Jack in the Box

Chapter 5

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : August, 2000

My head hasn't been a great thing to be connected to these past few weeks. It made me flip out last month, the first time in ages that I'd actually endeavored to do something on my own. I tried to argue my way out of going back to counseling, but I lost because some doctor at the hospital had to put a name to what was wrong with me.

I knew I was going nuts, but he called it 'post traumatic stress disorder', and that's all it took for my parents to get me back on the shrink's couch. If it had a name it had a treatment, at least in their book. My father took me there three times a week. Doctor Service was a nice enough guy, but he didn't get it at all. I'm sure that every time I talked to him he upped my crazy level another notch.

Didn't I want to do this, didn't I want to do that? Well, no!

Could he read the letters I wrote? Sure. I brought him a whole box of them.

Was I still writing letters? Yes, that's what I do.

What do they all mean? Read 'em! They're in English.

Don't I want to do anything else? Of course I do. I want to see Jack again. Just one more day.

Why is Jack's memory so important to me? Listen up! It's Jack who's important. Not his memory!

Did I think he's still alive somehow? I know he's dead, but I know he's out there. I just can't find him.

The questions got variations, like he was trying to trick me. The answers never changed.

I had Jed. He got a job helping to build the barn behind Jack's old house. He came and sat with me most days while he had his lunch. We'd either sit in my kitchen or in Jack's room. Jed had become my anchor. He was so happy having his job, and was having so much fun with it, that his visits became the high point of my day.

I wasn't trying to turn my back on my family or anything. I tried to have fun when I could find it, but that wasn't very often. Everybody was concerned about me, and that got old real fast.

Jed, on the other hand, got me involved in his own happiness. I think that, out of everybody, Jed had figured me out the best and was willing to let me be me. He wasn't trying to lead me anymore, but he'd listen when I had something to say. Instead of trying to figure out my own future for me, he was happy to share what he perceived to be his own.

I was happy with that. Jed made me feel normal for the half hour or so that we saw each other every day. He'd repeat the jokes that the other workers told him, keep me informed when new design changes came by fax from the north.

The barn was going to be something else. It was mostly pretty average for a barn, but there were going to be two wings on the front. One would be an apartment and the other was going to be some kind of office space. It didn't mean a lot to me until Jed started telling me what a high quality job the guy was willing to pay for. They'd hired a high-tech company from Bowling Green just to wire the place for computers. The apartment, which the plans called a guest house, was going to be fancier than anything in the regular house. It was going to be two stories - actually bigger than the main house square-foot wise.

I'd only met Tim that one time, and it kind of surprised me to learn he had that kind of money to spend. Beyond that, he'd seemed like a pretty low-key guy, so it also surprised me that he'd spend what money he had on fancy.

The place was wide open during construction, and my family had wandered over there a few times. The materials and architectural touches that we found were unbelievable for a barn. The apartment had tiled floors where we guessed the kitchen and bathrooms were going to be, pegged oak most other places. There were two fireplaces on either side of an unbelievably massive chimney that was being faced with granite. They were building a large room at the back that angled off a bit from the rest of the building. It was already glassed in with floor to ceiling panels framed by huge timbers. I stood there with my father one day, looking at the view those windows afforded.

"Must be nice, huh Mike?"

"I'll say. Mr. Atkins must have big bucks."

"I guess. He definitely has a sense of what fits."

"Huh? I don't get that."

My Dad looked at me. "This is a big building, Mike. It just doesn't look it. It's right next door, but our own garage seems bigger. And this room - the angle of the glass." He pointed to the right. "If you were over there you'd notice the rest of the building, but from here all you see is the view. You could get the feeling that you were in total wilderness."

I looked out through the windows and understood what my father was talking about. We were standing in front of a large fireplace, but when you looked outside all you could see was lawn and oak trees, then the woods farther out. It felt totally private, like the wilderness. I wondered about the mind of someone who could do something so simple yet so perfect.

I'd wondered about Tim a few times since the time I met him. He seemed so easy to know, so understanding. He'd told me he was gay, but I hadn't repeated that to anyone. I don't think he meant for it to be broadcast, he was just letting me know that we were similar people. I'd even wondered if it had been true. He didn't act queer at all, at least not like the guys on TV and in the movies who were supposed to be gay. He seemed as manly as anybody, just like a regular guy.

