Jack in the Box

Chapter 57

Michael Waters - Arlington Road : December, 2000

That night, I got to spend some time with just Davy. Melanie had to go home, Tony and Paulina were tired from skiing, and Annie had taken her pill and gone to bed, so Davy and I went to an all-night supermarket.

He was a lot more fun to shop with than my mother. With Mom, if I saw something that looked good, she'd check the price and tell me to put it back half the time. The rest of the time she'd read the table of contents and make me put it back owing to unhealthy ingredients in the container.

With Davy, I'd hold something up hopefully, and he'd say to toss it in the cart, maybe even to get another one if it appealed to him as well. We had good times in both the cookie and candy aisles, and again at the ice cream freezer.

All the while I was entertaining him with the story of how I told my parents about the college money from his father. It had been a school night, and I had very little homework, so I'd worked on bird houses for a few hours before going home for dinner.

At the table, I waited until my father was chewing on a mouthful, and asked, "Dad, is it alright if I get eighty seven thousand dollars?"

That got his attention, and he gave me a very curious look until he swallowed, then he smiled, "Where exactly am I supposed to come up with that kind of money? And why would you need that particular sum?"

I said, trying to sound whiny, "I didn't ask you to give it to me. Tim said I could have it."

Dad was surprised and asked, "Tim Atkins? Well, if he said you could have it, it must be okay." He smiled, evilly, "Ask Tim to give it to you."

I tried to hold back my laugh, because that's exactly what I hoped he'd say. I looked at Dad while I wiped my lips on my napkin, and said, "Okay. May I be excused, please?"

My plate was clean, so there were no objections. I went next door to Jack's house, where the box of money, which had come by UPS, was waiting on the kitchen table. I opened the box and ruffled up the money on top so it would look like it was just dumped in there and went back home, detouring through the dining room so everyone would see the box. Someone was sure to ask, and it was my mother.

"What do you have there, Mike?"

"Hmm? Oh, this? It's the money Tim gave me."

My father laughed, "Oh sure, and I suppose it's eighty seven thousand dollars, like he keeps that laying around."

I said, "Not exactly that much, it's more than that, but it's awful hard to count so much and get it right." I started walking out, saying, "I'll just put this in my room. I have some homework."

I could grin when my back was turned, and I did before hearing, "Michael, stop right there and turn around."

I lost the smile and turned around to face my father. "What on earth are you talking about? What's really in that box, and what's with all this talk about money?"

I lowered the box so everyone could see inside, and there were four gasps at the same time. "It's money, Dad. You said I could have it, and I'm gonna need it for college."

It was great. Eight eyes bugged out all at once.

My dad reached in and felt the money, picking some of it up, and he looked at me with a bewildered expression. "Tim gave this to you? Just like that?"

I nodded, trying hard by then to not break out laughing.

Dad was confused, and he held his hands near his cheeks the way confusion leads him to do, and he stared at the money while he tried to think of something to say. Finally, "Mike, you can't keep this. It's way over the top, even for Tim."

I tried to play the wounded teenager. "What should I do then, throw it away?."

"Don't start acting stupid. I want you to bring it back to Tim."

I said, "Tim don't want it, and he only gave it to me. It's not from him, it's from his brother, Davy's father."

Dad sighed and started to get up. "Alright, Mike. Let's you and me go next door. Bring that money with you, and for God's sake, close the top of that box before the wind catches it."

I set the box down and started folding the top closed, grumbling, "This is great. Somebody gives me a perfectly good box of money, and I have to go give it back. Tell me how that makes sense."

"What did you say?" my mother asked.

I picked up the box, muttering, "Nothin'," and started walking out of the room. Dad joined me, and when I stopped for my coat and I said, "They won't take it back, Dad. We might as well just leave it on someone's doorstep ... like mine."

When we were outside Dad put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Mike, you've always been honest with me, and right now I want to hear the honest truth. What is going on here? And why have you chosen this moment to start behaving like a typical teenager? I got six years of attitude from Raymond, now I'm getting it from Melissa. I thought you'd be different somehow."

I leaned into him a little, "Why's that?"

His arm went around me, "It's because you were born with a sunny disposition, and for the most part you've held onto it all these years. You've always been open with me, and I hope you know I've been with you, like no secrets between us. With that said, when a boy your age comes home with more cash than I've ever seen in my life, it puts me off more than a little."

"You're off?" I teased. "Pissed off, or off your rocker?"

He laughed softly, "Son, just tell me what's going on. Do that for your old dad?"

Well, that was the good part of the story, and Davy kept laughing while we filled the cart with all sorts of good things, and other things like toilet paper and laundry soap.

When Dave and Tim explained the money to my father, and after he protested the gift, both the nature and the amount of it, he gave in and I carried the box back home.

That weekend, he took four hundred dollars from the box and bought a safe, which he and Joe Goldman cemented into the garage floor. Now every week I take out six hundred and make deposits into bank accounts for each one of us. I'll probably be withdrawing some for college before it all gets deposited.

We checked out at the supermarket, with one hugely stuffed cart and another that was nearly full, and to the tune of over three hundred bucks. I offered to give Davy some money, but he refused it, and we made the trip back to his house in his overloaded Mitsubishi.

It took a long time to put things away and more time to squish up all the sacks. It was midnight, and we both wanted to talk. We weren't hungry, so Davy opened a bag of gumdrops and we sat at the table, Davy flicked on the outside lights, and it was suddenly a pretty place to talk. The snow out back was still mostly undisturbed, and there were big icicles hanging in front of the window. Davy dimmed the Tiffany lamp overhead so we could see the outside better, and it cast the inside in a soft glow that made everything look nice.

I popped a green gumdrop in my mouth and smiled at Davy. "I love it here, you know." I could see his almost-frown, "I'm not comparin', just sayin' what I think. You Yanks live pretty good." I teased, "Go ahead, say Morton's better. You know how to live, man, it don't matter where you are when you're you."

Davy smiled softly, "Or where you are, if you're you . I'm really glad you guys came up, Mike. I like having you around. Everyone does."

"I like bein' around," I said, wanting to change the topic. "Got any beer?"

He started to his feet, "Coming up. It's in the garage."

He was back in a moment with two cold Buds, which we started drinking from the cans, me thinking beer didn't go very well with green gumdrops, but it was probably the other way around.

"So," I asked, "what's with this gang war? How do they end it?"

Davy said glumly, "They don't end it. A couple of the smarter ones will get together, call a truce, but that's the best they get. It'll start back up after...who knows, a month, a year, a couple of years. Some new jerk will get to the top, and it'll start all over again." He shook his head slowly and sadly, "It's not my favorite topic."

I asked, "Why do kids join gangs? Or do you join?"

