Jack in the Box

Chapter 15

Michael Waters - Arlington Road - August, 2000

When I finished my letter to Jack I turned off the light and left his room. Tim had promised to let me use it for as long as I wanted, but it didn't feel quite right for me to be intruding on their space like that. The light was on in the living room and I heard voices, so I stepped in there before leaving. I was surprised to see Dave sitting up with a glass of what looked like lemonade in his hand. I only meant to say goodnight and leave.

"Hi guys. I'm going now."

Tim was reading, but he looked up and smiled. "Can you stay awhile? Joe and Scott just went to find the boys because they got lost. We're going to cook up some nice steaks, so why don't you join us?"

I thought about it and figured why not? I lived in a boring town, so meeting new people sounded like fun. Besides, we rarely got steak at home and the thought of one got my mouth watering. I looked at Dave and sat at the opposite end of the sofa from him. "You okay?" He actually looked awful. "Did you really drink mothballs?"

Dave took a sip of his drink and groaned. "That's what it tasted like." He looked over at me, his eyes trying to focus. "Adolph is an evil man, Mike. I still don't know what the hell hit me." He set his glass down and, using words and hand gestures described what had taken place in the meat locker.

He was funny to watch. I'd seen him use his hands before when he talked, even when he talked on the phone, but not quite like this. I think I would have gotten the message even if he wasn't talking. He was mimicking drinking from a bottle and then getting drunk and it got me, then Tim, laughing.

We were like that when there was a knock at the door. Tim got up to answer it and it was my little sister Angela. My parents had sent her over to see if I was there. Angie was twelve and the baby of the family, but she always tried to look out for me. We never spent a lot of time together, but when I was troubled it bothered her. I heard Tim assuring her that I was in the living room and doing fine, but she insisted on seeing for herself.

When she walked in she looked warily at Dave, then smiled shyly at me. "I... I have a message. Annie says if you want her to cut your hair to give her a call." She gave me a questioning look, and I couldn't determine if it was because I needed a haircut in the worst way or because Ann Nettleton had offered to do it. She looked at Dave, who had his head leaned back and his eyes closed, then gave me a real smile. "I think she likes you."

Angie was a cute girl. My father had been complaining about boys 'sniffing around' since she was eleven, but now she had little boobs sprouting out and my mother had already bought her a training bra. She was the one person in the family who could get me out of a funk just by being herself. There was no confusion in her mind, only possibilities. I smiled back at her, then grinned. "Thanks, kiddo. Maybe I'll give Annie a call, but I gotta wait 'til Wednesday 'cause she's gonna have the shits 'til then."

I thought that would get a reaction, but Angie just grinned and said, "That's what she said about you."

Dave gave me a very strange look. I was about to say something when Tim called from the other room, "They're here!"

I could hear motors in the driveway and Dave jumped up, so Angie and I followed him and all of us went outside. There was a huge box van and a regular van in the driveway, both with lights on and motors still running.

Joe and Scotty came walking down the driveway from the road, both smiling as usual. Joe announced, "Found 'em! They weren't lost, they just went too far."

The lights on the trucks went out, then we heard doors closing. The guy driving the bigger truck walked around and looked at all of us, then gave Tim a quick hug. "Hi unc. Sorry we took so long, but it was crazy gettin' here." He let Tim go and gave Dave the same quick hug saying, "We really miss you guys."

When Dave let go of him, he said, "Timmy, this is Mike and Angie. They live right next door." He pointed at our house, then smiled, "This is our nephew Timmy."

Timmy looked at us, then held his hand out to me. I shook it and he said, "Hi, Mike," then he shook with Angie and said, "Hi there."

I was just about to say something when from behind me I heard somebody say, "Buster! Buster, don't! HELP!"

Dave and Tim both took off running, and the next thing we heard was "Down, boy! Damn! Yeah, I'm glad to see you too. Don't bite! Sit, Buster, sit! That's a good boy. Yeah, we got you a treat. Good boy. Come on now, let's go see your new home."

The next thing I saw was a boy walking towards me from between the trucks. All I could see at first was size and shape, which was slender and about my height. When he got into the light I could see that he had dark hair, a trace of a moustache and a great, happy smile. He walked right up to me and said, "I'm Davy. You must be Mike!" He looked at my sister and smiled again, holding his hand out. "I'm Davy. Who're you?"

My sister took his hand then let go of it and did a little curtsey. "I'm Angela Waters. What might be your full name, Davy?"

I wanted to laugh but didn't want to seem impolite. All the girls in Morton seemed to know how to pull off the southern lady bit. It seemed especially funny with Angie because she had been such a tomboy until just recently.

Davy didn't miss a beat. He grinned and said, "Sorry Angela. It's my pleasure to meet you. I'm David Kenneth Loomis." He looked expectantly at her and continued, "You know, the chicks where I come from got no manners. They just wanna know if you're rich or if you're hung."

I had to bend over to keep from laughing out loud, then I heard Angie ask innocently, "Well are you? Either or both I mean?"

I heard a wheeze come from Dave and knew right then that I was going to like him. He was trying to talk, but it came out in gasps. He put on a decent Georgia accent. "Both, I think ma'am. Do you need evidence of one or the other?

Angie giggled, "Not at the moment, thank you, but if you can prove the former I'm sure the latter won't seem nearly as important!"

I held back my laugh to take a better look at my sister. She was playing the game well and with style, and it was funny. I'm sure we'd all learned graciousness in the same places. There were occasions where we had to behave like that, but it was fun when we practiced it on our own. It was a treasurable knack to be able to crucify someone so politely that only politeness could be borne in return.

My mother was a past master at it, and I don't think I could count the nights where I laughed myself to sleep after listening to her cut some situation to ribbons while seemingly engaged in polite conversation.

