Jack in the Box

Chapter 28

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : October, 2000

I was torn from my dream by a sudden horrendous pounding noise coming from right beside my ear. The content of my dream went poof, then I almost screamed when another body leaned across mine. The noise stopped as suddenly as it had started and I heard Davy's groggy voice telling me to go back to sleep. Davy's voice! I relaxed in satisfaction as my head cleared enough for me to realize where I was. I smiled and rolled over, thinking his advice was very good indeed. It occurred to me what the noise had been: hip hop music on his clock radio. I bet Davy never overslept!

When I felt him getting out of bed, I asked intelligently, "Wha... ?"

He said, "Go back to sleep. I'll wake you up when I'm done in the bathroom."

That sounded like a good idea. I didn't even open my eyes until I heard the bathroom door close, then suddenly I wanted to be awake. The room was lit by daylight and I wanted to see things. I sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed my eyes, then stood and walked over to the window. My first thought upon looking out was that Davy lived in a fairy tale world. It was a bright October morning to start with, and the colors outside were like nothing I had ever seen. All the trees were red, yellow, gold, orange. It was brilliant, way better in person than in a little picture on a computer screen.

It was a nice neighborhood, too, though the houses seemed to be pretty close together. We could only see the house next door where I lived, here I could see a lot of houses. They were nice houses, and pretty big, but the yards seemed impossibly small, for sure less than an acre. The logic of it escaped me. Nobody in Morton would think of building a big house on less than five acres. Our own house was little compared to these places and even we had over two acres. I thought that maybe Davy had misjudged something. The people here had to be friendly if they wanted to live this close to each other.

I looked out the window wishing Davy would hurry up so I could get out there. It was all nice through the window, but I wanted to be surrounded by it, to feel it and smell it. When he finally emerged I told him how beautiful I thought it was, then picked up my clothes from the day before and walked through the bathroom to get my kit. It was on the dresser next to Jack's picture, and when I saw Jack I thought to pick the picture up and bring it to the window. I held it there facing out and said softly, "Check this out. Is it pretty here or what? It sure don't look like Morton."

There was a bookshelf under the window. It was too low, so I pulled out a few books and left the picture on top of them so Jack could look out all day long. Then I picked up my kit and made fast work of my time in the bathroom. I was dressed and ready in about fifteen minutes. I went into Davy's room to find him gone, so I hurried downstairs into an aroma that made me realize that I was really hungry.

Davy was in the kitchen with his parents, and they all smiled when I went in. His father said, "Mornin', Mike. Hungry?"

I said, "I am now! Somethin' smells real good."

Davy grinned, "My Dad's a real chef." He indicated a chair and said, "Sit and have your juice, everything's ready."

The table was in a little alcove, and when I turned to sit I stopped in my tracks. Where it jutted out from the rest of the room it was floor to ceiling glass that overlooked a patio and flower gardens, then some lawn. The back yard was more private, I couldn't see another house. I could see the colors, though, and it was even more breathtaking with a wide angle view. I gaped in awe, long enough that Mrs. Loomis said, "Here Michael, trade places with me. It's a beautiful morning, isn't it?"

She was starting to stand up and I said, "No, no, don't move for me." I smiled, "It's a beautiful everything, but I can wait."

I took the seat that Davy had indicated before. It was a pretty fancy table for breakfast, all nice dishes and glassware. There was a glass of orange juice at my place and I took a sip while declining an offer of coffee.

In a few minutes we were served banana pancakes, which I'd never even heard of before. They were fantastically delicious, served with big fat sausages and real maple syrup, which I'd never had before either. It was so sweet that the first bite made my face go all prickly, and I grinned, "This is great!"

Davy's father was there with a saucepan ready to serve something. He said, "This is my first try, if it's no good just say so," then he scooped some grits onto my plate and stood there expectantly until I tasted them. They were fine, and I smiled my admiration at his thoughtfulness.

Davy said, "Yay, Dad!" and leaned back while his father served him, then his wife and himself.

I was chowing down big time when I saw Davy's Dad take his first ever taste of grits. He swallowed and thought for a second, then looked at me, "Is this supposed to taste like something?"

Mrs. Loomis said, "It is rather bland."

I looked up and said, "Grits tastes like what you put on it." I picked up the syrup and held it out. "It's good with almost anything. I like brown sugar or syrup, my folks just use salt and pepper. They're real good with bacon and cheese mixed in. Andy... my father's friend... makes 'em with hot and sweet peppers and onions." I grinned, "That's a fine way to make 'em."

Davy and his folks all chose to go with salt and pepper, and when I thought about it I did too. I had enough syrup on my pancakes and sausages to carry my sweet tooth through the morning, maybe into the next month.

We chatted about things I could see and do while I was there, and when we were done eating Davy and I excused ourselves. He checked the temperature outside and mumbled that swimming might not be a great idea after all. We went upstairs and got my sweater and jacket, took bathing suits and towels just in case, and headed out to the car.

I was tingling with excitement at the prospect of seeing the ocean, but I lingered in the driveway to admire the foliage and Davy's neighborhood. Everything looked new, and I asked Davy, "How long you lived here?"

He said, "All my life. My parents moved here just after Timmy was born."

Looking around again I decided that if these places were that old their owners must be maintenance fanatics. I got a look at Davy's car in the daylight, and it turned out to be blue, not black as it had appeared the night before. It was a sedan, and I asked, "What kind of car is this?"

"It's a Mitsubishi Galant, my Mom's old car." It was a pretty nice car. We got in and buckled up, and Davy pulled out and drove slowly through the neighborhood so I could look around. There were about five different styles of houses. We passed several that looked pretty much like Davy's, except the color and the way they were set on their lots.

The area was hilly, and from time to time, I could see bigger hills in the distance, bigger and different than the ones around Morton. These looked like big ridges, not the up and down I was used to.