That's exactly what I'd always felt like. Queer for Jack, but just like everybody else in every other way. I loved Jack, but I'd never love anybody else like that. Jack had happened, and he had filled my life with joy. If I was some sort of generic queer I'd have already fallen for one of the Anderson boys - Jed or Pat. They were both better looking than Jack could ever have hoped to be, but I felt absolutely zero attraction to them.

Nope, it was just Jack. My Jack. I'd wait.

I spaced out like that a lot. Whenever my thoughts spread to other things, they'd eventually be drawn back to Jack Murphy. I missed him so much ... too much.

I knew what was wrong with me, even when my own parents didn't. I wasn't a complete person anymore. Everybody thought I used to be, but I really wasn't, even when I was little.

I spent years looking for something in somebody else. I never knew what it was, and other people just thought I was a friendly little kid full of questions about their lives.

That's what I did then, but I've come to realize that I was really searching for another part of myself, a part that didn't exist in my little world. If I'd known the questions at an early age I would have asked them, but it took my getting to know Jack to realize what they were. The questions. They had haunted me since I could think, but they never took form because I didn't know enough. It's one of the ironies of life that you need some knowledge about things before your own questions become clear. You just ask other questions ... any questions ... until the ones you really want to ask make themselves apparent in your mind.

I'd been a random questioner for a long time. That's what people took for friendliness and curiosity on my part. It took getting to know Jack to understand what I'd been looking for all along. After we got to be friends I questioned him, pushed him to answer, until I finally understood what it was that I was trying to learn.

Jack had my answers, and he gave them to me when we were twelve years old. He taught me about love, about how to love. About why we love. I know that twelve should be within the age of innocence, but Jack had given up his innocence years earlier.

Learning about what he'd done back then made my own new questions suddenly clear, even gave me answers to a lot of them. I knew what I was and what I wanted. I had a lot of wants: To get older and bigger, to get a car and have fun, to get rich someday. Most of all, I wanted Jack to do it all with me. It might have been at an early age, but I was in love.

Then it got taken away. Jack was dead. I knew it and accepted it as a fact. The thing I couldn't accept was that he was gone - that he'd left me. When he died he came into my head. It was real ... I know it was real. But he didn't stay. He didn't want to stay. That was the hardest part for me. I thought I could feel Jack trying to hide thoughts from me, but I could tell what they were. I could feel his struggle, his love for me competing with the love that was compelling him to leave.

I lost, but I even understood that. I was just a boy. I couldn't compete with heaven, or whatever it was that had pulled Jack away from me.

I didn't have counseling today, so I was home when a huge moving van pulled in next door. I walked outside and one of the guys from the truck came over to me with a paper in his hand. He looked at me. "You wouldn't know where I can find Michael Waters, would you?"

"I'm Mike Waters."

"You're supposed to show me a room in this house so we don't go disturbin' anything in there."

"I know which one you mean." I unlocked the back door and walked him down the hall to point out Jack's room. He just nodded.

I walked back to my house and sat on the back porch. I was totally surprised to find that Tim had gone that far to protect Jack's room for me. I wanted to see him anyhow, but now I needed to thank him too.

I watched as the men began unloading the truck and moving things inside. They worked steadily but not quickly. Jed came over and asked if it would be okay for him to drive the pickup across the strip of grass that separated the driveways. He had to go pick up some supplies, but the van had him blocked in.

He asked if I wanted to ride with him. I started to say no, then figured I wouldn't get any letters written that day anyhow. When he brought the truck around I hopped in beside him. Jed's company truck was pretty fancy for a pickup, with a leather interior and every gizmo they could squeeze in there.

Jed started talking. "Did you know he was gonna move in today?"

"I had no idea. I just knew it was gonna be this month."

"You excited?"

"A little, I guess. He even had the movers make me show them Jack's room so they wouldn't put anythin' in there by accident."

"He sounds like a pretty nice guy. I told you I talked to him, right?"

"You said you told him you were sorry."

"Yeah, well he wanted to know what happened to you ... if you were okay. I didn't want to tell him too much, so I just said it was nothing - just an upset stomach. He seemed real worried, though."