I was enjoying their exchange when Scott suddenly made a frightened little sound and wrapped his arms around me. I turned around to see Tim being led by the biggest dog I'd ever laid eyes on. It was mostly black, with some brown on his face. It had a massive head and was drooling from both sides of its mouth. Tim said, "Buster, Sit!'

The dog sat and appeared to smile at all of us. He was almost as tall sitting as Scott was standing.

Joe was leaning against the truck with his arms crossed and commented dryly, "That's a big unit."

Tim smiled proudly and said, "This is Buster, everybody. He's real smart and he loves to play."

Scott relaxed his death grip on me and faced the dog. "Does he bite?"

Buster cocked his head to one side as if he was surprised by the question, either that or he was considering a reply, maybe even a taste of Scott. It amused me, and Tim replied, "He doesn't bite, just be careful if you're giving him a treat."

Scott edged closer to the dog, his hand held out warily. When he got close Buster lowered his face and Scott started to pet him, the dog sighed loudly with pleasure. Scott knelt down and continued stroking Buster's ears, then Buster started licking Scott's face with his enormous tongue. Scott pulled away in surprise at first, then leaned into it and got his face washed while giggling heartily.

Tim said, "Come on out to the barn. We're going to cook on the deck."

The younger Tim said, "I need to use the bathroom."

Davy said, "Me, too."

Dave led those two into the house and the rest of us headed for the barn. Tim unhooked Buster from his leash and tossed it onto the step, then led the way for us. Angela excused herself and went home. It appeared that Joe and Scott were staying since they walked with us.

The barn looked nice at night. I hadn't seen it lit up before, but there were quite a few lights shining down from it and a few floodlights on stanchions illuminated the building itself. The haze that was the aftermath of the storm looked almost like smoke through the beams of light. We didn't go in through the barn but walked around the outside on the flagstone path that had just been finished the other day. It was lit the whole length by little hooded bulbs that were barely above the ground.

The effect seemed magical to me. Joe was right beside me and it occurred to me that I hadn't thanked him yet for letting Dave show me how to drive the dune buggy. "Oh Joe... I really wanna say thanks for leavin' the duner here so I could learn how to drive it. It's way fun!"

He smiled. "You like it? Everybody should have one, it'd be the end of war and things like that." He put his hand on my shoulder and went on, "You figured it out okay?"

I grinned. "It was hard to shift at first, but I got it down now. I did some power slides yesterday."

He looked surprised. "Wow, power slides already? Dave's a good teacher?"

"Yeah, but I learned the slides from watchin' him. He can make that thing spin on a dime. I ... uh, I take a little more room."

"Even so, it sounds like you're havin' fun. That's what it's all about. Have you seen any more of Anton?"

"Oh yeah. It's funny, but I kinda like him now." We were stepping up onto the deck, which had four big umbrella tables on it and a lot of other furniture. There were some planters full of flowers here and there and it looked really nice. The chairs were wet though, and we had to wait while Tim got a towel and wiped them off.

Joe sat down at a table, so Scott and I sat with him. Joe looked very happy. "I'm glad you two are gettin' to be friends. How'd your fishin' trip go the other night?"

"It was real fun!" I went on to tell Joe about how the pond came alive with biting fish after awhile and how Tony spent the night at my house, then about some of the other things we did that week. I could tell that he liked hearing it. I was telling him about seeing Tony whittle that afternoon when some happy sounding voices approached us.

Dave was walking between Tim and Davy with an arm around each of their shoulders. They were all talking at once. From what I could make out the two boys were talking about the drive down while Dave was mentioning the singular dangers of meat lockers. Young Dave broke loose from them and sat with me, Joe and Scott. He shook hands with both of them and introduced himself.

He was a very animated person. When he learned that Scott was Joe's son his head practically bounced as he looked back and forth between them. "You sure don't look much alike!"

Joe scowled a little, and I could sense that he hated that comment and had to answer to it almost every day of his life. "Scott's my son, natural as can be." He smiled at Davy. "You don't look much like me either. Are you sure we're related?"

Dave stared bemusedly and Joe went on, "Yeh, we're definitely related. We're all members of the human race." He smiled, "We mostly don't look alike, we talk all kinds of funny ways, and we like different music and food. Damn, I almost forgot to mention that we're different sexes too. I suppose somewhere on the planet there's a guy who doesn't like motorcycles, but I haven't found him yet. Anyhow, how can you be sure that the real reason you're here isn't to meet your actual father instead of the guy who adopted you?"

Davy stared at Joe, "I'm not adopted!"

Joe grinned and leaned to kiss Scott on the cheek. "Neither are my kids! Any questions?"

Dave looked a bit sheepish. "All I said was you don't look like each other."

Joe smiled a friendly smile at Davy and said, "All I said is it ain't your place to comment on things like that. I could try to say it in twenty words or less if you still don't get it."

Davy leaned back in his chair and held his hands up, palms facing Joe. "Okay, I get it!" He seemed earnest. "I'm sorry, okay?"

Joe smiled sadly as if he were thinking he had one more down, just a few billion to go. Tim came over and asked us how we wanted our steaks. We put in our orders and started talking. Davy was an engaging conversationalist, telling us amusing stories about his trip down, but encouraging comments out of the rest of us as well.

When Tim and Dave handed out the plates of food we all shut up and dug in. The steaks were huge, easily over two inches thick, and as soon as we started eating all conversation stopped beyond the usual yums and thanks. I watched everyone at our table eat, especially Dave. He looked like he'd never tasted meat before. He was thoroughly enjoying it and kept calling compliments out to his uncles.

I also got a kick out of the wordless communication that Scott and Joe seemed to have with each other. With smiles, licked lips, nods... even the occasional quiet burp, you could tell that they had the father-son connection at the basest level, that they understood each other completely.

