Jack in the Box

Chapter 34

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : October, 2000

When I got off the plane and walked to the exit area, I got a big surprise. Instead of my mother being there waiting for me, I had a smiling welcoming committee. Annie, who ran up and hugged me, Tony and Paulina, and Pat and Melissa. I tried to smile at the others, but Annie's presence commanded my attention.

I said "Hi," then kissed her quickly and pulled back to look into those smiling eyes. "Hi," she whispered, then we had a longer kiss.

"Save it for the car!" That was my sister's voice, and I turned to smile at her, noticing that her hand was clasped firmly in Pat's.

"Hi, sis. Hi, Pat. You, um," I waggled a finger at their held hands, "you got somethin' goin' here?"

The sheer idiocy in their responding smiles told me they did. I had an arm around Annie and led her to where Tony was. I dropped my bag and put my free arm around him. It was good to feel his bones again. Then Paulina came and tried to encircle the three of us. "Hey, babe. Welcome home." She arched an eyebrow at me, "You know how to make yourself missed, kid. How's our Mr. Loomis doing?"

I smiled, "Davy's fine, he's great." I looked at Annie, "I really had a good time."

We had another hug and kiss, then I asked Melissa, "Where's Mom?"

"Home cooking." She went to reach for my bag, but Tony grabbed it.

"Jeez! Whatcha got in here?"

I smiled. That bag contained my clothes and shave kit, hiking boots, some souvenirs, and fifty thousand U.S. dollars. Davy was going to bring more when he came for Thanksgiving, but that was all we could fit in my bag.

What a weekend it had been! On the flight back I'd tried to sort out what I could tell people, and tuck the rest away in my own memory, in a place where it wouldn't leak out. It had been an action packed and, in my mind, a value packed trip. I'd seen things I thought I never would, met people I never knew existed, and mostly had a great time. There had been ups and downs, but I felt like a winner for once.

I'd gone to see Davy all filled with anticipation, now I was home and still filled with anticipation. If I'd learned one thing, it was that Morton was my home, not my world. I could go other places, and I would, even if I had to walk.

The aisle to the outside of the airport was big, so we got wide, walking six abreast and with arms around one another. It felt great to be touching Annie again, and it also felt great to be touching Tony. It felt wonderful that all these people seemed happy to see me. I was a loved person, and though I'd always known that, recently I'd been rejecting it, pushing it away, and I wasn't going to anymore.

We had to break up to get out through the doors, then when we got to the garage Paulina couldn't find the car. We walked and climbed, then Pat finally observed that we weren't even in the right garage. This one was full of rental cars, so we went outside where Paulina could re-orient herself. After that it was easy enough, and we found the minivan and got in. I sat in the middle seat with Annie and we immediately began kissing.

It felt right to be with her, even after my antics with Guy and Davy. I could love another man, I knew I could. Davy and Guy were at the top of that list, but there was a lot of distance-related difficulty involved. With Annie I felt grounded and comfortable: special. She made me feel so cared for, and that in itself made me want to give it back. Annie was the picture of femininity, maybe that was it; I could love a woman, too.

I loved Jack, but nobody would have accused either of us of being effeminate, the opposite was true. We still had sex with each other, Jack wanting it way more than me, but that was because he was hornier than anyone I ever heard of.

I tried to stop thinking and concentrate on my kiss with Annie, which had been pretty much continuous since we got in the car. We were sprawled across the seat when I heard Tony giggle and looked up. He wasn't even looking at us, but across to the back seat. I stretched up to look, and my little sister was making out with Patty Anderson, Pat's glasses shoved up into his hair. I almost said something, but I didn't. Instead, I got Annie to take a peek, then we disappeared into a giggling kiss.

Pat and Liss had definitely figured things out, moved beyond tentative hand holding, and I felt a big-brotherly urge to ask what his intentions were, but I already knew. He had the primal urge that all boys do, the urge to get his dick wet. I probably should have been more worried, but I wasn't. I think Melissa knew when to smack with her lips and when to smack with her fist.

Annie had found it funny, too, and we spent the rest of the ride home with me telling stories about my visit, pausing for kisses whenever I felt like it.

Paulina dropped Pat off first, and Melissa walked to his door with him. They were enjoying a long and deep looking parting kiss when the door suddenly opened to reveal Mrs. Anderson. Talk about deer in the headlights! The four of us in the car laughed, and when Melissa came back she peered in and said, "That's not funny! I'll walk!" And off she marched.

Paulina pulled out of the driveway and caught up with my sister. "Get in the car, Lissy. Nobody's teasing you; we just thought it was cute."

Melissa tossed her head and started walking faster. Paulina pulled up beside her again and said, "Come on, Liss. Learn how to take a joke."

Melissa put her hands on her hips indignantly. "That's a joke?"

Paulina stopped in the road and got out. They talked for awhile, nothing we could hear, then came back to the car. Paulina deposited Lissy beside Annie and closed the side door before going around and getting back in the driver's seat.

I looked at my sister, "Why'd you get all bent?"

She huffed, "Because you're gonna tell ma I was kissing a boy!"

I chuckled, "Come on, Lissie. She saw me kissing a boy before I was your age!"

