Jack in the Box

Chapter 17

Dave Devino - Arlington Road Neighbor : August 2000

At first Tim and I didn't realize what we were looking at. We had walked down to the pond looking for our nephew Timmy, and found him sitting there behind a group of kids. Most had their backs to us, but I could identify a few in profile, a few others just from size and shape. Tim and I stood there, hesitant to break up their conversation. I saw Jed Anderson's back, and he had his right arm around his younger brother Pat. Anton Wolfe was unmistakable from any direction. He was also somebody Tim wanted to talk to about his artwork, but he didn't want to have a public discussion until he had a chance to speak with Anton about his idea.

We had followed our other nephew, Davy, down there. He had been in front of us holding the hand of a pretty girl in a yellow bikini, but she stopped and joined the group of kids where we were standing while he continued to the dock to join another group of kids around his age. The girl sat and put her arm around a boy with broad shoulders who, if it wasn't for the short hair, I would have thought was Mike Waters. Jed had his left arm around this boy. When the girl sat with him he turned to smile at her. It was Mike.

I looked at Tim. "Do you see what I see?"

"How could I miss it? Do you know who she is?"

"I've seen her a few times. I haven't been introduced. Are you thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"

"I don't know what you're thinking. I'm thinking Mike has a girl who likes him, also that he's going bald at an amazingly early age."

I laughed and was about to comment when I felt a tug on my sleeve. I turned around, then had to look down to see Sammy Goldman there with a flourescent orange cast on his left arm that went from the middle of his fingers almost to his elbow. He was holding a marker pen in his other hand. "Wanna sign my cast?"

I smiled down at him and took the pen. "You really broke your arm?"

"It's my wrist." He pointed at a blank spot on the cast, which already had lots of names on it, "You can write here."

As I signed I asked, "How's your mom's car? We heard it got hit."

He took the pen from me and handed it to Tim. "Yeah, Mr. Greeley backed into it with his trailer hitch. Daddy said he did a good fuckin' job, but it's okay to drive."

Tim's signature turned into a straight line when he wheezed with laughter. I changed the subject. "Sammy, do you know the girl in the yellow bathing suit sitting with Mike?"

He looked, then ran up and checked out her face. He hurried back. "That's Annie, Annie Nettleton. Her little brother told my brother she has the hots for Mike."

Tim despaired of writing his name and started laughing again while he held the pen out to Sammy. I knew exactly what he was thinking, that he wanted to kidnap this kid and keep him around for comic relief. Our own nephews and nieces had been much like him at that age, innocently repeating what they heard from adults and older kids. Tim had once threatened to write a book about the things that came out of their mouths, then learned it had already been done. It was still a treat to be around pre-teens. It's the true age of innocence for most kids. They can formulate almost-adult opinions and concepts but they're still kids at the core, ready to cry at their own pain and laugh at another's. Their energy seems boundless, yet when they crash at the end of the day they're just like babies. You could have taken one of our nephews and stood him on his head in a corner with a lampshade on his feet and he'd be able to sleep through the night like that. No, it never happened. Just conjecture on my part.

I looked back at Mike and wondered what he was doing. When I was his age and knew I was gay I would never lead a girl on for fear of hurting her. It's actually the reason that I let myself be 'out' in high school, Timmy too - almost but not quite. By the time he reached high school Tim was a handsome kid. He was also shy enough that nobody really questioned his reluctance to talk with girls. I, on the other hand, have never been accused of being shy. When I started in high school I was naive, though. I didn't have a sense of my own sexuality that first year, only that some girls looked good and some didn't. I didn't spend enough time there to figure it out. I got in trouble after a few months and missed most of my freshman year.

When I started school all over again the following fall I was already in love with Tim. We went to different schools and it would have been easy enough to hide what we felt for each other. We did to some extent, but when girls in my grade started making moves on me I knew that time was short, knew that I had to do something. It was easy enough at first. 'I'm taken' worked fine for awhile but it couldn't last. Maybe it could have, I don't know. What I do know is that I had spent a lot of time lying to myself, denying myself, and I knew that lies were indefensible things, that somebody always got hurt by them.

I didn't have any real reason to hide my feelings, but I wanted a lot of people to know me as a person before I revealed them. I guess I did my job well because when I did begin telling some people I had no real problems. People who knew both me and Tim had generally figured out that we were more than just friends. I surprised other people, actually floored a few of them. I saw less of some guys after I told them but I never really felt that I was being avoided. Maybe they were less than comfortable with me or maybe they were busy with other things, I just saw less of some friends. A few things probably contributed to my continuing popularity. A guy named Rafe Anziano had paved the way for other gay kids by being Rafe. Everyone in the school knew he was gay and he still became one of the most popular guys there by being friendly and fun to know. For a long while he was the only 'out' gay person in school, but he made life easier for those still hiding their feelings by making everything seem possible.

I helped him with that during my first attempt at high school by kicking a few butts of guys who were tormenting him. Rafe did the rest all by himself through sheer dint of his personality. The other thing that probably helped me was my reputation as a street fighter, which is why I rarely squashed the stories that my extended absence had been caused by me killing some other student with my bare hands. I went all through high school without once being threatened by anyone else.

Tim was another story. His school didn't have a Rafe Anziano and Timmy was reluctant to try to become one. He was an extremely handsome guy and a lot of girls were trying to crack his defenses. He tried for a while to just maintain casual friendships, but several girls were on competing missions to claim him as their own. It was a stressful situation for him and we were always talking about ways for him to reduce the tension it was causing without getting him in trouble. There were undoubtedly other gay kids in that school, but beyond one guy who was effeminate and got bothered for it, nobody was out. Tim didn't even think that kid was gay, only that he had some unfortunate mannerisms that got him teased a lot.

