Jack in the Box

Chapter 22

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : August, 2000

I was still lazing on the porch with Buster when Dave pulled in next door. I waved to him and he walked over to the porch railing. Buster woofed and trotted over for a pat on the head.

Dave smiled, "Hey boy! Where is everybody?" He looked at me, "Nobody around?"

I shrugged, "Haven't seen anybody all day except for Mr. Wolfe. He's out back somewhere."

"Oh. Well they probably left a note. How're you doing anyhow, good party last night?"

I smiled, "Yeah, it was great. I was kinda hopin' I could talk to you."

Dave seemed mildly surprised, "Me? Uh, sure. Let me get changed and I'll come right back, okay? Unless you want to come over here."

I guessed it didn't matter. At least my sisters couldn't walk in on us at Dave's. "I'll come over there I guess. Lemme wash up and I'll be there in ten."

Dave nodded and called to Buster to follow him. I went to the bathroom and washed my hands and face, once again admiring the haircut Annie had given me. My hair was soft anyhow, and the way she'd cut it I didn't even have to comb it after a shower, just kind of shape it with my hands. When I got outside Dave and Buster were waiting for me and we walked out to the deck on the back side of the barn. We could see Mr. Wolfe out by the woods with a grass trimmer. He was far enough away that the noise wasn't intrusive.

I sat at an umbrella table and waited while Dave went in to get drinks and dog treats. Buster knew what was coming and drooled from both corners of his mouth while thumping his tail expectantly. Dave came out with a little tray. He had a beer for himself, a lemonade for me and a little pile of biscuits for the dog. He teased Buster for a second, saying, "Want a cookie?" and holding it just out of reach. The volume of dog drool increased dramatically, then he tossed it into a suddenly open mouth. Buster crunched once and swallowed, and they repeated the performance until the biscuits were gone. Buster kept his hopeful look for awhile, but when he decided nothing else was forthcoming he walked off the deck and stretched out on the grass in the shade.

I chuckled, "He's a funny dog. How's he ever taste anything?"

Dave smiled, "Yeah, he's funny. He only chews when it's mozzarella and it sticks to his teeth. He's pretty smart too."

I was watching Tony's father. "Howcum ya hired Mr. Wolfe?"

Dave glanced at him working out there, "Why wouldn't we? He knows how to do this stuff and he likes it. We probably know how, but neither of us like it. Wayne wants the extra money and we want a nice yard, so everybody's happy."

He smiled, "So, is there a problem or do you just want to shoot the breeze?"

I wasn't really prepared so I just went ahead, figuring the questions might make sense after awhile. "Not a problem really, just kinda strange things happening. At least I think they're happening."

He smiled, "And they're strange? Uh-oh! How strange?"

"You won't tell anybody, will ya?"

"Of course not. What you tell me in private is between you and me."

"Thanks. It started with the accident Sunday night ..."


"Well, I don't know about any of that stuff I did, like how to revive people or anythin'. I mean I suddenly knew, but I never knew before. After, I thought it must'a been Jack, but it didn't feel nuthin' like after the bus crash. He was like... talkin' to me then. Sunday it was like I just knew what to do all of a sudden, and it was comin' from my own head."

Dave looked interested and muttered, "Wild."

"Then Monday we saw Clay in the hospital and he said he had a dream after the accident that he was in my head showin' me what to do."

"Clay was in your head?"

"He says it's a dream, but get this. When he was havin' it he thought he was in love with me. He remembered it, but the feeling went away when he came to."

Davy was staring at me, "You think... Jack?"

"I think it had to be!" I went on to tell Dave about the sunlight suddenly lighting up Jack's name on the hospital sign, like it was saying I'm right here.

"I don't know what to say, Mike." He smiled a kind of spaced out smile. "Boy, if that's true it's really beautiful." He looked at me and grinned suddenly, "If it was Jack, he sure knows how to make an entrance."

I laughed, "Really? You really think it's Jack?"

"I don't know of any other choices. Who else knows how to save lives and is in love with Mike Waters? It sounds like he found Clay instead of you, though."

"There's more. Last night at the party Clay was all happy, then later he said he had a dream again and figured it all out."

"Figured out his dreams?"

"Yeah, he said he had to give me something then he wouldn't remember anymore. It was weird."

"It sounds mysterious, not weird. What did he have for you?"

I stared at Dave for a minute, finding the same strength in his soft eyes that I'd seen there before. I could tell him. "It was... um, it was a kiss from Jack." Dave's eyes widened, "Dave, it wasn't Clay kissing me. It was Jack, right down to his breath. I thought it took about ten seconds, but it was almost an hour! I couldn't even tell if it was real, but it must have been. I was all confused right after, like I just woke up or somethin', but ever since then I ..."

I stopped, not sure what to say.

Dave smiled reassuringly, "Take your time, you'll get it out."

"I know what I wanna say, I just wanna say it right. It's just that ever since then I've been happy. I don't feel guilty about likin' Annie, heck I don't feel guilty about anything. I saw my shrink today and I even made him happy."


I grinned, "There's one more thing. I have this thought in my head and I know it's Jack thinkin' it for me."

"Oh my, you are close. What's the thought?"

"That I need to talk to my angels." I stared at Dave, "I think I'm talkin to one right now. I think you're the one in charge."

Dave's jaw dropped and he lost his smile for a second, putting his hand on his chest. "Me? I'm your angel? What makes you think that?"

I squirmed a little, "I don't know, it's just a feeling. I don't think it's your job or anything, I just think you are. I don't even know if you like me or you're just being nice."

Dave was stroking his chin. "I don't know what to say, Mike. I mean, of course I like you. Let's start with that. I can see how you're struggling to understand yourself and find your place in the world. That I can really appreciate because I've been there. Every kid goes through it to some form, and I suppose everybody has some kind of internal grief getting there. I think you're like I was in some ways, dealing with death and, if I'm right about you, thinking you have no center."

I looked up, "Paulina said something like that."

"I know it's the way I was. I ran around for years thinking that losing my father was the defining moment of my life, that because he was gone I didn't mean anything to people, because the person I wanted to mean something to wasn't there anymore."

Dave looked up, "My mind was twisting things, Mike. I didn't have meaning, so to me nobody else did either. Don't get me wrong, I made friends and had fun. I was so tight with Timmy you'd need a chisel to get us apart. The problem was that I never realized that other people felt I was important to them. I felt worthless, so I never gave a thought to what other people saw in me, what they hoped for and expected from me. Am I making sense here?"

"Not really... I mean, I think I get it."

"Okay, let me try another way. When people you love die, you get sad, feel the loss. When my Dad died I was sad, then I got angry. I mean, why me? I loved my father, he was the center of my world. When he just up and died on me my whole world was in disarray. I didn't think of it like that at the time, but that's what it was. What I was, was one angry kid, pissed at the whole world. I either beat up my friends or scared them away. That's when I met my angels. They showed me that there was still fun to be had, that if I was good to people instead of beating on them I could have friends. That's what I'm getting at."

"Okay, I get it. I got pissed I guess, but only when people apologized for harassing me and Jack." I looked over at Dave, "That's stupid, huh? We never got really mad when it was goin' on, but when Jack was dead and people apologized I got mad at them. Like, why apologize now?"

