Jack in the Box

Chapter 31

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : October, 2000

Davy didn't want to get out of bed at seven AM the next morning when I did, so I left him sleeping and took a leisurely shower, then shaved and went into Tim's room to get dressed. I had apologized to Jack's picture for my thoughts about Guy before I went to bed, so I just talked to him while I was pulling my clothes on.

I still missed Jack terribly, and I suddenly realized that I also missed Annie. I decided to call her on the phone, and while I was dialing I wished it could be so easy to connect up with Jack.

Annie's normally cheerful mother picked up in what sounded like a foul mood. When she heard my voice, she reminded me of the one hour time difference, then said that Annie had stayed at Paulina's the night before and, if I truly wanted to wake up the whole town, I could make real progress by calling there.

I apologized, and decided it would be a good idea to wait for later.

I went downstairs into the kitchen, where Davy's father was sitting at the table in a bathrobe with a cup of coffee. He hadn't shaved yet, and his hair was tousled, but he smiled when I walked in.

"Hi, Mike. You're up early on a Saturday, aren't you?"

I said, "I guess... I usually get up early."

He smiled again, "Is that the fisherman in you?"

I chuckled, "Yeah, I think so. Um, is it alright if I have some juice?"

"Sure it's alright, help yourself, and you don't have to ask." As I was getting it, he said, "I hear you stopped in at the store yesterday. Did you like it? Is there any place in Morton like that?"

I said, "I liked it fine, 'cept for the music they were playin'. The closest thing is the drug store in Morton. The kids in town hang there after school."

As I sat down with my glass of juice, he looked up and asked, "Are you having fun here? Is Davy treating you right?"

"Yeah, just bein' here with Davy is enough. We did a lot yesterday."

I launched into a description of our trip to the shore, all I'd seen and done, then told him how much I liked Davy's friends and the local pizza. I didn't mention Paul, as it didn't seem relevant. Davy's dad was a good listener and a good conversationalist, and I enjoyed talking to him like that. I mentioned seeing the picture of him and his brothers with all that money, and asked what it was about.

He looked a little embarrassed, then cleared his throat and said, "There's a long sad tale about that pile of money, Mike. I'll tell you if you want to hear it, but first, aren't you hungry?"

I was, and I nodded my head. "I'd like to hear it, not if it bothers you to tell it."

His head was by now in the refrigerator, and he was putting things on the counter. He smiled at me for a second before getting busy again. "It doesn't really bother me, it's just a story that never got funny over time. You know, like you do something really dumb, but when you look back on it you can laugh?"

I knew what he meant about that. When he was ready to start cooking he said, "I was incredibly dumb at one point in my life, Mike."

He began to tell me the amazing story of how the money came from selling drugs, that there was millions of dollars in that picture I'd seen. He told me about living in a bar, with Dave Devino's father and uncle raising him, how he set off on his own after they died.

Davy's father was a captivating storyteller, and it really got good when he told me about meeting Dave, then later Tim and Jerry, and how they decided to become brothers, and how Dave's mother and Tim's dad came to unofficially adopt the bunch of them into a bizarre tangle of a family. He told me about others, men and women who'd rode herd over the bunch of them to make sure they turned out okay, but more importantly that they grew up to be themselves and live good lives.

He was still talking after we'd finished eating a delicious breakfast, and I was helping him clean up. I heard about how they'd been trying for many years now to do good with the money, which was still mostly unspent. They'd been giving it away anonymously, which was hard to begin with, but what really made it difficult was that they'd found people to be amazingly un-greedy when they learned that their benefactors were just trying to help them land back on their own feet. Also, some of the organizations they'd researched carefully and donated money to were now defunct.

I was amazed, both by the story and the gentle, open way Mr. Loomis told it. There were parts that shed a very dark light on him, but he didn't gloss over them at all. The best thing was that he knew it was his past he was talking about, and I could see it wasn't some kind of guilt trip, just a recollection of what had gone on and gone wrong in those years. He was telling me about relationships, about how the good and the bad can come together to form the new.

What really shone through was his caring for people, how he thought that even the best people were flawed, but the worst people were just the best ones turned upside down. He felt that, given the right nudge or outright shove at the right time, anybody would choose to be a good person, just like he had.

He continued talking when his wife came down for breakfast, looking dressed and ready for the day. He was still talking when Davy finally showed up, dressed in a bright orange shirt and faded jeans.

He grinned at everyone, then turned it to me. "I figured it out, Mike."

I thought he was referring to Paul. "Yeah, what's his problem, then?"

"Guy's gay, isn't he?"

I don't know what I looked like at that moment, but it must have been precious, because Davy lost his breath for a second, then started laughing out loud. He was pointing at me while he laughed, and finally calmed down enough to say, "I knew it, it kept me up half the night wonderin' what you were up to."

I was looking back and forth between his parents, silently wishing for Davy to just shut up! I didn't mind that he'd figured it out without me telling him; that meant we could talk about Guy. It was having his parents there that bothered me, although at the moment they seemed more concerned with getting breakfast into Davy and his mother.

I stared my best 'shut your mouth' look at Davy anyhow, and that just seemed to amuse him more than he already was. He took a seat and announced that he was hungry, then leaned close to me. "I knew you didn't do that for no reason, and the ones you gave us were bullshit. That's why you guys spent three hours yakkin' in Dad's office, that's why you'n Guy were all red-faced when we me'n Juan got back to their house last night, that's why, isn't it? You were doin' it for Guy!"