We didn't know what to do, and we re-hashed the possibilities endlessly. Only two people in his school knew Tim was gay and that I was his boyfriend. They were our other 'brother' Jerry and his girlfriend Deanna, and they seemed to be the key if we could only figure out how to turn it. Every idea we had other than Tim just telling people seemed like a lie.

Tim had a lot of his own friends from school, mainly guys from the track and cross-country teams. He wasn't very close with any of them because our own little circle only included Timmy, Jerry and Deanna from his school. Eventually, Deanna had the best idea. Tim should get to be better friends with the biggest and baddest of those guys and, with the rest of us present to lend a hand or a fist, let them know that he had a boyfriend and wasn't interested in a girlfriend. Tim was reluctant, thinking correctly that nobody knew anything or thought anything. He was also aware that good looking guys couldn't refuse girls forever and not raise questions. It was the questions that scared him, because they were questions with only one honest answer. We all felt that it would be worse if people started guessing than if they knew and didn't worry about it. My own experience and Rafe's told us that most people really didn't care either way, but Timmy didn't have me beside him at school. He was a capable fighter, but hesitant to hurt anybody just because they didn't share his feelings.

It was Tim's decision, and he decided to just tough it out. If people wondered about him he'd let them wonder and not worry about it. It was probably the wisest thing to do. Everybody knew he was tight with Jerry and Deanna, so their questions often enough went to them first and got deflected with the comment that Timmy was already going steady with someone from another school and that, besides, he was working hard to remain an honor student and had two part time jobs to boot. Girls eventually gave up on him only to be replaced by others, but he made it through his last two years of high school with no scars.

Boy, my mind was wandering right then. The group of kids in front of us had started to break up, everybody rising except Jed, Mike and Ann. Pat Anderson walked by us and I said, "Cool shades. Can you see through them okay?"

He smiled timidly. "Do you think I can wear them to school? I know they make me look like a punk, but at least I don't look like a creep."

I smiled, "I'll see what I can do. Try getting a note from your doctor."

He beamed his surprise. "He'll give me one! I wish I got these sunglasses before everybody saw me."

Tim said, "I don't really think it matters, Pat. People like you just the way you are."

Pat grimaced a little, "Yeah, people do. I'm talkin' about the girls! I know how doofy I look, I just can't do anything 'til I get better. Who knows how long that's gonna take?"

I said, "The bright side is that you will get better. I spoke with your Mom earlier and she said your prognosis is a-ok."

"Yeah, I know, but we're all goin' fishin' tonight and Lissy'll be there. I kinda like her, but I saw the way she looks at me... like I'm some kinda defect." He looked up at me, then Tim. "This ain't a lotta fun, you know."

I felt bad for Pat. Without the glasses on he was a good looking kid, but they did make him look 'doofy'. I had to say something. "Listen, Pat. Everybody knows what you're going through. I know you can't see without the glasses, but take 'em off once in a while and remind people that it's still you behind them. What's this about girls going fishing anyhow?"

He hesitated, then smiled, "Oh, yeah. I think the whole town's comin' tonight! The girls say they can outfish us anytime. Well, HA! Fat chance. I know for a fact that Lissy don't even know how to bait a hook."

I bit, "Okay, who's Lissy?"

"Lissy Waters... Melissa... Mike's sister." His smile tightened, " She's cute, don't ya think?"

I did, and it made me smile. "Yeah, she's cute. You got your eye on her, huh?"

Tim said, "Er..."

I laughed, "Sorry Pat, I didn't mean to put it that way. Do you? Like her, I mean?"

Pat's eyebrows rose above his glasses and he licked his lips. Timmy laughed and said, "Good answer! So listen, what's goin' on with Mike and Annie?"

Pat looked back at the beach where they were sitting with Jed. Mike and Annie still had their arms around each other's backs, but Jed had moved and sat facing them. Pat smiled a little and said, "Oh, they been makin' hootchie-koo since yesterday." He looked back towards them briefly, then turned back. "It'd be nice if they hit it off. Annie's real nice, real strong too." He looked at them one more time. "She'd be good for Mikey right now." He smiled at us, "Well, I gotta go change and get ready. Have fun!"

With that he wandered off, Tim and I calling goodbye after him. I looked at Tim. "You think?"

He plopped down on the ground, looking towards the dock to find our nephews, then at Mike's and Annie's backs. "I don't know what to think. I mean, Mike looks like he's come a long way. He's talking to other kids and seems like he's doing better, but now we need... I don't know what we need. I just don't want to see either of them getting hurt."

I sat next to Tim and asked, "Either of who?"

"I mean Mike and that girl. He's a good looking kid, Dave, he's gonna get girls chasing him. I just hope he's honest with himself before he does something stupid."

I looked at Mike and Annie. Jed had gone, but they looked to me like any other boy and girl. "Maybe Mike's not really gay. He was in love at twelve, how often does that happen? He told me they never did much, Mike was always not ready."

"And Jack was?"

I looked at Tim's confusion. "The way Mike tells it, Jack was always ready. He liked his sex from an early age and got in trouble for it." I took a deep breath, "Jack was a nine year old whore, Tim. Mike loved him, there's no doubt, but he never did half what Jack wanted."

Tim looked at me, seeming more confused. "You're saying Mike was seduced?"

