mean?"
"Come here, kid." He pulled me onto his lap and put his chin on my shoulder. "I guess I've been pretty lucky. I've never had to worry about crap like you're facing. It'll all be over soon, Dave. I just hope it makes you free. I really do like you, and I want you to be happy for once. I've watched you for about four years now, and when you came back tonight you finally looked happy. Like you were happy on the inside for the first time. I don't want you to deal with Artie, but I know you need to. I'll do whatever I can ... we all will. Then there'll just be two things left."
"Yup. Your Mom and the Quarry. You bring your bathing suit?"
"I'm more worried about my mother than the cliff. What am I gonna say?"
"You're worryin' about the wrong thing. Your mother loves you. I talk to her all the time. You just apologize and tell her you love her back. If it was me I'd leave out the details. Just tell her you did some bad things and ask her to forgive you. She's disappointed in ya, but she's mostly been scared to death."
He grinned evilly, "You should be thinking about hitting a wall of water at about fifty miles an hour. Your Mom'll never hurt you, Dave. The water shouldn't either. It's all in how you approach it. Try being brave instead of tough. Start using your head. You won't get hurt that way."
I smiled, "Thanks, Ken. I promised Timmy I'd tell you guys what I think from now on. I love you, Ken. You and Don and Barry and Jimbo. You're such great people! I really love you guys."
Ken looked at the sky for a minute. "Thanks, Dave. I can't believe you said that. I guess I love you too, in some weird way. You were like a challenge that wouldn't go away. You're growin' up, kid, and I like the person you're turnin' into. You don't have to change the world to make a difference in it. Just find your own little circle of goodness and stick with it. I always told ya good people find each other. I'm glad I found you, Dave. I really am glad."
I leaned back on Ken's shoulder, about as happy as I'd ever been. I didn't want to think about this friendship, I just wanted to revel in it. It shouldn't have been, but it was. I was a punk who found some real men. Men who could look at the world with kid's eyes and see all the wonderment and joy that was there. Men who would try to capture it and share it. Not with the world - just among themselves. It kept them together. They weren't men when they learned this was possible - just boys like me.
They knew how to keep the kid part in their adult lives. The part that let them wake up thinking today would be better than yesterday, no matter how good yesterday had been. The part that made them play practical jokes, buy water pistols and make water balloons, the part that made fireworks important. The part that could make a three month project out of a snowstorm in July, when the snow was really toilet paper.
It was also the part that made them look friendship in the face, to realize that it was all-important. It ain't fun if you can't share it. I suddenly realized that I didn't know anything about the guy that started it. Butch!
"Kenny, who was Butch, anyhow. What was he like?"
He looked pained. "Oh, man ... let's take a ride, okay?"
I got up thinking we'd go out in the dune buggy, but Ken got into the pickup. We didn't say anything to anybody, just drove out of the yard and down the street. He pulled over about halfway between two street lights.
Ken leaned back in his seat and looked straight ahead. "Butch Martin was the most special person I ever knew. He was my best friend. He wasn't big, kinda skinny actually. But he could light up a room like nobody I ever saw before or since. He was in my class in seventh grade. The first day of school, he came up and asked if I was the guy who made the helicopter. That's another story, but we got to be friends just walkin' down the hall. The kid was a spark plug. If somethin' was gonna happen, it happened around him. He had so many friends, I couldn't believe it."
I looked at Ken, and he was still staring ahead.
"Don and Jimbo were his friends. We sat together at lunch. We all got to be friends, but it all revolved around Butch. We were all kids, going through normal shit. Butch was always the guy that could laugh, say it wasn't important, say that friends were all that mattered. His life wasn't perfect. I remember the first time I was at his house, his mother sent him up to the bar to get his father home for supper. It was right up the street, but he had to do it almost every day. I thought it sucked. He thought it was funny."
"What's funny about that?"
"His Dad was a good guy. He just went for a couple of pops after work. He wasn't gettin' plastered or anything, just a few beers. What Butch thought was funny was he always forgot what time it was. Butch was the same way. Time was a foreign concept. He could get goin' on something and yak for hours. Weeks, if you'd let him. If you made plans to do something at two o'clock he might not show until seven.
"What I'm gettin' at is that Butch loved people. He loved to be with people. He'd listen to any kind of bullshit and be able to relate to it. As much as he could talk, he could listen too. Butch listened and heard what was said. Then he'd spit it back at you to make sure it was right. If it wasn't, he'd listen again. You always knew where you stood with him. Exactly where you stood. If he agreed with ya he told you. If he didn't, he told ya that too, and why. If you never agreed, that was okay too. You could agree to disagree."