"It's not stupid, Mike, and I'd probably be angry too. Let me finish the point I'm trying to make, then we'll talk about you, okay?

I nodded.

"I was making friends, and they meant a lot to me. We had three years of good, clean fun." He smiled as if remembering something, "Well, clean in a moral sense. There was lots'a mud and four-letter words, but nobody was doing anything to hurt anybody or anything. We were basically good kids, our own little group having fun in our own way." He glanced at me, "You with me now?"

"Yeah, I got it now."

Dave went on, "My problem, and it was my problem, was that even though I liked the people around me and had fun with them, even admired them, I never picked up on the signals that it was mutual. In my mind, they were my friends, I wasn't their friend because I had nothing to offer." Dave picked up his beer and took a sip. "Anyhow, when something else beckoned I just turned my back and walked away. I knew I was losing something, but I never thought they were because I never thought I was their friend."

We just looked at each other for a moment. I wanted to hear the rest, but I had a hollow feeling because Dave was describing me. It wasn't exactly the same, but I had always liked other people and been curious about them, and they seemed to like me well enough. What was the same as Dave was that I sensed other people's value to me, I just never thought I had anything to return.

Dave continued talking, "Anyhow, when I left I got into trouble. I hate even remembering it, that it really happened to me, but it did." He was getting an odd look in his eyes, "Mike, I ended up trying to kill myself. I thought I managed it but Timmy was there. Everybody was there. Timmy saved my life one night physically, but a whole lot of others saved my mind."

He leaned his face on a hand and croaked, "Mikey, all I wanted to do that night was just die. I was so humiliated, so sick, so lost, that living longer just looked like a bad choice."

I felt bad for Dave. I knew he was doing this for me, but it was clear it was costing him. I leaned across the table and touched his hand, "You don't hafta tell me this."

"Yes I do, because you're doing the same thing in a way. Let me fast forward a little. I had dumped a lot of people, but they were all there waiting when I got back. Did they want revenge? Not hardly. Mike, they took turns, but every one of my old friends showed me that I was important to them in some way. Do you hear me? They told me that their lives were better because of things I did or said." Davy's smile returned, " Me, Mike! Davy Devino! I mattered, I was worth something."

He grinned, "To this day I don't know if it was a conspiracy, but every single person I knew gave me a reason I made their life better. You know what came of that?"


"I found my center and it was me, not my father." His look turned serious for a second and he grabbed my wrist, "Mike, I love Timmy more than life itself, but I'm the center of my own world. I couldn't keep him happy for an hour if I wasn't, he'd know something was wrong." He looked a plea to me, "Do you get what I'm saying? I know you miss Jack, but you need to be the center of your world, it's the only thing that can work."

"I don't really understand. Paulina said the same thing, but I don't get it."

Dave looked exasperated. "Okay, one more try. There are a lot of things in life that can bring you pleasure without any people involved. Just a nice day maybe, or something good to eat. How about a pretty sunset? Everybody likes sunsets, maybe a walk in the woods? See, things without people are fine, because it's just you. Without other people around nothing matters except what you like or don't You're just you. It doesn't matter at that point, you're just Mike Waters. I hate to sound crude, but nature doesn't give a shit if you even exist. In reality, nature might even try to eliminate you, just for fun maybe. You know, earthquake, forest fire, tidal wave, maybe just a falling rock aimed at your head. Nature is indifferent. Are you with me?"

I smiled and nodded, thinking I knew as much about nature and her wiles as the next guy.

"Okay, it's simple then. If you're alone out in nature somewhere, the woods or a beach, it's all around you, right?"


"So, what's the center right then, you or somebody else?"

His logic made me smile in embarrassment. "It'd be me at that point."

"Very good, let's stick with it. Say you're walking down a path in those woods, then suddenly you see Jack. Where's the center then?"

"With Jack." I thought for a second, then got it. "Ha! I get it! I get it! I'm still the center, right? Jack's just in my picture right then!"

Dave grinned. "Exactly, and I like the way you put it. Okay, now we have Jack in your picture. He's the person you love most in the world. What do you do?"


"What do you do now? Wait for him? Run to him? Look at each other?"

I thought a second, "I dunno. They all sound good."

Dave bounced in triumph. "Bingo! They're all good choices, because right then you're at the center. Okay, next question's trickier. What happened to the trees, the path, everything around you?"

I was picturing Jack, "They're still there, but they're not important anymore. Jack's here."

Dave stood up, "Oh, you're good kid. Who's in the center now?"

I smiled, "Me. Am I supposed to be?"

He grinned and practically roared, "Oh yeah, that's where you belong." His look and tone of voice both softened, "Stay there, Michael, it's where you need to be. That's just a snapshot, but you need to be there all the time, every day. Look at it, it's your world! That's what you need to learn, your world revolves around you. It's not a selfish thing, Mike, it's just the way things are. You need to love yourself for who you are, take care of yourself." He glared at me, "You won't find Jack by looking for him. When you get centered, when you're at peace with yourself, then Jack can find you."

I stared, "Is that what you've been gettin' at all along about me finding Jack? Why didn't you just say so?"

"Mike, you were pretty messed up when I moved here. You've come a long way in a short time. You tell me, wouldn't you have just thought I was full of it?"

I opened my mouth to protest, then realized Dave was right. I remembered what I was like, how I was behaving when he first moved here. Then I thought about all the things that had happened since then. Everybody had been putting up with me, tolerating my behavior until it got so bad that I pushed people over the edge. One by one they got pissed off at me, causing them to act like the men they were. Jed and his father, my father, Bob Surdiak, Joe, Dave... I pushed too far and, one by one, they stood up and forced me to think about what I was doing.

The sickening thing is that I knew I was doing it and I couldn't stop myself. I was being a selfish little jerk, thinking nobody understood me when the real fact was that I didn't understand myself. I forced myself to smile at Dave. "You're right, I would'a thought you were pickin' on me."

He smiled, "Things are better now? You don't have to answer, I can see it."

I grinned and answered anyhow, "Way better. I think I like havin' angels."

He beamed, "I'll bet you do! Speaking of angels, did Anton find one too? I saw him holding hands with Paulina the other day."

I thought about Tony, about what he'd come to mean to me. Then I thought of what Dave had said and wondered if I meant the same thing to Tony. I couldn't read Tony's mind, but I thought maybe... just maybe... I did. I started smiling at the idea. I knew it was true, Tony had said so several times. I grinned at Dave, "Yeah, Tony has an angel too. I ain't sure if it's Paulina or you, but he has one."

Dave smiled, "Have you considered the possibility that you might be Tony's angel?"

I hadn't. "Me?"

He shrugged, "Could be. Anyhow, a lot of people saw them together and there's a lot of buzz. Nick said Anton's all Paulina talks about. What's Anton say?

"Tony says they go to France."


"That's what he says, you figure it out." I was giggling.

Dave fingered his chin, "Okay, I don't know where you're going there. Let's get on to part two. You want to know what I think about you?"

I got excited for some reason, "Yeh, that's what I wanna know. I don't know what anybody thinks." I looked at my hands, which were looking for something to do.

