Falling Off a Log
When Nick left the room I just rolled over on the bed to think things over. Instead, I must have fallen asleep immediately, because the next thing I knew it was morning and I was laying on top of the bedcovers with all my clothes still on.
I got ready for school and went down for breakfast. Nick was already there, talking to my Mom about renting the place he had liked on Sunday. He gave me a pretty strange look, probably wondering if I'd had second thoughts about what he'd said about him and Scott. I had my cereal and juice, and we left for school. It was still pretty crummy out, but at least it wasn't raining. I told him some of what I'd done with Mandy yesterday (not the making out part) and he seemed happy that we liked each other. I also told him about meeting Frank and how I thought he really did seem like a decent guy, and I was glad he was gonna go back home until his read Dad got there.
"Joey ... about Scott...."
"You don't think I'm tryin' to get between you and Scott, do you? I mean, I know what you guys have and I dont want to mess that up."
"Nick. Don't worry. Me and Scott are tight as two guys can get. I mean, there's room for more. He'd never get mad about me seeing Mandy, or even gettin' married some day. To someone, I mean. And I'll never get mad at him for liking somebody else. Or lovin' someone else. You just make him happy and we can all be happy."
We got to school and waited for Scott's bus. I waited right where I knew the door would be when it stopped, so I could get to him first. When he came down the steps, I waited until he got to the bottom and was right in front of me.
"Ouch! Scott ... your breath! Forget to brush your teeth? What'd you eat last night, anyhow?" He turned red as a beet.
"If I thought you were gonna be a prick about this, I would'a saved you some. Meet me in the boys room and I'll make you some fresh. Hi, Nicky!"
Nicky? Nobody calls him Nicky except his Dad.
"Hey, Scott. Meet me at recess, okay?"
"See you there."
We went inside the school, where I met Mandy at her locker. We held hands walking down the hall until we had to split for our first classes. I asked her if she wanted to come to our practice after school and she did. We got a ride after school with Brian.
We had a lot to do that day. Scott's Dad said we should have ten or twelve things ready for our little show, and we had to decide what we wanted to do, then practice them. Scott and Nick started to show us what they'd been working the night before, and it was pretty good stuff. I didn't get to put a lot of attention towards Mandy, but she was a good sport, telling us how much she liked it and all. We all talked about what order we should play things in, and decided that at the rest of our practices until then we'd do those songs first, then try new stuff or whatever after we'd done that.
I wanted to walk Mandy home, but it was pretty late when we wrapped up, so Brian drove all of us. I had to kiss her goodbye at her front door where everyone could see, and we put on a pretty good show, but nobody made fun of me when I got back to the car. Brian kind of raised his eyebrows, but he stayed quiet. When me and Nick got out, Scott gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He tried to kiss Nick like I'd kissed Mandy, but they ended up giggling. I offered to give Nick some pointers as we walked to the house, and got a punch on the arm in return for my generosity.
The next few weeks were a blur. I got closer to Mandy. Nick got closer to Scott. We went to school every day and practiced our music every chance we got. Nick went back home that Saturday, but didn't unpack. He and Frank made their new beginning and started trying to be friends again. Mom closed the rental deal for Nick and his Dad. Me and Scott both got some new clothes as we really were finally starting to outgrow things.
I had my first real date with Mandy, taking her for a movie and an ice cream. Everybody's families were making their own plans for Thanksgiving. We invited the people we wanted to come to hear us to Scott's for the Sunday after.
Nick's Dad arrived in a big rental truck towing his car the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and a whole lot of us helped them move into the house. Nick's father looked just like a bigger version of Nick, only with a huge moustache. And Nick had been right - everybody loved the guy from the start. He had a real zest for life and a wicked sense of humor. My sister Jen and brother Levi came home from School that night. Sam got home Sunday morning. We spent most of that time catching up on family stuff. They'd all heard about our little band and about Mandy and seemed anxious to hear us and meet her. Lots of their old friends dropped by all during the week and our house was a very busy place. I went to the high school football game with my brothers on Thanksgiving morning. I met up with Mandy there, and introduced her, getting approving looks from both of my brothers. She'd come with her father and Nick and his Dad. They all seemed to be getting along pretty well , despite everything. Scott was there with his whole family since Dave played on the team. My brothers kept meeting up with old friends, so I ended up hanging around with Scott and Mandy.
