"That feels nice. You've got exactly two weeks to cut it out!"
I kissed the back of his ear. "Hurry back, Timmy. This should be a good night."
I walked Tim out, then went into my room to start untagging my new clothes so I could put them away. I felt too formal in what I was wearing, so I changed into a pair of new jeans and a different shirt and put sneakers on instead of the loafers. I was just putting socks into a drawer when the phone rang once, then my mother came to the door and said Tim was on his way back. I finished with the socks, then went and sat on the front porch until they arrived.
Tim got out, then turned and waited for his father and Jerry. I gave Tim a hug, then hugged his father as I congratulated him on landing the job. He was absolutely beaming. I told Jerry that I needed to talk to him alone for a minute, and Tim walked inside with his father.
I sat on the front step and Jerry sat beside me. I looked at him and tried to smile. "Jerry, you've been a great friend. Now you're gonna be my brother, and there's some things you should know. I hope it doesn't change anythin', but if you don't like me after ya hear it I won't blame you."
He bopped my arm lightly and gave me a worried smile. "Hey, how bad can it be? If it's about last year, you don't hafta tell me if you don't want. I can live without knowing everything."
"I did some bad things, Jerry. I want you to know just so you know who you're dealin' with here."
I started relating my little saga, and Jerry asked a question every now and then. When I got to the part about the motel, rather than push me away in disgust Jerry put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me to him. I was choking back tears as I told him the worst parts. When I thought I was finished, he leaned his head on mine and held on tight with his arm.
"You poor kid. That's awful, and here I'm always dumping on you about how bad I have it. I can't believe you'd think I wouldn't like you because of that. I can't believe how you bounced back, either, how you can still treat other people so good. Rafe got you into the drugs, now he's like one of your best friends! How do you do that?"
"I dunno. I always liked Rafe. I got nobody to blame but myself, Jerry. I just went off my nut, but I got nobody else to blame."
"Yeah? How 'bout this Artie character? You can't be lettin' him off the hook that easy. He almost destroyed you. If you need any help hurtin' this guy back, just let me know. The fuckin' asshole doesn't even deserve to live."
I looked at Jerry, wondering how to proceed. "Artie's upstairs, Jerry. He's our brother, too, and I hope you like him."
Jerry couldn't have looked more surprised if he'd just fallen out of an airplane. It made me laugh. "I'm not kiddin', Jerry. He's upstairs cookin' our dinner. Let me tell you about him."
Jerry almost choked trying to say something. "Please! You're joking', right? This guy put you through all the crap you just told me, and he's here? You're jerkin' my chain!"
"Hey, you're the only person that ever kicked my ass! I can't lie to you ... I don't dare!" I grinned.
I started to tell Jerry about Artie. By the time I got to the things we'd talked about the day before, even stoic Jerry had tears in his eyes.
"And you don't blame him for anything? How do you do that?"
"I dug my own hole and jumped in it, Jerry. Artie just handed me the shovel, but he thought he was supposed to. How can I blame him for anything? He's really a nice guy, just a little messed up. He's your brother now, too. You need any more news, or ya wanna go eat?"
"I ... I'm not sure. Can we just wait a few minutes? I don't feel so good right now."
"Scared of Artie?"
He looked down at the sidewalk. "No, not really. I'm scaring myself I think. I was ready to go kill this guy, and I never knew him or his story. What the hell's wrong with me? I should know enough to find out more about things before I go jumpin' the gun. I just feel like a jerk, and I gotta change my mood before I go inside. You can go ... I'll just sit here for a while."
"I'll sit with you. You're not a jerk, Jerry, not in my book. I didn't tell you, but Artie's payin' your way to college. You don't have to work in a factory. You can go be a pilot or whatever you want."
Jerry shot me a wide-eyed glance, then put his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. "I can't take that, Dave. I just can't. I'm not really his brother, or yours either. After the things I just thought? I'm embarrassed that you still even want to know me."