Davy smiled a little, "Good question, and I don't really know the answer. It's more like they're born to their gangs, that the gang is all they have." He studied my face, "Good kids come out of those projects, Mike, they really do, and I think it's because those gang members respect them for making their own way and leave them alone." His look softened, "You'd have to know the lifestyle there. It's a place where absent fathers are common, where if you do know your father it's a sometimes thing, where if you actually have a father and a mother, and they aren't strung out on drugs, you'll probably do okay."

I was thinking about that when Davy went on. "Gangs are families, Mike, all the family most of those kids have. No father, usually a welfare mother, no place to go but the streets, and depending on your street, that's your gang, because it's where you belong. It goes on because they never grow up all the way, have more kids too early, and don't know what to do with them. Boy knocks up girl at thirteen or so, forgets about it, and then the girl gives birth to a new gang member. They're tearing down projects like that in other parts of the state, because it's the situation that has to change. The youngest kids have parents who are still kids, and it just doesn't work."

After I absorbed that I smiled, "You're pretty smart."

Davy rolled his eyes, "If I was smart, I'd figure out a way to make it stop. If I was really smart, I'd move in with you and let it happen without me." He smiled at me.

I said, "You can move in with me right now if you want" I changed my tune, while I moved around in my chair to get comfortable. "I don't know, Davy, it sounds complicated to me." I winced, "You really think it'll just go on? I mean, won't they just get sick of it and do somethin' else?"

Davy started laughing softly, just a heaving of his chest and he focused on me. "There you go, Mike" He smirked, "Is it Mice now? I forgot to ask."

"It's Mike, with a hard 'C', like in chemicals."

"Chemicals is 'ch'."

I glared, "I know it's 'ch'. It still sounds like a 'k'. Try 'c' as in cake, okay?" I sat back, "I really thought you were smarter." Then I leaned forward, "Tony's right, you know. There ain't no 'k' in Michael. It's a 'c', a 'ch' if you think of it, just like chemical." I sat up, tall in my seat, and folded my arms across my chest, challenging Davy with my eyes, "It's just an alternate spelling, and you better get used to it."

Davy, in defeat, was pretty gracious. He changed the subject. "Weren't we just talking about changing the world?"

I grinned, "You change the world; you're built for it and I ain't. What we were talking about was spelling and pronunciation. We say everythin' different, anyhow, might's well figure out why."

Davy laughed, "Pronunciation is probably a conversation we should never have." He smiled happily, "Remind me to never, ever talk about it with Anton."


"Okay, Tony. I thought that was kind of private."

I smiled, "It's not private. Aren't we really off the subject here? I thought we were talkin' about gangs, how they come to be, all that."

Davy sighed, "Buy a book, Mike. Gangs have been around forever, and they do change. Look at your history, my history. I'm Irish on my dad's side, and there used to be Irish gangs in this country. Mom's part Italian, and you've heard of the Mafia, and they started out as gangs. Take any minority population, isolate them in poverty pockets in a city, and the kids hang together...for lots of reasons, but mostly because they're like each other, and it's a safety net. They'll be poor, come from struggling or non-existent families...not exactly good odds."

"Why the crime?" I asked.

Davy sighed, "Money is the short answer for that. It's easy and brainless, and it pays. Not all gangs turn criminal, some just play sports or shoot pool, just hang around together. Not all members of the tough gangs get wise, either. Lots just wear the colors for their own protection, to show that they belong somewhere. You watch, though. You won't see any colors around here 'til the current shit cools down."

I smiled, mostly because it was Davy talking, but I was learning something, too. "What about guys like Tom, or Juan and Guy?"

"What about them?" Davy asked.

"They don't have gangs, and they're minorities. What makes them different?"

Davy pondered that for a moment. "Strong families, Mike. They get their values at home, and they believe in them." He smiled to himself and went on, "When they meet new kids, I think they compare values a little, to see if they might get along."

He grinned, and I asked, "What's so funny?"

Davy said, "You met Juan's abuela. She might be old and rickety, but if either one of them ever came home wearing colors, or with so much as a bad comment from a teacher, she'd have him studying for the priesthood in a nanosecond. Their mother's the same way." He smiled, "They're scared shitless of those women, Mike. They know they're doomed if they make a wrong move."

I giggled at the word. "Doomed? Like their fate's right in front of 'em?"

Davy giggled, too, finally saying, "Yeah," as he looked at me. "It's the same with you, Mike, I can see it. I'm like that, too. Our homes are safe places. Our parents make the rules, then they let us out in the world trusting that we'll live by what we've learned. When we make mistakes, they help us through them. If we go too far, then they clamp down, and we learn from that, too."

I asked, "That's special?"

Davy chuckled, "No, not so special, just generic parenting." He became more serious, "Not everyone has that, Mike, and it's not their fault to be born without a real family. You have these young girls getting knocked up by guys they barely know, then a baby comes along and they don't know anything about it. Welfare can pay the bills, but if that girl with a baby isn't striving, that kid doesn't have much of a chance. I mean, that's Paulina's story, isn't it? Strong grandparents gave her something that her parents didn't. I don't know, can we change the subject? This is depressing."

I smiled, "Sorry. I like listenin' to you. Um, if you want a subject change, I got a good one."

I was smirking, and it made Davy nervous. "I'll bet you do. What's next, global warming?"

I laughed, "No, blowble warming. You keep your mouth shut, but guess what happened today?"

Davy grinned, "I can't wait to hear."

Well, I told Davy almost everything about my morning with Guy, only leaving out the explicit details, and it was a treat for me to watch his face while he heard it. He must have said, "No way." fifty times, and when he connected in my comment at dinner about vacuuming, he got lost in a world of silliness.

When he finally settled down, all red and teary-faced, he said, "Oh, man. You're bad. No wonder Guy was so quiet tonight. I thought he didn't like the food or something. Jesus, this is going to take some time to filter through." He gave me a precious look, still giggling, "You don't mind if I laugh some more, do you?" and he proceeded to laugh, to the point where it gave him a stomachache.

I waited, and when he was just holding his tummy I asked, "Done now?" I was snickering myself, "I don't know if I find the same humor in this as you do. I guess it's funny to your ears, I mean, it's funny to me, but more in an odd way. I ..."

"You got blind-sided," Davy said. He looked in my eyes, "You probably said too much, too. What's it like, Mike...with Annie, I mean?"

Oh no! Had I messing around with Guy to real sex with Annie? I didn't recall that exactly, but I must have. I was mortified that those words had escaped me. "Davy, please don't...don't ask that, don't let it out that I said it." My eyes searched his, imploring "We're in the world of private here, and it's private private, okay? Even to you."

Davy sat back and looked at me, then formed a smile. "Okay, private information. Don't worry, my lips are sealed," then he squished his lips together funnily with his fingers, which made me laugh.