Gulp. The whole car burst out laughing, me excluded. Then the nonsense of it all caught up with me and I giggled the rest of the way home.

When we got to my house, everyone came in to stay for awhile. I was greeted by my mother with a huge smile and a hug, then by my sister Angela.

My mother seemed to be inspecting me for damage for a moment, and she hugged me again. "Welcome home, Mike. We all missed you very much."

I murmured, "Me, too," which was partly the truth. I don't know if you could really call it missing my family, but I'd thought of them often enough, wondered what they were all doing. For a second or two.

I looked at the table, and there was a little spread laid out, which was a good thing. All I'd had to eat in the past five hours was two miniature bags of pretzels and a few droplets of tomato juice. I excused myself and grabbed my bag, which I deposited in my room, then I went to the bathroom and washed up. When I came out, there were happy sounds coming from the kitchen. That they were for me made me smile.

I barged in there to find everyone around the table, fixing themselves paper plates full of food, and cried out, "Save some for me!" That actually caused a little opening to appear between Tony and Melissa, and in no time I was seated and filling my face, telling stories about my trip. When I was talking about the beach, I mentioned that I thought Jack would have loved it there, and suddenly found everyone staring at me. I just continued on, including Jack wherever I could.

These were all people who could have and should have known Jack, and they were about to learn about him. It was Jack's own fault that people never got to know him, but it was my fault that they still didn't know him. I was going to talk to Dwayne to see if he'd help me with some articles for the school paper, so the students would know something about the person their school was named after.

It was a nice evening. I got to have a little talk with Tony, and he really wasn't down about the book thing at all.

I said, "Tell me the truth, you really don't mind?"

"Nah, I was really a little scared of it. That editor guy told me what I'd hafta do if they went ahead with it, and it was all meetin' people and doin' book signings, maybe even goin' on TV. No sir, I would'a died!"

I reached over and touched his hair, which was really there now. Annie had already trimmed it once, and it was enough that he had to comb it. It made the rest of him seem more normal, especially his eyes and his ears. Framed by some hair, neither seemed so noticeable as they always had. I commented, "You really look great, Tony."

He was growing, too, or at least filling out a little. Everything he had on looked either a little tight or a little short, and it had all fit perfectly a few months ago. I patted his belly, "How many bananas did this take."

He smirked, "I can't count that high," then he took my arm and pulled me closer. Looking right in my eyes, he said, "I missed you, I'm glad you're back."

My eyes were suddenly clouded with wetness, as I realized how much we'd come to mean to each other. I whispered, "I missed you, too. I love you, Tony."

Tony didn't get sentimental, he just smiled broadly.

That was the moment my mother chose to begin making noises about it being a school night, so Annie and I slipped out onto the back porch and pulled close together. She giggled and leaned in to rub my nose with her own, which made me giggle as well. She said, "I'm glad you had fun."

"And I'm glad you're still here. I missed you."

She smiled coyly, "Really? What did you miss?"

I said, "This," and kissed her nose, "and this," kissing her cheek, "and this, kissing the other cheek, "and this!" I poked both of her ribs and she squirmed and squealed. I silenced her with a kiss, a long and loving one. It would have only paid off in frustration if we'd gotten passionate, so we just played around with our lips for a minute, then I said, "That's what I really missed."

"Mmmmm, me too." We hugged, and Annie whispered, "Thanks for talking about Jack like that. I never really knew him."

I sighed, "I know, nobody did." I pulled back and smiled, "You're gonna hear now, that's for sure."

Annie smiled and we kissed some more, then heard the to-do of people getting ready to leave, so we went back inside. My mother had just thanked Paulina for picking me up. Then I got hugs from Paulina, Tony and Annie in that order and followed them out to the car, kissing Annie once more. I waited until they'd pulled away, waving goodbye, then I went back inside.

I wasn't tired at all, but the clock told me I should have been. I guess it doesn't take that long to get used to a time change.

I talked to my mother and Melissa for a few minutes before I headed to my room. Melissa followed me in there, which was a first. I turned to see what she wanted, and she said, "Thanks, Mike. I thought you'd try to get me in trouble."

"I'd never get you in trouble. So, you like Patty, huh?" I realized the dumbness of that question before it was half complete. "Don't bother, I can see you do. How's he doin'?"

She smiled dreamily, "He does fine, just fine."

I laughed and said, "I'm not talkin' about that! Is he gettin' along better with people?"

Melissa frowned, "No, not really. Well, you know. He's fine with people he knows, he just shuts everybody else out. Paulina told me you'd be talkin' with him." She put her hands on her hips, "When will that take place, Mr. World Traveler?"

She was funny, and I hugged her to me. "Soon, Lissy; very soon. I been meanin' to. I promise, okay?"

My sister surprised me by returning my hug warmly, another first. "Thanks, Mike. It's his brother, I know it is, but he won't talk about it."

I rubbed her back gently, "He'll talk, Liss Don't fret it."

When she left to go to bed, I locked the door behind her and dumped the contents of my bag onto the bed. Hot damn! The sight of all that money, not a penny of which I could spend on myself, was exciting as hell. I separated the cash from everything else and crammed it into my old toy box in the closet. I'd move it over to Jack's room the next day, but for the moment I just wanted it out of sight.