I looked into Tim's soft blue eyes. "I don't know, from what Mike says he did the seducing himself, Jack only went along after a long time. I don't know what to think, Tim. It might have been Mike's vulnerability at that time in his life. We can't know Jack, so we're only ever gonna get one side." I looked again at Mike and Annie. They hadn't moved much, were still making goo-goo eyes at each other. I grinned at Tim. "You said I was going through a phase once!"

Tim smiled at the memory. "Yeah, I did."

"So maybe Mike really was. Who the hell falls in love at twelve?"

Tim looked at the sky, then at me. He smiled, "I did."

I knew that, and I treasured that fact. Tim had loved me before I paid any attention to his existence, then when he got in my sights I kicked the crap out of him. I had no idea then, but after a few years I got the message. It didn't give me an idea of what was going through Michael Waters' head now though. All I knew that anything was possible and that we'd come down to the pond in the first place to find our nephews and see what they wanted to do that evening.

Were we side tracked? Yes indeedy, but that was the story of our lives. Our love for each other was the underpinning of our lives, the thing that kept us alive. Neither of us would dare die before the other, that would cause pain. Instead we kidded and joked our way through life, taking nothing except each other very seriously.

There had been ups and downs all along the way. Tim's first choice, second choice and third choice of colleges had all rejected his applications, then he got some acceptances and checked them out. He was hesitant about the one he selected, but once he got there he loved it. The curriculum he chose was exactly what he wanted and he was on his way to living his dream. The school was near enough to where we lived that we could get together at least on weekends, often enough on school nights too.

We actually spent a lot of time apart in those eight years. Tim started college when I started my junior year in high school When I graduated High School I took a summer internship at a library out of state, then immediately went to my first year of college. By the time I finished my Bachelor's degree, Tim had his Master's. He put it to a typical Tim use by getting a van and buying and selling junk at flea markets. If you were a junk buyer in the early eighties in New England, you might remember seeing him. Tim was the good looking, long haired guy with quality junk, who knew all about it and could bend your ears for hours about its origins and anything else he knew about all that stuff

Tim knew how to turn it into real money, useful money. By the time I finished my own master's and was ready to look for a teaching job Tim was a fixture at antique shows and flea markets. He was making a name for himself as a restorer of antiques, working out of a rented garage. As he learned, he got more courageous about the projects that he'd take on, going from a refinisher to actually reconstructing and conserving very valuable pieces. He invested much of his earnings in better pieces for himself and opened his own store in an area full of antique shops. He only competed at the high end and he was very successful selling quality antiques to people who had the money to pay for them. Some weeks he earned more than I did in a year as a starting teacher.

It didn't matter, we were finally and permanently together. I paid my fair share of everything. I loved teaching and I loved Tim. Tim was more delighted every day by his own success. During summer he'd 'hire' me and we'd take long working vacations scouting the country for antiques that interested him. Our life had been a full and happy one, and our love for each other seemed to grow every day that we were together.

The decision to move to Morton hadn't been without trauma. We had to leave all of our friends, and not being able to see them whenever we wanted to didn't come without anxiety, but after just a short time in Morton we felt pretty happy with our choice. Morton was a little town, but the people we were meeting all seemed to be interesting and friendly. People cared about each other, but they didn't fret about everything they saw. Children roamed free from an early age and, whatever their background, they were uniformly polite to adults. They, like their parents, seemed indifferent to the racial mix of the area. Some people had money and some didn't. You could tell who was who, but it didn't seem to matter. Respect was mutual no matter what your financial status was. I didn't know how widespread the knowledge had become that Tim and I were gay. We had told a few people and others may have inferred it.

That didn't seem to matter either. To a soul, everyone was cordial and friendly towards us. This was only my second weekend in town, but I felt that I had a standing invitation to knock on any door and expect to be welcomed. People knocked on our door all the time too, and it was fun to have them just drop by because they happened to be passing and noticed the cars there.

Anyhow, we had come looking for young Timmy to see what he wanted to do. I had to start work the following morning and couldn't go out anywhere, but Tim wanted to offer to take him somewhere if he wanted to go. Davy was going fishing with Mike and some other kids. That surprised me in a way, but we both knew Timmy wouldn't be interested. I got him to go with me one morning years ago and he didn't care for it at all. He was about eleven at the time, and that's about the number of minutes he fished before he started whining that it was boring. Of the two boys he was the most reserved, but also the most easily bored. He was quiet by nature, but always active. Davy was anything but quiet most of the time, but he was the one who could sit and listen to adult discussions for hours on end without getting bored. He had a patience and tolerance for inactivity that Timmy didn't share. I was willing to bet that his first time fishing would get him hooked on it, it was the perfect thing for him. I also knew the kids he was going with would keep him engaged in conversation all night, and that would put him in his element.

Tim nudged me. "Let's go." We stood up and walked towards the dock. I glanced at Mike and Annie as we walked by. They looked like they were having a happy discussion and Mike looked great with his newly short hair. Annie was definitely a cute girl and they made a nice looking couple. Tim took a look too, then asked, "You think?"

"I don't know, Tim. Maybe they're just friends. Maybe you can talk to Mike if you see him tomorrow."

"Me? What can I say to him?"

I smiled, "I gotta work. Just find out what's goin' on. Like I say, they're probably just friends."

"And if they aren't? You heard Sammy, she has the hots for him."

"That's kid talk Timmy. They're not even touching. Well, barely."

"Yeah, bare is the operative term here Dave. That kid's got a hardon that's gonna rip his bathing suit in another minute."

