Jack in the Box

Chapter 29

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : October, 2000

I looked up and said, "No, what's up?"

"I got a note from Tony; you should read it."

I jumped up, thinking he'd be getting his pictures into a book. "Good news?"

Davy shook his head, "No, not good. C'mon, you read it."

I followed him into his room and sat down at the computer, which had Tony's short note opened. Basically, the book people weren't interested, but Tony said one of them was trying to think of something different.

I looked up to find Davy staring at me, as if to judge my reaction. He said, "Tony doesn't sound like he's down. Is he like that?"

I quickly re-read the note and Davy was right. Tony had just stated matter-of-factly what had happened. I tried to picture his reaction, then realized that he didn't really have high hopes to start with. He was fifteen and doing well with his carving and birdhouses, now some people around town were asking him to do pictures and portraits for them. I knew him well enough to know he'd think that was more than he expected anyhow; who needed a book?

Still, I felt bad for him. I looked at Davy and asked, "Is it okay if I call him?"

Davy looked at his watch and smiled, "Sure, just not right now. He's still in school. Don't forget it's Friday."

I said, "Oh yeah, and the time thing. I forgot."

Davy grinned, "You better? Wanna go out?"

I took stock of myself and decided I was fine, except for the taste of bile in my mouth. I smiled, "Let me brush my teeth for about two hours. All I can taste is puke." I looked at Davy, "Where we goin'?"

"To the downtown store, that's where Juan works. That's if you want to. Guy'll be there, he always is."

"Sounds good, let me eat some toothpaste, I'll just be a sec."

I went into the bathroom and started brushing my teeth, looking in the mirror as I did. I didn't think I looked bad considering what I'd just been through, and the prospect of seeing Guy again made me feel even better. That thought surprised me, but when I thought it over it shouldn't have. Guy was my age and, like me, cast into a minority role that he had to live with.

I smiled at my reflection, thinking that Guy was also cute. I didn't normally get thoughts like that, but my smile brightened instead of dimming. I figured there wasn't a chance in hell, but Guy seemed like a new friend anyhow, and it didn't hurt that he was easy to look at. I thought he was like Jack in that way, not really good looking, but the kind of person who looked better to me with every smile he put on. I was looking forward, anxious really, to see him again.

I smiled at my reflection, but all I saw was toothpaste foam, so I rinsed my mouth and toweled off my face, taking one more look to make sure I was ready.

I was, and after my shower I'd unintentionally changed into some okay clothes, so I headed into Davy's room and announced that I was ready.

He was at the computer and looked up with a questioning smile. He may have had a question, but seeing me ready seemed to answer it. He stood up and started to reach for his jacket, then turned and pulled me into a hug that I didn't expect.

We held it without words for a moment, then both pulled back grinning. I wondered then if Davy could ever understand the depth of feeling I had for him, if he could ever return those feelings. Then I decided that he just had, and we turned to go.

Davy was in a lively mood, taking the stairs down two at a time, so I kind of hopped after him, thinking I should grab something to eat. I'd lost my lunch, my breakfast, whatever else was in there, and I was hungry.

He headed straight out the door, so I knew I'd have to hold off until we got to Artie's Place and trust that the food would be good.

When we got in the car I asked, "Can I still get a sandwich at your father's place?"

Davy smiled, "You can get anything you want. Wait'll you taste the fries!"

My stomach growled and I said, "I can't wait. Are they already cooked?"

He looked over at me, "Oh yeah, you must be starved. Hand me the phone, I'll call it in. Anything on your burger?"

My mouth watered like Buster's as I said, "Um, yeah. How about onions, tomatoes and mayo?"

"Just one?"

"Um... can I get two? And a large fries?"

"You got it!" He punched a number and waited, then spoke with someone, giving my order and something for himself.

We drove pretty much the way we'd gone the night before. I was surprised at the size of the old mill building we'd passed. It was red brick and must have been something in its day, but now, except for some sections that seemed occupied, it looked pretty dilapidated. The other side of the street was all parking lots with few cars in them.

When we got to the area where the projects were, they still looked pretty nice, except for a lot of litter on the ground. I didn't see any people around, but wondered again that a place like that harbored kids my age who killed people.

I didn't want to set Davy off again, so I kept my thoughts to myself even though they bothered me a lot. I'd heard things about gangs and kids killing kids on the news, but it always sounded far away and thus kind of unreal. Now I was in that faraway place, and there was no outward sign of a problem for me to grasp hold of.

Jack and I had been disliked at school, profoundly even, but we never felt anywhere close to being in mortal danger. I wondered what it was like for Davy and his friends to live with that, wondered if I'd meet any gang members where we were going. I hoped not, but was intrigued at the same time.

It wouldn't take long to find out. We were downtown, and Davy pulled into a parking lot a few blocks down the street from where his father's place was. We walked there with my stomach in major turmoil, me wondering if burgers and fries were a great choice to dump in there right then. I guessed it didn't matter, something had to replace the former contents, and soon. As we walked in the door, I decided that milk would at least be a good accompaniment to my meal.

When we were inside, there was only a guy behind the counter, who greeted Davy cheerily and told us our food was about ten seconds away.

I looked around. The place was fun looking in a way, a counter with stools along one wall, all the kitchen stuff right behind it. The other wall had a row of wooden booths with all kinds of initials carved in them and the wall beside them. It was all kind of dark and woody looking, and when I looked up I could see that the ceiling was tin with Tiffany type lanterns hanging down.

It smelled great, and Davy and I sat at the counter. He introduced me to Max, the guy cooking, and said that everything would change when the schools got out, and to enjoy the quiet in the meantime.

Max put the food in front of us and we dug in, at least I did. I don't think I even tasted the first burger, then I slowed down. Davy had been right about the fries, they were crispy and delicious. I was just getting into the second sandwich when kids started coming in. I didn't pay a lot of attention at first, then the juke box started up with hip hop at a volume that was positively scary.

