Michael Waters - Arlington Road : October, 2000
Davy had said that he'd meet me right outside the security area, and I wasn't sure where that was. As soon as I walked into the airport from the plane I saw him. I spotted him before he saw me, and was he ever a sight for sore eyes. I called out, "Davy!" and waved my hand, then had to scoot around some other slow moving people to get to him. Davy flashed a mile-wide grin, and when I got to him I dropped my pack and jacket on the floor and we hugged. We hugged and hugged. My heart was bouncing around in my chest.
We broke the hug and Davy put both hands on my shoulders and grinned at me. "I can't believe you're here, this is just so great! How was the trip?"
I grinned right back. "It was my first time on a plane. It was pretty neat. I got scared a few times, but it was real pretty too. We flew right over New York, and that was awesome!"
"Cool! Um, my folks are waiting." He picked up my pack, "Need the bathroom or anything before we go? Is this all you brought, or did you check a suitcase?"
"Nope, this is it. Your folks are here? Yeah, I could use the bathroom, where's it at?"
Davy started walking. The men's room was right there, diagonally across from us. He waited outside while I went, then we walked together to find his parents, yakking all the way. Right after we passed the radar thing where they check out your bags on the way in I saw his parents, who I recognized from the picture Davy had sent. I don't know why, but I was suddenly nervous. I'd been so excited about coming to visit Davy that I'd overlooked the point that I'd be meeting his friends and family.
"Mom, Dad, this is Mike."
Davy's folks were both sort of small people, shorter than Davy or me, but they smiled broadly and his father held out his hand. "Of course it's Mike." After we shook he stood back a step and gave me an assessing look, "Welcome, Mike. It's our turn to show you a good time."
His mother grabbed my hand and said, "Yes, welcome. I feel that I know you already, David hasn't talked about anything except Morton since he got home." She glanced at him, then back at me with a big smile on her face. "Ooh, I hope you have as much fun here as Davy did with you."
My nervousness had fled, I liked these people. How could I not? They'd produced Davy and Timmy, and they were two of the nicest guys I ever met. That niceness had to come from somewhere, and it wasn't hard to figure out that it was his parents.
Davy and I followed them outside to the parking lot and their car. I couldn't tell what kind of car it was, but when I climbed in back with Davy I could tell it was a nice one. "Wow! What kind of car is this?"
Mr. Loomis said, "It's a Lexus. This is my third one and I really like it." When he had the car started and looked over his shoulder to back out he asked, "Are you hungry? It's a forty minute drive home if we're lucky."
My stomach chose that moment to rumble, and it was such a quiet car that everybody laughed. Mr. Loomis said cheerfully, "I guess that answers that. We'll find a place on the way. Do you like Mexican, Mike?"
"I love Mexican!"
He looked at his wife and asked, "Do you remember the exit for that good place? Ah, never mind. I'll find it."
When we hit the highway I had my hand resting on the middle of the seat. Suddenly Davy's hand covered it and I looked at him to find that trademark grin. I grinned back, then flipped my hand over to take his in mine. Davy didn't flinch a bit, just gripped my hand and gave me a smile.
I don't know why I got so much satisfaction from holding hands with people. I did it with Annie and Tony, now I had Davy's hand back in mine again, and it pleased me beyond the words I have to describe it. Holding hands seemed more important than even our giant hug at the airport, like it implied closeness at a different level. I was hungry and I was excited about being where I was, but the feel of Davy's hand in mine made everything seem so right that excitement and hunger were secondary. If I was a cat right then, I'd have purred loudly enough to make even a Lexus rattle.
When we were seated in the restaurant, I could see that Davy's father was used to entertaining people, not on a grand scale but a fun one. When the waitress came he said, "Can you bring us some appetizers?"
She said, "Sure, what would you like?"
He grinned at her, "Whatever you recommend, I'll trust you." He indicated Davy and me, "Those guys are teenagers. Bring lots, okay?"
She laughed and looked at the two of us, then batted her eyelashes, "Okay, lots of appetizers coming up! Anything to drink?"
We had a lot of fun in that restaurant. Watching his parents showed me exactly where Davy had come from. His father was fun-loving, but not boisterous at all. I got the feeling that he just liked to try things. His mother was a lot like my own, sweet and caring, and wickedly funny in her own way. She seemed to be amused by everything, but she could amplify her little amusements into real humor. I found myself thinking of her as a female version of Scott Johnson.
When we had been fed to the max with delicious food and were waiting while Davy's parents had coffee, I thought to give Davy the picture Tony had made. It seemed like the right time with his parents there, even though I hadn't thought about it in advance. "Um, Mr. Loomis? Can I have the car key? I got somethin' for Davy and I wanna give it to him now."
His parents smiled as his father fished in his pocket for the key. Davy elbowed me and said, "Aw man, you didn't have to bring anything."
I said, "It's from Tony. Wait'll you see!"
Davy's dad handed me the key and showed me how to work the remote. I was back in a flash with the picture clutched to my chest. I was excited because I knew Davy would love it. Not just because it was excellent, but because it was from Tony. When I handed it to Davy and he took a look, his jaw dropped and his eyes brightened. I was expecting words, but he just stared at the picture, then absently handed it to his father and looked at me.
"Tony did that?" His eyes seemed to wiggle in their sockets. "Mike, please tell me that's a color picture. I swear I saw real color this time."
I laughed, "I knew you'd like it. Yeah, Tony's been messing with color. You like it?"
Davy's father commented, "Your friend's a good photographer, Mike," as he handed it back to Davy.
I giggled, "That ain't a picture! Tony drew it!"
Davy already had his hand on the frame, but his father yanked it back and looked at it again, his wife looking over his shoulder. They examined it more closely and an awe struck smile spread across Mr. Loomis' face. "Well I'll be! It is a drawing." He looked at me, "I said your friend's a good photographer, well he's a fantastic artist. This is really something else."