After the game, we went with our respective families. My family had dinner with Dad's parents and about half the rest of the world. All the relatives, both Mom's and Dad's, were there. Some other friends of the grandparents, plus a few strays. There were always strays at their house - people with nobody to spend the holiday with. Gramps would always invite people with nowhere else to go, and make sure they felt as comfortable as family. We had a huge meal and then did the usual stuff. The men dozed off watching football games, the women cleaned up and gossiped, and the kids played in the yard or with board games. My mother and father and both my brothers got a little snockered on beer and whatever Gramps was giving them afterwards, so Jen ended up driving home.
I stayed up talking with her after everyone else went to bed. She was the one person in the family I never really had gotten close to, mostly owing to the difference in our ages. Now that I was able to formulate some adult concepts into complete sentences, we had a great talk. I told her all of what had gone on with Nick and how Dad had helped make things right. She was impressed, and agreed that our father was a special person. She told me about school and her boyfriend, about her plans to go in to teaching as a profession, and that the best lesson she'd ever learned was from Dad, and that was how everyone had value. When we were both finally ready to pack it in, we each thought we had found a new friend.
That Friday, Sam asked me to go out to the swamp and look for arrowheads. I called Mandy and Scott and Nick, and they wanted to go, too. Scott lived near there and came on his bike. Sam picked up Mandy and Nick. We were wandering around, with Sam telling everybody what to look for. We all kept picking up things and showing them to him, but he was the only one to find a real arrowhead. Scott and I showed everybody the log where we first met, then we kind of took turns telling the story from both our perspectives. Everybody thought it was cute and pretty funny. Then I thought to ask my brother whatever happened to Ira, who kinda started it all for me by showing me how to play the guitar.
Nick looked startled. "Ira?"
"Yeah, Ira Messinger. He showed me how to play at first."
He looked shocked, but it turned into a grin, then he started laughing. "Me, too. I mean, Ira taught me how to ... play, too."
I caught his double meaning and started to laugh with him. "He taught you how to play?"
"Yeah ... you know."
"Guitar or ... ?" I went into hysterics, followed by Nick. We were wheezingly out of breath and had tears running down our faces. Everybody else just looked at us. It took several minutes, but I finally looked at a perplexed Scott and gasped "Tell ya later."
I had always been closest with my brother Sam, and I didn't feel awkward at all holding his hand when we walked back out to the road. Mandy had my other hand. Scotty was also holding hands with Sam on his other side, and Nick was holding hands with Scott. Sam had always held hands with Scott and me when he took us places when we were younger, calling us the bashful brigade. Mandy and Nick being added on made our track wider, but Sam didn't mind. He told me how happy he was that Scott and I were finally getting over our shyness and making new friends. That statement kind of surprised me, but when I thought about it I realized it was true. The last time I could truly remember being scared of talking to somebody new was that day when I'd asked Keith and Nick about a band. Since then I'd met and spoken comfortably with a whole lot of people, and so had Scott. I mean, we could still make each other blush any time we wanted to, but it was no longer our automatic reaction when somebody new talked to us. We'd both made real good friends with Nick and Keith, and had no problems meeting and talking with their parents.
Nothing that I did in public with Mandy embarrassed me. We held hands, hugged and kissed in front of everybody, and I couldn't remember the last time my ears had caught fire. We'd been caught making out by her parents and mine, and it had become just an 'Oops. Sorry' type thing. I'd taken ribbings from kids at school about seeing Mandy and been able to just shake them off with a comment or a joke. I'd met her friends and managed to just be friendly, and found myself liking most of them.
When we got back to the car, I looked at Scott. He looked at me and smiled. I smiled back. He came around and we hugged each other. He whispered in my ear "We're doin' it, Joey. We're growin' up!"
"Yeah, we are, and it feels good. It feels real good, Scotty."
