Jack in the Box

Chapter 32

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : October, 2000

The next day, Sunday, I did manage to sleep in a bit, not coming to until around 8:30, when Davy woke me up after his shower. Saturday had been a long and busy day, especially the time I spent at Guy's house.

He told his mother that he was gay after overhearing her tell me she had always known that he was. He was a wreck at first, thinking that everyone would find out and not like him anymore. It took her some time, but she eventually put his mind at ease, using her loving words and gentle good humor. He started to cheer up when she explained that gay men weren't unknown in their extended family, and he really lit up with surprise when she named some of them.

I was embarrassed at first for even being there to hear anything so private, but they started including me by asking questions about my own experience. When they were winding down on the topic, they both looked a bit drained but happy. Guy was actually ecstatic. His terrible secret was out to the person he cared most about in the world. She didn't think it was so terrible, and she still loved him, always loved him. Just as important, you could tell that she really liked her sons and the men they were growing into.

They decided that Juan should know, but that Guy should tell him sometime when they were alone together. There was no real rush, but sooner seemed better than later.

After that, Guy and I kicked back and looked at television, talking about how un-different we felt about most things. Guy's mother disappeared into the kitchen to fix dinner. Juan showed up while we were there, and Guy went down the hall with him, leaving me alone.

They got loud for awhile, but they weren't gone long. When they came back in the room, Juan had his arm around Guy's shoulder. The raised voice that I'd heard had been Juan chastising Guy for ever being afraid of him and for not telling him sooner. They were still brothers, and Juan was more concerned than upset by the fact that his little brother was gay.

We had a yummy dinner of pork chops, rice and corn, all the while keeping up a steady conversation. Guy told some more jokes, but he wasn't relentless with them like he'd been in the restaurant. Juan hurried out to go to a basketball game as soon as we finished eating, taking their mother's car.

We were discussing what to do with ourselves when there was a knock at the door, and a kid named Pete from upstairs asked if we wanted to go to the mall with him. It sounded better than watching television, so we went.

Pete turned out to be pretty good company and a nice guy, very laid back in a surfer-dude way. He was nineteen and out of school, and he worked as a desk clerk at the local Radisson hotel.

I had never been to a mall to hang around, only for the occasional shopping trip, but it turned out to be kind of fun. We looked in some stores, got shakes in the food court, played some games in the arcade, and talked with some of Guy's and Pete's friends that we ran into. Mostly we watched other people, Guy and I did, anyhow. Pete was on the make, chatting up every girl he saw who appealed to him.

We saw Paul with another kid, and he saw us, but he turned away as soon as he did, without acknowledging us. It was an improvement over his tirade of the previous evening, so we just laughed it off.

We had planned to stay until ten when the mall closed, but Pete met a girl who agreed to go somewhere with him, so we found ourselves back at Guy's house a little after nine.

We watched television with Guy's mother for awhile, then we watched by ourselves when she went to bed, reassuring Guy once again that he was still loved.

Being alone together on the sofa, for good or for worse, eventually got us to do what we had planned to the night before.

We had gotten closer and closer together sitting there, and pretty soon we were snuggling up to each other. That led to a kiss and two horns of steel, and ultimately to a tiptoed trip down the hall to Guy's bed, where a little manual stimulation got us both off, and in pretty grand style.

The best part is that I didn't feel badly afterwards, a little guilty about the kiss, but not at all for the hand job. It had been fun, and it had been satisfying, and I didn't see where it changed the world a whole lot. Well, Guy's world was changing rapidly, and that had been his first experience with another boy. I think our little deed meant a lot to him, so in that sense it meant a lot to me.

We ended up back in front of the television until Davy came for me, then Guy gave me a happy hug when we left.

Davy and I had stayed awake in bed talking for a long time, since both of us had a lot to say. The last time I looked at the clock it was after two, and we talked some more after that.

His date had gone well after the usual nervous start. They'd gone to eat, then to a movie, and on to a coffee shop where they sat talking. Dave was pretty wired up about the date. They'd had a nice time, and Davy really liked her, and he thought Melanie liked him too. They already had another date for Friday.

I told him about my evening, about Guy's coming out to his mother and Juan, and how his two biggest fears were now history.

I also told Davy how I felt about him, how I'd felt since the first time we met that night in Morton, which seemed so long ago. I hadn't known Davy for quite two months, but he'd become such a part of my life that it seemed like I'd known him forever. Davy wasn't a preachy kind of guy, and he rarely handed out advice or judgments, but just being with him had taught me a lot, had shown me how to have real fun for the first time since Jack's death. I learned by watching the way he looked at things, the way he eased himself into the center of them, ready to enjoy whatever the world around him was offering up at that particular moment.

All in all, it was a great talk, and it only ended when we couldn't stay awake any longer. It had been a long day, and a happy one, and I was falling asleep beside the boy who, more than anyone, made it possible for me to have a day like that again. Instead of picking a Jack moment to give me good dreams, I chose a Davy and Tony one, and fell asleep to the happy recollection of the different sounds people could make spitting cherry pits.

