Tim finally pulled back from me. "Oh, Shit! I forgot all about Dad! How long we been here, anyhow?"
"I don't know. A few minutes, I guess. Not long."
"Bull. It's been a long time. Let's hurry! He has to be back at the mission between six and seven or he won't be able to get in."
"It hasn't been that long, Tim. Don't you have a watch?"
"I left it in your room. Come on, I don't wanna screw things up the first day."
We stood up and straightened ourselves out. Tim looked at me and grinned. "Race ya!"
With that he ran away. I watched him for a second before following after him. Tim ran a lot, and I was always amazed by his grace when he did it. He was tall, but not what you'd call lanky. Even when we'd first met he'd sometimes show up at my door with a sweaty smile, after running all the way from his house. Back then he'd been too tall for his weight and he looked pretty gawky, but he always looked good running. Watching his back disappear down the hill made me realize just how good he looked from any direction. I ran after him, knowing there was no hope of catching up.
I was completely out of breath when I got to the yard. The place was pretty crowded and I had to look around before I saw Tim talking to his father and Barry. They were all smiling, so I went into the bathroom and washed up before going back outside.
I was headed towards Tim, but Jimbo grabbed my arm. "Hey, Dave. Rafe says you guys are goin' out for a pizza later. When's the last time you did somethin' like that with your friends?"
"Um, never. I mean, I was gone when all these guys got their licenses and cars. Before that, well, I guess I just always hung around here. I mean, when I was old enough and everything."
Jim's eyes went wide. "Never? Man, you gotta start doin' things with your own friends."
"You guys are my friends!"
"That's not what I mean. You're a great kid, Dave, and we all know it. You gotta start showin' it to the rest of the world. Don't get me wrong, Kenny's little universe is great and everybody loves it here, but you need to find your own place now. I don't mean you should go buy a house. I mean you should make your own place for yourself with your own friends. You take 'em out and have a great time. Do it whenever you can. Don't get stuck thinkin' this is the only place on earth."
"I can't take anybody anywhere! I haven't had a dime of my own in six months."
Jim reached for his wallet and handed me a twenty.
I looked at it, then back at Jim. "Jim, I appreciate this. I really do, but if you wanna make somebody happy give it to Jerry. He has a girlfriend and he can't bring her anywhere."
"She's a real dog?"
I laughed. "That's not what I mean. He's got it bad for her and he never has any money. They've never done anything. Give the money to him."
"Is he here?" He looked around and spotted him. "JERRY! Get your butt over here!"
When Jim yelled you could hear it on the other side of the mountain. Jerry jumped, then trotted over.
"What's her name?" Jim asked.
"Whose name?" Jerry asked, confused.
"Your girlfriend, numby. What's her name? You never told me you had a sweetie."
"Um, Deanna. I didn't think you'd care."
"What? Me not care? This is important stuff, Jerry." Jim bopped him on the head. "You feel like double-dating tonight?"
"With who? I don't have any money for a date."
Jim bopped him again, but he was smiling. "Don't say that again. Here's twenty bucks. Take Deanna and Dave and Tim out for a pizza. Put some fun in your life for once!"
"I can't take your money," Jerry protested.
"Jeez, kid, it's not like I'm buying you a car or somethin'. It's twenty bucks. Just take it and go have a good time. Timmy's got a car. You got cash. It's all the ingredients you need. Go to Lou's, if you want some advice. The pizza's good and he has a great jukebox. Put that money in your pocket and get outta here!"
Jerry looked at me, then at Jim. He looked surprised. "Really? No strings?"
The look on Jim's face right then was priceless. You could just see him wishing there was fishing line attached to that bill so he could yank it back out of Jerry's pocket. "Nah. No strings. Listen, Jerry. I know things aren't great for you. If you need a few bucks once in a while, don't be afraid to ask any one of us. It's not a big deal. We've all been where you are at one time or another. You go have some fun, okay?"
Jerry fell into Jim and gave him a big hug. "I'll pay you back, Jim I promise."
"You just have fun. That's my payback. Now, get outta here before I change my mind."
"Thanks, Jim. Thanks a lot."
Jim just turned and walked towards the house.
Jerry looked at me. His eyes were wide, and that's the first time that I noticed they were brown. "Do you believe that? He just gave me twenty bucks like it was nothing!"
"What're ya gonna do with it?"
"What he said. Don't tell me ya don't wanna go!"
I said, "Let's go talk to the other guys. We were already planning on pizza. I just thought you might wanna do somethin' by yourself with Deanna. If you go with us, it's gonna be Rafe and Brian, too. Maybe Adam, if he's around. You sure Deanna's ready for this?"