Davy's tone became serious. "Mel and I talk about sex, Mike. I mean, we do things, just not the thing." His look softened, "I love her, Mike, I really do." He smirked, "Should I be saying Mike with a 'C' or a 'K'?" which got me laughing. "It's just that it's a big step, to us anyhow. I don't know what to do."

I looked at my friend cautiously, knew where he was coming from with the seriousness, then thought about my own week and blurted out, "Fuck like bunnies, then. There ain't nothin' left to think about."

I laughed, and Davy did, too. "Good advice, Mice, I'll take that to heart and tell Melanie you said so," and we both had another good laugh.

I wheezed out, "Don't call me Mice!" I was still laughing, "Jesus, Anton Wolfe is gonna pay a price for that one, I promise it."

Oh, we laughed. Davy got us more beers and we drank another two each, and we laughed and talked until three in the morning, before we finally fizzled out. We ended the night at Davy's door, where we kissed. I looked at him after and asked, "That don't bother you?"

"No," he smiled, "it doesn't bother me at all." His eyes were tired, soft, "It's like a drug, Mike...I mean Mice...it always feels nice, and," he yawned, "I'm tired. Go to bed, 'cause you are going skiing tomorrow."

I gave him a hug, "Night, Davy. I love you."

He yawned again, a big, sudden and shaky one, and said, "I love you too, Mice. Go get some sleep."

I grumbled, faking it, "Don't call me Mice," then headed to bed.

* * * * * * * *

I was frozen solid. I took those skis off and started marching down the hill, yelling, "This sport sucks!" to anybody in hearing range. Let those lunatics love it; I wasn't having anymore.

Snow, even the best snow, is hard as a rock after it's been skied on, and it's no place for a face, yet my own had spent entirely too much time down there in it. I was seriously pissed off, wet through and through, sore, and frozen.

When Davy and Melanie skied effortlessly down beside me, I got twice as pissed. Melanie smiled, "Don't give up, Mike. It's only hard at first; you'll get it."

I announced, "I will not get it. You people go abuse yourselves all you want. This boy is going inside and stayin' warm."

Half the reason I was frustrated was Guy. It was his first time skiing, too, and he picked right up on it, just like Tony had the day before.

Me? I'd just spent two hours and skied all of two feet, the rest of the time spent getting myself untangled from my latest face-plant. Guy had Seth and Paul teaching him, I had Davy and Melanie. Maybe that was the problem, but it didn't matter anymore because I was finished.

I had always admired Annie for her intelligence, and right then it was shining like a beacon from the nice, warm base lodge right at the bottom of the hill. That's where I headed. Annie was there with a book, all nice and warm, and the last time I saw her she had a mug of hot chocolate.

Davy pleaded, "Come on, Mike. Let the guys at the rental shop check those skis, maybe there's something wrong."

I didn't answer. Davy said, "Alright, we'll go in with you, grab an early lunch or something. I can tell you what you're doing wrong, but you have to try it to get it right."

I looked at Davy, who was side-slipping right ahead of me. "I know what I'm doin' wrong, man. I'm out here, and," I pointed at the lodge, "there's a nice warm building right there. That's what's wrong. That's all that's wrong."

Davy smiled, "Okay, I give up." He looked to Melanie,' "What say, sweetie, want to go in for a few minutes?"

She nodded and skied away, her feet close together, cutting quick little turns in the snow. Davy admired her for a moment, then said, "We'll wait at the bottom." He turned downhill, made two wiggly little turns, then sped off after Melanie.

Damn, it looked like fun. I just didn't get it, and I felt miserable. I plodded down the hill, and when I saw Davy at the bottom I walked over to him. He showed me how to use the ski rack, then laced the cable from his lock to my skis, so nobody could steal them. Then we went into the blessed warmth of the lodge, where we found that Annie had managed a front row seat at the fire. She had her feet on the raised hearth, her book on her lap, and she looked fine in a white, cable-knit sweater.

And she was talking to a guy.

My mittens, my hat, and my scarf were all soaked, caked with snow, and I watched Annie while I peeled the clothes off. She and her male friend were talking, smiling at each other, and they kept touching, like on the arm and shoulder, but touching just the same.

I was curious more than anything else, not ready to be jealous or anything, and I didn't know how to be anyhow. It made me a little tense, though, and Davy sensed it, stroking my shoulder for a second. When I finally had the frozen clothes off, I headed over there to dry them by the fire.

Annie smiled like she always did when she saw me, and asked, "How was it?"

I said, caustically, "Was is the right word, Annie." I laid the wet things on the hearth, then smiled, "It ain't my sport. I spent all that time with my face stuck in the snow." I glanced at the guy next to her, who was older than he looked from a distance, maybe twenty-five or so, and I asked Annie, "Who's your friend?"

The guy started to stand up while Annie said, "This is Lucien. Lucien, this is Michael, the boy I was telling you about."

Lucien held out his hand and said, "Hi, Mike. Lucien Marceau." Neat, he had a foreign accent, French I suppose. His 'Mike' came out kind of like 'Meek'.

We shook, and I got a good look at him, a tall man, with shaggy black hair, a nice face and a gentle smile. He said, "I take it you didn't have much fun?"

I smiled back, "You take it right. I didn't have any fun at all, but I did get cold and wet."

He grinned, "Well, better luck next time. I'm an instructor here if you want to warm up and try it again. No charge, I'll give you a private lesson."

I blinked, wondering where this guy came from. "Let me warm up first." I glanced at Annie, then braved up as he sat back down, and I got an edge of the hearth with my butt. I wanted to ask this guy where he got off carrying on with my girlfriend, but I didn't want to jump to conclusions, so I asked both of them, "What were you talkin' about?"

Annie said, "Michener." She peered at me, "Are you alright, Mike? You look half frozen."

I growled, "I'm a hundred percent frozen. I am not, and I repeat not, a skier."

She leaned in and hugged me, "Poor baby. How about a nice hot coffee? I'll get it for you."

I said, "That sounds good. See if they have any donuts."

Davy and Melanie had disappeared, so I took Annie's seat and was left with Lucien, who seemed nice enough. "Howcum you're not teachin' new skiers?"

"Hm? Oh." like I surprised him. "I start at three. My car's broken, and I took the only ride I could get."

"You were talkin' about books?"

He smiled, "Oui, I'm a serious readaholic. I was reading over her shoulder, and she called me on it, then her accent got me, and we started talking."

Okay, innocent enough. "You're really a skiing teacher?"

Lucien said, "I also teach school. French."

I took another look at him. "You're a teacher?"

Lucien smiled, "Wire down, Mike. I wasn't hitting on your girlfriend, and I know that's what you think." He held out his left hand, which had a wedding band on it, "I like to talk, and Ann's a great conversationalist." He grinned, "I have a wife and a little girl at home. You're safe."