I don't know if it worked or not, as I couldn't recall any dreams at all. I can say that I'm not good when I'm groggy, and I was very groggy on that particular morning. I'm funny that way. If I stay up too late and get up at the normal time, then I feel okay. When I sleep in, which is rare, I can hardly wake up at all, and my body tries to do things all independently from my brain.

That's why I fell getting out of bed, then fell again after I got up and tried to take a step, and fell yet again on the third attempt. Only then did I try to discern this impediment to my bathroom vsit, and learned by looking, that a bed sheet was not only wrapped around my left foot, but the other end was still firmly tucked under the mattress.

I finally stumbled into the bathroom and had a nice shower, then I cut my chin shaving and it wouldn't stop bleeding. It was a tiny little hole, but I was going through toilet paper like crazy trying to get it to stop. Unsuccessful at that, I proceeded to jab my gum painfully with my toothbrush while spatters of blood appeared in and around the sink and on my chest.

After combing my hair without incident, I found a band-aid in the medicine cabinet and put it on my chin before cleaning up blood from all over the place. I can tell you that when I finally got my pants on, I was exceedingly cautious pulling up the zipper.

I thought about the night before for a minute, and picked up Jack's picture. I sat at the end of the bed with it clutched to my chest. I wasn't apologizing, just trying to communicate my love to him and trying to glean some of his from the picture. I didn't feel any different than I had the night before, and I hoped that was a good thing. I shouldn't have kissed Guy, not the way I did anyhow, but that had been a lapse of judgment and hadn't been repeated. The rest had just seemed natural, and I felt good about it, not bad. Actually, if Guy was there right then, I'd have done it all over again just to see if he was really ambidextrous, or if it had been my imagination.

I smiled at that thought, then smiled at Jack's image before kissing him and putting the picture back on the dresser. I looked in the mirror and noticed the band-aid, and I peeled it back to see if I was still bleeding. I wasn't, but there was a black dot of dried blood there that looked just like a really ugly zit, so I left it on and headed downstairs.

I smiled when I saw that it was a lazy morning for everyone. Davy was laying on the couch in the family room, watching television with a phone at his ear. His father was stretched out in a recliner with a section of the newspaper, and his mother was at a table writing something.

None of them had heard me, so I spoke softly, "Mornin'"

Davy's mother looked up with a smile, "Hi, Michael," then she noticed the band-aid, "What happened to your chin?"

"Nothin', just a little shavin' accident."

Davy and his father realized I was there. His father put down the paper and Davy held up a finger as if to say he'd be off the phone in a minute. His father smiled, "Hi, Mike. No fishing today, eh?"

I chuckled, "Naw, they already went back to bed."


"Yeah, a little."

"Good, we've been waiting on you." He started to stand up, "It's nothing fancy here on Sunday, how's hot cereal sound?"

My throat caught a little, "Okay, if it's not oatmeal."

He seemed surprised, "You know, now I know two people who don't like oatmeal. How about you help, and we'll fancy up some grits?"

That sounded good, so we went into the kitchen and he started digging things out of the refrigerator and handing them to me. I put them on the cutting board as I got them, and it looked good, with an onion, red and green peppers, little hot cherry peppers, and some bacon. We were talking while we got things ready, and I thought to ask, "Where'd ya get the grits, anyhow? My dad said nobody up here ever heard of 'em."

He was chopping up the peppers, "Internet. I looked around here, and I found some, but I wasn't sure. They had instant ones, but I don't trust anything instant, and they had some in the Spanish section, but I couldn't read the directions. Davy found 'em on the web from a mill near where you live."

He handed me the sack, and they were the same ones my mother used, except these were white and she used yellow. I was impressed that they'd gone to that trouble for me, but I was getting used to it with the Loomis family. Davy's father had just told me the day before about his misspent youth, but I thought he'd turned into a really fine person, and I was seeing a lot of him in Davy.

I measured out the water and got it boiling, then added the grits and turned it down. Mr. Loomis got all the things he'd chopped up into a frying pan and started softening them, while I tried to think what was missing.

Butter! I'd forgotten the butter, and asked for a couple of sticks, which I realized was a lot when he handed me a half-pound. I said, "I meant two tablespoons," and took the paeroff one stick. I used the wrapper to measure and put two tablespoons in with the grits. I was kind of hungry, and this meal was going to take a long time to cook, so I had four slices of toast to tide me over.

When the grits were ready, we stirred in some eggs and all the other stuff, then put it in a baking dish in the oven.

.Davy and his mother were in the kitchen with us, and we had been talking all along, Now the talk started centering on the wonderful aroma emanating from the oven. It sure had me drooling

It came out good, too. Delicious! I knew basically what went into the dish, just not how much of each, but we'd come up with something wonderful, and the crushed crispy bacon added a nice touch. We ate it all, every last little bit of it, and we had started with a lot, so we were all full. I hoped that we could get some exercise because I didn't want to waddle home, but I didn't feel like moving either.

We ended up back in the family room, and I nodded off in a lounger, full and happy.

I awoke to Davy tapping my shoulder. "Wake up, Mike, if ya want to do anything."