"God, Dave. I've told her so much about you - she really wants to meet you. You guys aren't gonna, um ... you know ... be doin' anythin' are you?"
I had to laugh. "I think we'll probably eat pizza, drink soda and listen to the juke box. You think she'll think that's weird? Does she know about me and Tim?"
"Yeah, I told her."
"Is it a problem?"
"No, not at all." He looked at me with a little grin. "She thinks it's cute."
I groaned. "Oh, no. Cute? I'm gonna be sick. She ain't gonna say that in front of anybody, is she? Maybe you guys should just go to the movies and make babies in the back row."
"That'd be my preference, but it ain't gonna happen. Don't worry, Deanna's cool. If you don't like her I'll eat my shoe. How's that?"
I looked at his shoe. His confidence in his girlfriend must have been phenomenal. We started walking towards Tim and his father, but we got waylaid by Rafe.
"Hey, Dave? Did you and Tim think about going out later?"
"I was just goin' over to talk to him. Jerry wants to bring Deanna, too."
He looked at Jerry and smiled. "Great! Ya know, when I was talking to Brian I realized I'd never gone anywhere with you. This is gonna be fun!"
"Is Adam around? Is he coming too?"
Rafe said, "I'll tell Brian to call him. I'm psyched! It'll be like a party! Our own back to school party."
"Let me go make sure Tim wants to. Did you meet his father?"
"Just for a minute. He's just like Tim. He seems like a good guy."
"I think he is. Come on, let's go ask Tim."
The three of us approached Tim. He looked like he was having a good time talking with his father and Barry.
"Hey, guys!" I called, "Mr. Atkins, this is our friend Jerry. You already met Rafe."
They smiled and shook hands. Tim's dad said, "You were right, Davy. This is a zany place, but I feel right at home. Ken just went inside to get some fireworks so I can hear the cannon before I go. How're you doing?"
"I'm happy." I looked at Tim. "You wanna go for pizza later with all these losers? We're goin' to Lou's."
He grinned at me. "You mean, like a date or something?"
I smiled back. "Yeah, Tim. Like a date or something. We'll have a good time. I'm excited! I never did this before."
Tim's father put one arm around me and the other around Tim. "Don't worry, guys. I talked to Barry all afternoon. I'm okay with this. You just have a great time tonight and don't worry about what I'm thinking. I'll just be having good thoughts. Now, somebody has to take me back before I get locked out. I don't want to spend my last night as a bum sleeping under a bridge."
I turned into him and hugged him, then Tim wrapped his arms around both of us. "You're not a bum, Mr. Atkins. Don't even think it, okay?"
"Yeah, Dad, you're not a bum at all. You can't be. We haven't even talked about my allowance yet!"
Tim started giggling, then laughing. As usual, within a few seconds the whole yard was laughing at Tim's laugh.
Ken came out and packed the cannon with fireworks, then fired it off. Tim's father loved it. When it was time for Tim to bring him home, everybody gathered around the car and wished him well. He'd made a lot of friends that day. Tim was going to drop him off, then go home to change. I decided to stay so I could get ready myself.
I sat with Rafe and Jerry for a while. I was excited, but Jerry was literally walking on air. This would be the first time he'd ever been able to do something for Deanna.
"What'd she think about going out with this bunch of goofballs?" I asked him.
A look of sheer horror appeared on Jerry's face. He slapped his forehead. "What a moron! I didn't even ask her yet. I'll be back in a while." He ran down the driveway towards Whit's house. Rafe and I were both laughing.
Rafe looked at me. "Jerry's got it bad, huh?"
"You don't? What's bad about it, anyway? I've never been so happy in my life."
"Me either," Rafe said happily.
"Um, I've never gone out like this. What stuff should I wear?"
Rafe shrugged, "It's just pizza, man. Nothing special, just clean jeans and a good shirt. You'll probably get sauce on it anyhow."
"My father always got pizza at Lou's. At least I know that'll be good. Do any other kids go there?"
"Yeah, it's usually pretty busy on the weekend. It's fun. Lou lets you have a good time as long as you're not bustin' up the place. This is gonna be great. I can't believe this is the first time we all did somethin' together. I can't wait. Here comes Brian now. He's gonna take me home to get changed. You wanna meet up here or at Lou's?"
"I don't care. Lou's, I guess. What time?"
"How's eight sound?"
"See ya at eight. We'll bring Jerry and Deanna."
Rafe climbed in the car with Brian and they took off. I looked around and saw Don talking to Ken, so I walked over to them. "Hey, Don. You don't know anythin' about a missing fence do ya?"