My eyes kept gettin drawn back to young Dave. He was about as good looking as God ever made anybody, and he was funny and seemed nice at the same time. He fascinated me, made me feel like he was somebody I should be emulating. He was a little older than me, but seemed to radiate a warmth and happiness that originated in the deepest part of his insides.

I was drawn to him.

I was drawn to Ann Nettleton.

I was confused.

I loved Jack, number one. Not a single doubt about that fact had ever clouded my brain since I first felt that love for him. When he was alive and here there had been no distractions, but now there were.

When Jack got killed a lot of people said I had to leave the past as the past, just go on with things and I'd be okay. That sounded fine, it even sounded easy, but it turned out not to be easy. I think I dealt with the idea of a dead Jack okay, but I had a hard time with an alive me without any Jack at all. There was too much love there to forget, too much longing. When he was still alive I had a hard time being away from him, even for a few hours. Now I could never shake the feeling that he was near, just beyond my grasp, waiting for me to find him. Dave said I would and that I had to change myself before I could, but he was never clear about what I needed to change. It was very frustrating.

Also frustrating was that I now found myself looking at Mr. David Kenneth Loomis, and he was a fine sight to my eyes, the first boy I'd felt anything for since Jack, the first boy I'd ever felt anything for based just on looks and a seemingly great personality. At the same time I thought about how nice Annie had looked in her two-piece bathing suit, how warm and soft she felt when I'd touched her earlier. Ann was a nice sculpture in her own right, and Dave would make one too.

I sat there thinking about Annie, wondering if the idea of a non-gay me was totally delusional. Then I looked over at Dave and tried to picture what would happen if I waited for everybody else to leave and just jumped on him. It was all fantasy, but it was a nice one.

The only thing I could feel any certainty about was that I had been feeling my sex drive return during the past week. I didn't want it to and I didn't know where to focus it, but there it was. It was a weird feeling for me. I'd never had a strong one before I met Jack, I was just too young. Then when it started to develop he was always there. Now it was coming on in force and I had nobody. I don't think I'd know what to do even if I did have somebody. That surely would be cheating on Jack.

Davy interrupted my thoughts. "So what do you do for fun around here?"

I blinked, "Oh, fish, swim, ride bikes," I looked hopefully at Joe, "drive dune buggies in the woods."

Scotty piped up, "We have four-wheelers! Ya can go ridin' with us if ya want."

Davy looked worried, "No arcades? Amusement parks? Where d'ya go?"

Joe thought that was funny. "Overseas!" He smiled, "Don't worry kid, we'll keep ya occupied for a few days." He patted Scott on the head, "If you need a social director talk to this one."

I asked, "You don't like fishin'?"

He shrugged, "I've never been. I don't like getting up real early."

"We go at night sometimes. Wanna try it?"

"Whattya do there? Where?"

Now there was a good question. What do you do when you're fishing? I could have been a wise guy, but I decided not to. "We, um... we fish. We catch fish. Where we go at night is a pond near the road so we don't hafta deal with woods."

"That's fun?"

"Yeah, it's fun. We talk a lot and bring stuff to eat."

Joe interrupted me, "Give it a try Davy. You'll have a good time, I can promise that. Ya don't even hafta come to terms with worms!"

Davy's eyes opened wide. Joe said, "It's an old Ogden Nash poem. The whole poem is 'I can't come to terms... with worms!" He waited while Scott and I laughed. Davy just stared. Joe shook his head. "At night we use rubber worms, so there's no guts." He looked at Scotty. "You should try it too, kid. Your sister likes it!"

Scott made a face. Davy was looking at me, scratching the back of his head. "Is there a barber here? I think I need a haircut."

I nonchalantly lifted a hand towards my head, finding the ends of my hair about eight inches away from my skull. I was embarrassed for a second, then burst out laughing. "You need a haircut? What about me? I'm callin' Annie tomorrow, shits or no shits!"

Three pairs of eyes were looking about me, wondering what the heck shits had to do with haircuts.

Davy decided to change the subject. He looked over at Joe and asked, "So, what do you do for a living?"

I wanted to know too. Joe had a new and different answer any time somebody asked. Joe smiled and said, "I'm the eyedot painter at the Mickey Mouse factory in town."

Davy stared, not saying anything, then he looked worried. "You're kidding, right?"

Joe seemed dead serious. "Why would I kid about something like that? It's respectable work and I make an okay living. It beats workin' takeout in a fast food joint!"

I think Davy and I both thought we were getting our chains yanked, and Scotty gave it away when he burst out laughing and grabbed his father's wrist. "Good one, Dad! Eyedot painter! Hahaha! That's the best one yet!" He laughed and laughed, eventually getting Joe to crack up.

Davy and I both started laughing with them. When we quieted down Davy asked, "So what do you really do?

Joe made an exasperated face and said, "Not that it's your business, but I'm a driver!"

I was pretty sure that wasn't true either. I knew Joe made his living in the music business, but it seemed to satisfy Davy. He looked at me and asked, "Who's Annie? Who's got the shits, you or her?"

That set me off into a sea of giggles again. I don't think Tony had meant his remark earlier to be funny, but I sure was getting some mileage out of it, and from what Angie had said it sounded like Annie was too.

I couldn't talk for a minute, so I just held my hand up until I could speak, then I practically choked out. "Nobody's got the shits, least I don't think so. It's just somethin' we heard at the picnic. This kid Anton saw us eatin' what his mother made and said we'd get the shits is all." I started laughing again.

Davy giggled too. "That's funny! I get the shits when my mother makes crap with just vegetables. I mean, men need meat, right?" He looked over at Tim and Dave and yelled, "This steak was great! If this is the way you eat, I'm stayin!"

We all helped clearing the table and carrying things to the kitchen, Buster took the time to clean each plate to showroom condition, then we went back outside and all of us pulled chairs together and sat there getting to know one another. Davy and his brother Tim resembled each other strongly, but Tim was much quieter and seemed more reserved. He had just finished his bachelor's degree the past spring and was going back to get his MBA starting in a week. He shared his brother's sense of humor though, cracking us up several times with his acute observances of college life.

