Tim and I walked outside and sat at the umbrella table. He explained his boredom at the book shop. It mainly concerned the fact that he only worked two weekdays, and the place wasn't very busy except for the last two hours when people came in after work. He didn't dislike the job, just the slow pace.
I told him about my meeting with Artie, which had him registering shock or surprise every few minutes, then I told him about how Don had filled Artie's car with water and the result. Tim literally howled with laughter for a solid ten minutes. I thought he might choke to death, and had to keep pounding him on the back.
I mentioned my chats with Brian and Rafe and how I really liked Brian, and he agreed that he did too. Then I told him about Barry's offer to let us use his house when we needed to be alone.
Tim's eyes went wide, "Really? I can't believe he'd let us do that! He has the most beautiful house I've ever seen."
"You've been there?" I asked.
"Yeah. I helped him put up shelving in the garage ... you know, just an extra pair of hands. I love that place. It's my dream to have something like it when I get older."
I thought about that, "Tim ... what do you want to be? I gotta start thinking about the future, and I don't know enough about anything. I don't have a clue."
"I think I want to do something with antiques and collectibles. It'd just be so great if my hobby could earn me a living, too. I'm not sure exactly what yet, but probably a dealer or a restorer. Maybe both. I know I want to study history and art when I go to college."
I was surprised, "You're goin' to college?"
"I sure hope so. I mean, my mother can't afford it, but there's scholarships and things. I know I'll never get in the Ivy League or anything, but there's plenty of smaller places. I wouldn't be the first kid to work his way through. You should go, too."
I sniffed at the idea, "Yeah, right. I gotta be a damn freshman again. How's that goin' to get me in college? Plus the fact that I'm dumb as a rock. You're lookin' at a future garbage collector here. And that's if I'm really lucky."
Tim looked mildly annoyed, shaking his head, "Will you stop calling yourself stupid? That's so far from the truth, Dave. I think you're really smart. You learn things fast and you never forget a thing. I can picture you as a lot of things, but garbage man isn't one of them. Unless that's what you want."
"What can you picture me as?" I asked, expecting a funny answer.
He looked at me, then a little smile appeared, "The first thing that comes to mind is a teacher."
That really shocked me. "A teacher? Me? Where'd you dream that one up?"
Tim seemed serious, "I'm not kidding. You'd be the best teacher ever. You never get frustrated by other people, only by yourself. You never let anybody fall by the wayside. You're fair with everybody and listen to everybody. You're never boring and you have the gift of gab. I can't imagine you letting a kid fail if you could help. You'd have one rockin' classroom."
I was staring at Tim with my mouth open. I had to shake my head to put my brain back in place. "You really think all that about me? You really think I could teach school?"
I waited for Tim's answer, and he just scrutinized my face for a long time. I said, "Well?"
Tim smiled, "Hey, I may be just a dumb swamp yankee, but I love you for all those reasons and more. You've been living inside your own head for too long is all. I need to get some sleep, but think about it. You'd make one fantastic teacher. Kids'd be tripping over themselves to get in your class."
I marveled at the idea that Tim thought that much about me, "I'll think about it. Thanks, Timmy. Do you really have to leave?"
He looked at his watch and yawned for effect, "It's after three. Unlike some people I know, I have to go earn a living in a few hours. I'll be back tomorrow night, then we can have Saturday to mess around. You feel like banging around the dump for a few hours?"
I said quietly, "I'd like that. It's been a real long time."
He stood up and gave me a quick kiss. "I know. I'll see you tomorrow."
I watched him drive off, then went inside and turned the lights off downstairs before climbing into bed. I was really tired, but I tried to picture myself in a suit in front of a classroom, trying to make sure the slowest kid in class was getting the point of the lesson. The picture didn't displease me at all.
I awoke, as usual, to Ken banging on the door. I didn't respond right away, so he opened it. He was staring at me, with a bemused look on his face.
"That the new style or something?"
"Huh?" I looked at myself. I'd kicked the covers off during the night and I was laying there with my bathing suit still on inside-out. "Oh, um, I guess. Just tryin' to start a new trend."
He looked at me for a moment, then turned to leave, but I could hear him muttering, "If that catches on I'm givin' up swimming."
I got up and took a shower. It was already a hot, sticky day, and I couldn't really get dry afterwards. I just put the bathing suit back on inside-out and walked downstairs. Ken was drinking a coffee, but he looked up at me when I walked into the kitchen. His eyebrows went up.
"You're not serious. Tell me you're not serious!"
I said, "Timmy thinks I should be a teacher when I get older. I like the idea. Do you think I could really do it?"