His mother piped in, "It's really beautiful. So are the other pictures he gave Davy, and that little sculpture. How old is this fellow... A.W.?"
"That's for Anton Wolfe... Tony. He's fifteen like me."
She looked back at the picture, "Well, he's a wonderful artist. This is so accurate of Davy, and I love his expression."
Davy said, "Mom, if you just got a gift from those guys you'd look pretty overwhelmed too. Tony just draws what he sees." He looked at me, "I bet he did it from memory too, right?"
I nodded happily, then the bill was paid and we were on our way. In the backseat again I asked Davy, "So what's up for tonight? Are we goin' anywhere?"
"That depends on you. If you're tired we can just hang out at home. If you feel like going out, the guys are getting together at my friend Juan's house. I guess we could just ride around if you want, you won't be able to see much in the dark. Tomorrow we're taking a ride so you can see the ocean."
I asked, "Is it far?"
"It's not that far to the water, but if you want ocean we'll have to go to Rhode Island. It takes about an hour and a half."
Davy's father overheard and said, "David, it had better take more like two hours."
Davy grinned and winked, "That's what I meant. It takes about two hours," he leaned over and whispered, "If you drive like an old lady." He pointed surreptitiously at the back of his father's seat and we both snickered.
I was looking out the window, not that there was much to see. The highway seemed to be lined with office buildings, then we passed through Hartford. It looked pretty at night. When we got off the highway it didn't seem far to Davy's house, which was in a nice looking neighborhood.
We pulled around to the side and the garage door went up. We got out of the car in the garage and I followed Davy through a door that led into a wood-paneled room that had the washer and dryer in it. That led into the kitchen, then we went up some stairs and down a hallway. Davy opened a door and said, "You can have Timmy's room while you're here." He flipped on the light and led me in, then dropped my bag next to the bed. The room was 'L' shaped and Davy opened a door that led to a bathroom. "This is the bathroom, my room's next door and we share it. He kept walking and opened a door at the other side of the bathroom, then flipped on the light in his room.
Tim's room was furnished but it was pretty much unadorned, which made sense knowing that he'd been at college for four years. Davy's room was packed with things, a lot of them books and magazines. He'd mentioned that he was a big reader, and he wasn't kidding. There were two book cases and they were jammed tight with books. There were piles of magazines on top of them, more books and magazines piled up on his desk, a soccer ball balanced on top of that pile. I saw his computer on a separate desk, then another cabinet with a stereo on top and a combination tv/vcr under it. He had skis leaning up in a corner, the boots and poles right there with them, and a tennis racket on the floor at the foot of his bed.
The pictures Tony had given to Davy were framed and hung carefully beside his bed. I didn't see the sculpture, but that didn't surprise me because it was pretty small and could be anywhere.
Davy kept his room neater than I kept mine, either that or he'd just cleaned it to show off. It was definitely crammed full of things, but it was as neatly arranged as seemed possible.
I said, "You sure have a lotta things."
He looked around and sighed, "I guess. Um, you want a shower or anything? I always feel cruddy after a trip."
I sniffed near my armpit and said, "Naw, I'm okay. I'll just wash up."
"Okay." He walked into the bathroom and opened a door, "Towels and washcloths are in here. There's more soap and shampoo under the sink if you run out. Let's put your stuff away, then we're ready for whatever."
Davy had seemed distant ever since we came in the house. He'd turned around and I tapped his shoulder, causing him to look back at me. "Is somethin' wrong?"
He looked surprised, "Wrong? No, why?"
I shrugged, "I don't know, you just got quiet since we got here."
"Just nervous I guess."
"Nervous? Nervous about what?"
He motioned me to follow him into Tim's room, then we sat on the side of the bed. "I'm not sure, just that you won't have a good time here."
"Why wouldn't I? I'll just try to be like you, I'll have fun."
He smiled a little 'o' of surprise, "Like me?"
"Yeah. I know you had a good time, but nobody gave it to you... you had it because of the way you are, not because of anything special anybody did for you. You came to town smilin' and you left smilin'. You brought it with you, Davy, we didn't give ya nuthin'. The good part is that you were still smilin' when you left." I grinned, "That means we were on our good behavior is all."
Davy smiled, "You don't get it, you people really changed the way I look at things. I only went to drive the truck down, I didn't expect anything. I know you didn't give me anything real, but you showed me how I should live, how I should deal with people."
"Ahhh... I don't think so. I know you say it's different here but so far everybody I met is nice. The lady next to me on the plane was real nice, and the waitress was too. Then some guy sat between us and he turned out to be funny. The lady at the restaurant was nice, your parents are fun. So far I like everybody." I looked at Davy and groaned, "Oh man, you're gonna introduce me to a bunch of jerks, aren't you?"
He giggled, "Probably. Not on purpose though." He brightened, "Maybe you're right, maybe it's just because it was all new, I don't know. All I know is I had a great time and everybody was great. I was just afraid you wouldn't like it here the same way." He smiled and said quietly, "I like your attitude."
I smiled back, "It ain't mine, it's yours. I like your attitude; I'm tryin' to borrow it."
Davy leaned against me and said quietly, "Thanks, that's nice. You ready to meet some people?"
"Sure, let me wash up and brush my teeth, all I can taste is fajitas." I smirked, "Even your friends probably don't like fajita breath!"
Davy shrugged and smiled, "My friends probably have fajita breath. Let's get going."
I dug my new shave kit out of my pack and cleaned up. Davy came in and brushed his teeth while I was doing mine, then we went downstairs. I was apprehensive in an excited kind of way. I was going to meet Davy's friends, see part of his world. He was afraid I wouldn't like it. I was afraid that I'd like it too much and want to stay.
