Plan C: Mawg Dilligs

by Driver

Chapter 6

I was on the phone with Aaron, discussing seriously the relative sexiness of other guys - Paul and Lee specifically.

"Lee's cute," Aaron said. "He's in good shape and all, but I wouldn't say sexy. Not to me anyhow, but that's just me."

"I like the way he looks," I said. "I love it when he really laughs, because those dimples come out and make him look so happy."

Aaron snickered, "Yeah. You have these almost-dimples yourself, and they make you so cute sometimes. I don't think more would be better, you're perfect."

I let that go by me. "You said you think Paul is sexy, too. I always thought that, but why? He's kind of this big slug when you look at him. Big, but no muscles, no definition."

"Yeah," Aaron said, "but nice shines through, and he does have a top-ten butt."

"That's it," I said wistfully, "that's exactly it." I snickered, "I try to teach myself different, Aar, but you're right. It's the bum in the end. Nothing else."

Aaron laughed, then he quieted and asked, "Are we ever going to do that, Evan?"

"Dearie," I said, "I don't know. Are you finding the idea less gross than the last time we talked about it?"

Silence, then, "No." More resolutely, "You're right. We do what we want, and when we want. You're not in a hurry?"

I laughed, "That's the wrong question, Aar. I don't even want to, and I might not ever. You knew that."

"I know," he said in a small voice. "I don't know either, I was just checking to see if anything changed."

I laughed happily, because Aaron wouldn't ever change. "Change your schedule for asking to annual. I love you, Aaron, and I'll do what you want, but for us. We already don't conform, so why should we start now?"

Aaron laughed, then he said, "Let's do this. Who's sexy? Ooh or Boo!"

I laughed, "Which is good?"

Aaron laughed back, "You're an ooh, okay?"

"Got it! I'll start. Billy O'Shea!"

"Ooh," Aaron said, sounding like he was swooning. "My turn! Dean O'Shea."

I said, "Ooh!" kind of automatically. Dean wasn't cute like Billy, but he was good looking in a different way. He could play the guitar like stink, and he had a friend named John Balls, so how couldn't he be sexy?

It was my turn, so I said, "John Balls."


"Really?" I asked, surprised, "I'd say 'ooh' in a minute."

"Ewww!" Aaron said. "John Balls? That's not his name, you know."

I said, "I kind of hoped it wasn't."

Aaron snickered, "No, it's really Horace Balls!"

"You lie!"

Aaron laughed for a solid minute, and when he wired down he wheezed, "I lie for sure. His name's John, but it's not Balls, it's something Hungarian I think. I still don't think he's sexy. He can play the guitar, though."

I thought about John, tried to picture him, and Aaron had strange tastes. "I don't know, Aaron. I agree he plays good, but I think he's sexy, too."

Aaron snickered, "Well, sexy is what it is, huh?"

"Sure is," I admitted. "When do your rehearsals start?"

"First Saturday in March," Aaron said excitedly, and I could picture him hugging himself. He came up with a major part in the show. It would be his first professional thing. He'd get paid, and quite a lot as it turned out, like a hundred dollars for each appearance. There were a lot of appearances; five a week for two months, and Aaron went into dreamland whenever he pictured all that money of his own.

I looked at the clock and said, "It's getting late, Aar. Let's go, okay?"

"Okay. I love you Evan, I really do."

"I love you too, Aaron, and you know how much. Eat your kiss and think of some really sexy guy. I'll be thinking about you in the meantime."

Aaron laughed, "You had to spoil it? Okay, I'll think about you, too."

"That's mean," I said.

"Sorry. I know you know, Ev, but I love you. I love you, I love you, I love you. Do you like the beach?"

I laughed, because that question came out of nowhere. "I love the beach, Aar, you know that. Why the question?"

"I asked because I like to hear you talk, Ev. Someday, you'll say the wrong thing, and I'll get to hound you when you say faggot or something."

"How about faggot pants?" I pleaded. "That was you, Aaron, not me!"

"Well!" he huffed.

When we talked after Christmas about what we got, one of Aaron's items was 'faggot pants' in his words, and I heard his mother yell at him. We were on the phone, and Aaron said, "They are, Ev. They're all brown, and they're corduroy, and Jesus! They're bib overalls! Maybe you'd like them. I'll bring them your way."

"I'm no faggot," I wheezed. "Bibs? Maybe your gram's brain got petrified."

"That's what I think," he said. "Petrified ... that's what it is."

We did finally get off the phone, and I got ready for bed feeling good about the world. It was nice to have no worries, and as far as I was concerned, Lee Erasmus was a prior worry, not a current one.

It had only been a few days since our sledding adventure, but now Lee seemed almost part of the gang. He spent time with Paul outside of school, and Chris and I talked to him in the halls when we saw him. We talked on the phone a few times, and Herb Sutton had called my father to tell him what a change he was seeing in Lee.

The school play was coming along great, too. We had the sets completed and the lighting pretty well worked out. Mr. Kennedy had frozen changes to the script, but he wasn't really hard-nosed about it, so it was still evolving, just not as much as before.

I learned that I'd be starting third baseman on the varsity baseball team, and I was walking on air because that was my favorite position. Chris would be the first-string catcher, and we knew we'd have fun together. Practice was starting the next week, but it would be inside work until the snow melted. That meant work; lots of calisthenics and running, but our head coach was a neat guy, and he knew how to make even drudgery like that fun.

I was doubly enjoying the school year, because every once in awhile I'd remember the horror I felt the prior summer when I thought I'd never be able to go back. I had cried myself to sleep several times back then thinking that what I liked most was out of my life for good. Now that I was back into it, I loved it twice as much as before, and I was absolutely killing the curves, and having a ball doing it. I wasn't being a brown-nose, either. I was hitting the books, and I seemed to have an easier time absorbing things; even things that were only marginally interesting before, like world history.

I'd always hated standing up in front of the class to do anything, but I found myself enjoying it, and I liked getting reactions from my classmates. I used to especially hate having to stand up and read my own work, like book reports, but now I wrote to entertain as well as edify, so even that was fun. If I fell flat with the presentation, I could make up for it by falling down on the way back to my desk, and I'd make a lot of noise doing it. I didn't get called on it very often, but if a teacher said something I'd point at the most bookish girl along the aisle and say, "She tripped me!"

The best part is that I didn't think I was over-extending myself at all. I had always loved to learn, to study, and nothing had changed there. A summer working for Harlan had gotten me used to finishing things that I started, and that made a difference in how I approached schoolwork. I used to work on something until I got tired of it. Now I worked on it until it was finished, and I tended to not get tired of things that way because they seemed more whole, and came out better in the end.