Ken pulled his glasses down his nose and looked over them at me, "You? Teach?"
"Yeah. Why not? Timmy thinks I'd be good at it." I started giggling.
Ken snorted some coffee out his nose. "Well, I guess a good teacher knows how to grab his students' attention. Will you please put that thing on right? It looks like you're wearing a diaper."
We both laughed, but I stepped back into the hall and put the swimsuit on right. I went back in the kitchen. "I'm serious about teaching. I thought Tim was nuts at first, but I think I'd like it."
Ken looked at me for a bit, then said, "Davy, Tim's exactly right. You're a stubborn asshole and a prick. You'd be the perfect teacher." He was smiling while he said this, which was probably a good thing for him. "Seriously? You have some rough edges, but I think you'd make a great teacher. You might have to lose a few words that you use too much, and you'd have to actually learn enough about something to teach it. What would you teach if you did it?"
"I don't know. Asshole 101, probably. What stuff should I really work on? You think I swear too much?"
"You definitely swear way too much. Try puttin' some soap in your coffee. Work on the basics, Davy. Reading, writing and math, then whatever else you like. I don't think I ever saw you read anything, and that's the most important thing. If you can read well, then anything's possible. I have to go work on an estimate for awhile. You'll be alone anyhow, so why not just pick up a book and see how you like it?"
"Like, read a whole book?"
"Try reading half of one and see if you don't want to finish it. You can look in my room - I have lots of mysteries and adventures. There's a lot of books in your room, too, but they're probably kinda young for you. Hell, read some magazines if you want. Just get used to reading something."
"My father always made me read. It's not like I don't know how. I'd rather just read the paper. When'm I gonna see my Mom, anyway?"
"Let's call her when I get back. I should be home by two or three. Maybe we can just go to a restaurant - you know, some neutral ground. I don't care. She can come here, or you can go home. Whatever makes the most sense to you two. I know it's gonna be hard, Dave, but don't worry. She loves you and you love her. It'll be okay. You'll see."
"Are you gonna stay with me?"
"No. I'll stay for a while, but this is between you and your mother. You need to go home, kid. Your mother wants you there and I want you there. This is something you have to work out yourselves. It's your family, Dave, and it's where you belong. I wanna see a smile before I leave. Look forward to it and don't worry, okay?"
"It's your f... It's your mother, Dave. Do you really think she'll hurt you?"
"It's not that at all. I hurt her, and I don't know how to face her. How do I apologize for the crap I did? How do I do that? I've been gone almost a year!"
"Dave, I don't know what song she'll be singin'. I just know that she's been afraid for you for a long time. You let her know that you know how she feels and that you're sorry for it. That's all you can do. I don't want to sound like a wise-ass, but it's your own problem. You made it, and you gotta fix it all by yourself. You also have to judge yourself on how good of a job you do. I can't help ya here, Dave. You're on your own."
"Should I tell her about Timmy?"
"Dave, try to do one thing at a time. I don't have any way to know what she's gonna think about that. You both have to get over the last year. Then you can start thinking about the present and the future. I gotta get to work. You gonna be okay?"
"I guess. Can I have the key to the duner?"
He fished it out of a drawer and handed it to me. "You think you remember how to drive it?"
"I been drivin' a Farmall all summer. I won't wreck it."
Ken left for work. I just had a bowl of cereal for breakfast, then went up to Ken's room to look at books. I couldn't get in the mood. The humidity was ferocious, and I just wanted to cool off. I was sweating doing nothing, so I took another shower under cold water, but as soon as I got out I started sweating again. I grabbed a car magazine and pulled a lawn chair into the shade and leafed through it. All I managed to do was get the pages wet from my sweating fingers. It was hot, hazy and humid, and there wasn't the faintest lick of a breeze.
Every inch of me was sweating. I could feel it running down my back, and it was driving me nuts. I got up and walked over to the dune buggy and felt the seat. It wasn't that hot due to the haze, so I got in and started it up. I put it in first and drove as slowly as I could, just cherishing the breeze that the movement created. I nosed it into the woods and started following the trails I had once known so well. I got swept by nostalgia. Everywhere I went reminded me of the first time I did this or that, or of some special moment. I finally stopped because the tears in my eyes were making it hard to drive. I walked over to the flat rock next to the pond and just sat there and cried, thinking of all the things that had passed me by during my visit to hell.
"What's up?" a sudden voice asked from behind me.
I swear that I levitated! I looked around to see Jerry walking towards me.
