When we got to the top of Ken's driveway, Don was there sitting on the fender of his car in full uniform. His face was red and he was wearing an ear-to-ear grin. We walked over to him laughing.
"How was it? I couldn't stay to watch," Don asked.
Ken said excitedly, "It was perfect! When he opened the door it blew him right into the road. I saw you stick the hose in the window and just couldn't believe it. It's the best one yet. I was laughing so hard I honestly couldn't breathe."
Don grinned, "It really knocked him down? I couldn't resist. He had his window open four inches and I had a three inch nozzle in my hands. It was fate, man! It had to happen."
We all laughed some more, then Ken asked Don, "Do you have to go back? We're all goin' for a swim."
Don said, "I wish I could. I gotta go," then looked over at me. "How'd it go with Artie, Dave?"
"Weird. Are you comin' back later? I don't want to tell this ten times."
"I'll come over after work. It was okay, though, wasn't it? You're alright?"
"I'm fine. It's better than I thought, really. Just very weird."
Don reacted, "Better? That's good. Weird is what I expect around here. I have to go protect humanity from its own stupidity. I'll see you guys later."
We had one more laugh, then Don got in his car and left. He must have had to dodge Barry, who showed up as soon as Don left. He got out of his truck and grinned at me. "I didn't get a chance to tell you how stupid you look in those clothes." That sent him and Ken off laughing while I just stood there embarrassed.
"You know damned well these ain't my clothes! You guys ain't exactly fashion models!" I complained.
"At least we know our own size," Barry laughed.
"Fuck you, Barry! They were supposed to make me disappear!"
"Ooooh - touchy, touchy. I was just funnin' with ya Dave. Why're you all on edge?"
"Because I just got past Artie, now Ken want's me to kill myself for real."
Ken and Barry were smiling conspiratorially. Ken said, "You probably won't die, kid".
Barry looked at me with a straight face. "No, not at all. I mean, you might ... you could ... Timmy's not here to save you this time, and I'm not sure if I'm that good of a swimmer. What I mean to say is, if you change out of those stupid fuckin' clothes I might go in after ya. If ya insist on wearin' that kinda crap I'll just let you sink."
"Yeah! Without teachin' ya the secrets of floating," Ken added.
I felt defeated. I at least needed to know the secrets about floating.
I sighed. "Alright. What should I wear?"
Barry looked surprised. "A bathing suit might work."
Ken was supportive. "Shorts are good for this kinda thing, too. You are such a fuckin' wuss! It's just water, Dave. W-A-T-E-R. It's the same stuff ya drink, the same stuff ya wash up in. Quit bein' such a damn chicken!"
"Gee, thanks for the spellin' lesson. You're a real prince, Ken. P-R-I-C-K: Prince! Fuck it, I'm ready. Let me change and let's go!"
I went upstairs and dug my bathing suit out of the suitcase. I'd never worn it and it still had a tag dangling from the waistband. I ripped the tag off and changed into it, then put my sneaks back on and went outside. As if I'd needed it, Rafe and Brian had shown up to witness my humiliation.
"What're you guys doin' here?" I asked testily.
Rafe grinned. "It's nice to see you, too. According to Barry we're gonna witness a death-defying feat of bravery. He thinks you might defy death, anyhow."
"You guys don't hafta watch," I grumbled.
Brian smiled. "Watch? Hell, we're goin' with ya. Let's get changed, Rafe."
They grabbed trunks from the back seat and went in the house just as Barry and Ken emerged wearing shorts. Ken walked up to me and held his hand out. "This is for you." He handed me a shiny gray rock.
"What is it?"
"It's my lucky rock. Just rub it before you jump and you should be okay."
"You guys are really a big help. I might live? I should be okay?"
Barry grinned. "Nothin's gonna happen, Dave. You're just gonna get wet. Trust me with that."
I waited in silence the few minutes it took for Rafe and Brian to come back out. Ken and Barry got in the front of the truck and the rest of us climbed into the bed. We drove up to the edge of the quarry and climbed out for the short walk up to the jumping off point. I was rubbing the rock between both hands.
Ken coached me, "Okay, Dave. Try to hit the water feet first. You're gonna sink down pretty far, so have a deep breath and kind of blow air into your cheeks just before you hit. You're just gonna go down so far, then you'll start floating up to the surface. As soon as you get to the top, swim away so the next guy doesn't hit you."
"I'm not a very good swimmer."
"Okay, I'll go in first. I'll help you back to the shore if you have trouble. You ready for this?"
"Good! Count to thirty after I hit the water, then go for it. You're gonna love it, Dave. Just remember to hit feet first, okay?"