We were even having fun in driver's ed, which was horribly boring, so Chris and I livened it up with 'what if?' questions that the poor instructor would never be able to answer. Mr. Furbisher was a chubby, short man with curly red hair, and he embarrassed too easily for his own good. Our class was mostly made up of sixteen year olds, but there were some older kids and two adults.

The night before, Chris had asked, "Mr. Furbisher, say I drove over a candy wrapper and it stuck to my tire. If I tried to stop, and it happened to be on another candy wrapper, would it cause me to skid?"

Mr. Furbisher stared at Chris while he thought about that, and you could tell he was taking it seriously. He finally said, "Given the size of candy wrappers, I don't think it would be a problem."

Chris was quick, and he shot back, "Okay. What if it was the sticky sides that met on the pavement. Would that make one tire stop so fast that I'd go into a spin?"

Furbisher looked blankly at Chris, holding onto his chin. "No, no," he said after awhile, "It wouldn't work like that. The candy wrapper on your tire would only pick up the one on the road in that case. I don't think there would be any hazard."

I raised my hand. "Mr. Furbisher, this is a different subject, but if I was driving along and I really had to .. uh ... go, you know?" He acknowledged that he knew. "Well, I know it's illegal to expose yourself in public, but what if I had to go bad enough that I was a hazard in traffic? Would I still get a ticket if I just went beside the road and didn't cause any accidents?"

He glowered at me, and finally said, "Mr. Smiley, it's a good idea to always take care of your personal needs before getting behind the wheel. Now, may I get on with tonight's lesson, or do you have more questions?"

I allowed that I didn't, and we went on to learn what amounted to automotive trivia, but it was what the state based their tests on. So little of the course involved actual driving that I wondered about the people who had designed the tests that the curriculum was based on. There wasn't a single word devoted to crash-avoidance techniques or emergency procedures, not even proper car handling. No, you won your license making k-turns, and knowing how far you should park from the crest of a hill.

I'd be better than that. My father was a good driver, and he made me do a lot of things the state didn't require. I could drive in the dark, in the rain, on ice, on the highway. I could also parallel park and do a k-turn, which were the required maneuvers. That made driving school and the expense of it a big joke. Yeah, they'd guarantee that I passed the test, but what test? No wonder so many kids killed themselves in cars. By our state's standards, they didn't have to know how to drive, just how to stop, turn around, and park. If you picture me as a teenage cynic, I could easily have become one.

But, and I mean BUT, it would take more than a government to make me cynical. For one thing, driving was fun, and I mean that. My father liked cars, and he liked to drive different ones, so I'd grown up with that. I'd also grown up with his impressions of other drivers, and his ideas of what they deserved in this life and the afterlife. Their fates, in his mind, weren't pretty, but you could see how they earned them.

Symptom: Brake lights

Dad: "What the hell? If you want to stop, pull the hell over!"

Symptom: Turn signal.

Dad: "Turn already! What? You mean to turn next week?"

Symptom: Brake lights and turn signal: "Evan, know this. If you never learn anything else, know this one thing. If you ever turn on your signal, then you brake, then you keep it up for half a fucking mile, I will shoot you myself. I know I don't have a gun, but I'll buy one. If you want to turn, turn! If you want to stop, stop! Just don't do it on my fucking dime! Do it! And get the fuck out of my way!"

I loved driving school.

* * * * * * * *

Dad wanted to talk to me about something, so he drove me to Aaron's that Friday, and he started while we were still in the driveway. "Lee's case is coming up, Evan. Herb and Donovan both wanted me to talk to you, and Donovan would like a call next week."

"Uh, oh," I said.

"This is beyond 'uh-oh', Evan. There's a prosecutor who still wants to see Lee punished for the attacks on you. The case will be in juvenile court, so he can't send the kid to jail, but he could still make a mess of his life. Herb wants Lee to stay out of trouble, and now he seems to have Donovan on his side, at least a little."

"Okay," I said. "Am I supposed to help?"

Dad said, "If you want to, Evan, only if you want to. I have my own views, but I'm not going to try to influence you on this."

"Dad," I said, "Lee is a good kid. I think so, anyhow, and so does Bruce and Aaron, and Paul Dawson." I thought before I continued. "Look at what happened, Dad. Lee has this perfectly normal life in a perfectly normal family. Then this ... this lunatic sweeps down on them and makes everything crazy. What if it was different, Dad? What if, instead of me taking off last summer, you found a bunch of my friends dead and I was just gone? Would that make you a little crazy? Then what if the things that happened to Lee happened to me instead? Would your crazy meter be rocking?"

I felt his hand on my knee and I looked over. Dad had a tear running down his cheek, and I said quietly, "Why don't you pull over? I can drive."

He nodded and did just that. When I got the seat readjusted and pulled out, Dad said, "I think about that, Evan. I don't think Lee's father did the right thing, but I don't blame him for doing it. Some time passed before we knew you had left on your own, and anything was possible then. Don't think for a minute that I didn't have murderous thoughts for anyone who might have harmed you, because I did. Leonard Erasmus killed an evil, dark blot on humanity in that airport."

"I know," I muttered.

"Then," Dad continued, "he became what he had killed." He gave me a quick, surprised look. "You're getting good at this, Ev. Nice stop!"

I smiled because I thought it was, too. It was just a red light, but I'd managed to stop the car quickly without upsetting a thing in it.

It was my turn. "You think he became evil? I mean, you have to be crazy to be evil, I think, but does being crazy make you evil?"

"Good point, son. No, of course it doesn't, but Lee's father was crazy enough to do evil, and I don't know if there's a dividing line there. He wanted to kill you, and you're my son. As far as I'm concerned, he became an evil person."

I let my breath out slowly, counted to ten in my head, and asked, "And Lee?"

Dad didn't answer. He looked ahead, and at the next light I asked again. "What about Lee?"

"I don't know about Lee, Evan. I only know what you've told me, and it's my guess that he's a victim in all this. So was his father, though, so I don't know where it can lead. That's why I told you I won't try to influence you. If I've learned one thing through all of this, it's to respect your opinion. You're the one with the sixth sense, not me."

I chuckled, "Sixth sense, yeah, right!" but I liked the idea just the same.

My fear of Lee was no more, but it could be just under the carpet. I didn't think so, but my experience with him was short just the same. I liked him, but it was still superficial. We had no history, and I hadn't seen him even whiney, much less angry. I felt bad for him, as anybody would, but that was to his advantage and my weak side, too.