The fall colors were everywhere and I was fluctuating between looking at the individual things we were passing and the general view. Davy made a lot of turns, then we finally got onto a wider and straighter road. We'd been on it for awhile when Davy pointed to the left and said, "That's my school."

My eyes opened wide, the place was colossal! When I found my voice I asked, "Jeez, how many kids go here?"

Davy said, "Something like twenty-two hundred."

"And they're all from one town?"

Davy chuckled, "They're all from half a town. There's another high school over where Juan lives. We have a trade school and a couple of private ones, too."

I started adding it up in my head to compare to where I lived, but I gave up when we came to a traffic light and into a commercial area. This looked like Arlington, only bigger. There were banks, restaurants, gas stations and motels, car dealerships and other buildings. Traffic was crazy and frightening, but Davy just drove through it like it was nothing. That lasted for about a mile, then it just ended with some condos and we may as well have driven into the wilderness through a time warp.

There was nothing but trees and the occasional traffic sign for the next several miles, when suddenly we were in town again. I asked Davy about it and he said the road went through a state forest, which I guess made sense. We went through the next town and finally turned onto a highway.

This was a nice road for the views it offered up. We seemed to be up high and had some pretty nice vistas for awhile, then we descended and the road was lined with stone cliffs on both sides.

I didn't care, I was soaking it all in. I did notice that the farther we traveled, the less the fall colors were in evidence. I asked Davy about that.

"It doesn't happen all at once, Mike. The farther north you are the earlier you get the foliage. It's not even peak where I live, but I bet the leaves are mostly down already if you go a hundred miles north. It goes from north to south like a big wave. Spring's just the opposite, everything's green already in the south of the state before we get our first buds."

I wanted to doubt Davy, only on the evidence that a city boy shouldn't know more about that than a nature boy like me, but I'd never been anywhere and he had. It was something else I could look into now that I had the Internet.

Before long we turned onto another highway and went across the biggest bridge I'd ever been on, and I could see lots of water out my window. "Is that the ocean?

Davy glanced over, "That's Long Island Sound. I guess it's part of the ocean, kind of an inlet. The water's pretty calm unless there's a big storm, that's why I wanted to take you to Rhode Island. We'll stop a few places on the way back so you can see, but I know what you want and that's where we're going."

I think Davy intended to keep talking, but the suction from a fast moving semi that blew by us had him gripping the wheel and trying to keep the car in its lane.

Once we came off the bridge the road narrowed and there were a lot of trucks. I'd never seen so many vehicles driving so close together, and it made me nervous. I could see that Davy was edgy too, so I looked out the window at nothing much and kept my mouth shut. I was reading the town names and was slightly surprised at the number of exit ramps. Sometimes they weren't even a mile apart.

It wasn't long before the road widened and we went across a bridge that was much larger than the last one. Davy said, "This is New London, check the river, maybe you'll see a submarine."

I got excited again, "A real one?" as I craned my neck to check out the water below.

"Yeah, there's a sub base here, also the place that makes them."

I could see some ships, but no submarines. It didn't matter, just the fact that I might see a submarine was exciting. I said, "This is too cool! We don't have any of this stuff."

I looked at Davy and he was smiling. "Wanna see some whaling ships? We can go on a sub if you want!"

"Really? Yeah, I wanna see everything I can."

He smiled smugly, "Beach first, we can check things out on the way back."

We kept driving and finally took an exit that said 'Watch Hill'. I asked, "Is that where we're going? Watch Hill?"

Davy said, "No, not unless you want to. It's a neat summer town, but things might be closed up now. It's not much farther anyhow."

"We're almost there? Damn, I'm gonna have a cow!"

Davy grinned, "Don't have it in my car!"

I laughed and Davy drove. In just a few minutes we were at the ocean, a place called Misquamicut Beach. I saw the water for a few seconds, then Davy pulled over to park in a lot.

I bolted, jumping out of the car and running across the road until I was on the sand. Then I stopped and took it in. The water, the sand, the sound of the surf, the different smell in the air. It was absolutely bigger and better than I ever imagined it would be. I could see the horizon, maybe even make out the curvature of the earth. There was a strong wind blowing right into my face, and even two hundred feet from the surf I could feel the spray from the giant waves that were crashing to shore. I was thoroughly overwhelmed by the power of it all.

Davy caught up to me and put a hand on my shoulder. "Is it what you expected?"

I think I squeaked in response at first, then said in the most excited voice that had ever escaped me, "Wow! Oh man, just... holy shit! Nobody said it'd be so loud!"

Davy tried to push me forward a little, but I stayed right where I was. The Atlantic Ocean was awesome to look at, but it was kind of scary at the same time. The beach wasn't deserted, and there were people right down by the water, but this was a first for me. I needed to get used to it before I got any closer.

I think Davy sensed that because he stepped back and took my hand. He stared straight ahead like I was doing and said, "Pretty wild, huh? Wanna sit for awhile?"

I stared ahead and nodded, then just kind of plopped down on my butt. Miller Lake near us had what I thought was a big beach, but this place just faded off into the distance in either direction. I kept picking up on new things, too. There were boats out there. Sailboats, cabin cruisers, what looked like big ships. The ocean wasn't just there, people used it. I was mesmerized by what I was seeing, but my own thought made me smile. People used everything! Farmers used the earth to grow things, pilots used the sky to get places. Jeez, Tony used bugs to make glue for his bird houses.

I looked for a while longer, then yelled to nobody in particular, "I love it!" then grinned at Davy, "Can we get closer?"

He started to get up, grinning, "My ocean is your ocean!" then he sat down and started untying his sneaks.

"Take your shoes off, it's easier to walk."

I did, then I followed his lead when he pulled his pant legs up over his knees. Thusly prepared, Davy Loomis led me by the hand to the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

Everything surprised me. First was how hard it was to walk in deep, soft sand. Next was how like cement that sand became when you got to where the waves had pounded it down. Next was, "Jesus! It's freakin' cold! You wanted to swim in this?"