We pulled into the Arlington lumber yard and Jed got the order loaded and then signed for it. When we were climbing back in the truck he looked at his watch. "You wanna eat in town? My lunch is in the fridge in the barn, but I can eat it tomorrow."

"I don't have any money."

"I'll buy. Feel like a hot dog?"

I looked at myself, then over at Jed. "Why, do I look like one?"

He chuckled. "Come on. Let's stop at Hazen's. It's my treat, okay?"

Hazen's called itself a drive-in, but it was really a little restaurant. There were some picnic tables outside, though, so we both got two hot dogs, fries and sodas. We put toppings on them, then sat out in the sun. We ate in silence for a while, then Jed looked over at me.

"You okay, Mike?"

"Yeah, why?"

"This is my last week here. I'm startin' school next Tuesday."

"So soon?" I suddenly felt queasy. I was about to lose my last contact with reality. The last one that counted, anyhow.

"Yeah. Well, it starts when it starts. I just feel bad leavin' you alone. Promise you'll try to make some friends when school starts up?"

I looked at my lap. "I don't need any friends, Jed. I'm just fine the way I am."

His voice was gentle, but firm. "I don't think you're fine. I know you're doin' what ya gotta do, but you should do other things too. You're gonna hafta when school starts up anyhow. I know you're sad, but ya don't hafta be lonely and sad at the same time."

"It's just not the same."

"I understand it's not the same, but why's it hafta be? You can still find somebody to hang around with once in a while ... somebody to talk to."

"Nobody else understands."

"Well, make 'em understand. I understand. At least I think I do, and I sure ain't no rocket scientist."

"You got into Vanderbilt." I looked up at his face just in time to see a brief moment of pure satisfaction in Jed's eyes.

"Yeah, I did, didn't I? He grinned. "Nobody was more surprised than me."

"Listen, Jed. I didn't have any friends before Jack, so I don't know why I need any now."

He looked shocked. "You had tons of friends before. Everybody liked you."

"I know they liked me, but nobody was really friends with me. I just bugged everybody all the time."

"What do you mean you bugged them?" He grinned. "Oh, yeah, your daily dose of twenty questions. That's what you mean?"

I had been neglecting my food, so I polished off a hot dog and took a swig of my soda. I smiled. "I guess I did have a lot of questions, but now I know the answers."

As soon as Jed stopped chewing, he looked at me. "So now you know everything?"

"I ain't sayin' that. I know about me, and that's what I needed to know before."

"You mean ... about bein' gay?" He blushed a little saying the word.

"Um, mostly I guess. I just never knew what it was before ... what made me different."

"You're not that different."

"I know. It just seems like I should be. I ... I really loved Jack. What were the chances of him moving next door to start with? Then we fell in love, now he's gone, and there's nothin' I can do."

"Mike, do you really think that outta almost five hundred kids in school you're the only gay one? There's gotta be more."

"You're not gettin' it, Jed. If it was like that I would'a tried gettin' you to have lunch in bed. It was just Jack. It'll only ever be Jack."

Jed finished his soda, then wiped his lips with a napkin. "I'm sorry, Mike. I don't wanna say the wrong thing, so I'll just shut up. You talk to me. I just wish you'd find somebody to talk to when I'm gone. Why don't you call Patty? He's pretty easy to talk to."

I knew I was letting Jed down - that he was just trying to help. "I don't know, Jed. Maybe I will."

Jed drove slowly on the way back so the load wouldn't shift. When we got home the movers were still working. Jed backed the truck into our driveway and I helped him carry the materials out to the barn. He went back to work and I went back to the porch. I got bored quickly. I considered writing some letters but was afraid I'd get in the way. I decided to take a ride on my bike.

I got it out of the garage and headed down the street. It was only about the fourth time that summer that I'd gotten on it. Jack and I used to just about live on our bikes, but now it was me lalone. It was another thing that wasn't the same anymore. I pedaled lazily down the street, not heading anywhere in particular. When I got to Jed's house I decided to see if Pat was around. I'd only seen him a few times since the accident. He'd been pretty messed up with a fractured skull and brain damage, but from what Jed had told me it turned out to be far less serious than the doctors had thought at first.