I shook my head to clear it, then realized where I was. I felt bad that I'd slept away part of my visit. "What time is it?"

Davy said, "Almost noon. You that tired?"

I took stock of myself. I was tired but functional, and the stuffed feeling had gone away. I asked, "Where we goin?" as I stood up.

"Visiting. You wanted to see some trails; well, let's go see some. Bundle up, it got cold out"

"Got cold? Yesterday wasn't cold?"

"Just dress warm, it's really windy, but you'll like where we're goin'."

I went to the bathroom, then pulled on a hooded sweatshirt before putting my jacket on. As we headed out the door and said goodbye, Davy's father said, "We'll see you there in a bit."

As the door closed behind us, I asked, "They're comin' with us?"

"Sort of, it's their friends that we're visiting. They usually get together on Sundays."

Davy's cell phone rang while we were driving and he answered it. "Hello?... Hey! Amigo Junior! How's it going?"

I giggled, thinking that Amigo Junior could only be Guy, then I listened as Davy invited him to join us, then he listened into the phone for quite awhile, laughing a few times. When he rang off he said, "Guy wants to come, I hope that's all right."

I shrugged, smiling inwardly at Davy's choice of words, "Yeah, it's great."

Davy patted my knee, "You made a friend for life there, you know. He just called you an angel sent from heaven."

I blushed, wondering how he had meant that, but Davy went on, "Everything's cool with his family, and they're all giving you the credit." He patted my knee again, "You earned it, man. This is awesome!"

I looked at Davy, thinking once more that he was pretty awesome, too. I only did what I did so Guy could get a feel for who his friends and enemies would be if people knew he was gay. He and his family had done the rest on their own, and I thought they'd handled it pretty awesomely. Guy was safe and loved at home, just like he'd always been, but there was still the rest of the world to consider, and it contained more than one Paul. Lots more than one.

Morton and my school had become stable for me once again, but I'd seen what bigotry was all about first hand, and I sure didn't wish it on a nice kid like Guy. He'd experience it himself someday, somewhere, that was for certain, and I probably would again too. The thought silenced me with a chill while Davy drove a different route to Guy's house.

We climbed the stairs, and the door was opened by Juan, who immediately dragged me down the hall to his room. He closed the door behind us, then seemed to be searching my face with his eyes before he spoke. He smiled almost shyly, speaking softly, "You did that for Guy." His eyes became shiny with wetness, then he pulled me into a gentle hug, this time holding on while he continued. "That was beautiful, Mike, a beautiful thing to do." He pulled back to look at me for a second, real tears forming in his eyes this time, then we were back in a hug, Juan's chin on my shoulder.

"I love my brother, Mike, I don't think I ever knew how much. If it wasn't for you, I'd have hated that he was gay, but... but you took a chance, taught me something... taught all of us something." He sniffled out a little laugh, "I ain't sure what it is yet, but I know what it means." He held me a little tighter, still not hurting anything, "You're my brother too, Mike. I... I... just thanks, okay?"

We pulled apart and looked at each other, almost smiling, but a bit too emotional to get a real one out. I said, "I learned somethin', too, amigo."

Juan looked a bit surprised, "Really?"

"Yeah, you choose your friends pretty well."

His lip quivered, "Pretty well? You mean Pauly?"

I nodded, and he said gently, "Pauly's a good kid, Mike. Really. He's my best friend, and I know he'll come around."

Juan held his hands out, as if in a plea. "He's not like what you saw, not inside anyhow. I don't know where that dirt came from, but it's not stayin'. I can promise you that."

He sat on the edge of his bed and patted the space beside him. When I sat down, he continued. "Paul's really pretty shy. His mother's kind of a nag, to him and his father. They have a nice place, but he's always afraid to have kids over because she'll bitch right in front of anybody. His father's nice enough, but he doesn't have much of a spine. When the old lady goes off on the rag, he just disappears into the garage or something. They're good providers; the kid's just always on edge." He sighed, "Paul's a good friend, though, a real good friend. He'll do anything for you."

He sighed again, landing one of his big paws on my shoulder. "I don't always know where he gets his ideas, but they're usually good ones, not like you saw. I always saw him as the guy that wasn't prejudiced." He giggled, "His friends are all makes, models and colors, and he sticks up for his black friends, his brown friends. I know he'll come around on this, Mike, I'm just sorry you had to be a target." He squeezed my shoulder, "I wish he'd heard you the other night, but me'n him ...we're gonna have a one on one, as many as it takes. I know what to say now, and I know all his hot buttons. You watch, the next time you come he'll be stickin' up for Guy just... just... " Juan let out a sob, and took a bit of time to compose himself, "just like you did, Mike."

I was surprised by his emotions, and just held his eyes with my gaze until he finished. "Mike, I gotta say this. Davy Loomis is the guy who knows how to pick friends." He stood up, "I'm holdin' you guys up, I know you're headed out." When he was on his feet and I stood up, I got pulled into another hug. "¿Hermanos?"

I leaned into him and said, "Yeah, brothers!" It felt good to be appreciated, and it was for doing something right all by myself. "Thanks, Juan, gracias."