"Okay. First, you're a good looking kid. Just the fact that you look the way you do and you're still trying to find meaning for everything means a lot. I teach school, Mike. I see new kids every year, and a lot of the good lookin' ones think they have a free pass. What's sad is that often enough they're right. People like being around good looking people, and because of their looks things can be made easy for them. I think everybody gets cheated a little when that happens."

"Yeah, I know some kids like that. They think their shit don't stink even if they never did anythin."

"The next thing I like is your honesty, especially with yourself. You don't just worry about things in your life, you examine them and figure them out. When I first started having real feelings for Timmy I freaked out. When you fell in love with Jack you said, okay so I'm gay. What's next?"

"Yeah, so what?"

Dave looked at me, "Mike, that's an awful hard admission for most people to make. Accepting yourself for what you are is a very grown up thing to do, and it's a very important thing to do." He raised his eyebrows, "Um, what's up with Annie?"

"Haha! Me usually!"

Dave's eyes went wide, then we both burst out laughing. "Really? Heh, she's giving you the horn?"

"Huh? The horn?"

"You'll figure it out. You're being careful about her feelings aren't you?"

"Yeah, I told her what was goin' on in my head. We talked about it on Sunday, then at Paulina's house. She kinda lit into me the second time, sayin' I got a big head if I think I'm gonna hurt her. She's right, too. It was conceited to think I'd automatically hurt her if I changed my mind."

Dave grinned, "I'm impressed, Mike, by you and Annie. I guess I'm surprised that you like a girl, but I probably shouldn't be. Don't go thinking there's anything wrong with it."

I was smiling, "I know, and nothing's wrong. I think we have it figured out." I laughed, "Hey, I just figured out the horn! That's funny!"

Dave chuckled, "Yeah, Timmy always says this or that gives him the horn. It is pretty funny."

"So you don't think I'm weird because I like Annie?"

He laughed, "Hey, if she gives you the horn just go with the flow!" He grinned wildly, "Hey, I just figured out France too. That's really funny!"

I laughed too, "You gotta hear Tony say it!"

"What, two syllables?"

I was giggling, "At least, more like three. It's Fray-ants-uh."

We both started giggling. Davy snickered, "I don't mean to make fun like that, but he's hard to understand." He grinned at me, "You understand him now, don't you?"

I just smiled my agreement. Dave said, "Want another drink?"

"Can I have a beer?"

He studied me, "Do your parents let you drink beer?"

"I guess so, they never said I couldn't."

Dave laughed, "Tacit approval, huh? Do you really want one?"

I shrugged, "Beer's good." The truth is I'd had my first real taste of it when we went fishing Sunday. I liked it and so did Annie.

Davy looked at me doubtfully, "I probably shouldn't. If you want one, why don't you go in and swipe it so I can claim ignorance." He grinned, "Bring me a Beck's while you're there, okay?"

I went in and got two of the green bottles and walked out with them just as Tim, Timmy and Davy were coming along the side of the deck wearing cowboy hats. I had two beers in my hands and didn't want to get Dave in trouble.

As soon as Tim got on the deck I handed one to him, saying, "Heard you coming."

I looked at the three of them. The hat Tim was wearing fit him fine, and he looked natural in it. Davy and Timmy looked silly, and I think they knew it in an 'I want one anyhow' sort of way. I asked, "You guys have fun today?" I guess the question was pointless, since they all seemed happy.

Davy and his brother started talking all at once, Davy falling silent as Tim took charge of the answer. "Yeah, it was fun. We went on a river boat ride for lunch, then went to this really neat western wear store." He fingered the brim of his hat, "Whattya think?"

I tried not to laugh, I really did. "I think," I sputtered, "I think it's really ..." I couldn't say it, but Timmy and Davy both started giggling and I joined them.

Davy took his hat off and handed it to me saying, "I bought it for you, Mike. You can get away with wearing it. At least you'll know where it came from. If you ever feel like remembering me you can put it on and look in the mirror."

I looked at Davy and he was serious. He had a whole day before he left. I put the hat on and asked, "How's it look?"

Davy adjusted it a little, then backed up and looked. He smiled and yanked it off my head laughing, "Don't wear it in public, promise me. I really thought you could get away with it!" His grin softened into a smile, "It's still from me to you. I... I really don't know what to say." His smile disappeared, turning into a sincere stare. "When me'n Tim were coming down it was the trip that was fun. You guys, especially you, turned it into an experience. I know how I wanna live my life now." He took my hands, "I'm gonna be a Morton man, no matter where I am."

He pointed at my chest, "You'll get a chance to come visit, Mike. I'll make sure of it. I'm gonna change things in my crowd. I wish you could see the before, but I can promise you'll see the after." He looked around, not at the people, just the place. His voice was quiet and soft, as if he was speaking to himself, "I really love this, all of it."

Tim interrupted, "Is everybody ready to head to the picnic? It's about that time."

Dave said, "I didn't have time to make anything."

"S'okay. We can stop at the bakery and buy some pastries or something. The picnic's at the Goldman's, so its right on the way."

I ran home to leave a note for my mother, but she'd beaten me to the punch with her own note. It said she was taking my sisters to the mall and they'd be to the picnic late if at all. I wrote on the bottom that I was going with the neighbors, then washed my hands and face and ran next door. Davy was wearing a Red Sox hat, which made me wonder about his pain threshold. We got in Dave's Explorer with Timmy, who was driving. Tim took Dave with him in his car and said they'd stop at the bakery and for us to go ahead.

When we turned into Joe's driveway Tim said, "Wow! What a freakin' place!"

The Goldman's place was one of the nicest in town, yard wise. Their house was set way up on a hill, but they had big expanses of lawn and took care of it all. It really was kind of awesome.

Sammy and Hector were in the driveway directing traffic onto a flat acre of grass where a lot of other vehicles were parked. When I got out I went over to Sam.

"Hey, Sammy. How's the arm?"


I knocked on his cast, then on his head. "You're arm? How's it feel?"

He smiled, "It's okay. It itches. Scotty says it's gonna be a toothpick when I get this thing off."

"When's that?"

"I get a smaller one next week, and I gotta wear that for a month. Um," he looked up at me shyly, "Do you really have the hots for Annie? That's what Scott says."

I chuckled, "He does, huh? Well, I think that's kinda personal."

Sammy looked down, "Oh. I just wanna know what it is. Scott won't tell me."

I asked, "How old are you now, Sammy?"

He said, "Nine."

I patted his shoulder, "Ask me again when you're ten. Maybe I'll have an answer."

Davy and Timmy were standing there impatiently, and Sam turned away to guide another car in. We headed up the long driveway to the house, then stopped when Joe came over to us. He had a broad smile and shook hands with all of us. "Hey, glad you could make it. Go find Scotty and get a souvenir from our trip up north. He noticed Davy's cap. "Red Sox fan, huh? My dog likes the Red Sox."

Davy stammered, "Your dog?"

Joe nodded, "Yup. She cries every time they lose."

Davy asked, "She does? What's she do when they win?"

Joe gave him a 'gotcha' grin, "I don't know yet. She's only five," then he pushed Davy's shoulder and we all started laughing. Joe pointed out where things were, and turned to talk to someone else.

