Ken made some noise coming in and it woke me up. I glanced at the clock and it was four-thirty in the morning. I thought briefly that he must have really had a great time, then rolled over and went back to sleep.
When I woke up again, it was just after seven. I went to put my arm around Tim, but he wasn't there. I looked up and he was sitting Indian-style on the end of the bed, just looking at me. He smiled. "You're up! I slept like a log, how about you?"
"I slept great. Why're you lookin' at me?"
"I dunno. I just like what I see. I dreamed that you were watchin' me sleep last night, so that's what I did when I woke up."
"You really like what you see? Do ya still love me?"
Tim stretched out on his side next to me, draping his free arm across my chest. "I don't know how to say it. I love you, Dave. It's just that words don't do justice to the way I feel." He leaned in and started to kiss me, but we both pulled away pretty fast. Tim's breath was ferocious from the pizza and I expect mine was too. We both giggled, then settled for a hug, our mouths facing away from each other.
It wasn't very gratifying laying there trying not to breathe on each other, so I pulled free and rolled out of bed. "I got dibs on the shower."
"Bull! I was up first. I get the first shower."
"I'm closest. You lose."
Tim wasn't a pouter, but he gave me a pretty good one. He opened his eyes wide, and his eyebrows went up with them. "You're cheating. Take me with you?"
I hadn't seen that look before, and I laughed. "Come on Goldilocks. Don't start thinkin' I'm gonna wash any parts that I don't wanna touch to begin with."
"Golidlocks? Don't you dare!" He stood up and started looking all over himself, really flipping his head back and forth. "I got parts you don't like? Where? I'll cut 'em off!"
He was comical. I laughed, then said, "Cut it out! You know there ain't anythin' I don't like. Your breath, maybe, but the rest of you isn't too bad. 'Cept the toenails. Oh, and that laugh. You could hurt people with that thing, you know."
He was getting closer to me, grinning. "Not too bad, huh? Just sorta average and okay? I guess I can buy that. Let's just go get clean, okay?"
"Fine by me." I had my hand on the doorknob when Tim grabbed the front and back of my underpants at the same time and pulled me into a wedgie that almost lifted me off the floor. "AAAAAAAH!"
"WHAT THE FUCK?"
Oh, no! We'd woken up Ken, and I remembered him coming home just a few hours ago. "Sorry, Ken. We'll be quiet." I looked back at Tim and whispered, "You'll get yours, mister. You better not bend over in the shower."
Tim was trying to laugh silently, which wasn't possible. I grabbed his wrist, pulled him through the door, and headed downstairs, where he let loose as soon as I shut the door to the bathroom. He leaned against the wall laughing. I wanted to kiss him, but remembered his breath. I turned the shower on and adjusted the temperature, then grabbed Tim and pulled him towards it. He was still snickering, but pulled his underpants off and we both got in under the water. Ken's bathroom was pretty big, but the shower was in the tub like most are, and it really wasn't meant for two people.
We had to take turns under the showerhead. I enjoyed it every time we had to reposition ourselves. I decided right then that wet, soapy bodies slithering against each other felt wonderful. I had never considered myself a morning person, but Tim was, and it made me want to be one. Mornings were when Tim was at his best, always looking forward to a new day. I had always been the opposite, finding myself not wanting things to conclude at the end of the day. I guess it was because Tim always thought about what he wanted to do and I always just let things happen.
I thought showers felt good, but Timmy absolutely reveled in his. He was a water rat anyhow, but when he got his turn under the showerhead he just turned his face up to it, smiling as the spray rinsed the soap off him. He'd open his mouth and let it fill up with water, then squirt it out. When I felt clean, I climbed out and dried off, but Tim stayed under the water for another ten minutes. I had my teeth brushed and my hair combed before I heard the water turn off.
"You clean enough?" I held my toothbrush out to him to show which one it was, then put it in the holder. "I'm gonna make some coffee. You hungry?"
Tim just smiled at me.
"I want a kiss."
"Brush your teeth, then we'll talk about it."
"Am I that bad? I thought it was you."
"Maybe it was, but I don't wanna find out. What time do you start work?"
"Not 'til ten. God, when're we ever gonna get together again?"
"I hafta work today, then you're goin' home and my Dad's comin' here. School starts in another week. How can we keep this goin? We're not gonna make it, are we?"