"What are you, some kind of Indian? You don't make a sound. Jesus, you scared me!"
"Sorry, man. What's wrong? Are you crying?"
"Yeah, but nothing's wrong. I was just riding around and remembering things, and it got to me. I love this place so much. I can't believe I just took off like I did. How's things with you?"
"Better, I guess. My folks don't like it, but I'm back at Whit's. I kinda told them what you said. If you want me to be here, then make me want to be here. If you're just gonna force me, then fuck you!"
"That must'a gone over great."
"Not too bad, really. They said if I didn't like it I could leave, so I did. I went to Whit's and told him what they said, and he said it's their problem if they don't like it. I guess I'm with him for good now."
"That sounds good. Is it? I never met your folks. I never understood your story."
Jerry looked out over the water, "I don't either. They're not really mean or anything, they just don't seem to like anything. Or anybody. I don't think they even like each other very much. They're always broke and accusin' the other of spending all the money. Dad hangs out in the garage all the time, and Mom just watches TV or talks on the phone. It's been like that since I can remember, too. I always felt like some kind of ornament."
"So! You said you have a girlfriend?"
That brightened him up. "Yeah! Her name's Deanna and she's the best. She's really cute, and smart and friendly. She can make me forget everythin' else."
"Are you in love?"
"Love? Sorta, I guess. I mean, I love her, but she's almost a best friend. We kiss and stuff, but we don't really make out or anything. We just like bein' with each other. It makes everything else better."
I looked at Jerry's face. It looked almost out of place on him. He was tall and quite slender, but he had round cheeks and an almost babyish look to him. He wasn't happy very often, but he had a killer smile when you could coax one out of him. He was wearing that smile while he talked about Deanna.
"Jerry, you are so full of it. Whaddya mean sorta in love? You got it bad and I can see it. If you think you can bullshit this bullshitter, you got another think coming."
He sighed and the smile disappeared. "You're right. I do love her, but I can't do anything about it. We can't go anywhere because I don't have any money. I just don't want to get my hopes up. What'm I supposed to do?"
"What've ya been doing?"
"We just walk and talk, mostly. She's so great! She can talk about anything and make it fun. I know she likes me. She makes me feel so damned good about myself."
"Why're you worryin' then? Just keep doin' the things you guys like. Me and Tim just got a lesson about that last night. We've been friends for a long time, but as soon as we decided it was love we forgot about the friend stuff. We had one perfect morning in Vermont when we were friends and in love. That's the feeling I want to get back to. It don't have a thing to do about money or where you are, or anything else. It's how you feel about each other, and how you can make each other feel right."
"Do you really think so? I'd still like to take her to a show or something. The thing that sucks is that I can get a job when I'm sixteen, but then I won't have time to see her."
"You'll find a way. For now, just don't worry about it. If she's not complainin', then just bein' together must be enough."
Jerry seemed doubtful, but he said, "I hope so."
With that, he kicked off his sneakers and waded into the pond. The water came just above his knees, but it seemed like a good idea. I followed him in, and we spent a long time splashing each other and knocking each other down. It felt fantastic on such a hot day.
When we decided to stop, we just laid down in the shallow water by the rock.
After awhile, Jerry asked, "So, what are you gonna do, Dave? Stay here with Ken?"
"Nah, I gotta go back home. I'm gonna see my mother later. I have a lot to make up for, and I guess I better get started. I need to figure out school, too. I probably have to stay back in ninth grade, and that's gonna totally suck. I really wish I could go to school with you guys."
"At least you know some people now."
"I suppose. I'll still be behind 'em all. I never got to know anybody in my class last year, but now it doesn't matter. Do you ever think of what kinda job you want when you grow up?"
"Yeah, I think about it, but I don't really know. So many jobs seem cool, like pilots and that. I'll probably end up in a factory like my Dad. How about you?"
"I think I might be a teacher."
That seemed to surprise Jerry. "Really? Why a teacher? Isn't that kinda low pay and all that?"
"I don't know what it pays. I talked to Tim about it last night and the more I think of it the more I like the idea."
Jerry smiled, "Hey, stick with it then! Dave Devino, the teacher. I like that idea. What would you teach?"
"I don't know yet. I'm just gonna work real hard in school and figure out what I'm best at. This is the first time I ever thought about the future. It's fun!"
"Hey, I got it! You could teach Yakking and Hand Gestures! It'd be the first class outside gym where everybody has to wear headgear."
We both laughed at that idea. "Is that really gonna be your goal ... to be a teacher?"
I thought about that question. A goal? Me have a goal in life? Something to aim for? I didn't have any idea of what it might take to become a teacher, but I wanted a goal.
