Jerry got out of the car and started walking towards me. His face was a blank.
"I had to kill him."
He smiled. "He's walking back thinking things over. He'll come around, don't worry. But you, young man, had better start thinking about how you say stuff. I don't know why you told him, anyhow. Let people figure things out for themselves, why don't you. It's nobody's business, just like me and Deanna. If you're in love, it's between you and Tim, not you and the world."
"I just don't want to hide my feelings anymore. I'm sick of it," I said flatly.
"So don't hide them. It doesn't mean you have to take out ads on the radio, you know. People love each other all over the place, but it's a private thing. You don't even have to say anything if somebody asks. It's you and Tim and that's all it is. I mean, you figured out how I feel about Deanna and I figured out how you feel about Tim, but we've known each other a long time. You didn't have to say anything to Richie."
I was listening to Jerry and thinking that he was right. I was making the same mistake Rafe had by announcing my feelings for Tim. I wondered if Rich's reaction would have been any different if we'd all spent a fun day together and then he saw me holding hands with Tim. He knew Barry was gay and was always cool with him. His words had been pretty mean, though, and I was feeling what Rafe probably had for all that time.
I pulled my legs up so Jerry could sit down. "You're right, I guess. I shouldn't go braggin' about it, and that's what I was doin'. I gotta learn to keep my mouth shut. What'd you say to Rich?"
"Not a lot. I just let him talk himself out, then threw it back at him about the way he used to talk. I reminded him how you always stuck up for him when somebody started to make fun. I don't think he even knows why he blew up like that. I know he feels bad about the stuff he said, I just don't know if he's able to apologize."
"I don't need an apology ... maybe I do. I don't know. Nobody ever hurt me with words before. It's worse than a poke in the jaw, I can tell you that. Maybe it's good that it happened. At least now I know how I must have made other people feel when I wised off to them. I feel pretty rotten."
"You did have a lip when you were little. I don't think you were any meaner than anybody else, really. Everybody said rotten things. You could just back it up with your fists."
I was embarrassed. "Don't remind me. You must have thought I was a real creep."
"I didn't know you much until you started coming here. I heard a lot, though. You were always cool with me, so I didn't pay it much mind."
"Pay it much mind? What's that mean?" I asked.
Jerry smiled, "I guess I heard it from Whit. It means not think too much about something."
"Mainer stuff?" I grinned.
"I guess. When's your Mom coming?"
"I don't know. Kenny's gonna call her when he gets off work."
Jerry looked worried. "You think everything's gonna be ok?
I was worried. "Oh, man, I hope so. Ken thinks it'll work out, but I'm scared."
"I don't know what to say. When's the last time you talked to your Mom?"
"Around last October I guess. I can't believe I've been so rotten to her. I just hope she doesn't hate me."
Jerry put his hand on my knee, "I bet she's plenty pissed, but she can't hate you. I've seen you with her, and you get along pretty good. I wish I could just talk about things with my mother like you do."
"I hope I can fix things. I really love my Mom, but I've been such an asshole, and I don't know what she's gonna think or do. I might be grounded for the next ninety years."
"Well, good luck. I'm sure it'll work out ok."
"Thanks, Jer. You're a good friend."
Just then we heard a vehicle coming up the driveway and saw Richie walking out of the woods at the same time. I got up and walked towards Rich, not knowing what to expect. When I got close enough I could see that his eyes were red. "You okay, man?" I asked. I shouldn't have dropped that shit on you like that. I'm really sorry, but I'm pissed off too. I really hate being called a fag and a queer. It's not like that ... not at all. I had a really bad time for the last year, and I got into a lot of trouble. I didn't think you'd dump on me like that."
Richie hung his head and mumbled, "I'm sorry, too. I just wasn't ready to hear that crap. You're my friend, Dave. You always have been, and I can't believe I went of the deep end like that. Forgive me?"
I eyed him, "Yeah, I forgive you. What the hell went on in your head, though? You've known Barry longer than me, and it never bugged you that he was gay. Why me, and why all the hateful words?"
Rich shrugged, "I don't know. I didn't expect it, especially with you and Timmy. I was so happy to see you there and lookin' good, then you toss me that crap. I was scared that you'd never come back, then there you were looking all happy like I've never seen you. You shouldn't have said it, Dave. I didn't need to know that stuff. I just lost it."
"Do you really hate gays?"
He shook his head slowly, "I don't know. I guess it's the idea of it, not the people. You and Barry and Tim are some of the best people I know, so it can't be that. It's just that you hear stuff all the time and I must have started to believe it. I don't get why you guys want to be like that."