We looked at each other for a moment and, thankfully, didn't get into some unbalanced battle of thank-you's. We just smiled, then headed out to find Davy and Guy, who were ready and waiting. I turned to Juan one more time, "Listen, I don't hate Paul, I just don't like what he said. He seems like a nice guy. Can you tell him that?"

Juan nodded, "I'll tell him," then he brightened, "You guys have a good time!"

When we were halfway down the stairs, I asked, "Howcum Juan's not comin'?"

Guy didn't turn around, just kept walking, "Giants."


"The Giants game, he'd die if he ever missed one."

Oh, yeah. I knew that one, it was just like my father, Andy and the Titans. Not just like, at least Juan talked to me instead of watching the pre-game.

It was a crisp day, that was for sure, but as soon as I hit the outside air I felt good, wonderful even. Juan had made me feel great, everyone around me was doing that, but his acceptance of Guy for what he was, as in his hermano, was just perfect. I had witnessed Guy's emotions the night before, but actually hearing Juan's words made me see that they needed to come out like they had. Guy had his own rocks to lean on now: his mother and his brother, just like I had mine in a lot of people. A song went through my head, one that Tim next door played a lot. I don't know who sang it, but the words always got me:

"Life is very short, and there's no ti-yi-yi-yi-ime"

"For fussing and fighting my friend"

There was something else, then, "We can work it out! We can work it out!"

I remember once when Jack and I had heard that song on the radio. It was half over, but when Jack caught the words he made us stop what we were doing to listen. That was shortly after we'd started high school and our troubles had begun, and we just hugged while we listened to it, and thought that, yes, we could work it out.

Climbing into the car, I thought that we could have, would have. We never got the chance.

It didn't sadden me really, it made me realize that I still had the chance, and I was taking it. Things were working out, and I was a participant instead of a bystander, one of the workers. I... me... little Mikey Waters, could make a difference when I put my mind to it. I did make a difference, even the one I had tried for, and it came with a great bonus for Guy.

I felt great, and when Guy got in the back seat, I went in the other door to sit beside him. Davy cast us a curious look, then started the car and headed out.

Guy and I were like little kids, our fingers wiggling in the air before any words came out. I was excited about how things had worked out, and he was excited about something, so I let him go first.

He said excitedly, "This kicks shit, ya know! I thought I was gonna be like a leper or somethin', but its all okay. Holy cow, I feel like I used to!"

I grinned, knowing exactly what he meant. Guy was a happy person inside, that was evident the first moment I saw him, but he had this fear that had been eating at him. I knew that fear, I'd felt it. Felt it when I told my Dad I was gay and he flipped, felt it again after Jack and I spilled the beans at school, then we'd felt it for the better part of a year. Oh yeah, I knew that fear, but it wasn't bothering me right then. Not at all, I was feeling good. I'd helped Guy, more than I ever thought I could, and he was already past his own worst fears.

He smiled, "What're you thinkin' about?"

I grinned, leaning over and whispering, "Last night. That was beautiful." I saw his eyes widen and added, "About your mom and Juan, that's what I mean." I jerked my head back and grinned, "What were you thinkin?"

Instead of a wisecrack I got a beautiful smile. "It was all perfect... I owe you Mike."

I smiled back at his happiness, "You don't owe me; don't even think it. I mean, what are friends for?"

Guy gave me a lascivious look, and I suddenly wondered if where we were going had any private places.

I was about to find out, because we were there, going up a Morton-length driveway that went beneath some really colossal weeping willow trees, past a garage, then up a steep section to what looked like a parking lot. There were a lot of cars, that's for sure, and one of them was a dune buggy. A dune buggy!

God, I'd missed playing with Joe's. He took it home about when school started and said I could come over anytime to drive it, and I never did. I didn't really have the time, but seeing one here made me think I should make the time. That thing had been plain blind fun. It was made for fun, there was no practical use. A dune buggy was the vehicular version of a surfboard or a wave runner. It was designed to go someplace most things couldn't, put some G-forces on you, maybe scare the shit out of you, but mostly to make you grin so hard with exhilaration that you'd look like you had happy teeth painted on your face.

I had my seatbelt undone before Davy stopped the car, and I was tapping his shoulder. "Who's duner? Can we drive it?"

Davy parked, then turned around and smiled, "Wait'll you see. This one's for old ladies, Ken has a better one for here!"

I got out of the car and ran over to the one I saw, and the word 'better' seemed pretty unlikely. This one seemed way nicer than Joe's, with tan upholstery inside and all gold trim outside, even the wheels. Guy was right beside me, as awestruck as I was, then Davy grabbed my hand to pull me away.

"C'mon, meet the people first, then we'll get the keys!"

He gave me a yank just as I grabbed Guy's wrist. We must have looked like a choo-choo train, Davy the engine, me in the middle, and Guy a laughing, off-balance caboose.

We got to the house, and Davy opened the door and walked in. There were a bunch of people there, and most of them greeted Davy, then this older guy with crazy gray hair and glasses looked up and hurried over to him.

He yanked Davy into a hug and said, "Hey, kid, haven't seen much of you lately."