I wasn't afraid of Lee, but my trust was just based on liking the kid, respecting his capabilities. Still, as a new friend he didn't feel much different than Billy or Huck or a lot of people I liked. I think I tended to move on instinct toward friends rather than think them over. I'd done damn well doing that, and I didn't want Lee to fail somehow. He wasn't exactly like anyone I liked, but nobody else was either. I liked traits at first, and Lee had the ones I liked. He was smart and funny, and those were the two big ones. He also seemed gentle and sensitive, and he was athletic. I didn't have a list of things that excluded people as friends, and I had lots of friends who were none of the above. Still, Lee fit right in, and I did like him.

I said, "I don't know how much I trust Lee, Dad. I like him, though, and I think I should trust him."

My father said, "Trust your instincts, Evan. Part of the reason I brought this up is because there's another side to it. If Lee does get convicted as a juvenile, then a wealth of state aid will be available to him. I'm talking about aid in the form of psychological help and counseling, not money. I think Herb said he's seeing someone already, so that may not be an issue."

"Everything's an issue," I grumbled. "I don't like that word, it's too generic. Is an issue bad? If it is, then say it might be a bad thing. I hear issue, and it's like issue tissue! Should I cry and cower or laugh and linger?"

Dad laughed, "Good point. I like your humor, Evan."

I grumbled, "I wasn't trying to be funny," then I smiled, "but thanks."

Dad changed the subject. "Do you and Aaron have big plans for the weekend?"

"Not really. He has practice with the guys tomorrow, then who knows? Something usually comes up."

My father was silent for minutes, then he mumbled cheerfully, "I'll bet it does."

"Dad, don't! Okay?"

"Evan, I didn't! Okay?"

"Well, I think you did," I grumbled.

Dad chortled, and he got me chuckling. He finally said, semi-seriously, "Evan, you must know that we all really like Aaron. I think," and his voice softened, "I think if Aaron was your girlfriend, you'd get teased, too." He patted my knee, "Don't knock it, son. This is like equal opportunity."

"I don't like it," I laughed out.

"I don't believe you. I think you love it!"

My father was exactly right, too. I did love hearing how much he liked Aaron, and I liked the equal opportunity thing. It told me that in their eyes, Aaron was as acceptable as a girl would have been in his place, and that I made good choices.

This was all new to me, getting the warm and fuzzies from my father, and if he kept it up I might have to alter my opinion of him. Instead of holding off, I caved in right there. I almost went off the road when I smiled at him, and when I felt the car lurch his eyebrows were already heading up, but nothing went wrong. Well, I missed a chance I think, but there would be more, and Dad didn't say anything about my driving error.

When I turned into Aaron's neighborhood, I asked, "So, what should I do about Lee?"

Dad said, "Don't ask me, Ev. I've never said who you could be friends with. That's always been up to you."

"I know," I said, "but Lee's different!"

"Different how?" he asked as I pulled up in front of Aaron's house. "You don't have to be friends with him if you don't like him, and you don't have to be friends if you don't want to. You're good with people, son, better than I ever was." He looked at me and smiled, "It's up to you."

I turned the car off and held the key out to my father, kind of wondering about him. Had he changed, or had I? I didn't know, but he'd certainly gotten smarter and wiser.

It was supposed to snow that night, and the first flakes fell as we walked to Aaron's door. Aaron's father answered quickly, like he'd just been walking by or something, and he welcomed us. The way he stood in the entrance hall, I could see Aaron behind him, but he couldn't quite get around. Aaron was trying to smile, and it was funny, because his face would pop up on one side of his father's, then on the other, until his father noticed my head looking back and forth and stood to one side.

My father only stayed long enough to be polite, then he left so he wouldn't have to drive in a snowstorm, if we actually got one. I visited with Aaron's folks for awhile, then they were going to have dinner with some friends. Justin had a game, then he'd be out with Cindy. That meant that Aaron and I had the house to ourselves for awhile, and that was always a good deal.

We were hungry, though, and didn't want to cook. We decided, like we usually did, on crab sandwiches, and for once Billy agreed to join us. He was at Aaron's in no time, and we headed out on foot. It was snowing, but barely, and our walk to the snack bar was full of anticipation and good cheer. We walked fast because it was cold out, and we joked and laughed, and generally got caught up with each other's lives. The ground was just barely turning white when we got to the place, and we forgot all about it the moment we stepped inside.

Bill was having a moderately busy night, but we didn't have to wait for a booth. Billy was in the mood for a lobster roll. Aaron and I both ordered crab sandwiches, and we decided to share one large order of fries.

The food took some time, but we didn't really notice because we were having fun. We only shut up when our order was ready, and then only enough to get food in our mouths, and it was the usual great stuff that I'd gotten used to. We lingered over second drinks, then Aaron decided he'd like a piece of cake, so we got desserts and spent another half hour eating sweets and talking.

We'd been inside for about two hours when we finally left, and were surprised by the snow outside. It had gone from nothing to about two inches in that time, and by then it was snowing heavily.

It was a surprise, not a bother, and we headed for home as cheerfully as we'd come. There was a sudden bang from across the street, and we turned as one only to see that a car had hit a telephone pole. We ran over there, and it didn't look that serious. The driver was a girl, maybe twenty or so, and she seemed stunned but alright.

"Oh, God!" I heard Aaron say from the passenger side, where he'd gone. "Get some help! It's a little girl. She's bleeding!"

I ran over there, leaving Billy to help the driver. "Turn the key off!" I yelled to him when I saw smoke escaping the bent hood, but it was probably just steam.

I tried the door, seeing a girl of eight or ten in the passenger seat. She was awake and moving, but bleeding a little from her forehead and a lot from her nose. I tried the door and it was unlocked, but it only opened an inch before it caught on something. It was just moments, and then I heard Aaron asking someone, "Do you have a cell phone? Call 9-1-1 then, this little girl is hurt!"

I looked around but didn't see him, so I stood up and looked over at Billy, who was comforting the driver. "Billy! See if you can get this girl out from your side! I can't open the door!"

He went in through the driver's side head first, and I could see that he struggled to find the seat belt anchor, but he finally popped it. The girl hugged into him, and he backed out of the car with her hanging on. He came right over to the sidewalk, and I got a grip on the girl, then she let go of Billy's neck. He leaned down and took a closer look The girl who had been driving was there and all nervous, but I had the feeling that it wasn't serious. The younger girl had a little cut over her eye and a bloody nose, but she was standing on her own and not even crying.

Aaron got down on one knee and looked at her. He had a tissue that he wiped her face with. "What's your name?" he asked. "I'm Aaron."

"Carol," the girl said.

"Hi, Carol. Can you hold this here just like that?" Aaron apparently had a pocketful of tissues, and he guided her hand to where he wanted her to hold it. He smiled at her, "There! Does it hurt?"

"Not really," Carol answered.

The girl who had been driving knelt beside Aaron. After she inspected Carol's face, she looked at Aaron. "Oh! You're Justin's brother, aren't you?"