"It ain't a matter of want, Rich, it just happens. You just said I looked happier than ever, and I am. I've been learning a lot about myself and how the world works, and that makes me feel good. It's Timmy that makes me so happy, though. He always made me feel better, but now it's way more than that ... I feel like a whole person, not just some nitwit kid. Are we still gonna be friends? I wanna hear about Australia."
Richie managed a nervous smile and held his hand out. "Friends?"
I took hold of it and we shook. "Friends forever, and you better not forget it!"
"Are you ... uh ... do you guys, um ... you know. Oh, forget it."
I smiled at him. "We just love each other, Rich, that's all. You got a girlfriend?"
He looked relieved. "No one special. I've been on some dates but I'm not in love yet. There was a girl on our trip from New Mexico - her name was Alyssa. We really hit it off, but it's pretty far away so I don't guess I'll ever see her again. Bud says there's plenty of fish in the sea and I'll find the right girl one day, then that'll be the end of me. Kenny's wavin' at us."
I turned to see Ken by the house, gesturing for us to come over there. I looked back at Richie and we both broke out with grins. "Just like the old days, huh?"
Rich put his arm across my shoulder and we headed towards the house. "Yeah. Just like the old days. I always knew you and Timmy were special friends. I guess I'm cool with it."
We got to Ken and he looked Richie up and down while they shook hands. "Jeez, are they feedin' ya or fertilizin' ya? You musta put on thirty pounds and four inches."
"You're just about right. My first father was a pretty big guy, so I guess I'm takin' after him."
"Do you still see him?" Ken asked.
"I was away all summer, but yeah. He picks me up every week or so. I'm goin' to his place on Sunday. He's gettin' married again next year."
Ken smiled, "It's good that you two kept it together. I'm glad for you. How'd you get over here, anyhow?"
"Bud's at a meeting in town. He'll be here around five to pick me up. You can get him all drunk then, and I can drive home."
"You got your license?" Ken asked in surprise.
"Learner's permit. I won't be sixteen until January. I just have to go through the motions. You taught me to drive a long time ago."
Ken grinned, "Yeah, but you always crashed into things. I still have a scar."
Richie laughed, "Damn! I hit one little tree about five years ago and I still gotta hear about it? Didn't you chop down a whole forest with a homemade helicopter when you were eleven?"
Ken looked indignant. "It was a gyrocopter, and I did not crash it. It crashed all by itself. I only got it off the ground with me in it once, then I set it down to advance the spark and it took off by itself. My Dad said it must'a been suicidal."
I hadn't heard this story before. I was trying to picture an eleven year old Kenny watching his homemade helicopter self-destruct. Just trying to imagine Ken being eleven was a stretch. "You must have been a strange kid. How'd you ever build a helicopter?"
"I wasn't strange. I ordered the plans from a comic book, then built the thing. It was a perfectly normal thing to do. You never made a gyrocopter?"
I shook my head. "I never made an anything. I'm not very creative."
He smiled, "You have a pretty creative mouth sometimes."
"Which is it - pretty or creative?" I asked playfully.
Ken threw up his hands, "See. That's just what I'm talking about. Let's leave pretty out of it. Creative, too. Let me put this in words you can understand. You have an active mouth, one that never ceases to amaze me. You're gonna have to put it to work tonight, too. Your mother's coming here to eat. I hope that way it's not too awkward for either of you. You can have a little time alone, but other people will be here so you'll have to deal with it in a short time. You think you'll need straight jackets? I don't want my lighting fixtures getting all broken."
I laughed at his reference to our Italian hands, and asked, "What're we having?"
Ken obviously hadn't thought about that. "Oh, shit. JERRY! We gotta go to the store. What do you guys want?"
"Can you get my Mom a lobster? That'll mellow her out."
"One lobster. Hamburgs good for the rest of you?"
We all nodded. Ken went inside to get some money, then left with Jerry in the truck. Richie told me about his adventures in Australia while they were gone. It sounded pretty neat, except for the trip back and forth. He'd seen animals that I only heard of.
He tried to describe how the night sky was totally different than what we saw all the time. It was winter in Australia when it was summer at home, but he said it was still warm enough to go swimming and snorkeling and kayaking. It sounded like a great summer, and he was still excited about it.
"Rich?" I asked.
"Are you popular in your school?"
"I've got a lot of friends. Why?"
I had an idea. "Are there any gay kids there?"
"Only one that I know of. Why again?" Rich asked, sounding suspicious.
"Does he get picked on?" I asked.
"Yeah, he does."
"Does he get beat up?"
Rich hesitated, " ... sometimes."
"Is he like a fairy or just people know he's gay?"