I pulled in and knocked at the kitchen door, but nobody answered. I knocked again. I was startled by a voice from behind me.


I jumped a little, then turned around to see Pat standing there. He must have come from the tool shed. He had glasses on and they really distorted his face, making one eye look really huge.

"Hey, Pat! I just came by to see how you're doin'.

He grinned. "Better every day! How 'bout yourself?"

"Same every day, I guess. Feel like a ride?"

"I can't. I can't do squat."

"I thought you were better."

"I'm gettin' better, but no exercise. My head's all held together with glue and nails." He pulled back the front of his hair and I could see the jagged scars where the skull had been crushed. "You hungry?"

"I just ate."

"Well, sit with me while I have a sandwich. It gets lonely here by myself."

"You're alone?"

"Most of the time. Kids come over, but it's too boring 'cause I can't do much. You want a soda?"

"Yeah, I guess."

He handed me a Coke, then made himself a sandwich. He put it on a paper towel and we sat on the back steps while he ate it.

"Jed says you stay by yourself all the time."

"Pretty much."

"Howcum? You used to be all over the place."

"I guess I just don't feel like it anymore."

"Because of Jack?"

I turned to look at him just as he turned to wait for my answer. I found myself staring at that one huge looking eyeball. I sighed. "Yeah, it's because of Jack." I didn't know how much he knew or what he understood. "I ... I'm just not all here without him."

He chewed on a bite of his sandwich. "What's it like, Mike? Bein' in love, I mean, especially with another boy."

I tried to shift my gaze to the eye that looked normal. Pat noticed and took off the glasses. "These suck, huh? I can't see shit without 'em."

"Can't you get contacts or something?"

"Someday. Right now I need a new prescription every time I turn around. When my brain settles into one position I can maybe get contacts. With these things I just get new lenses when I need 'em." He went back to his sandwich. I hadn't answered his question about love, and I probably wouldn't try unless he asked it again.

We sat quietly until he was done eating. "I guess I feel like you Mike. I just ain't all here without Kevin. We ..." Tears started welling up in his eyes.. "We ... did everything together. Now he's just dead, and I wish it was me. He was the better one."

I looked at him, tears forming in my own eyes. I felt pretty rude right then. Pat had lost his twin brother and they probably had just as close a connection as I did with Jack, maybe even more so. They had formed together, cell by cell, in their mother's womb. They'd had their connection from the get-go, and it had to hurt Pat more to lose Kevin than me losing Jack. I suddenly felt pretty small and selfish.

I moved closer to Pat and put my arm around his shoulder. He put his on my back. We sat like that for a while, then Pat looked at the sky.

"It's a nice day, Mike. You don't have to sit here with me."

"I don't mind. If I was home I'd be by myself. I'll stop talking if you want."

"That's not what I meant. You can go do things if you want to. I can't. Not for a while anyhow. Um ... you saw Kevin dead, didn't you?"

It wasn't a question that I had expected. I waited before I answered, then it came out in a whisper. "Yes."

"Was he ... I mean, did he have a chance?"

I had to think back to that scene. "No. There wasn't a prayer."


Silence. Now Pat whispered, "I just wondered if you saved me instead of him."

"Oh God, It wasn't that way, Pat. Kevin was dead. We weren't even sure you were alive until it cooled off and we could see your breath. I ... I thought you were both gone. Jed's the one that thought you were still there."

"It was awful, wasn't it? I mean, I didn't even know what happened for a long time. You were there. You did all those things for everybody."

I didn't want to re-live it, though. "Um, Pat. If you have questions I'll try to answer, but I really don't wanna talk about it."

"Never mind. I guess I know the ending anyhow."

"Can you like take a walk?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Let's walk up to my house. There's new people movin' in next door. Jed can give you a ride home later, or my Mom will."

"All right! Let me dump this crap, then let's go!"

He went inside with his litter and was back out in a minute. We walked quickly at first, me pushing my bike. It was pretty hot, so we soon slowed down.

We weren't trying to carry a conversation, but Pat asked a few things and I ignored him. We were almost to my house when Pat tapped my shoulder, then sat down in the shade. I hadn't heard what he said because I wasn't paying attention. When I looked at him I could tell something was wrong.