Aaron smiled.

"Thanks for helping. I'm Andrea Gritz, and this is my sister, Carol."

Aaron said, "I've met Carol. Gritz ... are you Bob's sister?"


"I know Bob," Aaron said, "We were in a middle school play together."

"I remember that!" Andrea said cheerfully, and she and Aaron chatted like old friends until a police car showed up. I stood with Billy and Aaron until the officer had things figured out, then we turned and left with no more words spoken.

We didn't talk to each other either. I felt a little pride though, pride in Aaron and Billy mostly, but myself too. We hadn't done anything, really, but we did stop to do what we could, as had a few other people. Mostly the world just whizzed by, unaware or uncaring, or possibly both.

From the corner up to about Huck's house, the hill was steep. Our progress was slow and funny, because that snow was slippery underfoot. The going was easier after that, and when we got to Aaron's house, Billy kept going. He said he had something to do, and maybe he did, but I think he wanted to leave me alone with Aaron.

Before we went inside, Aaron decided that the power could possibly go out in the storm, so we carried a lot of firewood into the basement. By the time we were inside to stay and had our coats off, our pant legs were soaked from about the knee down, so we took them off. We debated staying like that, but instead put on dry socks and sweatpants, then went to hang out by the fire. It only needed a few logs and a poke, because it had been going when we left.

Aaron listened to the answering machine, and one of the messages was from Justin saying that he was staying where he was because of the snow. Aaron wrote down the others, and we finally laid in front of the fireplace on a quilt. I chuckled as soon as we settled in, "We have good lives, Aaron. Eventful ones, anyhow."

He giggled and cuddled into me, whispering seductively, "I have an event about to happen. Wanna participate?"

Aaron said things like that all the time, but it really tickled me that time, and I started giggling foolishly. I hate to try to talk when I'm like that, because I know my nose is going to run and I'll drool. That's what happened, too, when I spat out, "Par ... par ... participate! Yesh!" I laughed harder, "I mean yesh! Fucking nose."

I felt pathetic, but I had to dry my nose, so I went to the kitchen, which was closest, and blew it on a paper towel, and I brought a spare towel with me when I went back. I should have brought the roll, I knew, because once Aaron got me going like that I could be helpless for a long time.

I finally calmed down, though, and I participated like a champion participator and then some. When the phone rang, it jolted us both awake, though we weren't really asleep, just all participated out.

It was Aaron's mother saying that they, too, were staying put for the night. She gave Aaron enough instructions that he went into the kitchen to write them down. Aaron turned on the back lights to see what the big deal was.

It was a big deal, there was no doubt about that. I looked at the clock, and it was just after one. I looked back outside, and it seemed like there must be a foot of snow already, and it was snowing heavier than ever. "Blizzard," I mumbled, to no one. "Wow!" I put my arms gently around Aaron and pulled him to me. "That is so beautiful."

He sighed, "Yeah, it is." and relaxed against me. After a minute or so he twitched, "Let's get ready in case the power does go out. Flashlights!"

My father was an engineer. We had a generator at home, so power outages never lasted long for us. I knew they could for others, though, but they weren't really in my preparedness plan. Aaron had already thought to bring in wood, and that was a good thing because it would be a lot harder now. Other than that, all he did was get us each a flashlight, and he checked around the rooms to see that there were candles and matches everywhere. He got two more books of matches out and gave me one, then announced that we were ready for any blizzard.

Except for the one we were having! We slept in front of the fire, and didn't realize that there was no power until the next morning. I'd gone to the bathroom earlier, and even the light not going on didn't trigger anything for me, and I went back to sleep after tossing some wood on the fire. I thought it was a burnt bulb.

"The power's out," Aaron said, waking me up later.

"It' is?" I asked, sitting up and rubbing my eyes. It was light in the room, "How can you tell?"

"The lights are out, the heat's out. I can always tell."

It was chilly for sure. I sat up, still getting my bearings, then I stood up and tossed another log on the fire, and poked at it until it flared up again. I went over to the window and looked out. "Holy shit!"

It looked like there was two feet of snow out there, and it was still coming down hard. At the same time, I thought I knew how Aaron could tell there was a power outage without actually trying the electricity.

It was the silence, and except for a little whistle of wind outside the window I was at, the silence was total. I turned, and Aaron was right there. I grinned, "I was just thinking about the quiet, then you snuck up on me."

Aaron looked at me, humor showing in his eyes, but he didn't say anything until I was about to ask what he had in mind. Then he said, "Are you a boy scout? Can you cook on a fire?"

I wasn't fully awake, and I looked at Aaron in confusion. "You don't have Cheerios? Why would cooking on a fire be hard?"

Aaron got an evil look in his eyes, and he leered, "Come back to bed, Evan. We'll work this out."

I smiled, "It's not work now, is it?"

Aaron grinned, "Like I said, come back to bed. We'll exercise it out!"

I snickered, "You exercise. It's cold in here."

"Exercise keeps you warm," he grinned.

"I'm dense," I smiled back, and in a minute we were testing Aaron's theory, which held up pretty well.

It was another hour, probably, before hunger made us get up for real, and I put still more wood on the fire. I joined Aaron in the kitchen, but we both faced a cold breakfast. I looked at their pots and pans, and there were some iron frying pans. I held one of those out, craving coffee, and wondered if somehow we could cook with it in the fire. Heat wasn't the problem, doing something useful was. There was a big pan, but the handle was short, and if we managed to get it over the fire in the fireplace we'd surely burn our hands.

I thought while Aaron looked for items we could eat without cooking, and there were things, but cold food wasn't very appealing when we were already shivering.

We went back in the living room and put on more clothes, then to Aaron's room for more still, and only when I was thickly layered and warm did I have an idea.

"Got any pipe?" I asked Aaron.


"Yeah, like plumbing pipe. Metal, not plastic, I could make a long handle for one of your iron pans."

Aaron scrunched up his face while he thought. "Pipe ... I know we have pipe." He looked at me, "Let's look in the garage."

I followed him out there. His mother's car was inside, but it was easy enough to see around, and I sure didn't see any pipe. Aaron looked places I wouldn't have thought to, but he came up empty. "Basement, then. I know we have some," he said.

We went into the much warmer basement, and found nothing, so we went back to the garage, and it was then that I noticed the floor jack and its handle. It was a thick hunk of pipe that looked perfect, if a little on the heavy side. I pulled it out ant looked at it, "This should do it," I said. Let's go!"

I took the pipe, and we went back up. Aaron brought me the big frying pan, and sure enough the handle fit into the pipe. For a test, we filled their teakettle, set it inside the pan, then I stood there holding the whole mess over the fire, then right in the fire.