"Leave it to you to notice."

We had just stepped on the dock and Tim pushed me off into the water, then dove right over me and started swimming away. I didn't even attempt to catch him, just splashed around for a few minutes to cool off and then sat on the dock. Young Timmy sat next to me. "Hi, unc. What's up?"

"Hi, Timmy. Tim wants to know if you want to do something tonight."

"Like what? Watch corn grow?"

"Hey, you saying you don't like it here?"

"Days, yes. This picnic's fun, but where's the neon at night? Man, you don't even have streetlights."

"Do so."

"Yeah? Where? That's why we got lost last night. You live on the blackest road I ever saw."

"It's right in the center of town. You must have found it if you could see to dial your phone."

He chuckled, "Oh, that one. Yeah I guess we did find it, but it's the first one in about ten miles."


"Wait, that's the center of town? Uncle Tim's not bringing me there is he?"

"Oh no, it's far too dangerous. He'll probably want to bring you to some blues club in the city. That's a much safer place to be."

"Isn't that kinda far?"

I put my hand on his shoulder. "Timmy, nothing's far when your uncle Tim is driving. Trust me."

He knew that and it made him laugh. "Uh, did you know that kid Mike next door is bi?"

"We were just talking about it. He always said he was gay... now he's bi?"

"Oh, I didn't know if you knew anything. I don't know what he is, just what he said. He said he had a boyfriend, now he's all interested in a girl. I only overheard it, but I told him that sounded like bisexual. I hope I wasn't out of line."

I gallantly answered, "Don't worry about it Timmy. You're going home tomorrow; your other uncle will untangle this." I looked for Tim in the pond and he was headed our way. "Here he comes now. We got a list of good places in town, so you pick whatever sounds good and he'll take you there."

"You're not coming?"

"I can't. Tomorrow's the first day on the job."

"School's starting?"

"Just for the teachers, it starts for the kids next week. We have to pump iron and eat gunpowder for a week to make sure we're ready. If it was last night I would have gone, but I have to get up early." Tim swam up to the dock and held himself against it with his elbows. "Hi, Tim. Thanks for pushing me in before. Imagine this, just before you did that I was gonna ask you to shove me in when I least expected it so I could get a real mouthful, maybe even catch a disease I never heard of. Next time we can try it over a sewer grate or something."

Tim smiled happily. "Anytime!" He looked at Timmy. "So, kiddo, wanna hit the big city tonight? See what's happening?"

Timmy shrugged, "Sure, I guess. I don't have to wear a cowboy hat do I?"

"Of course you don't. I'll just wear two of them. You do need spurs though. You can borrow Dave's since he's pooping out on us."

Timmy chuckled. "It's Sunday. Is anything going to be open?"

"Who knows? I'm sure some places will be open. If we're going we should head out pretty soon."

I was surprised by that. "You're going already? I thought you'd go later."

Tim said, "I'd like to get to town before dark. I don't exactly know my way around there, plus we got spurs to polish."

I laughed, "You're nuts. Go ahead, then. You guys have a great time. I'm staying here for awhile, I want to see if Joe and Marty are okay."

Tim looked, "You don't want a ride to get your car?"

"I'll hook a ride with somebody or just walk, it's no big deal. Listen, if ya come home all stumblin' drunk don't make any noise, okay? I hafta get up at five."

Tim grinned, "Yeah, and you definitely need some beauty rest!"

"I'd rather rest with a beauty."

Tim grinned, young Timmy said, "Cut the crap! Please? If we're goin' let's go. If we're not, please show me how to run a canoe so I can go drown myself."

I laughed. "Get goin', guys. I'll make sure Davy's set up."

Tim pulled himself out of the water while Timmy stood up. I gave Tim a quick hug and said to both of them, "Have fun and stay out of trouble."

Tim got in the parting shot. "Fun might be a problem, but stayin' out of trouble is a snap when you're not around." He smiled, "Sleep tight!" and then they were gone.

I sat on the edge of the dock for awhile just relaxing and observing the goings on. I saw Nick Cassarino walk onto the beach with his little girl, Nydia. He walked her into the pond and started washing something, probably food, off of her. I hopped into the water and walked towards them. "Hi Nick," I grinned at Nydia, "who's the pretty girl, and what's that all over her?"

Nick smiled, "You know Nydia, and she's covered in marshmallow fluff. Don't ask me how this happened because I don't have a clue."

Nydia squeaked, "Jose and Scotty did it. I said I wish I was white, so they did it. They're creeps!"

Nick was valiantly trying to get the stuff off her, but it was pretty resistant. He looked concerned, "You are white, baby. Why's that a concern anyhow?"

"I just wanna be pretty!"

Nick kissed her nose. "You are pretty, very pretty. Hmm, you taste pretty too. Sweet, just like you are."

I was trying not to laugh at the situation. "Problems?"

Nick looked up, "Naw, this is normal. Those two always use Nydia for their experiments, it's nothing mean. They're sneakin' around somewhere watching this little bath and laughing their asses off." He went back to his ministrations, finally telling her to just swim for awhile to see if that worked. Nydia surprised me by diving into the water and swimming quite well for a little girl.

"Where'd she learn that?"

Nick was smiling proudly at her, "All the kids are regular water rats. They have tons of swim medals."

"Um, I asked Scott and all I got was a cock and bull story. How do two gay guys have five kids?"

"Which one did you hear? The airplane story? The earth suddenly opening up? The faucet thing? Maybe the dumpsters? Scott has a, um, vivid imagination."