I was astounded by Davy's deductive prowess, that what I'd done had even gotten him thinking like that. He had me dead to rights, though, and it seemed a little funny, so I smiled, then chuckled. I finally nodded. Guilty as charged.

Davy's face got more serious, "That was really a nice thing to do. You were trying to let him know where he stood by taking the heat yourself, right?"

Again I nodded, then Davy stood up grinning. "Man, I should work for the FBI!" He turned his back to me and pointed over his shoulder, "Pat me on the back, man." He pointed to a spot with his index finger that I could see and he couldn't, "Right here, pat me on the back right here."

I stood up, a laugh building up inside me, and smacked him where he'd pointed. "Ow! Not there, man, no, no, no," He moved his finger, "Over here."

I didn't get the game, but I smacked him again, and he yelped and said "A pat on the back, Mike," he turned around with a stupid smirk on his face, "I didn't say break my back!"

We both sat down snickering, and Mrs. Loomis put a plate of food in front of Davy, saying, "That's what I like to see. A little good humor first thing is the sign of a beutiful day ahead."

I smiled at her back as she walked over to get her own food, thinking I liked her philosophy. It matched my own, even though I'd never considered it.

When a day started out grim, for whatever reason, it tended to stay that way, taking a whole lot of good things to make it better. On the other hand, when a day started out happy and funny to begin with, it took a whole lot of bad things to make it a bad day.

I wasn't a natural grouch in the morning, I usually felt somewhere between okay and good. Today was starting out great. I'd learned a lot from Davy's father, and really enjoyed his company. His mother had a great attitude, and I was sitting across from a happy looking Davy. For a moment, I didn't know how I could be happier, until I noticed the clock on the wall and remembered Annie. Davy hadn't eaten much yet, and his mother had just begun, so I excused myself and ran upstairs.

I had to look for Paulina's number, then I dialed and Hector answered.

"Hey, Hec. It's Mike."

His cheerfulness surprised me, "Hey, Mike! Annie says you're in Connecticut?"

"Yup, I'm here visitin' Davy... you remember him, right?"

"Yeah, how could I not? Did you get one of their pizzas yet?"

I laughed, "Yeah, last night. A whole bunch, really, and they were fine!"

Hector said, "We spent the whole summer near there. The weather sucked, but it was fun!"

I said, "Yeah, it is fun. Uh, you sound in a good mood."

"Why shouldn't I be? It's Jose's birthday, you know. He's thirteen now, almost tall as me already."

"Oh yeah, Tony told me. Tell him I said happy birthday."

"I will. You're lookin' for Annie, right?"

I smiled at the phone, "Yup."

"Let me find her."

He set the phone down on something hard, and I was left waiting for a bit, looking at my picture of Jack.

Hec came back on, "Mike?"


"Annie and Paulina just took off. You got Paulina's cell phone?"

"Yeah, somewhere. Where'd they go?"

"I don't know. What I do know's I got my license yesterday!"

Now, there was good news. "Way to go HECTOR! Was the test hard?"

"Naw, a breeze." He started pronouncing his words slowly, "I am gonna drive 'til there's no place left to drive to!"

"No wonder you're so happy. Pick out a car yet?"

"I'm down to two choices, a Camaro because it's cool, or an Outback because it has two sunroofs! Joe's comin' over to help me decide."

I said, "Hector, that's just too neat. Whatever you pick, take me for a ride, okay?"

"You got it, Mike. I gotta go, Dad's callin'."

We said our goodbyes while I wondered which dad, then I wondered for the millionth time about Hector. When he was up like he just had been, he was the nicest kid in the world, then the next time you saw him he'd ignore you like you were a bug on the floor.

I didn't dwell on it; I found Paulina's number and dialed it, beginning to wonder if I should offer Davy's parents some money for my calls.

This time Paulina answered, "Michael, hi! I won't bore you, here's Annie."

Her voice was pure music, "Mike? How are you? I really miss you. How's Davy?"

"I miss you too, Annie, I really do. I, um... I'm fine 'cept you're there and I'm here. Davy? Well, he's just bein' Davy. It's really nice here with all the fall colors and all; the whole place looks like Gordon's swamp."

We talked for about fifteen minutes, and I think we were each trying to get the other to talk the most so we could listen to the voice. I know I was. We were running out of things to say when Annie said, "Oh, guess what?"

Her excitement was evident, so I perked up, "What?"

"Clay's goin' to Italy! You know how he loves art, well, now he's goin' to see it. He's so excited... he goes to the bathroom about every two minutes!"

It would take Annie to notice that and comment on it, and it was one of the things I loved most about her. "When'd this happen? I never even heard him talk about it."

"Last night. The Goldmans came over, and they said they're goin' for Thanksgiving, just Joe and Marty. Well, Clay heard that, and put up a rant to go with them that lasted all night. Marty didn't mind, and Daddy said he'd pay. Joe... well, you know him. He said he didn't care as long as he didn't have to be a tour guide."

I said, "Cool."

"No, Mike, it's way more than cool. Clay's hangin' from the sky without a wire. I've never seen him so happy or excited."

I smiled, not saying anything, as if I was there with her. When I realized that, I said, "I'm glad. I know he likes his art."