Next, I got my dirty clothes into a pile and put the things I'd bought onto my dresser. The last thing was Jack's picture, which I hugged to my chest. I said quietly but emphatically, "We're home, Jackie, and this place ain't ever gonna be the same."

Jack got about twenty kisses that night, maybe even thirty. I kicked off my clothes, thinking guiltily about how neat other boys kept their rooms, then flopped into bed, just laying there and grinning at the ceiling, until I started to feel cold. Then I climbed under the covers and got the pillow comfortable behind my head, laying flat on my back and reflecting on my trip north.

I was feeling as smug as I ever had, pleased at how I'd enjoyed myself, even more pleased at how I seemed to stretch when things didn't go so well.

There was Davy, of course, and I was tickled to death to learn that he thought as much of me as I did of him. We'd talked about our feelings for each other well into the night on Saturday, maybe surprising each other with our words at first, but it was ultimately more satisfying than what we'd ever done before. I was hesitant at first, but once I started telling Davy what he'd done for me it got easier. I told him a lot, too, and he reflected it with me, not right back at me like a mirror does, but different, like a reflection in rippling water. We were different for sure, but we appreciated the same qualities in life. We meant a lot to each other, and we'd felt that. Now we'd heard it, and that was important.

Then there was Guy, a gay kid. I think I needed to meet him. It validated a lot of what people had been telling me all along. The only thing that made Guy gay is that he was. He was a very neat person, and his gayness didn't add or detract a thing from his winning personality or his zest for living. That's what people, starting with Dr. Service, had been telling me, but I never knew another gay kid where I could test that, and now I had... did... was, whatever. I was at least part gay myself, and the last year of school made me and Jack think we had something tattooed on or foreheads. Now I knew that wasn't true. Meeting Guy had helped me, more than any single other thing, realize that I wasn't weird, not abnormal. I was a minority, as Davy had pointed out, maybe being bi made me even more of one than Guy, but I was a pretty regular person.

I really liked being a regular person.

I liked Davy's other friends, too, though I didn't spend much time with them. Guy's brother, Juan, was really sincere. He impressed me most with what an adult he seemed to be at seventeen. On the plane home, I'd even decided that I liked Paul. He had this thing about gays, but Juan was working on him. I knew Paul wasn't alone with his views; there were plenty of people who couldn't stand the idea of gays. I liked Paul before he got mean, and I still liked that he was an otherwise good person. At first I thought that, of all Davy's friends, Paul and I would get to be friends just because of fishing. It wasn't to be, and I think it was a loss for both of us.

Tom was a charmer in his own right, funny, self-deprecating and warm. He was on my list to spend more time with the next time I visited.

Vinny, well, we'd stopped to see him that morning after souvenir shopping, so he could have some company. He lived in this really nice house alone with his father, who I got to meet. He was a nice man, who owned his own car radiator shop. Their surroundings told me that plenty of radiators needed help, but I was almost entranced by the closeness that father and son shared. Vinny was grounded, maybe forever, but that didn't dampen the obvious admiration they had for each other. I guess I'd picked up on it at the pizza place. Vinny was grounded, he knew why, and he knew what he had to do to get un-grounded. His father was being strict because Vinny had to get his grades out of the hole, but I saw more father and son hugs in an hour there than I got in a couple of months.

I know that their closeness affected Guy. After we left he became quiet, and it didn't take a genius to figure out why. His recollections of his own father were pretty vague because the man had died when Guy was little. He was jealous of what he didn't have, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

The night before, after we left Ken's and dropped Guy off, I walked up to his apartment with him. We hugged in the dark hallway by the door, then Guy looked into my eyes, "Mike ..."

"I know."

"It couldn't work, could it?"

I sighed and whispered, "Don't say that. Maybe someday... a different time, a different place."

He hugged me close, so that our chins were each on the other's shoulder. "Thanks, Mike, thanks for everything."

We held on for a minute, and backed off to look at each other. We kissed each other then, on the lips. It wasn't a sexual kiss, just a friendship kiss, short and sweet. Then we just looked at each other for what seemed like a long time. I finally patted his shoulder and said, "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

Guy smiled, "Okay."

I started down the stairs.



"Thanks again... for everything."

"De nada."



"It is something!' I turned to look and he waved, saying "You da man!"

I smiled and left. I was proud of myself for once. I'd been given credit for saving lives before and, earned or not, that had never given me much to celebrate. Those were emergencies, crises where something had to be done or people would die, and I'd had help anyhow.

Guy was all mine. I did something for him when I didn't have to, just because I wanted to. I didn't have a real plan, I just knew what I wanted to do in a vague way. Then, when somebody said something, I just followed... no, no, no, no, NO! I didn't follow events, I led events. Me, Mike and I! Michael Waters, leader of the pack for once! I'd done something on my own, initiated a dialogue that led to good things. For the first time in my life, I had some satisfaction that I could really bask in. Not that basking was my thing, but it was nice the first time.

Then Bobby happened. When he started in on Guy, all I saw was a hateful little prick. I would have left, but when he kept on I flipped out. He represented all the hateful little pricks on earth, and I wanted to kill him, would have killed him. Davy, Guy and Bally had no effect trying to pull me off. The little fuck was going to die, even though I knew I was throwing away my own life to do it.