"Well, he told me you found them in a dumpster, then washed them up in a laundromat and took a bus here."

Nick laughed. "Laundromat? That's a new twist!" He smirked, "The rest is true, though. They were dumped and we happened to find them."

I was incredulous. "Dumped?"

Nick looked wistfully at Nydia splashing around with a few other kids in the pond. "Yeah, their parents were losers so the state took them away. They lived with their grandmother, who did a fantastic job until she started to become senile. Then Maria took over, but the state came back for them." He looked at me, "It was shit luck, man. We so much wanted to have kids, but it seemed impossible. We applied to adopt anyhow, and this is what we got. Five of 'em, all so tight you'd swear they were glued together."

"You adopted them?" I suppose that had always been one of the possibilities in my mind, but I was still stunned. "Five at once?"

He made a sound that might have been a low laugh. "Yep, all five, and they're a unit. You met Maria, well she's the boss, she holds everything together. The past week has been tough with her gone, everybody misses her direction."

"You said they were dumped?"

"I don't know, bad choice of words maybe. They wanted to stay together and the agency had to break them up into different facilities. They thought they were gettin' cheated, that's what I meant. Nobody wanted to do them harm, but they couldn't find one place for all of 'em."

"And you adopted all of them."

He watched Nydia swim, a satisfied smile on his face. "Yep. We're all one family now, and I love it."

"No problems?"

Nick gave me a look that had dumb question written all over it. "No problems? Are you serious?" He smiled, "Scott thinks it's some linear equation, like maybe you multiply their ages times the date to come up with some number of problems each day. There were tons of problems at first, but things got better over time. We have problems every day, but nothing every gay couple with five kids doesn't face."

I laughed. "They're very nice kids."

"Yeah, they are. I don't think we had much to do with that, they were nice when they came to us. Like I said, Maria's the boss. Hec's having a real hard time with her gone."


"Yeah, he's a funny kid. I know something bothers him and I think it's us being gay. He just won't talk about it. He's not anti-social, but he can be a loner sometimes. Hec just thinks the world has something against him, I think. We make the kids do their fair share of work and Hec's almost religious about his part. He makes like nothing's wrong, but I know there is. What the hell can we do if he won't talk?"


"Yeah, their parents are Puerto Rican."

"You get along otherwise?"

"Yeah... we love Hec and I'm sure it's mutual. It's just that he gets these moods where either he doesn't like anybody or thinks nobody likes him. He's smart as a whip, they all are. If I ever got his grades my mother would have dropped dead." Nick looked at me, "I'm not sure what it is. Sometimes he seems jealous of Jose, but he's always there to back him up. He forms friendships, then seems afraid of them. Hec's been dumpin' kids since he got here. I just don't get it."

"How'd two rock stars happen to end up in Morton, anyhow? Your accents tell me you came from somewhere else."

"Yeah, we grew up in the north. We came here to visit Joey when he first got his house and we fell in love with the area We bought the first place that came on the market and we've been here ever since." Nick looked serious. "This is a nice town, Dave. People look out for each other, but they don't ask a lot of questions. Scott and I don't advertise our gayness and nobody's ever mentioned it, though anybody who hasn't figured it out must have their heads in the sand. We're not stars here either, just people, and that suits us fine."

"You've known Joe for a long time then? I never heard that part."

Nick smiled, "Yeah, we've known Joey since we were kids. Him and his family are the reason that I'm alive, and Joey's the reason we started a band to begin with. He also gave me Scott."

"He saved your life?"

"Yeah, I'll give him and his father credit for that. At least they gave me a sane life. My stepfather hated that I was gay and he was causing all kinds of problems. Joey's father got together with Scott's and Keith's fathers and got me out of there, then Joey's father intervened with my stepfather. They all helped really, even got my own father to move to town so I could live with him. I went from being the most miserable kid on earth to one of the happiest in about a month. It was Joey that made it all happen."

"And the band?"

"It was Joey's idea. He got us together in Keith's basement and we started jamming. Nobody was too sure about each other at first. The only thing certain was that Scott could sing up a storm. It turned out that we were all holdin' back at first, you know - like not too sure how good the others were so we aimed for the lowest common denominator. When we finally let loose it was, like WOW! We were kickin' ass man, and it sounded good! Scott's father started letting us use his studio and teaching us about showmanship. Everything kind of gelled, then it took off."

"Joe used to be in the band? I never knew that."

"Joe quit before we ever made it. He loved the music and the guys, but he hated the lifestyle... all the late nights and all the traveling. We hated that he left, but we all understood why. It is a sucky life, especially when you're not making a lot and have to depend on the club scene."

I was stunned. "Joe was good?"

"He still is, he just doesn't want a gig. He doesn't want to be a stage musician, period."

I was wondering about something Nick had said. "Scott's father had a studio?"

"Yeah, it was hidden under a barn. He's..." Nick leaned and whispered a name in my ear.

I'm sure I turned white. The name was one of Rock and Roll's legends. Scott's father? I gasped, "He's Scott's father? Howcum the world doesn't know that?"

"They don't want the world to know. His father's a private guy and he always used a stage name. There was never a good reason to advertise their relationship, so that's the way they keep things."

"Wow! Double wow!"

Nick smiled, "Listen, Dave. Scott and I just got lucky. We've been through the ego thing a few times and we don't even like it in each other. We're just people who do what we do for a living, just like you. It doesn't make us any better or worse than anyone else."