"It's Mike, Pat. Are you okay?"

"Something's wrong."

I looked back down at him, panic building rapidly. "Lay down, I'll go get help." I helped him stretch out on the grass in the shade, and set off running.

Where we were, there were houses across the street but none on our side. I ran across the street to the Rizza's house and banged on the door, but nobody was home. I went next door to the Hannison's, but got no answer there either. I ran back to Pat, but he looked out of it. I decided to get Jed, figuring he'd know what to do.

I pedaled as fast as I could to my house, then screamed as loud as I could. "JEDDY?"

His boss came running from the back of the house next door. "Jed's gone. What's wrong?"

"Something's wrong with Pat!" I was huffing from my fast ride. "He needs help!"

There was a man's voice from behind me. "What's going on?"

"Patty's sick. Somebody please help!"

I had turned to see a guy with black hair looking very concerned. He looked at me, then Jed's boss. "I have a car out here!"

Jed's boss looked back over his shoulder and yelled, "I'll be back!" Then he looked at the new guy and said, "I'm coming with you."

We all ran to an Explorer that was parked in the street. Jed's boss jumped in the front and I got in the back, where there was very little room to sit. The whole back end was crammed with things.

Jed's boss took out his cell phone and called 9-1-1.

I was leaning forward between the two of them, and pointed to where Patty was, under a tree. The guy driving pulled over and we all jumped out and ran to him. Pat had taken off his glasses, but he was laying there panting. I knelt beside him. "Pat?"


I looked up, and both Jed's boss and the other guy had knelt down beside me. The guy Jed worked for had red hair, a red face, and a red beard. He looked as concerned as I felt. The other guy was much younger, with black hair and an equally concerned look on his face. He looked over at me.

"You're Mike?"

I nodded.

"Tim told me about you. Who's this, and what happened?"

Jed's boss spoke up, pointing at Pat. "This is Pat Anderson. His brother works for me. Pat got a skull fracture in an accident a while ago." He looked up and around. "I don't like the looks of this." He directed his gaze at me, while he dug out a cigarette and lit it. "What happened here?"

"I don't know. We were just walkin' to the house when he got tired. He called me Jed."

Pat looked okay to me, but the two men weren't buying it. They thought it was serious.

The sounds of sirens entered our ears, getting louder and louder until they were right there. The guy with black hair turned around and started waving his arms. A fire truck and an ambulance stopped and a lot of guys got out just as a police care pulled up from the other direction.

"What do we have?" one of the ambulance men asked.

Jed's boss looked at the guy and said, "Not sure. This boy had brain damage in the bus crash, now he's down." He pointed at me. "This kid was with him. Ask him."

A bunch of guys had descended on Pat. The man that Jed's boss had been talking to looked at me, then he suddenly smiled a real sunbeam. "You're Mike Waters!"

All of the guys working on Pat turned to look at me, then got back to their business.

"I'm Mike."

He looked at Pat, and one of the guys working on him gave him a thumbs up. He smiled at me. "I'm Al Schmidt. I took you off the bus that night. You did a great job, Mike."

He held his hand out to me, and I shook it. He grinned. "We've gotta stop meeting like this."

I said, "I know," then looked at Pat. He was sitting up, so I asked him, "What happened?"

He looked a little sheepish. "I lied. I ain't s'posed to walk much either. I'm sorry, Mike. I just so much wanted to go and do somethin ... well, you know how it is. You do, right?"

I just looked at him, feeling bad to the core. When did the world start revolving around me? I smiled at Patrick and he smiled back. "I don't know, Pat. I never wanna do anythin'."

Al, the Fireman, looked around. "I don't see a need for anything special here." He looked down at Pat. "Where were you headed? We'll take you there, then give your Dad a call."

Pat looked at me, then back at Al. "I was just goin' to Mike's. I can walk okay now."

"Sorry, pal. We had a call, now I can only release you to an adult."

"Excuse me," said the guy with black hair. "I qualify as an adult. I'm just moving in here, but if they need a ride I can give them one." He grinned and held out his hand to Al. "I'm Dave Devino. I'm just moving here. Actually, I'm moving into the house next door to Mike as we speak. So, if they need a ride I can give them one."