Davy laughed, then jumped in front of me and put a hand against each of my shoulders. His grin could have re-directed the orbits of satellites. "This ain't cold, Mike! If you want cold, try it in June!"

" You gotta be kiddin'! This hurts!"

He fell back beside me, taking my hand again. "You'll get used to it. If ya wanna hear somethin', there's a group that swims here in January, the Polar Bear Club, they're on the news every year."

"Yeah, right!"

He giggled, "I'm not kiddin', they do it every year. I mean, last year it was five below zero, but there they were!"

"Crazy people!" As soon as I said it I stepped on something sharp and stopped to see what it was. It was a white, pearly looking thing. I picked it up and held it up for Davy to see. "What's this?"

"A piece of shell." He looked down, "Look around, you'll find some whole ones."

Shells. Joe Goldman always had clams at his picnics. The insides of the shells were pretty, but the thing I had in my hand was much more fragile looking, paper thin and fluted. It was broken, but I thought it was pretty. Davy bent down and picked up another, this one whole, and handed it to me. It was beautiful, and when I looked around there were more.

I started picking them up and filling my pockets while Davy picked up others and gave them to me.

By then, the water didn't feel that cold anymore, so I asked Davy, "Can we swim?"

He jerked around and looked at me, "We walked a mile already, you really want to?"

"Not really, not if we hafta walk all the way back, it didn't seem that far."

Davy looked around and said, "Never mind, me first!" then tore off his shirt and pants, revealing plaid boxers, similar to mine, that looked enough like a bathing suit. He turned and ran into a wave that knocked him right on his butt, then came up laughing.

At that point I didn't care who thought what. I got out of my clothes as quickly as I could and ran after Davy. Who'd know the difference between underpants and a bathing suit anyhow? Who'd care?

Well, I cared. What had become a not uncomfortable temperature to my ankles and toes had me screeching in soprano when that water hit my crotch. I sounded like I did when I was nine.

It didn't last long. When I lost my footing to another wave and went underwater the cold was replaced by fear, which was immediately replaced by elation when the water receded and I felt myself being sucked into the sand. Scratch that, it was like the sand was being sucked out from under me, leaving a perfect impression of Michael Waters there just long enough for the next wave to roll in. I was really surprised at just how salty the water was... way more than I expected.

I found my footing and stood up laughing, looking for Davy. He wasn't ten feet away, and he was laughing too. He hollered, "Let's go body surfing! Follow me!" then he headed out, hopping up a little when a wave came in.

I tried to emulate, and found that it was easy once I was past the actual breakers. The tiniest little poke of my toes would let me ride up as the waves rolled in. I looked for Davy, and when I saw him I scurried over there, such as you can scurry when you're being pushed around by an ocean as big as the Atlantic.

When I got close enough to hear, he said, "Swim out with me, you'll get a rush!" He started swimming out to sea and I followed him, then we stopped and treaded water while Davy looked over his shoulder. "When I say go, swim toward shore and let the wave carry you in. Okay, here comes one... get ready... NOW!"

I started swimming, then I could feel the force of the water start to propel me forward at a speed that I couldn't believe. When the wave started to break I went under and was caught up in churning sand and water for a few seconds, then the wave crashed to shore ahead of me. When it receded I stood up just in time to get knocked down by the next one.

Davy came up to me laughing and asked if I wanted to try it again. I was tempted, but I ended up smiling and shaking my head. "I think that was enough."

He nodded and started toward the beach. There was nobody else around right then, so I ran in and pulled my pants on quickly. Davy grinned at me, "Too much for one day?"

I shivered, "Too cold! I feel like an ice cube!"

I could see goose bumps all over Davy's back and he was shivering too. We were all wet, and the strong breeze was cutting. Wet or not, I pulled on my undershirt and then my shirt and I was still shivering. We picked up our shoes and socks and started heading back the way we'd come, walking quickly now.

When we got to the car Davy started it up and turned the heater on, then handed me a dry bathing suit and climbed into the back seat so he could change into one too. When I was pulling my pants down I happened to look out the window and saw a sign that said, 'No Changing in Cars', and wondered what idiot thought that one up.

The bathing suit Davy gave me was a little too tight, but the dry cloth felt good enough that I kept it on. The heater was throwing warmth, but it wasn't working very quickly to stop my shivering. It was all I could do to steady my hands enough to button my pants and fasten my belt. Davy tossed me a towel so I could get the sand off my feet. To do that, I had to open the door and subject myself to the wind again. I tried for a few seconds, then pulled my legs back in and slammed the door, saying, "I'll do it later. I gotta warm up first."

Davy got out, then climbed in the driver's seat and shut the door. He took one look at me and reached in the back seat for my jacket. "Man, I'm sorry. That was a dumb idea. You gonna be okay?"

I struggled into the jacket, which was a pretty heavy, lined corduroy one. Even that didn't provide much warmth, and I realized that it relied on my own body heat to work, and body heat was something that I seemed to be lacking at the moment. My voice quivering with chill and my teeth chattering, I tried to smile at Davy, "That was great! Don't go feelin' sorry for me."

Davy put the car in gear and we started to move, "Let's find some soup. That'll warm you up quick."

I pulled on my seatbelt and said, "Perfect, you're gonna be a good mother someday."

We found a little place before long. It was pretty empty because it wasn't lunchtime yet. There were two guys in a booth drinking coffee. Davy and I sat at the counter and he ordered two bowls of clam chowder.

That did the trick, and we both had seconds because it was so good. The only clam chowder I ever had came from a can, and it was always milky and white. This had a clear broth and was loaded with clams and potatoes and other things. It was hot, which was the main thing, but it was also buttery and delicious.

When we went back to the car I took the time to clean my feet. I'd pulled my sneaks on right over the sand to go into the restaurant, and it was an irksome feeling. While I was doing that, Davy realized that he'd forgotten to take any pictures at the beach. We drove back there and he took a few of me with the water in the background, then asked a woman to take a few of us together.