I could see tears forming in his eyes. "What is it, Tim? You got a car. We can see each other every day. We got the hard stuff outta the way. We'll never be able to spend every minute together anyhow. You got your jobs and I'm gonna hafta study my ass off. I know it sucks, but we need to live, too. Don't worry ... I love you ... more than anything. We'll be fine, okay?"
"I'm gonna make breakfast. Don't worry. It's our job to make each other happy, right?"
"Well, when we're not together, you can always wonder how I'm gonna do it for you, and I can think about what you got cooked up for me. How's this? We each owe each other at least one happy a day. We can spend the rest of the time dreamin' up how to do it. How's that sound?"
He chuckled a little. "One happy? What makes a happy?"
I kissed him on the cheek. "That's one kind. There's lots more."
Tim smiled, but he still looked a little sad. "I can't think of any right now. Go cook somethin' and let me finish up in here."
I kissed his cheek again and, without saying anything else, went upstairs and got dressed, then to the kitchen. I started a pot of coffee, then dug into the refrigerator for breakfast makings. It was Sunday and people usually came over, so I took out two pounds of bacon and started some frying. I put the burner on low, then walked down to the road and got Ken's paper for him. When I got back the pan looked pretty good, so I turned the heat up and started cooking. I went to pour myself a coffee and noticed a piece of paper on the table. It was Ken's writing. Dave - call Artie as soon as you see this. Ken.
I wondered what that was about, but the bacon pan was starting to smoke and I soon forgot about it as I got breakfast ready, drinking a coffee while I worked. I had to smile when Tim finally came in. He always looked great in the morning, and that day he looked as clean and fresh and ready to go as usual, but he had that dopey grin. It took me about a half-second to figure out what kind of happy he had in mind for me, and that made me think I probably didn't have to bother with a separate one. Most of the bacon was done, so I started some eggs and popped some bread in the toaster while Tim poured out two glasses of juice.
He was sitting at the table while I put food on two plates. He held up Ken's note. "What's this? Did you call?"
"Shit, I forgot about it. Let's eat, then I'll call."
"I thought Ken wanted you to stay away from Artie. I don't get it."
"Something's goin' on. Don't ask me. Just eat, I'll call Artie later."
We ate, and the food was good. We were both still hungry, so I scrambled up four more eggs while Tim made more toast.
When we were done, we still had more than an hour before Tim had to leave for work. Nobody else had gotten up yet, but I saw that Jimbo's car was still in the driveway. It looked like it might rain later, but it wasn't bad outside, so we took a walk down to the pond.
I looked at Tim, and he seemed to be somewhere else. "You still worried? There's always gonna be school or work or somethin', Tim. I won't forget what I did last year, I promise. You'll always be able to find me."
"It's not just that. What'll we be able to do when we do see each other? We're gonna always hafta come over here or go to Barry's." He pulled me closer to him and laid his head on my shoulder. "I guess I'm just bein' a wimp, but it gets me nervous. I don't wanna always be lookin' over my shoulder to see if someone's looking."
As Tim's words sunk in, I started to worry too. I thought about Barry. He was a gay man in his mid-thirties and seemed to be enjoying life. He wasn't involved with anybody, though, and he said he never really had been. I wondered if anyone outside his circle of friends even knew he was gay. There wasn't a thing about his personality or behavior that would give you a clue. I think Tim and I were like that, too ... pretty manly, or boyly, or whichever word means you don't look or act like a queer.
Rafe didn't either, but he was gay and everybody knew it. He seemed to get along fine just by being the good guy that he was. He had a rough time getting to where he was, but he'd achieved some kind of critical mass of something that allowed him to be openly gay and still be accepted for the person he was. I wondered what that something was. I wanted a bunch of it. I wanted some for Tim, Brian and Adam, too. And some for the kid that went to school with Richie.
"Rafe does okay for himself. We might be worried about nothin', Tim. We'll find enough time alone. Jerry said love is private anyhow. I don't want to hide what I feel, but he's right about it bein' private."
"I suppose." He didn't sound convinced, but then I wasn't either.
"Look, Tim. You can walk down the street and go past a million married couples before you see one that's even holdin' hands. The rest of 'em probably still go home and bang each other's brains out, but it's private. It should be private. Who the hell wants to see that?"
