After everyone left I went over to where Ken and the guys were sitting. There was a lot of laughter, but they all shut up and looked at me as soon as I got there.
"What's up, guys?"
Don said, "Nothing, Dave. Aren't you tired? It's way past your bedtime."
"I have a bedtime? What's going on?"
"Nothing," he said, "not a thing. It's been a long day. You must be tired by now."
"I'm tired, but I wanna know what's goin' on."
Don seemed annoyed, "We're just talking about our investments. Go to bed."
"You're investments are funny?"
"They're hilarious. They're private, too. Go to bed!" He looked at the other guys, then turned back to me looking exasperated. "Now, Dave! If you say anything except night-night we're goin' swimmin' in the dark. Got it?"
I could take a hint. They didn't want me there. "G'night, guys. I'll see you tomorrow."
I was tired, anyhow. I washed up and climbed into bed and fell asleep immediately. I must have slept soundly, because it seemed like minutes later when somebody jumped on top of me. I opened my eyes to see Tim smiling at me. He kissed me on the forehead.
"Wake up! It's time to go."
"What time is it? Why are you here now?"
"It's morning. I said I'd be here early. It's six o'clock, lazy ass. I'm buyin' you breakfast. Come on, get up!"
I tried to hug him, but my arms were trapped in the bedcovers. "Why don't you climb in here with me instead? I ain't ready to get up."
"That sounds good, but we gotta go."
"What's the hurry?"
Tim smiled, "I wanna go see my father. I want you to meet him. He's gotta be out of the mission by seven thirty, and I don't know where to look for him after that. Come on, please wake up."
"Your father? What's up?"
"I want to get to know him again. I want you there to see what you think. It's your idea, so get the hell up and get ready. Please, Dave? This is important."
"Alright, already. You sure you don't want to climb in here for just a few minutes?"
He kissed me again, lingering for a while this time. "It's all I want, Dave, but not today. I wanna pick up my father before we miss him. Come on ... just this one time."
"Get off me, then. Go make some coffee while I get ready. It's Saturday, you know. This ain't natural."
Tim rolled off the bed and disappeared out the door. I went into the bathroom and did my thing, then went down to the kitchen. The floor still had wet spots from the night before. Tim was alone sipping a coffee, and I poured myself one. We didn't speak, but a surge of love went through me. It was perfect. We were both clean and fresh, ready for a new day. The humidity had blown away with last night's storm, and I could see that it was a beautiful day outside. I was alone with my favorite person in the world and I couldn't think of any words that could possibly improve the moment. We glanced at each other from time to time, smiling shyly at first, then beaming in pure happiness.
We sat there for a few minutes after we'd finished our coffees, then Tim jumped up. "Jeez, let's go. Man, I was hypnotized there for a minute. That's the longest I ever saw you go without sayin' anything. I think I like that."
I was just about to crack wise when I changed my mind. I took Tim's hand and we headed out the door. "I liked it too, Tim. It's like I could feel you inside me. I should shut up more often. Why don't you do the talkin' from now on? Give my jaw a rest."
He laughed. "If I do all the talkin' people'll think we're both mute."
We got in the car and headed down the driveway. "Where we eatin'?"
"It's really Tony's Lunch Box, but the guy that runs it is real fat and sweats all the time. The food's good and they give you a lot. You'll like it."
When we passed by Artie's house, I noticed that the picket fence was gone. It had been replaced by that kind of curly barbed wire that you see around prisons. It stretched from one end of his property to the other, crossing both the driveway and the front walk. I wondered what that was about.
"Are you gonna tell your father about us?"
"I don't know. I thought about it. I don't know if it matters right now. I just wanna start being nice to him and see how he's doing. My Dad's really a decent guy. Drugs got him just like they got you. I've been mad at him for a long time, but I don't hate him. He's really sorry about everything, but it's too late to fix it with my mother. You made me think about patchin' things up with him. I'm glad you did. I've been really stupid about the whole thing."
"How long's he been gone?"
"Mom kicked him out when I was eleven. It took him a long time to get straightened out, and by the time he did they were already divorced. That made him start up again, but he's been clean for almost a year now. He doesn't have any confidence anymore, though. He's just been working odd jobs for a long time. It's really sad, because he used to have a job like Ken's and he did good at it."