Her voice was sweet, "He doesn't like it, Mike, he loves it, now he's going to see it for real." She paused, "You know, you and Davy saved Clay's life, now he's starting to live it the way he wants. Start your day with that thought, Michael, you gave him that."

"I... um... "

"Don't say it, Mike, take the credit for once. Um, we're at the mall. Say goodbye, or make me look like a total idiot with this phone in my ear."

I giggled, "I know, I don't like those things either. I'll try to call later."

Annie made a kiss sound into the phone, so I did too. We said our goodbyes and hung up, then I sat there for a minute, thinking how good things could be sometimes. Clay was going to Italy, and with Joe Goldman. I giggled to myself, thinking that would provide the town with things to talk about for years to come. Those two guys were about as unlikely a pair as I could imagine, but Marty would be there to even things out. She always did.

I was glad for Clay, I really was. He'd turned out to be a nice kid, if a bit odd.

He liked what he liked, and he wasn't about to back down on that, but he had a good heart too, if you took the time to find it. He was selfish in the Paulina sense, in that what was good for him tended to be good for those around him. He'd long since gotten over his thing about me being with his sister, now he went out of his way to make sure we could find some private time together.

I had learned to like Clay a lot. His usual scowl would give way to a smile often enough, if you called him on it. He was just intense in his likes and dislikes, and constantly lost in thought about both. His likes were positive things, and his dislikes were generally what nobody would like anyhow, he was just a bit more adamant about things than most.

Even that's not fair. Clay wasn't adamant; he was passionate about things. The two I knew about were fine art and baseball, but he probably harbored more. Listening to him talk about baseball was fun enough. He wasn't into the numbers like some people. Statistics and history weren't his thing, but he could talk forever about actually playing the game, how good it felt to make a perfect throw home, how embarrassing it was to muff an easy play, how hard it was to actually hit a ball.

Talk about art was less interesting to me, but Clay cared enough to point out things in pictures that got your interest, at least a little. He knew what he was talking about, and even I knew enough to pay attention to that.

He'd become a solid friend, anyhow, an ally. It was funny how I felt about him, strange is a better word. Clay had been just one of those people in town, the sort that you knew was there, but there was no reason to get to know. Now I knew him, and I was finding value in knowing him. Clay was different, that's for sure, and I found it both entertaining and enlightening to confront that difference.

I heard Davy calling from downstairs and started to hurry out, then realized I had to pee, so I called down to him to wait.

When I got downstairs, Davy was waiting for me with my jacket in his hand. He seemed happy and asked, "Where to?"

"Huh? You tell me, I don't even know where I am."

"I know, I was kidding. Ever been to an IMAX?"

I said, "No, I never even heard of it."

"Good. It's a movie with a huge screen, and the one we're goin' to is in 3-D. I haven't been myself, but Pauly said it'd blow our minds. Ready?"

When we were in the car, Davy said, "It's an hour from here to the IMAX, we can do something else if you want."

I said, "We told Juan and Guy we'd go to their games."

"We'll be back in time." He looked at me as he pulled out, "I'm right about Guy, aren't I?"

I crossed my arms, "It ain't my place to say."

Davy said merrily, "Okay, so don't say. I know I'm right, and it's not a big deal." More softly, "That was a big thing to do, Mike, I really admire you."

I softened and smiled. "He's scared, Davy, scared of himself, scared of everything. I just wanted him to see who he could trust." I grinned over at him, "I did good, huh?"

He was just pulling on to a highway, so he smiled while looking ahead, "Yeah, brother, you did good. Perfect, even. You know, I would'a never even guessed about Guy." He coughed, "Sorry, I shouldn't go guessin' about anybody. Ah, you interested in him?"

I thought before answering. "Yeah... No! I mean…" This was pathetic on my part, "I mean... I could be, it's just impossible. We're too far apart." I looked at the floor, "I mean, I like Guy, I really do, we almost did somethin' last night." I eyed Davy, "I wanted to, and I don't like that."

"Don't like what?"

"That I wanted to. It's like cheatin' on Annie and Jack, both at the same time."

I saw Davy's frown. "Mike, I don't know. I think you gotta follow your own heart. I know you're nuts about Annie, don't go confusin' things now. You're right that Guy's here and she's there, just leave it at that." He looked at me quickly with a little smile, then turned his attention back to the road and traffic. "Don't pressure yourself, Mike. Annie's waiting for you at home. You have something going with her, stick with it. Guy's fifteen. If you can't make it happen with Annie, he'll still be here."

Davy was right, of course, but I wanted it all, even at the risk of losing everything. The thought of having a girlfriend in Morton and a boyfriend in Connecticut didn't really seem incongruous to me, it was just the logistics that seemed impossible.

Davy changed the subject. "Dad says he told you about his dirty little secret. What'd you think?"

I said, "I didn't know what to think. He sure had a strange life as a kid." I smiled brightly, "I really like your folks; they're really nice."

Davy smiled a little, "Yeah, I think they're pretty special." He glanced at me with a smirk, "After all, they made me."

I said happily, "And I'll always be grateful for that."

We both laughed a little, then quieted down. I got interested in the scenery for awhile. We were on a parkway, and after we passed some towns it started to really look like a park. There were whole stretches where you couldn't see anything but trees and lawn, and the fall colors against a sometimes dark sky were as stunning as they had been the day before, maybe even more so when we got under a big cloud and the sun wasn't directly on everything.