I looked at Nick and could tell that he wasn't just saying things. He seemed like a really decent and intelligent guy, totally unlike the person he appeared to be on stage.

"Okay, one more thing. How did Joe give you Scott?"

Nick blushed a little. "When I first met Joey I fell in love with him. He was the only person on earth that still wanted to be my friend when he found out I was queer. The truth is, he didn't even understand what it meant. Him and Scott were both shy... like really shy, and they were very naive. They had a hard time getting a whole sentence out in public. I wasn't especially bashful, just afraid of people because I knew the shit I was already getting, especially at home."

I almost stammered, "Those guys were shy?"

"Heh, you'd never guess, huh? Yeah, they were basket cases. The day Joey asked me and Keith about starting a band he was shaking so much I thought he'd fall down. Anyhow, he was cute and a sweetheart of a kid, and a wicked good guitar player. Trouble is, Scott and him already loved each other."

"Joe's gay?"

"I didn't say that. They were each other's only friends like forever. Those guys love each other like nothing you've ever seen, but when I got interested in Scott, Joe just told me to go ahead. They were both just learning about sexuality and I had a little experience. I put a couple of moves on Joe and he flinched. Then when I spent some time alone with Scott things just clicked for us. When I told Joe what we did he wasn't mad or anything, just told us to go for it. He was getting hooked on my sister at the same time. When I look back, I think he was doing the same thing I was. I loved my sister and they were good for each other. I think Joey felt the same about me and Scott, so we both helped each other along. I know that Joe always comes first in Scott's book and that's fine with me because he deserves to. I don't even hold hands with Scott in public, but those two do all the time."

"I noticed that."

"The funny thing is nobody thinks anything of it, nobody thinks it's a gay thing when they do it. There's no sexuality and there's no shame. Those two have a bond nobody's ever going to break... not me, not Marty, not all these kids. I've been with Scott over twenty-five years, but nobody from the old days remembers anything except Joey and Scott. It's like it was one word in their minds."

I smiled at that' "That's a real nice story, Nick. Timmy and I are best friends first. Everything else grew from that, but if it was all that was left I'd pick friend any day."

Nick sighed, "Yeah, me too. Um, are your nephews going fishing with everybody tonight? It sounds like the whole town's going, even three of ours."

"Davy's going. He's the sixteen year old. Tim's takin' Timmy to see the city."

Nick grinned. "Something's going on. My daughter never wanted to go fishing before, now she's all excited about it."

"Yeah, I heard some girls were going. I don't know, dark night, private spot. I hope they keep their minds on what's in the pond."

Nick laughed. "Yeah sure, like that's what's going to happen. The day my Jose and Scotty Goldman decide they're going fishing is the day that I know fishing isn't on the agenda. It's a party, plain and simple. You watch the kids when they start to leave. These tables are going to be so empty of food it'll look like an army of starving refugees marched through here."

"You're not worried?"

"About what? They're kids looking for some fun before school starts up again. Nothing bad's going to happen."

"You're not worried about them drinking or anything?"

"Nah. I'm sure they're swiping all the beer they can find, but they'll watch out for each other. They won't find enough to get anybody into trouble anyhow. You never drank or anything when you were a kid?"

"Um, yeah... I guess I did. I guess it's no problem as long as they're not going anywhere."

Nick smiled and shook his head slowly, "There's nowhere to go, Dave. This so-called fishing trip is going to be their big social event for the summer. I don't think anybody's worried."

I smiled at the notion that there was nowhere to go, that these kids felt limits even if they weren't rigidly imposed. I also kind of wanted to go and watch them, not as a voyeur, just as somebody who had that kind of freedom once, only to see it robbed from kids over the ensuing years, all in the name of their own safety.

As a teacher I was getting increasingly pissed off with so-called 'zero-tolerance' policies. I was tired of seeing and hearing about well intentioned honor students getting expelled from school because of some innocuous act, some omission, tired of hearing about students who 'fit the profile' because they were popular, because they were good students. It seemed like such a cop out to expel first and ask questions later. The way the rules got written left no room for interpretation, no room for explanation.

What kid doesn't want to be popular? Wanting to be a good student may be more problematical, but most kids try. But no, being a popular 'good student' makes you fit the 'profile' of a Columbine killer. There is absolutely no sense to it. When I was a kid in school you could get kicked out for fighting, smoking, a whole host of reasons. Not one of those reasons was for being popular or a 'good student'. Parents want their kids to be popular, want them to be good students. They encourage it, but what are these bullshit rules going to encourage in the future? "Johnny, don't bathe or brush your teeth before school... somebody might like you. Give me that homework so I can hide it... you might pass and they'll think you're a 'good student'. Better yet, just stay home and go play with your friends in the minefield. It's much safer than that school."

Nick smiled at somebody behind me. I turned to see Davy approaching. "Hi, unc. I got volunteered to drive some of the guys tonight, is that okay?"

I introduced Davy to Nick, causing him to completely forget what he'd come over for. I excused myself and left him there to fawn on his own time. I wanted to talk to Mike Waters before he disappeared from view. He and Annie hadn't budged and were now alone on the beach. They looked as I approached them. Mike smiled, "Hi Dave, have you met Annie?"

I bent and held out my hand. "No, I haven't. It's a real pleasure Annie."

Mike finished the introduction, then I asked to speak with him alone for a minute. He asked Annie to wait, then stood and we walked over to the dock. I said, "I didn't even recognize you before. What happened to your hair?"

He put a hand to his head, "You don't like it? Annie cut it for me."