He looked up startled, "How'd you ... missing fence? How does a fence get missing? I swear, I never know what the hell you're talking about. What'd you do to Tim today? I never saw him all worked up like that."
I said, "He's just all excited about his father. Hey, Ken. We're all goin' out for a pizza later, so don't count on me for supper."
Ken said, "I heard. You guys have a good time. You have enough money?"
"I don't have any. Jim gave Jerry twenty for the four of us. I hope Rafe and Brian have their own money."
Don reached for his wallet, but Ken grabbed his wrist. He dug in his own pocket and handed me a twenty. "Jim's livin' in the stone ages. He lives in New York and thinks a pizza is just a one dollar slice. Who all's goin'?"
"Jerry and Deanna, me and Tim and Brian and Rafe. Maybe Adam. I can't believe you guys are just handin' out money!"
Ken smirked, "Anything to make you disappear for a while. Where ya goin', anyhow? I'm pickin' up Mary and I wanna be sure I don't run into you guys."
"Lou's Pizza. I think that's all we're doin'. Where you takin' Mary?"
"Somewhere quiet. We have some stuff to talk about." He looked at me and glowered. "Private stuff! Got it? I don't want no twenty questions later."
I sighed, "I guess I'll go get ready."
"You guys have a good time."
I went upstairs and put on my bathrobe, then went down to take a shower. I started to get dressed, but nothing seemed to fit right. Ken had bought me these clothes in April and they were already too small. The shirts were okay, but the jeans had all become highwaters. I knew I'd been growing, but this was ridiculous. I was embarrassed even being alone! I started to think of a younger Timmy having to go to school like that every day, about how just a thing like that could keep you from making friends. Right then was the worst I'd ever felt about picking a fight with him.
I finally got a pair of scissors and made cutoffs out of a pair of jeans. I figured the beach boy look was better than the dork boy look. By the time I finished and went downstairs, Tim was pulling into the driveway. I went out to meet him, and he didn't look very pleased.
"What's wrong? Did somethin' happen?"
"Aaaah! I told my brother and sister that I spent the day with Dad and they got all over my case. I really don't give a shit what they think, it just pissed me off that they could be like that. He's their father too, but they talk about him like he's the bad guy or something. Sorry." He smiled. "Did ya miss me?"
I gave him a quick kiss. He held his smile, and I said, "I always miss you. I was just thinkin' about you when I got dressed."
He gave me a look of mock horror. "How soon you forget, Dave. I figured you only thought about me when you're gettin' undressed. Am I doin' somethin' wrong?"
I laughed a little and pulled him into a hug. "Timmy, you never do anythin' wrong. If you ever do, I'll say 'ouch' or somethin'. Did I tell ya that I'm in love?"
Tim smirked, "Neat. With who?"
"Just some guy I met. I used to just kick his ass, then he grabbed my nuts one day and it was all over for me."
Tim giggled. "What'd that feel like? He was just some guy and he grabbed your nuts?"
"Yeah - kinda like THIS!"
Tim lifted about a foot in the air and he seemed to stay there longer than should have been possible. He was laughing. "Just like that, huh? What time we goin'?"
"Oh, shit! We're supposed to meet them at eight. We gotta pick up Jerry. What time is it?"
"Ten 'til. Let's get going."
I yelled goodbye to Ken, then hopped in the car and we drove across the road to Whit's. Jerry was outside pacing back and forth on the lawn. When we drove up he just about dove into the back seat. He gave us directions to Deanna's house, which was in a newer neighborhood. When we got to her house, Jerry went up to the door to get her. Then he gestured for us to come to the house. Her parents knew Jerry, but wouldn't let her go out in a car if they didn't meet the driver. Her parents seemed nice, and I guess we passed muster. I couldn't stop looking at Deanna. Jerry had said she was cute, but she was a knockout in my mind. She was fairly tall for a girl, but she had beautiful light brown hair, a perfect figure, and a very pretty and intelligent looking face.
Deanna was also one of those people that you so seldom meet who are truly gracious. She was a class act all the way, and I found myself just wishing all the best to Jerry. He had a pretty sad life, but he kept everything in perspective. I thought that if anyone from our crowd was going to make a mark in the world it would be Jerry. He knew himself better than any of us, and always tried to take care of his own needs. Out of all of us, Jerry was the one who'd do whatever he had to do to make what he wanted happen. Unlike me, he wasn't trying to make himself happy. Just satisfied.
Tim nudged me out of my reverie. We said goodbye to Deanna's parents and headed out for a fun night.
