Plan D:Lake Effect

by Driver

Chapter 6

I talked to Aaron that night. He had his car, and he was tickled about that. Lilac and Rakeed had been there for dinner and announced that they were getting married on Labor Day weekend. Aaron was skipping the town play because rehearsals for Guys and Dolls were starting the next week.

Aaron's normal demeanor was Happy=ON, and when he was excited and happy, he was a real treat to talk with, so I let him go on until he wound down of his own accord.

"What about you?" he asked, merrily. "You let me run on and on sometimes."

"I like listening to you," I admitted. "I hope you have time, because I had a day myself."

"A day?" he asked. "You mean a good day?"

I snickered, "Some was good, I guess."

"Don't tell me it was a bad day. You don't sound like you had a bad day."

"It wasn't bad, either," I said. "Let's call it an interesting day. There were ups, downs and out theres. I'm back on the team, Aaron!"

I heard him inhale, then he asked excitedly, "Really? You must be thrilled! Tell me all about it!"

I did. I told him about Brown, and what Chris told him, and that got Aaron laughing with an up-front shriek. Then I told him about gym class and coach's warning to me, which he commented on. When I got to the part about lunch with Nancy, and told him about Two, he really cracked up.

"Two? You call him Two? His parents gave him the perfect name, and now he's just Two? Not even Evan Two, or Evan the Second or something?"

I chuckled, "Look at it this way, Aar. It makes me Evan One, or just Number One. Evan the First sounds kind of kingly, but I could get used to Number One."

One difference between me and Aaron .. between most people and Aaron, was that he had this laugh that we'd decided must be what was called a titter. It was higher pitched than a chuckle, less sneering than a snicker, very open sounding, but not a full-fledged laugh either.

Aaron was tittering away over Two, and it faded away when I started telling him about ball practice.

"Coach gave me a special lesson in hitting, Aar, and I don't know what it means. I mean, I learned. I hit three home runs on three pitches. He never said why or anything, but I was getting this special treatment and I don't get it. I thought for sure I'd be on the bench all year."

Aaron thought, then said, "Well, you said he was a good coach."

I sighed, "He is a good coach. He doesn't want me on the team, though, so why would he go showing me how to hit with more power?"

Aaron said, "I don't know. I don't know why you think it's spooky, either. If he's as good as you say, then he probably wants you to hit better."

"Don't be so logical," I said quickly, then it occurred to me that Aaron might just be right. We didn't have a lot of power on our team, and if Coach saw the potential in me, then it would make sense for him to show me how to work with it. "Sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you," I said to Aaron. "You just might have something there. He thinks he's stuck with me, so he can sit me on the bench or he can use me. He was probably testing."

"Mm," Aaron mumbled.

"I saw Lee today," I announced. "I'm convinced, Aar. I'm not going to second guess anymore. Lee's a good guy, and I like him, and he's my friend. I don't want you or Billy, or anybody else for that matter, worrying about him."

"You want me to shut up about it?" Aaron asked in a tone of voice that I couldn't really read.

"Yes, please," I answered.

Aaron giggled, "I didn't ask if you wanted me to pass the salt! I do get what you're saying, and I'm glad you feel like you do. I like Lee too, and if you trust him, then so do I. Last words on this?"

I grinned, "Last words. Thanks, Dearie."

We talked longer, and I told Aaron more about what I learned about Lee that day.

When I took Lee home, I was going to drop him off and leave, but he said, "Geez, I keep forgetting. Come on inside, I have something for you."

I turned off the car and followed him in, admiring the house again once I was inside. He led me upstairs, and the hall up there consisted of more picture walls, which I found both attractive and fascinating.

"Don't mind the mess," Lee said as he opened a door on the right. His room wasn't that messy, nor was it particularly tidy. The bed wasn't made, and there were random looking piles of papers, books and magazines on most of the horizontal surfaces. Lots of clothes were draped off the back of his desk chair, but that was about it. There was nothing to apologize for.

As soon as we got in there, Lee picked up a cassette from the desk and held it out to me. He smiled, "Do you know what this is?"