We passed his parents downstairs and they asked if everything was alright, then told us to have fun.
I already was. Being excited and expectant of a good time was fun all by itself. I'd never really gone anywhere, and in my world new equaled fun, potential fun anyhow. I was wired for fun that day. It was my first time out of state except for Kentucky. Kentucky didn't count anyhow, I could ride my bike there in a few minutes. No, now I was far away, many states away. I even had a stop in Maryland, so this was a three state day already, and Davy said I was going to another one the next day.
I... me... yours truly, I was somewhere else for the first time ever. Davy was right there with me too, but I felt centered more than I could have hoped to, like they built Connecticut just so I could come to see it. That was it! Our forefathers had foreseen my visit and constructed a whole state just so I could come to it.
I was suddenly certain that I'd been right with Davy. It was him, not Morton. It was me, not the state of Connecticut, that was going to ensure that I had a good time. I'd have fun because I expected to, was determined to. As we climbed into Davy's car I said a silent 'yippee!'. What Paulina and Dave had confused me with suddenly made sense. I wasn't there to happen to Connecticut, I was there so it could happen to me, surround me, lure me. It was just a place, probably not unlike where I came from except for the weather.
God, now it seemed so simple. All I had to do was transplant myself to see it. I was no different where I was than where I'd come from. My surroundings, the people, everything had changed around me, but I was still me. Thinking about it, I knew I was being simplistic, but I finally got the point.
I'm sure the state of Connecticut didn't give a royal patootie if I was there or not, but I'd come there to please myself. That had made Davy happy and, by extension, his parents. His dad had bought us a meal in a restaurant that they wouldn't have gone to otherwise. He gave our waitress a big tip, so now she and her family might be a little happier.
Paulina had been spot-on correct that night at the picnic. I did something for others just by doing something for myself. I'd just found my center, and it wasn't a selfish place at all. I was grinning when I buckled my seatbelt.
Davy noticed, "What's funny?"
He started the car while I said, "Not funny. I'm just so glad to be here... I'm, um, just glad, okay?"
Davy was concentrating on backing out, but he snuck a glance and smiled. "Did I look like that on my first night in Morton?"
"Holy shit, you look all excited."
"Yup." I had a sudden thought and groaned, "Oh man, I was supposed to call home to let them know I made it okay."
Davy said, "No problem," and pulled a cell phone from his pocket and handed it to me. "Push three three pound and then send. You're all programmed in."
I fumbled a little to get it to open, then everything lit up and I did as I was told, my reward being the sound of the phone ringing far away in my house. I could picture it on our kitchen wall, ringing its little heart out. It was such a clear picture in my mind that I knew I'd never be homesick, even if nobody answered it. I could put myself in that room from anywhere with a phone.
My sister Angie did pick it up, and she was excited that it was me. I talked to her for a minute, then to my mother. I explained that we'd stopped to eat, which was the reason for the late call. She sounded relieved and not angry, and told me to have a great time. When I said goodbye I didn't know how to hang up until Davy told me to just close the lid.
I hadn't paid any attention to where we were going while I was on the phone. Now I could see that we were on a street with one long building on the right side, smaller buildings that could have been anything on the other side. The only lights on seemed to be streetlights, and there was only an occasional car parked at the side of the road.
I asked, "Where are we?"
"In town. This goes downtown, Juan lives near there."
"What's this big building?"
Davy looked at what I was indicating, "Just an old mill. You'll see lots of those."
We stopped for a red light where the building ended. It looked like there was more modern stuff and a lot more light and activity ahead. I asked, "Is this downtown?"
"Almost, this is what's called the projects. It's public housing, a pretty tough place."
When we started moving I looked and said, "Tough how? It looks okay to me."
"There's lots of drugs and crime around here. Somebody's gettin' shot every week, lots of turf wars."
I looked at Davy, "What's a turf war?" then looked more closely at the area. It didn't look bad, pretty nice actually. There were lots of two story buildings that you could tell were apartments, plus a few taller buildings of about ten stories. Between them were lawns and walks, parking areas, a playground. It wasn't Morton and I didn't expect that, but there were similar places in Arlington and I'd never heard of any particular trouble in them.
Davy said, "It's full of gangs." He pointed at a group of kids we were passing, "There's some now. Check out their pants."
The group we were passing were all dressed alike. They looked to be Hispanic and ranged in age from about ten to twenty. They were wearing silky jackets over tee shirts, baggy pants and fancy sneakers. Every one of them had one pant leg rolled up halfway to the knee.
I looked at Davy, "Is that supposed to be cool or something? They look like idiots."
Davy looked serious. "They kill people, Mike. They fight with other gangs, they fight with each other. Last summer a little girl got killed just watching TV."
I didn't understand at all. The kids we just passed didn't look weird, didn't look like killers, they just looked like kids. If that was where they lived it seemed like a nice enough place. I didn't get the deal with the one pant leg rolled up. I mean, I'd rolled mine up often enough, but always both of them and always to keep my pants dry when I had to wade into water. I looked at Davy, "What's with the pant leg?"
"I don't know, that's pretty new. Some kind of identification I guess."
"I don't get it, they're kids like you and me. They have guns? They shoot people?"
We had already turned to go through what I could see was the obvious downtown. It was better lit, and I could see banks and stores, just no people except the ones in other cars. It looked nice, some of the buildings were pretty impressive. Davy responded to my question, "They're bad, Mike. Juan can tell you more than I can. He's president of the Puerto Rican History Club at school, and they're trying to attract gang members to get them off the streets. He understands those kids, and I sure as hell never will. Oh, hey," he pointed out the left side, "That's my father's first store over there."