With that he backed up, then ran forward and did his superman dive off the edge. I knew my fear was groundless, but it was pervasive. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it was trying to beat its way out of my chest. I moved over to where Ken had started his run and stood there, my feet glued to the ground.
Barry yelled, "Go, Dave! Jump in!"
I was on the verge of crying.
Rafe said "You can do it Dave. Just run. I was scared the first time too. It's fun. You can do it."
I just stared ahead, willing my feet to move. I started breathing deeply and my courage suddenly found me. I ran forward until there was no more ground beneath me. I was heading straight down trying desperately to keep my head up and my feet down. I puffed out my cheeks, then hit the water. My descent seemed destined not to end. I was petrified of being under so much water and briefly wondered how I'd survived the first time. I wanted to take a breath but knew I could not. My downward momentum gradually slowed, and the next thing I knew I was headed upwards again. Altogether too slowly for my liking! I began kicking my feet and literally pulling myself up with my hands. It seemed to take a long time, but I finally broke the surface and gasped in a huge lung full of air. I opened my eyes, but then I was sinking again. I started to flail my arms in fear, then felt a strong arm under my shoulders. I heard Ken's voice.
"Dave, ya can't stand up out here. Lie on your face or your back and I'll pull ya to shore."
I managed to get on my back and I actually started floating if I kept my arms moving and my feet kicking. Ken came beside me in the same position and showed me how to move towards shore. I heard a splash, then another and another. In a minute, Rafe, Brian and Barry were all swimming towards shore with us, encouraging me to turn over and swim. I finally did, and it only took a few more seconds to reach shore. I climbed up on a flat rock and laid on my back vowing never to jump off a cliff again, and to get seriously back at each and every one of the pricks that made me jump.
"You gonna go again?" Rafe asked.
"Never! Never a-fuckin-gain as long as I live. I hate bein' in water over my head."
Rafe said gently, "Why? Why not learn to swim better? It really is fun. I didn't know you were such a bad swimmer."
"Well, I am. How do I get out of here?"
I followed him. There was a part of the cliff that was almost like a staircase the way the rocks had been broken away. You could just make high steps on some of them, others you had to climb to get to the next level. By the time we reached the top I was out of breath and sweating. Barry was waiting at the top.
"You okay, Dave? I'm really sorry. I didn't know you couldn't swim at all. We just wanted you to get over the fear of jumping. We didn't want to drown you."
I just smiled at him.
Ken was standing there watching. "Uh-oh. Stop apololgizin', Barry. It ain't gonna do any good."
Barry peered at me, "I think you're right. You wanna go back to the house or stay here and watch us old fools swim for a while longer?"
I said, "You can swim all you want. I just wanna lay down."
I sat down with my back to a tree and closed my eyes. I hated being a coward and I almost started crying. I did know how to swim well enough to get myself back to shore. I had just panicked out there after being under water for so long. The thing I'd done wrong was to think I could stay vertical after reaching the surface. I formed a mental image of the right things to do when I reached the surface. I could do this! I opened my eyes and watched Brian jump off. I silently counted to thirty, then jumped to my feet and ran over the edge again. Knowing what to expect made the trip down a lot easier. When I surfaced this time I just turned and swam to shore. I pulled myself up on the same flat rock.
"Feel better now?"
I looked up at Brian. "I still don't know why you think it's fun, but I do feel better. About myself, anyhow. You really like doin' that?"
He sat down beside me. "It's fun because it scares me. It's like the first drop on a roller coaster. You know nothin's gonna happen, but it still turns you inside out. It's a real rush. I was as scared as you the first time Rafe got me to try it. Now I like to come here and jump a few times. I'd do it more if he'd install a damn elevator or somethin'. It's the trip back up that kills me. You goin' again?"
"Not today. I can't face this climb up, either. I sure can't do another one."
"But you'll do it again?"
"I might. I don't like water that much, but at least I know I can do it if I want to. You want to talk for a while?"
I relaxed, "How's it goin' with Rafe? I really like him and I'm glad you guys got together. Last year he was all sad. Were you sad, too?"
"Not sad, really. I was afraid of what I was, I mean, gay and everything. I had friends and that, but nobody knew about me. I knew that Rafe was gay because he told everybody, but I saw all the crap he had to take and just kept it inside myself. Then you came along and started kicking ass every time someone bothered him. He lightened up, too, and started talking to people and being friendly. I sat with him at lunch one day and we started talking. It was mostly me asking questions. I really liked him from the start. He was just so honest with his feelings. We started talking all the time, and I finally told him I was gay too."
"The big revelation, huh?"