I shook my head as I took it, "No idea." It was a regular VCR cassette, unlabeled except that I could see the outline of "Evan" in pencil, shiny black on flat black.

Lee grinned and took it back from me, then pushed it into a small television with a built in VCR. The set flickered to life, then a picture appeared. The picture was of a lone figure, dressed in a black and yellow winter parka, sitting on a flying saucer sled and tossing snowballs at other kids who were sliding down a hill.

I knew where it was from, and it was funny. I laughed, but I actually had to think before I believed I was watching myself. Then it was like no wonder everyone thought it was so funny the day I did that. It looked so ... not stupid, that's not the word. It was just odd, and the way Herb filmed me made it all the more odd.

It was just me at first, although I don't think I could prove that, because it had been taken from so far away, zoom lens not withstanding. Still, there I was in my saucer, plinking snowballs, and when the view widened you could see that I was tossing them at other sledders when they came off a jump. It was funny just because it was, not for any other reason. It was just me amusing myself, and I'm kind of happy that there aren't lots of such records around.

"They'll use it for the weather next winter," Lee said. They did it a few times last winter, and people liked it."

"Thanks," I said when he handed the cassette back to me. "Do I owe you anything for this?"

He shook his head, "No. It's on the station I guess, or Uncle Herb."

By that time, I noticed that Lee's dresser had lots of photos on top of it, so I went over to look. I was taken aback at first, because most of them were of Lee and his father, but taken long ago. I looked my question at Lee, who came up right beside me.

"This is my Dad, Evan," he said evenly, "My real father."

I watched him, and he picked up one picture after another to show to me, then say what was going on. There was baby Lee, and a delighted looking young father holding him up so they could smile at each other. There were others; Lee at maybe five, riding a bicycle straight at the camera and away from his horrified looking father, and without training wheels.

That was a fantastic picture, really, and it said a lot. Lee had the dimples and the determination on his face even at that age. That first solo ride on a bike was one of those defining moments for all kids, and Lee's had been captured for posterity. There were others, and I saw the home that Lee grew up in, him playing at the waterfall where his friends were murdered, then even the friends.

Lee calmly named them: "Brian, Nick, Dana," he said as he pointed to their faces. "A year before."

I looked at those faces and tried to comprehend the mind that would take the life from then. Brian was round and freckly looking, with a mischievous smile. Nick was dark, maybe Italian or Greek, with a thin, handsome face. Dana was dark too, but with a chubby, cheerful expression.

It was too much for me to comprehend that they were dead because of some psycho's whim, but that was the truth of it. I turned to Lee, and he winced, then smiled. "They were good guys, Evan. My friends."

My eyes watered, then Lee's lip started quivering, and he lost whatever resolve he brought with him. He looked away.

The pictures of Lee with his father could have easily been transposed with pictures of me and my father. Lee's friends could have been my friends. Then something happened, something brutal and hideous and awful, and it happened to Lee and not me.

I had disappeared, been out of my family's reach for about as long as Lee was. The circumstances had nothing in common, nothing at all. Nobody was dead in my wake, but I was just as gone as Lee had been. Nothing bad happened to me while I was gone, and everything that Lee suffered was bad. Neither of our families knew what was going on, so there was no difference for them until we were found.

There was a profound difference in reality, of course. Where I'd only been gone, Lee had been kidnaped and brutalized. Still, I wondered if any of my family came close to madness over it.

Lee's father had gone over the edge, yet his mother survived, and Lee thought she was pulling herself back to normal. They were both still in treatment of some kind, and it appeared to be working.

Lee had lots of things that he hated about his life, but he told me was dealing with it. He still liked the world and his place in it, and I guess if anything proved that it was his easy smile. It dawned on me that the smile was what Lee had in common with me, with Aaron, with Chris and Billy. Troubled people forced smiles, or didn't smile at all. Lee's smile came out all the time, even though he was an emotional kid. That smile always won out inside him, and that was a big factor in my feelings for him. He had many reasons to be sad or unhappy, full of hate even, but he didn't let them take over his natural good cheer for long.