Al looked surprised. "Oh, you're the new teacher. I heard your name, but I expected somebody, uh, older.

His name was Dave. I registered that, and watched him grin at Al. "I guess I'm just well preserved. You want me to take these kids home or just disappear?"

Al looked at Pat, then me, then Dave. "Take 'em away. I got no use for snot nosed kids," he winked at Pat, "who don't follow doctors orders." He held out his hand to Dave. "Nice to meet you. I'll be around. You're teachin' eighth grade?"

"Yes I am."

"Well, you'll be meetin' Al Junior then. He's usually a good boy, but you go ahead and smack him one if he acts up."

Dave seemed to think that was funny. When the emergency people left, Jed's boss and I helped Pat into the back seat, then I climbed in beside him. Dave turned around and drove us back to the house, then he walked Pat and me to our back porch while the other guy headed back to work.

We got Pat settled down in the shade, and I got everyone a glass of ice water.

Pat seemed to be okay, but I'd been frightened by it all. If I'd realized that he was so fragile I wouldn't have suggested walking.

Dave downed his water pretty quickly. I asked, "Is Mr. Atkins with you?"

"No. He won't be down 'til next week sometime. I had to come and meet with the school board and get my assignments. It didn't make much sense to go back for just a few days."

"I liked Tim. You're movin' here too?"

He smiled and nodded. "Timmy likes you too, Mike. Don't go gettin' a fat head over it - he likes everybody, but he said you seemed like a good kid."

"Even after I stole one of his rooms?"

He laughed. "We don't need many rooms. What's that all about, anyhow?"

I looked at him, then at Pat. Dave took it as a signal to change the subject. "Uh, so what do you kids do for excitement around here?"

"In Morton? Excitement don't belong in the same sentence."

Dave laughed, then Pat piped in. "We crash buses."

I looked at him. "That ain't funny, Pat.

"I didn't mean it as funny. He didn't ask what we did for fun. He asked about excitement, and that's the top of the list."

I sank down in my chair. "I guess."

Dave looked back and forth between us. "You guys were in the crash?"

We both nodded.

"You want to tell me about it?"

I shook my head no. Pat said he didn't remember anything because his brain was soft like mashed potatoes. Dave laughed at that.

"Well, I guess I'll hear about it somewhere. I feel really bad that it happened. I can imagine that it shook up this town pretty badly."

"That it did. Nothin's the same anymore." I looked up at him. "You like to fish?"

He looked happily surprised. "I love to fish! Do you know any good spots?"

Pat said, "Mike knows all the spots. This kid lives to fish." He looked at me and his smile faded. "He used to, anyhow."

I could see the dreaded look of concern begin to appear on Dave's face. I stood up. "Look, I don't wanna talk about this stuff. It's bad enough it happened, but nobody ever want's to drop it."

Dave stood up, too. "Sorry, guys. I should have known it'd be a sore subject. Where's there a grocery store around here?"

Now I felt rude, but I hadn't meant to be. "I'm sorry, Dave. I didn't mean to act like that. It's your first day here and you gotta listen to whinin' kids."

He looked at me, then grinned. "You haven't heard me whine yet. I'm a real pro."

I smiled back. I doubted that he was a whiner, but it was funny to hear. I told him his choices for grocery shopping. There were a couple of supermarkets over in Arlington and a few mini-marts in Morton. There was a meat market near Arlington, and I told him what turn to take to get there. He thanked me, then shook hands with me and Pat and turned to leave.

I called after him. "Will I see you later?"

He turned and smiled. "I live next door, Mike. You'll see me all the time." He looked down the road, then back at me. "If I can find my way here twice!" He grinned and waved, then headed toward his car.

I looked toward Pat. He asked, "Do you like him?"

"He seems nice. He sure don't act like a teacher."

"He ain't in school yet. I bet he does there."

"Yeah, probably."


I turned to look at Pat. "Will you tell me about Jack? I never got to know him."

I sat beside him. "What do you want to know?"

"What was he like? I mean, why'd you love him and not a girl?"

"I'm not too sure. I guess I'm gay, but Jack was the only boy I ever looked at that way. I know you must'a loved your brother, but it was different with me and Jack."

"Different how?"