"I like it fine. You should just wear a name tag when you do something like that so people will know it's you."

"I look that different?"

"You look way different. Annie's a pretty girl. I take it you like her?"

Mike looked over to where she was waiting, then back at me with a dumb smile. "I do like her. It's got my head all messed up 'cause I'm supposed to be gay."

"Nah, you're not supposed to be anything. You decided you were gay because you loved a boy. Now you have your eyes on a girl, and I guess that can happen. You're young and I imagine your, um, tastes can change. Maybe you're the kind of guy who likes both sexes. I only wanted to ask you to consider Annie while you sort things out in your own head. Just go slow, okay? Make a friend first, then see where your feelings take you. That way the worst thing you can do is disappoint her."

Mike stared at me, and by the way his expression kept changing I could tell he was thinking about what I'd said. He didn't respond, so I continued, "What I'm saying is don't let passion take over your brain until you're sure that your heart's where it belongs. Don't hurt that girl while you try to figure yourself out, don't use her for some kind of experiment. Okay?"

"How will I know?"

"You'll know, believe me you'll know. Talk to Annie about this, too, let her know that you're confused so she doesn't try to push you. Like I said, make a friend for now."

He smiled and it turned into a grin. "Yeah, a friend. I'm gettin' good at that. Thanks, Dave."

We turned and walked back. I left Mike with Annie after telling them to have a good time at the party. Neither of them mentioned a thing about fishing.

I went to where I'd left Davy, hoping that he'd calmed down some. Now Scott was with them and Davy looked ready to faint. I spotted Joe checking Sammy's cast so I just walked past the rapturous teenager and approached Joe instead.

"Hi Joe, rough day?"

He looked up and smiled. "Not really. I always wanted to spend some time tryin' to clean up dirty words on my kid's cast. I never got to do this before."

I laughed, "Yeah, it's always fun to do something new." I looked at Sammy, "How ya feelin'?"

"I feel okay. I don't get to do anythin' for a month."

Joe stood and patted him on the shoulder. "It only takes one hand to eat ice cream. Go find your mom, we need to get going."

I asked, "Leaving already?"

"Yeah, I have to fix up a rig for Scott to fish with and find food for him to bring." He looked around, "Where's Tim?"

"He's taking young Timmy for a night on the town. Davy's goin' fishing with all the kids."

"And you?"

"I'm just going to relax. First day on the job tomorrow."

He looked surprised, "It's starting already, huh? Well, good luck to you. If my kid causes any grief just box him up and ship him to Kansas or somewhere."

I chuckled, "What do you do for a living, Joe?"

"Me? I'm chief mint mixer at the chewing gum factory."

"Oh. That sounds interesting." It actually didn't sound interesting at all, but I had to say something.

He beamed, "It's fascinating. I love my job!"

"Yeah, well it's always a plus when you enjoy what you do. Nick told me you were an original member of their band. Do you regret not sticking with it?"

"Regret? Nah. Those guys make entirely too much money and they don't have a clue how to spend it. That's one of the things wrong with bachelors, they don't have wives teachin' them the finer points about stayin' broke. Keith Hensley, their drummer... now there's a guy with a good wife. They got mansions, condos, cars, a boat, that guy knows how to live."

I just stared until Joe smiled. "I'm just playin' with ya. Keith's happy, but you won't find two happier people than Scott and Nick, especially since they got the kids. They absolutely love being fathers."

I regarded his happy face, "I get the feeling that you do, too."

He smiled wistfully, "Yeah, it's even better than my day job."

"Which is? I forgot, sorry."

"Yeah, what I told you. Listen, we gotta scoot. Oh, the picnic's moving across town to Scott and Nick's tomorrow. You get to see how the other half lives!"

"I don't know where their house is."

"It's over near me. Just go to town and wait for a car fulla heads to go by, then follow it. If I try to tell ya you'll just get lost. I'll see ya there." With that he waved a little and turned to leave. I looked and found a calmer looking Davy sitting on the grass with Scott and Nick. I sat beside him.

He looked at me crossly, "You didn't tell me you know these guys! This is amazing! It's soooooo cool! Nobody's ever gonna believe me."

Scott smiled at Davy, "You can tell your friends we met, but I'd really appreciate if you don't say exactly where, okay? The picnic's at our house tomorrow. If you bring a camera we'll sit for pictures with you, even autograph some CD's." He grinned, "This is a bribe. We really don't want the world knowing our address."

I squeezed Davy's shoulder until he flinched. "You understand that, don't you?"

His excitement was evident. "I understand. I already forgot the name of this town anyhow."

We all chuckled at that. I said, "Davy, I'm goin' home. You want to walk with me?"

"I can't. I have Mike's bike and I can't just leave it here. I'll ride down with him." He looked up, "You never said if I can borrow a car."

"How many kids are riding with you?"

"As many as I can fit. Can I use that van? Is it still full of stuff?"

"No, it's empty. You just be careful, and no drinking."

He smiled, "I won't. Thanks."

"I'll stop and get you some chips and soda to bring. You want some sandwiches?"

"Yeah, if you don't mind. Everybody's bringin' somethin'."

I stood up and said, "I'll put everything on the kitchen table if I decide to take a walk."

I said my goodbyes and started to head towards the street, saying goodbye to people along the way. When I was past almost everyone I met Anton Wolfe and an older looking boy who I didn't know. "Hi, Anton. I gotta say, I'm really impressed with your drawings. Um, Tim has an idea he wants to talk to you about. Stop over sometime. Who's your friend?"