Let me tell you, even iron pipe conducts heat faster than water boils, and I had to give it up. Aaron ran for potholders, and once the pipe handle cooled off, we taped all the potholders he could find around that handle, then tried again. We had success boiling water, and with some coffee in me, even instant, my head was clearer.

To cook food, it was obvious that we'd have to be able to hold the pan up higher, and with the iron pan and the iron pipe handle, the prospect wasn't very appealing. The lack of appeal made me do a kind of mental rewind, and that made me see Justin's floor jack that we took the handle from in the first place. With that at the proper height in front of the fireplace, we had a brand new technology. We could raise and lower our pan at will, and pretty well balance it on the jack so it just took one hand to steady everything.

We still managed to burn the toast, but our eggs came out perfectly, and nothing even stuck to the pan.

When we were full, we both relaxed back against the sofa, me feeling pretty smug. Aaron grinned and said, "You're a genius, Evan."

I said, "Yeah, I know. You're a good cook, too." We smiled at each other.

Aaron said, seriously, "I love that look on your face, Ev. Most people aren't good at being pleased with themselves. Leave it to you to be really tickled about cooking with a floor jack."

I started snickering, and he went on, "You're really a kind of blessing-counter, you know." I looked at him wondering what he meant. "You see challenges as opportunities. You look at responsibility as an incentive. You have more fun with difficult things than anyone I ever heard of."

I grinned. Those things were true enough, but it took Aaron to put it all into words, things I hadn't heard or thought before, and it earned him a kiss.

Then the phone rang and Aaron ran to get it. I didn't get up, but rather sat there admiring the floor jack on a bath towel in front of the fireplace. It was nothing, really, but it made me feel as good as if it was the Trojan Horse, and it was my idea.

Aaron came back in saying, "That was Dad. I have to call the power company, but first I'm going next door to see if it's everyone or just us.

I said, "I'll clean up in here. Should we be shoveling this snow?"

"Probably," Aaron said.

"Heh, probably? Yes or no, boy?"

Aaron gave me a funny look and mumbled, "Yes." He looked at me, "You called me boy?"

I felt an uh-oh, though I wasn't sure why. "I did. I can't do that?"

Aaron looked at me, then his eyes filled with humor, "You can call me what you want to. It's just that boy sounds so ... I don't know ... racial!"

I snickered, "I think we're the same race, Aar."

He giggled, "I guess. But still ... well ... never mind!"

"Just the activist in you?" I asked dryly.

Aaron smiled, but like he was confused, so I stood up and pointed down at him. "Okay, I'll play the alpha male for now. Where do you keep the snow shovels?"

Aaron smiled, "Right by the doors. There's one out front and one out back, and one by the garage."

I started putting my coat on, and said, "Let's get going, then. How about I do the driveway, and you do the walks?"

Aaron laughed, "How about I do you one better?"

My eyebrows went up. Aaron said, "I'll show you where the snow blower is if you do it all!"

I laughed, "Wise ass!"

Aaron looked over his shoulder at his butt, then at me. He grinned, "Wise? You really think so?"

I gassed up the snow blower and got it going while Aaron ran next door. They had no power either, and he called the power company on the off chance that everyone left it to someone else, and they said we'd have power within eight hours.

The next hour saw us outside. It was still snowing steadily, so our efforts were really to get ahead of what was falling. Aaron's father hadn't hedged his bets on the snow blower. It was a 14hp Toro, and with the light powder that had fallen, it cut right through it. I did that, and Aaron took care of the things it wouldn't work with, like steps. Their house had lots of steps outside, so we finished at about the same time, then put the machine away.

It was kind of neat being outside in the storm, and it had intensified again, so we decided to walk up to Billy's house. He only lived a few doors up anyhow, and when we got there Billy and Dean were just starting what Aaron and I had just finished.

Dean was snow blowing the driveway, and Billy was shoveling the walk, but with his back to us. I grabbed a fat handful of snow and tossed it at the back of his neck once we were right behind him.

He spun around, a flash of anger in his eyes, but it disappeared immediately and he grinned. "Fuckin' Grins! I knew it!"

I mocked, "You didn't knew it."

"Okay, I knowed it, then, but I did, I did!"

"Need a hand?" I asked.

"Nah, I need the exercise. Get some shovels and do next door, nobody's home there."

I looked at Aaron and he shrugged, so we went to his house for shovels, and I was soon shoveling the walk of a house where I had no idea of who lived there. It didn't matter. It was a good workout, and it kept us warm, and we had a good time just enjoying each other's company. Billy's father came out after a while, and we were done before we knew it.

They had the fireplace going, too, and Aaron boasted about my cooking rig when they all complained about cold food and no coffee. That intrigued Billy's dad enough that he walked down so we could show him. We did a practical demonstration and boiled some water for coffee, and it really felt good after being out in the storm for so long.

Afterwards, the O'Sheas left to dig out their own floor jack, and the first plow was coming up the street when we said goodbye to them. "Now the power company can get here," Aaron said, and we went back inside.

It was still snowing hard outside, and we knew we'd be alone for a long time, so we got out of our wet clothes, piled logs on the fire, and kept warm the best way we knew how. We were absolutely steaming by the time we dozed off, and it was the electricity coming on at around four that woke us up.

That was a happy surprise, and we both stretched ourselves back into consciousness. I looked at the fire, and the jack sitting there now looked ridiculous. I pulled on my boxers and put some more wood on the fire, knowing we'd soon have heat, and blessed hot water. I didn't often not get to shower, and I really disliked being stinky, so I was filled with anticipation while we put the living room back in order.

There was a lot of new snow outside, but the storm seemed to be ending, so we went out and cleared it off again while the water heater did its thing.

Then we got undressed one more time, and we took a wonderful shower together. The shoveling had us both a little sore, and the hot water was the perfect antidote for that, and the soap made a whole lot of nasties wash down the drain.

I honestly felt like I was made of rubber when I got out, I was so relaxed. I didn't mind that sensation. I shaved while Aaron sat on the counter and watched, then we got into some clean clothes and were thinking about making dinner when the phone rang again. And again and again. Aaron's folks were staying where they were for the night, and wondered if we were alright. My mother called to check up on me, and we talked for awhile, then Justin called in and joked around with Aaron, and there were other calls for Justin and for Aaron's mother and father.

I'd turned the television on, and I didn't really need the weatherman to tell me we'd had a big storm. However, I wouldn't have otherwise known that it was the biggest snow dump on the state in twenty years; up to twenty-eight inches in some places, and more expected overnight, but only an inch or so. The snow was one thing, and I was certainly more aware of certain muscles than I usually was. It was that effort, multiplied by millions of people, which was probably enough to build a new Interstate.