I had my eye out for Annie, but didn't see any of the Nettletons around. We got something to drink and mingled with people. I felt good that Davy and Timmy had made friends with people and I didn't have to chaperone them. There didn't seem to be a lot of kids my age there that night. Maybe they heard about Joe's souvenirs and decided not to come. It didn't take long to figure out that they were baseball caps with pictures of lobsters on them, and brims that were about a foot long. Most everybody was wearing one, though I didn't expect that I would be any time soon.

I spotted Jens sitting on the deck eating nachos and sat beside him. He held his plate out to me, "Watch out. They're wicked hot!"

Jens was right, the cheese had big chunks of hot peppers all through it. The cheese masked the heat for a second, then I was very glad I had an almost full can of iced tea. I took another nacho, then another and another. They were delicious!

Jens was watching me with a little smile and he finally said, "Wow, you are brave!" He looked around, then almost whispered, "Mike, thanks for saving Clay like that."

I didn't like the tone of voice he used, it was almost conspiratorial, and that often led to a long string of praise. I said, "You're welcome. Where'd ya get the nachos?" I started to stand.

Jens grabbed my wrist and I sat back down to look at him. His expression was beyond serious, almost pained. "I mean it Mike. I don't know what I'd do without Clay."

I must have looked incredulous, "Without Clay?"

"Mike, I know Clay's older, but he's the best friend I have. He's the only person that really listens to me." I must have looked surprised, because Jens went on, "Clay used to babysit me. I always knew I could tell him anything and he kept it to himself."

"So howcum I never see you with Clay? You guys both went fishin' with us a few times and I don't think you said two words to each other."

Jens looked down and frowned. "That's Clay. He don't want anybody gettin' the wrong idea because he's so much older."

"The wrong idea? That's... it's fine Jens, I just didn't know."

"Well, now you do. Clay's like my big brother, he's always there for me."

"There for you how?"

"Lots of ways."

"Jeez, Jens. Tell me a few!"

"He babysat until I was thirteen. By then we were friends and he came over all the time anyhow. When I was in the hospital he came every single day and sat for hours. He was there when the doctor said I was going to be okay." Jens got more intense, "My parents weren't even there then, but Clay hugged me and we both cried until they got there. I mean, I didn't think anything was gonna happen from the minute I woke up, but they had to do all these tests to prove it. Everybody else was scared because I came so close, because so many things could go wrong."

"I heard that there was a chance of brain damage"

"Yeah, other things too, but none of it happened. Clay cried because he was happy I was gonna be okay. I cried because I was happy that Clay was there with me." His eyes seemed to lose focus for a second, then riveted themselves back on mine. "I love Clay, Mike. I truly do. By savin' him you saved me a second time."

"Did you ever tell Clay that?"

"No, he'll think I'm homo or somethin'."

I shook my head and looked at Jens, "He won't think that at all, and if you use that word in front of me again you might hafta consider what really bein' dead feels like."

Jens' eyes went wide, "I didn't mean it like that. I can't just go tellin' another guy I love him."

"Jens, use your head. How else is he gonna know? If he means that much to you, tell him so. Clay ain't gonna think the wrong thing."

Jens thought for a second, "You're right. He should hear the words." He looked up and tossed me a small grin, "Thanks, Mike. I'll tell him tonight."

I was smiling at Jens as I processed that thought. Clay suddenly seemed to be popping up all over. I never thought Clay had any particular interest in people, but Jens loved Clay just because of who he was to him.

When Clay mouthed off about Annie and me the other night, Annie had jumped right to his defense, but he was her brother and you'd expect that. There were a lot of people at the hospital waiting to see Clay the day we had gone there. I thought it was just friends, but it was still a pretty good cross-section of the kids in town.

James had said on several occasions that Clay was the right guy to save, if that's what we did. James obviously admired Clay. He'd gotten him riled up on our first fishing trip, and the things he said would have been fighting words to most guys. James just kept up until Clay thought it was funny and gave in. I thought at first that Clay was seriously angry, but later I realized he wasn't. He listened to James' bogus explanation and backed off, then told me he thought what he said to begin with would come out funny and didn't.

I guess I felt indebted to Clay myself for bringing me closer to Jack, even if he wasn't aware that he had. I got up to get more nachos. "You want more Jens?"

"Naw, I'll get a stomach ache."

"So Clay's coming tonight?"

He grinned, "You mean Annie? Yeah, they'll be here."

I saw Tony in the yard with Tim and ran over to him. "Hey Tony, where'd ya go all day?"

He smiled, "Hi, Mike. I worked on the birdhouse, then went cuttin' branches for the next one. Paulina helped me all day."

I giggled, "Yeah, I bet you got a lot done then."

He smiled proudly, "You'd be surprised. Hey, guess what? Mr. Atkins is gonna try to get some of my pictures in a book!"

I looked at Tim, "Really? You think you can?"

Tim smiled and shrugged, "I don't know. I think it's worth a try. I talked with a friend who knows someone who publishes art books. I was just getting Anton's permission to fax them some samples. He'll get them tomorrow, so keep your fingers crossed."

That sounded exciting, and I could tell that Tony thought so too. He was all over Tim with thanks and questions about publishing that Tim couldn't answer very well. I saw Dave, Davy and Timmy over with Joe and Andy, so I wandered over there and joined them.

They were all laughing at something, and Andy was the only one who noticed that I had appeared. He grinned, "Hi there, Mike!"

"Hi Andy, where you been?"

"We went to visit Jason for a few days. He sends you his best wishes." He was all excited, "Guess what?"


He smiled, "I'm gonna be a grandpa!"

"Really? They're havin' a baby? When?"

"Middle of March. Guess what else?"


"Jason wanted me to ask if you'd be the godfather."

I was aghast, "Me?"

"Yup. I think they've made a fine choice if you'll do it. What do you say?"

I was thrilled... bewildered... I stood there with my mouth open. "Yeah! Sure... of course!" Jason was one of my favorite people and I adored his wife Jen. I was devastated when they moved to the Carolina's but they had to leave for a job opportunity. I was always thrilled when they came to visit. I'd do anything they asked, but I never expected such an honor. I looked at everybody, "Did ya hear that? I'm gonna be a godfather!"

They all seemed happy for me and I got congratulations from all around, then Joe looked at me, "Mike, I was just explainin' to these fellers about some of the finer points of country living." He turned to the others, "For instance, just last week I put wall to wall carpeting in the bathroom."

Dave said, "That's gonna really feel nice on cold mornings."

Joe beamed. "I'll say. Marty likes it so much she wants me to run it right up the path and into the house!"

Andy and I burst out laughing, the others just stared in confusion. Joe said, "That's a time joke. Laugh when ya got time," then he looked past me, "Uh oh, here comes trouble times five."

We all looked to find Scott and Nick walking toward us with their usual happy faces. They had Paulina, Jose and Nydia in tow, but Paulina broke off as soon as she spotted Tony. Jose ran up asking, "Where's Scott?"