Warmed by soup, I was comfortable again, so we spent a little time just looking around before heading off to do other things. We spent about an hour in an aquarium, which was another thing I'd never seen before. That was exciting, and fun too. They had a penguin colony and a bunch of sea lions outside, and I found their antics to be hilarious. The inside had a huge tank full of all sorts of fish, and a lot of sharks. I know they're predators, but they sure have a beautiful shape.

There was a shopping area next to the aquarium. It was all made up to look like a colonial village, and we poked around there for awhile. Some of the stuff was interesting, but mostly it was expensive. The only things we bought were some apple muffins, still warm from the oven, which we ate on our way back to the car.

We stopped outside the Mystic Seaport Museum to see what we could without going inside. It was a re-creation of an old whaling village, complete with ships. Davy said it was really interesting but you needed the better part of a day to make it worthwhile. We did get a look at an old whaling ship, then we drove into Mystic proper so I could see a drawbridge.

It went right across a river that divided the town in two and flowed out to the ocean. I never saw so many boats in my life, both sides of the river were lined with them on the downstream side of the bridge, all kinds of boats. When I commented on that to Davy he said that what I was seeing was nothing compared to summer, that most of them had already been pulled from the water.

While we were waiting for the bridge to go up, Davy asked, "Ever see the movie 'Mystic Pizza'?"

"No, why? Is this where it was made?"

He nodded, "On the way back I'll show you the pizza place. That way, if you ever see the movie you can say you've been there."

Suddenly there was a clanging and I watched in awe as the bridge, right on the main drag in the middle of town, began to raise up. The traffic was now one-way, one lane completely empty while the other one was stopped. Some people even got out of their cars to watch the sudden stream of boats go by, others to light up smokes. I thought it was very cool, and ran up to the edge of the road beside the bridge so I could see the boats myself. Davy was clicking pictures, and as soon as the last boat went by the bridge started to descend right beside us. When it had just gone down a little, Davy bopped my shoulder and said we should leave, else we'd be stuck behind all the cars coming from the other side.

We ran back to his car, and he pointed out the real Mystic Pizza, then we got back on the main road just ahead of everyone. He drove back toward the highway with nothing but free space ahead of us and what looked like a million cars behind us. Davy seemed very pleased with himself and I said, "Boy, you had that figured out!"

He glanced at me and smiled, "I didn't have it figured out, I just saw the line across the bridge and thought, Oh Shit."

When we pulled onto the highway I sat back a little and stared at Davy, who was back to dodging traffic and had all his attention on the road. He was really going out of his way to show me a good time. He'd told me time and again how much he'd liked Morton, but the truth was we didn't have much to offer.

It was barely time for lunch on my first day there, and already I'd seen the ocean, even experienced it, saw sharks and a blue lobster, penguins, sea lions, a snowy white whale, my first drawbridge. There just wasn't any comparison, at least not one I could make. There were lots of things in Davy's world, things that didn't exist in Morton. I felt like a debtor already, and the worst thing was that I already wanted to stay.

When I realized what I'd been thinking I made myself stop and just concentrate on Davy himself, what it was about him, or me for that matter, that made us both feel such a natural connection to each other. We had nothing in common, really. Davy was from a well-to-do family in the northeast, I was from a so-so family in the mid-south. Our friendship, our need to be together, didn't make any sense from the get-go, but there it was.

Davy was more of an adult than me, and that was to be expected because he was older. I knew other older kids, so that wasn't the whole of it. With Davy I could feel myself separating from my childhood. He was a kid like me in many ways, but the big thing was that I felt more adult with him around, more than I ever had. Davy made me feel grown up, like I had a say in things, like my feelings and decisions were all valid and worthy of consideration.

Most other people seemed to be trying to teach me things, not that I didn't appreciate that. Davy turned it around and made it seem that he could learn from me as well, and that was a big difference. It had been like that from the first moment we met. He had smiled like he knew me, like I was the person who was supposed to be there waiting for him.

The great thing is that I felt the same way, that Davy is the guy who I expected to wander around that truck. That's not exactly true, but when he did show up it only took me a moment to decide that I liked him. It was looks at first, Jack's mouth and smile, but right away there was more. I suppose he was just happy to get out of the truck, it just seemed that he was happy to find me there, like he was expecting me to be waiting.

I thought about my small group of friends and how they were each becoming important to me in their individual ways. That's what it was about! We were individuals, different at the most fundamental levels, yet able to form bonds. The only thing we really had in common with each other was that we lived in Morton, a fact that Davy seemed to appreciate even if nobody else did. The surprise was that such a little place could grow people who were so different from one another in our likes and skills.

Davy was concentrating on traffic, and I was grateful for that. I'd never seen anything like it. We were right behind a big semi and another one was passing us. They both seemed too close and I found it to be scary. Davy didn't seem scared, but he was certainly being careful to keep what distance he could. Regardless, except for the view outside my window it was like riding in a big, smelly box. When he finally took an exit we both breathed sighs of relief, and we were soon turning into a road with a sign that said 'Submarine Force Museum'.

I got excited, "There's submarines here? Am I gonna see one?"

Davy smiled, "Yeah, you'll see some. We can go on one if you want!"

My excitement wasn't diminished. Outside the building they had several vintage submarines, little ones, but there was also a giant steel ring that showed the diameter of a modern U.S. sub. Then inside they had models of every American sub ever used by the Navy, plus bigger models hanging from the ceiling. I had a ball looking through periscopes and at all the other stuff they had, then we went out and onto the actual Nautilus, the first nuclear powered submarine in history.

It was semi-submerged in the river, and they gave you a little gizmo with earphones so you could know what everything was. The submarine was unbelievably cramped inside. They had models of people to show how tight some of the quarters were. I felt seriously claustrophobic just walking through it, and even though the displays inside were fascinating, it felt great when we got back out into the sunshine.