I liked loud music, I really did, but this had me biting the insides of my cheeks it was so disorienting. I didn't especially like rap either, but when I spun around on my stool and looked at the other kids there, it seemed to fit. It even sounded better once I got used to the noise. I probably just needed a better stereo to appreciate it.

I watched the scene for a minute, then spun back around to find Juan behind the counter with an apron dangling from his waist. He grinned and mouthed, "Hey, Amigo!"

I guess he said it out loud, but I couldn't even hear my own happy hello to him. He couldn't stay, there were kids lined up at the counter and he somehow took their orders. Davy bopped my shoulder and grinned, then we both spun around to watch the other kids.

I turned back to pick up the plate with my few remaining fries on it, and took everything in.

There were kids of all descriptions, high school age being the only thing they had in common. There were the normal segregations... booths full of girls, others full of boys, a few with couples. I didn't see anything that looked like racial segregation. There were blacks and whites, Asians and Hispanics, and everybody seemed to know and get along with each other. They looked happy even, probably happier than usual because this was the Friday of a long weekend.

I couldn't imagine them wanting to hurt each other. It didn't make sense. It was kind of perfect in a way, if somebody said something anyone else wouldn't like, nobody would hear it anyhow. I smiled at that thought, then a somewhat familiar face came in through the door.

It was Guy, amd he was wearing glasses. I smiled because he still looked great. He had on a white shirt covered by a blue hooded sweatshirt, dark blue chinos, a white baseball cap turned backwards, and a big book bag. He was with another kid, and when he saw me and Davy sitting there he came over and grinned. He put his mouth to my ear and yelled, "Hi, Mike! This is Javier," pronouncing it with a gutteral 'H' sound at the beginning.

I smiled as he leaned into Javier's ear and pointed to me, then Javier came over and yelled, "Hi! Guy told me ..." suddenly the record stopped and his voice hurt my ear. He put his hand over his mouth and grinned sheepishly, saying, "Oops, sorry." His grin widened, "Guy said I'd like the way you talk... so say something!"

"Huh? What'm I supposed to say?"

Javier turned to smile at a grinning Guy, who said, "Told ya!" Guy looked at me, "Say somethin' else!"

I did. I asked, "You wear glasses? When did that happen?"

Another song started, so it was back to yelling in ears. Guy came close and put his hand on my shoulder and screamed, "I always did! I can't wear 'em for soccer! If ya wanna talk we gotta go outside!"

I nodded, and I followed Guy out the door, followed closely by Javier. Davy stayed inside. I'd heard the term about silence being deafening, now I knew what it meant. The difference between inside and outside was enough to make me a little dizzy. I sure had to wait for my eyes to adjust to the bright afternoon sun.

Before I was adjusted, Guy's hand was patting me excitedly on the shoulder. I looked at his smiling face, "What?"

"Say somethin' else for Javier now that he can hear you. C'mon, Mike. "

I looked at Javier, who seemed as embarrassed as me, then I looked back at Guy, "That ain't fair, man! I could talk if I didn't think I had to!"

Both Guy and Javier burst into giggles, and I felt embarrassed. They were making fun of me, of the way I talked this time, but it still made me feel bad. I hung my head and backed off, then turned and took a step toward the door, my eyes watering up and on the verge of tears.

In a second, Guy's horrified face was in front of me, his hands on my shoulders stopping my progress. "Oh God, Mike! I'm sorry! We weren't makin' fun, just it's neat to listen to you." His eyes took on a pleading look, and Javier appeared behind him. "C'mon, talk to us! We're cool!"

Guy bumped his hip into Javier, who said, "Oh yeah, we way cool! Don't take no offense man, we just talkin' here. I like the way you talk, just like Guy said I would. We ain't makin' fun, I promise!"

Now I was embarrassed. The old me would have kept walking, just left an uneasy situation. Now I stayed, hesitantly, wondering if I should pocket a bit more mulch. It struck me that this was just the type of situation where I should be giving it away instead.

I smiled the best I could. "Okay, I'm sorry. You guys are cool, I'm the one who don't fit in." I smiled meekly at Guy, who still had his hands on my shoulders.

He smiled back, and it turned into a big grin. "You fit in just fine, man! Just fine," he looked around, "Ain't that right, Javier?"

Xaviier looked at me for a second, then smiled and held out his hand. I took it, and as we shook he said, "Yeah!" then more softly, "Sorry, Mike. I just wanted to hear your accent."

I grinned myself. "Oh, the boy knows English?"

Javier grinned back, "Yeah, I learned it some time back. Sorry again, sometimes I just talk street."


"Yeah, you know... just jive." He grinned, "I guess you think we sound funny too." He looked a little harder at me, "Um, your girlfriend... I saw the pictures... she's a fox!"

I smiled doubtfully, "A fox? I hope that's a good thing, because Annie's real nice."

Javier swooned, "Annie? Annie... I like that name." He grinned, "Man, if she be an orphan send her my way!"

I thought for a second, then grinned and said, "Is that street for you like her?"

He grinned and crossed his hands over his chest. "You're a lucky boy, Mike." He looked down at himself, then back at me. 'I don't know what it is, but all the fat babes take to me!"

I grinned, not knowing how to respond to that. I glanced at Guy and asked, "You got a girlfriend?"

He surprised me by looking at me sadly and saying, "No."

I thought I saw something in his expression, some kind of sadness that shouldn't have applied. Thoughts spun in my head as I wondered if he didn't have a girlfriend because he didn't want one, because he liked aparticular girl who didn't like him back, because he couldn't afford to date. Then I wondered if he just didn't like girls and, for some reason hopefully, that he liked boys instead.

I looked at him as long as I dared, then put my hand on his shoulder and smiled.