"That's all nice, but why's it make him special?"
"A lot of things made him special, Dave. Like I said, he wasn't a big guy, but everybody thought he was. Everyone looked up to him for ... wisdom, I guess. I don't know. He liked everybody. He taught us to do that. If he didn't like somebody he found a way to. His idea was that there's something good in everybody. That's what I see in you Dave, you think like Butch. You're seein' somethin' good in Artie, even though I'm not. I guess I can't wait to see what it is."
"You sayin' you think I'm like Butch?"
"I'm saying you could be, Dave. Nobody can be exactly like someone else. You're a lot like Butchy, though, you really are. You don't hide anything, that's the big part. You have the goodness in you, and that's the next part. You're getting good at listening, and you're really showing your feelings now. Did you decide how you feel about Tim?"
"Did I ever! I hope this don't sound weird, but we're in love. We went to eat last night, and I was just lookin' at him and BAM! It hit me like a Mack truck. I was lookin' at the person I love. I was hearin' you at the same time, tellin' me to just grab on and go, just do it for once. I am so glad you said that yesterday. I feel so good about stuff now - not just Timmy. Everything. I'm thinkin' on my own now, Ken. No more monsters gettin' in the way of this kid."
He smiled warmly, "You're in love, huh? I thought you were afraid of what that'd make ya."
"You were right about that, too. It doesn't make me anything except in love. And bein' in love makes me happy. Happy ain't a good enough word, but you know what I mean. Does it bother you, I mean about me and Timmy?"
"Let me think about that, there's some math here. Hmm, now half of my best friends are gay, should I let that bother me? What will my mother think?"
"Are you teasing me?" I asked.
"Hey! You asked me a question and I'm trying to formulate an educated answer. I gotta look at stuff like this in engineering terms."
"You're fuckin' teasing me."
He started laughing. "Of course I'm teasing. You just asked the world's dumbest question. I'm happy for ya, Dave, and Timmy, too. You guys were always good for each other. It would seem stranger if you weren't in love. You're a great team, you and Tim. Now you have the right screws holdin' your head on. Just remember to make yourself happy every day. Now you gotta make Tim happy, too. Remember this. If you're ever havin' a bad day, make Tim happy first. That'll make your bad day end, and it'll make you happy at the same time. Enough happy talk - let's go celebrate!"
Ken started the truck and wheeled it around and back up the driveway. He got out hollering "Where's Timmy? Anybody seen Tim?"
Tim came trotting over. "What's up?"
"Come with me, guys." We walked over to the umbrella table where Barry and Don were talking to a couple of people. "Sorry, folks. Private meeting. I'll be right back." He ran into the house and came back with a bottle of champagne.
Ken smiled brightly, "Man, I wish Jim was here. Guess what guys? Tim and Dave are in love!" He popped the cork and handed me the bottle. I held it to Tim's mouth and he took a sip, then I did. I liked it. I handed it to Ken. Don and Barry were absolutely beaming at us.
Barry had a sip of champagne. "What a change from yesterday! What happened?"
I shrugged, "I finally listened to some good advice. I can't believe how good I feel compared to yesterday. You guys did it, and I'm gonna love ya forever. I mean it."
Don grinned. "So, ya do it yet?"
Barry smacked him on the chest with the back of his hand.
Tim looked at them. "It's a fair question."
Barry looked surprised, then Tim said, "It deserves a fair answer. It is none of your fucking business. It ain't today and it won't be tomorrow. Any more questions?"
"I guess that clears it up," Don said sheepishly.
"Yup. Good answer," Barry agreed.
Ken stood up and held the bottle in the air. "Here's to a good life for you guys. Take care of each other." He took a glug and passed the bottle to Don.
Don stood and saluted with the bottle. "Be good, guys. If you can't be good, be careful." He took a swallow and passed it to Barry.
Barry stood and held the bottle up. "I'm really glad you guys figured everything out. I hope it's all beautiful for you." He took a sip, then winked at Ken and looked back at us. "You guys are just too cute for words. I don't have anything to ping the bottle with, but you're supposed to kiss right about now."
I was embarrassed, but felt good at the same time. Tim had been right. We'd be safe here. I leaned towards Tim and kissed him gently on the lips. The whole yard erupted into a cheer, which made us both jump. Now I was totally embarrassed. Everybody had been watching. Oh, well ... too late now. Everybody knew.
We kissed again.
... to be continued
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