There was the downside to the storm news. People had died during the storm, both from crashes and from fires that were caused by them trying to stay warm. It was sad, but it seemed to happen every time there was snow, and I wondered what was so all-fired important that people had to go out and drive in it. That girl the night before had just been caught out in it like a lot of people were. The storm had just started, and it wasn't that cold, so the snow was heavy and wet, and very, very slippery. That was beneath the powder that came down after it, and anyone who went out in treacherous conditions like that had to know they were taking a huge risk.

I switched to MTV, and was dancing, sort of, to Limp Bizkit when Aaron came in. He smiled, and looked like he was going to say something, but instead he danced with me for the last minute of the song. Aaron smiled when it was over and said, "You like the hard beats!"

I nodded, because that was true. One of the things on my agenda was to go to a rave someday and dance like that all night. That was also one of the things I thought I'd most likely miss out on. They didn't hold them in towns the size of Mt. Harman or Riverton to start with, and my parents wouldn't let me travel to one on a bet. They'd probably be a form of musical history by the time I was old enough to just go, so I did what I could with the television.

We dimmed the lights in the living room and danced some more, but to a cd with slower songs on it, and it was really romantic to be together like that.

For all of Aaron's acting ability, all his sensitivity, I was a better dancer by far, and I had an immensely good time showing him what to do.

Hunger got to us eventually, and we decided on franks and baked beans from cans. The hot dogs were frozen, and it was my job to cut them up. I ended up using a hack saw, because none of the knives were up to the task.

When they were finally cooking, in the same frying pan I'd used over the fire, I muttered, "This sucks."

"What?" Aaron asked.

"This!" I said. "There's no intrigue here. I liked using a jack handle to cook with."

"You're weird," Aaron said.

"I know, and thanks for noticing. Are the beans almost done? These are."

The kitchen was warm by then, so we ate in there off paper plates. Between us, we ate ten hot dogs and twenty-eight ounces of beans, plus some bread and butter. It seemed the perfect amount of food, and with milk to wash it down, it was a nice, healthy meal. Except for the hot dogs. And the milk. And butter. Beans are good for you, and I know that for a fact.

We were pretty beat, so we cleaned up and opted for Aaron's bed. The fire had been nice, but sleeping on the floor wasn't, and the comfy bed put us out just as fast as getting hit with hammers would have.

I don't know why, but I kept waking up that night, and each time I didn't know what woke me. I had no recollections of any dreams, and it was enough comfort to find Aaron there that I fell right back to sleep. It was weird just the same.

I woke up before Aaron in the morning, and when I shook him he did his usual little pre-wakeup smile, then he started chuckling before he opened his eyes, and he was giggling merrily when he finally looked at me.

"Hi," I whispered. "What's so funny?"

"Evan, did you get any sleep at all last night?"

"I kept waking up ..."

"No kidding," he said sweetly. "I thought for sure you'd blow yourself right out of bed, and send me out the opposite direction."

"What are you saying? That I .."

Aaron smiled, "You farted half the night, Ev. Big boomers, too!"

"No more beans?" I asked contritely.

"I didn't say that," Aaron said. "Eat all the beans you want. Just do it when you're camping out in the wilderness ... alone."

"Sorry." I looked in his eyes to judge his humor level, and it was up there. "You know, we've missed something. You correct me when I say I have to take a leak, telling me I should say I have to go number one."

Aaron nodded.

"And if I say I have to take a crap, or a dump, you say I should call it number two.":

He nodded again.

"Well, quick, gimme a number, because I gotta fart!"

I didn't wait for any number, I just let it go, and I filed 'boomer' away as a handy description.

Aaron groaned and pulled his pillow over his face, and I laughed my way to the bathroom. Gotta love them beans.

I looked out the window and it was still gray and cold looking out there. Some of the snow drifts that I could see were really impressive. There was one that went around the back corner of the house next door, and it went up almost to the second story window.

I had my head in the refrigerator when the phone rang, and Aaron picked it up. I didn't pay much attention because I was searching out food, but when I had meat and eggs in hand and backed out, I heard, "See you in a few."

I looked at Aaron, who said, "Billy and Dean are coming for breakfast. Is there enough?"

There was a whole package of sausages, but only six eggs left. When I looked, there was more than a loaf of bread, so there was plenty for French toast. "Do you have syrup?" I asked.

Aaron looked, and there was, so he found the big griddle for me while I tossed a dozen sausages into a pan.

Billy and Dean were there in just a few minutes, and they came in all pink cheeked from the brief walk from their house. "Cold out?" I asked.

"I'll say," Billy shuddered. "That wind is whipping!"

I said, "Sit down, then. I just started cooking, and the coffee's not done yet. See if there's some juice in the fridge."

They sat, and I got the idea that I had just sounded abrupt, so I asked more calmly, "Things back to normal at your house?"

"I guess so," Billy said. "Dad had to go in because something collapsed."

"Like a roof?" I asked.

"Billy said, "I don't know, probably. He got paged and left a note."

"Why don't you guys help here?" I asked. "Sausages take some attention, and I can't be making french toast at the same time."

Aaron was right beside me, and he asked in a whisper, "Why are you such a grouch?"

The answer to that was brewing about two feet away from me, and it was almost done. I took a mug and filled it, put in a little milk, and in another five minutes I felt much better.

Breakfast came out fine, and it was nice to have the company. Billy offered that he and Dean would clean up, which got him a quick, dark look from Dean, but Aaron and I had cooked, so it seemed only fair. We had used paper plates again, but that didn't seem to subtract much from the occasion. Aaron and I went out to clean off the walks while they washed dishes. It was just some light shovel work to remove the new inch of snow that had fallen. Some had drifted in, but it weighed nothing.

We were still out there when Billy and Dean came out, and Dean said, "I'm taking Bill to show him where the snow drifts get neat, if you're interested."

"Neat?" Aaron asked.

Dean nodded, "Yeah, it's where I used to go with ... with my friend. They knocked down the woods to build something, then they couldn't, so now the snow blows weird in there."

I was looking at Dean, wondering what he was talking about. The snow blows weird? What was he talking about?

I was game to find out, as was Aaron, and after I borrowed Justin's ski pants, we headed off down the street, walking in the street because a lot of people hadn't gotten around to their sidewalks yet.

At the bottom of the slight hill, where all summer I'd turned right to go home, for the first time I noticed that I really had to do that. The street turned right like an ell, but there was no road to the left, nor one straight ahead. Dean cut through a yard, and it was slow going through the drifted snow, then we came up to a line of woods, and he headed straight into them.

The snow was less drifted there, and the going was easier. Still, the snow on the trees over our heads would come down in great globs. That could have been annoying or fun, and under the conditions it was a matter of mood, so we chose fun. We laughed and swore when we got dumped on, but mostly we laughed.