Guy's face seemed to register nothing at first, then the tiniest twitch of a smile showed on his lips and in his eyes. I liked Guy already, now I found myself wondering if he was like me. I'm not sure what it was, just... something. He was a good looking Puerto Rican soccer player with a great smile. That much I knew, and I realized to my regret that was all I knew.

Well, not true. I also knew that he had a sensitivity to his heritage, to his standing in the world. That bothered me, the whole idea that your freaking origins could make any difference in how you were viewed. I'd gone through hell because of what I was, but never once had Jack or I had it thrown back at our families.

This place was different than Morton, that I knew, and part of it I was already starting to dislike. The thought of racial prejudice was unknown to me, and abhorrent on the surface. What was supposed to make the difference? Your skin color? Your accent? I didn't get it, and I didn't like it.

I liked the guys I was standing there with, and they were both Hispanic, Javier much darker skinned than Guy. I couldn't understand what difference it made to anybody.

Javier looked at his watch and said, "Better get back inside and claim some space. The junior high bus'll be here any second."

I looked around and said, "I kinda wanted to look around town. You guys go, I'll be back in a few minutes."

Javier said, "There's nothing to see, man, It's the same old shit that's always been here."

I shrugged, "Well, I never saw it. I'll be back."

The street we were on had a slight grade, and I headed downhill. I heard Guy call, "Wait up!" and I turned around to see him hurrying toward me. He grinned, "Javier's right, there's nothing to see here, but at least I can tell you what you're not lookin' at."

I grinned, "Thanks. I saw the ocean today, I never saw it before."

Guy grinned, "That's exciting? I guess if you never saw it maybe, it's kind of just there."

I chuckled, "Yeah, well we ain't got one." I giggled, "If you ever come to Morton I'll show you a kid that hunts rabbits with rocks! I bet you ain't got one of them here!"

Guy put his hand on my shoulder and laughed, "Nope! I don't believe we do. I don't even know if we have rabbits! Well, maybe in the woods." He put his hand on my shoulder, "So you're havin' fun?"

"Yeah, so far. Howcum all these buildin's are empty?" Half the storefronts we went past were empty.

Guy said, "It's a dead town since they built the malls. My mother says it used to be way different here. They just spent a ton of money to fix up the sidewalks and the lights."

I looked around, "It looks nice." It did. Everything except the buildings looked new and fancy. The sidewalk we were on had park-type benches every fifty feet or so, and when we got to the next one I plopped down to look around.

I could see that a good half of the stores were vacant There weren't many people on the sidewalks, although traffic seemed pretty heavy. It was sad in a way. It was easy to see that a lot of the older buildings were elaborate in their design and construction, but only a few of them seemed to get regular maintenance. Most were dingy and tired looking.

The stores didn't look like much either. A few were nice, but a lot of them just had hand painted signs and dirty looking glass in the windows. It compared well to Morton. Our so-called downtown was pretty dingy and decrepit too, but people took good care of things over in Arlington. They had a reason to; that's where everyone in the area shopped when it wasn't an emergency. There wasn't much you could buy in Morton to start with, and the few merchants we had weren't exactly getting rich.

I guess things change everywhere. Morton had been bigger and thriving at one time. Bob Surdiak knew what all the old buildings had been in their heyday. Now they were mostly converted to apartments, but there had been a department store and even a hotel once.

This place looked about the same once you started to notice. The stores that were open looked more hopeful than prosperous, selling used books and jewelry, cosmetics (once I deciphered the Spanish sign), and there were a hair salon and a nail salon side by side.

I looked at Guy, who was studying my reactions. I wondered about him, about me, about what our chances were in this world. I knew that Davy's dad made some good money, but the only people in Morton actually still earning a good living there were Jens' family. They were hog farmers, but his father had contracts with supermarket chains for his bacon and hams, and they did a fantastic holiday business in their own farm store.

That helped other people because the Christiansens sold things that other people in town made, jellies and preserves and nut candies, crafts and decorations. Their stand was Morton's only bright spot. People came from all over to get one of their hams, and they picked up the other things while they waited in line.

I nudged Guy, "You got plans for the future? You know what you wanna be?"

It looked like my nudge and my question both surprised him. He jumped a little at first, then turned to me. "Don't do that!" He smiled, " My future? I don't know, I want a lot of things. I have this idea, it's probably stupid ..."

"What's the idea?"

He tugged my elbow, "C'mon, I'll show you."

We stood up and headed back the way we came, turning left at the first cross street. It led down a slight grade and ended at another street. Across from us were half a dozen tall buildings, probably about twenty stories each. Guy stopped short, so I stood there looking at the complex.

He asked, "See that?" indicating the buildings across the street. "That's all senior citizen's housing."

I looked again, "Yeah?"

He pulled on my shoulder, "Now look down this side. Whattya see?"

I saw nothing except a brick wall until there was a gas station further down. "Um, nuthin' much."

Guy became animated, "Okay, here's the idea. There's a thousand old people across the street. The nearest food store is a mile away unless you count doughnuts. There's a bus to take them to the market, but it only holds about ten people. What if," he gestured to the right of where we were standing, "What if there was a vegetable market right here? Maybe dairy and bread, too." He grinned, "Hell, I don't know what old people eat, what I'm thinkin' is that a store belongs right here, we could even deliver if they can't get around! What would it take... a couple of kids runnin' back and forth across the street?" He looked earnestly at me, "I think and think and think about this. It'd be like a service and a business at the same time! I don't see how it could go wrong."

I was having fun just watching Guy talk when he was excited. He was literally bouncing up and down, and the brilliance of the eyes behind those glasses was dazzling. I didn't know anything about business, but it sounded good to me and I said, "Go for it, then! You'll make it work!"

Guy was happily surprised. He tilted his head and smiled at the buildings across the street. "You think?" He faced me again with a wide smile. "Yeah, it'll work, I know it'll work!" Bopping my arm, he went on, "Thanks, you're the only one I ever told."