"What is this? He's not a real swish, if that's what you mean. He tried to get horny with another guy. That's how we know about him."
I had to ask. "Do you ever pick on him or beat him up?"
"I guess I tease him. Where're you goin' with this?"
I looked right in his eyes. "I want you to do something for me. I want you to make friends with this kid, let him know that you're okay with it. Did you ever meet Rafe?"
"A couple of times."
"He was like that when I started school last year. He was afraid of his own shadow, then we kicked some butt and now he's pretty popular. It only takes one friend, Richie. If the kid's a jerk, then don't like him because of that. If he's a good kid that's just gay, then he needs friends. Will you give it a try?"
Boy, I was loading it on Richie. He seemed stunned, "Rafe's queer too? Um, I mean gay?"
"You didn't know? Yeah, the whole school knows about him, and he used to get a lotta crap about it. When he started coming here and making friends his whole world changed. I wouldn't have brought him if I didn't like the guy, but I did. When he stopped hidin' he made a lot of other friends. People like him because he's a good kid, and the gay thing doesn't matter. I wish you'd try it. If you like that kid in your school as a person, then it shouldn't matter what he likes. Just let him know that you're straight and he won't try to bother you. Talk to Rafe if he comes over. He'll tell you what it's like."
Richie stared at me nervously, "If I start hangin' out with this guy, everybody'll think I'm queer too."
"That's a load of bull! Let me teach you how to throw a real punch. Nobody's gonna think you're queer if you aren't. You're smarter than that. If somebody's dumb enough to call you queer because your friend is, then he deserves to be hit. Don't be afraid of it, Richie. If you like the kid you'll have a new friend. If you don't at least you tried. Please try it? I hate the idea that the kid might be as neat as Rafe and everybody's dumping on him."
Richie was staring at me, and I stared right back. I didn't want a Mexican standoff, so I grinned. "What are you afraid of? Just do it!"
"Rafe is a cool guy. Okay, I'll try to make friends when school starts. I can't promise anything, but I'll try. This one's for you, Dave. Just for you, okay?"
I stated to get tears in my eyes, but managed a smile. "Thanks, Rich. It's for you, too. Ken says we should try to like everybody, so look for something good even if you don't see it at first. I knew I liked you for a reason. You're the guy that taught me what friends are. I'll never forget it. You're the best, Richie, the absolute best."
He smiled, "Don't get all misty. Will you really show me how to fight?"
"Why not? It's no secret. You wanna start now?"
I spent the next half hour showing Richie how to throw a punch and how to take one. We didn't have anything to practice on, and didn't want to hit each other, but I think he got the concept.
Don came over before Ken got back. I was all sweaty again, so I left him to talk with Rich while I took yet another shower. I tried to make myself look good for my mother, then I went outside to join them. Richie was telling Don about Australia, so I just listened. Barry drove up and joined us. He seemed really impressed at how Rich looked and carried himself. He also commented on the missing accent. When Rich was done, I told Don and Barry about the idea of me becoming a teacher, how I wanted it to be my goal. Barry just nodded, but Don was all excited.
"That's great, Dave. It's perfect! I don't know if you know, but my uncle's the Superintendent of Schools. If he knows you want to be a teacher he can help you. He can find ways for you to catch up with your class if you work hard enough. I'll get him over my house and you can talk to him. He knows all about the scholarship money and everything. I am so proud of you, man. Last spring you were just a big bundle of loser. Look at ya now! Lookit 'im, Barry! Was it worth it?"
Barry really grinned. "Every minute. Every penny. I'm proud of ya, too. You are inch by inch so much better than you used to be." His expression turned a little sad. "Butch was gonna be a teacher too, you know."
"I didn't know. What happened to him, anyhow?"
Barry's face got sad, "Wrong place and wrong time. He got drafted right out of college, and got killed in a firefight about two months after he went to Vietnam. Kenny was there, too, but somewhere else. He didn't know Butch was dead for almost a month."
That surprised me. "Ken was in Vietnam? I didn't know that."
"Best not to mention it," Don said, "it's something he doesn't want to think about."
"It must have been hard for you guys," I said.
Barry said, "It was awful, Dave. We all went to Butch's funeral, except Ken. I think half the town did, but nobody talked. I don't think anybody could talk. It was like a thousand people in dead silence for the whole thing. I'm pretty sure everybody was thinking the same thing I was - like how the Hell could you turn that light out? And for what? That war did nothing for anybody. After the funeral me, Barry and Jim vowed to keep Butch alive for Kenny by trying to be more like him. Ken still has the last letter Butch wrote to him. He got it after he learned Butch was gone, and he never opened it. He's waiting for the right time, but I don't think that'll ever come."