I looked and saw a little neon sign that said, "Artie's Place." It was closed. I asked, "His first one? There's more?"
Davy seemed proud, "Yeah, four more. There's two on this side of town and two more over by us. We'll stop in one tomorrow, they're pretty neat."
"I though you said he sold sandwiches and sodas. Isn't that a restaurant?"
"Yeah, I guess. Why?"
"You called it a store, isn't it more like a restaurant?"
Davy shrugged, "Yeah, I guess so. My Dad calls them stores."
Their nice cars and nice house caused me to think that Mr. Loomis did pretty darned well. "He must sell a lot of sandwiches, you guys live pretty good."
Davy turned off the main road onto a side street, then made another left onto a residential street lined with huge houses. They looked like they were all three stories tall. He said, "Yeah, he does pretty well, as he pulled up to the curb in front of one of the mansions. He leaned down so he could look out my side and point, "That's Juan's house."
I looked and was impressed. It wasn't far back from the road and there was a pretty steep little bank that went up from the sidewalk. I climbed out and looked up at it. It was the match of anything I'd ever seen size-wise, but I could tell it wasn't in pristine condition. Even from the sidewalk I could tell that it was in need of paint, and the cement steps that led up from the sidewalk looked sort of crumbly. Still, I was impressed.
Davy came around and I followed him onto the front porch and an immediate question formed in my mind. I looked at Davy in confusion, "Why do they need three front doors?"
Davy looked at me, then at the house, then back at me. He smiled, "You never saw a three family house before? There's a door for each floor, man." He opened one and we walked into a hallway that consisted of a small landing and stairs that led up. I followed him up a flight to another landing and he pounded on the door.
In a few seconds it flew open and a really burly kid grinned at Davy, then looked over Davy's shoulder at me, "¿Hola amigo, cómo usted es? ¿Esto es su amigo Miguel?"
I knew what the guy had just said. I lived amongst enough Guatemalans that I knew some Spanish. The kids my age and people up to around thirty all spoke English, but they'd grown up speaking Spanish at home. The older folks didn't know English that well, at least it wasn't native to them, so almost everyone in Morton knew some Spanish, at least the greetings.
Davy said, "Cut it out, Juan. Yeah, this is Mike." He stood aside to introduce us, "Juan Morales, meet Mike Waters."
Juan grinned and held out a baseball mitt sized hand to me and said in unaccented English, "Hi Mike, Davy told me a lot about you. C'mon in."
He turned and Davy and I followed him into another hallway, then we turned into the living room. Juan turned around and said, "Have a seat. You guys want anything?"
We both declined while I got a good look at Juan. He wasn't that tall, maybe five-nine or so, but he sure was wide. He was dark skinned with short black hair and thick eyebrows. He had an earring in one ear and a gold chain around his neck, and about the broadest shoulders and biggest chest and biceps I'd seen on someone my age. He was wearing a white t-shirt and ultra-baggy black pants, and he was barefoot.
He had a great smile and bright happy eyes, and I knew I was going to like him. Davy started to ask something, but before he got two words out an older woman in a dressing gown and a pronounced limp came into the room and asked Juan (in Spanish) what was going on. He answered her in Spanish, then introduced me to his grandmother. She approached me with a big, nearly toothless smile and greeted me in broken English. "Welcome, Miguel. You have el tiempo bueno... the good time here." She beamed, "My Juan see to it, no?" Then she looked at Juan and lit into him in rapid fire Spanish until he held up his hands in surrender, "Sí, abuelita, vale, vale!"
He smiled meekly at Davy and me, "I'm already treating you badly. How's popcorn and coke sound? I have to offer you something."
Grandma stood there with her arms crossed and her foot tapping until Juan disappeared through a door, then she turned to look at us and winked before hobbling away. Davy and I grinned at the situation and sat down. He said, "My grandmother's the same way. She feeds you if you're hungry or not."
I said, "I thought other kids would be here, it's just Juan?"
Davy shrugged, "They said they'd be here, they'll show."
I said, "Juan seems cool. You never mentioned him bein' a linebacker."
"I told you there was a lot to him. He's the center, actually," then he giggled, "He's a big boy, huh?"
I laughed, then looked around. The room we were in was crowded with things, plenty of places to sit and lots of little tables. Nothing was fancy, nor did anything besides the television look at all new, but the place was spotless and smelled pretty good... kind of sweet like they used scented candles or something. That aroma was being quickly replaced by the scent of corn popping, and in a few minutes Juan came carrying a tray with a bowl of popcorn and three store-brand colas. He grinned as he set it down, "This is it, guys. If my grandmother had her way I'd be roasting meat or something."
He popped open the cans and held one out to each of us, then took one for himself and sat down beside Davy. Davy asked, "Where's the guys?"
Juan's eyebrows went up and down, "Dago's grounded big time, he got three special reports today and his father's gonna kill him. Polack and Spook went to the mall, they'll be here."
Davy winced, "Come on, Juan! You know I hate it when you guys call each other that crap." He looked at me in apology, "There is no Dago, his name's Vinny. There's no Spook either, only Tom. The so-called polack is Paul." He indicated Juan, "They all call this moron Spic ." He shook his head sadly.
Juan grinned, "It's just equal opportunity, Loomis. If we knew what the hell you were you could join in on the slander. Tom's father calls him Spook, for Pete's sake. It's just terms of endearment!"
Davy sighed and looked at me, "See what I mean, Mike? In Morton nobody called anybody anything except their name." He smirked, "Well, maybe I heard you say baboon or something once. I sure never heard any racial slurs."
It was Juan's turn to sigh. He patted Davy's forearm, "It's just in fun, Davy, just in fun."
Davy looked at him and said, "I know you say that, but I was brought up different... to hate that stuff. If you guys call your friends those things, it's not too hard to think that down inside you believe them."