I blinked, "Really? Why? It's a great idea!"

Guy put his arm around my shoulder and steered me back the way we came, saying, "Because you can't steal my idea, Mike. You're not from around here."

I put my own arm over his shoulder as we walked up the hill. "I wouldn't steal it anyhow, I hope you know that."

He giggled, "I know, I just wanted to say that to see what you'd say."

I didn't say anything. I was feeling Guy's shoulder under my hand and mine under his, and it felt good. I found myself stroking him slightly, then he started doing the same thing.

When we were almost back to the restaurant I stopped him. I had to know, wanted to know!

"Um, Guy? Can I ask you somethin'?"

"Ask away."

"Um... I mean... I don't mean nuthin' by it, okay? Howcum you don't have a girlfirend? I mean, you're a good lookin' guy."

I could feel him tense when he asked back, "Huh? What's that matter? I just don't... h-h-have a lotta time is all."

I put a little grip on his shoulder. It didn't matter, I just wanted to know. I hesitated, "Um, I'm interested, that's all. I just thought... "

Guy was still tense, and he turned defensive. "Thought what? That I can't get a girl? I got 'em comin' outta the woodwork, man. I... just don't have time right now, okay?" He edged our from under my hand, leaving his on my shoulder while he looked at me. "Why? You queer or somethin'?"

I stared at him, wondering what to say. Was I? I certainly felt an attraction to Guy, but I had Annie waiting for me at home. I was tongue-tied for a moment, thinking about possible answers. I could say no and end it, but I didn't want to. I could say yes, but didn't know if that was true. I didn't know the truth myself, didn't have a decisive answer, so equivocation came out of my mouth instead. "Um, maybe sometimes... yeah. NO! That came out wrong! I mean, I got a girlfriend. I just don't know."

Guy pulled away and stared at me aghast, "You... you mean you likeme?" His face turned red, "Listen, asshole, just stay away from me!"

He pushed me back, then marched up the street and turned into the restaurant. I was left standing there feeling hurt. I'd been almost certain there was something there with Guy, now I felt like a fool.

I stood and looked up the nearly empty sidewalk wondering what I should do. I was thoroughly embarrassed for starters, and if I was in Morton I would have just gone home. Now I didn't have a lot of choices.

I could go wait by Davy's car until he gave up waiting and went to go home. I could try to walk to his house, but I didn't know the way. My third and last choice was to go face the music and head into the restaurant, which I reluctantly did.

If it was crowded before, it was absolutely packed now. I had to gently shove my way through a crowd of kids with milkshakes and sodas in their hands. I was looking for Dave but saw Juan first. He smiled and pointed behind him, where Davy was dishing up ice cream. I started to edge my way to where he was, glancing around for Guy as I went. I was a little sad and a little angry at his reaction. I also felt pretty stupid for bringing it up to begin with. If anyone should have known better it was me. There was no useful reason for me to have done what I did, and it had lost me a potential new friend.

By the time I got near Davy there was a break in the music. Davy smiled and said, "Sorry, just helpin' out for a few. You gettin' the idea of the place?"

I smiled lamely, "Yeah. You got a back room or somethin'?

Davy frowned, "Something wrong? Too noisy?"

I didn't know what to say. "Nah, never mind. I'll just wait outside, don't hurry on my account."

I turned around only to spot Guy across the room speaking earnestly to Javier. I wanted to crawl in a hole and disappear, then suddenly Davy was beside me tugging my arm. "This way, we can use my dad's..."

Whatever he was about to say was drowned out by the sudden blast of noise from the jukebox. I followed him dumbly as he edged his way though the press of people. He seemed to know everybody and acknowledged their greetings, but he didn't stop to talk. It probably wasn't possible anyhow.

We went down the little hall past the restrooms, then he opened a door at the end with a key. It was a store room, racks of boxes lined two walls, big refrigerators or freezers the other two. We went through another door between two refrigerators and ended up in a small office. There was a desk and several filing cabinets and chairs. It was dingy but tidy looking, and Davy closed the door behind us. The music from the jukebox was still loud, but muted enough for us to talk.

Davy sat on the edge of the desk and looked at me with concern. "Talk, Mike. I want you to have fun, but you don't look too good. Are you still sick?"

I was depressed. I groaned, "No, I'm a jerk." I went on to tell Davy what had happened with Guy.

By the time I finished Davy's expression was a grimace that looked almost like a smile. He said, "Why didn't you just knock his head off? That little fucker had no right ..."

"Jeez, Davy, it ain't his fault. I was outta line, way out!"

Davy shook his head slowly and looked at me with a little smile. "You're a piece of work, you know that? You asked Guy a question and told him something about yourself, so that makes you a jerk? No, man, it doesn't work that way." He slid off the desk onto his feet, "You wait here!" He looked a warning to me, "I ain't gonna have it, Mike. You're my friend and this is my place. If Guy doesn't like it he can take a hike!"

With that he stormed out, leaving me there feeling even more foolish. I was only there for a few days, I didn't want Davy losing his own friends because I couldn't keep my own mouth shut. I didn't know what to do. I couldn't run away, I couldn't do anything except wait for Davy to come back.

I looked around at the things on the walls. There were lots of pictures, and they had me smiling while I looked at them. There were pictures of Davy and Timmy from the time they were babies until the present. Davy's smile hadn't changed since he was an infant, except now he had teeth. He'd been chubby when he was little but, judging from the pictures, he grew out of that starting at around ten years old. The next few photos made my heart bleed. Davy looked so much like Jack when he was the age I knew Jack that it was uncanny. It wasn't really his physical appearance, just that damned smile and his expressions. I knew that if Jack had lived he'd have grown to still resemble Davy.