Davy squirmed out of the hug and turned to me and Guy. "This is Ken Barton, this is his house."

There was a lot of laughter in that house, and a lot of people. Most of them, like Ken, appeared to be in their late forties or into their fifties, and they were having a very good time together, like only old friends can. They all knew Davy, and they were very friendly to me and Guy.

A lot of them asked me how Tim and Dave were doing once they learned I was their neighbor.

I gradually learned that Tim and Dave had practically grown up right where I was standing, and had let the world know that they were gay there. I also that they were very highly thought of.

I met Tim's father and Dave's mother, who weren't married, but I'd heard that story the day before. They were certainly close friends, as all of those people were. Remembering Dave and Tim's stories about this place, I was now able to put faces to the names I knew, and I liked the faces. They were full of fun and good cheer, wearing the kind of genuine smiles that can only come from a lifetime of smiling genuinely.

Dave had told me about Barry, how much he meant to him, and I met Barry and his partner Jack. Dave had never mentioned to me that Barry was gay, but he and Jack held hands a lot, so I deduced that for myself. Guy noticed too, and it seemed to embarrass him a little at first, but the human warmth emanating from those two men soon won him over.

I met a man named Jim and his wife Sherry, who Tim referred to as 'human fucking machines' because of their seven kids, but he also told me how well they'd raised them, and it was very obvious that they were still seriously nuts about each other. Tim hadn't been kidding about Jim's loud voice, either. He actually made me wince when he got excited, as he did when he told us some hilarious stories about the 'old days'.

They all took the time to mention Don, who had completed their circle of friends back then. Dave always remembered him with fondness for the time the man had spent on his behalf, trying to unravel some mystery in his life. Don had died a long time ago, but his memory was alive and well in this house.

It made me sad, thinking that I was the only one who'd ever remember Jack, and I'd never have anyone else to share that memory with. Don was alive with these people because they had each other to share their memories with, and they did it actively. Don would have done this, would have said that... they kept it up, still interjecting him into the equation.

All I could think was that Jack would have liked it here, would have loved these people. Then I thought no, if these people can keep Don alive by including him, I could do the same with Jack. I had internalized Jack, and never shared him... not with anybody except Dr. Service. He got me talking a few times, but it wasn't the same. I thought about it all the time, what Jack would have thought, would have said, would have done, but I never opened my mouth to tell other people.

Nobody really knew Jack except me and his parents, and I decided that I'd been cheating his memory by keeping my thoughts to myself. Everybody knew Jack's name because they named buildings after him, but nobody knew what made him so special. That was my job, and I'd failed miserably. All anyone knew about Jack was that we had been in love, and how empty and useless his death left me feeling.

Nobody knew him, and it was my fault. I should have been doing just what these people were doing, bringing Jack into my everyday dialogues with other people. If I did that, if I did it all the time, people would learn about Jack the person, know who he was, what he thought about things, how funny and caring he could be. He could be more than just a name; he could live in other people's minds just like Don did. It would never be the same because they'd only get my view, but at least they'd get something.

I was trying to be sociable, but the thoughts running through my head made me stumble enough that both Davy and Guy noticed. They asked almost simultaneously if something was wrong, and I shook my head no. There was nothing wrong at all with where I was or who I was with, I'd just gotten caught up in my thoughts. Again.

I did that all the time, and wondered that people didn't find me weird because of it.

I was with friends, we were supposed to be outside hiking, and my stupid brain had me thinking too much. I smiled at them both, "I'm okay, let's see them ridges!"

They seemed eager, so we excused ourselves, grabbed our coats, and headed outside. It was pretty cold out, but I was warmed instantly when I felt Davy fishing for my hand. I pulled my hand out of my pocket and clasped his lightly, and we started walking up the hill that was out back. Guy noticed that, and grabbed my other hand.

As we walked through the yard I told them that Jack would have liked them, would have liked being where we were, and doing what we were doing.

That wasn't hard, it was just words, but suddenly they were both all over me with questions about Jack, like I'd opened up something that hadn't been there before. It hadn't been, but I started right then. It was cold, but both of my hands were warmed by theirs, and the rest of me warmed up as I told them about Jack, the person.

It was stilted, because both the beautiful scenery and some ice on the paths kept drawing my attention away, but we had time, and I told them about Jack. Jack, the boy I'd known and loved so much. I got real personal, and telling Davy and Guy certain things made me remember others, things that had slipped under the surface, but made Jack all that much more real to them.

I told them about little things, like Jack's dislike of too-sharp pencils that made holes in the paper, and shiny erasers that he was always cleaning off by rubbing them on the seam of his jeans.

There were middle things, too, like his ability at fishing. Jack always caught a fish. If I caught one, he'd catch more. If I got a big one, he'd get a bigger one. If I caught a bunch, he'd catch a whole bunch. It was the one thing about him that pissed me off. I'd taught that boy how to fish, showed him how to bait a hook, how to cast. That part had been maddening then, and it still was. Like, how could a fish know who was at the other end of a pole? When he gloated, which was always, I teased him about the fact that fish seemed to like him more than people did. His usual reply was that he liked fish better than most people, too.