Joe looked around, "I'm not sure, he's givin out party helmets." He looked at me, Timmy and Davy. "You boys make sure you get one. There's a hundred dollar bill hidden in the brim of one of 'em. I'd hate to see ugly pride make ya miss your chance." He turned his grin to Scott and they hugged tightly while Nick shook hands with the rest of us.

I asked Nick, "You guys gonna play later?" It was usually electric guitars and amplifiers at Joe's house and I looked forward to it because they could play better stuff than when it was all acoustic.

"I dunno Mike, depends on your tolerance for pain." He elbowed Scott, "Mike wants to know if we're playing music later."

Scott looked up, "Yeah, I hope so." He looked at Davy, "I got you a trophy, don't let me forget. It's the mike I used when we played at Shea Stadium. We both signed it."

Davy's jaw dropped and he looked like he was going to hyperventilate. "F-f-f-for me?"

Scott smiled brightly, "Yup! There's a big photo from that event too. And if you're gonna stutter pick a word that doesn't start with 'f'. I thought you were gonna say somethin' else for a minute there."

Davy laughed through his whiteness. He really looked ready to faint. "I... I don't know what to say."

Dave bopped his shoulder, "Try thank you."

"Yeh, thank you. It just don't seem like enough."

Scott smiled, "It's enough." He yelled, "Hey Paulina! Bring that camera over here." He looked at Nydia, "Sweetie, run down to the van and bring up that tube that's in back."

Nydia ran off as Paulina, Tony and Tim approached. Scott said, "Get some pictures of us with Davy. Then get some with his new friends so he can remember his visit here."

Paulina started posing them for pictures, and when Nydia got back with a big cardboard tube she took a picture of Nick handing it to Davy, and another of him opening it. The picture from the tube was poster sized, even bigger than most. It was of Scott singing with his hair blowing in the wind. Everything in the background was blurry, but the microphone was right there in the photo, big and clear enough to reveal the serial number. The real thing was wrapped in paper. Davy unwrapped it and looked at the signatures. He looked at Nick and Scott with tears in his eyes and the three of them fell into an embrace, captured on film by Paulina.

I hadn't expected Davy to ever forget his little foray to Morton to begin with, but this was the icing. Davy was absolutely beside himself with excitement and happiness. I wasn't sure why Scott and Nick were doing this for him. It didn't matter because it was making my new friend very happy, and that made me feel glad for him.

I liked Davy in a way that seemed special to me. He had Jack's mouth, Jack's smile, but that was the end of the resemblance. He managed to turn me on sexually, at least a little. I knew that was hopeless and didn't dwell on it. He had the same kind of sexuality that his uncle Dave possessed. It wasn't overt, just there. I was surprised that girls weren't literally hanging off him, but what did I know.

I found myself wanting to do something for him. I had no idea what it might be. I couldn't compete with Nick and Scott. I just felt that Davy's showing up in Morton had helped me somehow, though I couldn't put a finger on what it was. He just drove into town with that huge grin. His grin had only disappeared a few times, and those were times when nobody could manage a smile.

Another thing was that he was so accepting, so able to fit in everywhere. He hadn't turned his nose up at the Wolfe's old trailer, nor had he gone overboard about Scott and Nick's place. He hadn't made a single negative comment about anybody or anything since he arrived. The opposite was true, Davy seemed to like everyone he met and everything he saw. Maybe I envied that, I don't know. I hoped I could get to be that way by just emulating him.

I wondered if it was because everything new to Davy was old hat to us. No, he liked the people, and he seemed to like all of them. He wasn't put off one bit if somebody was black or hispanic. Nobody in Morton was either. There were mostly black families, followed by whites, then hispanics. There were a few Asian kids in school, but none from Morton. Joe had put it best once when he said we weren't 'color blind', just 'color indifferent'. You couldn't not notice if somebody was black or white, if they spoke with a Spanish accent or a hollers one. I had grown up with it not mattering, and I guessed Davy must have too.

I felt hands gently reaching around my tummy and pulling me back. I didn't have to turn around to know that they were Annie's, but I wanted to turn around, to see her face. She was smiling, "Where were you? Lost in space?"

I grinned, "Yeah, as usual. Howcum you're so late?"

"We had to wait for Daddy. We're always late for everything." She bounced and grinned, "How'd it go with the shrink?"

I wanted a kiss. I leaned close and got one. "It was great. It was the first time we ever got anywhere."

Annie smiled, "And me?"

I was confused, "And you?"

"Yeah, am I legal territory or do I hafta go fishin' again?"

I giggled, "You're legal. He doesn't think I'm nuts. You hungry?"

She smiled, "I'm starved. Are you cooking?"

I grinned, then poked Joe's shoulder. "You get clams this year?"

Joe seemed startled, "Man, I forgot all about 'em." He grabbed my arm and headed me to the garage, "You're movin' in here kid, I need your memory. I spent a fortune for these things. The last thing I need is for them to rot in the garage." He looked at me, "You know how to open 'em, don't ya?"

I grinned, "I ain't as fast as you but yeah, I know how."

I helped Joe set up a table in front of the garage, then he dragged out the coolers full of clams and put plates and bowls of sauce on the table. He grabbed a knife and handed me one and we started shucking. I had a hard time with the first few, but Joe reminded me to take it easy and not fight them and I got the rhythm. When we had about four dozen ready we put them on a tray of ice and Joe yelled, "CLAMS!" then we each took the ones we had hidden away and squeezed lemon on them and spooned on hot sauce.

I backed up with one aimed at my mouth, only to bump into Annie. She promptly removed it from my hand. "Are these raw? Are they any good?"

I took it back from her and scraped it off the shell with my teeth, then chewed on it. "Yeah, they're raw." I grinned, "These are mine, if ya want some get your own."

She turned to do that and I said, "I was only kidding. Here, take these. I can open some more!"

Annie turned around and smiled, lifting a clam and looking at it closely, "It's safe to eat?"

I shrugged, "I guess, I'm still here. Just try one, you like spicy!"

Annie hesitantly held the little shell to her mouth and sucked off the clam. Her face was funny for a second, then she smiled and chewed. "These are awesome! We quickly polished off the dozen, then I opened a dozen more and we ate those.

A lot of people were eating them, so I went back to help Joe keep up with the demand. I saw Paulina convincing Tony to try one and laughed at his expression when he first got it in his mouth, then smiled at the subsequent happy surprise when he discovered he liked them.

Scotty and Jose came by with a big box full of hats and Annie happily put one on, so I did too. They were silly, but part of the fun. Joe always brought something funny back from wherever he went. Last year it was musical Mao lighters from China. They looked like Zippos, but they had a picture of Mao Tse Tung under plastic on the outside, and when you flipped the top they played a tune. Joe said the song was 'The Red Sun Rises in the East to Greet Our Fearless Leader.' I didn't get a lighter, but it was funny listening to about a hundred of them going off at once.

Annie and I got some food and sat at a table with Tim and Dave, Scott, Nick, Joe and Marty. They were all funny people. Dave asked Marty about her accent.

"Oh, I grew up in Maine. Then I went to college in Boston, now we're here. I'd have to admit that there are a lot of influences."

Tim seemed interested, "Maine? I love Maine. Did you live on the coast or inland?"

"Oh, we were far from the coast... up in potato country. We used to get a break from school to pick potatoes."