I liked the idea, though. "You know? I think it is gonna be my goal. Lemme ask this. If I get to be a teacher and you have kids, would you want them in my class, or would you move outta town?"
"Why'd ya ask that? You'll make a great teacher. I'd pay extra to have my kids in your class."
I was startled. "You mean that? I've always been such a jerk."
Jerry smiled, "Maybe, but you were always a good jerk. You always help people with their problems, even if you don't know you're doin' it. I can't even count the times you made me feel better. You look at things in a different way ... a better way. You always say what you think, too. You're really a nice guy, Dave, no matter what you think about yourself. You're the only one I ever met who didn't believe that."
I just laid there in the water and thought about it. I'd heard basically the same thing from different people for two days. I was consciously trying to be a better and happier person now, but at least half a dozen people had seen goodness in me when I thought I was nothing but a little creep. I was thinking that I'd missed something about myself along the way. My uncle called me Bimmy because I was a selfish little pr.., um ... boy.
The truth is, I had been like that. Right up until the day that Kenny told me that other kids cared about me, the day he told me that Richie LaFleur was worried about me. I'd talked to Richie afterwards and made my first real friend in my eleven years on earth. That led me to meet a whole bunch of people, and I liked them all. As for helping them, I never thought I did. I was actually in awe of everyone. They were always so smart and I was so inferior. Now they're telling me I'd helped them one way or another, either through something I'd done or something I'd said.
I thought about Mary trying to explain conflict to me, but now I had a new one going. If I had been so good before, what would I change and why would I bother? Then it came to me, and it seemed like the simplest thing. It was a matter of viewpoint. I felt too stupid for words, right then. I'd taken everything my parents had said way too literally. They'd always said that family was the only thing that mattered, and I grew up believing that. What I'd missed was the fact that they had friends - great friends - lifelong friends.
My family ... the people I grew up with ... weren't all related by blood. They were all the people who were important to my mother and father. That was my family.
That was my family then. My family now was all of them plus all the people who were important to me. One of them was sitting against the rock right next to me, looking like he'd dozed off.
"Huh? For what?"
"For bein' honest. That first time you came to Vermont to see me, you said some stuff and you were spot on. I was always an assho... I mean, a jerk. You called me on it and you were right. I been workin' on it ever since, and I think I'm out the other side. You're my friend, right?"
"Of course I'm your friend. Are you trying not to swear on purpose? You can swear in front of me and I won't tell."
I laughed. "It's not you. I just got a dirty mouth and I gotta stop. I think I'm supposed to say 'Good Morning, class' or something like that. Not 'Hey you fuck whores, whassup?' I ain't gonna quit swearing, just save it for when it's important."
"G'day, Mates. Is this private or can anybody join?"
Jerry and I both jumped and turned around. There was a tall kid in cutoffs and a tee shirt standing there grinning at us. He had a dark tan, gold-rimmed glasses and longish brown hair. He looked enormously familiar, then it dawned on me. "Richie?" I started to get up. "Holy sh... - Richie! I was just thinkin' about you. Where'd you come from?"
"Australia, man. I just spent seven weeks there with an astronomy society. It was the most totally awesome thing I ever did. I wanna tell you about it, but I want to know what happened to you first. I can't even believe you're here, Dave. I just came over to see if anybody knew where you were yet."
I poured it out, "Ok. Starting with the first day of school last year I got hung up on drugs. It got really bad and I tried to hurt myself. A lot of people helped me get past it, and I was just talkin' to Jerry about the future."
Richie had never lost his smile, "You?"
"Yup," I said smugly.
Richie kicked off his sneaks and sat beside Jerry on the rock with his feet in the water. He looked back and forth between us with an I'm happy to be sitting in the pond with you guys grin. "I know what I want to do. How about you guys?"
Jerry smiled at him. "Airplane pilot. I wanna fly!"
"I'm gonna be a teacher." Man, I'd gone from hearing it to thinking about it to having a goal to 'that's it' in less than a day. "How about you ... an astronomer or something?"
Rich shook his head, "I don't think so. I just got done staring at the stars through a telescope for two months. I think I'll just keep it as a hobby. It's fun and I like it, but I don't know how to make a living at it. I want to get into electronics ... engineering probably. Are you really gonna teach school? I kinda figured you as an actor or a hit man or something." He snickered.
Jerry laughed, too, but I just looked at Richie. He was so different from the last time I'd seen him. He'd grown a lot and he looked great. He seemed to have learned the right things. His old gawkiness was gone, his hair was combed and he seemed confident as hell. "When'd you start wearing glasses? Say grill for me."