Juan's grin slowly disappeared, replaced by a hurt look. "Come on, Davy, you can't believe that." He looked closely at Davy, "You don't believe it, do you?"
Davy smiled sadly and said quietly, "It's not what I want to believe, amigo. I just hear it too much, and it's my friends saying it. I mean, Pauly takes enough crap already for his beak. Do you really think he wants his friends reminding him that he's supposed to be stupid every time he hears his so-called nickname? Spic is supposed to mean that you're a lazy-ass Puerto Rican on welfare, is that what you want you're friends calling you?" He sank back into the sofa, "I'll shut up, we've been there before."
Davy and Juan turned their gazes to my stunned face and Juan asked, "What about you, Mike?"
"What about me what? If I ever called anybody a name like that my own father would cut my tongue out! It ain't allowed... it don't happen!"
Juan studied my face, "You live in an all white town down there?"
I said, "Not hardly! It's mostly black, lots of hispanics. Yo lo entendí antes!"
He seemed surprised, "What do you call a black man?"
"Mister: Mister whatever-his-name-is."
"You have Hispanics? Puerto Ricans?"
"Some, most are Guatemalans."
"What do you call a Guatemalan man then?"
I didn't know where he was going. "It depends on his age. If it's a younger guy who speaks English I'd call him Mr. The older guys who speak Spanish get called Senor whatever."
Juan put his hand on his chin, "Your whites, what nationalities?"
He smiled, "I know that, what kinds of last names? You know... English, Italian?"
"Oh, that. I don't know, some of everything I guess. English, Italian, German, Swedish... um, I'm not sure about some, maybe Polish or something. I know my name's English."
He was studying me. "You never get called names?"
Davy sat bolt upright and yelled, "Foul!" He looked at Juan with all the seriousness he could muster, "Juan, don't ask that question again, okay? I'll answer it for you now. Mike got called names, but not for the reason you think. It's over now and, like they say in Morton, it's best to let dead dogs lie." He glanced back at me for confirmation before he continued. "Nobody calls anybody anything there, especially not behind their back. If I did something dumb right in front of Mike he might call me a Rufus or a dufus, but that'd be it. I even got called his yankee friend a few times, but only because of where I'm from."
Juan shied back a little, "Okay man, settle down. I'm not tryin' to start a war, just to get my facts straight." He looked at me, "Does what I call my friends bother you, too?"
I tried to think. I didn't want Davy to lose a friend because of what I said, and Juan seemed a bit agitated. "I don't know, I guess I don't like the words. I get mad sometimes, but when I'm mad I use swear words or just yell. I won't call somebody a bad name just because they're there."
Juan looked at me with a bit of suspicion. Davy noticed and said, "Tell Juan about Tony, Mike. There's a kid you hated, what kind of names did you call him?"
I looked at Davy, wanting to beg off because I didn't really know Juan and I didn't think he needed to know my business.
Dave's expression egged me on, as if to say, 'we can finish this now if you talk.' Davy was my best friend, and I knew he was trying to change a mind here, his friend Juan's mind. Juan seemed vulnerable at the moment, so I started.
"Um, there's this kid... Anton Wolfe. He's the kind of kid you... well, you know of him, he's in your classes and stuff, but he just hangs around and nobody really knows him. It's like he's there, but he's not there."
Juan nodded hesitantly, as if to picture the situation. "Anyhow, nobody really knew the kid. He's pretty poor, um, not like at the bottom but not too far up. His folks are real old and kind of stuck in the country ways, heck... his nephews and nieces are older than him." I stopped and looked at Davy and Juan. I didn't want to talk about Tony like that, not for somebody else's benefit.
Davy almost whispered, "It's okay, Mike. You don't have to."
Juan looked at me with an almost dead expression and croaked, "I'd like to hear it. Davy said he changed down there, and I can see it. Mike, if it's hard you don't have to, but I'd really like for you to go on."
I looked at the floor, then back up at Juan. "It's okay, it's just that every time I think how lonely he must'a been it makes me wanna cry." I braced myself, "Okay, last year at school I started gettin' shit from everybody. It lasted 'til April when there was a bus crash... a school bus." I couldn't help it, the tears started pouring from my eyes, but I went on, "Seven people got killed and almost everybody else got hurt." I was crying openly, "I lost my best friend, Juan. His name was Jack Murphy, and I really loved him, then he was gone just like that!" I snapped my fingers, though they didn't make the expected sound.
I heard Davy telling me to take it easy and forget it, but I wanted to finish. "Anyhow, after that the kids who'd been layin' the crap on me all quit it. All except for Anton Wolfe, and boy, did I hate him for it. I lost Jack and I was losin' my mind, then this little freak lays into me every time I see him. I... for the longest time I wished he was dead... that he'd just go away, then I let him have it one day. I popped him right in the nose and left him bleedin' in somebody's driveway."
Davy was slowly shaking his head, while Juan's expression told me he thought I did the right thing. I went on, "You know what? Nobody backed me up! Anton Wolfe had been raggin' on me for a long time, but when I called him on it I was the one to get into trouble!" I shook my head quickly to make sure any remaining bitterness would fall to the bottom. "Davy's uncle made me sit with Anton half an afternoon, but you know what else?" I looked at Juan, who shook his head. "It's gonna sound stupid. I guess I still hate Anton, the things he did when I was down. That day I made him Tony, not Anton." I tried to smile, "Tony's my best friend in town, I really love him. He's a good artist, a really good one, but he's a real person too, more real than most I know. I hate that I ignored him for fifteen years, I really do. I hated the things he said to make me feel bad, but now it's all over and he's all you could ask for in a friend." I looked up, "I guess I'm done, sorry."
