"It's probably Artie's. He was gonna go look for a car today."
Tim got excited. "Really? You think he bought this? You think he'll let me drive it?"
I smiled and shrugged. "Don't ask me, ask him."
Tim ran into the house, leaving me standing there beside the car. I watched him disappear inside and started to follow him. He was back in two seconds holding his hand out for me. We walked upstairs together, but when we got to the door Tim ran into the front hall.
"ARTIE? Is that your Camaro out front?"
I came up behind Tim, just as Artie came out from the living room looking scared. "Ohmigod! Did somebody hit it?"
Timmy looked at him. "It's yours? Howcum it has dealer plates?"
"The car's okay?"
"They couldn't get it registered until tomorrow, so they let me use their plate. You like it?"
Timmy held out his hand, palm side up. "Keys."
Artie looked perplexed.
"Give me the keys, Artie. I'm takin' it for a ride."
"I just got it, and all I did was drive home. Mama and Lisa both took it for rides. Do I at least get to go with you?"
Tim looked a question at me. "Hey, I don't care!" I said. "You guys go and have fun. I wanna call Kenny, anyhow."
Artie got his keys and the two of them hurried out. I hadn't gotten to the phone yet when I heard a great squeal of tires. I never thought to warn Artie about Tim's driving, but I remembered that he'd gone in the car with him the day before.
I called Ken's house and Barry answered the phone. I told him that Tim and I had gone to his house that day. He said he'd just come from there and didn't find a clue that we'd been there, and that pleased him. Ken wasn't home, but all I wanted to ask was if Rich and his family had been invited to the picnic. They had, of course, and I asked Barry if he could find Richie's number so I could call him up. He found it for me and I wrote it down.
"Are you able to talk, Dave?"
"Rennie's been telling us about Artie and, well ... I guess you were right and I was wrong. I just want to say I'm sorry."
This really surprised me. "Barry ... you weren't wrong, not really. Artie did what he did for a long time, and I know you hate that crap. Did Kenny tell ya he's comin' over with us Saturday?"
"Yeah, he told me. Why don't you bring him over before there's a million people here? Saturday's gonna be a hard day to get to know somebody."
"Why don't you come over here? He just went for a ride with Tim, but they should be right back. It'll be good. That way on Saturday he'll already know somebody."
Barry was quiet for a moment. "That's a good idea. How about after supper?"
"Why don't you come for supper. I don't know what he's makin', but it smells great."
"Yeah, he's really good. Last night we had beef Wellington and it was delicious."
"Are you sure there's enough?"
"He sure made a ton of stuff last night. Don't worry - I'll eat something else if there isn't."
He hesitated, then said, "Okay. I'll come over now. You sure nobody'll mind?"
"Why would they mind? Just get your butt over here, capiche?"
He started laughing. "Yeah, Dave. I capiche big time. I'm on the way."
He hung up and I stood there wondering where I'd heard that phrase before. When it came to me, I started laughing out loud. I was just about to dial Richie's number when my mother wrapped her arms around me from behind.
"Somebody sounds happy. Did you have a nice day?"
I turned around and gave her a quick hug. "Hi, Ma. I just asked Barry over to eat. I hope it's okay."
"Of course it's okay. Isn't Timmy here?"
"He just took Artie for a ride to try out the new car."
"Isn't it nice? I took it for a ride myself, but I couldn't see the front end, so I just went around the block." She pushed me out to arms length and looked me in the eyes. "David, I am really starting to have feelings for Arthur. He's a genuinely nice young man, and I think that with our help he'll turn out just fine. I really don't want to make him sleep on the sofa forever, and I was wondering if ..."
All I could think of was that she wanted to have him share my bedroom. "Ma..."
She must have gotten something from the look on my face. "David! I just think he should go back to his own house. I don't want him to feel that he's being sent back. It probably won't be for a week or so, at least until I'm sure about what he's going to do, certainly not until he spends some time with Mary. When the time comes, I want you to help me make him realize that he's being allowed to leave, not that he's being asked to leave. Can you help me with that when the time comes?"