We arrived at the IMAX theater with about fifteen minutes to spare. It was part of a museum complex, so we had to go in through there. I had popcorn on my mind as we waited in line to buy tickets, and I was unhappily surprised to learn that no food was allowed inside. Instead of food, we were handed big glasses that looked like sunglasses, except one lens was red and one was green.

We found good seats right in the middle of the theater, and I felt a little dizzy just being there. The aisles were steep, and the screen was huge! We were sitting right behind a railing, and it looked to be a long way both down and up.

When the movie started I was mesmerized by the sights and sounds. I'd never seen anything in 3-D before, and this movie was about living in outer space in the future. I don't know how many times I ducked when it looked like some asteroid was going to smack me right in the head, but it was all very real looking, and I thought it was well done. The feeling of dizziness came back several times too, but it was from the film effects and was a fun kind of dizzy.

The movie was great, even without popcorn, and when it ended I started to applaud, which just got people looking at me as the lights came up. I stopped and turned sheepishly to Davy. "You don't clap for good movies?"

He shook his head slowly, studying me as if I'd just gone nuts. "No... never heard of such a thing."

Gee, where I lived people clapped, at least they did if they liked it. Everyone was leaving, so we stood and walked out, depositing the special glasses in a box on the way.

When we got back to the car, Davy asked, "What now? We've got about two hours."

My stomach answered for me, with a low rumble that made Davy laugh. He said, "Okay, lunch. Wanna just walk around and find a place? I don't know this area."

I'd just buckled my seat belt, so I undid it. "I'll walk, I'll crawl, I just gotta eat something."

Davy snickered, "I can't picture you crawling." He pointed down the road, "Let's try this way. We're in South Norwalk, there's supposed to be some good places here."

I looked at the street we were on, and it resembled a grown up Morton, one where most of the buildings were being used. You could tell they were old, but there were new storefronts at street level, all of them kind of enticing. There were a lot of people selling antiques and things like that, and we looked in a few windows to see what they had..

We passed a coffee shop, but didn't see any other place to eat.

Davy stopped a woman on the sidewalk and asked her about places for lunch. She asked him a few questions, then pointed down another road, saying there was a nice Greek place there.

After thanking her, Davy looked a question at me, "Like Greek?"

I shrugged, "I guess, what's it like?"

He grinned, "You'll like it, c'mon!"

The place was kind of neat inside, all old bricks and shiny glass and wood. On Davy's suggestion, I ordered moussaka, which he said was kind of like lasagna. It came with soup and salad, and when the waitress brought the soup out, it was hands down delicious.

I'd never had anything like it - it was called lemon and egg, and there were what I think were bits of egg in a rich broth. It was kind of like the way Andy Stark made chili - the flavors announced themselves individually and deliciously. The salad was also good, with lots of black olives and crumbly cheese on it.

We weren't really trying to hold a conversation, but when we were just munching on bread and butter and waiting for the main meal, Davy smiled and asked, "You like?"

I looked around, thinking it was probably the neatest restaurant I'd ever been in, but that was comparing to the very few I actually had been to. I nodded enthusiastically as I swallowed the bread, "Yeah, I like it. I love it! I never had stuff like this before."

He asked, "Having fun?"

Looking at Davy in a good mood was fun in itself, but I didn't tell him that. "Yeah, I'm havin' fun." A thought struck me, "Don't you ever do things that don't cost money'?"

Davy seemed perplexed by my question. "Whattya mean?"

I said, "I mean, you shouldn't be spendin' all this money just 'cause I'm here. All I ever bought you was a soda."

It was true, in the week Davy had spent with me in Morton, our only capital outlay was on our first morning in town, where he paid for two pastries and I got two sodas from a machine. Otherwise, we hadn't spent a dime all that week, unless you counted the cowboy hat Davy bought when he went to town with his uncle.

Now Davy was tossing money around like crazy, paying for admissions and food when I had money in my own pocket. It wasn't really a big deal, but I wasn't used to everything costing something. I was having fun for sure, but I found myself thinking that I'd have just as much fun walking along the ridges we kept seeing. We needed to eat, but it didn't have to be in some place where lunch was going to cost near twenty bucks each.

Well, maybe that lunch was worth it. The waiter brought our food before Davy got a chance to respond, and it smelled great. It looked too hot to try right away, so I poked at it to see what I had. It didn't really look like lasagna, but I pulled some onto my fork and blew on it to cool it down, then put it in my mouth.

It was still a bit too hot, but the flavor melted my thoughts away. Davy was staring at me, and he must have seen a funny expression when I tried to smile my satisfaction and couldn't keep my mouth closed, because I needed some cool air in there before I could swallow.

When I finally got it down, I grabbed my throat and croaked, "Good! Hot!"

He chuckled, "I could tell. Listen, if it's about money, don't worry. Dad wants me to show you a good time."

I had another glob of moussaka on my fork, determined to let it cool. "Davy, I can have fun in the woods, fishing, lots of ways. You don't hafta bring me places, I just wanna be with you!" I thought about what I'd just said, and asked, "Does that make sense? Don't get me wrong, this is all fun, but there must be trails on those hills."

Davy tried his own moussaka, and appeared to find it okay to eat. He was leaning down to the plate because it was kind of drippy, but he raised his eyes to me and, in typical Davy fashion, caught on immediately to what I was saying. "You're full of it, Mike. Things that cost money are more fun by their own nature."