"God, Jerry! Don't say things like that. We decided we're brothers because we all lost the same thing ... our fathers. That's half the reason we understand each other when nobody else does. Please say you'll be my brother? We all need you Jerry. You're the solid one in the bunch. We all need each other. You tell me you don't really want that and I'll shut up, but I know it isn't true. You got us and you got Deanna. How the hell could you even wonder if she loves you, anyhow? It's all over her face, Jer. She's hooked on you, just like I am on Tim. Don't go doubtin' it."
He was quiet for a while, then he looked at me. "You really think so? We were on the phone for like eight hours yesterday. Is that love, or is that just stupid?"
"Depends on what you talked about."
"I tell her everything, Dave. Everything I dream about, everything I worry about. She's just so much different than me. I mean, her parents care about her every minute. I think she's all they care about. They always know where she is and who she's with. Look at me. My parents don't know where I am, and they don't give a damn. I could be doin' the same shit you did last year and they wouldn't even care."
I looked over at Jerry, and I could see his despair. "That's why you gotta be a brother, Jerry. Deanna loves you, I just know it. Me and Tim love you, and Artie's gonna love the hell outta ya. We're all gonna share my mother and Tim's father. Come on inside. You're parents might be dead in the head, but you still have a family. We all do!"
Jerry's eyes filled with tears again as he looked at me. "You're serious? Man, I could use a dose of family right now. I hardly know anybody except you and Tim, though. You think they'll like me?"
"They'll love ya, Jer. It's what good families do."
With that I stood up and pulled his arm until he stood too. He walked up the stairs behind me, and I could still sense his hesitation. When we got to the hall up top, I turned to look at him. "Jerry, you're my brother now. We have been for a long time ... we just never said it. We been brothers ever since that first time you talked to me at Ken's. When you get on the other side of that door you're gonna be with you're real family ... our real family. Artie Loomis and all. You got nothin' to worry about, okay?"
"You ready? Stand up straight!"
I opened the door and walked in. Tim was sitting in a chair by himself. My mother and Rennie and Artie were having what looked liked an animated, friendly discussion. They didn't see us come in, but Tim stood up and came to us. He looked at Jerry, then me. "Everything ok?" He looked back at Jerry. "Are we brothers now?"
I gave Jerry a gentle nudge towards Timmy.
Jerry smiled weakly, then just fell into a tight hug with Tim. I tapped Tim on the shoulder and he backed up from Jerry, then pulled me into a three-way hug. We held it for a minute, then I led Jerry over to where the others were talking.
"Hey, MA! You got another kid!"
I had startled them all, and the three of them looked at me and Jerry.
Artie jumped up with a big smile on his face. "You're Jerry? I'm Artie Loomis. I'm your brother! I mean ..." He looked at the floor. "... if you want."
Jerry looked at me for a split second, then smiled at Artie. "Hi, brother! Dave was just tellin' me about you. I need to say hi to everybody, but you and me are gonna talk, ok?"
By now, my mother and Tim's father had both stood up. My mother glared at me for a moment, then turned a smiling face to Jerry. "You're my son, too?" She looked back at me. "Where does this stop, David? You're not going to start tipping over dumpsters to find more are you?
I laughed. "I think this is it, Ma. Jerry's the last one."
Tim's father shook hands with Jerry, then I thought to tell him. "Ah ... Mr. Atkins? I ... well, seein' you volunteered to be sorta my Dad, I ... well, I kinda told these guys you'd be their Dad too. That would make four of us. Jerry and Artie and Tim and me. Is that too many?"
Rennie had a rather astounded smile on his face. He looked over at Timmy, who had a hopeful smile. Artie and Jerry weren't smiling, but they both looked hopeful, too. "Holy cow! Four of you? I think I have another one banging around somewhere, too." His smile weakened and he looked at Tim. "Donny hates me, doesn't he?"
Tim considered that for a bit. "I don't think he hates anybody, Dad. He's not happy with you, though. You should talk someday. How about just us guys for now?" Timmy gave his father his most pleading look. I know it made me melt, and I think Rennie did too.
He grabbed me because I was the closest, then held his arms wide. Artie jumped right in, and Jerry approached us. He was hesitant at first, then he ran into the group hug. I looked over at my mother. "MA! You part of this or what?" I held my hand out to her, and she ended up between me and Artie.