"Maybe if you start coming around he'll get better. I know what it feels like to think you lost everything, to feel like a total loser. I don't think you can get back all by yourself. I know I couldn't have. With all you guys helpin' me it still took a long time. It's not easy to feel good about yourself if you're convinced you're a piece of dirt."
We pulled up at the mission, which was an older office building that had been converted into a place where indigent people could live on a semi-permanent basis. Tim asked me to wait outside, since only family members were allowed to visit. I leaned against the car and waited for about ten minutes.
It really was a beautiful day. The temperature was at least twenty degrees less than the day before, and the humidity had gone. The sky was the clear blue that only seems possible after a storm has washed all the crap out of the air.
I had no idea what Tim's father was like, or even what he looked like. I guess I was expecting some burned out old hippie or something. When Tim came out of the building with him I was mildly surprised at how good the guy looked. Tim's face resembled his mother, but his size and shape were just about identical to his father. His father wasn't a cover-boy for a drug magazine, either. He was just wearing jeans, sneaks and a short sleeve shirt, but he actually looked pretty dignified. He had short, dark hair that was a little gray around the edges. He was clean shaven and looked like he was in good shape. He could have passed for any suburban father spending a day with his son.
Tim introduced us. "Dave, This is my father Rennie. Dad, this is Dave Devino, my best friend."
We shook hands and said hello. I climbed into the back seat and we took off for Sweaty Tony's. Tim and his father were talking in the front, but I couldn't hear them. I leaned up between the seats so my head would be between them.
"That was some storm last night, wasn't it?" Tim's father asked him. "The power was out here for about five hours."
"A branch smashed a window where we were. It cut a lady's face and I had to take her to the hospital. It was scary driving in that," Tim responded.
Tim's father smiled, "You always liked thunderstorms. You got that from me, I think. Your mother and the other kids always hid in the bathroom, but you and me liked to watch."
"I guess it's just seein' all that power and knowin' you can't hide from it. It was really on top of us last night. Davy's hair was stickin' straight up a few times."
We pulled up to the restaurant. The appearance of the building seemed to fit what you'd find a place called Sweaty Tony's in, but there were a lot of cars there, and a lot of people were going in and coming out. The fate of my stomach was resting in Timmy's judgment. We went inside and waited while a waitress cleaned a booth for us, then we sat down. Tim was next to me and his father was opposite us. I had a menu, but asked Tim what was good.
"Definitely get the Big Two. It's your kinda breakfast, Dave." I found it on the menu. It was two eggs, two pancakes, two waffles, two pieces of bacon, two sausages, ham and home fries. We all ordered the same thing, along with coffee and orange juice. Tim's father was looking back and forth at the two of us.
"How old are you, Dave? You seem a lot younger than Tim to be his best friend."
I sat up straighter. "I'm fifteen. It doesn't matter. We like the same things, and we like each other."
"What kinds of things do you do?"
"Well, I been away for a while and I just got back, but we both like collectin' old stuff and learnin' about it. We like ridin' dirt bikes and just messin' around in the woods. We like to just talk, too. At least I do. Timmy's the smart one, and I love to listen to what he thinks about stuff."
He smiled kind of ruefully. "Tim always was the smart one. I wish I'd listened to him a long time ago. He was just a little kid, but he had a lot more sense than his old man." He looked at Tim. "I messed up, kid, and you watched me do it. I can't believe that I was so weak and you're the only one who saw it. I love you, Tim, but I suppose it's too late for that. I just threw everything away for the sake of a high. I only hope that someday you'll forgive me."
I looked at Tim. He looked like he was fighting back tears. "I love you too, Dad. I'm sorry I didn't say it before. I guess I was ashamed or something, but I always loved you. I miss you all the time. I got better at dealin' with it, but I turned into a little hermit when you left. I was alone all the time, just amusin' myself with my junk collection. Then I met Dave and he made me change. He was kind of a street fighter, but he saw things in me that nobody else did. When we got to be friends we both got better. I opened up and he calmed down. We've been friends ever since."
Tim's father had tears in his eyes. "Tim, I'm glad you're doing well. I always knew you would. You'll never know how much I've longed to hear that somebody still loves me - still cares at all. Is it true? Do you still have a soft spot for your old man?"