That Davy and Timmy had been solidly influenced by their older namesakes would be an understatement. The loving connection between the four of them was palpable; you could almost see their bond. It had me wishing that my family had remained closer, that my father's brothers and my mother's brother and sister were people I could see every day. I enjoyed being with all of them and my cousins, but we saw each other once or twice a year at best. Davy's and Timmy's words let me know that they adored their own parents, but they had an expanded sphere of family influence growing up. It was something I'd missed out on, all the different points of view, the different senses of things that might have helped me better understand just exactly who the hell I was and what I was doing here.

I was enjoying myself, but it was becoming evident that Dave's earlier encounter with Jaegermeister had taken its toll on him and Scotty was nodding off in his chair. Dave announced that he was going to bed, then Joe said he'd better get home too. We all got up and walked back to the house, Joe stopping to look at Tim's car.

"Does that say 'M' on the back of it? Hot Damn!" He grinned at Tim, "You and me are goin' for a ride, mister!" His look turned serious. "Man, you shouldn't leave this car out in the rain like that. Have some respect!" He looked closer, then pulled Scott over and pointed at the hood. "Look at this, kid. It's a material you'll never see in our yard."

Scott looked intently at the car, then innocently asked, "What's it made out of, Daddy?"

Joe exclaimed, "Unobtainium!" cracking up everyone but Scott. He gave Tim an evil look. "You know, I was thinkin'... since you got my duner I got no way to get around 'cept a dump truck. You can't be drivin' two things at once, so maybe you could just drop this little monster at my place pretty soon."

Tim took it in stride. "I'll get you a key, how's that? Fair's fair, so you can use it if you want." He grinned, "This car is serious fun!" His look got hopeful, "Maybe you can show me some good roads around here?"

Joe smiled and held out his hand to shake. "You got a deal! C'mon Scotty, let's get you to bed."

We all said goodnight to them and they headed down the driveway hand in hand. Tim smiled after them saying, "I like that guy!"

I smiled too, knowing that everybody did. Dave and the two Tim's went inside and I started to walk across the driveway when Davy asked, "Wanna hang for awhile? I'm kinda wired from driving."

I was a little tired, but I didn't mind. "Okay, we can sit out on the porch if ya want." I indicated our house, twenty feet away.

"You live right here? Let's went!"

I smiled at his choice of words, then a minute later we were on the back porch with ice water in hand.

Dave smiled, "It's nice down here. I've never been south before, unless you count Disney when I was about eight." His smile broadened. "It's real laid back. Back home I'd be at a juice bar or at a party or at the mall." He leaned back and put his hands behind his head. "I like this!"

I didn't know one thing. "What's a juice bar?"

He looked at the sky. "Just a place where kids can go and dance. It's like a regular bar 'cept there's no booze, just soda and punch. They card you to make sure you're not twenty-one."

I didn't respond.

"So, Uncle Tim said you lost your best friend in a car crash?"

"Bus crash, but yeah. It sucks. Did he say, um, anything else?"

"Not really, just that it really messed you up. It happened to me too, you know."


Davy leaned forward, his look all intense. "I never had a best friend, but four of my good friends got killed in a crash last year."

"That's awful! What happened?"

"They were headed home from a football game. Errol was drivin' his Dad's pickup, two in front and two in the bed. A big semi in front of them slammed on his brakes to miss somethin' in the road and they just drove into it. It just happened, man! Nobody was drunk or anything, it just happened. Four good guys gone just like that!" He snapped his fingers and his expression went from serious to sad. "I loved those guys, Mike. We thought we'd be friends forever, now they're just turnin' to dust." He hung his head for a moment and when he looked back at me he had tears in his eyes. "It's not fair, four kids who never bugged anybody just gone like that."

I put my hand gently on his knee causing him to look at me. "I know it's not fair. Me'n Jack had plans, now he's just not here." I started to cry, then remembered Davy was there. I choked out, "Sorry. I can't stand it anymore."

His voice was gentle, obviously choked up himself. "What happened?"

I looked at Davy's face, realizing I was talking to the first person in a year who didn't realize I was gay. I told him the bare facts about the crash, leaving out everything that had happened afterwards. Then I got a little bolder and told him how Jack was my only real friend and how losing him had left me with a hole in myself big enough to drive a tank through, how I wrote letters to him all the time hoping he'd somehow get to read them. I told him about the feeling I got sometimes that Jack was right there and I just couldn't find him, then that his uncle was trying to help me with that.

We both commiserated for a few minutes, then Davy got animated again. He sat up straighter and, with his elbow still on his knee, pointed at me and said, "You know something? I like you! You told me all that and you don't even know me! You can't say Jack was your only friend, 'cause kids like you have lots of friends."

I stared at his face thinking about that. He was right in a way, I should have friends, could have friends if I wanted. Thoughts of the past week rushed through my head. My peace with Anton Wolfe, the nice day with Jens, Tony and Pat, fishing with a bunch of guys and having fun. Clay, Annie and Jimmy Nettleton, James and Aaron ... these people would all be my friends if I let them.

I almost stuttered, "I... I could have friends, I just don't think I'm ready." I sobbed.

"Hey, what's wrong?"

I shook my head trying to get rid of the feeling, but it wouldn't leave so I blurted it out. "My friends die! Do you know how miserable it was for Jack to be my friend?" I looked up again, "You can't know, but he died being hated by everybody!" I practically wailed out, "All because of me!" I burst out crying, feeling that I'd finally faced the truth.