Then Heaven intervened. "MIKE!"

That will forever ring in my ears. It wasn't Davy screaming, not Guy or Bally. It seemed to originate in my own head, but it was the voices of thousands, millions maybe, all at once making me drop my attack.

When I backed off and looked at Bob, I saw myself and Jack, I saw Tony, I saw Guy. Bob's scared and skinny little face had every vulnerability you ever heard of painted on it. I didn't want to look at him, but I couldn't take my eyes away. I wanted to leave but I knew I could not.

Bob was me, he was Jack, he was Tony and Guy. Every scared young kid on the planet showed in his eyes, and I couldn't leave. Not then, not later. I'd get him up or I'd sit with him, for however it took.

I got Bob to tell me his story. He did because I think he recognized a kindred spirit in me. He agonized getting the words out, but they came out, and it was an ugly and brutal tale. It instilled enough anger in me to last a lifetime.

Paul's words had pissed me off the other night, but Bobby's father had fucked his own kid, and hundreds of times! That I couldn't imagine.

Jack had always wanted me to do that to him or, failing that, him to me, but it hadn't happened.

Once, when I was little and my bowels were bound up, my father had reluctantly had me bare my backside and lay on the bathroom floor, then he apologized while he pushed a suppository into my bottom. He then covered me up and left me there, and only returned when the expected result had occurred. Then he tore around the house opening windows and telling everyone to run for their lives.

What had happened to Bob wasn't love, not even close, though his father told him it was how to love him. It started when the poor kid was six, he didn't have a clue. Later on, he had to initiate sex to protect his little sister, but he'd lost that game too.

I suppose I could have put Bobby in my win column, but I didn't want to. It was too awful, and he still had too much ugliness to face. I couldn't even picture him getting over what had happened to him. I'd never get over it. It was too hideous, too cruel.

I had faced Bobby, though, and thus some of my own fears. I knew I could confront somebody without anger, I could reason with people to good result. I couldn't comprehend what he'd gone through, and wondered if he'd ever find a way to come to grips and not think that's the way things were.

When I left, his problem was in his own basket. I could only hope that with Mary's help, and all those other people, he'd figure out how to put it away and go on with his life. Davy said he'd try to stay in touch with him to see how things were going, and that he'd help pay for a lawyer if Bobby needed one. He was going to send him some money for winter clothes as soon as he learned the address.

I sighed. Thinking about Bobby made it hard to think about good things, but there had been a lot of them during my visit. Davy's parents, all the good food, the scenery, the things we did, they all added up to a great time. I had a lot of pictures to remember it by, too, or I would soon. Davy just remembered them when we got to the airport. When he got done banging his head, he said he'd get them off his camera and in email that same night.

There was one thing that wasn't on film, and that was our last night together. Davy had done to me what I did to him on his last night in Morton, the only difference being that he asked first. I wouldn't have been any more surprised if I found my head hot-glued to the garage door, but he did it, and it was way too wonderful, and I ain't sayin' any more about that.

I spent my last day packing up my stuff, then I went with Davy and Guy to the mall. I got some nice Connecticut calendars for the next year, with a different picture for each month, and some were of places I'd been to. Then Guy had the idea to go out to this big farm store, and I got some local goodies to bring home. They had some things you could sample, and I ended up with a bunch of jars of pumpkin and pecan butter. People were going to love that, because I sure did.

I fell asleep thinking about our final hug at the airport, how much more perfect it felt to me. I'd gone north feeling pretty sure that Davy was a special friend, and that had been confirmed over and over again for both of us.

* * * * * * * *

The next morning at school I looked around for Dwayne. I wanted to tell him my idea for writing something about Jack in the school paper. I saw him in the hall between periods, and he agreed to sit with us at lunch, us being me and Annie, Tony and Paulina, usually Pat and Jens, sometimes Clay.

That was the first time that I'd seen Dwayne since the dance. Since then, I'd harbored the idea that he was the other gay kid at school, but that was just my guess. He seemed friendly enough, and interested that I had an idea for the paper.

I went through the rest of the morning not thinking about it, having a pretty good time with my classes. We all got together at lunch and found a table before I thought of Dwayne again. I looked around for him, then stood and waved when he came out of the line. We had to rearrange ourselves so he could sit opposite me, then I introduced him around.

We decided to eat before talking. Jens and Pat were fooling around as usual. Clay was telling this girl Janice all about his upcoming trip to Italy, which it turned out was just going to be Rome, but he was obviously in hog heaven. Annie and I were squeezed together even though we didn't have to be, and Tony and Paulina were happily yakking about something.

When I had enough sustenance in me, in the form of the same ravioli everyone else was having, I started. I looked across at Dwayne, who had been mostly listening to Clay. "Um, Dwayne, about this idea I have for the paper ..."

He looked up and gave me the go-ahead to start, I had his attention.

I looked around, and only Annie and Dwayne were listening, so I took Annie's hand in mine and started.

"Well, this school's named after my friend Jack, and I thought you might like to say something about who he was. I mean, everybody knows what happened, but... Jack was alive before he was dead, and nobody knew him. He was my best friend, so I thought maybe I could tell you some stories and you could put somethin' in the paper."