It was too hard to look at, so I moved to another wall. I was just looking at pictures of people I didn't know when one of them caught my eye. It looked like three kids around my age and one older one. That was nothing, but it looked like they were sitting on a little mountain of money and grinning at the camera. I looked closer and the money looked real, but there was an impossible amount of it. I took a step back, then leaned closer again to look at the faces. The picture was black and white. One of the younger kids had dark hair while the other two were blonde. The older one also had dark hair.

It took a minute, but he gradually turned into a younger version of Davy's father. No glasses then, but it was Artie Loomis for sure! I studied the other faces. They all had long hair, one of the blonde's was really long. He had his arm around the dark haired kid, who was smaller. It suddenly dawned on me that I was looking at my neighbors, Tim and Dave. I recognized their smiles and happy looks first. Their appearance had changed of course, but those things didn't.

I was jealous. They were happy like that when they were my age, and they still seemed just as happy. They were great looking then too, especially Tim. I thought that because if I was a little thinner I would have looked a lot like him. Dave looked nice too, more cute than handsome then, but he was a good looking man now.

The last guy I couldn't translate into anyone I'd met, but he must have been the other brother, uncle Jerry. I wondered about their parents, that they could have four kids who looked so different and were all still good looking. I looked again at the money they were sitting on and tossing around. It looked so real! I wondered if they had a rich family. That would explain all the money they had now.

I'd forgotten about everything, then the door opened and closed, and I turned around to see Davy there by himself. He was about to say something, but I beat him to it. "Your dad's really rich, isn't he?"


"Admit it, he's always had money, right?" I pointed, "What's this in the picture if it's not money? It's your father and uncles, isn't it?"

Davy said, "Yeah, that's them. There's a long story behind that money." He sighed, "Later, okay? Guy wants to talk to you. I'll leave you alone. If you want to pound his face in, be my guest." His look turned earnest, "I'm sorry, Mike... really! I never... well," he shrugged, "if you need towels to clean up the mess, just give me a shout."

"Davy, I ..."

"Not now, Mike. Sort this out with Guy. Either that or kill the little shit. I'm so pissed off right now... see what you can do, man." He seemed like he wanted to say more, but all that came out was, "Okay?"

I was touched for starters, that Davy felt this strongly about the situation, especially since I'd told him that I thought I'd started it. I could face Guy, though. Davy was right, I hadn't done anything wrong. In his mind it hadn't even been out of line, but I felt I was to blame and was ready to apologize and try to salvage something from the promise of friendship that I'd felt earlier.

Davy walked out, then Guy walked in with his eyes cast downward and the door closed quietly behind him.

I just looked at him until he looked up at me, and he immediately looked away again. It was silent for awhile, then I finally said, "Sorry, I had no call ..."

"No! Please don't apologize, okay?"

I didn't respond, looking instead at the pictures on the walls, still finding the ones of Davy's younger life fascinating. Our silence was long, but it didn't bother me. I didn't have anything to say, and if Guy did, well, he would eventually.

Finally, "I'm sorry, okay? Can I go now?"

I turned around, "I ain't keepin' ya here." I wanted to, though. I liked Guy and didn't want to end things like this. I smiled the best I could manage, "Look, I think your idea of the market is great! It's like really... smart!"

That felt like a lame attempt, but Guy looked at me and smiled, "Thanks, Mike. Listen, I'm sorry 'bout ..."

I stopped him with, "No, don't go there. That was my fault, let me be the sorry one. I had no right thinkin'... well, wishful thinkin'. I should'a kept my mouth shut. You'd still like me if I did, right?"

Guy's eyes caught mine and I thought I detected a wisp of a smile. "I like you, Mike. You confused me is all. No, you scared me is more like it. I, um ..."

I waited. Getting nothing, I asked, "Um what? What's that mean?"

Guy lowered his eyes again, "I... you got a girlfriend! She's real cute too, I saw her picture. Then you tell me you're queer, I mean, what's that all about?"

I got bold, "I didn't tell you I was queer! That's your word, man, and I really don't like it. I just thought... never mind, it's history."

"No, wait! You thought what, that I was quee... I mean, gay?"

"I didn't think it, I felt it!" I felt tears burning my eyes, "I'm sorry, Guy, I really am. Im just ..." I left the thought off, not knowing what else to say.

There was a protracted silence, then Guy finally whispered, "You're pretty smart yourself."

I let that sink in and got confused. "Huh?"

After a long pause, Guy looked in my eyes and said, "I said, you're pretty... smart, I mean!" He wobbled his head and looked at the floor, then back at me with a sad-eyed expression, "You won't tell anybody, will you? I mean, I didn't. I told Javier you were an asshole, but I can fix that. He didn't think so anyhow."

I looked at Guy for what seemed like a long time, studying him. Had he just told me he was gay? If so, he was the only other gay boy I'd ever met besides Jack. Some part of my mind was trying to make him different because of that, but my eyes were showing me a sad and nervous boy who was my age. "It's true, then? You didn't hafta say anythin' to me."

"I... I just wanted to. Nobody knows, Mike, and it's killin' me not bein' able to say something."

I smiled a little, "Yeah, tell me about it. When I figured it out I told my dad. He chased me out of the house and scared the crap outta me. I got more bullshit all last year when they found out at school."

Guy groaned, "That's what I'm afraid of. My brother'll kill me if he ever finds out. Mom'll probably help him." He looked forlorn, "It's gonna be like this all my life. I don't know if it's worth it."

"Huh? If what's worth it?" I was concerned about the expression on his face, thinking Guy was afraid of what he was. He looked so dejected, not at all the happy boy I'd just met the night before.

"It... it's not what I want. I try and try to change, and it just gets worse." He looked up at me, "You must know what it's like; that's why I told you. Tell me, man, how do you stand it?"

"I don't know, Guy, it's just me. I didn't think it was any big deal at first, but other people flipped. I... well, you wouldn't know. I was in love once. I still am in a way." I looked in Guy's eyes, "Jack's dead now."