It suddenly seemed awkward. We were all in this little circle, and there really wasn't anything to do. I looked around at all the faces, then started to giggle. Timmy picked it up and it turned into one of his good laughs. In a minute we were all laughing so hard we couldn't hold on to each other any more. We were in this condition when Lisa and Donna came in, returning from their shopping expedition.
They sensed the happiness and hilarity, and joined the circle between me and my mother and Artie. They had no idea what we were laughing about, and we didn't either, but we all laughed just the same.
Finally, Artie said, "Anybody hungry? We've got appetizers, then it'll take about a half hour before the rest is ready." He looked at Tim. "Give me a hand for a minute, Tim? I don't know where you put everything."
Tim grinned at Artie. "Sure. I hope we didn't lose anything." He looked around the room. "Anybody want some shrimp cocktail?"
Faces lit up like light bulbs. Tim smiled and went into the kitchen, returning in about a minute with a big glass bowl full of shrimp, and a smaller one full of red cocktail sauce. He put them down on the coffee table, then ran back into the kitchen. He came back with napkins, then took a shrimp and dipped it into the sauce. I think we all expected him to eat it, but he surprised me by holding it to my mouth. I opened up and he pushed it in.
I bit into it and my sinuses instantly cleared at the same time as my eyes started to water. Somebody had a heavy hand with the horseradish and lemon. It was a delicious surprise! Everyone suddenly started jockeying for positions within reach of the bowls, which emptied rapidly. Artie came in carrying a tray with two bottles of wine and a bunch of glasses. He set the tray down on the coffee table, then opened one of the bottles with a corkscrew. He poured a glass and handed it to my mother, then another one for Tim's Dad.
He set the bottle back down. My mother looked around at all of our faces, then rolled her eyes and said "Go ahead! We're celebrating aren't we? Give everybody a glass, Arthur."
Artie started pouring. He had to open the second bottle, then go back to the kitchen for two more. When we all had a glass of wine, my mother stood up and held out her glass. "A toast! David is back home!" We all took a sip. "Arthur has found his family!" We took another sip. "Timmy has found his father!" Another sip. "Rennie just landed a great sounding job!" Yet another sip. "And Jerry has decided to join our little family!" This toasting stuff was a great way to get a quick buzz.
She looked at Artie. "Arthur, this is very nice wine. Was it expensive? Don't answer that!" She looked at my two sisters, who both seemed a little surprised. She motioned towards Jerry. "Girls, this is Jerry. As I understand it, he's now a member of the family too. You now have one official brother, three unofficial ones and an unofficial father. Oh, and you still have me ... if I manage to survive the excitement."
She looked at Tim's father. "It's your turn, Rennie."
He looked a little embarrassed, but he stood back up and held out his glass towards Timmy. He got tears in his eyes. "I want to toast my loving son, Tim. Just three days ago I woke up without a prospect in the world, then Timmy showed up at my door." He looked Tim in the eyes. "Your love is amazing, Tim." He looked towards me. "Thank you, too, Davy. I know Tim wouldn't have come for me if it wasn't for you." He looked back to Tim, then set his glass down and spread his arms. "Oh, hell. I don't want a toast. I want a hug!"
Tim went to him and they fell into an unashamed tearful embrace in the middle of the living room. We all cheered loudly.
I put my glass down, then walked up to my mother and took hers and set it down. I pulled her into a hug, laying my head on her shoulder. I cried without shame, too, and my tears were pure joy. When I finally opened my eyes, everybody was going around hugging each other. I saw Donna with Jerry, and it was clear that she'd taken her time falling in love for once. He'd been there for a whole half hour. He looked a bit embarrassed, but Tim's father tapped her on the shoulder, then hugged her.
I don't know how he heard the buzzer from the oven, but Artie yelled out, "Food's ready! Everybody in the kitchen!"