"It's not just a spot. You're my father and I love you. You helped make me. I hated you bein' gone, but part of that's my fault. I could'a seen you anytime, and you did try to see us, but I guess everything was upside down and we were all pissed at everything. I want you back in my life, Dad. I want you to be my father all the time. I want you to know what I'm like and what I'm doing. I want your advice about things. I want you to holler at me if I do something stupid."
The waitress came with the food on three huge platters. I could see why Tim liked this place. Everything looked delicious, and I dug right into it while Tim kept talking.
"Dad, let's just make believe the last six years were just years away from each other and nothing bad happened. I'll be a good son, but I need a good father to pay attention to me." He picked up his fork, "Eat, before it gets cold."
I had been eating pretty fast, and I slowed down so they could catch up. Tim was beside me and it was a little awkward to look up at him. I watched his father eat. I could see where Tim learned about chewing his food. His Dad was obviously enjoying both his meal and the fact that he was sharing it with his son. I was trying to eat slow, but I couldn't quite catch their pace.
It had been a long time since my own father died and I don't think I ever regretted it more than at that moment. Breakfast had been our special time together from when I could first stand up by myself. I started thinking about it and it got harder and harder for me to eat, or even to swallow. I was starting to wish I hadn't come with Tim.
I was really happy for him that he was getting back with his father, but it was tearing me up knowing that I never could do that with my own dad. Not ever. He was gone. All I had was the past. It didn't matter how many people told me that he would have been proud of me, he never could. His words of encouragement were gone forever. I choked on a piece of sausage and started crying. It was embarrassing because I was just feeling sorry for myself. I tried to stop, but it just wouldn't go away.
Tim pulled me to him. "What's wrong, Dave? What happened?"
"I'll be okay. Just give me a second. I was just thinking about my own Dad." I looked at Tim's father and could see that he didn't have any idea what was going on. "My father's dead. I'm really sorry, I didn't mean to spoil this. It's just that no matter what, we always had breakfast together. I'll just go outside for a minute. I'll be okay."
I grabbed a bunch of napkins and ran out the door and leaned against the wall. I was trying to pull myself together when I heard a familiar voice.
"Dave? What's the matter? What happened?"
It was Artie Loomis.
"Nothing, Artie. Leave me alone. Please, just leave me alone?" I looked up at him, and he seemed dejected. "I'm sorry, Artie. Just not now, okay? My day's off to a bad start."
"Call me sometime?"
"I will. I promise. I just wanna be somewhere else right now."
"Tell me about it. I woke up this morning and somebody stole my new fence. They replaced it with some kind of barbed wire. It looks like shit. Who the hell would steal a fence? I paid a lot to have that put in, now I just had to pay somebody else to open up my driveway."
I had a vague idea of who stole the fence, and wondered if it would look better at Don's house or Barry's. I felt a little better. "Artie, I'd talk to you, but I'm with some friends and gotta finish my breakfast. Did you call the cops?"
"I almost did, but I thought it would sound pretty stupid reporting a stolen fence. Can I join you? I'll buy."
I thought about it for a second and decided there was nothing to gain. "We're just finishing up, but I'll introduce you. How's that?"
"Thanks, Dave. I'll pay for you guys anyhow. I really want to talk to you sometime."
We went inside. Tim and his father had clean plates and were drinking coffee. I introduced Artie and thought Tim was going to swallow his mug. Artie was polite and friendly with both of them. He seemed to be really happy to be meeting some of my friends. Tim's father stood and shook hands. It was pretty obvious that Artie hadn't been his dealer. Tim argued when Artie said he was picking up our tab, but I told Tim to just let it go, to save his money. Artie told the waitress to give him our check, then he took a seat at the counter. We finished our coffee and left.
Tim was solicitous of me, "You feel better, Dave? I'm really sorry that I didn't think of your Dad before I set this up. I hope you're not mad."
I put my hand on his shoulder, "I'm not mad at you. I didn't even expect it, it just came over me all at once. So, what'd ya think about Artie?"
"I dunno. I guess I was expectin' a monster or something. He seems normal enough. I've seen him there before and never knew who he was. Hey, Dad! You want to go mess around in the dump with us?"