I'd sensed it from the first time we met, but I hadn't put words to it before, or even thought it out. I hadn't expected it, but from our first meeting, I'd never once had the feeling that we wouldn't be friends.

I smiled, "Your Dad looks like a nice guy, Lee." I wanted to cry when I said that, but I managed not to.

Lee looked like he might cry, and I comforted him. "It's okay, Lee," I said lamely, knowing that wasn't true. "Listen, if it helps, I really like you, and I think most people do." I had my mouth open to say more, but I decided to shut up and just be there.

I knew in general what Lee felt like, and words from me wouldn't change a thing. I doubted that he'd ever be able to talk about those kids without being overwhelmed, and in a way I hoped I was right. I never wanted to see Lee, or anyone else for that matter, harden to the point where what Lee had witnessed could be dismissed as just an ugly event from the past.

He recovered quickly enough, and showed me some more of his things. He had a small rock collection, a lot of music cd's, and I learned that he had an unusual hobby that he'd shared with his father. They wrote to famous people, mostly politicians, but also to sports celebrities, authors, musicians, and even Jay Leno. Politicians always responded, or at least someone did on their behalf, and Lee had a lot of signatures, even a personal note scribbled by Bill Clinton after his signature, and another from Chelsea.

He had a very impressive collection of signatures, signed photos, and things like pencils and pens with the White House logo on them. It probably wasn't anything I'd ever do, but Lee had it down pat. Send a generally supportive letter, and ask for something specific in it, like a point of view if it was a politician, or a 'did you really?' question to an actor or actress.

Lee only did it because it interested him, but he told me that autographs were potentially valuable, especially if you could get someone to send you a handwritten response, which basically never happened anymore. Things like that could be worth a lot of money, though.

When I left Lee, I was feeling good. He was a good guy, and we liked each other. I tried to be a good guy, too, and that doesn't take a whole lot of effort.

After talking to Aaron, I finished up some homework, then decided to get some outside air. I thought at first that I'd take a ride, then when I walked outdoors I thought about a walk instead, and for no real reason I ended up on my bicycle. I hadn't ridden it much lately, and I didn't want to forget about the bike just because I had a car now.

I checked the tires, and everything was fine. I'd had that bike for going on four years, and it had loads of use on it. It wasn't anything special when it was new, but I took good care of it and, as always, it felt good to climb on and get a head start down the hill. I didn't go far, just a few miles around the neighborhood, then I went back home.

I stopped beside my car in the driveway, and wondered if they made some kind of rack that would let me carry the bike in a car that small. I figured that if they did, it would be one of those dorky deals that stuck out about three feet behind the car. Even so, there were lots of places I'd been where it would have been fun to be on a bike, but they were too far to ride a bike to. It was worth looking into.

I'd gone out without telling anyone, and when I came in Alton was reading something. He looked up, "Hey."

"Hey. What's up?"

"Nada. Your coach called. What's with that guy?"

Uh-oh. "Coach Goodwin?" That came out in almost a squeak.

Alton looked at me, "Yeah, him. He said for you to bring your cleats to gym like I should know what he meant. All I could think about was braces, like tinsel teeth, so I said you don't wear braces."

I laughed, "You idiot. Cleats are shoes!"

Alton's voice took on an edge, "Don't you start on me, Evan! I know what they are now! If you want, I can tell you where to put them the next time you see Goodwin! What a jerk!"

I grinned, "Yeah, he grows on you, huh? He didn't say, um, why, by any chance?"

Al shook his head and turned deliberately back to his book.

I went upstairs and, unable to think of anything better, went to bed. I laid there for a good long time thinking about Goodwin. The one thing that I had rock-solid faith in was that he hadn't miraculously transformed and decided that gay was good. That wasn't it, and I could not for the life of me fathom what he was up to. The only other time he'd called my house was to say a game was canceled once because of the weather. If I ever forgot a piece of equipment for a practice or a game, then I'd do six billion pushups and sit out the rest of the time.