Whew! I never thought I wasn't safe, but hearing it from Lucien was good. I blushed anyhow, because that was my nature, and I had to say something, so, "You think you could teach me to ski? I would'a paid for ski school, but everybody said they'd teach me. I don't wanna hate somethin' just on the face of it." I fingered my own face, which was thawing out by then. I grinned, "This face spent the mornin' buried in snow."

Lucien laughed, and I liked his laugh. He put a hand on my shoulder and said, "Relax, Mike. Get warmed up first and I'll show you."

I looked at him, wondering. I guess he was just an easy toucher, so I smiled, "I don't know..."

Annie came back then, with three cups and what looked to be a dozen donuts and pastries on a tray. She handed me a cup, saying, "Here's your coffee. I just got what looked good."

She handed Lucien a cup, then took an eclair and started eating it. I took a jelly donut, and before taking a bite, said, "Lucien said he'll teach me to ski. Is that okay?"

Annie chewed what was in her mouth, then turned to me with a giggle. "Why wouldn't that be okay? You came to ski, so go do it."

I felt better. I was all warmed up, there was somebody to really teach me, and I had a jelly donut. Three of them, actually, and half of a pastry Annie didn't like that tasted just fine to me.

When we were done eating, I really felt better until I tested my clothes, and they were still wet. Well, the mittens had dried out pretty well, but the hat and scarf were still pretty soggy. I ended up wearing Annie's hat and scarf, which at least weren't pink, but they were a lime green that looked fine on her, kind of bright for me. Lucien tried to reassure me by saying that skiing was a colorful sport and I'd fit right in.

Yeah, maybe, except for the tassel on the hat, but I pulled it down over my ears anyhow, and looked around for Davy, because my skis were hooked to his lock. Not finding him in the lodge, I looked outside while Lucien went to the ski school to get his gear. Davy's skis were gone, and mine were still locked up. Arrgh! He'd told me the combination, but I hadn't really paid attention, and I struggled to remember. I knew it was his street address, but I didn't know that.

I was saved, once again, by Anton Wolfe. Tony skied up to me with Paulina, and stopped. "Hey, Mike. Is this great or what?" Tony bubbled.

"Do you remember Davy's house number?" I asked, fiddling with the lock.

"One sixty seven, why?"

Bingo! "It's the answer to this lock, man." I freed up the skis just as Lucien approached, his own skis slung over his shoulder.

"You ready, Meek?" he asked.

I snickered at the pronunciation, then looked towards Tony and Paulina. "Wish me luck, guys, this is my last chance."

Tony laughed, "Think perpendicular, Mike. I seen ya before."


Tony smiled, and held his hand out at an angle, a finger from his other hand pointing down, but aimed straight up. "This is you." He made the finger go to a right angle from the slope of his other hand, "This is where ya wanna be. See? It's perpendicular to the hill. That's the trouble I had yesterday."

"I ain't perpendicular?" I asked incredulously.

"Probably not," said a French sounding voice behind me.

I turned to a smiling Lucien, and asked, "I gotta be perpendicular?" I stood up straighter, "Well! That explains a lot. Davy never said I had to be perpendicular."

Lucien grinned and said, "Your friend...Davy? He's a certified ski instructor, yes?"

I smiled back, "He's a certified ski instructor, no. I didn't learn squat, so let's not waste time talking about it."

Lucien said, "Okay, carry your skis and follow me. I'll have you skiing like a champion in an hour."

I laughed, "Yeah, right."

Well, damned if you do and damned if you don't. In an hour I was skiing, all perpendicular and like that, still hesitant and shaky, but I could do it. I still fell, a lot if you have to know, but now it was because I'd get going too fast and falling was a safety measure.

I was laughing again and that's what counted. I fell because I had to, not because it was a fact of the matter, and when I wasn't falling, I was loving it.

I'd never doubted Davy, really, nor Tony or anyone else. Skiing was simple enough the way Lucien taught it, a matter of balance and control, the use of gravity for its intended purpose. Those quick turns I'd watched Melanie and Davy make, those were really just checks on their speed. Where I'd thought they were showing off what they could do, they were really just skiing well, getting down the hill in total control and as efficiently as they could.

I wasn't there yet, not even close, but when I could snowplow my way well enough down the baby hill, get on and off the t-bar without fear, Lucien thought it was time for me to tackle the bigger hill: ride a chairlift to the top and ski to the bottom.

Getting on the chairlift with Lucien was easy enough, and the ride up was nice. I could watch other skiers, and many weren't a heck of a lot more advanced than me, even adults. Just before we got to the top, though, Lucien said, "Don't go straight, there's a cliff."

"A cliff?" I gasped.

"Yes," Lucien smiled, "very steep. Turn left immediately at the bottom of the ramp, then get out of the way."

"The way of what?"

"The people behind us," he said, as he lifted the bar that was keeping us safe. "Lift the front of your skis, and when they hit the platform just stand up and let the chair push you off."

Suddenly, we were at the top, and all I could see was sky and distant hills ahead of me. Lucien slapped my knee, crying, "Up!" and my senses took over. My skis went vertical, then horizontal when we hit the platform, then I was propelled down the ramp, which was far steeper then where I'd been skiing. Lucien's yell of "Left!" was all I heard as I headed straight for the cliff, then I remembered how to turn.

I tripped up and fell, but it was on snow instead of thin air, so I thought I had the best of it. I was laughing with relief while Lucien helped me to my feet and said, "Very good, Mike (Meek). You're a real skier now, so we go down, then I go to work. Okay?"

I smiled at him, "Thanks, Lucien. This is fun."

Then I turned and looked down the hill, which seemed vastly bigger than it had from the bottom. I couldn't even see the lodge anymore, and all the other skiers around us seemed to be expert or better. I gulped, "I don't think so," and glanced at the lift. "Can I just ride back down?"

Lucien gave a little laugh, "No, it's not allowed. Here," he moved in close behind me and straddled my skis with his, while he wrapped his arms around my chest, "the first turns we'll do together, then I let you go." He sounded happy, "The mountain and the man. You'll see. You can do it."

I wanted to scream, but Lucien somehow got us going, and we made a few wide turns, then he let me go, calling, "See you at the bottom, Mike. Make it standing up, I buy you a beer."

"Right." I thought, but I made it, pissing lots of people off for skiing sideways in front of them, but I tightened up my turns some, then a lot, and only fell when I was sure I was going to hit the ski racks at the bottom.

Lucien was right there, helping me up and grinning, "See? That's why they pay me." He was so jovial, laughing, "Find your friends, have a wonderful day." His face beamed, "Ha. I love that I can do this."

With that, he skied away, propelled by his poles and a skating motion that I studied. Just like that.