Dwayne stared at me like he was thinking, then a little smile cracked on his face. He was still thinking, but he was mouthing words, then he suddenly stood up and held his hand out to me. We shook while he said, " You are a genius! Why didn't I think of that? I can see the headline: 'Who was Jack Murphy?'... no, no, no, 'Meet Jack Murphy!' Oh man, what a great idea! Wow! If it comes out good, maybe we can even get in the student handbook. You got any pictures?"

"Only one, and it's not too good." Dwayne's enthusiasm had everyone paying attention to us, so I looked at Tony. "How about it, Ace? Want a job for the paper?"

Tony's jaw dropped a little, "You called me Ace?" He seemed excited, "You mean it? I'll make your pictures!"

Dwayne was sitting next to Tony, so he put a hand on his shoulder. "I heard you were quite the artist, Wolfman, think you can do it?"

Tony nodded eagerly, although Paulina's expression seemed a bit suspicious. I put it off as protectiveness. I was so thrilled by Dwayne's reaction to my idea that it was all that mattered.

Clay said loudly, "Anton can draw anything! You'll see, Dwayne!"

Dwayne was all a-grin. He turned an eager face to me, "When can we start? I want to do this one myself!"

Now, there was something I hadn't thought of. I liked the idea of telling people about Jack, I wanted to do it. I just hadn't considered it a 'now' project, just something that would happen someday. Now I was on the spot and had to think fast. "Um, when's your study hall?"

"Third period."

Great, mine was fifth. "Can we do it at lunch?"

"Nah, not enough time, plus it's too loud in here. Can't we just do it after school?"

"I live in Morton, If I miss the bus I'm in deep doo-doo."

Dwayne sighed, "I can come over your house some night."

"Oh, that'd be good, long as it's not a weekend."

He smiled, "How about we start tonight? I'll bring a recorder, and you can just talk."

That sounded good, "What time?"

"Around seven?"

"Okay, that sounds good." I was getting excited about it again. I could talk about Jack, tell stories, Dwayne could listen and record it, then he'd write a great article for the paper.

Dwayne wrote down my address, saying he knew where the street was. We exchanged phone numbers, and it was time to go back to class.

I went to my locker and got my books. When I was headed to class, Buddy Early fell in step beside me. "I saw you talking to Dwayne. What'd you think?"

I was bubbling, "He's gonna write a story 'bout Jack for the paper. He's comin' over tonight!"

"Really? Cool. Um, he's the guy I was tellin' you about, Mike."

I turned my head to Buddy, "Yeah, I kinda figured that. He seems nice, he's all excited about tellin' Jack's story."

Buddy asked, "That's all you talked about?"

"Yeah, why?"

"No reason. Hey, I gotta hurry. Have fun with your story!"

With that he sprinted away, leaving me by myself. I kept walking, but when the bell rang I realized I should have done a little sprinting myself. It didn't matter; you could be late for study hall. Tony and Annie were both in mine, and we usually just joked around. With Dwayne coming over, I did my homework for the morning classes instead, so I wouldn't have much when I got home.

I still had a few minutes after I finished it, so I dropped my pencil on the floor next to Annie. She bent down to get it when I did, and we had a quick kiss, then we giggled the rest of class away, dropping pencils and smooching.

When school was out and we were on the way to the bus, I told Annie that I needed to talk to Pat. She understood, so I hung back and waited for him. When he showed up alone, I put my arm on his shoulder. "Hey, Patty! We need to talk."

He gulped, "We do?"

"Yup!" We climbed onto the bus and found a seat. "I saw ya with my sister last night. There's a little something you should know."

The worried look on Pat's face was priceless, especially with the glasses that made one eye seem so big. "Like what?"

I decided to tease. "Look, Pat. She prob'ly never told you, but Lissy has a glass eye. I never remember which one it is, but one time it fell out and went down the toilet. When my Dad was in the eye store he got mixed up, and her new one was brown." I giggled, "She was so pissed off with mis-matched eyes... you should'a seen it!"

Pat looked at me as if I'd lost my mind, which I had. I'd taken the leap into Jack's style of off-the wall humor. It was fun, and the kind of thing he did all the time.

Pat finally asked, "You're kiddin', right?"

"Would I kid you?" Then I giggled, "Of course I am. I was just havin' fun."

Pat exhaled, "Whew!" He started laughing, "You had me goin' there for a second. Is that what you wanted?"

I smiled, shook my head no, and put my hand on top of his. "No, that's not it. You got people worried, Pat, me included." That grabbed his attention, so I went on. "It's the way you treat people, Patty. It's like anybody you didn't know before the accident is some kind of enemy. What gives with that?"

He mumbled, "They're all assholes."

"Come on, Patty. Don't say that. They can't all be assholes."

He muttered something I couldn't understand. "What?"

"I said, Kevin made friends."

"Yeah, well so did you. I don't get what you're sayin'."

He looked at me angrily, "I'm saying that Kevin made friends, I just glommed on to them."

That had to sink in before I could respond. "Come on, Pat, that ain't true, and you know it. You got lots'a friends!"

"Yeah, family friends and Kevin's friends. I never made my own friends."

I was shocked, "Why're ya talkin' like that? That ain't the case. I don't believe I ever saw Kevin's tongue in my sister's mouth."