Guy gasped as he dropped into one of the chairs. "Dead? Oh man, how?"

I lowered my eyes, "It was a crash." I got tears in my eyes like I always did, "I was there... it was awful!"

I didn't look up, but I heard Guy say, "Oh, God! You... oh, man. What happened?"

I stammered out, "Please? I don't want to talk about it again."

Guy sounded choked up, "I'm sorry, It's not my business anyhow. Oh, man, I feel so bad for you."

I sniffed, "Thanks. I keep thinkin' I'm over it, then Jack's right back in my face. I... I guess I loved him too much." I finally pulled my gaze back to Guy's saddened face. "I'm sorry, but that's the part I can't stand."

Guy stared at me for a moment. "So... um... what's with the girlfriend, then? Is she just to cover up so people don't know?"

That got me a little angry. "No, she's not a cover, she's my girlfriend! I don't need a cover anyhow, everybody knows about me. I'm bisexual, Guy, at least I am right now." I tried to smile, "I like everybody."

That got a smile from Guy, and we loosened up with each other. We started talking about his gay feelings, my current leaning toward Annie, our attractions to other people.

Guy was fun to talk to, and we went on and on. Davy poked his face in once to see if we'd killed each other, but he excused himself as soon as he saw that were getting along.

I learned a lot, and decided that all the grief I'd gotten in school was better than what Guy was going through. He was afraid, plain and simple. He was already part of a minority, the one where the word 'macho' came from. He was convinced in his own mind that he'd be a dead minority if anyone ever found out about his attraction to other guys.

He had a pretty convincing line, but in my case there was an entire Hispanic population where I lived that knew about me. I don't know that anybody I knew actually liked that I was gay or bisexual, I just knew that it didn't matter anymore. It didn't make any more difference than the little things I didn't like about other people. I knew otherwise perfectly nice people who could be rude, swear too much, smoke and drink too much. Hell, one time when my father's brother came to visit he and Dad ended up in a fist fight. It scared the hell out of us, but they were back to being brothers before our fear even had a chance to fade.

I had never thought that my sexual feelings were a big part of who I was, they were just there. They were my feelings! Nobody could see them, not any more than I could tell if someone was happy or sad by looking at their knees. I wasn't running around hitting on people, male or female. I just fished, rode my bike, wrote my letters to Jack. I didn't bother people except with my curiosity, and they knew it. They also knew what they told me stayed with me, it didn't get spread all over town, and I know they appreciated that.

I tried to convey it all to Guy, but with little success. I did manage to convince him that, since I was only there for the weekend, he could trust Davy with his secret. I left that up to him, but I got the feeling that he was going to go for it.

We talked for a long time. We finally got interrupted by Davy, saying, "C'mon guys, we're closing up!"

I caught the question in his expression and smiled at him. I looked at Guy, "Ready?"

He smiled, "Yeah, I guess so. Where we goin'?"

As Guy stood up, Davy socked his arm. "Who said we're going anywhere? You gotta make a promise before you go anywhere with me again."

Guy seemed shocked. He straightened his glasses and said, "Uh oh! Okay, what's the promise?"

Davy amazed me. He smiled the exact same smile that Jack did whenever he had a 'gotcha' in mind.

Davy stood up straight and held up his right hand. When Guy didn't follow suit he said, "Hold up your hand, you're making a promise here!"

Guy held up his hand, and Davy started, "I, Guy Morales, do solemnly swear,"

Guy giggled, "I, Guy Morales, do solemnly swear,"

Davy kept a straight face, "That I will never, ever,"

"That I will never, ever,"

"Under any fuckin' circumstances at all,"

Guy grinned, "Under any fuckin' circumstances at all,".

Davy lost his composure a little and grinned. "Under no circumstances will I ever be rude to a friend of Davy Loomis,"

Guy giggled, "Under no circumstances will I ever be rude to a friend of Davy Loomis,"

Davy tried to regain his solemn look, "So help me, Hannah!"

Guy squeaked out, "So help me, Hannah!" then broke down giggling. "Who the livin' hell is Hannah?"

That made Davy laugh, "I don't know. I read it somewhere." He looked at Guy, "Wait! We're not done yet!" He glanced at me and then back at Guy. "You guys are cool?"

We both nodded, pretty eagerly I thought, and Davy grinned a real sunbeam. "I knew that, you know. You are so cool you're freezing. C'mon, it's pizza at Lou's, my dad's treat. The other guys are meetin' us there."

Davy smiled at me, "You're in for a treat. I loved Morton, but the pizza sucked! Get ready for something real!"

Guy cried, "Yeah, it's the best! S'cuse me, I gotta piss like a racehorse!"

When Guy ran out, Davy smiled at me, "I knew you'd work it out. Guy's a good kid usually. You figured things out?"

I smiled and nodded, then realized that I really needed the toilet myself. I asked worriedly, "How long we been in here?"

Davy looked at his watch, "Around three hours."

"Holy Shit! Move over, Guy!"

As I hurried out, I heard Davy say, "Use the lady's room! It's empty!"

I did. It was just like a men's room except you had to piss into the pot just like at home. There was what looked like an eternity's worth of graffiti on the walls of the stall and more in the little alcove where I washed my hands. By the time I was done I was grinning, knowing who loved who and who was available. I thought it was neat that Davy's father let people do that.

I left the restroom to find Davy and Guy waiting for me.

Davy closed the place up, only leaving the outside sign turned on. The only illumination left inside was the red glow from the exit signs.

I had mixed feelings as we walked to the car. I'd hoped to meet more of Davy's friends, but instead I spent almost the whole time with Guy. It wasn't a bad tradeoff; at least I knew somebody else my age who was not only like me in the sex department, but also a real nice kid to know.

We walked in relative silence while I thought over the questions Guy had asked. He was sensitive to my feelings about Jack, but he'd still asked about what we'd done sexually. I gave him vague answers, only admitting that Jack and I had done 'some things', and not giving in to any of his more pointed questions.