It was fun, too. We got to Lou's and waited a few minutes for a large table to get cleared off, then we sat down. Brian, Rafe, Adam and a girl I didn't know came in before we had even gotten settled. Rafe introduced the girl as Lisa. She lived a few floors down from him, and when he told her he was going out for pizza with his friends, she just glommed on. Lisa seemed real nice, too. She just didn't want to spend the evening at home alone with her parents.
The place was pretty full, and it smelled great. I hadn't had a good pizza in a dog's age, and my mouth was just about watering. The jukebox was loud, but the songs people were playing were pretty good. Adam got a bunch of quarters and went over to keep it going. The waitress came to get our order, but we hadn't even thought of what to get, so we just ordered sodas and talked about toppings. We were having fun. I was sitting looking towards the door to the street.
Four guys came in with their dates. They all looked pretty big. They stood near the door waiting for a table to free up. The biggest one looked at us and came over.
"What's this? The fag table?"
Every muscle in my body tensed up. The hairs on the back of my neck started tingling. This was exactly what we didn't need. Rafe stood up and totally surprised me. He grinned at the guy and held out his hand. "Hey, Boomer! Why don't you guys sit here? We can just pull over another table."
The guy smiled back. "I don't know everybody." He pointed at Brian. "I know him." Then Adam. "I've seen him around. Where's your manners, Rafe? And who's this chick?"
Rafe put one hand on Jerry's shoulder and the other on Deanna's. "This lady is Deanna, and she's with Jerry. It's hands off time, Bill. This is Dave, and this is Tim. Guys, this is Billy Powalski. Everybody calls him Boomer."
Feeling very relieved, I stood up and shook hands. It's funny when I think about it. When he came over to the table and made his remark I immediately labeled him as a monster in my mind. I couldn't have been more wrong. He and his friends were all wrestling jocks, but if we'd gone out looking for friends we couldn't have found anybody better to share our table with. They were out with their dates to have a good time, just like us. We all had a lot of fun.
The pizzas were delicious, the music was loud, and Tim and Rafe were both like I'd never seen them before. They seemed to think they were in charge of keeping everybody laughing, and they did a great job. Dancing wasn't allowed there, but everybody danced anyhow, though there wasn't really any room for it. I had only danced with my sisters before and didn't really know how, but Lisa kept pulling me, then Tim, then Adam, out into the aisle.
We ate and danced and whooped it up for hours, until Lou came out and said he had to close up. He made a great pizza, but he was a good businessman, too. He let us party all night, but we spent a lot of money. Between pizzas, sodas, chips, and the jukebox we all spent just about everything we brought.
We said our happy goodbyes on the sidewalk, then split up to go home. Tim pulled his car to the side of the road just before we got to Deanna's neighborhood.
"Let's take a little walk, Dave."
"A walk? You wanna walk now?"
"Dave! Get outta the car! We're goin' for a walk. We'll be back in about fifteen minutes, Jer."
The message finally got through my thick head. Tim was giving Jerry a little time alone with Deanna, even telling him how long they had. I mentally put my dunce cap on and got out with Tim. I went to take his hand, but he gently pushed it away and put his own hand on my shoulder. It was one of the thing's we'd have to learn to do. It was dark, but there were streetlights. Touching in public places was fine. It was just a matter of how you did it.
"I had fun, Tim. I never just went out and did somethin' like that before."
"I had fun, too. Pretty good for a first date, huh?"
"Do you hafta call it that? It sounds so ... weird. Can't ya just say we went out and had a good time? What'd ya think when Boomer came over and asked if it was the fag table? I almost jumped outta my skin."
"Me too, man! All I could think is 'Why me? Why now?' It's a good thing you didn't jump on him too fast. It must be just an inside joke with Rafe. I'm glad you didn't kill him first and ask questions later."
"Oh, boy. I'm glad too. Two more seconds and he'da been bleedin'. I really thought he was gonna hassle us."
"I did, too. Man, the last thing I wanted was to get in another fight. I thought it was gonna be just like with those guys in Vermont."
I hung my head, "I think that's why I didn't go nuts. Ken said it's better to just make friends. He thinks we should'a just shut up and paid for their breakfast or somethin'. He's probably right. Those guys tonight were okay. I had fun hangin' out with them."
"I did, too, but I don't think they know about us ... that we're together."
I thought about that. I hadn't been trying to hide anything, but I didn't make any stupid announcements either. If anybody had thought anything about it, they hadn't given any indication. We'd all gotten along well all night long, and I figured those guys would be friendly to me when school started. I was starting to see the wisdom of Kenny's words. We'd had fun, and all we'd learned about each other was who we were. Boomer, at least, was comfortable enough with Rafe to make a bad joke and not worry about it.