Pat blushed and giggled. "C'mon, that's different, besides, I always knew her."

"Okay, what about Tony then?"

He looked at me in exasperation. "Tony's Jed's friend. He's the one that brought him home."

I was getting exasperated myself. "Patty, that ain't any reason to go treatin' the rest of the world like a bunch of meatballs. Kevin ain't here anymore, so ya gotta make your own friends."

Pat got red in the face with anger, "What if I don't want more friends, did that thought ever cross your mind? What do you care, anyhow?"

One thing about me, when someone gets angry with me, I tend to get angry back. I did right then, and I had to look away and take a few deep breaths to avoid saying something I didn't mean to.

We were almost into Morton before I spoke again. "Tony thinks you're lonely."

There was no response, so I asked gently, "Howcum you never talk about Kevin?"

That struck a nerve. Pat's face screwed up and tears started welling up in his eyes, even though I could see that he was struggling mightily to not outright cry. I tightened my grip on his hand and leaned closer, whispering, "I'll tell you about Jack if you tell me about Kevin."

Patty was still fighting off crying. He looked at me for a long moment, then nodded.

By then, we were in Morton at the bus turnaround. The kids who lived on the way had already been dropped off and the rest of us had to get off the bus and into one of the smaller vans that fanned out to bring us home. There were only five kids on the Arlington Road one, and I lived the farthest out. I got out at Pat's house that day, and we talked.

I started, telling him how hard Jack was to know, about my bike wreck and how Jack had patched me up so well that the doctors at the hospital were impressed. I told him about my two black eyes, and how Jack had called me a raccoon when I brought him a plate of cookies to thank him for helping me.

Pat laughed, "Cookies? Where'd ya get that idea?"

I shrugged and blushed, "Hey, we were twelve; I didn't know what to bring him."

Pat giggled again, "That's how you met him?"

"No, I knew him, he just wouldn't ever do anything. That's how we got together, though."

Pat was still chuckling, "That's funny. Tell me more."

I shook my head, "Nope. It's your turn," then I grinned, "Tell me how you met Kevin!"

He socked my arm, then looked desolate for a second before grinning back at me, "Well, see, there were these two lonely sperms ..."

I started laughing before he finished the sentence, and we talked and laughed and cried together until it was time for me to go home.

I guess it's the details of a friendship or a relationship that make it interesting to other people, that make that relationship important to begin with. Not little details like when you went to the toilet, but the other things that seemed important enough to remember. That's where Pat and I ended up, talking about the little things that meant so much to us. Remembering them, sharing them... it seemed so pitifully simple that I couldn't believe I hadn't been doing it all along, but it brought Jack to life for Pat, and Kevin to life for me.

I had to walk home for dinner, and Pat followed me out to the street. "Thanks, Mike. That was pretty neat."

"I thought so, too. I just started talkin' about Jack the other day, but I could do it all the time now."

Pat smiled, and I went on, "Don't go thinkin' you can't make friends, Patty. Don't shut people out 'cause ya don't know 'em yet. Make believe they're already your friends, ya don't need Kevin for that."

He winced, and I headed up the street. Pat called out, "Mike?"

I stopped and turned around, "I'll try, okay?"

I grinned and waved, then headed home, thinking that I could become a shrink if I put my mind to it Then I laughed, realizing that I'd be lucky to land a job installing septic systems with my mental capacity.

When I got home, I dropped my things off, got a paper sack from the kitchen, and brought some money next door. I was surprised to find Tim in the house.

He was on his knees in the hallway fiddling with something. He looked up when I came in, a surprised smile on his face. As he stood up, he said, "Hi, Mike. Good weekend?"

I held up the bag and said, "Great weekend! Davy said you knew?"

He grinned, "I knew he was going to ask. Welcome aboard! How much do you have there?"

I had to smile at the absurdity of it, "Fifty thousand. Dollars!"

Tim, seeing my smile, blocked my passage down the hall. He stood there with his arms crossed, "It's not yours, Mike, you understand that, don't you?"

I straightened up and said, "Of course."

Tim smiled his handsomest, "Good, I might have a project for you. Do you know a small black woman named Beulah?

"Beulah Lamphier?" I held my hand up at nose level, "About this big?" They were good people, and their son was a friend of my brother.

"That's her." His look turned sad, "I met her at the butcher shop, overheard her really. Her sister's dying in Chicago, and she can't afford to go see her." He pointed at the bag in my hand, "Make sure she gets there, Mike, that's what this is all about."

My eyes instantly clouded with tears, tears for Beulah and her sister, also tears for the realization that I held some real power in my hand. It just looked like money,

When I looked at Tim again, he was leaning against the wall, his arms and legs crossed, looking at me. His smile was one of those all-knowing ones that didn't bespeak any kind of contempt. The money that I held came from evil deeds, but it was destined to do good things. The Lamphiers were a nice family, and now I could do something they couldn't do for themselves. The sense of power evaporated and changed to the feeling that I had been given an opportunity to do some really good things.

Tim saw my expression and said, "It doesn't always work the way you want, Mike. It doesn't even usually work that way. That lady may end up with a new sofa, or getting her house painted. She'll know one thing, though, and that's that she could have gone to see her sister. It's her discretion at that point, and your involvement will have ended.."