I was surprised to see Juan's eyes all glassed over and near tears. He put his hand on Davy's shoulder and said, "It's true then? Morton's really like you said?"
Davy nodded, "It's true," then he grinned wickedly and looked at Juan, "So! You gonna stop callin' people names? Please? Do it for me... do it for you... do it for everybody!"
Juan looked hesitantly at Davy, then turned a smile to me. "I... thanks. I could tell that was hard." He turned back to Davy, "You win, you're right. It was a stupid game we played."
Just then I heard a door slam and a boy about my age ran into the room carrying a soccer ball. He was dirty and sweaty and wore an ear-to-ear grin. "Hi Juan, Hi Davy," he looked at me, "Who's this?"
As I started to stand Juan said, "Guy, this is Davy's friend Mike... sorry," he looked at me and smiled, "My friend Mike. Mike, this is my brother Guy." We shook hands while Juan continued, "Did you win for once?"
Guy grinned, "Are you kidding? We got creamed!"
Juan asked, "Why so happy then?"
"I Scored! I never scored before, not in a real game!"
Juan got up and hugged his brother, "You look like you got scored with!'
Guy said, "I kinda did. I was right there at the goal and I got knocked down, the ball bounced off my head and went in!"
Juan hugged him quickly and grinned, "That's your style, okay. Go clean up, Ma's gonna cut your magic twanger off if you get dirt all over the place."
Guy turned around with a huge grin, and when Juan bopped him on the butt he left the room limping a little, but before he was out of sight he jabbed his fist in the air and whispered loudly, "Yes! I scored!"
I watched him disappear, thinking that if any two brothers could look less alike I'd like to see it. Where Juan was massive and looked like the personification of brute force, Guy was slim and not very athletic looking. He was as tall as Juan, but I'd bet he didn't weigh much more than half as much. He had the same happy look in his eyes, though. Maybe it was the soccer goal, but I didn't think so.
I could tell that Juan, for all his mass, was a sensitive guy who cared what other people thought. Davy and Juan were both older than me so that's probably what it was, but their argument seemed much more adult than the ones I usually got into. They didn't press their own sides, just stated them and listened to the other. While I was thinking the phone rang and Juan went to answer it. I looked at Davy and said, "I like Juan. You have neat friends."
Davy brightened, "You think? We haven't been friends all that long, he works for my Dad. We just kind of hit it off and started hanging around. Talk to him, you'll see. Juan knows a lot."
Juan came back in. "Come on, Davy, mercy mission. Spoo... I mean, Tom's car won't start. You got jumpers?"
Davy started to get up, saying, "Yup. Where are they?"
"The mall." He looked at me, "Wait here, Mike, eat the popcorn. If we can't get it started there won't be room for five. You mind?"
I looked at Davy, who said, "It's five minutes away. Just wait here, we won't be long."
I felt funny, like I was where I didn't know where I was, and the only person I knew was telling me to stay there. "Dave ...."
He looked at Juan for a second, then to me, "You really want to come? We can squeeze if we have to. I swear, we won't be but a few minutes. Wait here and you'll be more comfortable. We're not tryin' to ditch you, whattya think?"
I didn't know what to think, "You'll be right back?"
Juan said, "Just a few minutes, man. Eat the popcorn, turn on the tv, talk to my brother. Relax, Mike, we'll be right back, then you can meet the rest of the crew."
I shrugged and went toward the television to turn it on, "Okay, I'll wait."
I felt Davy's hand on my shoulder, "Mike... you're not ..."
I turned around and smiled, and I meant it, "Just go, Davy. I don't feel dumped if that's what you're thinkin'. I left you alone enough at home, I'm okay for awhile."
He patted my shoulder and smiled, "Thanks, Mike," and they were gone. I turned the television on and plopped down on the sofa with the bowl of popcorn. I hadn't had popcorn in awhile, and this wasn't the microwave kind. It was good, loaded with butter.
I'd eaten a good chunk of it when Guy came in and sat beside me, reaching his hand hungrily into the bowl. With a full mouth he said, "Where'd they go?"
"Tom's car's stuck, they went to get him."
"Tom? You mean Spook?"
I shrugged, "I think his name's Tom now. Um, can we not talk about that? You like soccer, huh?"
He grinned, "I love soccer. My team sucks, but I'll get on a better one next year."
I asked, "School team?"
"No, inter-city league. You think the school'd let us play at night? No way, Jose!"
We munched popcorn for a bit and studied each other, both trying not to seem obvious about it. Finally Guy stopped eating and asked, "Why'd you come here? This town sucks!"
I looked at him, embarrassed at myself that I was checking him out. Guy was wearing gray sweat pants and a bright white sweatshirt. He had dark skin, black hair and eyebrows, and big brown eyes that seemed to be full of fun like his brother's.
I asked, "What's the matter with this place? It looks nice... at night anyhow."
Guy rolled his eyes, "Does the word boring mean anything to you?"
I grinned, "Don't get me started, Guy. At least you have things here... movies, pizza places, a mall. Where I live we ain't got a thing, nothing, nada. We're two people shy of having a year's worth of population. That's boring!"
"Yeah? Then why'd Davy have such a good time? It's all he talks about anymore."
"I'll tell you what I told him. He had a good time because he wanted to. He hit a good week too, it's when everybody was gettin' together every night so there was a little luck involved. If he came back now he'd see what it's really like. The only chance I get to see other kids now is at school and on weekends."
"Nope, nothing. We got a drug store and a bakery. The kids who live close to town hang out at the drug store after school, I live too far out for that. There's no place to spend money 'cept for the soda machine at the gas station."
Guy made an odd face and said, "Gas station? You do have cars then?"
I smiled, "Yeah, wise guy, we have cars, electricity, even indoor plumbing... well, most people have indoor plumbing. We're not backwards, just away from everything."