We finally ended up on a ridge, and it overlooked a big old quarry pond. It was really a pretty spot, worth the treacherous walk up there. We didn't get too close to the edge because we could see more ice there. Davy had Guy and me horrified when he told the story of the night his uncle Dave tried to commit suicide there, and how Tim had dived in to rescue him. Davy never learned the real reason for it, nobody would tell him, but just the idea that some kid my age could ever get that desperate completely unnerved me.

We all supposed that it was because he was gay and couldn't face the fact, but the man Dave had become made it very hard for me to picture him ever being a desperate teenager. He was smart, outgoing and funny, and a kind and caring person. He'd helped me sort out my own thoughts about things on many occasions. Now I'd seen pictures of him as a kid, and he looked so happy in them. I wondered aloud if they'd been taken before or after his jump, and Davy said after.

That Tim could jump off the cliff to save him didn't really surprise me. That man could swim! He could do the length of their pond and back without even breathing hard, and he swam fast. The knowledge that he did do it wasn't really a surprise either. Tim and Dave were devoted to each other, that was easy to see, and they both had a certain courage that showed through, too.

The first night that I met Tim I told him I was gay, and he said he was too. That took guts, in my mind. He didn't even live in Morton yet, and he couldn't possibly have known how that knowledge would affect his life there, but he told me anyhow, just to put me at ease. He gave me Jack's room too, and without any hesitation. Both he and Dave had come into the room a few times when I was there, but I knew they never went in there when I wasn't, and it was their house.

They were good people alright, and they were earning the same high regard in Morton as they were held in here.

It was getting too cold on the cliff, so we headed back into the woods on a different trail. Guy cracked a few jokes, and it broke the somber mood we'd gotten into. We were having fun poking through the woods, with Davy acting as tour guide. He knew these trails. That was obvious, and he turned out to be very sure-footed on them. He'd obviously spent a lot more time traipsing the woods than he'd ever told me about, and I was used to it myself. The only one having a problem was Guy, and the worst of it was that he kept falling behind and calling for us to wait up.

He was continuously worrying about snakes, too, and Davy thought that was funny because it was so cold out. Still, every leaf covered stick that looked remotely like a reptile got Guy hopping away from it, and that was funny, at least until Davy told us that the area was infested with copperheads. We had them in Morton too, at least I'd been told we did, but Davy had seen whole nests of them where we were.

I'd never seen a poisonous snake, and I didn't really care to. Snakes and I didn't get along. It wasn't that I hated them, just that they were always scaring the crap out of me with the way they showed up. Jack and I had just about had mutual heart attacks one day when we were fishing.

We were at the rocky edge of a little stream, just having fun fishing on a warm day. When I got up to stretch, I looked around and we were surrounded by big gray snakes, and it scared the shit out of me. I wasn't able to speak, but when I squeaked enough that Jack noticed and looked around, I swear his hair stood on end. He jumped right into the stream, and I ran after him.

When we got to the other side, with none of our things, we could see that the snakes were just sleeping on the warm stones, so, if you can picture this, we tiptoed back through the water for our gear and our pail of fish, then hightailed it out of there and never went back.

Davy and Guy roared with laughter when I told them the story, and we were nearing the house when we saw a couple of other kids around our age.

Davy called out, "Hey, Bally!"

One smiled and said, "Hi, Dave. Who's your friends?"

Davy introduced Guy and me, and the other two were Bally and Bob.

I asked, "Is Bally a nickname?"

He grimaced and muttered, "No... well, yeah, I guess. It's short for… " He looked toward heaven for guidance, "Balthazar."

Oh, God. I felt bad for the kid, but it was him and not me. Guy didn't help, he looked at Bob and asked, "Is that short for Bob the Czar or somethin?"

Bob glared at him, angrily it seemed, "No, it's short for Bobby, which is short for fuckin' Robert! What the hell is Guy short for?"

Guy was taken aback for about a nanosecond, then he smiled merrily, "It ain't short for anythin', it's all I got. It's a name that's hard to nick, so you can call me ..."

"Asshole," Bob spat out, then he turned to Bally, "Let's get outta here. Somethin' smells bad."

Davy wasn't a big man, but he was bigger than Bob, and he blocked his passage. "What's that supposed to mean? Guy was just making a joke, so don't go gettin' all bent about it."

Bob crossed his arms and stared at Davy. "Look, Loomis, it's one thing if you like spics, don't go tryin' to pollute my space!"

A whole lot happened at once then. Davy turned red with anger, Guy white with shock and hurt, Bally tried to shut his friend up, and I blew my top. I grabbed Robert by his shoulders and slammed him up against a tree, my face right up to his. I yelled, "You take that back, Robert!" I was pounding him against the tree, and felt three sets of hands trying to pull me off, but I'd heard words like his before, and I was shaking with rage and adrenaline. I was going to kill and I knew I was, then I heard someone scream, "MIKE!" and I suddenly let go of a shaken Bob. Davy and Guy pulled me to them while Bally went to help Bob regain his senses.