"I guess. I don't know why we all can't just move back there. I mean, the place is huge now, and there's a pool and ... I dunno, it still feels like our house."
She gave me a sad look. "I'll always think of it as our house too, David. Your father and I built a lot of it with our own hands, but it belongs to Arthur now." She smiled suddenly, then gave me a wink. "I'm sure you'll be welcome at your brother's home anytime you want to go ... we all will, but moving back there is out of the question. Capiche?"
I laughed. "I got it, Ma. We'll think of something. I gotta call Richie before Barry gets here."
She let me go and headed towards the kitchen. I called Rich to see if they were going to the picnic on Saturday. I told him that I really wanted to see him one more time before school started, and if his parents weren't coming for any reason to call and we'd pick him up. I gave him my number, then heard the doorbell and said a brief goodbye.
I ran downstairs to let Barry in. He looked a little uncomfortable. I told him that Tim and Artie were still out riding around, then he followed me upstairs and greeted my mother. She went to the kitchen to get him a beer, then Tim and Artie walked in laughing their heads off. Barry stood up, but it was a second before Tim saw him there. He walked over to Barry and gave him a quick handshake followed by a quick hug. I stood up and cleared my throat.
I looked at Barry. "Barry, this is Artie. He's my brother ... Tim's brother too ... and Jerry's." Barry held out his hand to shake, and as Artie approached him I said, "Artie, this is Barry. He's ... he's ..."
Timmy came to the rescue. "He's one of the Knights of Jabberwocky, Artie! If you ever need to be rescued, Barry's one of the guys to see."
It was interesting to watch Barry and Artie sizing each other up as they shook hands. Barry was a pretty big guy and Artie wasn't much bigger than me, but it was Barry that looked more apprehensive. He spoke first, though. "Hi, Artie. I've ... uh ... I've heard a lot about you. A real lot." Artie was smiling shyly. "You need any help in the kitchen? I think we have a lot to talk about." Barry turned to the kitchen, then looked over his shoulder at me and Tim. "Alone. You guys don't need us, do you?"
"Not me!" Tim and I said at the same time.
Artie and Barry disappeared into the kitchen, and my mother came back out in less than a minute.
She looked a little disconcerted, then a little worried. "David ...?"
"Don't worry, Ma. Barry and Artie just hafta come to terms."
I guess they did. We didn't have a little appetizer party like the night before, but after about forty minutes Barry came out to announce that dinner was ready. When we went in there, Barry and Artie were working together to get the food on the table as if they'd worked together before. They'd managed to set the table with places for seven, but the extra chair came from the card table set. I figured that since I was kind of the host that I'd sit there, but when I sat down I promptly bumped my chin on the table because the chair was so low. Everybody laughed at that, but Tim switched seats with me.
Barry carved the meat while Artie poured wine. It was more like being in a restaurant than the grab-and-swallow meals I'd grown up with. As it was last night, everyone was pretty quiet at first - just passing things around, seasoning their food and buttering their bread and potatoes. Conversation gradually picked up. At first it was mostly compliments to Artie about another good meal, and he was absolutely beaming in the praise.
Then Barry smiled at me. "You're gettin' pretty good, kid."
I wasn't too sure what he meant, then he looked at Artie, still smiling. He looked quickly back at me and frowned. "Everybody here knows?"
I looked around the table and nodded.
"Good!" He looked towards Artie. "You know, you can go through half your life thinkin' what you think, and thinkin' you're probably right. I've been leanin' on Davy for a long time to just think. I mean, I've been telling him that he can just think out the answers to half his questions, also that he should think about things before he says or does them. There's really two parts to that. If you wonder how something works or how something can be, then you can probably think it out, or look it up or something. If you need to do something, you should think about the things that happen when you do it. Not just to yourself, but to the other people involved. You get what I'm sayin'?"