A chance encounter between Lucien and Annie had turned my day around. I was ready to tackle that mountain alone, if I had to, but I was also cold, had to pee fiercely, and I wanted to see Annie.

I hooked up the skis, then headed into the lodge and found the men's room. Then I went back to where I last saw Annie, and she wasn't there, but she was nearby. She called out to me, and she was with Tony and Paulina, who were eating sandwiches.

My mouth immediately filled with saliva, and the expression 'frothing at the mouth' suddenly had meaning. I hurried to where they were, taking fries in each hand from both Tony's and Paulina's trays and cramming them in my mouth. Annie smiled, "Hungry?"

I looked at her, and said, "I can ski. Yeah, I'm hungry. You?"

Annie laughed, "You've been out there for hours," she said, as she held out a cardboard tray to me, "I got you chicken. The fries will be cold."

"Cold, shmold, I don't care," I cried as I grabbed the tray and tore the wrapper off the sandwich. "I"m starved."

That food disappeared before I could really even taste it, and that was probably a good thing because it wasn't very good to begin with. It did the job, anyhow, and I guzzled down my whole Coke before I spoke another word, and that was preceded by an embarrassing little burp. "Sorry," I muttered, then smiled at Annie. "Thanks, I needed that."

Annie kissed my cheek, "I guess you did. Was it any good?"

"No," I grinned, "but I needed it anyhow. I just skied down this whole mountain. That takes a lot out of a guy, you know."

"Lucien did well, then?"

"Lucien did great. I'm glad he likes books, 'cause I would'a never tried again as long as I live. This morning was humiliating."

Annie smiled and we kissed. I asked, "Do ya mind staying longer? I hate to leave you alone, but I want to ski more."

Paulina overheard, "Go ahead, Mike. Take Ace with you; I've had it with the cold."

Tony and I grinned at each other, double-checked the girls' reactions, and headed out before they could change their minds.

On the way out, Tony asked, "Do ya love it, Mike? This is the most fun."

I laughed, "It's flirtin' with me, that's for sure. If I don't die, I could love it."

I was still apprehensive while I put my skis on, more so when we waited for the lift, then the ride up was okay. At the top, there was no Lucien, and I was scared again when we came off the lift, but I skidded down onto the trail instead of going off the cliff, and felt reassured.

We stopped for a moment while we adjusted our hats and gloves, then Tony cried, "Follow me," and skied off. I followed him, yelling for him to slow down, but I watched him. He'd never been skiing before yesterday and he wasn't exactly Mr. Style, but he was a lot more confident than I was. He put his skis straight downhill to build up speed, but his turns were still snowplows to check the speed, and by following him I did pretty well, and went way faster than I had before. At the bottom, Tony skied right back over to the lift, and we got in line together.

I was laughing, "That was fun."

Tony beamed, "I love it, Mike. I swear, if there warn't nuthin' else, I'd still have skiing."

I laughed at his enthusiasm. I don't think I'd ever seen him like this before, and it was for a sport. It was catching, too, and an enthusiastic me got better at skiing fast. By the time that Davy interrupted our return to the lift after a lot of runs, I loved it myself. Yeah, I still fell sometimes, but even that was fun. Tony fell too, one time spectacularly, right between the trees, kicking up a rooster tail of un-skied snow like you never saw. I yelled, "What a wreck!" as I stopped safely, as close as I could get. "You okay?"

Tony sat up, spitting snow and laughing. "I'm okay." He looked around, snow in an eye socket, "Did you see that? Caught an edge, I guess." He grinned, "I just couldn't stop."

I grinned back, "At least ya didn't hit your head."

He laughed, "Yeah, like big difference that would make."

When Tony got free, he wasn't intimidated at all. We just kept going.

After what turned out to be our last run, Davy got right in front of us, smiling, his hands up in a 'Stop!' motion. "Fun's over, guys."

"Over?" Tony and I gasped in unison.

Davy smiled, "Yeah, sorry, but I have to get Melanie home." He looked at me, "You had fun?"

"I'm havin' fun." I grinned, "Then you gotta come along and spoil it." I looked at Tony, "Whattya say, Anton? Ready to blow this place?"

Tony gave me a blank face, "I guess."

I turned to Davy, "You're breaking up the dynamic duo, you know, but I guess we're done."

Davy said, sounding hopeful, "You can stay if you want, there's night skiing. I think you have to pay more for the rentals. Your tickets should be good."

I looked at Tony and he relented, saying, "Okay. I guess it's enough." He smiled at Davy, "Let me touch you, I never want to forget," and he put his fingers to Davy's cheek

I swear, I almost cried, seeing two of my best friends connected like that. Davy smiled, and I could tell that he liked Tony's touch. They were friends too, and it warmed me to see it. Tony and Davy were close like I was with both of them, and I loved seeing them show it.

Right then, I wanted to know where it came from...friendship like that. I'd found it myself with many people, and was delighted beyond measure that the people I liked best also liked each other that. Tony and Davy were as different as hot and cold, but there they were, loving each other with just a hand to a cheek.

Davy said they'd meet us at the rental building, so Tony and I went there and turned in our stuff, then put on our own shoes. I was surprised and pleased at how light I felt without those boots and all that hardware attached to my feet. For a moment, it was like I didn't weigh a thing.

Guy came in while we were there, and he was bubbling about what a great time he had. "This is so much fun. I want to get as good as Seth and Paul. Did you see them? They're awesome skiers."

When Guy described it, I wished I had watched them, because he told of watching amazing feats like back flips off bumps, tip-rolls, ski dancing. I could only imagine what some were, but to hear Guy, it was all pretty amazing.

We met up with the others and headed back to Davy's in various vehicles. We rode with Paul in his van, and had fun talking about skiing, while I held hands with Annie.

Poor Annie. I know she would have liked to try skiing, and I'm sure she would have done well and loved it. I felt bad for ditching her for most of the day, too, but if she had any resentment about that, she sure didn't let it show. She was as bright and cheerful as ever, and got as excited as the rest of us when the mention of pizza came up. Hot pizza, in the restaurant, fresh from the oven. My mouth watered.

Paul dropped us at Davy's, promising to be back as soon as he changed. Davy left to take Melanie home, because she had some family obligation, and soon Annie and I were alone in the bedroom so I could change and take a quick shower. I apologized for leaving her alone, and she wouldn't have it.

"It wasn't selfish of you, Mike, and I'm glad you had fun. I actually enjoyed today. It was a change of scenery, I had a good book, I talked to some interesting people." She smiled prettily, "I can already out-fish you, so it seems only fair that you be able to out-ski me when I can go."

I did a double take. "You think you can out-fish me? Me?" I grinned, "One twist of fate don't prove anything, girl. I just gave you all the best worms that night, the ones that'd catch fish anyhow." I gyrated my body, "C'mon fishy. You know what you want."