I could feel Tim against me. He was giggling silently. "Bang their brains out? Is that how you get fucked in the head?"
His giggle turned into a laugh, and I joined him. When we quieted down, I asked, "Feeling better? Wanna fuck me in the head?"
He looked at me and grinned. "You got a hole there that's just about the right size. It's always open, too."
"No fair! That's my pie hole!"
"That's what my father always called it. You got a pie for me?"
"What flavor do ya like?"
"Banana cream Tim is good."
"Ooh! I got some'a that right here."
"I'll give ya some of mine, too."
"What kind ya got?"
"Davy dork with nuts."
"Mmmm. My favorite. I can't though. I gotta go to work." He was grinning at me again.
I grabbed his wrist and looked at his watch. "Bullshit! You got most of an hour. That's enough for two servin's the way you dish it out." He held onto his grin. I got tired of looking at his teeth and pulled him into a kiss.
Time limits suck. Tim kept looking at his watch, though he didn't say anything until he absolutely, positively had to leave. We had to run back to the house, then he just jumped in his car and left. His boss hated tardiness.
I walked into the house smiling. Jim and Sherry were sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee. They both looked like hell, all tired and disheveled. "You guys should try sleepin' nights," I said.
Jim looked up at me. His eyes were bloodshot. "Yeah, right. Tell that to Mr. Ken ... if he ever wakes up."
"You went with him? I thought he was goin' out with Mary."
"He did. We ... ah ... joined them later on." He seemed to remember something. "How'd your night go, anyhow? Did you guys have some fun?"
I gave him a fairly gushing report of our time the night before. Jim and Sherry were both smiling by the time I finished.
"See? That's where your life's gonna come from, Dave. You make good friends and you make good memories. When ya can't tell one from the other, you're there. How'd Jerry make out."
I smirked, "That's gettin' personal, isn't it?"
He blushed a little. "That's not what I meant. Did he have a good time? What's his girlfriend like?"
I went on to tell him about Deanna, but I got interrupted when Ken stumbled into the room. He looked like he'd slept in his clothes, and they were covered in plaster or something. His eyes were like little slits.
"Coffee ... I need coffee."
I poured him a cup, then went to get milk. In the two seconds it took me to get back to the table his cup was empty and he was holding it out to me.
"More." He put his forehead on the table while I poured the second cup, but there wasn't enough left to fill his mug. I handed it to him and went to make another pot.
"Stronger. Make it stronger. Use four scoops. Five."
I looked at him. "Are you okay? Did you guys go out and get blitzed last night?"
I felt bad for Ken, but it was kind of funny at the same time. My parents weren't big drinkers, but I'd seen them with hangovers a few times. It made my father grouchy, but my mother became a lot like Ken was acting now. She'd moan out single word sentences and use whatever was closest for support. If that happened to be something like the refrigerator door you could forget about breakfast.
"Artie ... you call him?" Ken grunted.
"Damn! I forgot all about it. You want me to call now? What am I supposed to say?"
Ken said something unintelligible.
Jim looked up. "He said don't bother. It's too late."
"Geez, I'm sorry. I didn't see the note 'til I was busy cooking, then I just forgot."
Ken said something else I couldn't understand. Jim looked at me again. "He said it's not important. Just shut up."
It took Ken two more coffees, a shower, and a big breakfast before he started to act normally. I apologized again for not calling Artie, then asked why he wanted me to in the first place.
"No reason. I just wanted to hear what he has to say these days." He snickered a little, followed by Jim.
"He wants to talk to me, anyhow. I told him I'd call sometime."
"Wait for Barry and Don, then we'll decide. This is your last day here. I got a surprise for ya."
I got excited wondering what it could be. "A surprise?"
"Yeah. You clean up while I take a nap. Surprised?"
"Why should I be surprised? I get to cook ... I get to clean ... I get to wash the dishes." I looked at Ken and it seemed like he was planning to take his nap right in a kitchen chair. "I get to take the street buggy into town and pick up strange women."
Ken groaned, "Whatever. Find me a blue one."
"A blue lady. Find me a blue lady, Dave. It'll make my day." He was talking nonsense, but I think he was doing it on purpose.
"I don't have a clue what you're talkin' about. Aren't you supposed to pick up Mr. Atkins?"