I cried and cried. After several minutes I felt myself getting a shoulder massage. I thought it was Davy, but when I opened my eyes enough to see, he was still sitting opposite me. I turned to look up and it was my father's hands on me. He kissed the top of my head and said, "It's not true, Mike. Nobody hated Jack, they just hated an idea." He must have knelt down because suddenly his head was on my shoulder and his arms were wrapped around me the best he could with the chair in the way. "They don't go naming schools after hated people, Mike, only loved people. Those kids didn't know what they were thinking, just that you were different."

I was watching Davy's face, looking for signs of change. All I found was concern and maybe some questions. I guess I'd calmed down because Dad asked, "Okay now?" and I nodded my head. I felt my Dad stand up and put his hands on my shoulders for a moment again. "I love you, Mike. Your mother and sisters do too, so just hang in there."

I craned my neck to turn my tear stained face to him, only to find his face covered with tears as well. He leaned down and I heard a kiss somewhere close to my ear. "Goodnight, Mike," he patted my shoulder, "you're doin' fine." His voice sounded more hopeful than confident, but I took his words at face value.

He was right and he wasn't. I felt better than I had a week ago, but I knew I wasn't right with the world yet. There was still too much that I hadn't figured out, and I was feeling overwhelmed with new thoughts. I didn't know where I was as a person. I had somehow opened myself up to look at other people, but it was confusing me. I'd never liked Anton Wolfe, then hated him for the past year. Now, in the space of a week, he was a person I liked and would consider as a potential friend.

I was also less sure about other things. I'd told my father I was gay when I was twelve, the rest of the world a year ago, now I wasn't even sure about that. Davy, sitting across from me and still looking worried, had been the only boy other than Jack who had given me any feelings at all. Then there was Ann Nettleton, who definitely had my eye and any other part she wanted. What did that have to do with gay? I tried to smile reassuringly at Davy, but so many conflicting thoughts were going through my head that I'm sure it was a grimace.

I looked at Davy. He smiled and asked quietly, "What makes you different? I can understand sadness, but why would people hate Jack because of you? You seem like a good guy."

I didn't want to go through it, yet I thought it might be better if Davy learned the truth from me. I avoided looking directly at him. "I'm... um, I was in love with Jack, he was more than just a friend."

His voice sounded cheery enough, "You mean you're gay?"

I looked at him this time, finding an expectant expression on his face. "I mean I think I am... was. I don't know anymore. I was, uh, queer for Jack though. I loved him."

Davy's smile was soft. "Oh man, you poor kid. That's awful! Uncle Tim said you were havin' a hard time because your friend got killed, but he never said you were in love. I don't even know what to say. How long were ya, uh ... involved? What was he like?"

Somehow the look of concern on Davy's face didn't bother me, it just made me glad that he was there. Learning that I was gay didn't seem to bother him a bit, much less surprise him. "It doesn't bother you that I'm queer?"

He gave me a surprised smile. "Bother me? me?" His smile turned to a grin. "Hey, a lot of my favorite people are gay. You'll be my first gay friend my own age. Don't worry, I grew up around it. I got two gay uncles and some of their friends are gay too. They're good people and they do a lot of good things, so I just love 'em for the good guys they are."

"Me and Jack got shit about it right up to the day he died."

Davy looked pissed of. "Is it still goin' on? You should tell my uncle Dave, he'll put a stop to it. He hates that crap."

"Nah, it pretty much stopped after the accident. I don't think it'll start up again."

"I'm not sure if I heard you right before. Now you think you're not gay?"

I shook my head. "I just don't know. It was only ever Jack." I blushed, "I... ah, got a hardon talkin' to a girl today. I just don't know what's goin' on. Then you come along and..." I caught myself before I said I felt an attraction, but I'm sure my ears were hot enough to weld metal.

Davy looked happily embarrassed himself. "Really? I'm... um...." He giggled, "Who's the girl?"

I chuckled myself. "Her name's Annie. She's really cute, and she's real nice and friendly too. I think she likes me."

Davy was grinning. "Man, you need to get your head shrunk. You're worried because you like a cute girl? It happens, you know, it's nothing strange. If I had a dime for every woody I popped lookin' at some girl I'd be retired now."

"Yeah, but you're not ..."

"Gay? No, but I used to get hard lookin' at some other kids too, back a few years ago. I think everybody does, it's just normal. All us guys used to fool around with each other."

"Fool around?"

"Yeah, circle jerks and like that, strip poker. I mean, it's nothin' to be proud of, but it's nothin' to be ashamed of either."

I sat there keeping my gaze on Davy, wondering if our little beat off session the other day in Pat's living room was what he meant by a circle jerk. I decided not to ask so I wouldn't embarrass myself, but I guessed that it must be. It had certainly been harmless enough, and everybody did seem curious about the others' dicks, me no more than anyone else. At least I didn't go grabbing anybody else like Jens had done to me.

I was getting really tired and coherent thoughts were hard to come by. I stifled a yawn and asked, "You wanna sleep over here? There's an extra bed."

Davy acted as if it were a happy surprise. "Really? You want me to?"

I nodded.

"Sure! Let me go leave a note, I'll be right back."

Davy bounded off the porch. I picked up our water glasses and put them in the sink, then went back outside to wait for him. He was back in about two minutes carrying only a pair of clean underpants in his hand. He sure wasn't bashful. I showed him where things were, then we went into my room and got ready for bed. While we were getting undressed Davy noticed the photograph of Jack and me, then Tony's pencil drawing that I'd pinned to the wall.

"This is Jack? Who drew the picture? It's freakin' outrageous. It's better than the photo!"

"Oh, a kid I know made it. He's amazing! He saw that picture in the frame once, then the next day he gave me the one he did. I watched him draw one of another kid that got killed and he did the whole thing in about a half hour."

I walked over and picked up Jack's photograph and gave him a kiss. Davy saw me and asked, "You do that all the time since he died?"

As I climbed into bed I responded, "We both always did that." I giggled, but without humor. "I always gotta clean the glass. Sometimes I have greasy lips and you can't even see the picture the next day."