Annie laughed, and I knew all was well. She smiled, "Well, if I was a fish, I suppose a worm like you depict so cleverly just might be more alluring than a stay-at-home worm." The smile turned to a grin, "Right now, I have a distinct urge to bite you, so go wash the stink off, and if we have time, I just may."

I was laughing, and asked, "Last word?"

Annie giggled, "Last word. Hurry up, now."

Hurry I did. When I climbed out of the shower to dry off, Annie was at the vanity fooling with her eyebrows. I could see her looking at me in the mirror, and we both smiled. I was never very modest about my body, and I struck a quick pose before grabbing a towel and drying off, grinning at the mirror. The next time I looked up, Annie was gone, and I went ahead and brushed my teeth and combed my hair.

When I got back into the room, Annie was all smiles. "Okay, let's say I am a fish." she said devilishly, "How would I ever come to bite a worm that's all covered up in terry cloth?"

Well, boing!

Annie had tasted my worm before, but never so avidly, never so...um... completely. Damn. I was jello afterward, ready for, and in need of, another shower, but I was powerless to move so much as a finger. I was did in. Sorry, done in.

Annie brought me back slowly, kissing me while avoiding the mess on my tummy. I finally gasped out, "Oh God, I love you Annie. What was that for?"

Annie just smiled for a long time, then finally said, "Just because I love you," before kissing me again. Then, "Let's help you up, you need to wash off." Her eyes were smiling into mine, "I really love you, Mike. I do love you."

I stayed there, her face right in front of mine, and I was overcome with my love for that girl. I don't think I knew exactly what a qualm was, but I knew as a certainty that Annie and I didn't share a one of them between us. We loved each other more deeply by the moment, and sex was a big part of that, but not the only part. When she kissed my cheek and sent me back to the bathroom, it was just as loving a gesture as she'd ever made.

I washed off quickly, counting myself twice blessed. I was fifteen, and in love for the second time already. Nothing or nobody would ever top Jack, nobody except Annie, not in my mind. They felt so alike to me in so many ways. They'd both get chicken skin when we first touched, but then it would go away, and they shared a type of skin, one that was so smooth and tight on their bodies, so wonderful to my touch.

When we got downstairs, Paulina was on the floor with a magazine and Tony was sketching again. I asked, "Davy back yet?" startling both of them. Paulina craned her neck to look, and said, "Not yet. They must be having a nice, long goodbye."

I wandered over to watch Tony, who was drawing a mountain full of skiers, all of them nice and perpendicular to the hill, except one kid with snowy eyebrows, who was getting up from a fall, and wearing my face. My hands fell to Tony's shoulders, then they tightened around his neck. " Now what? What'd I ever do to you, Tony? You hafta show me celebrating the agony of defeat?"

Tony giggled and made a choking sound. I relaxed my grasp, and he turned a smile to me. "You're just interesting, Mike. You're always doin' somethin' new." He smirked, like he thought that was a good answer.

I guess it was a good answer, just not good enough. "Yeah? Where's all the pictures of me gettin' good report cards, huh? Where's the pictures of me sweatin' my ass off makin' birdhouses, just so you can get rich?" I was smiling, "I ain't seen any of those pictures, no, no. Put me in girl's clothes, though, toss my ass off a cliff or somethin', then that pencil's a wigglin'."

Tony started giggling, and I went on, "Why is that, Tony? My every humiliation has to live on and on and my success record goes unrecorded?"

Rats. Tony turned his doe eyes onto me like he felt bad, and that made me feel bad because I was just kidding. "You don't like the pictures?" he asked, with just enough tone in his voice that I knew he meant to get me.

"I like your pictures just fine! I got an idea; make a sexy one of me for Guy."

That got both Annie and Paulina yammering questions about what I meant by sexy, and Tony grinned, "How sexy?"

I blushed, "I don't know, I don't mean with a...well, just sexy, like somethin' he'll keep. No more girl clothes, okay?"

Tony stared at me with merriment in his eyes, then giggled silently, "Okay, sexy coming up." He looked up at me, making me wonder how much he knew, and turned to a new piece of paper.

I watched carefully over Tony's shoulder, ready to throttle him at any moment if the picture got out of hand, and it didn't. He actually did a pretty good rendition of my butt, me wearing jeans and a t-shirt, my body turned away, but twisted back a little from the waist up and looking back at him. My face was just a stare, no smile or anything, and I guess I looked sexy enough. That was the whole picture, too. It didn't put me in a place, just kind of in a white oval with shading around it.

When Annie looked at the finished product, she said, "I want that picture."

Tony was surprised, and looked at her, dismay on his face. "I made it for Guy."

Annie was holding the drawing, scrutinizing it, "Never mind Guy. Make him another one, give him that thing on the refrigerator. I want this one." She smiled at Tony, "Please?" She held the picture out in front of her to look at it some more. "I love this, Anton. Can't I please have it?"

Tony smiled in defeat and pulled out another sheet of paper, mumbling, "Okay, I'll do another one. You ever hear of a Xerox machine?"

That made Paulina laugh, and we were snickering when the doorbell rang. I ran to get it, and suddenly we had a crowd, though still no Davy.

It got loud in the house with everyone talking at once, and it was fun. Juan wanted to call Davy's cell phone, but Paul wouldn't let him when he learned that Davy was with Melanie.

Guy and Seth spent more time looking at my sexy picture than they really needed to. Mostly we waited and waited, and finally Davy showed up. He seemed a little humble for taking so long, but did not apologize, nor did he explain anything. He just asked, "Who wants pizza?"

Paulina cried out, "I do. It's my treat tonight."

That brought some denials as well as happy remarks, and we all got our coats. We went out and piled into various cars and Paul's van. Annie and I rode with Davy this time, and we were soon at the same place I'd come to the last time I was there.

My memories of that night weren't all favorable, but the pizza had been great.

This day, the place was crowded, and we had to wait for tables, so Davy brought me, Annie, Tony and Paulina to the back where they made the pizza, and we watched for awhile; dough twirling, toppings being added, and the pizza loaded into the iron-doored oven on a giant paddle.

The man making the pizzas asked us to come and check out the oven, which was pretty amazing It was all made of brick with domes at the top, and fired by coal. He said it had been made in the 1920's and could cook thirty large pizzas at a time. The pizzas were pretty in there, sitting right on the stone base, bright orange in the glow from the hot coals.

It was a busy spot. One lady just took phone orders, and there were people coming and going to pick up orders. It was kind of fun to watch the hustle and bustle, and it smelled fantastic.

After what must have been almost an hour, Seth came back to say they had enough tables, so we all herded into the restaurant part, still having to squish together four-to-a-side where the booths were meant for three. It was cramped, and I was seated with Annie, Tony and Paulina, Guy and Seth, and Tom and his girlfriend, whose name was Myrtle of all things.