Joe had a mouthful of food that he almost spit out. He swallowed hard, "Yeah right. Lookit ya, the only potatoes you ever picked were off your plate!"

Everyone laughed and Marty huffed, "I did! Besides, I eat like a bird."

Joe snickered, "Yeah, a fuckin' vulture," which got us all roaring and Marty red in the face. She was laughing too, and we were all having a good time. When it quieted down a little I turned to Annie. "Jens was tellin' me what a good friend Clay is to him. I never knew that."

She smiled, "Yeah, Jens is Clay's best friend. I never figured it out. One minute Jens acts older like Clay, then the next Clay's behaving like a kid. They have fun, and I guess that's what counts."

I said dreamily, "Yeah, I guess that's it." I looked at Annie, "A lotta people really like Clay. I never really knew you guys, but I kinda like him too." I smiled gently, "I really like you."

She gave me a quick kiss, "Clay's a good person, there isn't anything he won't do for his friends. His problem is that he's in dreamland half the time. He spaces out and he gets real ugly." She brightened, "I don't know if you noticed, but since the accident he seems like a different boy. I don't think I've ever seen him happy for more than a few hours at a time, now he's happy all the time."

Nick must have overheard us, "Maybe he has a new lease on life. I used to think the world was a sucky place and I was the odd man out. I was the picture of doom and gloom 'til I met these guys," indicating Scott and Joe. "Maybe Clay found trust for once. Just my two cents."

Annie looked at Nick, "There's trust in our house. I always trust Clay to do the right thing," she giggled, "Once he figures out what it is."

Nick rocked his head in thought, "I didn't mean anything negative about your family, but kids need to find it outside the home too." He looked around, "Our Hector needs what Clay seems to have found. He's very unsure of himself, no confidence that his friends are really his friends. He's so up and down that it scares us."

That seemed odd. Hec's own father felt the same way I did about him. Hector would let you into his life a little, lighten up and have some fun, then he'd shoo everyone away. When Hec was a friend he was a good one, but he turned into a statue sometimes and nothing you could do would get through to him.

I guess I was the same way, but now I felt different. I looked at Nick, "I'll try with Hector. I really like him, but sometimes he just shuts me out."

Nick smiled sadly, "It's not just you, Mike. He does it with everybody except his big sisters. Talk to Paulina, maybe she'll have a clue."

I said, "I will."

Nick patted my shoulder, "Thanks Mike, don't expect too much. Maybe when he gets his car ..."

Nick tuned into the latest laughter and I turned my attention to Annie. I wanted some kissing, and this wasn't the place for it. "Wanna take a walk?"

Annie smiled and started to stand. We nodded to everybody and walked away, headed toward the other side of the house. When we got around the corner we had to stop in our tracks. Clay and Jens were in a hug and they both had tears in their eyes. Annie and I tried to back away silently, but Jens had already seen us. He looked up and said, "It's okay."

Clay turned around and said, "Hi sis, Mike."

He looked at Jens, then back at us, "Come talk to us."

Annie and I walked toward them tentatively. We all sat down in the grass, Annie's hand in mine and, surprisingly, Clay and Jens held hands.

Clay started, looking at the ground, "I know I'm a jerk. I try, but I always forget where I am, who I'm with." He looked up at me and Annie. "Jens just told me that he loves me." His looked turned pleading, "Do you know what that means to me?" He stretched his arm around Jens and pulled him in close, "Jens loves me!" He had tears in his eyes. He looked quickly at Jens, then back at us, "You know what? I love him back."

Clay looked at me, "It ain't like you and Jack, Mike, but it's just as important to me." He hugged Jens and kissed the top of his hair, "I ain't afraid to say who I love now."

His stare turned into a smile, "Thanks, Mike. You gave us Jens back, now me, and now I know how much it cost you to do that. I ain't ever gonna forget it."

I just smiled briefly, wanting to change the subject. "Hey, did Tony tell ya that Mr. Atkins is tryin' to get some of his pictures in a book?"

He hadn't, so there was a flurry of questions that I couldn't answer. We all went looking for him, listening to Clay talk about how Tony should have his own book. We couldn't find Tony so Clay latched onto Tim with his questions and suggestions.

Annie and I headed down the hill toward what Joe called his 'frog pond' for reasons that were fairly obvious, then we crossed two footbridges over brooks and arrived in... France?

Tony and Paulina were sitting on top of a picnic table facing away from us and they were, um, involved in a serious kiss. I was embarrassed by our intrusion and turned around only to meet Annie's desirable face, a face full of desire? Help?

I couldn't not do it. I pulled her to me and we kissed, our mouths opening almost immediately and our tongues stretching toward unexplored territory. Our hands were all over each other's backs, and we both seemed to lose strength in our knees at the same time. We moved away to where we couldn't see Paulina and Tony anymore, then corkscrewed to a sitting position, shirt tails pulling out from the friction caused by our reluctance to let go.

We kissed until we were breathless, then when we needed air we pulled back and looked into each other's eyes giggling. The giggle was just a mutual agreement. We kissed again softly deeply, until the remaining strength in our hips gave out and we were prone, pressed together. God, Annie was soft. I wasn't, I was so hard I could have hired out as a battering ram. I was rubbing it against her, grunting against her soft moans. My left hand found its way to the nearest breast and there was no protest from Annie, just a slightly more intense moan. It was hard to concentrate on what I was feeling, but I tried. It fit my hand, and was more than soft. The rest of her body felt like granite in comparison, except her lips and tongue. I was going to explode, my final testament, little bits of me splattered all over Morton and probably halfway to the moon.

I groaned in a faraway sounding voice, "Annie ..."

She whispered, "I know," then her hand found my zipper and undid it. I helped. I had no idea what was going on, but I needed release like I never had before. I pulled my shorts and underwear down past my butt and Annie's hand found my pole. She made a little gasping sound as she wrapped her hand around it, then with a touch that was oh so gentle, she started to stroke me. Her softness had concentrated itself in her hands... her warmth had collected there, creating fire. My brain shut down, leaving only bliss. Nothing could feel this good, it wasn't possible.

It didn't last. With an orgasm that felt like it started in my throat, traveled down a mile, then headed up through me at a million miles an hour, I came. It seemed impossible to survive. No energy remained for my lungs to breathe, my heart to beat, my brain to think. My entire being had been reduced to a pulsating prick that threatened to suck my own balls out through it in one final and very personal Armageddon.

I think I blacked out for a second. My senses finally found each other and decided to give me another chance to humiliate them. I kind of liked them right then. They let me see Annie's gentle smile, feel her soft skin, smell her pleasing scent, taste her lips, and hear her gentle cooing. They'd done that with Jack, too, but it seemed a distant memory right then.

I groaned, "Oh God, Annie. Oh!"

She wrapped her arms around me and whispered, "Better?"


She was still whispering, "I had no idea it would be so... intense ... so big!"

I didn't know if Annie was talking about my dick or the load I shot, and I didn't intend to ask. I was lying in some grass, dampening with dew, with a girl I liked a lot, coming down from the orgasm of a lifetime, my butt and privates exposed, and I felt nothing but comfort. Well, I felt a little guilty not knowing if there was a way to return that sensation to a girl without going all the way.