Davy got into the other bed and I shut off the light. He said quietly, "Tell me about Jack He looks like a neat kid in the picture."

I didn't really know how to describe Jack, or even guess what Davy wanted to know. I started at the beginning with Jack moving in next door and how he never wanted to do anything. Davy probed and prodded. We must have talked for over an hour, Davy getting me to expand on my thoughts until he understood something.

He was a good listener, and when I finally ran out of things to say I heard him sniffle. "That's beautiful, man. You are so lucky."

I couldn't believe he said that. After all that time explaining what Jack and I had together, shared together, he could tell me that I'm lucky? Jack was dead and it was all gone! I whispered, but it was an angry one. "How the hell am I lucky? Jack's gone and I lost everything. That ain't my idea of lucky!"

Davy was silent for a long moment, then he said, "I guess lucky wasn't the right word." He paused again, "Yes it was! You are lucky, Mike! Do you know how many kids find love at your age? The answer's between zero and one, and you're the one. Everyone else is like me, boppin' around from case to case, worryin' about zits, about bad breath, about clothes. You're there in love, already knowin' what it's all about!" His voice got earnest, "I don't mean you're lucky that Jack died and you lost it, don't even think that! I just mean you're lucky that you ever had it. The rest of us are just runnin' around dreamin' about it. You're ten miles ahead of the curve, man."

I didn't respond for a long time, and when I was finally about to Davy snored a little and rolled over. I got comfortable and started to lose my thoughts, remembering to recall one more happy time with Jack so I'd have good dreams. Then it struck me that I was indeed lucky. Outside of school there had only been good times with Jack, and I could rely on them when I started to drift off into sleep. I had a year and a half of those memories stored in my head, and the ones that I recalled most vividly weren't sexual encounters, rather little moments when something had struck us both as either funny or awesome at the same time.

Other thoughts were just of quiet times when we just kicked back and did nothing, maybe waiting out some rain before going fishing, maybe finding nothing else necessary to enhance our contentment. I could never forget the feeling of his hand in mine, it was imprinted there.

I fell asleep recalling a day last summer when it was so unbearably hot that our intentions of going for a swim in the pond only made it as far as the brook. We plopped down in the water fully clothed and spent the entire afternoon doing absolutely nothing except enjoying each other's company.

* * * * * * * *

When I woke up the next morning I was on my stomach with my face in the pillow. Somebody was roughly shoving my shoulder and urging me to wake up. As my thoughts gathered I realized that it was Davy.

I groaned, "What?"

"Come on man, it's after eight! I gotta leave tomorrow night and I wanna see everything!"

I rolled over and thought about opening my eyes. "Everything? What time are you leaving?"

"Around nine, I think."

"Well, wait 'til about fifteen minutes before. That'll give ya plenty of time." I giggled at my own hilarity.

Dave giggled too, "It's that bad? C'mon, wake up."

I forced my eyelids open and found myself looking directly at Davy's face not eight inches away. I wasn't usually hard to wake up, but that day I was tired. It was the late night mostly, but Saturday had been busy all around and I was beat. Looking at Davy brought me around pretty quickly. He was rosy from the shower and needed a shave, but he looked wide awake and was smiling brightly. It was disconcerting because, although he looked entirely different than Jack, he had the same smile.

I smiled back, weakly I suppose. "You look happy."

As I started to push myself up he backed away saying, "I am happy. I'm somewhere new and I already got a friend!"

I got my feet over the side of the bed and sat up to look at Davy. He was standing there in nothing but white underpants, but he was quite a sight. He had pale skin, black hair and brown eyes that seemed full of intelligence and fun. He was slender and athletic looking, energetic is probably a better word.

He grinned at me. "Man, you really do need a haircut! I was just gonna go next door to shave. Should I come back or you comin' over there?"

I had to think and I wasn't fully awake. "You go shave and come back for me, how's that? I need a shower to wake up."

"Okay, great. You got a car or should I borrow some wheels?"

"I don't even have a license yet. You know how to ride a bike?"

He grinned and answered like the guy in the Grey Poupon commercial. "But of course! Bikes are cool, I'll get to see things at ground level." He pulled on his pants and picked up his sneakers, shirt and yesterday's underwear. "I'll be back in a half hour, okay?"

I smiled. I definitely liked this guy. "That's fine, I'll be ready by then."

He turned to go and I got up and pulled my robe on. When I was crossing the hall I could hear Davy in the kitchen greeting my mother. He sounded perfectly relaxed, but I knew if it was me standing there in nothing but a pair of pants and holding yesterday's undies in my hand I would have been stuttering and stammering to beat the band.

I was wondering about him and how casual he seemed when a new need overtook me. All of yesterday's food, oiled by Mrs. Wolfe's gumbo, suddenly wanted out and I panicked at Anton's prediction. Five minutes on the john allayed my fears, but I had a new respect for the word klondike as an adjective.

Feeling better and much lighter, I hurried through my shower and did the best I could with my hair. Annie was absolutely getting a call and I hoped she had a chain saw. I had never really paid much attention to what I looked like, but I'd paid none at all in the last four months and I looked like a professional baby scarer. When I finished brushing my teeth I hurried to my room and put on shorts, a t-shirt and sneaks and went to the kitchen for some juice. My mother and father were at the table drinking coffees and sharing the paper.

"Hi," I said.

They both looked up and said hi at the same time. My mother said, "David certainly seems like a nice young man."

My father piped in, "Yes he does. I'm sorry I didn't introduce myself last night. It was pretty rude when I thought about it, but you were so upset I just didn't."

I opened the fridge and extracted the orange juice. "I don't think it matters, Dad." I turned to look at him, "Thanks for comin' out. What you said really helped."