He looked at my shocked face and snickered, "Ha, gotcha!" His look turned either more serious or slightly less demented, "Mike, I know what you mean; there's plenty to do here that you don't hafta pay for. Soccer's free, but you pay to see football, 'less you can wait to the second half, then that's free, too." He smiled, "Tomorrow I'll take you to a place you'll love. It's free, and we can do some hiking."

I smiled as I bit into the food, which was now a tolerable temperature. "Thanks. It's fun seein' all these things, but I wanna see the place, too."

Davy smiled back, "Okay, that's what we'll do. You can meet some of my Dad's friends too."

Damn, I hadn't told him about Clay! I dabbed at my lips with my napkin, "I forgot! Clay's goin' to Italy! Annie said he's bouncin' off the walls!"

Davy grinned, "Really? That's great! Um... howcum?"

"You know how he likes art, he heard someone was goin' and glommed on."

Davy smiled, "I bet he did! Man, that's really neat, just exactly what he wanted to do someday."

I treasured all of Davy's smiles, but this one was for Clay, the boy we'd revived. My eyes clouded up, "Annie says it's because of us he got the chance. She wanted to make my day with that, but it's for you as well."

That put a somber face on Davy. He cocked his head and looked at me, a little smile appearing, "Yeah, huh?" He leaned forward, putting down his fork and ignoring his food, "That kid was dead, Mike. We putlife back into him! Y You must know how important that is."

I'd heard it before, but coming from Davy it suddenly did seem important. Whatever magic had played out that night at the pond, the simple fact was that Clay was alive because of me and Davy, no matter how we figured out what to do. We were mechanics maybe, but Clay lived and breathed because of what we'd done, and my day seemed suddenly brighter than it already had been. I grinned at Davy, "Guess who gets to babysit?"


"Remember what Tony said? We saved Clay, now we're responsible?"

He smiled, "Oh, yeah. Okay, who? I'm sure it's not me."

I laughed, "No, Joe Goldman!" I couldn't picture Clay on vacation with Joe; no matter what I came up with seemed funny, so I just giggled.

Davy stared for a moment, then asked, "What? Joe and Clay don't get along?"

I gasped, "Get along?" then wheezed out, "I think they get along fine; they're just the odd couple, the oddest couple!"

I could see that Davy wasn't with me. "Damn, Joe thinks welding is a fine art. He thinks they play classical music on fiddles!" I pointed at Davy, "Listen to this. He helped Mr. Jakiela make driveway markers, then he called 'em stone pricks!" I started laughing, "And you know what? That's just what they are - hardons on either side of the guy's driveway! When he's tellin' people how to get to his house, he just says to look for the stone pricks!"

I could see Davy trying to figure out what I was talking about and, failing that, he started giggling. "Look for the stone pricks? You gotta be kidding, right?"

I wasn't. Mr. Jakiela had recently bought two cement statues, a dog and a cat, and they were by his driveway as 'Guardians of the Pricks'. It was funny enough just to think about, but trying to tell Davy had us both bawling with laughter. I was laughing too hard to speak, trying to picture a serious Clay Nettleton spending a week with Joe, who didn't have a serious bone in his body.

The thought of it amused me, and at the same time it confused Davy. We finally settled down enough to eat and enjoy the food, but I took a break to say, "You don't know those guys. Clay thinks everythin's serious, Joe don't think anythin' is. Italy ain't gonna be the same place when they get done with it."

Davy looked up, "Aah, they'll get along. Joe's a good guy, he'll look after Clay."

"I suppose. This stuff's delicious, by the way."

We finished our meal with limited conversation, and had baklava for dessert. That was the sweetest and most delicious treat that had ever touched my tongue. I was full, but I ate all they gave me, and finished off what Davy couldn't eat. I was probably going to need new and bigger clothes, but those Yankees sure knew how to eat!

Davy drove fast on the way back, afraid of getting a ticket, but in a hurry because lunch had taken longer that he expected. We stopped once for a pee at a rest area, then we were at his town's sports complex.

It was really big. What passed for a stadium was on one side of the street, and a whole bunch of baseball and soccer fields were on the other side. We parked in a lot full of cars and school buses. When we got out of the car, I caught up with Davy and he put his hand on my shoulder and smiled. "Let's go see the free part first. The soccer games are already going."

I looked at him to see if he was making fun of me, but of course he wasn't. We headed across the street, and the first soccer field we came to had a bunch of little girls practicing, the next what looked like Jr. high boys, then finally the one where Guy's team was warming up in yellow jerseys and black shorts. Their opponents were at the near end in silver jerseys and black shorts. I couldn't make out Guy from the distance. I could tell what he meant by lack of audience, though. There were maybe fifty or sixty people around that particular field, most of them looked like mothers with younger kids, though there were a few guys there.

It had gotten windy, and I zipped up my jacket. Juan's words rang true, too. There was no place to sit except on the ground, and it looked a little soggy. Davy and I started walking toward the other end of the field, and about halfway there I spotted Guy in his little bumblebee costume. He was wearing the number 4, and he had his back to me, but I knew it was him just from his hair and general shape.

A whistle blew, and the teams headed for their benches. Guy spotted me and Davy in the sparse crowd and grinned at our presence, then he jumped in the air, and clapped his hands once. He had his audience!