We walked single file into the kitchen. Whatever beef Wellington was, it smelled absolutely fantastic! The regular table was set, but only for four people. There was a card table also set for four. Nobody knew who should sit with who. My mother decided that Tim and I should sit with her and Rennie, and that Donna and Lisa would sit with Artie and Jerry. I was a little surprised when she grabbed my hand and pulled me to the little card table. I sat down opposite her, and Rennie sat beside us. Tim was helping Artie.
We weren't really talking. We just watched as Artie filled plates with food and Tim delivered it. It didn't take very long, then Tim sat beside me. We were at a card table, so as soon as he sat down his leg pressed against mine. My other leg was against his father's, and I'm sure my mother was in the same situation. It didn't matter! I only felt Timmy's leg, and the food he'd put down in front of me was more like a work of art than a meal. The encrusted beef had a reddish brown sauce ladled over it, and it was encircled by mashed potatoes that had a perfect wavy design. Outside that were steamed carrots, celery and onions. It was beautiful to look at, but smelled too good to leave on the plate.
What little conversation had started soon stopped as everybody tucked into this meal. The food was as good as it looked and smelled. After a while the chatter picked up as we all complimented Artie and Tim, and before long there was some conversation going on. I looked at Tim's father. "Tell me about the new job. I missed it."
"I'm really excited. I'll be buying equipment and materials for big construction projects all around the country. When they need something on a job site, they need it like now. I have to learn all the suppliers near the projects and get them to feel good about the company so they'll be responsive. I may even travel to some of the bigger sites just to get to know people and what they can provide. It's more money than I ever made in my life, so I won't be a mooch for much longer. It's just hard to believe that everything happened so fast."
Timmy grinned at him. "That's what happens when ya start hangin' around with Dave."
My mother looked at me and said, "Ain't that the truth!"
I wiped my mouth with my napkin. "Hey, people. Don't go givin' me the credit for this. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Tim, and we'd all be jerks if it wasn't for Ken and Barry and Don and Jim. They're the guys that kept us all goin', that taught us to ..." I almost choked, "... to love. To be able to love each other. We learned by watchin' them, didn't we, Tim?"
He finished chewing and leaned back in his chair, then he looked at me. "You're right in a way, Dave. Those guys kept me from going nuts a few times, but I don't see with your eyes. I was goin' there before you, and it was always just some nice guys letting us kids have some fun."
He put his hand on mine and looked in my eyes, "You changed them, Dave. You made them start thinking and talking about the things that kept them together. Hearing all that helped me a lot, but I never heard it until you started coming around. They might have helped you change, but you had to change them first" He smiled at me. "You're the man, Dave. You hang your wash out for everyone to see it. I know it keeps you in trouble, but it's you and I love you. I really, truly do."
The room was quiet. I looked towards the other table, and they were all looking at me.
"Timmy, I ... I ... you got it wrong" I smiled at his surprised face. "Not about love, 'cause I love you more than you can imagine. If it wasn't for the guys at the quarry, I'd be in dipshit heaven right now. Uh, sorry Ma. We do see things with our own eyes, and I see what I could'a turned into after my father died. It ain't pretty, Tim. If you think those guys didn't go out on a limb for me, you're full of it!"
Tim started to say something, but his father put a hand on his wrist. "Tim's right, Davy. I know what you feel for those men ... I can see it, and I can't deny that it's real. But I've talked to them and I know that what Tim says is true, too. Will you listen to me if I tell you?"
I nodded a yes, wondering what he could want to say.
My mother said, "Let's clean up first! Everybody bring your plates to the sink, then we can go in the other room where we can all hear this. We can wash the dishes later. Arthur? That was a wonderful meal. Does everyone agree?"
We made a lot of noise thanking Artie and Tim for the food, then there was a bustle of activity as dishes got dumped into the sink and tables got cleaned off.
We finally ended up back in the living room. Rennie sat by himself in an armchair.
"Davy, those guys know your history better than you probably remember. Ken told me that the first time you came to his place he had a hard time looking at you, there was so much sadness on your face. He talked to Don and Barry, and they all decided to try to cheer you up a little."
He shifted in his chair, took a look around, then looked back at me.