"Davy said you make your own fun, is that true?"
I sighed, "I guess you could say that. We have fun when we get together, somebody's always got an idea." I grinned, "Why all the questions, you plannin' a visit?"
Guy giggled, "Not too soon, I hope. What do you guys do down there?"
I shrugged, "I like fishin', I go when I get the chance. I ride my bike, play on the computer. On the weekends I see my friends."
Guy was smiling a dopey smile at me. I asked, "What?"
He said, "You talk funny."
I took a piece of popcorn and beaned him on the forehead with it, " I talk funny? You guys all talk like the weatherman on the news!"
Guy picked up the piece of popcorn and popped in his mouth. "I didn't mean anything, I like your accent."
"Oh, well that's ..."
I was interrupted by the ringing of the phone, which Guy sprinted out of the room to answer. He was back in a minute, "That was Davy, they're on the way back. It only took so long because they couldn't find where Spook was parked."
I cringed and looked at him. I don't know what my expression said, but Guy asked, "You don't like that, do you?"
I shook my head.
He said softly, "Thanks. I really hated it when they started that crap, now I guess I'm used to it." He looked up, "It's tough enough being a Puerto Rican in a town where everyone thinks you're a welfare case, now I got a brother who calls himself a spic all the time. My Mom works hard so we don't hafta hear that crap. Jesus, Juan's the president of the Puerto Rican History Club at school, you'd think he'd know better."
I looked at him, "Why would people think you'd be on welfare?"
He stared, then relaxed a little. "You don't know, do you? A lot of Puerto Ricans are on welfare. So are a lot of other people, but people around here think if you're Black or Hispanic you're automatically on welfare, and it's not true. We even had our own house before Dad died, Mom just couldn't keep it up. My Mom works hard, now Juan has a job. Next year I'll get one. We're not freeloaders and we're not bums. We're Puerto Rican though, and we'll never get rid of that, so we do our own thing and hope it'll get better."
I just stared, not really comprehending what Guy was talking about. He saw my confusion and went on, "You don't get it. I just came from a game. Our team has one Puerto Rican... me... two black kids, one Vietnamese kid and the rest are anglos. We're on the same team, we're supposed to be friends. We are when we're playing and practicing, even if we see each other out somewhere, but I hardly ever get invited to one of their houses or one of their parties. A couple of Juan's friends and Pete from upstairs are the only anglo kids who ever come here. Tom's the only black kid. Davy told us how it's different where you live, and I'd like to see that. That part's gotta be nice," he grinned, "Even if there's nothing to do."
I was starting to get it, and maybe it was what Davy meant when he said things were different. I'd learned about the days of segregation from both school and from old timers in Morton. It was accepted a long time ago that blacks and whites were two different classes of people, not only accepted but legally enforced. When I heard stories about the lengths to which some people went to maintain that separateness it sounded impossibly stupid to me. Back then Morton had a larger white population. A lot of white families left when civil rights legislation was passed and the government started enforcing it. To my mind, if they were that ignorant then good riddance. They'd left behind the Morton that I knew and understood, and I couldn't envision it any other way.
If I was hearing Guy correctly, a sort of voluntary segregation still existed here, the type where you mingled in public but otherwise stayed with your own kind. Maybe living in a big town let you go on like that, but in Morton if you tried to stay with your own kind, as a white person anyhow, you'd have few options for friends.
I decided to change the subject. I shrugged and smiled, "So, whattya do besides soccer?"
Guy thought for a second, "Not a lot. I like to read, I play baseball in the summer, otherwise I just hang with my friends."
"What kind of stuff do you read?"
He shrugged, "Different things. I like Tom Clancey, Stephen King. I like biographies, too. What do you read?"
"Um, mostly magazines. We get Newsweek, National Geographic, Field and Stream. I um, just started the second Harry Potter book."
He looked at me in surprise, "You like Harry Potter?"
I did, but I wondered if I should admit it. Pat had lent me a book, then I let Annie read it, then Tony wanted to. We all thought it was fun to read and that the magic was great. It was also considered a children's book. I hesitated, "Yeah, it's okay, kinda fun stuff is all."
Guy grinned, "Come on, admit it. You loved it, or you wouldn't be readin' another one." His grin softened to a smile, "I read 'em over and over, don't be embarrassed. They are fun, not like Dr. Seuss or something."
We were comparing notes on our favorite scenes when the sound of thundering hooves could suddenly be heard on the stairs, then the door burst open and Juan stormed in, followed by Davy, a tall black kid, and a blond kid. They all seemed a little flushed from the rush up the stairs.
Juan grinned, "Sorry it took so long," he indicated the black kid, "Numbnuts here parked down by Sears Automotive, told us he was right outside Sears."
I stood up to meet people, getting appraising looks from the new boys as I looked at them. Juan said, "Guys, this is Mike. Mike, this is Tom," indicating the black boy. We shook hands and I turned to the smaller kid. Juan said, "This is Paul, he's my best friend." I shook hands with Paul, who seemed kind of shy.
Juan and Guy headed into the kitchen to replenish the popcorn and get sodas for everyone. The rest of us sat in the living room and got to know each other a little. Tom was outgoing and funny. He turned his story about leaving his lights on and killing the battery hilarious, full of pantomime and ripe words. Paul was quiet, he seemed nervous, but he settled down when Juan and Guy came back.
We spent about an hour talking, and I liked Davy's friends... just like I knew I would. When Paul found out that I liked to fish, he invited me and Davy to go out with his father and him on their boat Monday morning. They were going to haul it out of the water that day, and figured they'd get in a few hours of fishing first. I was all for it and Davy agreed, telling Paul he'd call him for the details.
It was a school night for the other guys, so Davy and I left with everyone else at about ten o'clock, staying long enough to make sure that Tom's car started before we headed back to Davy's house.