It didn't do him any good. His team was clearly outclassed by the other one. Guy was an enthusiastic player, but the other team was more coordinated than his, and they were running all over them.

I didn't really know the game, we played it in gym sometimes. I knew it could get rough from that, but Guy's team was getting hurt all over the place. Maybe it's just because he was my friend, but he sure looked to be the best player on his side. He was fast, and he always seemed to end up with the ball during the few times the other team let them have it at all.

I kind of felt bad for Guy. He was a good player on a bad team, but he sure was having fun out there. His team was getting their collective ass kicked, but he never lost his determined smile. He reminded me of Clay at times, because it was obvious that he played with a passion and love of the sport. He was having fun, even if the team was getting killed. I liked that, I liked it a lot.

It made me think of how Jack and I had maintained our love and general high spirits when we were being put through the meat grinder at school.

There's something different about sports. I was loudly championing Guy's team, and somehow the other team seemed like the enemy, like there was something evil about them. How dare they play well against my friend? It wasn't fair! It wasn't legal or moral either. It seemed reprehensible that bigger, stronger, and better players should just naturally triumph over a moribund team like the one Guy played on.

What happened to Jack and me wasn't fair either. We should have fought back, but we didn't. We weren't exactly the smallest kids in school, we could have won a few rounds. It didn't seem worth it to us, but watching Guy out on the field made me wonder why. He had to know he was playing a losing game, but he was playing it with all he had to give.

Then the why dawned on me. Guy was playing a game, it was with a team, and against another team of athletes. They had rules... referees. It wasn't the same thing at all. Even a lopsided game was fair in that sense

Jack and I could have fought back, but it wouldn't have been, and never would be, on a fair field. Our fight, if we'd fought it, wouldn't be about scores or style, it would have been about ideas and ideals. We were morally wrong in some people's eyes, but that's not what brought us grief in school. It was just plain stupidity, lack of understanding, lack of acceptance. The only thing that made us gay was that we said we were, and that was to protect someone else who probably didn't deserve or need our protection anyhow.

Jack and I had endured, been happy even, because we had each other.

The torment we got kept us together, made us more dependent on each other, forced our love for each other to the forefront. I could see something similar with Guy on the soccer field. He had his game, and he probably knew he was going to lose it, but it was his! It was his love, and it was easy to see that it was the game that mattered while he was playing, not the likely outcome.

We could make out the sound of the band doing halftime across the street, so when we got a chance we went over to Guy to wish him better luck in the rest of the game, then walked over to the football field, where the admission was now being waived. I was pretty cold from the wind, so I got a hot chocolate before we found some seats, which were down front on the bleachers.

There was a decent crowd for this game. The stands were pretty full, and there were a lot of people walking around. The scoreboard showed a tie at halftime, so we expected to see some action.

We had barely sat down when a pair of good looking girls approached us. Davy grinned and stood up as the shorter of the two said, "Hi, Davy! Who's your friend?"

Davy introduced them as Melanie and Penny. Penny was short, but pretty in a pixie type way, with a cute round face and a nice smile. Melanie was as tall as Davy, and had a nice look to her, too, but more in the classic sense, like a model might look. Penny and Davy seemed to be friends, and kept up a good yak, but it was Melanie who seemed to have eyes for him. She was either shy or just a quiet person, but she was hanging on every word that Davy said, and he wasn't really paying any attention to her.

When they walked off, I turned to Davy and smirked, "That girl likes you!"

He looked surprised, "Penny? Nah, we've been friends since kindergarten."

"I meant the other one, Melanie."

Now he looked really surprised, and he blushed enough that it showed on a face that was already red from the wind. He stammered, "You think?"

I smiled and nodded my head, and Davy started looking somewhat desperately in the direction they'd headed. The players were on the field, and the game was going to start back up. I patted Davy's shoulder and said, "Go man, I'll be right here."

He arched an eyebrow, "What makes you think I'm interested?"

I laughed, "Your face! Just go, I'm fine here."

That was the truth. The other people lent shelter from the wind, and the hot chocolate was doing its job well. I was warm for the first time in an hour, and I meant to stay that way. Davy smiled a question at me, and I nodded in response

He took off just as Juan's team was receiving the kickoff, so I settled in to watch the game. Both teams had pretty good defense, so it was just a war of turnovers for the whole third quarter. It was kind of fun to watch Juan. The guy defending him wasn't very big, and after the snap Juan would just flatten him every time. Otherwise, the game wasn't a lot of fun to watch, and I started thinking about returning to the soccer match across the street. Davy hadn't come back, and one more punt at the beginning of the fourth quarter helped me make up my mind.

I wasn't worried about Davy, we'd find each other, so I walked back over to Guy's soccer game. It had ended, but the team was still there listening to their coach. By the time I was close enough to hear, the coach said, "Okay, next game's Tuesday at four. Be on time and be ready. We really can beat these guys. Let's do it then, okay?"

The guys cheered as they stood up, then Guy spotted me and came trotting over. He said, "Hey! Lemme get some clothes on. Who's winnin' over there?"

"Nobody yet, it's tied at six."

He bent down to open his bag, pulling out sweat pants and a sweatshirt. He put those on over his uniform, then a parka, then his glasses. He sat on the ground to replace his spikes with sneakers. When he was ready, he stood up and grinned. "Thanks for comin', Mike. It's nice to see someone ya know once in awhile." He started walking, and I followed him.