I smiled up at Tim, full of admiration for him. He was a nice man, also my father's new friend. My Dad gave up a lot when he changed shifts, mostly regular contact with his friends and family. He went to work for three in the afternoon and left for home at eleven at night. He did it for more money, which we needed, but it hurt a lot of people at the same time. His hours didn't jive with anyone else's. He got up early a few days a week to see us kids, but any real time was reserved for Saturday and Sunday, when we had a million excuses not to be home.

Now he had Tim, who didn't have a regular job. They golfed and fished together, my father's two passions in life, and they'd become fast friends.

They were both learning new things, too. Our dining room was missing its hutch because it was being refinished by my father under Tim's supervision, and Dad was showing Tim all the nooks and crannies of the area because he knew them so well, also about more practical things like maintaining a well and a septic system.

Andy Stark was my father's best friend, and he always would be, but it was good for me to see that the guy who he curreently spent the most time with was a gay man. Men, really, he liked Dave a lot, too. I kind of got a kick out of it. Dad had flipped out when I said I was gay, but he'd come around full circle. Now the guy he spent the most time with was gay and he didn't think anything of it.

I looked at Tim again and smiled. I knew that he'd moved out of the way so I could get to Jack's room. I went in there and looked around, finally depositing the bag of money in the wastebasket, which was otherwise empty. I thought about writing a quick note to Jack, but it was dinner time. I'd do it later.

When I came out Tim was gone, so I went home and washed up for dinner.

At the table, I told Melissa that I'd talked to Pat.

"He said. He told me it was fun."

I had to smile, "Yeah, it was fun... mostly, anyhow. Um, ask him questions 'bout Kevin. He's got the idea that Kevin was his everythin', and it ain't true." I leaned across the table, "Liss, don't let him get away with it. Next time he's mean to somebody just kick him in the ass!"

She giggled, and whispered conspiratorially, with a hand next to her mouth so Angie couldn't see or hear, "I like his ass! Until he gets rid of those glasses, it's the best thing he has going"

I stared at her in amazement, then we laughed ourselves foolish until there was food in front of us. I don't even know what we had to eat. It was too funny for me, my sister thinking Pat's butt was the important thing. I mean, what would she do with it?

I knew what some gay guys did, what Jack wanted me to do. It never showed up on my menu of options, though. He cajoled and pleaded, 'Stick it in me, Mike!' but I never did. Yuck.

When dinner was over, I had a little time to go out to the barn to check my email. I had a little time, but a whole lot of mail. I only had time to read the ones from Annie and Davy. I was waiting for pictures to download when Dave came in.

He grinned when he saw me. "Hey, welcome back, stranger!"

"Hi, Dave. I met a lot of your old friends."

He beamed, "So I heard. You made quite an impression up there, you know. Mary wants me to send up a whole busload of southern boys to teach her men some manners."

I giggled, "It's a little late for that, isn't it?"

His eyebrows went up, "It sure is. It wouldn't be the right thing to do, anyhow. Anybody that tries to change those guys one iota will have to answer to me," he said, thumping his chest, then he laughed. "They're perfect just the way they are." He looked at my busy screen and said, "Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt. That looks like a lot of mail."

I said, "It's okay, I gotta go anyhow. Dwayne Masterson's coming' over to interview me about Jack. He's gonna write somethin' for the paper."

Dave's look became intent. "You're going to talk about Jack? That's a first, isn't it?"

I smiled, "Not anymore. I been talkin' about him since Sunday to anybody who'll listen. I never thought I could do it, but I can, and it's fun!"

Dave's startled expression changed to a little smile. "That's really good to hear. Mind if Tim and I sit in? We'd love to hear about this boy that you were so crazy about."

I said, "It's fine by me, I'll ask Dwayne. I should go wait for him. I'll call and let you know."

I stood to go, and Dave stopped me before I went out. His smile was kind and gentle. "It's getting better, isn't it?"

I grinned, "It sure is. I got a lotta people to remember in my will!"

Dave chuckled at that, then said, "Just remember them, Mike. That's what your friends need, is to know that you're thinking fondly of them."

I looked at him a bit more closely, thinking that was important advice, then I hurried out. When I could see our driveway, there was a car there that could only be Dwayne's, so I ran to the house and found him in the kitchen talking with my mother.

She saw me come in and said, "Here's our wandering boy now."

Dwayne turned around and smiled, "Hi Mike. Ready?"

I nodded. "The guys next door wanna hear about Jack, too. Is it okay?"

He gave me an odd look, then shrugged. "Sure, I guess so. It's your story."

"Thanks, I'll call."

Dave's voice came from behind me, "No need, Mike. We're here."

I whirled around to see Dave and Tim saying hello to my mother.

Dwayne's eyes opened wide in surprise. "Mr. Devino?"

Dave smiled, "Hi, Dwayne. This is my brother, Tim."

Tim held out his hand and shook Dwayne's, saying, "We live next door in Jack's old house. Dave had the idea that you might like to do your interview there."

Dwayne looked at me, "Before we start, do you have a picture? I only kind of remember Jack being around."