It was pretty there, and when we came on a little brook it got even prettier. The brook was nothing, you could cross it with a giant step, but it was pretty in the snow, the only thing that wasn't solid white. We crossed it and walked a little further. It looked like we were approaching a ridge, but it was just a large, cleared area, and it was surrounded by woods except for what looked like a road coming from our right.

Dean was right, too. The wind really whipped through that space, and it encountered many obstacles, so the snow drifted into patterns that were varied and beautiful. We stayed in the surrounding forest, and I found myself leaning against a tree with Aaron just watching the spectacle. Where the road, or what would have been a road, came in, there was a drift that still looked like a road for another two hundred feet. The edges were majestic though, peaked up and over to varying heights, and snow was even drifting elsewhere from those peaks.

Other places, where the wind blew straight in, only broken by trees, there were these swirly surface effects. From the way we were facing, those were chopped up by crosswinds, into almost checkerboard patterns.

I thought it was awesome, and just when that thought crossed my mind, the sun came out. Everything was even more awesome in the sparkle, and when the cloud cleared after a few minutes, the sky seemed the darkest blue imaginable against all the white. I pointed up and said, "Look at the contrast," to Aaron, but Dean and Billy looked too.

We were all smiling in awe. It was just incredibly beautiful, and I was glad that I came.

We all just looked until the cold got to us, then we trudged back out. I'd heard about Dean and his love of nature, and it intrigued me. "How'd you find that place?" I asked.

Dean smiled, "By accident, like you'd find any place. It's pretty any time of year, but the wind turns circles there. I knew with this kind of snow, it'd be nice today."

I took a chance, "You write about nature in your music. Is a place like that where it comes from?"

Dean sighed, "I don't write the lyrics, Evan. I just play. My friend always wrote the words."

"Devon?" I asked, thinking I already knew.

Dean seemed to choke a little, then he looked right at me. "Yeah, Devon. You know about him?"

"Not a lot," I admitted. "Aaron and Billy told me some."

Dean looked at me with a blank face, then he turned to Aaron and gave him the same look. He turned away from us all and said, "Let's get back. I'd like to talk about Devon if you guys don't mind."

Billy and Aaron both made faces, and I didn't understand that. I said, "I'd love to hear about him, Dean. He sounds really ... I don't know, like I missed out not getting to know him."

Dean nodded and looked back at the other two, then muttered, "It's freezing."

He had that right, and we all had to pee when we got back to Aaron's. Cold seems to do that.

We started a pot of coffee and sat at the kitchen table, making small talk about the weather for awhile.

Dean finally said, "Evan, I met Devon when we were ten. I was learning the guitar, and Dad got mad that I was inside all the time, so I started going to the park to play. Play the guitar, I mean. I brought it with me." He cracked a smile, "Oh, I'd swing and stuff, but I played the guitar a lot. Then one day, Devon was there watching me. I was just playing a chord pattern, and he made me kind of self-conscious. I wasn't used to someone watching me play. Then he started singing, this song with words! It fit what I was playing, but I wasn't playing anything, just messing around, trying to figure things out.

He looked up and around, this innocent expression on his face that made me smile. "I was ... I don't know, all taken off guard by him. It was like my playing took a turn right at that moment, because I was trying to sound half as good as he did." Dean smiled sadly, "You know, we did a lot after that, but that one moment ... it was like magic to both of us."

I found myself smiling, "Like you found a soul mate?"

Dean chuckled, "Yeah, but more like a trouble mate. God, Devon could sing, and he could come up with lyrics right out of the blue. His real talent was making trouble, though." He snickered, "He could create more grief with the pinkie on his left hand ... he was awesome! Stupid stuff, but if he was around it had to happen. That first day ... I played and he sang, and we talked. When it was time to go home, he just automatically turned the benches that faced the flowerbeds around so they faced the housing project. I helped without knowing it was a joke. Those benches were heavy, but Dev said we had to turn them around, else we'd get in trouble for using the bench we were on for so long."

I snickered, liking Devon already, and liking Dean a lot more than I had. "Billy told me some of the things you did. What's your favorite?"

Dean's expression got thoughtful, then intense, then he laughed. "That's not fair! Favorite what? We did things, Evan, but nothing that upset the universe. We made things smell bad sometimes, made messes sometimes, but mostly we just made things a little different than they should have been."

I was laughing heartily. Devon and Dean weren't way different than Chris and me. They had musical talent, of course, but otherwise I liked that they found their amusement in just jousting with the natural order of things. To us, nothing was much funnier than taking something that had faced a certain direction for a jillion years, and seeing how it looked from an altered perspective. It was interesting that Chris and I had never really been caught or been in trouble. That seemed to be the natural course of things for Dean and Devon, and Dean's tales about being caught and punished were nearly as funny as the stories themselves.

Dean's demeanor suddenly changed from storyteller to something much sadder. He hung his head, then looked back up. "We did the ultimate stupid that night. Dev snuck some booze from his house, and we drank it out back. I thought we'd pass out like usual, but not that time. No, we had to go for a ride!" Dean looked around sheepishly, "We'd done it before ... lots of times. You know what happened. For all that Devon had the devil in him, he was really a quiet, pensive guy. He's the one who got me looking at things like snowdrifts and wild flowers. Just listen to his words, you'll get the idea."

I waited a moment, then asked quietly, "He wrote the words and you wrote the music?"

Dean nodded, then he smiled, "Yeah. He could come up with words, and I'd come up with a tune. If I had just a tune, he'd be right there with words. He could write words without a tune, and I'd put them to music." Dean's voice broke up, "He was a beautiful guy, Evan. You would have loved him."

I choked up and croaked, "I already do. I already do."

Aaron stroked my shoulder. In the silence, a lot of things went through my mind. Not the least of them was that I'd gone on similar joyrides with Chris, and several times.

Dean's voice, when he spoke again, was very soft. "It was too hard not having Devon around anymore. I had this constant feeling that he'd come through some door when I least expected it, and things would be like they used to. When someone dies, it's one thing. When your best friend dies, and when it's your own stupid fault, it feels like the end of the world, like why go on? I felt so empty and horrible, and people were being fucking nice to me ... I really don't know how I stayed alive."

"You did, Dean," Billy said gently.

Dean grimaced, "Yeah, I know. I guess you can get over anything, and I was coming back a little at a time. Then Mom ..." He closed his eyes tightly, "Then Mom died right in front of me. We knew she was sick, we just never believed she could die." He choked up.

Billy said, "Take it easy, Dean. You don't have to."

Dean nodded, "I know, give me a second."