Braver men than I'd ever be went to sea in those things. There was more stretch-out room in Davy's car, but it was still fascinating. I just couldn't imagine not seeing the outdoors for months at a time.

We went back into the museum gift shop so I could buy a book about submarines. I ended up with two, one mostly pictures and the other a history of submarines. We went back out to the Nautilus so I could pose when Davy remembered he hadn't taken a picture. He asked another guy to take our picture together standing by the Nautilus. I couldn't wait to see it.

Then it was back on the road. We stopped at a few more shoreline towns so I could see the sights and the fishermen.

I wondered at the idea that someone could make his living fishing; it sounded right up my alley.

We stopped for a late lunch at a McDonald's. Davy said there were lots of better places, but I loved the Golden Arches and rarely got a chance to eat at one.

Armed with super-sized Big Mac value meals, we sat at an outside table that looked like it was supposed to resemble a mushroom. When we sat and were unwrapping our sandwiches Davy grinned, "Having fun?"

I grinned a mouthful of Big Mac back at him and swallowed before saying, "I love it here. That ocean's cold, but it's still beautiful. Everything's so different from what I'm used to."

Davy looked serious. "Now you know how I felt about Morton." He took some fries and leaned back while he ate them, staring at me all the time. Then he leaned across the table and looked in my eyes. "It's all different, Mike. Places are just places. I know it's nice here... place-wise anyhow. It's the people in Morton that make it different. You met some of the guys last night... what'd you think of them?"

He caught me with a mouthful again, so I chewed fast and gulped it down. "Damn, this tastes good! I liked your friends, they all seemed nice."

Davy gave me a curious look, "You think so? I've been working on them since I got home. They actually think it's funny to put people down all the time." He sat back again, "I did that too, a little. It really sucks when I think about it, but that's how everyone is. Even your friends think it's okay to knock you as long as it sounds like a joke."

I looked at the concern on Davy's face, not understanding it. "Makin' fun? Everybody does that, don't they?"

With a tilted head, Davy said, "I guess. I just think it's different. You guys laugh when somebody does somethin' dumb, these guys laugh because they think you are dumb. If I drop my books in the hall it's because I'm a dumb hamburger head, if Pauly does it's because he's a freakin' Polack, if Vinny does it's because he's a stupid wop. You get what I'm saying? It's not good enough that it's just funny, there has to be a mean reason for it."

I winced, "That does sound bad. They don't really mean it do they?"

Davy shrugged as he chewed on his burger, "I used to think it was just funny, now I'm starting to think there's more to it,"

"More to it? You're sayin' they really mean it?"

"I don't know, I try not to be like that anymore, but it's easy to mess up. It just seems that everybody gets a label and it sticks with them."

I smiled, "Maybe it's in the water? I don't know, I liked the guys I met last night. You think they really don't like each other?"

"It's not that... at least I don't think so. I just thought it was different in Morton. You guys are who you are and that's it, nobody thinks much about who has what, you just get along." Davy's stare intensified, "Look at you! You and Jack got grief last year, now everybody's trying to make up for it. And the big thing is that you're buying it! Anybody around here would carry a grudge to their grave, trying to get back at people. I don't know, Mike. It's hard to say what's different, but it is different."

I shrugged, "Maybe we're too stupid to stay mad at people. I had about everybody pissed at me last summer. All I did was sulk and hate everything, and then it all boiled up that first day of the picnic. People that never get mad were mad at me. I don't know what I wanted... maybe for them to feel sorry for me, but that didn't happen. First Joe, then Bob Surdiak, then my father and Mr. Anderson... they all got mad. When I socked Tony for bumping me with his bike Jed got all over my case. You know what?"


"Then your uncle forced me to talk to Tony. I hated that kid, and I hated your uncle for makin' me do it. I think I would'a died right there before I said somethin', but Tony started talkin'. You know, listenin' to him changed somethin' in me. We grew up goin' to the same school and everythin', but I never knew him. Then last year he got on my case about bein' queer and he never let up, even when everyone else did. I hated him so much... I don't know how to say it. I just wanted him dead."

I looked at Davy's shocked expression and grimaced.

"I'm sorry to say it, but it's true. Just when I thought it was all over, he came around sayin' shit. There was no reason, Dave, no cause! I wanted to kill the little twerp a million times, but I kept my mouth shut. When we talked that day it kind of faded... I didn't hate him anymore as long as he wasn't Anton fuckin' Wolfe. That's where we came up with Tony." I looked toward Davy, probably hopelessly. "Do you get me? I still hate what Anton did, but as long as he's Tony he's my friend... my best friend in town."

Davy had the beginnings of tears in his eyes. "That's what I mean, Mike. You guys figured out a way... you can still be mad at Anton, but Tony's your friend. You just changed the name to make it work. I wish I could do that."

I looked into his brown eyes, "I think you did last night. Spook is Tom now, Polack is Paul. You think they'll hold to it?"

"I hope so, man, I hope so. You know," the beginnings of a smile crossed his face, "It's the labels that really suck. So Pauly's Polish... I mean so what? He's a good kid, just a kid like you and me. You said you're gay, now maybe you're not. So what? Is that my business? I don't think so! You call yourself what you want and I will too. I'm David Loomis and you're Michael Waters, and there ain't a thing in Heaven or Hell that will change that. If you screw up it's because you screwed up, not because of anything else. Not because you're Polish or Puerto Rican, that's for damn sure!"

Davy smiled and I nodded before he continued, "I think that's what I liked most in Morton. You guys take people the way they are, they don't have to be black or white, they're just neighbors. I saw Tony's house and I saw Paulina's. They're the extremes, like night and day, but it doesn't matter to them. Do you think they care?"

"Not likely."