"They just wanted to distract you a little ... to get you involved with something that would take your mind off your Dad." He grinned at me. "I guess you were an insistent little devil, though. You ended up getting them involved. Then you met Jim, and you reminded him of an old friend. It made all of them think ... really think ... about why they were the good friends that they were. Them thinking about you got them thinking about themselves. Not just thinking about it ... talking about it. Those guys had been friends for a long time, and had no reason to wonder why they were, or what a friend was. They were just old friends, and that was it in their own minds. You with me so far?"
I just nodded my head.
"They could see that you didn't understand the value of friendship, no ... that's not it. You couldn't accept friendship at face value is what I meant to say. You didn't seem to understand what friends were, and that caused them to have a lot of discussions about what they meant to each other. That's what Tim meant when he said you had to change them before they could help you. Don't think for a second that Tim meant they aren't wonderful people, because they are. You were the catalyst for all this, Davy, even if you didn't know it."
I just stared at Tim's Dad. My surrogate father! I had a hard time forming words, but I finally managed. "I ... I hear what you're saying, but it's hard to believe. It's like that old 'goes around - comes around' thing, then? If I wasn't a mess to start with, they wouldn't have bothered much with me? I'd still be a jerk, and they'd still be havin' fun. Is that what you said? But I was messed up, and here's what everybody's forgettin'. They cared! I don't give a rat's ass who I reminded them of or what they talked about, they cared! Those guys didn't know me from Adam, but they all watched out for me. They cared about me, and they didn't have to. They didn't even have a reason to!"
I looked around to try and see if anybody knew what I was talking about. They seemed to. "Anyhow, it was the things I learned from them that finally got through to me, Kenny especially. That man gave me the words I needed to hear ... that my own happiness could only come right from me. He told me that I was as good as anybody else, and I had to do whatever it took to make myself happy every day, that it was stupid to worry about what other people think. He said I should think good thoughts, do good things, and love good people."
I smiled at Tim. "That very same night I fell in love with Tim. That's not exactly right - I loved Tim for a long time, but I didn't know what it was. I guess I didn't know what I was, either, but that night I was like seein' Timmy as a beautiful person - and he really is. I stopped worryin' about myself for the first time. I didn't give a sh... I mean, I didn't care what people thought about me anymore."
I put my arm around Tim's shoulder and added, "I mean, look at Timmy! How could anybody not love him?"
Everyone looked at Tim, and his ears reddened a little. "When I got back here I started seein' how good most people really are. I stopped comparin' myself and started listenin'. And ya know what? We all count! We all have good things to say if somebody listens. Am I a motor mouth or what?" That got a little laugh. "Look at all of us. Every guy in this room has had problems, and most of us have done dumb stuff. The girls probably have too, they just won't admit it." Another laugh.
"We're all good people, though. We're allowed to be stupid once in a while. Rennie and me went too far, but we both came back. Artie went way too far, but he's here too. Me'n Artie brought stupid to a whole new level, but you were all here to catch us when we fell. That's what Ken and those guys did, too. They were major league pissed at me, but they still just about jumped through hoops to make sure I wasn't broken. I landed on them first, and they're the reason I'm half-assed normal right now. If anybody still wants to give credit to me, you're missin' your mark by a country mile!"
I looked around and saw a few surprised faces, but most everybody was smiling in apparent agreement. There were eight people in our small living room, and my speech seemed to have used up all the oxygen.
"I need some air," I said. "Take a walk, Tim? Anybody?"
Everybody needed air. My mother was going to stay in to wash the dishes, but it didn't take much to convince her to walk with us. It was a pretty nice night, and a lot of other people seemed to have the same idea. The sidewalks weren't crowded, but there were enough people out to make it hard for us all to stay together. Jerry and Artie were ahead of everyone else, and they appeared to be talking a lot and getting to know each other. They were followed by my mother and Tim's father. Tim and I took up the rear behind my sisters, but they kept stopping to look in store windows and eventually disappeared behind us.
When we got to the place that Artie was thinking about buying, everybody stopped. It was closed, but the inside was lit a little by the exit sign. Artie and Jerry had their faces right up to the window looking inside. We listened to Artie talking about what he had in mind for renovations for a while. We all took turns peering inside.