Barry looked around the table and seemed to find agreement. "Well, I forgot my own lesson." He glanced at me, then looked back at Artie. "Artie, I've hated you for a long time, and I never even met you. I hated you without ever thinking why ... I was just working on feelings. I hated what you did, and I still do, but now I know why Dave always stuck up for you. I never thought, Artie ... I never once thought how you got where you are, never thought to separate the actions from the person. If I'd even thought for one second, I would'a realized that something sucked in your life. It had to, I just never thought about it. We're all born naked and screaming, but something has to turn us into what we are when we grow up. I just feel ... no, I need ... to apologize for my thoughts ... for hating you when I had no facts."
There was silence while the two of them looked at each other. A slow smile came onto Artie's face. "Does that mean we're friends? You like me?"
Barry stared at him for a second, then relaxed back into his chair smiling. "Yeah, Artie. We can be friends." He flashed a wistful look at me. "Boy, talk about the teacher learning from the student." He looked back at Artie. " Where'd you learn to cook, Artie? This is delicious."
Artie gave a totally innocent smile. "A Betty Crocker cookbook. Is there another way?"
Everybody laughed a little at that, then we got back to general conversation for the rest of the meal. When we finished eating, Tim volunteered to clean up, as long as I helped him. Artie took Barry outside to see his car and everyone else disappeared. When we finished the dishes, we found Barry and Artie talking quietly in the living room. They were obviously getting along well, which pleased me.
Tim and I joined their little talk until Barry said he had to go. I walked outside with him, and before he drove away he said he'd try to get Artie's house back to normal by the weekend. He didn't think there would ever be a need for Artie to need to know exactly who had made the modifications.
The next day, Tim, Artie and I went for a ride in the new car. Artie had to pick up the registration and drop off the dealer plate, then we went to a state park and walked a trail alongside a river just for something to do. It was a good thing that Tim knew his trees and plants pretty well, because Artie asked question after question. He was really fun to be with because he had the curiosity of a little kid and an adult capacity to absorb things.
That night Tim and I broke away for a few hours at Barry's house. We couldn't stay too late because Tim had to work the next two days. It was the last chance he'd have to work full days for a while, and he wanted the money.
On Thursday, my mother went with Artie to talk about the soda shop, then to meet a lawyer to help with the negotiations. I walked down to Rafe's place, but nobody was there. Walking back home, I decided it was a good time to get a haircut. I stopped in the soda shop and got some money from my mother, then went to the barber shop and got clipped. When I got home, the house was still empty and I got bored. I started trying to call people, but nobody answered at Rafe's, and Brian's mother said he was out. Then I called Adam and got no answer again.
In desperation for something to do, I decided to clean my room. My mother had just cleaned it and I hadn't really messed it up yet, so that only took a few minutes. I went in the other room and turned on the TV, but it was just soap operas so I turned it off. Artie had a book out and I picked it up and started reading, thinking I'd just see what it was about. The title was 'A Tale of Two Cities'
Within minutes I was lost in it. The next thought I had on my own was that I really had to pee, and when I looked at the clock in the bathroom I was amazed that it was almost three o'clock. I also discovered that I was really hungry, so after I washed up I went in the kitchen and made some peanut butter sandwiches. I took them, a glass of milk and the book down to the back steps, where I continued reading in the sun while I ate. I kept putting the book down to take a bite of food, so I decided to just eat and finish reading later. I was thinking to myself how much I had gotten engrossed in the story, the history and turmoil of the setting, the people involved. I almost felt that I knew some of them, could feel their loves and fears.
When I finished my food, I tried to go back to reading, but I found it hard to pick back up and figured I had just been at it too long. The beginning words had captured me, but I figured I should start the chapter I was on again tomorrow. I gathered everything up and walked upstairs, pondering what Charles Dickens had meant by 'It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...' I had used some of those words not that long ago, and they really had meaning to me. I had just gone through the best and worst parts of my life, almost destroying myself, then learning that there was love and beauty all around me. I didn't pretend to understand it all, but I had learned that everything had value, myself included.