Sam dropped Mandy and me at her house and left to take Nick home. We made small talk with her parents for awhile, then got some sodas and went for a walk. We ended up making out on a park bench not far from her house. We kept each other pretty breathless for over an hour, but it was a public place and we kept stopping when somebody walked by. When we walked back to her house we talked quietly about what things the future might bring. I kissed her goodbye at the front door and we both said "I love you" at the same time, for the first time. We both started to cry some tears of joy, and we hugged and kissed until a car pulled into the driveway. We just smiled at each other for a few minutes, then we both broke out in giggles, kissed quickly once again, and I turned to leave.
As I walked home I was torn between elation and fear. I loved some people in my life, quite a few actually, but this was the first time I'd felt that I was actually in love. I felt something for Mandy that I had never felt for anyone before, and it both delighted me that she felt it for me, and scared me that I'd do something to ruin it. I tried to think of what it was about her and came up with a million things. We could and did talk about everything and anything, from the most serious things to the most inane. Her passions for things that mattered to her were fiercely held, but gently expressed. She had a sly but kind sense of humor. She was very pretty, but didn't flaunt it at all. We were taking it slow and really getting to know and like each other. I found myself silently thanking my Dad again for his advice about that. I finally decided I should be glad that I'd found somebody like her and shouldn't be trying to analyze it. I didn't have to fear anything. I was in love! L.O.V.E. Me ... Joey Goldman. Yeah!
By the time I walked into my house I must have looked like I'd just discovered my birthday had come early.
"Uh, Oh," my brother Levi said. "You look like a canary-fed cat. Win the lottery or something?"
"Leave him alone," said Jen. "You've had that look before. Who was it? ... Mary? ... Myrna? ... I remember! Her name was Myra. I don't remember anyone teasing you about that."
"Bullshit, you didn't! You guys ragged on me for a month!"
My Mom called out "Joey! Scott called. He wants you to stay over tonight. If you're going to go, catch a ride with Sam. He's going to visit David."
I called Scott to make sure it wasn't breakfast weekend again, and he promised it wasn't. We just hadn't had any time by ourselves in a month. I decided to go and packed a change of clothes, then climbed in the car with Sam.
"You in love, Joey?"
"Yeah? Not 'I think so'? Just yeah?"
"Mandy's real nice. We really like her, too."
"How could you not?"
"Love's a tricky thing. I've fallen for some girls that I probably wouldn't have brought home if I'd thought of it. If love does one thing, it puts blinders on you ... keeps you from seeing what you might not want to see. Probably why the divorce rate's so high."
"I know. Dad and me talked about it. That's why I'm tryin' to go slow."
"Good thinkin'. What's Scotty think about this?"
"I didn't talk to him yet. Why would he think anything about it?"
"He's your best friend. You can't just desert him."
"I ain't desertin' Scott! He likes Mandy, too, and he knows I really like her. I don't care when he does stuff with other people. I'm glad for him when he does. He'll be happy for me, too."
"I hope so, Joe. I hope so."
"Whaddy'a mean you hope so? If we moved to different planets we'd still be friends! You don't think this will hurt what Scott and I have, do you?"
"It can, Joey. It can. I don't really have any of my old friends from town anymore. We get in touch when we're all here, but it's different. We all have different lives now. Some of us are still friends ... it's just that there's less and less to keep the connection going."
"What goes wrong?"
"College ... new friends ... work ... distance. It all works against keeping things together. I mean, I'm really looking forward to hanging around with Dave tonight. But after the holidays I'll be back at school and who knows what else is going to change when I'm gone. When you're seein' somebody all the time you know all what's goin' on. When you're apart you have your own goin's on to worry about. You lose the connection."
I didn't say anything else the rest of the way. I was trying to sort out just what set of circumstances could prevent me and Scott from being friends. Yeah, I could envision different colleges and things like that, but I couldn't picture the distance making any difference. We'd find a way to stay in touch, a way to share everything that was going on in our new lives. We'd never done anything dumb like making a blood-brother pact or anything. We never had to. Nothing either of us could do would get the other angry. I could see exactly what Sam was talking about. But that was about lesser friends. Good friends, maybe, but not best friends like me and Scott.
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