"The first time my friends came to my house they acted like it was a museum or somthing! It was like 'look but don't touch' in their heads. Damn, my parents don't smoke, but there's ashtrays everywhere. They don't drink much, but there's every kind of booze you can think of. It's just a house, Mike. We live there because that's where we live, it's not there to impress. That's a big difference from Morton. I saw everything there from Anton's trailer to Paulina's house, and I never felt anything except welcome."

I grinned, "You are welcome in Morton. You fit right in!"

Davy and I understood each other. We finished our food without saying much else, then got in the car to go back to his house. We went a different way this time, more like a back road, and it didn't look that much different from where I lived. There were a lot of woods and not many houses There were no cars ahead of us, and only an occasional one headed the other way.

Davy was quiet, so I settled back and enjoyed the view. It was different on this road, all up close like. As we moved to the north the foliage got brighter and brighter, and there were leaves blowing all over the road. It was beautiful, truly beautiful, and I made some comments to Davy about it. He said it was nice enough on a bright day, but the colors really looked best when it rained and the sky was dark. I tried to picture that, but it didn't make much sense. I didn't dwell on it, just enjoyed the view until we got back to Davy's house.

There was nobody else home. When we got inside Davy said, "Take a shower and get the crust off. I'm gonna check e-mail."

I did feel crusty from the salt water, and I liked the term because it fit. Davy headed to his room and I went into mine to get some clothes. When I got there I saw the backside of Jack's picture and went to pick it up.

When I turned it around to look at it I smiled, then something happened. I was in a good mood, but looking at Jack's face somehow made me lose it. Not just the mood, everything. I backed up toward the bed and didn't even make it there. I plopped down on the floor with my back to the side of the bed and started weeping.

My life had taken a giant turn toward the better lately, but Jack had been left out of it all, and it suddenly hit home. Grief welled up in me like it never had before.

I'd felt the loss of Jack all along, the sadness, but never like this. Jack had been my reality, my rock. When he got killed it never really sunk in that he was truly gone from my life. I had signs, at least I thought I did, that he was still around, still just waiting for the right moment to somehow let me find him. I could feel him, but never quite touch him. He was always around the corner, maybe in the next room, but still he was there. I now had the feeling that it was all in my head, that it was just my dreams, that dead was dead.

I clutched the picture to my chest and began to cry out loud, then to wail out my sorrow.

I shouldn't have left him, not alone like I did, not to make different friends and have a good time. I felt like I was going to throw up, but couldn't get myself up. I couldn't even get a straight thought into my head. The sudden grief was overwhelming and I felt too weak to fight it.

Davy heard me crying and came bursting into the room through the bathroom door, but he was just in time to see me heave my lunch into my lap. He knelt next to me asking what was wrong, but I hurled again, this time trying to hold it back with my hands. That made me drop Jack's picture into my lap, and I puked on that.

Davy snatched it away, then ran into the bathroom and returned with a towel. I felt awful, tears pouring from my eyes while my stomach erupted, the taste of bile in my mouth, sadness and embarrassment occupying all my thoughts. I puked once more onto the towel, then it was dry heaves, but I couldn't stop crying.

It was the cry I should have had months ago, the one I'd always held in, the one that let my sorrow flow to the surface. It was the cry that told me Jack was really dead... gone from my life forever.

The puking stopped after awhile, but the tears didn't. I was vaguely aware of Davy trying to clean me up, his words trying to soothe me, but the tears kept pouring out of my eyes, the snot from my nose, until there wasn't any left in me. Even then I couldn't gather a coherent thought until I noticed what Davy was doing, which was hugging me to him and looking very worried.

I finally managed to croak out, "I'm sorry. I gotta pee."

Davy let me go and stood up, then helped me to my feet. "Are you okay? Sick? What was that all about?"

"Gotta piss."


He led me to the bathroom, then shut me in there where I pulled my pants and shirt off before I peed. When I finished, I noticed myself in the mirror and saw what a mess I was. Still feeling terrible and in a daze, I stripped off and climbed into the shower to clean up. The warm water and soap helped me feel better physically, but my head was still a mess. I was mostly wondering where it had come from. I think that inside I knew what it was, I just didn't want to face it.

Davy had Jack's mouth, his smile, but I knew that mouth would never kiss me like Jack's had. Davy was mine as a friend, and I cherished that, I just wanted more, needed more. He filled me with desire, for what I wasn't sure. I didn't want to have sex with him, not really, though maybe I would if he would. No, sex wasn't it, I just wanted to be closer, to not have to be away from him.

I stepped out of the shower and started toweling off, a horrible taste in my mouth from throwing up. I felt a little dizzy, enough that I had to steady myself a few times to keep from toppling over.

My mind wasn't working right, and I couldn't get it on track. All I could think of was Jack and what might have been, what should have been.

I took a swig of Davy's mouthwash and swished it around my mouth, then spit it into the sink and gargled with the next swig. I felt crazy again, like I hadn't in a long time. Just when everything should have felt right, it felt all wrong. Jack was gone and I had nobody to turn to. No, that was wrong, lots of people cared about me, they just didn't understand. I thought I'd found my center, but suddenly realized that it wasn't enough if I didn't have any ground to stand on.

I was in a new place, a beautiful and, from what I could tell, a loving place. Still, I was cold and started shivering. I wrapped my towel around my waist and draped another over my shoulders, then looked in the mirror. My reflection still showed me, though a little pale and scared looking. I halfheartedly combed my hair, then wandered over to the window to look out, hooking my elbows on the sill.

The shadows were longer outside, and in my mind they only enhanced the beauty of the autumn colors. The sky was still blue and the sun was bright, but where the shadows fell the colors took on a new depth, and I could see what Davy had meant earlier. It was nice to look at, but did little to settle my feelings other than to provide distraction.

At that moment, I think I knew how Pat Anderson felt.