I felt bad for Guy. There were boys he liked, but he didn't know anyone else who was gay that he was interested in. He was living a lie anyhow, and probably wouldn't do anything even if he wanted to.

He had the fear of death in him about his gayness, and I tried over and over to get him to see that it was his business, nobody else's. He was Guy, the good son, the good student, the soccer player, the boy with jokes to tell. His name wasn't 'Gay Guy' or 'Guy the Queer'. Everything else about him was more important than that.

Guy understood that in principle, but his fear of being found out was consuming him. He was trying desperately not to be gay, when he knew inside that he was. My story interested him, but in the end it didn't help. He lived in a very different place, a bigger place, and he thought he already faced enough dislike and outright contempt for just being Puerto Rican. Telling others that he was gay would be the kiss of death, at least in his mind.

Knowing what Jack and I had gone through didn't make that hard to believe, but nobody ever really did anything to either of us, except for one time. We'd never felt that our lives had been threatened, just our privacy and our sanity.

I suppose that's what kept us going. We had each other. When school was out we could compare notes, grouse about really rotten comments and decide our 'Asshole of the Day' award. We also laughed at some of the gay jokes we heard. They weren't always directed at us, and some were pretty funny anyhow

The difference from Guy was that Jack and I had each other, and it was a huge difference. The kids tormenting us weren't in our classes, so it was only in the halls and at lunch, just a few wisecracks sometimes on the bus home. Then we could be alone together to do whatever we wanted. That was often just studying, but we got to cut loose, too. We'd ride our bikes, go fishing, hiking, anything that struck us as fun at that moment.

Jack and I loved each other deeply, but we were friends first. Even during that ugly first year at high school, our lives away from there were filled with love and excitement and hilarity.

Guy had none of that, and thinking about his situation got me determined to help him in some way.

I think we both wished that I wasn't just visiting, but that was the case. Guy couldn't exactly come home with me either, so the idea of getting involved seemed like a bad one to both of us. We could be friends and keep tabs, but that was about all.

I was intrigued by Guy if nothing else. He was far removed from the way Jack was, but I felt something for him anyhow. He had the qualities I liked in people to start with. He was also kind of good looking, sexy even.

That was a weird thing about me, who I found attractive. I thought Annie was a pretty girl, everybody did; that was unanimous. I'd never stated my opinion of Davy's looks to anyone, but the girls in Morton seemed to agree with me that he was pretty handsome. I knew that a lot of kids in Morton were good looking, but none of them drew me in as more than friends. Jack Murphy was beauty personified in my eyes, but most people would have considered him ordinary looking. They didn't know the boy behind that shy grin; that was the difference. Anyone who knew what evoked it would have known it came from an inner beauty that would be hard to compete with, never mind match.

Guy was different and different again with his glasses on, but his looks still appealed to me. At that point I couldn't have told you if he was good looking or not, he just looked good to me. I felt something for him, and it wasn't because he told me he was gay. Maybe it was because I was, I don't know, but Guy was a different kind of person, funny and sincere at the same time.

That's not really the whole case, either. I knew a ton of people who were funny and sincere. My whole town was like that. Davy was like that. Funny and sincere people surrounded me, but Guy was like me, and that made the difference. We were ordinary kids in our own worlds in every way, save one.

Guy was gay, he had no doubt about that. I was bisexual, and that crystallized in my mind while talking to Guy. I had Annie, and I really and truly cared for her. We hadn't declared everlasting love, but I still felt committed to her.

The situation now was exactly what I had feared from the outset, from the night Annie had said she'd understand if I fell for somebody else. Now, just my thoughts about Guy made me think I was cheating on Annie, on Jack. Wasn't thinking about Annie and Jack cheating Guy in the same way?

Davy was turning the lock in the car door. I decided it didn't matter. I was destined to be a winner and a loser no matter what path I chose. I could try something with Guy or not, I'd still have to go home to Annie knowing I'd thought about it.

As we climbed into the car, me in front with Davy and Guy in the back, I knew it was my own dilemma, Not Guy's.

Guy was up front with me about his gayness, he left no doubt about it. I was more ambivalent, ambidextrous even. Something told me I should be having more fun, but I guess the Jack part of my brain wasn't going to let me move forward too fast. I had Annie, I was interested in Davy, now there was Guy. I should have felt lucky, but I didn't. I wasn't used to having options, but now I could see a few.

I was weird with all of it. Davy was straight, but I would have done anything he wanted. Guy was gay. I liked him, I really did, but the attraction wasn't really sexual. I liked his looks, I liked his personality, I liked his style. I don't know, maybe I was just afraid of something else. Whatever it was, I'd been so self-absorbed that I failed to pay any attention at all to where we were headed.

Davy pulled up in front of Guy's house, and the car stopping made me take notice. I looked around and said, "I thought we were goin' for pizza." I looked in the back seat as Guy undid his seatbelt, "Aren't ya comin' with us?"

Guy smiled, then looked at Davy. I turned, and Davy said, "We'll meet later. I gotta change, and Guy can't come at all unless he's with Juan." He grinned, "He's the baby of the family, just like me." He looked back at Guy, "We'll see you there, okay?"

Guy opened the door and climbed out, leaning back in to say, "Thanks for the ride. See ya in a bit! He touched my head, "See ya, Mike. Thanks."

The door slammed and Davy started driving. I was more than a little confused. Guy seemed to be completely back to normal after spending hours with me in a mess of confusion. I thought for a second and decided that his being gay didn't interfere at all in his everyday doings. I sat back thinking it was me who had the problem. I thought too much, and tried to shut it out.

Davy helped, "You guys really hit it off, huh? I kinda thought you would."

I smiled at the dashboard, "Yeah, I like him. Thanks for not lettin' us hate each other."