We ordered and we talked, and it was fun because there was no agenda this time. Paulina and Guy talked a lot, mostly about Puerto Rican things, and what traditions their families both followed. I especially liked hearing about Three King's Day because that was a big celebration in Morton, and in Connecticut, too, according to Guy.

Where we had troubadours visit the house, Guy's town did it up big, with a fiesta and a parade. Paulina was used to both, the big parade in New York, now the quieter celebration where we lived, and she seemed to be very fond of both. I told the story of how, when I was nine, my folks let me go with the troubadours as part of the rhythm section, playing a cheese grater with a kitchen spoon. It was the first time in my life I'd been out after midnight, though I kind of remembered it as the night of soup.

Everybody welcomed the growing group of troubadours in, and the Guatemalans always had a huge kettle of soup on. What soups they were: Fish soup, beef soup, lamb soup, sausage soup, each spicier than the one before it. It was one of the happiest memories of my childhood, and that fact showed in my telling of it.

Annie said, "I was there that night." She nudged my cheek with her nose, "You probably don't remember, but I was a drummer...banging on a pot with a wooden spoon."

The fact is, I did remember her as a cute little girl trying to sing along in Spanish. I grinned at her, "I remember. Back then, you were a girl, and all I knew was girl's had these cootie bugs."

Annie gave me this mortified look, "Oh? So now I'm not a girl?"

I blushed, "That's not what I meant. You were a little girl, and I...I guess I was a little boy? I um ..." my blush deepened, "I thought you were cute back then."

Annie smiled happily, "I must have had all my teeth by then." That got a general laugh, and our salads came, Annie and I just had sliced tomatoes while everyone else got full-fledged ones.

I saw Annie looking enviously, and to be honest, I was too. It was for the best, though, so I reached over and touched her hand, trying to give a reassuring look. This wasn't a permanent thing, and the pills she had were working. As it happened, the tomatoes were ripe and delicious, and we were both happy with them.

Davy was at a booth with the others, in my line of sight sometimes if he leaned forward; otherwise Juan was in the way. He was interesting me, because he was somehow different that night. He was out there, but a little more subdued than usual.

I don't know why, but it occurred to me that he'd had sex, and for the first time in his life. My eyebrows went up, and when he smiled over at me, I knew I was right. Damn. He was always down on Connecticut, but the best damn things happened there. I tried to picture it, then I tried not to, but Davy was a sexy guy to me, and Melanie was as pretty as they come, so the pictures formed in my mind, anyhow.

Tom was asking me about the gay part of my life so Myrtle could hear it, and that drew my attention away, and I tried to answer intelligently. Somehow, in the midst of that little talk, Guy let out that he was gay, and Tom's response was pretty cool. He smiled at Guy, then stood up and held out his hand to shake. "I know you didn't mean to say that, little bro, but that's cool." His other long arm reached across the table and his hand touched my shoulder, "We know it's cool." His grin could have lit up a lighthouse.

Myrtle, on the other hand, had different ideas. She looked at me, then at Guy, then she went on and on about different kinds of sins, mortal ones, what she called 'vernal' ones, other kinds that she didn't have words for.

Meanwhile, Seth would hold up his hand, as if volunteering in class, saying "I'm ..." but she'd cut him off every time.

Tom was looking at her all the while, usually laughing. He finally put his hand over her mouth and kissed her forehead. "Shut up, Girl. You're talkin' out both sides of your mouth here." He made a slow, exaggerated nod towards me, still covering Myrtle's mouth, "I like Mike." He smiled around, "I like Guy and Seth, too."

Myrtle broke loose and glared bullets at Tom. "You gay too? I swear, I heard about gay nigga's, but I never met one."

I don't know why, but the whole table, save for Myrtle, broke out in giggles and laughs. The blunt way she talked, the words she used, just struck us all funny, probably because there didn't seem to be any real meanness behind it. She was just spouting off what she was supposed to believe, and she ended up laughing herself as she looked at me from behind her hand and giggled, and finally said, "You're good." Then she giggled again, and looked at Annie. "What's you doin' later, girl? Maybe we should give this a try?"

Annie laughed happily, saying, "That's not my style, at least not so far." She reached over and touched Myrtle's hand, "I'll tell you what. You set it up, then I'll decide."

Myrtle's laugh turned every head in the place to us, all loud and raucous like it was.

Juan laughed from the other table, "What are you chickens clucking about over there?"

I guess everyone thought that question was as funny as I did, because we started laughing at once. Tom called back, "Nothin' special, just the gay cockerels in our lives."

That got other patrons to turn their heads and Myrtle called out, "Gay pullets, too! Me'n Annie got a date." Her open face got sheepish, "Someday, maybe. Probably not."

I wondered why they knew so much about poultry. I still thought it was funny, and I snickered until the pizzas came, still bubbly from the oven.

I, of course, couldn't wait, and ignored Tom's warning that I'd burn my mouth if I didn't let it set for awhile. Tom was right of course, and the melted cheese stuck right to the roof of my mouth, where no amount of soda and ice seemed able to cool it. When I finally got it off, there was this stalactite of skin hanging down. It didn't hurt much, but it sure was annoying, and made me talk funny because I was aware of its presence.

Other than that, it was a great time. We ate off our starvation and mingled between our tables, where we tried other pizzas and joked around. I felt good, and a big part of that was I could tell Annie really liked the place and the people, just like I did. The restaurant was old and not even a little bit fancy, but nice enough, and sharing food with a bunch of like-minded people was becoming one of my favorite things to do.

When we decided to leave, there was a great mood between the bunch of us, and finding that it had started to rain did little to squelch our good spirits. We said cheerful goodnights. As we sprinted to the cars we heard sirens approaching. We rode with Paul, because Davy had to talk to Juan.

Pauly was hesitant about moving the van; he didn't know if it was police, fire, ambulance or what, and he couldn't tell where the siren was coming from. He finally started down the street, and on the same block we saw what the sirens were headed for.

The body of a boy lay there, surrounded by people, and a stream of blood was washing down the sidewalk. My own stomach constricted as Annie clutched me. Seth gasped, and Guy cried out, "Oh, no. Stop, Pauly. Please stop."

Paul, obviously affected himself, said, "Let me get around the corner," then the light changed and he pulled into a small lot. Guy bolted from the van, but the rest of us stayed there in silent dread of what lay around the corner.

Davy came to the window, which Paul rolled down, and asked, with a white face, "Did you see that?"

Paul said, "We saw. Could you see who it was?"

Davy wiped a tear from his eye and shook his head silently, finally whispering, "No, but Juan said it looked like Felix Rosa."