When I got upstairs my mother and Artie were in the kitchen, and I was very surprised to notice that another hour had already gone by. Artie and I talked about the book a little, and we had surprisingly similar views about it.
We had a simple dinner of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches and salads.
Tim showed up a little after seven, then my mother, Artie, Tim and I played Po-Ke-No at the kitchen table for awhile. It was a fun game, with everybody accusing everybody else of cheating. I ended up with the most pennies. Tim had to work again the next day, and he was tired because the store had actually been busy all day with back to school shoppers. We managed a good kiss and grope on the downstairs landing before he left.
I spent the next day alone with Artie. It was drizzly out, so we decided to see exactly how much money was in the college fund box. It's not easy counting up a lot of cash. We kept losing track until Artie came up with a system. We separated all the money by denomination, then Artie made out a paper for each one. We counted a hundred dollars of each one, then he'd make a mark on that page and we put it back in the box. We left the singles for last. We had piles of money all over the living room floor and down the hall, all the way to my mother's room.
When we got done, Artie added up all the check marks and said it couldn't be right, so we did it again.
We were right the first time. It was over eighty seven thousand dollars.
I tried to make a joke by telling Artie what Don had said about getting a sprinkler system, but he just asked what one of those cost. He was a little distracted wondering if his offer for the store would be accepted, and I kept reassuring him that it probably would. Nobody knew if anyone else was looking at the place.
When my mother and sisters showed up, nobody wanted to make dinner. We called around the corner for pizzas and Lisa and Donna walked over to pick them up. Tim showed up after we were done, but there was plenty left and my mother heated it up for him. He looked really tired and I teased him about saying he was bored at that job all summer, but when he actually had to do some work he didn't have much staying power.
Richie called to say they were definitely coming, and asked if he could bring a friend. I told him that was a question for Ken, but it probably wouldn't matter if he brought twenty friends. We talked for a few minutes, then Tim talked to him for a while. Tim called his mother and got permission to stay that night and the next.
We went to bed early ... before ten. Tim was really tired anyhow, but this was MY bed ... actually OUR bed, and I wasn't going to let that go unmentioned. Timmy thought it was important too, but begged me to just let him sleep. He conked out in less than five minutes, but I didn't really mind. I was comfortable and happy just being curled up with him in our own bed.
The alarm was still set for six, and when it went off the sound made Timmy jump. He gave me a shove. "Gimme a break! Six o'clock? What the hell are you thinkin' about?"
I opened my eyes to find him smiling at me. I smiled back, albeit groggily. "I'm thinkin' about you, Tim. You sleep okay?"
"You're really gettin' up now? Did you lose a marble or two somewhere? It's six o'fuckin' clock! Turn that stupid thing off and go back to sleep."
I pushed the off button on the alarm clock, then gave Tim a sloppy smooch on the cheek. "I'm gettin' up. I'll come back after my shower, okay"
He was already sleeping. I got out of bed and grabbed my bathrobe, then headed to the bathroom. The door was locked, so I tapped on it.
"I'll be out in a minute!" It was Artie.
I leaned against the wall, trying not to think about how bad I had to pee. After about two minutes the door opened and Artie came out grinning. "Morning!"
"Hi. I gotta go." I scooted around him and shut the door behind me, wondering why he was up so early. When I was done in the bathroom I went back to the bedroom to get dressed. I had to practically drag a protesting Timmy out of bed, but when I mentioned that I had a mother and two sisters, he got the message that it would be wise to get into the bathroom before they woke up.
I got dressed and walked out into the kitchen. Artie was frying sausages, but when I said hi he turned and flashed me a bright smile.
I smiled back. "You look pretty happy."
"I am. Do I look okay?"
He was wearing dress slacks, shiny black shoes and a white shirt. "You look great. Going to a wedding or somethin'?"
"No, to a picnic. Wrong clothes?"