"Oh, this is Clay. Clay, this is Dave."

We shook hands and I recognized Clay right away, not the boy himself, rather the self-conscious yearner. I had met lots of kids like him and could almost spot them on sight. They had dreams they knew they couldn't attain, so-so ballplayers who wanted to play in the major leagues, okay musicians who wanted to be stars. It's not that these kids wouldn't succeed in life, they often did in some other field because they knew how to try hard. I had noticed Clay with Anton several times that day, so it was a fair assumption that his dream was to be an artist. His hands and eyes just wouldn't cooperate, so he attached himself to Anton.

There's nothing wrong with it, it's not even sad. That's where aficionados come from. I took a chance. "You like art, Clay?"

"I love art! I wish I could do it, but I just can't. You saw Anton's stuff, isn't it amazing?"

I smiled at the two of them. "It's amazing indeed. Are you guys both going fishin' with everyone?"

That got me two sly grins. Anton said, "Clay's goin, I'm not sure about me." He turned a very stern looking glare towards Clay, "Them fish just better watch out, huh Clay?"

That set them both off giggling so I said, "Bye, guys. Have fun!"

They kept giggling at my ignorance as I walked out of the yard and headed home. I had driven this way several times and run this far once, but this was my first time walking and I took my time. There was a large fallow field heading uphill across the street. The side I was on had only woods with the occasional driveway and mailbox. The driveways all curved downhill towards the pond just like the Denson's. A bit farther down there were a few houses on both sides, all of them close to the road and old. Some had been fixed up and some hadn't, but none of them were anything alike. Some yards were immaculate, others were full of old rusted things that had probably been trucks and tractors in their heyday.

When I got closer to home, the houses got newer and farther back from the road. You could tell which families had children just by looking down their driveways and in the yards. Balls, toys, bikes, basketball hoops, they were all in evidence. Other homes had manicured lawns and an abundance of well kept flower beds, indicating people with more time on their hands than children would allow.

When I got home and looked at our own yard I decided it needed work. Until we moved in the realtor had used a landscape company to keep it to minimum standards, but now the yard was weedy and pretty shaggy looking. I had never gotten into yard work, and Tim didn't really like it, so I decided to ask if he wanted to hire a contractor to take care of things. Our old house had a nice enough yard, it was just small... less than a half-acre. Now we had a mega-lawn and not even the luxury of a lawnmower.

Talk about oversights. If we had a mower I would have right then and there mowed at least the front. Instead I went inside and took a shower, then with just a pair of shorts on I popped open a beer and sat on the screen porch looking at the back yard. It was peaceful and I was alone, then I remembered I'd promised Davy some food for their fishing trip. I put on a shirt and shoes, grabbed some money and drove to the mini-mart. They had ready-made sandwiches in the cooler, Frito's and ready-made dip on the shelves, and soda in another cooler. When I got home I put the cold things away and left the rest on the table. We didn't have a cooler that would fit everything, so I left Davy a note saying what was for him and where it all was, then went to rejoin my beer, which was no longer cold.

It didn't matter. It wasn't dark yet, still I turned the outside lights on and the inside porch light off. I sat down to relax and ponder things, especially my concerns about a bunch of kids having fun. I wondered where that came from, as I certainly had never lived through it when I was that age. This town seemed to give their kids the same freedoms I'd grown up with and I liked seeing it. Not usually one to reminisce, I did anyhow, marveling about how trusting the adults around me had been. I saw the same thing in Nick earlier, the feeling that nothing could go wrong, like the kids would keep each other in line. That's exactly what we had done, we took care of our own problems... at least when they were at a kid level.

It was refreshing to see parents who gave their kids the space they needed to discover the world on their own, who understood that they needed that. My prior teaching job had been in a town full of soccer mom's, if that's a valid expression.

Parents tried to control every waking moment of their kids lives, setting aside times for every last lousy activity. They had kids involved in sports the kids didn't particularly like and weren't good at, then demanded that they all got time on the field. Their peers told them that kids had to be well rounded to compete in the real world.

That's bullshit. What matters in the real world is your ability to find personal satisfaction, to make friends and form loving relationships.

It's about waking up each morning with a sense of wonder about what you're going to discover that day, and falling asleep at night satisfied that your day had met that morning's hopes. That's not likely to happen when your parents have expectations for you that you don't share.

Maybe some do, but most people don't develop realistic career expectations before their late teens, many people never do. How would you ever even know if you'd be a fantastic heart surgeon if your father is determined that you have to be a Mickey Mantle to get there. The two things don't add up.

These parents say they're giving their kids the maximum number of opportunities, but what they're really doing is wearing them out and confusing them. It seems the pat thing these days to compare life to a game, but it's just not that simple and you're not going to learn how to live by playing basketball, even if it's your favorite thing. All you learn from schedules is about being on time.

There are enough imperatives in a child's life, right from potty training on. Games shouldn't be one of them, nor should success in school. Some kids just aren't studious, it doesn't mean their lives will be failures. Working hard will improve anyone's grades, but it won't necessarily make everybody an A student. It's the working hard that's important, trying your best whatever the result is.

What kids really need, and what I saw at work in Morton, was unsupervised time by themselves, especially in large groups. They'd set their own limits and watch out for each other. There might be fights, but they'd get broken up. The shy kids, if they even went, would feel included even if they really weren't. The natural leaders would surface and try to make things go the way they intended, the natural followers would... well, follow.

I heard the door open and got up, wondering if Davy needed anything, then I sat back down.

If he did, he'd ask.


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