They exchanged glances with each other, but looking at my mother made me realize I should probably talk to her about what I was feeling for Annie. My mother was the best one in the family for thinking things through, she'd help me make sense of it. "Uh, Mom? I'm gonna show Davy around for a bit, but can I talk to you later?"

They both looked surprised, then she said, "Sure," She smiled happily, "you know where I live! Is it important?"

"I'm not sure, I think so." I glanced at my father, then back at my mother. "It's kinda personal."

I poured my juice under curious stares from my parents. I put the jug away and looked at them. "What? I ain't drinkin' out of the bottle!"

They both seemed startled at that remark and my mother said gently, "Michael, you haven't asked me about anything since... in a long time. I'd really like to just talk with you." She looked serious, "It's been a long time, Mike. I really miss our little cookie talks."

I did too. Our 'cookie' talks were what took place anytime one of us kids had a problem, often enough a made-up one so she'd make cookies and we could spend a little private time together. She had offered regularly since Jack got killed, but I could never get myself into the mood. Standing there, I realized that I'd cheated myself big time by not trying to talk things through with my own mom. When she didn't understand something or know right off the bat what to do she always found out. Even when there was no answer she could make you feel better.

My problem was that I didn't want to feel better, not until I found Jack anyhow. I think in a perverse way I wanted to be miserable to make Jack count, to make him mean to everybody what he meant to me. If I just recovered and went back to normal life, what would that do to the value of our relationship? I can even answer that: it would have trivialized Jack, made him seem disposable. I couldn't do that, I could never do that.

Davy tapped on the door and I opened it for him. He had put on a violently yellow t-shirt and khaki shorts that were much more suited for the local weather than the jeans he'd left in. He smiled in greeting and said hello to my parents. He looked at me expectantly and asked, "Ready? Timmy's still sleepin'."

I looked at my parents and said, "We're goin' for a bike ride. Where's the picnic today in case we don't get back?"

They both shrugged and my father said he'd leave a note when they found out, then asked if he should bring food for Davy.

Davy said, "I know where the picnic is, it's the same place as yesterday." He looked a little confused, "I mean, I don't know where it was yesterday or any other day, but it's the same place." He looked around and when he seemed satisfied that we understood him he smiled again and looked at me. "Let's check this place out! Is it always this hot?"

I said, "Oh no, it's hot again?" then I remembered, "Oh shit! My bike ain't even here!"

Davy asked, "Blue mountain bike? There's one right against the house."

Oh good, James or somebody else hadn't forgotten me! I never worried about things disappearing by being stolen, but just because James had ridden my bike to the picnic didn't mean it would get back to me by the same means. He lived across town and probably rode with his family, but he either dropped the bike off himself or had somebody else ride it down. It was there, and that's what mattered.

Davy and I walked to the garage to get the other bike. It wasn't bad. The new one had been my birthday present that year because even though I had a decent bike my parents had hoped an even better one would cheer me up. It had, for about ten seconds. I hated that birthday, not for any reason other than Jack had died at fourteen and I was now fifteen. It was the weirdest feeling I ever had in my life. Jack had always been a little older than me, now I was older than he'd ever be, and I'd just get older and older. There's no words that can describe how I felt that day.

I was getting older, bigger, growing a measurable amount every time I got measured. Jack went to the heavens forever fourteen. It was the damndest thing for me to try to come to terms with.

My fifteenth birthday was the day I really started to lose it, because I felt that Jack and I could only get farther and farther apart. I was already fifteen and he was fourteen, when I was twenty he'd be fourteen, when I was thirty I'd be a damn child molester. I had disappeared from my own little family and neighbors party to write to Jack, and I wrote the same apologetic letter over and over, hoping I had it right, but I was overcome with fatigue before I was sure.

I felt a tap on my shoulder, "You okay, Mike?"

I jumped a little at Davy's voice. "Yeah, I guess. Sometimes I just think too much." I turned to look at him and asked, "Which bike you want? Take your pick, the blue one's newer."

He grinned and again sexual feelings came back to me. I had the urge to just jump on him, do something, anything. He was holding up my old bike but I could see that I was confusing him. I took the handlebars of the bicycle he was holding and said, "You take that one," indicating the newer one, "I ain't used to it anyhow."

He got the other bike and we mounted up, heading towards town. I asked, "Whattya wanna see anyhow? Most everybody's in church right now."

Davy was pretty much beside me. "Really? Can we go to church too?" He looked at himself, "Can we go in like this?"

I looked at his wild yellow shirt. "I don't think so. Ya don't really hafta dress up, but shorts'd be pushin' it. You're a churchgoer?"

He shrugged happily. "I like to go to church. Lately I've been goin' to different ones, just to see what they're all about."

The only church that was actually in Morton was a small catholic one and most of the parishioners there were of Guatemalan heritage. There were several small churches in Dover, but all of the bigger ones were in Arlington. My parents were avid churchgoers and active in the church itself. Us kids had to go until we made it through confirmation, then it was up to us. Melissa and Angie still went every Sunday while I only went sometimes, hardly ever in summer. It wasn't that I believed any less in the summertime, just that the church building itself is small and stuffy and going there on a hot day felt more like being in... well, you know.

When we got downtown we stopped in the bakery for a couple of pastries and walked around town eating them while I pointed things out. The bakery and gas station were the only things open, though I knew Mr. Ritz would open the pharmacy if anybody needed a prescription. He lived right upstairs.

There are a lot of pretty places in Morton. Downtown isn't one of them. It's just a crossroads and everything looks old and bleak. Davy didn't say anything bad about it, and the pastries were good, but I could almost hear him wondering why anyone would choose to live here. We got sodas out of the machine in front of the gas station and drank them sitting on the curb. There was very little movement in town, a little dog out for a walk by itself, the comings and goings at the bake shop, and the occasional ding behind us as somebody stopped for gas.