He grinned. "Grill."
"What happened to gree-yoo?"
He smiled, "Speech therapy. I guess my eyes were always a little bad, just not bad enough to bother me. Bud made me get the glasses before he'd let me go to driving school. Tell me about being a teacher. That's about the last thing I thought I'd hear from you."
"Timmy got me thinkin' about it and I like the idea. It's what I wanna do."
He grinned at me. "Yeah, sure! You just want people to call you Mister instead of numb nuts."
"Hey, my nuts are only numb because I'm sittin' in this nice cool water. I don't care if people call me Mister. I really don't. Sir is good enough. I just like the idea of teaching. Don't you think I'd be good at it?"
Rich and Jerry were both looking at me, but Rich seemed to be taking a new look. "You know, before this summer I never thought about teachers as people ... just teachers. Our chaperones were all science teachers from different schools, and most of them were pretty cool people, too. There was this one guy from Kansas, Phil Hanson. He's about fifty, but he just started teaching about five years ago. He gave up a big deal job to do it because it's what he always wanted. He was a great guy to talk to, and he kept things stirred up all the time so nobody got bored or lonely. Now that I think about it, I bet he was a lot like you when he was a kid. I guess I can see you being a teacher. It's whatever turns you on, right?"
I was ready for the big one, "I'm glad you said that. You're my friend, Richie, and I don't want to hide things from you."
His smile dimmed, "That sounds ominous."
"It's about Tim and me. We're in love."
"Cool. With who?"
"Each other, Richie. Tim and I love each other, and I think we always will."
I watched Rich's expression turn from amusement to surprise to something else altogether. Disgust at first, I think, then anger.
"You telling me you're queers? Faggots?"
"I'm tellin' you I'm in love. Please don't use those other words. Please?"
"Fuck you! I thought you were my friend, but if you're gonna be a fuckin' fag I'm outta here!"
"Rich?" He pulled on his sneakers and stood up.
He glared at me, "Fuck you, Dave, and Timmy too! I used to like you, but you're just a cocksucker and a butt fucker. What the fuck's wrong with you, man? I thought you were my friend, then you lay this shit on me. Fuck you again, and stay outta my life!"
He turned to go, but I grabbed his ankle causing him to fall forward. "Please, Richie. What's the difference? You were my first friend ever. I don't wanna lose that, and I'm not a faggot. I'm just in love. What's wrong with that? I'm not after your ass."
Rich pulled himself to his feet. "Fuck You, Dave! You think nothing's different? Just fuck you, man. Everything's different now. You're a lowlife faggot, and I don't want to know you. Tell me you're kidding before I get really pissed off."
I had tears in my eyes, "I'm not kidding, Rich. You can get pissed if you want to, but it won't change anything. Fuck you, too. Just get the hell out of here and don't come back!" I started crying, but I noticed Jerry standing up. He stood nose to nose with Rich and pushed his chest with both hands, making him take a step backwards.
"What's the matter with you? You better apologize right now or I'm gonna mop up this forest with your face! Dave's never been anything but good to you, and you know it. Get in the car. We're goin' for a ride."
"I ain't goin' anywhere," Rich said, looking nervous.
Jerry grabbed Rich's arm and pulled him over to the dune buggy and pushed him into the passenger seat, then got into the driver's side and started the engine. Rich started to climb out, but Jerry shifted into gear and pulled him back down onto the seat and they drove off.
I was in double shock. First from Richie's reaction, and then from seeing Jerry get physical with someone. I felt awful about the things he'd said, then figured I'd better get used to it. I guess Tim and I had been really lucky with the people we'd already told. I wondered how many others would react like Richie had. I was pissed off when a couple of strangers in Vermont made idiot comments, but Richie was my friend and he had gotten really mad. I had never felt so hurt since my father died. A sudden wave of emotion came over me and I started crying uncontrollably. I wasn't really thinking, just feeling miserable.
My crying jag finally burned itself out and I washed my face with pond water, then headed up the hill towards the house. I still felt bad, which seemed to make me feel heavier than I was. My progress towards the house was plodding at best. I needed to cheer up somehow, but couldn't think of anything that would do it. I really wished Tim was there, but I wasn't even sure I'd get to see him at all that day.
I finally got to the yard and laid down on a chaise. My mind was racing and I was alternating between fear, anger and sadness. I was there quite a while before I heard the dune buggy in the distance, then it suddenly burst out of the woods and stopped near me.
Jerry was alone.
... to be continued
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