I felt terrible, "Man, that's so sad. How do you get over something like that?"
Don spoke, "You don't, really. I mean, life gets back to normal because it just does, but there's still that piece missing. Kenny was close to Butch like you are to Tim, though it wasn't a gay thing. When he got back from the war he saw what we were trying to do, and did the same thing. That's the reason we're all still so close. It's that part of Butch in us. It's the honesty and respect and faith in each other that we all learned from him. I wish you could have known him, Davy. I think that's why you remind us of him. You never thought much of yourself, but you always seem to trust other people to do the right thing. Butch never got down on himself, but he didn't think he was any big deal either. It was always other people that mattered to him."
"Boy, I hope I can live up to that."
Don sniffed back a tear. "You will, kid. I know you will. You're somethin' else in your own right. You can be a pain in the ass when you want to, but I always know I'm hearin' the exact truth from you. Me and Barry and Ken had our doubts about you at first. Jimbo always saw somethin' there, though, and he kept pushin' us to let you live."
Another surprise. "Jimbo did? I hardly know him compared to you guys."
Barry smiled, "Maybe that's why. You never got a chance to pester him to death. I don't know what brought it on, but he always thought you were Butch reincarnated or something. He's way more perceptive than me, so we kept on givin' you chances. Jim was right, though. He always is anyhow, and he was right about you."
I just looked at Barry, then Don, then Richie. I was almost starting to think that I was being set up somehow. There had been nothing except compliments and complete acceptance of me since I'd come back from Vermont. I was totally aware that my outlook on life had changed drastically in the last week, but people kept telling me I always had been good, even if I was a pain in the butt. Had I been so wrapped up in myself that I never realized how other people saw me?
"Do you guys really think of me like that? I mean, I always admired all of you, but I never thought I'd get it back."
Don chuckled, then said, "You're not gettin' it back, kid. You're earnin' it. You're turnin' into a real man. A real Knight."
I winced, "Yeah, if I survive the night. My mother's comin' over. I hope I can go back home pretty soon."
Barry said gently, "She's been wanting you home for a long time, Dave. Whattya think she's gonna do, kick you out? You're already out."
I was still worried, "I just hope she doesn't lock me up or somethin'. She must be really mad at me."
Barry said, "We've been talking to her all along. I don't think you have anything to worry about except what you're gonna say to her. Don't try to blame anybody except yourself and I think you'll be fine."
"There isn't anybody else to blame," I said sadly.
Ken's truck pulled into the driveway, and he and Jerry climbed out.
Ken called, "Give us a hand, guys. I got a lot of bags, and I don't want the food to spoil."
We all got up and took bags of groceries into the kitchen, then started emptying them out. Four of them were full of lobsters. I looked at Ken. "You got lobsters for everybody? That musta cost a fortune."
Ken said, "They're all for your mother. You said one would make her happy, so I figured twenty should get her just about delirious."
He laughed. "No, I'm not serious. I just think we should all celebrate you putting the final link in the chain. You're back, Dave, and you're goin' home. We've had celebrations for a lot less than that. Your Mom should be here any time now, so we'll take care of everything and leave you alone for awhile. You go sit outside and wait for her. When she comes you can go in the living room or somewhere in the shade outside. We'll find you when the food's ready."
I didn't say anything, just nodded and walked outside. I sat at the umbrella table, then moved to a lawn chair under a tree where I could see farther down the driveway. I was pretty fidgety wondering how she was and how this would go. It must have been about fifteen minutes when I saw her tan Dodge Dart coming slowly up the driveway. I braced myself as she parked, then ran over to the car and opened the door for her.
The moment that she looked up at me, her eyes flooded with tears. I took her hand and helped her stand up, then buried my head in her bosom and started crying myself. I hugged her tighter and tighter, as she was doing to me. When I felt her grip loosen a bit, I did the same, then pulled back to look at her face. Her look was, I guess, both joyful and questioning. I turned to stand beside her and took hold of her hand.
"Let's take a walk, Ma. I have a lot to tell you."
I started leading her across the yard towards the break in the trees, where a path went down to the pond. "I love you, Ma. I'll tell you anything you want to know. I gotta warn you that you won't like it. Let's get in the shade first."
We walked in silence until we got to the flat rock beside the pond. My antics with Jerry earlier in the day had flattened some lily pods, but there were still plenty to make it an attractive place. I told my mother to take her shoes off, then I did the same and we sat down with our feet in the water. I was right beside her with my arm around her back.