It was a girl who had gotten me there, Annie Nettleton, and I wasn't questioning that at all. I wasn't thinking especially clearly, but I didn't think what had just taken place was dirty in any way, and Annie didn't seem to think so either. I already knew she had a sexual side to her, I just didn't know what to do with it. I knew she got turned on when we made out, but I didn't know how to get her off, didn't even know if girls could get off like guys did.

My concerns retreated when I realized that, if it came to it, Annie would show me what to do.

We heard the sound of electric guitars in the distance. Suddenly I was embarrassed. We both wanted to hear the guys play, but I didn't want to stand up. Stupid, huh? Annie had just had her hand on my dick, made it do things it never did before, but I didn't want her to actually see it. I started trying to pull my pants up.

Annie said, "Uh uh. There's a little mess here. If you don't wanna get laughed outta town, give me those undies."

"My underpants?"

She kissed my lips, "Michael, it's all over both of us. Give 'em to me!"

I had things halfway in place already. I pulled it all down and, with difficulty, over my sneakers. I was now bare-assed from the waist down in front of Annie, and it seemed just as funny as it had the first time Jack and I did something. I giggled when I handed Annie my underpants, and she giggled too.

She took them and dipped them in the brook and walked back toward me wringing them out. "You first, Mike. I know some hit my shoulder." She handed me my wet underpants.

I tried, I really tried, but looking for traces of my own stuff on Annie's shirt, finding it there and some in her hair, suddenly seemed hilarious and I started to laugh, unable to stop. I was using my own wet underwear to clean her up, wondering if Jack could see us. He'd appreciate this, I thought.

Annie started to giggle at my laughter. "What's so funny?"

I said, "This is so gross." I looked in her eyes and for a moment thought I saw Jack in there. My imagination no doubt, but I stopped thinking it was funny.

When I had gotten what I could see off of Annie, she took my briefs and rinsed them out again, then started to clean me up, starting with my cheek and following the trail downward until she was at my dick, which was already at half-mast again. When she started dabbing at my pubes it sprang to attention. Now I was embarrassed because I knew Annie was looking at it, even though it was pretty dark and she probably couldn't see much.

My heart was pounding. Do it again. Wait! Don't do it! "Annie, don't," I breathed.

She pulled her hand away and whispered, "Sorry. Are you okay?"

I smiled at her concern. "I'm okay, I'm way okay. Um, how about you?"

She kissed me ever so softly in response. We stood and I got myself together, then we brushed each other off, no longer concerned about which parts we touched. I wrung out my underwear one more time in the brook and crammed them in my pocket, confident that my t-shirt hung low enough to hide any wet marks. Then we headed up the hill to the party, silenced by the exertion of the steep climb.

We sat behind the rest of the crowd to watch and listen as Joe and Nick accompanied Scott's singing. It sounded great as usual, and most of the people were pretty fired up. Even people who didn't care for this type of music appreciated it when the guys played. Some of the older people squinted and held their ears at the volume, but even they were smiling.

Annie and I had missed seeing them play the first several songs, though we certainly heard them from where we were. They played three complete tunes while we were there, then just packed up as people cheered. Annie and I were cheering happily when a flash suddenly went off. Paulina and Tony were standing there with the camera. Annie and I stood up and posed for a few more at Paulina's request, then she took a few of me and Tony together. She made us go with her to find Davy and Timmy so we could all take pictures together, and she was snapping shots of people until we did.

Davy was with Clay, Jens, Pat, James and Aaron, and we posed in pairs and groups until Paulina was satisfied and headed out in search of more targets for her lens.

I don't know what my face was giving away, but I kept getting odd glances from Davy and Clay. Finally, in embarrassment, I looked at Clay and asked, "What?"

I surprised him. "Huh? Uh, nuthin'!"

Davy put his hand on my shoulder and led me out of earshot, then whispered, "Go in the bathroom and wash the side of your head. I think you laid in dog shit."

Oh, God! I nodded and snuck around until I could get into the house through the garage. Somebody was in the bathroom, so I stood in a dark corner until I heard the toilet flush and the door open. When whoever it was went outside I went in and took a cautious look at myself in the mirror, breathing a sigh of relief at the sight. I knew what it was, but it did look like dog shit just right over my right ear. In reality it was a clump of brown grass clippings and churned up leaves glued to the side of my head. I was still embarrassed, but I guess it could have been worse. I cleaned it off and went to find Annie so I could check her out in the light and avoid any embarrassment for her.

She turned up clean, so we went to get some dessert before everything disappeared. Her parents and her brother Jimmy were there deciding on things when we walked up, our arms lightly around each other's back. Mrs. Nettleton smiled, "Well, isn't this a handsome couple?"

We sat and had our dessert with them, and Paulina came over to make sure we were going to the swim club the next day. She invited Jimmy to come along since half the kids in town were coming to see Davy off. The thought that he was leaving saddened me, probably more than it should have. I knew he had his own friends and family, his own place in the world, his own path to follow. I knew I was being selfish to want him to stay, but I really did want him to.

I left Annie with her parents because they were leaving anyhow. We kissed goodbye right in front of them and they smiled at the gesture.

I went looking for Davy, finding him with his brother and uncles, Scott and Nick. Joe had wandered off looking for his daughter. Dave asked, "Why the long face, Mike? I thought it was a great night! Nobody told me Joe could play guitar like that! All I heard him do before was strum."

I smiled, "Yeah, he's good. I think he makes his livin' at it."

Tim looked surprised. "He told me he worked at a used car lot, painting prices backwards on the inside of windows so they'd show the right way from outside."

I smiled, "Yeah, well if ya listen to him you'll hear a lot of things."

Nick was grinning like a hyena. "I'm not gonna say anything, just don't sell Joey short. He likes to think he's an 'aw shucks' country boy and if you treat him any different he'll feel bad. Whatever he says he does, he probably can. Just leave it at that."

I started chuckling with everybody else while that thought echoed around long enough to make sense. Nick and Scott were famous musicians. They'd moved to Morton not to be like Joe, but to be with him.

Joe's place was beautiful, but he did everything himself and still found time to use his equipment to help anyone who needed it. Whenever he brought his kids to the drugstore for an ice cream he'd just automatically invite any other kid he saw to come in and join them. Every single time that I'd come to this place to visit with my parents there was either a houseful or a yard full of people. The past fall I'd come with my father and Jack because Dad was having a problem with his car and he wanted to ask Joe about it. Joe was working on his own truck, getting advice from about eight other guys, but he dropped it to figure out and fix my father's problem. Whatever he fixed for my Dad made him think of what his own trouble was, and he fixed that in a minute, then said "Let's celebrate!"

Whoever was there traipsed up to the house and Joe gave the guys booze and the kids sodas. His wife came out with tons of snacks, and a quick auto repair became a little party. The other guys called their wives, as did my father, and before long there were thirty people there having fun.

I think that's what Davy was seeing in Morton, something I'd always taken for granted. The fact is that Joe isn't unique. Most Morton families are the same way, sharing whatever they have to offer with whoever wants it.