He got up and went to the sink, where he filled his coffee cup with water and took a few sips of it. He came back to the table and sat down. "I'm saying all this because I want to thank you guys. I gave up when Mom died. I didn't want to know anybody. I didn't want to do anything. I just wanted to be alone, and I know how caustic I got towards everyone."

Dean actually cheered up a little when we all heartily agreed with him, suggesting that caustic was a mild term for total asshole and loser.

He smiled at me, "I know I shut the door in your face the first time you came over. Then, when you guys got the pool open I got mad about that." He looked at Billy, "I tried to make you look like a jerk in front of your friends." He looked at Aaron, "Then Tootsie here has to ruin it all by making me laugh, and getting me to play music again." He pointed a finger at Aaron, his expression saying he had an issue, but he broke a smile instead.

"You were playing all along," Billy complained.

"Yeah," Dean said, "Playing for technique, playing for a sound. Aaron got me to play so he could listen to it, so he could sing along, and that's what I wasn't doing. I should have been. Anyhow, I know you all had a hand in it. So, thanks, okay?" He smiled wanly.

There wasn't much to say in return, so the three of us mumbled things, and the moment was over.

Aaron asked if we were hungry, and got up to make sandwiches. Billy helped him, and I was left sitting with Dean. I said, "I'm glad you told me all that. I kind of wondered why you just turned around like you did that night."

"I guess I was just sick of being a miserable bastard. Life was going on whether I played or not. It didn't hurt that you tried so hard to be nice, even when I was being a major dickwad."

I smiled, "Thanks."

Dean added, "Billy had already told me about you and Aaron, and seeing Aaron so happy kind of made me want some of that for myself."

"You, um, didn't see anything wrong about me being with Aaron?" I asked.

Dean's look was offended. "Please, Evan. That is such a Nineties question! I think we're a little more enlightened around here these days."

Well. That wasn't what I expected, but I liked hearing it just the same. I loved hearing it put like that, and I smiled my appreciation to Dean, then went back to the original topic. "You looked for some happiness and you found it?" I asked.

Dean shrugged, "Not found it. It was right there all along, I just had to go grab some."

I grinned, "You're a pretty good grabber, then. You turned on like a lightbulb, and you've been lit up ever since!"

Dean laughed, "Yeah, I guess. I was depressed big time, but it was so much against my nature to be like that. I think I was clinging to it to punish myself, but when I loosened my grip, I just let it go."

I chuckled, "Heh, not ready to be depressed? I like that. I wish more people weren't ready. Maybe you could write a song about that."

Dean snickered, "Yeah, right. Oh I'm not gonna be depressed, not me! I'm not gonna let you depress me, not today. You can put me down, you can push me all around, but no depression 'cause it's just not me!"

I laughed and clapped in delight. "That's so wild that you can do that! Hah! I love it. That was perfect." I grinned at Dean, kind of surprised how quick he could be with words. "It's not funny, really, but that was funny."

Dean smirked, "Evan, you're so easy to please. Don't clap, just throw money."

I said, "I mean it, Dean. Real depression is a medical thing, but we all get down sometimes. It's nice to think you can say 'not me' like that."

Dean wiggled his eyebrows, then we heard a door open, and Mrs. Castle called out, "Aaron?"

"In the kitchen," Aaron replied, and his mother came right in, smiling when she saw him and the rest of us.

"What's this? Four boys in a kitchen, and it's clean?"

We all laughed, and Aaron hugged his mother, who asked, "Isn't Justin home?"

Aaron said, "He got stuck in the storm too. He called."

I chuckled, because calling home was the required thing, not being there.

"Oh," said Aaron's mother. "You boys seem to have survived fine, and thank you for shoveling."

Billy said merrily, "No problem, Mrs. Castle. You know I'm always here when you need me."

Aaron and I both glared quickly, but it was pointless, and thus funny.

We all hung in the kitchen, talking to Aaron's father when he came in, laughing when he asked the same questions his wife did.

It was a nice afternoon, and when Alton came to pick me up I was ready. Aaron and I had found some privacy for the last hour, and we kissed quickly at the car, then Al drove off.

"How are the roads?" I asked.

Al shrugged, "A few hairy spots, but not bad. The highway's in good shape. Why, you feel like driving?"

I nodded eagerly, and Al pulled into a convenience store lot so we could change drivers.

He was right. I'd slide a little stopping for lights, but just a little. The roads were okay in town, and the highway had been cleared right down to the pavement. There were spots where the wind had drifted some snow back onto the road, but nothing to get worried about. Once I settled into driving, I asked, "Anything going on at home?"

"Grandma and Gramps are there, and they're staying for dinner."

"Smiley or Davison?" I asked.

Al chuckled, "Sorry, Smiley. When's the last time you saw them, anyhow?"

I had to think about that, then said, "Last Easter. I was gone all summer, then they were on a trip, and I was gone again on Thanksgiving."

"You'll have a lot to talk about, then," Alton said dryly.

I kept my eyes on the road. "They must know things that I don't know they know." I thought about that, "Did I just make any sense?"

Alton laughed, "All they don't know about are your own private thoughts. They've been picking everyone else's brains clean since they showed up."

I loved my father's parents, especially my grandmother. She had this happy, laid back gene that managed to skip a generation, but it caught me full square. Everyone said I was just like her, and her lifelong friends told me I was like the way she was when she was a girl. We're talking personality here, of course. She had this huge faith in other people, and boundless faith that, given the right tools, anybody could accomplish anything. Whenever I had a doubt about my own capability, she'd say, "Don't be silly, Evan. Of course you can do it!" I'd heard that enough times to actually believe it, and as I grew it became a belief in myself

Grandpa Smiley was a good guy, too. To hear my father tell it, he was a taskmaster when Dad was a kid, but I guess he didn't have to be one with grandkids, or he wasn't allowed to, or maybe it was just Dad's recollection. I'd probably say the same thing about my own father, and only because it's true. Dad made demands and we delivered, otherwise we delivered anyhow. Failing that, we'd deliver. There were endless chances given, and failure wasn't talked about, so in the end we did deliver.

In the long run, I guess it was a good way to be. We weren't apt to ask for something idly, thinking maybe someday we'd get around to using it. Even when I got what amounted to a toy, like my first skateboard, I couldn't be anything but serious about learning to use it. It was fun in that case, of course, and I learned quickly, and I still learned new things.

I smiled, thinking we had it pretty good. I asked Alton, as we were coming into Mt. Harman, "Should I be worried about Gramps?"

"About what?" he asked, sounding surprised.

"Um, about me."

"Oh. I don't know, now that you mention it. I guess you'll have to ask him."

"Thanks," I mumbled, wondering how I could ask my own grandfather that particular question. Then I remembered Dean saying it was a question from ago, and I decided I'd just keep my mouth shut and see what happened.

... continued

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