"You look wonderful, David," she said throatily. You've grown so much, and you seem healthy. I was expecting much worse. What did I do that made you run off like that and stay away so long?"
This was going to be hard. "It wasn't you, Ma. It was just me being a selfish little brat like I always was. I found something I thought I liked, then just turned my back. On you especially, but on everybody else, too. I just didn't realize what I had goin' for me, and when somethin' else looked better I went for it. I really took a nosedive, Ma. I was outta control and it cost me. It cost everybody, but I wasn't thinkin' about anybody but myself."
"Ken told me you got involved with drugs."
"Involved? That's an understatement. I got addicted, Ma, in a big way, and I had to do some things I hope you never ask about to keep it goin'. If it wasn't for Timmy, I'd be dead right now. If it wasn't for the rest of the guys here, I don't know what I'd be. They all helped me, and a lot of other people did, too."
She looked me up and down. She was smiling through the tears now. "David, I know how much help you got. Ken or Barry has called me just about every day since you turned back up again to say what you were doing and how you were doing. Why didn't you want to see me until now?" She started crying again.
I hugged her. "Ma, that's not it. I didn't want you to see me. At first I was weak, then my head was all messed up. I don't want you to ever see me like I was. I'm together now, and that's what I want you to see. I'm bigger and I'm healthy. The important thing is that I'm happy ... for the first time in my life I'm happy with myself. I'm happy about who I am, about what I am, and about what I can be. It took me a long time and a lotta people pushin' me, but I finally got it straight. I'm a good person, and I'm gonna be a better one."
She sniffed, "I still don't understand why you didn't want me to help ... why you didn't come to me. How did these people give you something that I couldn't? I could always talk to you better than I could to your sisters even."
"This is hard, Ma. They already saw me in the pit, and you didn't. I couldn't face you when I was like that. I just couldn't do it to you. So many people were there to help me that I thought you'd never have to see it. I know I hurt you by stayin' away, but it would have hurt worse ... both of us ... if you saw me on the bottom."
She didn't respond, and we sat in silence for a long moment. "Ma?"
"Do you love me?" My voice came out small.
She pulled me into a hug, and I put my chin on her shoulder. "Of course I do, David. What made you ask that?"
My voice got small and I almost choked it out. "You never told me. Dad, either. I mean, I thought I was loved, but nobody ever said it."
She started crying softly. "David? Oh, my God! I never told you how much I love you? Your father never did? Oh, David! Is that it? Is that what's wrong?"
"No, Ma. It's just a little thing, really. I just never heard it. I'm not sayin' you were bad parents or anythin', you just never told me. Can you say it? I already did, but I love you. You're my mother, and I've always loved you."
She squeezed me tighter and started kissing my hair. "David, I love you. Your father loved you from the moment you were born. I can't believe we never told you."
"Mom, it's just words. I always knew you did, I just never heard it."
"I love you, David. You'll hear it every day from now on. Are you ready to come home? I don't think we're ready for you. I spoke with Ken, and he said you can stay the weekend while I straighten your room. I'm afraid a lot of things have collected in there while you were gone."
"Is there enough money for me to go to college? I wanna be a teacher."
"A teacher? College?" She started crying yet again. "Oh, David! You'd be the first one in the family ever to go to college. A teacher? Really? Your father would be so proud of you right now. I'm so proud of you. What will you teach?"
"Um ... let's not go there just yet. Donny's uncle is the superintendent of schools, and he thinks he'll help me. He's gonna set up a meeting, and you can go with me. We can learn about what it's gonna take together. I just don't wanna get my hopes up if we can't afford it. Timmy wants to go to college, too, and he says there's ways even if you don't have much money. Everybody thinks I'll do good at it. It's what I want, Ma. It's what I want to do."
She pushed me back so she could look in my eyes. I was still a little fearful, but she had a great teary-eyed grin. "We'll do it, David. I can't believe it! We'll find a way. If you want an education you'll get one. You have changed. I want the names of each and every person that helped you so I can thank them myself. I can't wait to tell the rest of the family. I am so proud right now! I thought I'd lost you, and now look! David's going to be a teacher! A college graduate! What exactly were you taking, anyhow?"
We both laughed.
"The good stuff, Ma. Nothing but the best.. You hungry?"
"Hungry? Who could be hungry at a moment like this?"
I baited her, "Ken got lobsters."
That hit a nerve. "Lobster? Actually, I am getting hungry."
We laughed again. I helped her up, then we walked back to the house hand in hand, just like boyfriend and girlfriend.
More like Mother and Son, only this pair was yakking up a storm.
And using their free hands to emphasize their words.
... to be continued
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