He commiserated with the few of his teammates that we encountered, and we headed across the street, to the sound of a loud roar from the football fans. We weren't close enough to tell if it was cheering or booing, but we had missed something. We picked up our pace and hurried into the park, returning to where Davy had last seen me. The scoreboard told us that Juan's team had scored another touchdown and failed at the point after. The other team was at the far end of the field from where they wanted to be, and the clock was running out. The excitement on our side of the field was palpable, as was the disappointment across from us. People on that side were streaming from the stands, while everyone around us was on their feet and hollering for the winning team. The clock ran out on a play I couldn't even see, and the cheering got crazy.

People, including Guy, were jumping up and down and hugging each other, patting backs, shaking hands. I didn't really get why football was so much more important than soccer, but it was fun being there.

The place eventually started to clear out, and there was still no Davy. I hung where I was for a few more minutes with Guy, then decided that Dave must have gone to wait at the car. It turned out to be a good guess, because there he was, and with the engine running. As we approached, he smiled, "Figured you went back to the soccer game. You win, Guy?"

Guy said, indignantly, "Very funny. The coach from the other team wants me to play with them next year."

I looked sideways at him, "You gonna?"

He shrugged, "I don't know. I gotta think about it." He raised his gaze to Davy, "Can I get a ride home?"

"Hop in." He looked at me, "Mike, can you sit in back? I gotta talk to Guy here."

I said, "Okay," while trying to challenge Davy with my eyes. Why now? I was certain that Guy would think I'd betrayed him, and wished Davy would save it until after I was gone.

Guy said, "I can sit in back," mistaking my look for a desire to sit up front.

I just climbed into the back seat, silently praying that Davy would change his mind.

He didn't. As soon as they were both belted in up front, Davy turned and put his hand on Guy's shoulder. "We're friends, right Guy?"

Guy said, "Sure!"

Davy put the car in gear. "You can trust me, Guy. Don't go blamin' Mike, because he didn't say anything to me."

Guy turned a suspicious look toward Davy, and asked, "About what?"

"I figured it out, Guy... about last night, that is. I couldn't think for the life of me why Mike outed himself, then it came to me when we were in bed."

Guy turned to me with an accusing glance, and my ears heated up. I think he heard Davy's words about being in bed the same way they sounded to me, though he gleaned a different meaning from them. My eyes opened wide and I shook my head, saying shakily, "When I was asleep, that's what he means."

It still hadn't come out right, but Davy went on and Guy turned his attention back to him. He tried to be calming, "Guy, it's okay, at least with me, but I have to hear it from you, then I'll try to help."

Guy stuttered out, "Hear w-what?"

"If I'm wrong, let me stop the car before you hit me." He glanced at Guy, "Are you gay?"

Guy's dark eyes turned back to me, and there was murder in them. I said, "Honest, I didn't tell him anything!"

Davy said, more sternly, "Guy! I told you Mike didn't say anything, and that's the truth!" He smacked Guy's shoulder sharply, causing him to turn his attention back. "C'mon, Guy. Mike took a big chance for you there, don't be mad at him! He could'a got his ass kicked for you if Pauly wasn't the only asshole there. He did agood thing, and the reason I'm askin' you is Mike won't even tell me if I'm right. I got the hand prints on my back to prove it!"

Guy disappeared from my view when he slumped in his seat. All I could see was the headrest.

He must have said something after awhile, because Davy started speaking softly to him. I could have heard if I leaned forward, but I decided to stay out of it. I didn't know why Davy was insinuating himself into this to begin with, and figured it was best if I let him work it out with Guy. I didn't want Guy thinking that I'd betrayed his confidence, but I could defend my own case about that if I had to. In the meantime I just tried to relax in the relative warmth of the car.

It wasn't a long ride anyhow, and Davy stood outside the car with Guy for awhile when we got to his house. Guy had just opened his door and gotten out, so I figured he was angry with me. I was a little annoyed about that. All I'd done was try to help him out, but I could see how he'd think I must have told Davy, so I let it go. I cared about Guy, I really did, but it was up to him to think things through and sort out his own life. I was no expert, far from it, but I had managed to help him a little, and that's where I thought it should end. Davy was there trying to help him out, and I was certain that Juan would support him.

They were out there for a while, and I got lost in my own thoughts. When the door I was leaning against suddenly opened, I was unprepared, and found myself dangling precariously and uncomfortably from my shoulder belt.

A giggling Guy pushed until I was back upright in my seat, saying, "Jeez, back to the forest with this one! He ain't ready for all these modern conveniences!"

I turned to confront his broad smile while I heard Davy laughing behind him. Guy said, "Come on, you're stayin' here. You can meet my mother!"

I was confused, and leaned down so I could look up at Davy's face. He grinned, "I got a date."

Lost, I unbuckled my seatbelt and climbed out of the car, figuring things out in the few seconds that it took. Davy's smile might be described as knowing, and I was less dense than usual. He wasn't taking chances, and had asked that girl out before she changed her mind. He was ditching me, just like I'd done to him so many times in Morton while I was getting hopeful with Annie.

Did I mind? No! Davy's expression was precious, part question, part 'please!' and part excitement. I said, "Fine, dump me here," then I grinned, "at least there's no pond to drown in. You really goin' out with her?"