I had to smile. "Jeans and sneaks would be more like it. You can wear what you want, but I'm goin' like this." I was wearing cutoffs that were a little small, sneakers and a baseball jersey.
"I wanted to make a good impression. I'm all excited! I just want to fit in. I want to make some friends today."
"If you wanna fit in you're definitely over dressed, Artie ... don't try to make friends, okay? Just let it happen. Just be good to people and see what happens, okay?"
"I should change clothes? All my old stuff is at my house."
"We can stop on the way. I don't guess it matters what you wear, I know you're gonna have fun. Everybody has fun at Ken's house. It's kinda the law."
He looked at me for a second, then gave me the brightest smile yet. "Having fun is the law there? I love it! Barry said it'd be fun. Where do you meet these kind of people?"
He was so excited. I had liked Artie, then hated him, then liked him again. At that moment I was really liking him, and feeling hopeful that he would find himself a nice normal life as an adult. He is my brother, after all.
I smiled at him, then it turned into a grin. "They're everywhere Artie. Most people are pretty nice. If somebody gives ya grief, send 'em to me, okay?"
"Yeah? Like you'll take care of it?"
I had started getting eggs and things out of the refrigerator. I had my back turned when I said, "Artie, I'm serious. Did Dad ever teach you how to fight?"
"He showed me how to hit hard, if that's what you mean. I never got into a fight, so I don't know if it works."
"Dad showed you how to punch? Believe me, it works Artie. I used to get into fights all the time, but it's really stupid." I turned to look at him. "I guess I would'a never met you if I wasn't stupid." I grinned at him just as Tim walked into the room wearing his usual morning excitement on his face.
I just continued, "We were both really stupid, Artie, but it's all done now."
Tim grinned. "Good morning, formerly stupid brothers! What's to eat?"
Artie and I both looked at him and said, almost in unison, "It's cooking, Tim!"
Tim was anxious, too. We ate quickly, then left a happy mess in the sink for my mother and sisters to deal with. I grabbed my bathing suit and a towel just in case we decided to do some cliff jumping. Tim didn't have his, so he drove separately to go home and get them. I went with Artie.
His new car was top of the line, with leather upholstery, electric windows, everything you could get. When we got to his house I had to really swallow a laugh. The doors and windows were back. The fence was back. The lawn was even mowed! Artie got so distracted that he almost hit the fence, missing it by an inch.
"Holy shit! It's all back to normal!" Artie started to get out of the car, then sat back down and looked at me. "What the hell is going on? I don't get who's doing this to me." He looked over at me. "This is really scaring me. What if there's a bomb inside?"
I felt a little bad, but when I thought about it I figured that a healthy dose of fear might work to keep Artie on the right track. "I really doubt it, Artie. You've been out of business for a week and everybody must know by now. Whoever did this stuff probably took over everything and just doesn't want you to hold a grudge."
His eyes opened wide and his eyebrows went up to his hairline. "You really think? You think they're afraid of me, too?"
That sounded good to me. "Why wouldn't they be? Only punks would play games like this, and I'll bet they're shittin' their pants wonderin' what you're doin' right now."
"Yeah, Artie. You were in a tough game. The best thing you can do is to forget it ever happened. Whoever was screwin' around with you will forget it after a while, too. Don't worry about bombs, just go get changed. Want me to come in?"
"Okay, I'll look around for explosives while you put on somethin' normal."
He relaxed and giggled. "I'm being a big chicken, aren't I? How normal should I be?"
We climbed out of the car and started walking to the door. "Just think picnic, Artie. Didn't ya ever go to a picnic?"
I could have eaten my own shoe right then, without condiments. When Don was investigating Artie's past, the only 'normal' picture of Artie had been taken at a picnic. He probably hadn't been to one since.
It didn't bother him. "I remember picnics. They were always fun. Lots of people ... lots of food. We played kickball. Does this guy have balls?"
I started to say something, then stopped in my tracks laughing.
"Does he ever, Artie! Does he ever!"
... to be continued
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