He always said he should have died instead of his brother; that Kevin would have dealt with it better and gone on with his life. I'm not sure where his feelings came from, but it seemed true enough that Jack would have done a better job than I could. He knew what he wanted; I didn't. Neither Jack nor I had forceful personalities, but Jack knew how to direct his, and in most ways he was a lot smarter than me.

Jack had his life planned out, knew what he had to do to get what he wanted, which was to become a physician. I knew I wasn't bright enough, but I'd thought about becoming something that would keep me close to him. Now I didn't have a clue, not a desire. I couldn't picture myself as anything but a hick kid.

I wasn't really worried about that part. Tony wanted to pursue his art, but he was the only one of my friends who had anything definite in mind. Even with Tony the wish was only a wish. He had a talent that anyone could see, and he really wanted to do something with it, but I think he'd be satisfied if he got to be a sign painter, or a house painter, or a bridge painter. Maybe, if Clay was right, Tony's place was in big league baseball.

I didn't see any of that for myself. I had no skills, no talents. The fishermen I'd seen earlier in the day had intrigued me. Davy told me they made good money, but it was a perilous lifestyle. I supposed I could do that. I liked the water, I liked boats, and I liked fishing. I just wondered if I'd still like those things if it became my job. Tony had real talents, but I didn't know how they could serve him. Would he get bored with it all and just find a job driving a truck?

I was wondering about all those things when my gaze dropped from the treetops and rooftops to the ground, the lawns I could see. There were already a lot of leaves down, but everything was well tended. That's when I noticed how most people trimmed off their gardens and shrubs with mulch, and it made me remember Joe Goldman's little lesson.

My breathing steadied as I looked at what I could see through the little window. Lots of people had mulch, and they used it to make things pretty and tidy, to make the things they loved stand out. I remembered the great bins of imaginary mulch that had been given to me since I realized what it meant, how the piles grew even faster as I gave it away.

I felt better, and wondered if my unexpected outburst of grief over Jack had been my way of giving him up, giving him back to his maker. I thought back to the first night I'd met Davy and how angry I'd gotten when he said I was lucky to have Jack, even when he knew he was dead. I hadn't really seen it Davy's way that night, but now it seemed more true. I'd found love with Jack when I was younger, and I knew I could love like that. I had to let go, stop comparing.

My gloom lifted, my mood shifted while I realized what I had left. People cared for me. My parents, Tony, Annie, Davy, lots of others.

My brain sucks, it's always analyzing everything after I think it. I couldn't help going over the order I'd put people in. My parents first? That's natural, I guess, the unconditional love thing. Tony had popped into my head next, though, and I found it odd that he came before Annie and Davy, odder still that Annie was ahead of Davy.

I'd just now had a little obsession with Davy, some wishful thinking. Annie was my friend, my girlfriend, and I really cared for her. She was real, genuine, ready to accept whatever I did. Davy was my best friend, at least I thought of him that way.

I had to think harder to sort out my feelings for Tony. He had been in my peripheral vision most of my life, and it had taken a lot for me to get to the point of even disliking him, let alone coming to care for him. I guess it was the idea that I was his first real friend that set him apart. My loneliness had been thrust on me when Jack died, then after that it was kind of self-imposed. I didn't want to deal with anybody else and I was pretty successful at keeping them away. Jed Anderson had kept after me, but he was really the only one who made the effort outside of my family.

Tony had always been alone, and he still favored it sometimes. He'd always been aloof and ignored, and never really told me why. He was fifteen when he had his first ever visitors to his house, and that was Davy and me. Now that he was getting involved with people, those people liked him. Everybody liked him, and everybody admired his talents. He had a quiet strength about him, and his gentle sense of humor. Tony also had a gracious nature, and getting to know his parents showed me where it came from.

Tony's parents were survivors like a lot of the people around Morton. They had no money to speak of, but they understood how to do whatever had to be done by and for themselves. People like them always seemed to have an inner kindness. I think it came from the fact that when you have little, everything is worth taking care of, worth a second look just to judge some potential value. I remembered growing out of my bikes over the years. They'd be pretty well used up, but my Dad would just put them out by the road with a 'free' sign on them. A bike never once sat there overnight. It was the same with old furniture, old stoves, old lamps. Things that had outgrown their usefulness to the original owners still had value to other people, people like the Wolfe family.

I had to shake my head to clear my thoughts. Davy was waiting for me, probably thinking I was sick. I probably could have said that was the case and been done with it, but I wanted to talk to him. My grief had exploded in me unexpectedly, but it wasn't gone and I needed some comfort. I wished that my mother was there as I turned and opened the door to the bedroom.

Davy was sitting on the edge of my bed, a bucket of soapy water at his feet next to a towel with a sponge sitting on top of it.

He looked up expectantly when he heard the door open. "Feel better? Lunch didn't agree with you?"

I looked around quickly, spotting Jack's picture on the dresser all shined up. I winced at the thought that it had just set me off on a crying binge, but I just smiled at the image. I turned to Davy, "Did I make a big mess?"

"Don't worry about it. You okay?"

"Yeah... no." I sat next to him on the bed and stared at the floor. "I'm a fucked up person. It wasn't my lunch... it was Jack."

Davy put an arm around my shoulder and pulled me close, "Oh man, anything I can do? What happened?"

I leaned into him, wondering what did happen to me. I mumbled, "Dunno. I think I'm crazy."

"Huh?" His head snapped around to look at me. "You're not crazy, Mike, that much I know. Tell me what happened."

"I don't know, I just lost it." I looked at Davy's concerned face and felt weak again. "I was fine, then I looked at Jack and just went off. It's not fair. Jack was smart, he was funny, he had a lot to offer. You tell me why he's dead and I'm alive; it don't make sense." I leaned closer in to Davy and said, "I'm sorry. I came here to have fun, now I'm messin' that up too."

Davy hugged me even tighter to him. "Mike, you're not doing anything wrong." He released me, "Here, lay down for awhile. I gotta dump this water, just snooze for an hour."