Paul hung his head, "Oh, no. Why him?"

God, seeing the shared pain between those two hurt. Davy leaned in the best he could through the window and clutched Paul, "I don't know man, I don't know."

Right then there was a bang on the top of the van, and Davy got shoved away rudely by a policeman, who stuck his head in the window and quickly surveyed our faces. "Did you kids see anything?"

"No, sir," Paul replied, and the rest of us shook our heads no.

The cop checked us over again, and said, "Well, get yourselves home. I have your plate number. If we need you, we'll call."

Paul managed, "One of our friends is out there, can I go get him?" His voice was so fragile it was scary to hear it.

"Be quick," the officer said, and Paul ran to find Guy.

As soon as Paul left, Davy's anguished face was back at the open door. "I'll get Juan. Tell Paul to go to their house," then he broke out in tears. "I'm so sorry you had to see this."

He looked directly at Paulina, who was cuddled up with Tony and looking like she'd just met the Ghost of Christmas past. I suddenly realized that this was her past, her territory, the place she'd escaped from, and now it was right back in front of her. I caught Tony's hurt, astounded eyes, and his quick double-nod let me know he understood, so I turned my attention to a quivering Annie, and we cuddled up.

It was too horrible. We'd seen that kid laying there dead. That was a shock, but he was just now dead, walking up the street for who knows what when somebody killed him. My heart was racing, and I was scared to death that things like that could happen. I instinctively clutched Annie, trying to cover her.

When Paul came back with a crying Guy he asked that Annie and I move back a seat and we did. Then Paul said, "Take care of him, Seth." He looked around at our faces and he said, "He's not dead. I heard the medic say it didn't look too bad."

Seth let out a huge sigh, and we rode back to Davy's in silence. Paul dropped us off, each of us with our own thoughts. What we'd witnessed made no sense, none at all. Their friend was still alive, yet it had happened, a young guy gunned down simply because somebody had the means to do it, and it was starting to seem almost like a sport in Davy's town.

We were a solemn bunch, gathered there in Davy's family room, the fireplace throwing off heat but no real warmth. The news that week had been awful enough, but kind of detached. Now it was real, and none of us could face it, so we sat as couples, trying to find solace in bodily contact and gas flames.

It wasn't there, of course, so we just stared, not communicating at all, except for constant contact. Even that communication was flat, disconnected. I loved Annie with all my heart, and holding her gave me some comfort, but she was as upset as everyone.

Davy called at one point with chilling news. The police had encountered some suspects, and there was a gunfight going on that they could hear from Juan's house, so they were all on the floor with the lights out. He said he might stay the night there rather than venturing out onto the streets, and I agreed nervously that he should. I told him I loved him before we hung up, and he said it was returned.

I turned to the others, saying shakily, "There's a gunfight near Juan's house, Davy's stayin' there tonight." I hesitated, "I'm scared for him."

Annie was at my side in a moment, and Paulina switched on the television. It didn't take her long to find live coverage, and we all watched in morbid fascination as the news lady breathlessly gave out details as she learned them. All you could see in the background were flashing lights, and sirens came and went. The boy we'd seen wasn't the only victim that night, a woman and a little girl were also found with gunshot wounds, and witnesses provided descriptions of the shooters and their car to police. Now the police were involved in a shootout with an unknown number of gunmen at a house. One officer had already been hit, though they reported that his injuries weren't life threatening.

They switched back to the studio, and someone else told about the other shootings that week, showed some pictures, told some of the violent history of the gangs involved, then it was back to the street for an update. It went back and forth like that for about an hour, then it was over all of a sudden when the people in the house surrendered. The television people couldn't get close enough to get video, but they got shots of a line of police cars streaming away with the suspects.

When they got the Police Chief for an interview, he said the officer who had been hit was only slightly injured. There were a total of fifteen people in that house. One was dead, two more headed to the hospital with injuries, and the others all in custody. The man seemed weary, haunted maybe. With what had gone on since we got there, I couldn't blame him. If that was his job, he could keep it.

He was still talking when Davy called again to say was coming home after all. I made him promise to call if there was a problem, but I was kind of relieved. It should only take ten minutes from the time he left Juan's, and with all the police on the streets it didn't seem likely that he would get into any trouble.

The news had turned to interviews with people on the street, and it wasn't very interesting. We were all relieved that it was over for the time being, and we started to talk quietly until Davy hustled in. Man, was I relieved to see him. I jumped up and hugged him so hard it must have hurt, but he didn't try to pull away. He was so tense he felt like he was made of cement, anyhow, and I held on like that until he started to relax.

"Are you alright?" Paulina asked in a concerned voice.

Davy smiled grimly, "Yeah, I'm fine." His voice was wavering, "That was the most scared I've been in my life. The gunfight was at a house just around the corner from Juan's, and there's line-of-sight to there from the whole side of Juan's house. Man, there was no warning at all. We were just sitting there trying to get Guy to calm down, and suddenly all hell broke lose. Somebody on a loudspeaker said to get on the floor, but we were already there, then this shooting kept going on and on and on." He put his hand to his face for a moment and then looked at me and Annie, "I think I need a soak in the jacuzzi." He smiled, "I'm so tensed up it hurts."

Annie smiled warmly, "Go right ahead, Davy. Take your time, too. I don't think we'll be going to sleep any time soon."

Davy didn't have to hear it twice, he mumbled his thanks and turned to go. Tony watched him leave and said, "Poor Davy." He looked at me, "He thinks it's his fault, doesn't he?"

I said, "I don't know, Tony. I think he feels bad that we're seeing it, not that it's his fault."

Tony smiled sadly, "That's what I meant. He's doin' all this so we can have fun, then look what happens." He brightened, "We should go back to having fun, that'll make him feel better."

I smiled and laughed a little, touching Tony's shoulder, "You're exactly right, you know that?" I looked around quickly, "Look at us, we're acting like a bunch of zombies, an' this is our vacation. Put some music on and let's dance, there ain't much we can do about what's goin' on downtown."

Annie wrapped her arms around me, and Paulina clicked off the television, a big smile on her face, and started fingering through cd's. She looked up after a minute and said, "Mostly hip-hop."

I said, "That's okay, I kinda like that."

Paulina chuckled, and stuck in some cd's. "Okay, your choice," before she stood up.

The music came up, not loud enough, so I cranked it and started dancing with Annie, who seemed a little put off for a few seconds, then she got into it, and our visit was once again fun. The music way too loud for talking, we just moved our bodies with it, happiness and smiles returning all around.

I don't know that any of us cared for the music much, but the beats were solid, and we danced with abandon, and all of us worked up light sweats.

When Davy reappeared after about a half hour, he stared at us like we were crazy. Then his face took on a smile, and it turned into an ear-to-ear grin.

The barn babies were at it again.


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