I said "Sure," then led Dwayne to my bedroom, where I showed him the photo of Jack and me, then I pointed out Tony's drawing.

His jaw dropped, "Anton Wolfe did this? Holy shit!" Then he blushed a little, "Um, pardon my French." He stared at the drawing, mumbling, "This is awesome!"

He stopped looking after a minute and turned to me with a serious expression. "I'm so sorry, man. I should have been there for you guys, but I was covering my own ass. I've been a real coward, but you two deserved better than you got."

I said, "It's okay, Dwayne. I know where you were comin' from. Let's go next door and get started."

He nodded. We joined Dave and Tim and headed next door, where we sat in the living room. Dwayne set a cassette recorder on the table and said, "Mike, you can just start talking. I already found the details about Jack at school, you tell me what he was like. I know where he was born and the like, now you make him a person for me. Start wherever you want, this is gonna take more than one session anyhow. Let's see how this goes tonight. I might write one big story, or a series." He smiled brightly, "This is such a cool idea," he looked at Tim and Dave, "Mike thought of it, you know, I'm not taking any credit for this one."

I looked around, then settled back and told Dwayne about my early history with Jack from the time he moved in, which wasn't much, then I told him pretty much the same story I'd told Pat earlier, only adding some detail. I ran out of steam after a little less than an hour.

Dwayne noticed and looked at his watch. "Why don't we break off here? There's no way you can stay at school late? It took me a half hour to get here." He smiled, "I get homework too, you know."

Dave cleared his throat, "I'm at the school for a good hour after your buses leave." He smiled, "I volunteer to bring Mike home, since it's not far out of the way." We all laughed. "Just let me know when you're meeting so I know to wait."

It was a good solution. An extra hour after school once in awhile wasn't a big deal, so we agreed on that, and we'd start the next day.

We all walked out with Dwayne. Before he got in the car he smiled at me, "You're a good story teller, Mike. You could do this yourself."

I laughed, "Yeah, if I could write. You really think you can make somethin' outta this?"

He bopped my shoulder, "You keep talking; I'll figure it out." He looked over my shoulder at Tim and Dave, "G'night, Mr. Devino. Nice to meet you, Tim."

We stood in the driveway after he left, me with a hand on each of my shoulders. Tim said, "He's right, Mike. You are a good story teller." He squeezed my shoulder gently, "You know something? The parallels continue, we both met our guys in pretty violent ways."

I looked at his smile, hearing from behind me, "Don't get me started, Tim. I bet I could still kick your ass if I had to."

Tim smirked, "I like what you do now better," then he remembered I was there and put his hand over his mouth. "Oops! I mean, I like the way you cook."

I thought it was funny, "G'night guys."

Dave didn't let go when I took a step. I turned around, and he was smiling. "Thanks, Mike. Thanks for letting us in a little. You always said you loved Jack, now we can learn why." He looked at Tim, then back at me, "This is pretty brave, you know. You let a lot out about yourself when you're talking about Jack."

I thought about that, and realized he was right. I couldn't talk about Jack without baring my own feelings and foibles, but it didn't matter any more. I grinned, "I been out for three years, so what's new?"

They both chuckled, and we said our goodnights.

I went out to the barn to send Davy an e-mail, but I didn't say much more than a thank you, and that I owed him a longer note than I had time for right then. There were a million or so pictures to look at, I still had a science chapter to read, and I wanted to call Annie. I sent Davy's note, then went and sat alone in the kitchen to do my homework.

When I was done with that, I called Annie. I was tired and yawning. She caught on to that after awhile and told me to get some sleep. I'd already told her about the time I spent with Pat, and she thought getting him to talk about Kevin might be helpful. I told her about Dwayne's visit, too, and that he still thought it was a good idea to write about Jack.

After we rang off, I went to the bathroom. Then, when I was getting ready for bed, I talked to Jack's picture. I was tired but cheerful. "No more Private Sam, Jack. You know what? People like you when they get to hear about you." I looked at the image on the wall, the one Tony had made, "Yup, I'm tellin' all our secrets, and you'd be surprised. They love hearin' it, Jacko! I mean, Jack off!" I laughed again at the old joke.

When I was down to my underwear, I grabbed his picture and fell back on the bed clutching it to my chest. I started thinking out loud. "I love you, Jacky, more than anything ever. I really hate that you're not here, but you're feelin' it, aren't ya?"

My thoughts went silent, but they were profound. I could talk about Jack happily, but I couldn't think about him without crying. "Why's that?" I wondered, tears building up behind my closed eyelids. "How could I feel so good talking about you, then so miserable thinking about you?"

I waited for my own head to answer, but it didn't. I'd been yakking happily about Jack for three days now, but the second I sat down with it, I practically started bawling, and I didn't know why. Wasn't I doing a good job talking about Jack? Was he out there somewhere, getting pissed off and slinging little 'stupid' darts at me? Was I missing something?

I tried to drop my thoughts, to pick out a Jack scene to fall asleep to, but I kept coming up with Dwayne. He seemed so damned nice. I thought back to that night at the school dance and wished that Clay hadn't gotten in the way. Dwayne had wanted to say something, and I'd have to wait until the next day to ask him what it was, if he even remembered.

I had to shift my thoughts to Annie to get any sleep.


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