His father looked amused. "You're going to the dump? How does one mess around in a dump?"
We all climbed into the car and headed towards Ken's place.
Tim explained, "There's not much else you can do there. It's a messy place. It's not the town dump, just an old abandoned one. We go there to look for bottles and stuff. Why don't you come? An extra pair of eyes won't hurt."
"Sure, why not. It's not like I have anything important planned. Timmy, this is the best thing that's happened to me in a long time. I do want to be your Dad again, I can't tell you how much I want that. I'm sorry you have to listen to this, Dave, but if you're Timmy's friend you'll understand. I had everything going for me once ... a wife who loved me, three beautiful kids, a nice home, a great job. I started using marijuana to relax. It wasn't enough. I started taking everything I could get my hands on until I ended up using heroin. I think some people are born to be drug abusers, and I'm one of them."
I wanted to say that I was too, but I kept my mouth shut.
"The sad thing is that I knew what I was doing and thought I could get away with it. I thought I was fooling everybody, thought I was acting normal. Hell, I wasn't even fooling Tim, and he was only about nine years old. I was the fool. To make a long story short, I lost everything. I lost my job, my family, my house ... all just to get high. When Laura kicked me out I just found a place to crash. The worst thing is that I didn't even care at first. I could still get stoned, and that was what mattered. Some friends tried to knock some sense into me, but by the time I cleaned up it was too late. My wife had already divorced me. She had to just to protect the kids and whatever else was left. I started getting high all over again. By last year I was a total waste."
"We're here, Dad."
We had driven straight to the back of Ken's property and as close as we could get to the old dump. It was about two hundred feet away, down a somewhat overgrown path. Tim opened the trunk and got out the things we needed, then we started walking.
Tim's father continued his story. "I was collecting welfare and sleeping in abandoned buildings. It was the lowest point in my life. I got caught one night by a cop who was someone I'd gone to high school with. We were on the track team together. He couldn't believe that I'd turned into such a loser.
'He helped me, guys. He got me into a therapy program that actually worked, then got me set up at the mission. We have group sessions there every day, and I've stayed straight for a long time. I won't go back to that stuff ... I can't go back. I'm on my last chance right now, and I'm going to make something of it.
"Tim, you showing up this morning is the best thing that could have happened. I just can't believe you want your old man back after everything I've done to hurt you."
Tim put a hand on his father's shoulder. "I don't just want you back, Dad. I need you back. Dave made me realize that last week. You always told me you loved me, and I just turned away from it. I found out how much Davy wanted to hear that from his own father and he can't ever. I know how much that hurts him, and it hurts me knowing it. You're my father and you love me. That's enough for now. We can work everything else out, I know we can. I do love you, Dad. I'm sorry for not saying it before. Let's dig!"
We scratched around in the dump for about an hour and a half. We found a few interesting bottles, and Tim's Dad uncovered some things that he thought were old blasting equipment. I kept pretty quiet, but I was having fun.
It was neat watching Tim and his Dad loosen up with each other. They must have been really close before things fell apart. Rennie had the same easy sense of humor that Tim did, and they played off each other pretty well. I felt good that my one angry remark to Tim in Vermont had prodded him into trying this. It looked like it was going to work.
When we tired of digging we drove up to Ken's house. Tim wanted to take his father out in the dune buggy, but he had to introduce him to Ken first. Ken, Jimbo and Sherry were the only ones there, and after Ken met Rennie he insisted on driving the dune buggy himself while Tim and I hung around the house.
They were gone a long time, and Tim was worried that Ken was giving his father hell. Jimbo didn't think that at all. He figured Ken was trying to make friends with the guy. I asked Jim about Artie's fence, and he wouldn't admit to anything.
"Somebody stole his fence? Who the hell steals fences? That's the damndest thing I ever heard. Wait'll he sees his pool."
"What about his pool?" I asked suspiciously.
Jim grimaced, "Nothing. I didn't say anything about a pool. You have an active imagination, Dave. Why'd I have to make my own breakfast? I came all the way up here for some of your cooking, and you just disappeared. Just when I thought you were learning how to treat your friends, too. Does your father know about you guys, Tim?"