We were quiet for the first few minutes of the drive, then I said, "I like your friends. I knew I would."
Davy smiled, "I hoped you would, thanks for saying that."
"I'm not just sayin' it, they're good guys." I giggled, "Guy says I talk funny."
Davy looked at me briefly, then turned his eyes back to the road, "Did you like Guy? I figured you two would hit it off."
I said, "Yeah, he's pretty cool. He made me feel right at home."
Davy grinned, "He's one laid back kid. You watch, tomorrow we're goin' out for pizza. He's got more damn jokes than anybody I ever knew. We have to make him shut up 'til we're done eating, else we all have pizza coming out our nostrils."
"I could tell he had a sense of humor. He's pretty serious too. He was sayin' what it's like to be Puerto Rican around here."
That got rid of Davy's smile. "Don't even say it, that's what I hate around here. There's too much prejudice, and it's not just whites. It's like everybody resents everybody else, either they think somebody has too much or somebody else gets too much for nothing. That's why there's gangs, and don't go thinking they're all Puerto Ricans. There's white gangs, black gangs, Asian gangs... it's sickening, like we're a bunch of fuckin' tribes or something."
Davy was agitated like I'd never seen him. I wanted to know more, but we were pulling into his driveway. He sighed, "Sorry, Mike. I never liked it, but since I went to Morton I hate it even more. You guys have it all figured out. Don't get me wrong, lots of people here get along just fine. It's just that lots still don't, and they get really mean about it sometimes." When he shut off the car he banged both fists against the steering wheel in frustration, shaking his head at the same time. "People hate me Mike, people who don't even know me. They hate where I come from, that my folks worked hard to afford what we have. They just don't get it, they think because we have a nice house and things that we somehow stole it from them, that if we weren't here it'd be theirs."
I was shocked, "Because you're white?"
Davy looked sadly at me, "No, it's not that. It's because Dad's successful, that's color blind. Anybody who makes it on their own, some people think stole it. It doesn't matter what color you are, if you work hard and make some money then it's unfair somehow. It's about money, not race." He glanced at me, "Let's go inside, okay? Sorry, I'll can it."
He opened his door, so I opened mine and we both climbed out and headed for the house. Davy used his key to open the door and we went inside. We went to a big room next to the kitchen and found his mother watching television and his father doing some paperwork. The both looked up and smiled when we walked in. His father said, "Hi guys, have a good time?"
I said, "I had fun. I like it here."
Davy said, "It was okay. Tom left his lights on and I had to give him a jump. I was just telling Mike about class envy."
His father sputtered out a laugh, "That's a helluva subject!" then he looked at me, "So, Mike... how are my brothers really doing? I am so pissed at them for moving, but they say they're loving every minute of it."
"They sure keep busy! Tim's out buyin' every old thing he sees and Dave... well, Dave makes things happen! The kids in his class love the guy. Everybody does, the other teachers are copyin' his style. He takes his class outside and teaches under the trees sometimes if it's nice. How hard was that to figure out? Now lots'a teachers are doin' it, to the point where there's not enough trees."
Davy and his parents all laughed. His mother commented, "Well, at least he hasn't changed. I'll wager that things have changed around Morton since that pair came to town." She looked expectantly at me.
I smiled, "I guess, a couple of people anyhow, me bein' one of 'em."
Davy's father roared with laughter, "Oh man, you live right next door! You don't have a chance Mike, run for your life!" He saw my shocked expression and said more quietly, "I'm just kidding. I only meant that, heh, heheheh," he started giggling like crazy, "I only meant watch out with those guys around. Have they told you their motto yet?"
He said in a small voice, "Never mind, ask them someday." He laughed again, "I'm not allowed to give it out, but I get to live my life by it."
I looked at Davy's parents. I didn't have a clue what his father was talking about, but I really liked him and felt comfortable there. His mother said, "You're off to the beach tomorrow? You've really never seen the water?"
"I've seen water, just not the ocean. I... I... I can't wait!"
She smiled happily, "Ooh, how exciting then! I do hope it's a nice day." She looked at Davy, "There won't be lifeguards at this time of year, if you go in the water be very careful, alright?"
Davy smiled, "I will... I mean we will. Don't worry, Mike's a good swimmer."
"I'm sure; just watch out for each other." She looked at me again, "I'm so glad you could come to visit. Make sure David does what you want. You're the guest."
That embarrassed me a little, and I replied, "He's takin' me to see the ocean, the rest is what he wants 'cause I don't even know where I am."
She chuckled, "I suppose you don't. You let us know if there's anything you want. We're here to provide." She looked at Davy, "Are you going to bed now? What time are you leaving? I know you're both excited, but you both need some proper rest too."
Davy went and hugged his mom, whispering something, then did the same with his father. He turned to me with a smile, then held out his hand. I took it and said goodnight, then we walked toward the stairs hand in hand. I barely heard it, but I'm sure I did... the sound of his father's voice saying "Isn't that different," more like a statement than a question.
When we got upstairs and were standing at the door to my room, Tim's room really, we looked at each other, the question on Davy's face mirroring my own. We looked at each other for a long time, and I finally asked, "You're afraid of me?"
Davy held my gaze, finally nodding sadly. "I... if you promise ..."
"I promise. It won't happen again."
Davy's frown turned into that famous smile and he took my hand and led me to his room. I hurried through the bathroom to get my picture of Jack out of my backpack. I kissed him goodnight and set it on the dresser facing the bed, then I went back to Davy's room to get ready for bed.
When we were ready we climbed into his bed and laid back to back.
I fell asleep immediately, as if I'd been drugged.
It was the sleep of the secure.
The sleep of the blessed.
The sleep of the loved.
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