Brian smiled, "I guess. We were really hitting it off just as friends. He was so honest I thought I was lying by not telling him. I wasn't looking for anything, just wanting to tell the truth ... to have somebody else know. We got closer and closer as friends, and I started to love him. I wasn't sure what he felt. Then that day in Vermont, you pushed me over the edge and I told him I was in love. He just cried and hugged me and said he loved me too. It was the best thing ever, Dave. I don't know how to describe how happy I am."
"You don't have to. I know."
"You and Tim?"
"Yeah. I was such a fuckin' idiot all this time. It was right there in front of me. All I had to do was look and I would'a seen it, but I was carryin' too much baggage. I was too selfish. I was blind as a fuckin' mole and dumb as a rock. When Timmy told me how he felt I came real close to chuckin' it anyhow. I knew how I felt. I just wouldn't admit it. Not even to myself. It took a whole bunch of people layin' a whole bunch of crap on me, but I finally woke the fuck up. I'm gonna study English real hard when I get back to school. I know there's gotta be words that say how I feel. I don't know them yet, and it's killin' me not bein' able to say it right. I'm glad it's Tim, because he can read my mind and I don't need all the right words."
Brian smiled, "He can read your mind? That's neat, because it's exactly like Rafe and me. We can go to the beach or something and spend hours not saying a thing, then go home and think we learned a lot about each other. It's beautiful!"
I smiled. I was laughing inside trying to picture myself spending hours not saying anything. Especially with Tim. He was a quiet guy, but I never let him get away with it. I loved to hear him talk about anything and everything. He was so smart. No matter what dumb subject I brought up, Tim could make it interesting and funny.
I looked at Brian. He was about my size, but very blonde. He looked a lot different without his glasses. I don't suppose you'd consider him handsome, but he still looked interesting, with big expressive eyes. He wasn't fat, but he had a little gut and he didn't look very strong.
I liked talking to him, though. I could see what Rafe and him saw in each other - they were a lot alike in the way they thought, and were both very open with their feelings.
I said, "Adam said you guys were friends for a long time. I like him - he seems like a nice kid."
"Oh yeah. We've been friends all along. I always liked Adam. He was always fun to hang around with."
"Yeah. Last fall he started shuttin' everybody out. We always had our little gang, and suddenly he didn't want to be with us anymore. He always had a lot of friends, then suddenly he didn't want any at all. He wouldn't do a thing with anybody. I was scared for him, but he wouldn't talk. Then this spring he started talking to Rafe all the time. I saw them everywhere. It was before Rafe and me were really good friends, so I didn't think much of it. Then it dawned on me that he might be gay, too. Oh, FUCK! I shouldn't be saying this."
"It's okay. He told me he's gay."
Brian's jaw dropped, "He did? You guys talked for ten minutes. It took me a month to drag it out of him."
"Well, you know ... I'm Italian. Everybody tells me shit like that."
He gave me a startled look, like what the hell did he just hear, then I burst out laughing. "You should see your face! I told him I was in love with Timmy. We talked about that, then he said he was gay."
"You just came out and told him?"
"Yeah! I'm proud to love Tim. He's the best person I ever met. I ain't hidin' it from anyone."
Brian just stared at me for a while. "I think I need to take lessons from you. I love Rafe more than anything, and I'm always hiding it. I saw you guys kiss in front of all those people last night and wished I could be like that. We don't even hold hands in public."
"Me and Tim talked about it. We need to be careful in public, too. We got in a fight yesterday when somebody called us fags. We just figured we'd be safe at Kenny's. We're gonna cool it in public, but I ain't gonna hide how I feel. Just use your heads. You're both smart guys. Everybody knows about Rafe anyhow. You really think you're kiddin' anybody if you're with him all the time?"
Brian's look was thoughtful, "You might be right. Rafe has a lot of straight friends, too, so I don't think anybody even tries to guess any more. I gotta talk to Rafe. I still don't think I want the school to know about me, but everybody here does anyhow. I know we're safe around here, so we probably shouldn't act like strangers with each other. You ready for a climb?"
"I guess. What's the point of swimming and gettin' all clean and cool if ya gotta get all dirty and sweaty to get back where you started?
We started the climb. "That's a good point. I always need a shower after swimmin' out here."
We got to the top and found Rafe and Barry sitting on the edge of the cliff talking. "Where's Kenny?" I asked.
Barry said, "He went back to the house. The phone company's coming to do some work and he didn't want to miss them. What made you jump back in?"
"I didn't want to be a coward. I hate that feeling."
"You goin' again?" Barry asked.
"Not this kid. The trip down ain't really that bad, but the hike up is a real killer."
"You guys hungry?" Barry asked.
"That's a bright question," I said sarcastically.
Barry raised his eyebrows, "Heh. I guess, huh? Let's go eat. Ya wanna go out somewhere?"