Jim had changed the subject three times in about twenty seconds. It wasn't hard to figure out they'd started harassing Artie and didn't want me to know about it.
Tim answered him. "I don't know if I should tell him yet. I just want to get back on good terms right now. Do you think it'd be better to tell him now or later?"
Jim thought about that. "That's a tough call, Tim. I'd say tell him before you put a lot of effort into everything. If he's gonna blow a gut about it, at least you won't waste your time trying to fix things up. You know him and I don't, so don't take that as gospel. It's your call."
Timmy pondered that. "I wish I knew what he'd think. I'm gonna wait. I won't get to see him much, anyhow. I guess what he doesn't know won't hurt him. You know, I really hate the idea that us being in love can piss other people off. Aren't there enough axe murderers and other creeps around to suck up all that hate? I don't think I'll ever understand it. Then there's people like the ones who come over here. Nobody seems to have a problem with what anybody else does. How the hell do you guys pull it off?"
Jimbo looked like he was about to answer, but at that moment the dune buggy roared airborne into the yard. Tim's Dad was holding onto the roll cage with one hand and had the other on top of his head. He and Ken were both grinning like wild men.
They pulled right up to where we were sitting, and I could see that they were pretty well coated in mud. When they got out of the car they were acting like old friends. Rennie wanted to talk to Tim alone, and they walked away with their arms across each other's shoulders.
Ken was all excited. "Tim's father is a great guy! He's a mechanical engineer just like me. I told him my company's looking for someone in purchasing, and he's gonna apply on Monday. I'll make sure he gets it. I got me a brand new refugee!. He's gonna live here 'til he can find a place of his own. Oh, man, this is gonna be so great for Timmy. He never said much, but I always knew he hated having his father gone. This is gonna work out perfect! Score one for the good guys!"
Jimbo looked at Ken. "Gee, Ken. You know, it wouldn't hurt if you showed a little enthusiasm once in a while. Why do you act so bored all the time?" He grinned and ducked when Ken took a swing at him.
Ken looked around. "The bricks aren't here yet? They promised them for this morning."
"Not yet," Jim said.
I asked, "What bricks?"
Ken hesitated, "Oh, uh ... I ordered some bricks. I like brick stuff. I just figured I'd make something. You know ... something brick."
I asked, "So you like Tim's father? I do, too. He's a lot like Timmy."
Ken smirked, "That's odd. He thinks you're a little brat that just wants to cause trouble. He said a breakfast sausage made you cry. What's up with that?"
I was shocked, but as soon as Ken saw my expression he started laughing. "You better watch it, Dave. You're gettin' soft in your old age. You used to be a hard guy to fool, and nowadays you fall for just about anything. Rennie likes you, and he felt bad when he heard about your father. He said if he was Tim's age he'd probably be makin' a play for you himself."
Now I really looked shocked. Ken bent himself over laughing. "Gullible, man! Did you see that look, Jim? I gotta start carryin' a camera when this kid's around. I suckered him twice in a minute! Wanna go for three out of three?"
It was my turn. "Jim, I know why Ken's in such a good mood all of a sudden. Tim's father mentioned that he kinda likes blonde guys with long hair and glasses. I guess now we know what that's all about, huh?"
Ken looked at me and grinned, "Ouch! He gives as good as he gets! Where's Sherry? You guys up for a swim?"
"I wanna wait for Timmy." I said. "Do you know what they're talkin about?"
"The things I just told you, I guess. Rennie's gotta be the happiest guy on the planet right now. He thought everything was gone forever, then Tim just showed up this morning sayin' he wants his father back. He never expected it, and it's got him just about flying. Did you know Timmy was gonna go see him?"
"No. He surprised me, too. I'm glad he did, though. Not having a father sucks, and his was livin' right here in town all the time. I wish I could just go and get mine back like that." I didn't want to dwell on it, so I looked up at Ken, "I saw Artie at breakfast today. He said somebody stole his fence. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
Ken looked shocked. "His fence? Do I look like a fence thief? Did he say anything else?"
"Only that he wants me to call him. He paid for our breakfast. Do you think I should call him?"
Ken said softly, "When the time comes, Dave. When the time comes. Here comes Tim. See if he wants to go swimmin' when you're done talking."