I panicked and clutched him to me. "NO! Davy, I don't know what's wrong. I miss Jack so much it hurts." Tears formed in my eyes again, "Please don't go! I need you to hear this."

Davy smiled wanly and leaned back against me, patting my shoulder. "Calm down, man. I'm here."

I proceeded to tell him what had just gone through my head, gripping him tighter with every sentence. I went on and on, my history with Jack, with other people, the crash and its aftermath... Jack's lingering presence in my head, my letter writing. I told everything, excited sometimes, really down at others. I'd never talked so much in my life, but it slowly made me feel better.

Davy wasn't giving out any signals while I spoke, but I went on anyhow. He was just listening, and at least he didn't yawn. I was talking about events in my life, most of which he didn't know about. When I couldn't think of anything else I stopped.

Davy snickered, "That's it?"

I looked at his face to see if he was joking, and he wasn't. "Yeah, that's about it. I don't know what's wrong with my head, Dave. I just can't get over Jack bein' gone." I looked down, "I thought it was gettin' better, but this was the worst yet. I mean, I never got sick before."

Davy nodded, "I thought it was your lunch at first, but it didn't make sense that you'd cry because of that. Are you okay now?"

I nodded, "Better, anyhow." I smiled sadly at Davy, "You know, the other kids want me to help Pat Anderson out. How can I do that if I can't get my own head straight? I don't wanna be like this. Why can't I just be normal like you?"

Davy looked shocked, then grabbed my wrist and glowered at me. "Don't say that. Don't ever say that." He leaned toward me with a pleading look on his face. "Mike, you're the neatest friend I ever had. If you're not normal, then what the heck am I?" His look turned thoughtful. "You know, I don't even know what normal is. Everybody's different, aren't they? How can there be a normal if there's no two people alike?" He smiled slyly, "What's your definition?"

I smiled a little myself, "Of what? Normal?"

"Quit stalling. What's normal if you're not?"

"I ..." I was stumped for an answer. "I don't know, all I know is I'm not. I don't know anybody like me."

Davy said, "I don't know anybody like me, either. I don't know anyone else like you for that matter." He grinned for a second, then his look became serious and he patted my shoulder.

He asked softly, "Is it the sex thing? Do you think that makes you not normal?"

I blinked, "Doesn't it?"

"I don't think so. It makes you a minority maybe, not abnormal." He thought for a second. "Do you think my uncle Dave is a normal guy, my uncle Tim?"

I didn't hesitate, "Yeah, they're pretty regular guys. I get what you're sayin', they're both gay too. I just don't have anybody to compare to. I miss Jack so much it hurts, now it's gettin' me sick." I looked a plea to Davy, "I don't know what I am."

"Then why think about it? You're you... you're a good person... people like you. Why analyze it?"

I groaned, "I analyze everything. Ever since last year, then more when Jack died. I guess I'm lookin' for a reason for everything. Hell, I keep thinking the same things over and over again about everything. Do you know how many times I thought about how I fit with Tony, with Annie, with you? I have it all figured out, but I figure it out again and again, and nothing changes, but I go and think the same thing some more."

"I know you're hurtin', man, but it's not your fault. There's a book you can read. My Dad got it a long time ago, but I looked at it when my own friends died. It's called 'When Bad Things Happen to Good People' I know it helped me." He smiled.

"How's a book gonna help? I have that one, my shrink gave it to me."

Davy shrugged, "I don't know Mike, it helped me think things through. Those guys were my friends, and I guess I loved them in a way. Not like you loved Jack, but they died a lot like he did. Nothing made sense at first. I was mad at the world, but mostly I was mad at God for letting it happen."

"Mad at God? I... I never got mad at God. After the crash, when Jack was in my head, I could tell that he wasn't mad. He wanted to go the rest of the way. We both had to fight to keep him with me 'til we got help. It was like he wasn't supposed to stay, but he did anyhow." I looked up, "Davy, if Jack didn't stay then Jens would have been dead for sure, and probably Patty. If it was really God with Jack, then we both defied him."

Davy had been staring at me while I spoke, then he let out a gasp and grinned. "Oh, man! Don't ever put that on your resume! I can see it now." In a falsely deep voice, "Name?" then a normal voice, "Michael Waters, sir."

Deep voice again, "Claim to fame?"

Normal voice, "Oh. Well, I defy the Lord when He needs it. Just to remind Him I'm here, you understand."

I gaped at Davy for a long moment, then burst out laughing. He did too, and we fell into a tight embrace and kept laughing. What he'd said didn't have anything to do with anything, but it struck me as damned funny. My stomach already hurt from throwing up, and laughing didn't help matters, but I laughed for a long time, finally whispering, "I love you man, I really do."

We were cheek to cheek, still giggling. I could feel Davy's breath on my ear when he said, "Me, too. I'm really glad you're here. Don't worry, we'll get you through this."

My sadness was gone for the moment, replaced by a comfort I hadn't felt in a long time. Davy would let go, he had to. He wasn't like me, would never be like me, but it didn't matter. Davy was older than me, but I was bigger and stronger than him. It didn't matter.

He'd probably go to college and become some kind of business whiz, where I'd end up printing bibles beside my father. That didn't matter either.

With Davy I had half of Jack back. Not the lover part, but the friend part. He felt so familiar in that respect, so loving and kind.

When I thought about it, Davy was more than half of Jack, way more. Jack had been my friend at the deepest level, now Davy was that. My love with Jack had manifested in different ways, but the love I felt for Davy was no different.

It didn't matter that he lived here and I lived there. It didn't matter that the last ten percent would come from somebody else or not at all. I had Davy, and I wasn't looking at him as a substitute Jack or a replacement Jack.

Davy was my friend.

He was straight and I wasn't. He didn't care about that and neither did I. He wanted to be my friend because he liked me, and that was all there was to it. Nothing else mattered.

It just didn't matter.


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