I looked at Tim and Jerry. "Ever been here before?"
Jerry said, "Just once for a soda."
Timmy said, "I've been here. The guys that run it are a couple of old grouches."
His father looked surprised. "Grouches? When I was a kid, this was quite the hangout. Bud and Andy were a lot of fun then." He looked at nothing in particular. "I guess the fun can fade when you get older."
Timmy practically jumped up in the air. "I got it, Artie! When you buy this place you can put up a sign ..." He drew a big rectangle in front of him with his hands, "... UNDER NEW - AND MUCH MORE PLEASANT - MANAGEMENT!" He obviously slew himself. He doubled up in laughter at his joke. We all chuckled at his idea, but then his laugh caught us like it always did. In a minute, everyone who passed by saw eight people laughing hysterically at a closed soda shop.
We eventually ended up back at the house. Artie had picked up some ice cream, and we ate it in the living room while making small talk. When we were finished, my sisters surprised me by offering to take care of the dishes. Rennie went to help them, saying it was the least he could do after such a great meal. My mother picked up a magazine and went to sit in her room.
I was beside Timmy on the couch, holding his hand. Artie and Jerry were sitting in armchairs. As I looked around at my brothers, smiles formed on each of their faces. I was hoping that they all felt as good as I did right then.
"So! Jerry, Artie ... you guys hit it off okay? If you're gonna be brothers ya might as well be friends."
Jerry looked at Artie, then back at me. His smile hadn't faded at all. "We're already friends, Dave. You were right. Artie's gonna make a great older brother!" He looked at Artie. "I can't call you my big brother because I'm a foot taller than you." He looked back at me with a grin. "What's that make me compared to you and Tim? Your big brother's little brother's big little brother?"
His little play on words made us all laugh. When we settled down I looked at Artie. "Did ya have any ideas about how to get rid of the money?"
Artie looked at Tim. "We talked about it all day. It's just going to have to be little bits at a time. I can't walk into a bank and pay somebody's mortgage off with a bunch of twenties! Banks have to report large amounts of cash."
Timmy looked around. "Here's what we're thinkin' about. It'll take us a long time to do it, but we wanna make a list of people and places - places like the shelter. We can buy big boxes of cards or thank-you notes and just send some money to them every week. We can use up the little bills just buyin' cards and stamps, then use the bigger stuff to send to people. That way people who need it will get the money, and nobody'll ever know where it came from. Sound good?"
I thought about it, and it sounded like a great idea. "It sounds real good! Who gets to pick the people?"
Tim beamed. "That's the best part. We all do! If we meet somebody that's really nice but just doesn't have enough money to live on, we just put them on the list. It's cash, so all we need is an address. We should try to make sure it's people we can keep an eye on."
Artie joined in. "Yeah. We were thinking about sending a note with the first money. Like this is for you to give your kids a better life. If we see that happening, we'll keep sending money for as long as you need it. If it doesn't happen, then this is the last of it."
Jerry's eyes got wide. "Holy shit! Just like 1984?" He looked around. "What? Nobody else read that? It's where Big Brother watched everything everybody did."
I laughed. "You'd just see the tops of their heads!" I looked at Artie. "You don't mean we have to watch what people do with it, do you?"
He was laughing, too. "No, not watch them. Just look for results. I think if people do good things with the money you'll notice. If they don't, you'll notice that too."
It still sounded like a good idea. "How much would you send people?"
Timmy said, "I guess that depends on what they need. A place like the shelter maybe a few hundred dollars a week. For families, I don't know. Maybe like twenty five a week for each person. We could send more if somebody needs an operation or something. That's the neat thing. It's not like makin' somebody rich, just takin' the pressure off ... makin' sure they can eat."
Jerry was looking around with an amazed expression on his face. He looked at Artie. "Um, can I ... I mean, would it be alright ... can I look at the money? I can't believe there's four million bucks in this house and we're all sitting here trying to figure out how to get rid of it. This is way too cool!"