"Ya know, Tim? I don't think they'd care if they did know. You saw how they were with Rafe. He's just another friend. We can make this work. You're a great person, and I'm tryin' to be like that. We just need to let people know what we're like. There's still gonna be assholes, but I can make them sorry they are real fast. Most people are just people, and they're gonna like us or not like us because of who we are."
Tim stopped and turned around. He looked right into my eyes, both hands on my shoulders. "See? You keep callin' yourself stupid. Dave, you got a brain that won't quit. You're exactly right. Assholes are assholes, and they're never gonna get anything from life. You an' me are gonna be just fine. Did you like my Dad?"
I smiled, "Yeah."
"Even knowin' all the crap he did, right?"
"That's what I'm gettin' at. Good people are good people. Screwin' up doesn't make you bad, no matter how many times you do it. It's all what you mean by it. My father didn't want to hurt anybody, he just got caught up in things he couldn't handle. It sounds like Artie, too. From what you say he just sounds fucked up, not evil. We better get back. I told Jerry fifteen minutes and it's been a half hour. I don't want Deanna gettin' in trouble."
"She's a doll, isn't she?" I asked.
"She's gorgeous! How the heck does Jerry rate that?"
"Hey, Jerry's a good guy and I think he deserves somethin' nice in his life. Deanna could do worse than him."
When we got back to the car the windows were pretty well steamed up, but it might have just been the cool night. Tim and I stood outside talking loudly for a minute, then opened our doors. Jerry showed us his best grin.
"I thought you said we had fifteen minutes."
Tim looked back over the seat. "It's been over a half hour."
Jerry looked surprised. "No shit?" Deanna smacked him playfully on the cheek.
When we got to her house we all walked her in. That seemed to please her parents, and they invited us to stop over any time. We talked with them for a few minutes. Before we left Deanna said, "You guys are just so cute".
I looked at Jerry, then at his shoes. He looked a bit shocked that I had remembered. "You want some ketchup or anything with that?" We both laughed, but Tim didn't get it.
We left Deanna's house, then dropped Jerry off. He was in some state of ecstasy and just drifted out of the car, then came running back.
"Thanks, guys! That was the best time I ever had! See ya tomorrow?"
We assured him we would, then drove up to Ken's. It was the first time I can recall the place being vacant on a summer night..
"Can you stay, Tim?"
"You think you can get rid of me after the best Saturday of my life? I'm stayin' right here. You think Ken'll mind?"
"He's in love. He won't even know."
We went upstairs and stripped off for bed, then climbed in together. We started what I thought would be a long kiss, but Tim zonked out in the middle of it. I lifted myself up on an elbow and stared at him. He looked so content. It was funny because his lips made a little rubbery sound when he breathed out. I just laid there, thinking I was looking at God's most perfect creation.
I eventually turned the light off, rolled onto my back, then pulled the covers up to my neck. The events of the day started rolling through my mind. I'd met Tim's father and liked him. I saw Artie and, Lord knows why, introduced him to Tim and his Dad. I jumped off the cliff and had fun.
There was a bigger thing, though. I went out that night with a bunch of friends my own age. We met other people our age, and they were friend potential, too. We had a lot of fun doing nothing much at all. It was just kids my own age having a great time. No Ken or Barry, no Don or Jimbo.
I started to realize just how those guys had managed to maintain their friendship all those years. Friendship isn't made by vows, it's made by doing. Doing things together and caring enough to make sure everyone is enjoying it. I'd been relying on Ken and those guys for a long, long time. They were friends I would never ... could never ... forget.
Tonight made me realize that I wasn't really a part of their lives, though. I had my own thing to do, whatever it might be. I had friends my own age, lots of them. It felt like my job to make sure we stayed friends forever, even if they moved away. I remembered Jim telling me that having friends was like having little parts of you everywhere, and it suddenly seemed important.
I was as content as I had ever been in my life. Tim's body was radiating a warmth that was a comfort to me beyond words I can find to describe it. Timmy loved me, I knew that. The love I was feeling for him seemed to reach to the depth of my soul. There was no way to think about it, much less describe it. It was a thing that I could only feel. He was beside me sound asleep, yet I felt as if he was really inside me - part of me. I could hear his voice, his laugh, inside my head. I could feel his hands of love on my body. His smile was my smile, his joy was my joy, his truth was my truth.
Love can't be found in words. It's an aura that surrounds the people that find it. True love goes beyond feeling, beyond emotion, and reaches into your innermost being. It creates a connection that just cannot be disturbed by external forces. Love is its own force, more powerful than any other. There is no adequate way to express it, even to the one you love most.
I took Tim's hand in mine and fell happily to sleep.
... to be continued
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