"At your service! You don't hate anybody, do you?"

I thought for a moment, "No, I guess not. Anton kinda, nobody else."

Davy looked at me in shock. "Tony? You hate Tony?"

I had to chuckle, "Not Tony, Anton! You know... before he was Tony. He was a fuckin' asshole!"

Davy started to giggle, "I get it. Sort of like an earlier version? A test model?"

I started to laugh myself, "Yeah, that's it, 'cept he flunked all the tests. If I had my way a few months ago, his ass would'a been on the moon, and my foot would'a put it there!"

Davy laughed harder, "That's a nice picture, the ass in the moon?" He glanced at me, giggling hard. "Pardon my noticing, but does Tony even have an ass?"

I laughed, "Not anymore. I sawed the thing off when he was bein' an asshole." I started giggling wildly, "It... it's... it's under my mom's petunias now."

Davy started wheezing with laughter, "That's why they're so nice?"

He was weaving the car every time he laughed. I thought I should tune it down, but I couldn't resist one more. "No, where it's planted is where all the dead ones are. Ever heard of a Klondike turd?

Davy busted a gut, and his driving started to scare me. The truth was, Tony was showing signs of filling out a bit. He wasn't exactly in a growth spurt, but he was looking a lot less gaunt than he used to. He looked healthier, happier.

I'm sure that Paulina kept him pumped full of his banana splits, but that wasn't all of it. There was a new happiness in his eyes, sometimes soft and sometimes glaring, but it was always there now. Tony wasn't Anton anymore, not the loner he used to be. He'd probably never be polished, but he was becoming competent in public situations, he could hold his own.

I was thinking too much again, and looked over at Davy, who was paying more attention to his driving.

When we got back to his house Davy rushed off to take a shower. I started to follow him up the stairs, but his mother called, "Michael?"

I turned and she appeared in a doorway, "You had a phone call," she said while handing me a slip of paper. She smiled warmly, "How was your day? Did you get to the beach?"

I glanced at the paper and saw Tony's name and number. I became excited, thinking it must be something important or he wouldn't have called. Manners dictated that I speak with Mrs. Loomis for awhile, so I came back downstairs and we had a nice talk. She was fun to talk to, a good listener, and kind of excitable when she learned that I liked the same places she did.

We talked until Davy came back down in clean clothes. He was looking great, but he sent me upstairs to call Tony when he learned that I had a message from him.

I hurried upstairs and into Timmy's room. I was full of excitement, hoping that Tony had heard back from the book people and that they'd changed their minds. I couldn't think of another thing that would cause him to call me at Davy's.

I had a bit of trouble dialing. I'd never made a long distance call before, and I kept screwing it up and getting recorded messages. I finally got a ring, and Tony's mother picked it up.


"Hi, Mrs. Wolfe, it's me... Mike. Is Tony there?"

"Hello Mikeee! He's here, are you home already?"

"No, ma'am, I'm still at Davy's."

"Well, you watch out up there. I'll get Anton."

I could hear her call him, then he picked up in about ten seconds. "Mike?"

"Yup, how's it goin'? The book people change their minds? I got your e-mail."

"Naw, that's why I called. I just wanted to talk to you. They ain't interested."

I was shocked, and I felt awful for Tony. "What'd they say, anyhow?"

"Not a lot. It was all about marketplace and art books not sellin'. I got a letter, then a guy called. He was nice enough, he really wanted to do it, but his company wouldn't let him. He's gonna try to think of somethin' else and call me someday."

"Man, that stinks. I thought... well, you know."

Tony sounded happier than I felt. "It's no big deal. Tim sent a birdhouse up to his old store, he says I'll get lots of orders from there, an' I can get more money for 'em. Daddy says I make more in a week than his Pa did in a year anyhow. Oh, did Davy like his picture?"

I smiled. It was typical Tony. No expectations equaled no disappointments. "Yeah, he loves it! His father thought it was a photograph."

I could almost feel his grin at that. He said, "Tell him it's a Tonygraph. Daddy's takin' me to town tomorrow to get my own colors! You havin' fun up there?"

I grinned into the phone, "You sound like me! Yeah, it's fun. I went in the ocean and on a submarine today. A Tonygraph? That's funny!"

Tony got excited, "You saw the ocean? You are so lucky! I hope I can see it someday."

"You willl, I know you will. You're Tony Wolfe, you'll see the world before I do. Um, how's everythin' else, anyhow?"

"Annie was sad today," he said coyly, "I think she misses ya!"

"Yeah, sure. You guys doin' anythin' special this weekend?"

"I told ya, Daddy's takin' me .... oh... you mean Paulina? I guess we're gonna hang out at her house tomorrow night. It's Jose's birthday, so they're havin' cake and ice cream."

I smiled, knowing that Tony was the only person I'd ever met with a sweet tooth as big as mine. "You can have my share, then. Tell Jose I said happy birthday."

"I will. What're you doin'?"

"We're goin' out for pizza right now, I don't know about tomorrow yet, we haven't decided anything."

"Mmmm, I love pizza." He giggled, "You can have my share of that! Now we're even."

"We don't gotta be even, Tony. If it's as good as what people say, maybe I'll bring some home. Um, I should go. Davy's waitin' down there."

"Oh, okay. I... um, I miss you. It ain't the same without you here."

I smiled sadly, "Yeah, I miss you guys, too. Well, I guess I'll see you when I get back."

"Okay, Mike. You gotta tell me all about it when you get back. Have a good pizza!"

I giggled, "I will," then we hung up.

I sat for a second, then went into the bathroom and quickly washed my hands and face and straightened my hair.

I hurried downstairs to find Davy alone in the living room, fingering through a magazine. He grinned, "What's up? Everything okay?"

I smiled, "Yeah, everything's fine. Ready to go?

Everything was fine.

I had just thought of an idea how to help Guy.


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