"Sure thing." I walked over to Tim and his father. They both looked happy.
"Did Kenny tell you the news?" Timmy asked excitedly. "My Dad's moving in here with him for a while! I gotta work tomorrow. Can you help him move his stuff? Ken's goin' over there in the morning."
"Sure, I'll help. I'm happy to help. Ken wants to know if we wanna go swimming." I looked at Tim's father. "Do you like jumpin' off cliffs?"
Rennie's eyebrows went up, "No thanks, you go ahead without me. Look, I know you and Tim are friends. Why don't you go and do what friends do, and I'll just sit here and enjoy the nice day. You don't need an old fart like me intruding on your fun. Have a good time for yourselves. I'm not going anywhere."
I looked at Tim. He smiled and said, "Let's go. I can't wait to see you jump." He poked my arm. " It was kinda dark the last time."
Tim went to his car to get his trunks. We went upstairs together to change. Some ideas went through my head as we both got naked, but they didn't seem very practical at the moment. We did watch each other get undressed and pull on our bathing suits.
"Dave, I think I need to tell my father about us. I wasn't gonna, but I didn't expect him to be movin' in here. It's our only safe place ... the only place we can be ourselves. If I don't tell him then we're gonna lose it and life is really gonna suck."
"What if he takes it the wrong way? It'll still suck. It's takin' a chance either way, isn't it?" I asked, worried.
Tim sat on the bed and patted the spot next to him. I sat and he put his arm around my waist, looking straight ahead. "Dave, I'm really not a very strong person. Not about most things, anyhow. You're the only person I really talk to about things, and there's some stuff I never even told you. When my mother kicked my Dad out I really changed. I guess I was pretty average 'til then. I had regular friends and did a lot of things ... little league and all that. I always had my Dad to count on. Even when he started on the drugs he was pretty normal most of the time. He tried to act normal, anyhow, but I knew something was wrong. I was too little to understand about drugs and I thought he was gettin' sick. I was pretty scared most of the time, but I never told anybody."
He shifted his weight a little and leaned a bit closer to me. "When Dad left I felt completely alone. My mother's a good person and everything, but my connection was always with my father. He was my real best friend, and I couldn't stand it. You got mad when your father died. I just got sad when mine left. I never really got out of it until you started hanging around with me. I just stayed by myself most of the time. I was jealous of just about everybody. I felt like more and more of an outcast. Mom was working two jobs just to keep the house, and I didn't have anything that everybody else did. I had to go to school looking like a dork in my brother's old clothes, and they were cheap to begin with. I guess what I was feeling was shame. It was embarrassing just being me."
I felt bad, "Is that why you never joined in on anything? You were always just hanging around watchin' everybody else have fun."
"It's part of it. The big thing was that I was ashamed of my family ... my father. When I was old enough to understand why he was gone I just wanted to crawl in a hole. Shit, Dave, every time a teacher or somebody asked what my father did I didn't even have an answer. What was I supposed to do, tell them he's a doper? Anyhow, that's why I've been mad at him all this time. The thing is, being mad didn't make me stop missing him ... missing how things used to be. I didn't plan for today. I would'a told you if I did. I just woke up and the idea came to me. I remembered what you said and started wonderin' if I couldn't just go and get Dad back. I had to try it, anyhow."
"Aren't you glad you did?"
"Oh, I'm happy I did it. I just wish I'd gone alone and not made you all sad. It's hard to believe that it seems so natural, that we could just click like we used to. The reason I'm sayin' all this is ... well, I tried to live a lie with you for a long time. I hated that part of me, the part that couldn't just come out with the basic truth. It hurt you and it hurt me. I don't want to do that again. Not to my father and not to anybody that has a right to know. I want to tell my father. I want to tell him right now. Do you wanna come with me or wait here?"
"I'll do whatever you want. You put up with my mother last night, and I know you were embarrassed by what she said. She was just tryin' to be funny, but you paid for it. It's your call, Tim. You know what?"
"I love you."
Tim relaxed a little and smiled. "I love you, too. Come with me, Dave. You're what it's all about. You know how they say the truth sometimes hurts?"
"Well, lies always hurt. Let's go tell the truth."
... to be continued
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