I was shaking, still partly from the rush, but more from what I had just felt, what I'd almost done, what I wanted to do. God, why now? And why was I slamming around a smaller kid just because of his mouth? Why was I defending Guy when I'd never defended myself? More importantly, why was I defending him when I'd never defended Jack?

I was leaning against Davy and Guy, but as my breathing steadied and my heartbeat slowed, I never took my eyes off Bob, and his never left mine. His look was cautious, but full of hate just the same, like he'd find a way to get back at me. I was bigger, and his chance wasn't now and he knew it.

I was calming down, and it dawned on me that I knew Bob. He was a gaunt kid, dressed in clothes that weren't up to the task of keeping him warm in that weather, but he was out in it anyhow. He was wearing jeans with a busted out knee, a jeans jacket with a sweater under it. I knew instinctively that he was wearing that because it was the best he could do. It was all he had.

And I'd just wanted to kill him. I turned to Davy, "Which way's the house?"

He blinked in surprise and pointed, "Right up this path, we're almost there."

"Okay, can you take Guy and Bally and leave us here?"

Davy straightened, "Oh, no. No way, man."

"I ain't gonna kill him, I just wanna talk."

Davy grabbed my shoulder, "Come on, Mike, just forget it." He cast a glance to Bob and said, "He's not worth it."

Guy said pleadingly, "Yeah, c'mon Mike, it's no big deal. Let's just go get warm."

I shook my head, "No! You guys go, I'll be okay." I pleaded, " Please, leave me alone with this guy." I looked at Guy, "And it is a big deal! Just... you guys go away."

Davy gave me an appraising look, then made up his mind. He poked Guy's arm and said, "Let's go," then he looked at Bally and said, "C'mon, Bally, let's leave the warlords alone."

Bally looked up at them, "What's gonna happen? I ain't leavin' Bob here with," he pointed at me, "him!"

Davy said, in a voice that was hesitant when I knew he meant it to be reassuring, "Nothing's going to happen," then he grinned for real, "Mike just has some strange ways of making friends, that's all."

Bally was hesitant, then Bob gave him a shove, "No reason both of us freezin' our asses off. I can take this guy."

Bally looked at him with a plea in his eyes, but when Bob didn't change his expression he asked, "You sure?"

Bob eyed me warily for a second, then looked at Bally, "Just go, okay?"

Bally looked stricken, but he turned to head along the trail. Bob and I followed their progress, and they all kept looking back at us until they were gone from view.

Bob had sunk to a stooping position, so I sat in front of him and waited until he looked at me. He didn't say anything, just stared a bit fearfully. I held off for a minute or two, then asked "Cold?"

I don't think it was what he was expecting. He jerked a glance at me, and said, "Fuckin' freezing!"

"Want my coat? It's nice and warm."

He looked at me like I was crazy, but I could tell he'd like to be in a nice heavy jacket like that. "You don't have one, do you?" There was no response. "Howcum you don't like Guy?" No response again, just a wary look. "He's a nice kid. I only just met him, but I think he's nice... honest, funny. He's gonna be a good friend."

I met Bob's silent stare and went on, "I never met a Balthazar before, I bet he gets lotsa crap about that one, huh?"

A mutter, "It's just a name."

"Ah! The man can talk! Howcum you don't like spics?"

"Low lifes, that's all."

I was getting my coat off, "Guy's not a low life. He's a good kid."

I held the coat out to him, "Put this on before ya get sick." He didn't reach for it, so I tossed it to him. He caught it, glaring at me in confusion, then finally started pulling it on. He obviously wasn't in a talkative mood, so I went on. "Who else don't ya like?"

There was no response. "Blacks, I bet, probably Chinese, too. Fat people?" Still no response, "I bet everybody likes you, though. Is that how it works? You're Mr. Perfect and get to go around knockin' everyone else?"

"What the fuck do you want? You don't know me."

I was still tense, and I didn't really know what I wanted myself. I changed tacks, "You know Davy long?"

He shook his head, "I don't really know him, just from here."

"How 'bout Bally?"

"About two years, ever since we moved here."

"Where'd ya live before here?"

"Not far, we keep movin' around."

"Your family?"

He eyed me warily, "Me, my mom and my sister. She's gone now."

"Who's gone?"

"My sister."


Bob sneered at me, "Yeah, right. That'll be the day. My sister's thirteen."

I was confused, "She livin' with your Dad?"

"You talk too much. I don't know you, and I don't know what you want."

I studied his face. It was a mixture of contempt and fear, and I wasn't sure where it was coming from. "I ain't gonna hit ya, if that's what you're worried about. I just wanna know what makes ya so hateful."

He sneered again, "I don't like anybody, how's that?"

"You like Bally. I could see that much. I think ya don't trust anybody."

Rage flared in his eyes, "Trust people? Like who the fuckshould I trust?" He started yelling, "Ya wanna know where mysister is? The state took her away! Ya wanna know why? Because she got pregnant last year. They thought I fuckin' did it!" Tears formed in his eyes, tears of anger and frustration. "Do you know how sick that is? I was the only one she could trust. Now I'll never see her again, they'll never bring her back."