It was hard holding a conversation when all I saw was that big eye. I had to look away. I looked back at him. "Pat, you don't hafta wear them glasses to school, do ya?"

He laughed and took them off. "They look stupid, don't they? I can't help it. I can't see anythin' without 'em."

"You can hear without 'em, can't you?"

"I guess."

"Good. Leave 'em off so I can talk without goin' cross-eyed. You want to know what it was like with Jack? Um, hold out your hand."

He looked blankly at me, then lifted his hand. I took it like I was shaking hands with him. "What do you feel?"

"Your hand."

"That's what I feel, too. Your hand. If it was Jack's hand I'd be feelin' joy. I'd be halfway to heaven right now, just touchin' him. I don't know how to say it, Patty. I loved Jack and he loved me. We just did somethin' to each other ... for each other. It was a whole different level. I felt like - I don't know - complete when Jack was there, like ... less than that when he wasn't around. Not whole."

Pat looked blindly toward me. "I ... I feel the same way. I ain't like a whole person without Kevin. He wasn't like Jed; he was kinda like the rest of me. Does that make sense?"

I slouched down, looking at Pat. Here was someone sharing my feelings. But he wasn't Jack. I felt bad for him, but worse for myself. Why wasn't he looking for Kevin like I was searching for Jack?

"Pat. Um, do you ever feel like Kevin's around? Like you could almost reach out and touch him? Like he's right there near you but you can't find him? Like if you just tried a little harder he'd be there?"

He had tears in his eyes, his voice a hoarse whisper. "All the time."

We sat there in silence for a long while. My head felt pretty empty and I couldn't think of anything to say. I didn't want to say anything.



"I'm sorry about Jack. I know what it feels like."

I didn't say anything, just started weeping softly. I don't know how long we sat there, but we were jostled out of our silence when Jed drove in with another truckload of material. The moving van was still next door, so he pulled into our driveway again. When he got out of the truck he hollered, "Hey Mike, give me a hand! Pat? What're you doin' here?"

Pat was fumbling to get his glasses on. "Hi, Jed. Just visitin'."

"How'd you get here?"

"I got a ride." He looked down. "I tried to walk. I'm gonna get shit from Daddy."

Jed was walking up on to the porch, a look of concern on his face. I could deal with concern for others. "Are you okay? You look like a dried out turd."

"I'm okay now." Pat looked up. "I shouldn't 'a tried it. I couldn't even walk up the street without gettin' in trouble." He started to cry, and Jed walked over to him and knelt down, pulling him into a hug.

"Don't cry, Pat. You'll get better, but you can't hurry it." Jed was gently rubbing Pat's shoulder. "I'll talk to Dad, don't worry. You didn't do anything bad, so cheer up. Your brother loves you. Even with your goofy glasses!"

That got a wet sounding snort from Pat. Jed looked over his shoulder at me. "You think the cyclops look'll catch on?"

"I doubt it." I had answered without thinking. This had seemed like gentle teasing, but Jed and his pals had hounded Jack and I right up until the day Jack got killed.

It had made a whole school year hard for us. Some of it had been just jokes ... most bad, but there had been some funny ones. There was one incidence of violence when Jed and Don had cornered Jack in a bathroom and Don punched him out. Jed was there and watching, even if he wasn't hitting.

I liked Jed, but I'd never been able to forgive that. Don had been killed on that bus right along with Jack and the others, and he'd been Jed's best friend. I had often wondered if the treatment you got in the afterlife actually hinged on things like that. Had Jack headed one way because he was queer, Don another because he was righteous? Did kicking the shit out of a quiet, intelligent, insecure boy get him closer to the goodness?

Was it the other way around? Was Jack's goodness the reason he was allowed to linger, or was it the final irony of things? Could he not follow the others until he proved his own goodness?

These were the thoughts ... the questions ... going through this just-turned fifteen year old's head.

I sat there watching Jed trying to cheer up a damaged Pat, feeling the love these two brothers had for each other. I didn't say it out loud, but the thought formed clearly in my head, and I felt it in my heart.

I forgive you, Jed.

Maybe someday that would be true, and I'd be able to tell him.

Continued …

© Copyright, 2018, the author.. All rights reserved.