He looked around at us again, then smiled his best. "I'm gonna love this family. I love my brothers ... I love having brothers. Thanks for this ..." he looked at Artie, "... all of you."
The phone rang and I got up to answer it. It was Ken.
"Hey Davy! Everythin' goin' okay?"
"Yeah, fine! Thanks for calling."
"Tell everybody we're havin' a Labor Day picnic Saturday. Barry's makin' ribs and I ordered a bunch of clams."
He paused. "What do you think about it, Dave? It's your call. Is Artie socially acceptable?" I could detect the humor in his voice at that last bit.
I laughed at the question. "He's my brother ... our brother. You guys'll like him."
"Everything's good then?"
"Everything's great! Is Don there? I saw his uncle this mornin' and I wanna thank him."
"He's workin'. It went good, though? You can call him at the station if you want - he's at Engine Five."
"I guess I'll wait 'til I see him. Yeah, it went perfect. I'm gonna hafta work my butt off, but I can catch up with my class."
"Great. Don't be afraid to ask for help. I can slay ya with math and science. I'd probably just kill ya with my English, but Don's good with it."
"What time Saturday?"
"Whenever. It'll be an all day thing. I'll have my kids. They're always askin' about you."
"Neat. They must be big now. Uh, Kenny?"
"Thanks for everything, okay?"
"No problem. I'll se ya Saturday if I don't see ya before then. Don't forget to bring your brother, okay?"
My eyes suddenly flooded with tears, then the doorbell rang. "Thanks, Ken. Thanks for sayin' that. I gotta go ... somebody's here."
"See ya Saturday!"
We hung up. Tim had already gone down to answer the door, and my mother came out of the room asking who was on the phone and who rang the bell.
"Kenny was on the phone. He's havin' a picnic Saturday and we're all invited. Tim's gettin' the door."
"We're all invited?"
"Yup. All of us. Barry's makin' ribs, and he does really good."
I had my back to the front door. My mother looked over my shoulder, and I turned around to see Rafe, Brian and Adam following Tim into the room. I felt a tap on my shoulder and faced my mother.
"Not more brothers?"
I decided to fool around, and looked surprised. "I didn't tell ya about these ones? The guy with glasses is the bus driver, the big one is like a chaperone, and the blond guy just keeps track of names. The rest must be waitin' on the bus." I tried to give her an innocent look, but broke out laughing at the surprise on her face. "I'm kiddin', Ma. They're my friends." She laughed sarcastically, then went back to her magazine.
Tim had finished introducing Artie by the time I got back to them. "Hey, guys! How's it goin'? Before I forget, Ken's havin' a picnic on Saturday. Barry's makin his ribs. Everybody's invited! You guys met Artie?"
It was Adam's turn to be a wise ass. "Uh, fine, yummy, I'll be there, and yes. In that order."
Brian and Rafe laughed, and said in unison, "Me, too!"
Feeling one-upped, I asked, "So what brings you guys here?"
Rafe took a look at Artie, then back to me. He didn't look too happy. "Just seeing how you're doing. You got a minute, Dave? I need to talk to you."
Thinking something was wrong, I led him to my bedroom and closed the door. I turned around to confront Rafe, and he had a worried look on his face.
"What's wrong, Rafe? Somethin' happen?"
"What the hell's that guy doing in your house? You know he's a pusher!"
This was something I hadn't thought out. There were people who knew my story and people who'd never know the whole thing.
Rafe knew I'd gone through a mess, but he didn't know the details, and he didn't know all the players. I didn't want to tell him everything, but didn't know if Adam would tell him things at some point. I sat on the edge of the bed with my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands. Rafe was my friend. So were Brian and Adam. I had already begun to equate unsaid things with lies, or at least with hurt. I didn't want to hurt any more of my friends. I didn't want to tell them, either, but I especially didn't want to hurt them. Not again. Not ever.
I looked up at Rafe. "Go get Brian and Adam. There's things you should know."
"What about the other guys?"
"Tell 'em to watch TV or somethin'. They already know."
Rafe looked at me, then turned to go.
He turned back to me.
"It's gonna take a while."
... to be continued
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