"Oh, SHIT! I forgot all about him. The poor guy's probably thinkin' I changed my mind or something. Oh, man, I have a headache. I don't feel good."
He got up anyhow, and headed out the door. I got busy washing dishes, then cleaning up the table. I heard a car drive up, then laughter from the yard. I couldn't hear exactly what was being said, but I got some snippets of the conversation.
"... know there ever was a door. It's beautiful!" Then a lot of 'har har har' sounds.
More 'har har har's', then, " ... hear it from outside ...," followed by even louder laughter.
My curiosity took over from my desire to clean Ken's kitchen, so I walked outside. Don, Barry and Jimbo were all shaking hands, pounding each other on the back and laughing, all red faced. Sherry was in a chair with her hands over her ears, but she was laughing, too.
I walked over to the guys, my curiosity at a new peak. "What's up? What's so funny?"
I may as well have stuck needles in their eyes. They all jumped back and looked at me.
"Nothing," Barry blurted out.
"Nada," said Jim.
Jim said, "Just laughing at a little joke. Where's Timmy?"
Ken asked, "When's your mother comin' to pick you up, anyhow?"
"Did you finish breakfast yet? I'm hungry," don said.
Being on the exclusionary end of an inside joke isn't always fun. I was looking at three red-faced, teary-eyed men who were trying their best not to start laughing again, but I had no idea what it was about. Don and Barry didn't look any healthier than Ken and Jim that morning.
I threw up my hands. "Fine! Why don't I just go pack up my crap and wait for a ride home?"
"There's a thought!" Barry said.
"Need any help?" Jim asked.
I didn't need any help. It took me all of ten minutes to gather up my few belongings from the room and cram them into a suitcase. When I looked around to see if I'd missed anything I realized how few tracks I left in my wake. It made me sad in a way. Ken had a lot of possessions that said something about his life. You could wander through his house and yard and at least get a feeling for his interests just by looking at the stuff he had. I owned nothing other than some too-small clothes. Nothing of my own awaited my arrival at home, either. Just some even smaller clothes and a few old bottles I'd found in the dump.
I wondered how old you had to be before the things you owned actually started to matter, to make a difference in your life. Did those things ever really matter? I thought of Ken's toys and couldn't really picture him without them, but realized that everything he'd ever said that seemed important had nothing to do with them. I thought of Barry's beautiful house, then about how little time he spent there.
I sat on the edge of the bed feeling a little lonely and dejected. What would happen next?
I had to go back home, then back to school in a week. I hoped that Don's uncle would somehow help me get back on track at school. I wanted to learn things ... there was too much that I didn't know, things I couldn't figure out on my own. I needed to come to terms with my mother, and help her come to terms with me. I had to find a way to keep things working with Timmy.
I was thinking about all those things when the idea came to me that I also needed to somehow close the Artie chapter in my life. I just didn't know what I wanted with that one. On the one hand, I still blamed him for what he'd helped me become. On the other hand, I saw him as a victim too, worse than me in some ways. When he was the same age as I was then, his only contact with humanity was with two well-intentioned men and the customers of those men, who mostly lived on the fringes of society. He hadn't had a friend close to his own age since he'd been torn away from his family at the age of ten. Pictures of me and my sisters and cousins had served as his family for a long time.
Pictures. I felt awful just thinking about it. My sisters and I had always just kind of co-existed. They were older and we had no common interests, but if I fell on the sidewalk and hurt myself they'd be there in a second. We never got into conversations, but we lived in the same house and saw each other at mealtimes, yelled at each other when somebody was taking too long in the bathroom. There was contact, and it was real enough. I knew they loved me in some sisterly way, and I loved them back in some similar way. They weren't pictures, they were real living people ... my sisters.
Artie had called me his brother several times. He was in a business that made me sick to my stomach thinking about it - about the suffering it had caused to me and to Tim, and to countless other families. Artie didn't seem to have normal human feelings about that. His formative years had been spent far away from the pain and misery that people like him caused to others.
At the same time, his lack of feeling about what he did for a living helped explain some things to me. I could tell that Artie felt things, they just weren't always the right things. He had practically pleaded with me to acknowledge his relationship with my father and uncle, but he thought I was bullshitting him when I said drugs ruined lives.