When we finished our drinks we got back on the bikes and headed down Dover road, which was a pretty street with a fast brook along one side and lots of shade from big old trees. We were near where Tony lived, so I turned down Taylor road and then into their trailer park.

"A friend of mine lives here. He's the kid that made the picture of Jack."

Davy grinned, "Oh, cool! I get to meet the artist."

When we got to the Wolfe's trailer I saw Tony's bike leaning against the front so I knocked at the door. His mother came to the screen door and smiled when she saw me. "Well, looky who's here. Anton's out back helpin' his Pa in the garden."

"Thanks, ma'am. I had your gumbo yesterday and I really liked it. Everybody liked it."

She beamed at me, "Why, thank you child. I was afraid I got carried away with the cherry peppers. I'll drop a jar at your house on the way to the picnic just for you."

"Wow, thanks! Um, this is Davy Loomis. He's visitin' next door so I'm showin' him around town."

She opened the door and smiled broadly as she shook hands with Davy. "I'll be darned! You, sir, are the first tourist who ever came knockin' at my door. Welcome, welcome, welcome."

Davy was smiling confusedly and I'm sure he hadn't understood a word she said. We took our leave and walked around back. Before approaching the garden I showed Davy a birdhouse and told him that Tony made them by hand. He was fascinated by the craftsmanship and was inspecting one when Tony spotted us and came trotting over.

He was barefoot and wearing only an old pair of shorts. He was also dirty, glistening with sweat, and smiling with surprise at our visit. "Hi Mike! I didn't know ya were comin'!"

"Yeah, we were just nearby so I came over to let ya meet Davy. He's stayin' next door. Dave and Tim are his uncles." I looked at Dave, "Davy Loomis, this is Tony Wolfe."

Davy smiled and held his hand out to shake, but as Tony reached for it he noticed his own black hands and pulled them back as if he were surrendering. He gave his shy grin and said, "We better shake later. I'm a mess!"

Davy dropped his hand and started talking. "I saw your picture of Jack and I was just lookin' at these birdhouses. You're really good, man!"

Tony beamed, then looked over at his father who was on his hands and knees in the garden. "Daddy, are we almost done? I got some company here."

His father pushed himself up and looked over his shoulder. "Mornin', Mike. It's okay son, you just bring this stuff we picked in to your Ma and we'll call it a day."

Tony called to his father, "Thanks Daddy," then turned to us and grinned, his eyebrows lifting up with his smile. He mouthed the words, "I'm FREE!" then in a louder voice asked, "Help me with these baskets?"

We all walked over to the garden and made several trips lugging in baskets of tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, peppers, squash, cucumbers and other things that I couldn't immediately identify in their leafy, raw forms. When we were done Tony left us in the living room with a box of his drawings while he went to take a shower.

Davy and I started looking at the pictures, and there was a huge variety of them. The only things they had in common were that they were all on typing paper and all beautifully drawn. There were lots of pictures of people and I felt like I was introducing half the town to Dave as we went through them. There were drawings of some of the kids from school and they were of them doing things that you'd associate with the particular person. There were a few of me, a great one had me flying down the road on my bike. My hair was blown by the wind and if you stared at it you could almost sense the spokes turning. There were old folks, babies, dogs, cats, they were all drawn with the same care, the same sense of awe that Tony must have found in the world around him.

Tony did some beautiful pictures of scenery, all with some little detail that made you look at it just a little longer than you meant to at first. There was an old barn, but just when I was going to set it down I noticed a horse's face looking out from a stall and then there was a little girl inside brushing the horse, just barely discernible.

There was a picture of Joe and Scott playing for the kids at a picnic. They were at the right side of the picture and Tony had drawn all the little kids on the ground listening raptly while older kids and adults leaning against trees looking just as rapt. I didn't count, but there must have been over thirty faces in that one picture and all of them were instantly recognizable. There were empty plates on tables, even litter on the ground.

My two favorites were one of the view from Tony's little whittling shack, looking just like it had the day before, the hills fading into the distance framed by the oval of tree branches and leaves. You could make out each leaf, even see the grain in the bark of the trees. The best picture of all was the exact opposite of that one. It looked as if Tony had managed to hang from a cloud and look at himself from the other side of that view, through that same oval made by the same trees. He was sitting alone in his little shack intently whittling on a piece of wood, his tongue set against his upper lip and tiny chips flying away from his knife.

There was motion in that picture, and when I looked back through some others it was true of all of them. Joe's fingers working his guitar strings, a basketball bouncing almost audibly off a shiny gym floor, cars moving, birds flying, tails wagging, Tony captured it all. These weren't the scribbles of a hateful little prick, they were masterpieces drawn by a boy whose large eyes let him see what other people missed. A more important thought came to me. Tony had been an outsider all his life, a loner who was only tolerated by the people around him, yet he hadn't used that solitude to plot evil acts against those who had always ignored him. Rather, he had captured their essence, the essence of the little town we all lived in.

Not only had he drawn the people and places around him, he'd done it lovingly and humorously. Not one of the faces he'd drawn showed any signs of anger or mean-spiritedness, they were all pictures of people absorbed in their particular moment. It was Tony's world, and when I thought about that it was my world too.

Davy and I hadn't spoken for several minutes. I think he was as lost in Tony's art as I was, because when Tony spoke we both jumped. "You guys ready?"

Tony was standing there in khaki cargo shorts, a dark green shirt that was neither buttoned nor tucked in, and his Blue Jays hat with sunglasses perched on the visor. He was squeaky clean from his shower and radiating happiness with his big eyes and his brilliant smile. Looking at his pictures had given me a greater appreciation for his abilities, and for that moment in time I agreed with Annie Nettleton. I wanted to hug Tony, to tell him he was appreciated by me as the treasure of a person he had turned out to be. There was one little difference between Annie and me.

Annie thought Tony was adorable.

I thought he was beautiful.


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