"I don't have any money," I said.
"I'll buy. McDonald's sound good?"
I hadn't been to a McDonald's in a year. "It sounds fantastic to me. You guys?"
Brian and Rafe nodded eagerly, so we piled into the truck and headed back to the house. We were all pretty cruddy, so we took very quick showers to get the grime off. I showered with my swim trunks on, figuring I didn't need pants on a hot day. I just toweled off and put on a shirt and my sneaks.
At McDonalds I got an idea of why Brian had a little gut. He got two Big Macs, two large fries, and two shakes. The rest of us had about half that. We got a booth and Barry and I sat facing Brian and Rafe. I thought I was a fast eater, but I finished only a mouthful ahead of Brian. Rafe was making oinking sounds that had us and everyone around us giggling.
There was a phone company truck in the driveway when we got back to Ken's. Barry brought Ken his food and we all just sat at the umbrella table. "Barry, can you think of a single good reason why Rafe and Brian can't hold hands and kiss when they're here?" I asked.
He nodded, "There's two good reasons right now, and they're inside changin' the phones. When they leave there's no reason except modesty. It's a quality you have none of. Brian and Rafe might, so don't go pushin' them."
"I ain't makin' 'em do anything. I just thought they might want to."
Rafe's ears were pretty black, but he was smiling. "Thanks, Dave. I'm not sure if I'm ready for a little show like you and Tim put on, but I do hate hiding my feelings all the time. I wish we lived in a different world, but we don't. Do you know how hard it is to get away from everyone for even a minute? There is, like, zero privacy in our lives. There's not one place we can go to be alone together. It's the suckiest part about being kids."
I hadn't thought about that. What were Tim and I going to do? Vermont had been one thing - we could disappear easily on the farm, and it had been summer. Summer was almost over. Sure, we could hug and kiss at Kenny's and probably at our own houses in our bedrooms, but doing anything else would be extremely risky. I instantly felt the discouragement Rafe was talking about.
Barry was looking back and forth at the three of us. He seemed to be deep in thought. "Dave - go tell Kenny we're takin' a ride."
"Where we going?"
I had never been to Barry's place. I didn't even know where he lived, except for the name of the town. I went in and told Ken, then we piled into Brian's car. Barry gave directions, and pretty soon we were headed out into the country. We passed orchards and farms and roadside stands, then came into an area of nice houses. Barry pointed out his driveway. I had to take a breath when I saw his house. It was big and beautiful, with rustic brown siding and a lot of brickwork. There was a breezeway between the garage and house, and that's the way we went in.
It led into what Barry called his mud room, then into the biggest kitchen I'd ever seen. It had to be thirty feet long, with big multi-pane windows looking out into the back yard.
Barry showed us the rest of the ground floor, which consisted of a large living room, a dining room, a family room and a full bathroom. Then he led us down to the basement. It looked like it was completely finished off, with nice carpeting and paneling. There was a lot of furniture, a TV and a good-sized stereo system. There was another full bathroom, too.
"You like it?" Barry asked.
"It's beautiful, Barry," we said just about in unison.
"I don't know if I should be doing this. I know you guys aren't just a bunch of sex-crazed homos, though. I'm gonna get you keys, and you can come here when you need to be alone. You leave me alone, and I'll leave you alone. I'll think up some rules for using the place. I just want you to respect my things and keep the place clean. No crazy hours, either."
We were all silent. Barry looked at us.
"I'm not condoning anything here, either. You guys be careful with each other. Respect each other. Listen to each other. If only one of you wants to try something, then it's a no-no. I wish Timmy was here - he should hear this, too. You guys are all in love with other guys. I think that's beautiful, but most people won't. It's gonna be hard for you, believe me I know. Let the rest of the world think you're best friends - they can deal with that."
I was almost at a loss for words. "Barry ... you don't have to do this. Aren't you takin' a chance here?"
"Only if you guys fuck it up. My neighbors aren't snoops, but if there's a lot of noise or somethin' they'll pay attention. This is not a party house for you guys. I don't even want you upstairs except to come and go. Like I said, I'll sit down and write up some rules. If you can live with them, I'll get you keys and we'll see how it goes. Does that sound fair?"
Rafe walked over to Barry and held his hand out to shake. He had tears in his eyes. "It's so beyond fair, Barry. I can't believe you're doing this. We'll do anything you say ... anything you want. This is just so generous."
"Yeh, well. I guess seein' Davy take a second dive when he was so shook after the first one softened me up. Just don't fuck up, okay?"
I backed up and saluted. "YES, SIR!"
"I ain't no 'Sir', dammit."
I held my salute. "Yes you are, Barry. Yes you are."
... to be continued
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