I was sure that Ken and the other guys were messing with Artie's property, if not his head, but they'd kept me out of it and I didn't know what they had in mind. I thought that there was a nice guy somewhere inside Artie. I'd thought he was a nice guy even when he was aiming the razor blade for my downward slide on it a year ago. I just didn't know what to do about him. I didn't know where to look for help, either. I decided to call him on the phone.
He sounded like I woke him up. "Hello?"
"Artie? It's Dave. How's it goin'?"
"Dave? Man, you just woke me up. What time is it?"
"Eleven? Man, I never sleep that late. Is it raining out or something?"
I heard the question, but didn't know what it meant. "It's not raining now. It looks like it will. You like to sleep late on rainy days?"
I could hear soft sounds through the phone and figured he put the phone down to get out of bed. "Dave? Sorry, I just put the phone down for a sec. What'd you say?"
"I said it's not raining. What's that matter?"
"Nothing. Just usually people are here earlier. You need something?"
"Nothin you have, Artie."
"That's not what I meant. Why'd you call?"
"You said you wanted to talk. You just told me yesterday."
"Oh, yeah. Sorry. I don't think this is a good time. I'm in trouble and I don't want you to get hurt."
"What kinda troubles?" The last part of what he'd said is what stuck in my mind. He was trying to protect me.
"There's just a lot going wrong all of a sudden. I think somebody's trying to take over and get me scared. It's just thing so far, but I don't know who it is or what they want. If they get serious, I don't want them thinking you have anything to do with me. I know you don't care, Dave, but I feel like you're my brother. Whatever they want from me, it's best if you stay away. I can handle myself."
I wondered if Ken was doing anything beyond practical jokes. "Artie, do you remember Timmy and his father from yesterday?"
"Sure I do. It was nice meeting your friends."
"Remember the guy I told you about the other day - the one who lost everything because of the crap you sell?"
"That was Tim's father. Yesterday's the first time anybody from his family really talked to him in six years, Artie. He's got two more kids, and they won't even do that. Drugs made him hurt his own family, now it hurts him. I told ya there'd be people pissed about what you do. Now you think someone's tryin' to take over. You're in a tough game, Artie. You think it's a job and you worked hard for shit, but you can't think people won't see what you have and try to take it away."
"It's not like somebody's shooting at me. They're just wrecking everything I own. I told you about the fence yesterday, but that wasn't the first thing. After I saw you at the ballpark somebody filled my car with water. The next night they stole all the plants around the pool. After I saw you yesterday, I came home and my pool water was all bright green, then it caught on fire." Artie's voice was going up in pitch by the second. "Have you ever tried to call the fire department and say your water was on fire? Sometimes my phone rings. Not regular rings, just little short ones, but it keeps ringing when I pick it up. Nobody's there, then suddenly it's somebody on the other end askin' what I want, as if I called them."
Artie sounded very anxious, but who wouldn't? This sounded like pretty good stuff from Ken. "Anything else wrong, Artie?"
"The trains. Your father built this house right, Dave. I never used to notice the trains except on real hot nights. Now every time I take a shower I can hear them just like they're in the house with me. It's scary! WHOO WHOO as soon as I turn the water on. I think my head's playin' tricks on me, but it happens almost every time. I don't know what to do anymore."
"You're right. I don't think I wanna get involved. I'll call ya in a couple of days, okay?"
He sighed. "I don't blame you. I hate to dump all this on you, I really wanted to talk. You be good, okay?"
"I will. Bye, Artie."
"Bye, Dave. Make sure you call back."
I hung up. I just looked at the phone in silence, then Artie's words came back to me and I started laughing. Ken and the guys were going to practical-joke Artie into an early grave. And he thought it was the competition. I walked out into the yard to find everybody except Tim's father sleeping on lawn furniture. He was looking into the woods.
"Hi, Mr. Atkins."
He jumped a little, then turned around. "Oh, Hi Davy. Everybody had a long night, I guess. Did you kids manage to have fun?"
"We had a blast!" I gave him some details about our night at Lou's. "You really liked the cannon, didn't ya?"
"Oh, yeah! What a neat lawn ornament. It's not exactly a Howitzer, but it makes a good bang."
"Wanna hear another one?" I asked.
He looked around, "Everybody's sleeping."
"Not for long!"
"That sounds pretty mean."
I smiled, "They'll understand."
... to be continued
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