He smiled happily, "Yeah, you were so right! You gotta show me how you do that, Mike. I would'a never... she's so cute... nice, too... nice and cute... no, that's not right, she's beautiful... and nice!" His grin had turned into a dazed smile that made Guy and me laugh, then Davy looked a little worried, "You're not mad are you?"

I put my hand on his back, then gave him a little shove toward the street. "No, I ain't mad. Go do somethin' for yourself," then I thought, "um... how'm I gettin' home... I mean to your house?"

"Call the cell. Thanks, man!"

Davy hurried back into the car, tooted the horn, then squeaked the tires on the leaves and was gone. Guy's voice came from behind me, "He's excited."

I turned to look at him, and his smile disappeared into a hesitant scowl. "Um, I'm sorry, Mike. I... I shouldn't ..."

"It's alright. I would'a thought the same thing."

"Thanks, then. It was still a brave thing to do. I... uh, I still have a question."

"Go ahead."

"Well, is 'owl rat' some kind of bird, or some kind of rodent?" Guy giggled and scooted up the stairs before I could smack him, so I laughed and chased after him.

He had a gym bag and I didn't, so I brought him down about halfway up the stairs and dug my fingers into his ribs, making him squeal loudly. "What was that? You makin' fun of the way I talk?"

He could only squeak and try to breathe, then the door at the top of the stairs swung open, and a woman, who could only have been Guy's mother, stood on the landing with her hands on her hips. "What is going on down there?" she demanded in a faint Spanish accent. "Guy? Who's that with you? Why are you making all this noise?"

Guy couldn't stop giggling, but he managed, "Sorry." He gasped in a few breaths and pushed me away, "This is Mike, Ma, the kid I told you about."

I was about as embarrassed as you can get, still struggling to my feet, all red and breathless from the sudden exertion. I tried to smile, but I knew I looked like an idiot. "Um, hi, Mrs. Morales, nice to meet you," was all I could get out.

She beamed, "Hi, honey," then looked at Guy. "He talks just like you said." She made a motion with her hand, kind of a upside down wave, her fingers pointing downwards. "Come on you boys, get inside before you get us evicted."

She stood there waiting while Guy elbowed me and I elbowed him back, which wasn't that easy since he was up a step from me. He'd got my shoulder, and the best I could do in retaliation was poke his bum.

When we got to the top of the stairs, Guy's mother backed up to let us pass, but there wasn't a lot of room. She was a large woman, and the way she had her arms crossed, she reminded me of one of those Buddha statues you see in National Geographic. I caught the humor in her eyes, though. It was supposed to be a warning look, but it didn't work, at least not on me.

It's funny how that look works. If Guy was anything like me, he'd think his mother was seriously pissed off, but I'd learned from Jack's observations that it rarely happened for real. Whenever we'd earned one of those looks from our own mothers, we were each certain that she was thoroughly pissed off, but we could see the love in the other mother's eyes, the love that said they knew their sons were just growing up.

That's what I saw in Guy's mother's eyes, and I smiled as I walked past. She knew that I knew, too, and gave me a gentle shove into their home.

She followed us in, saying to Guy, "You take a bath, you stink. Soccer! Just like your father!" She smiled at me as I caught Guy's wince, "I'll talk to your friend; don't take too long." She turned to me and steered me to a chair. "Sit, Michael, be comfortable, I'll be right back."

The funny thing is that I knew just what she was doing. Mothers of the Hispanic variety believed in their hearts that boys needed a constant intake of food, and they were always ready to provide.

I wasn't to be disappointed, either. She was back in about five minutes with some hurried-up nachos, saying, "I hope these aren't too hot, I tried to tap the peppers out of the can, but they all came out."

She looked expectantly as I sampled one, then I suddenly realized that what had come out of the can were sliced jalapenos. I managed not to gag, but I know I turned red. I reached for the can of soda that she'd brought and took a mighty swig, then croaked "Good," with what was left of my mouth and throat. God, they were good, too. Hot is good in general, just not when it comes as such a surprise, and surprised I was.

A red-faced me smiled at a beaming Mrs. Morales and said, "This is yummy! I like spicy stuff."

She smiled happily, "Thank you. And thank you for Guy, too."

I froze, "Huh?"

She looked behind her before continuing, "You think I don't know? I'm his mother! Juan told me what you did." She smiled, "Juan? He has no clue, he's all football." She leaned toward me, "It took you, Michael. Now I can talk to Guy." She fell back into her chair and looked at me, "Guy could never tell his mother that, and his mother could never ask him that."

I stared at her, wondering what she knew, and why it made her speak in the third person. "I... um... what? Ask him what ?" I really got nervous, and I started fidgeting like crazy, kind of afraid to meet her gaze.

Her eyes bored into mine for a moment, then the smile came back, "Guy's a gay boy; I've known that since he was little. The girls always liked him, but he always loved the boys, always. His papa noticed, too, and he worried about it, but I told him to get off it." She got sad, "Guy is his father in many ways... so full of fun... so kind. He looks just like him, too." Her look became intense, "Guy's a beautiful boy, Michael, and I love him. You be good to him ..."

I gasped, "You think I ..."

"You didn't let me finish. You be good to Guy, and he'll be good to you. He's a good boy, he has a good heart, I know he does."

Motion caught my eye, and I looked up to see a teary eyed Guy standing there.



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