Unexpected company wasn't an annoyance, rather it was a chance to spend treasurable time with people. The standard opening line is, "Hi y'all. We were just about to... (fill in blank; eat, have a cocktail, make a snack, go for an ice cream)... why don't y'all join us?" If somebody was actually just on their way out the door it resulted in guilty apologies and promises to get together soon.

I guess that knowing Davy had to leave was making me take a look at what he was leaving. I had no reason to think things were different elsewhere, but Davy said they were where he lived. I tried to picture it, but had no frame of reference.

To me, Arlington was the big city. They had real restaurants and stores, mini-golf, a movie theater, lots of things. When you got your license that's where you went on Friday and Saturday nights. Those were the cruising nights if you had money for gas. A line of cars full of kids would go slowly thru town, another line going the opposite direction. There was a hot dog stand just east of downtown and a drive-in restaurant just west. Those were the turnaround points for the kids without enough money to buy anything or do anything. You'd just do the loop from about eight until ten, then go back where you came from.

If somebody had some cash there'd be a movie or a game of mini-golf, followed by some food, then you'd go back home. It was an accepted lifestyle, the accepted lifestyle for kids with access to a car and as many friends as they could squeeze in it. Everybody knew, and people in a hurry were smart enough to take the side streets.

I never thought it was good and I never thought it was bad. It just was. It had gone on forever. Davy hadn't even seen that part of life around here, and he was leaving before he could.

Dave wanted to get home to bed and said we could keep his car. Things seemed to be breaking up anyhow, so we decided to leave when they did. We rounded up Timmy and said goodbye to everybody. Tony said he was coming over to see Tim in the morning, so Paulina would pick him up at my house. He hinted that we might have time for a little fun with the dune buggy, and both Davy and I agreed that we just might.

We finished our good-byes and headed home. Tim and Dave went inside the house while Davy, Timmy and I went to sit on the deck off the barn. Timmy got a beer for himself, then we all talked for about an hour. I liked Timmy, but he'd spent most of his visit with his uncles and I didn't feel that I knew him like I did Davy. He'd thoroughly enjoyed his stay in Morton and it was fun to listen to his take on things. He looked at his watch after awhile and decided to go in and watch Leno before going to bed.

That left Davy and I alone out there. I grinned conspiratorially, "Wanna beer?"

He looked up, "You got some?"

"I know where there is some."

"Yeah, I guess. Why not? I'm not driving."

I went inside and got us two, then we sat at a table sipping at them.

I said, "So. One more day, then it's home?"

Davy nodded and frowned, "Yeah, one more day. I guess I am a little homesick." He looked at me shyly, "I kinda miss my folks and my friends."

I had heard the term homesick of course, but it never applied to me. I'd never been out of town by myself, never even been out of the neighborhood overnight otherwise. Davy had said he wanted to stay, and I'm sure he meant it at the time. Now it was getting to be too long away from everything that mattered in his own world, regardless of how much he might like it here. I smiled, "I never got homesick because I never went anywhere."

He sighed, "It's not real bad, it's just that you wonder what's goin' on back there, what everybody's been up to."

I took a sip of beer and nodded my head.

Davy asked, "You know something?"

"What's that?"

"I'm gonna hate leaving, too. It's... I don't know what I wanna say... it's so... settled here. It's just so much different from what I know at home."

I was listening to what he said, but I was watching Davy's mouth move while he talked. He looked so much like Jack if you focused there, and that's where I was focused. "Davy, it's not settled here, it's stuck. This place ain't ever gonna change, only the kids. We'll grow up and move away. You watch, of everybody you met only Jens will stay here, and that's because their farm makes money. There ain't nuthin' here, Davy." I snuck a look at him and lowered my voice, "Davy, if it makes any difference, I love you. I ain't just sayin' it either. I just made Jens tell Clay he loves him, so I'm sayin' it to you." My eyes teared up a little when I looked for a reaction, "I really do, man. You're the best."

Davy looked at me for a second, then his eyes welled up with tears. He whispered, "I can't believe you just said that." His teary eyes started shifting from me to his lap. "You're the first kid my own age who ever said that. I... I, uh... thanks, Mike." He turned a shy smile to me.

Annie Nettleton had just earlier gotten me off in a way that seemed flamboyant. Now Davy was turning me on again, especially when he seemed to be a little vulnerable for the first time since I'd met him. It was his expression. He was two years older than me and he looked two years younger right then, like a little kid with stolen pie smeared all over his face.

The first night I met him I had thought about just jumping his body, and the thought was back. What if I just did it? Would he go for it, or would he smack my head against the nearest hard thing?

I was back to being fucked up in the head. I wanted Annie and I wanted Davy, both at the same time. Annie cared for me, I knew that, and I cared for her. I hadn't heard the love word from her yet, and I wasn't ready to go that far myself. She gave me a stronger orgasm than Jack ever had, but I think that was partly because I was growing up. I'd done the same thing myself a few times all by myself. I was getting the horn again looking at Davy, though, even when I knew there was no hope that he'd return my feelings.

"I love you too, Mike."

Huh? My attention jolted back.

"I mean it. You say I'm the best, well I think you're the best." Davy had an odd little smile on his face. "Mike, I... I think you're about the neatest kid I ever met." He leaned closer to me, "You're so much the way I wanna be it hurts to see it."

I was astonished, "Me?"

Davy settled in his chair and studied my face while I wondered what he was going to say. That was exactly what I thought about Davy. I didn't make a practice of comparing people, but Davy stood apart from everyone else I knew. He had an easy charm and an easy wit. Everything and everybody appeared to be of genuine interest to him. He was the person I wanted to be more like.

Davy started, "It's a lot of things, Mike. I guess the big thing is you're honest with yourself, you just wanna be you. You said you're gay, then you get a thing for Annie. Do you go hidin' it? Not you! You ask if it's okay, and you ask it right in front of her brother! Then you save Clay's ass and don't wanna hear about it. You share your friends like you want them to like me. I could go on and on, but I know don't want me to." His face was a mixed picture of happy and sad when he said, "I'm gonna miss you a lot, Mike. I hope we can really stay in touch and not just say we're gonna." His eyes lowered, "I love you, man."

I stared at Davy for a long moment, wanting to say something and not finding the words to start with. I finally stood up and held my hand out until he took it. I gave a little tug and he stood facing me. I was looking at the boy with Jack's mouth, the boy I'd become so fond of during the last week. Davy was seeing whatever he saw in me, and we just looked at each other until he took a step forward and pulled me to him, wrapping his arms around me.

We held the hug, just standing there in the misty humidity, swaying a bit after awhile, almost dancing. I put my head on Davy's shoulder and he followed suit. We stood there and held on, knowing that there was a tomorrow and nothing after that. Davy wasn't somebody I had to wonder about anymore. I was dimly aware of thinking we needed more land, more room to store mulch. I was more acutely aware of the fact that I was getting hard and so was Davy. He wasn't hiding it.

I pulled back, "I better go now."

Davy smiled, "I'll go with you."

I turned to leave and Davy took my hand, squeezing it for a second. When we got to his back door he asked me to wait and hurried inside.

When he came back out he had a wide grin and tomorrow's undies dangling from his finger.


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