I was stunned, by both his story and his emotions. I asked gently, "What happened?"

His teary eyes searched mine, and he lowered both the eyes and his voice. "My father raped her, he's who got her pregnant." He put his head in his hands, "All those years... I fuck up once and he got to her." He looked back up, only a vacant sorrow in his eyes. "Poor fuckin' Lizzie, it was all my fault!"

I waited while he sobbed, trying to make sense of it all. I had heard what he said. Rape is a horrible crime, and it's a thousand times more horrible when it's the rape of a child, another thousand times worse when it's by that child's own parent. I couldn't figure out why Bob was blaming himself. It made sense that he felt awful about what happened, just not that he thought it was his fault in any way. I couldn't ask Bob, because he was wracked with sobs. All I could do was try to recall his words and see if I'd missed something.

I had missed it, and a sudden feeling of horror flooded through me. I'd let him shed his tears without trying to comfort him because I didn't like him. Now it didn't matter what I thought of him, I knew what he'd done. I moved beside him and pulled him to me, surprised by his compliance. I held him tight while he cried his life away.

It took a long time for him to quiet down, then the story came out bit by bit. Bob's father was a jailbird, in and out on a variety of offenses. His mother was afraid of the man, so every time she heard he was being released she moved the family, but he always found them.

He came for money... and sex. He started raping Bob when he was six, always when his mother was at work, and always with the threat that he'd kill them all if he ever told.

When Elizabeth got old enough for the old man to notice her, Bob had to start pretending he liked it, had to seduce the bastard to keep him away from his little sister.

The father would disappear to one prison or another for varying lengths of time, but he always came back, and always for the same things.

Then they moved here, and the father didn't show up after his last release. The family thought they'd finally lost him, or that he'd found greener pastures. After six months of freedom from the man, Bob had relaxed enough to start hanging around with Bally after school.

Bally was his first real friend. They were different from each other, and both essentially loners, but they hit it off somehow. With Bob feeling free from his father, he loosened up with Bally and they had fun together, mostly clomping around in the woods we were sitting in.

One day about a year later, Bob came home from being with Bally and found his sister hysterical in her bedroom. Their father had come back and, not finding Bob there, forcibly raped his own daughter in her own bed, then threatened her the same way he had done to Bob for all those years.

They had told no one, fearful that if they did the man would kill their mother. Then Elizabeth discovered that she was pregnant. She'd gone to see the school nurse when she didn't feel well, and the nurse recognized the symptoms and had Elizabeth taken to a hospital for confirmation. Then the stink started. Elizabeth didn't see boys, but everyone knew she was unusually close to her brother, so the finger pointing started.

It was only then that Elizabeth named her attacker. Their father was arrested and was in jail again, but Bob said he had an uncanny knack for getting out early. Bob's own terrifying story had never been told except to Elizabeth on the day of her rape, and now to me.

Bob was clinging to me, and I whispered, "You have to tell someone, man!"

He choked, "I can't! I... I ..."

I soothed, "I know, it's embarrassing, but ya can't end it 'less ya tell someone. If you don't, then I will."

He sighed and was quiet for a while, then asked, "What about my mother? He'll kill her."

I honestly felt like saying something about his mother, wondering how dumb she had to be to miss all this, but instead I said, "He can't hurt her if he can't get to her."

"That's right," said a quivering voice from up the hill.

We both looked up to see Bally sitting there, with tears streaming down his face, blowing into his hands to keep them warm. Bob cried, "Bally? How long. ..."

Bally slid down the hill on his butt. "All of it." He got on his knees when he reached us, grabbing Bob by his arm. "Oh man, why didn't ya say something? You could'a told me! We'd figure somethin' out!"

Bob sniffed, "Oh, nooo." He looked away, "Now everybody's gonna think I'm some kinda pervert."

Bally stared at him in disbelief. "You're not a pervert, your old man is. What you are is abused, and I ain't havin' it. C'mon up to the house. Those guys'll figure it out."

Bob and I looked at Bally, then I cracked a little smile. The concern on Bally's face told me Bob had a friend, and that was exactly what he needed right then.

It took some pleading on Bally's part, but Bob reluctantly got to his feet, then we all did and headed to the house.

Bob was a mess, so Bally dragged him past a bunch of surprised looking people to get cleaned up in the bathroom.

I felt blessed by the sudden warmth. I hadn't realized how cold I'd gotten out there. Davy and Guy came over to me and asked what happened, and I quickly shook my head no. They weren't going to hear this one, not unless it came from Bob, and I doubted that would ever happen. They tried to cajole, but when they realized it was pointless, they dragged me into the kitchen where small mountains of food were piled up everywhere.

The get together was in full swing, little groups of people in their own conversations and joke sessions, and Davy, Guy and I formed our own. We were munching on good things and listening to Guy's stories when Bally came in, and promptly led Ken's wife, Mary, out of the room.

I looked a question at Davy, and he said, "She's a shrink."

I nodded, thinking that Bob had found the help he so desperately needed.

Looking around at the people gathered there, remembering the stories I'd heard about them, only one thought came to mind. The troops are on their way.


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