Oh, there were lots of scenarios, but with coach in them, the ones that seemed most likely didn't end up with me as a happy camper at the end. No, he seemed to be setting me up for something, and he was being crafty about it.

So far, he had confronted me three times. Once about getting me off the team, then conceding the truth when I quit, and again that morning during gym. He'd announced to the team the day before that I quit, and I hadn't heard if he told them why I was back, but he sure hadn't done anything bad to me in front of them.

Now I had to bring my cleats to gym class, and I wondered if I'd get singled out again. We didn't usually play baseball in gym because it required something like skill. Anybody could play, but it wasn't democratic because of the skill thing. Basketball was good for indoors because not many guys could play. Kids with no touch for it could climb ropes, or do gymnastics, or whatever. Lacrosse was excellent for outdoors, because nobody knew how to play, or even if there were rules, and skills from other sports didn't transfer easily. That made it a classless activity, theoretically. The big, athletic guys could still prevail, but they'd be hesitant to get too rough when everyone had the same weapon.

Whatever the coach wanted, it didn't keep me awake, and I slept well. The next morning seemed normal enough, but apprehension built up in me during class. I didn't see Chris until second period, and it turned out that Goodwin had called his house with the same message the night before.

Chris had been out when the call came, and it was too late for him to call me when he got home. He wasn't used to calls from the coach either, but he hadn't thought it to be as odd as I did.

When we walked into the locker room, cleats in hand, one other guy had his with him. It was Baron Janssen, who was a pitcher on the Jayvee team. Chris and I were the only sophomores on varsity, but Baron really deserved to be there too. Our team was just too blessed with good pitchers, and Baron paid the price. Maybe not. His star shone all the brighter on Jayvee.

Coach appeared in the locker room when we were almost dressed out. He made the class groan when he announced it would be a free class, but inside. Outside, the nicest day of the spring so far awaited, and I know everyone was as anxious as me to be out in the weather. When everyone started towards the gym, he called me, Chris and Baron back and told us to go out to the ball field. He'd join us as soon as he got the class squared away.

He never really looked at any of us, just pointed to the door, so we ran down to the field. I was wondering what was going on, and I'm sure Chris and Baron were too, but we went silently. Well, silently until we got out in the first truly warm sunshine of the year, then we whooped our way down the bank, and started tossing a ball around as soon as we got to the diamond.

It was just a few minutes until coach showed up, and he had his baseball cap and shades on. "Catcher's gear, Humphrey. Hop to it, then warm up Janssen!" He looked at me, "You're gonna bunt, Smiley. Run some laps while they warm up."

My jaw dropped, but I didn't take any time to argue. I started jogging around the bases, while Chris let Baron warm up his arm. Bunt, I thought. That's a new one. I had never bunted in a real game in my life. Bunts weren't allowed in Little League, and I only had the one prior year on the Jayvee team, and I'd never been told to bunt.

I knew what it was, of course, and the strategy was pretty obvious, but now I was running bases while Baron threw to Chris, and I was going to bunt. My life was definitely taking a turn to the weird side, and I was farther than ever from understanding Goodwin, but if he wanted me to bunt, then I'd bunt.

After about ten minutes, when Baron had his heat going, Coach stopped me, and held up his hand so Baron wouldn't throw again. "Batter's box, Smiley," he said, and when I got in position he once again touched me. "Slide the bat down and step a little to the side. Let me see."

I tried, not knowing what he meant. I slid my hand out to near the end of the bat while squaring the bat over the plate. "No, not like that. Faster ... here ..."

Coach pushed, poked, and pulled on me, until I was moving the bat the way he wanted me to. The action felt unnatural at first, but then again, bunts were unnatural things, and it felt okay after awhile. "Three bunts, Smiley. Left, right, and up the middle." He tugged on my right elbow, "It all comes from here. Just push the ball for all of them, but pull back like this," he pulled my elbow back a fraction, "to go right. Then go like this to go left," and he poked my elbow forward a hair. Stay on top of the ball, you're dead if you get under it."

He stood away and yelled to Baron, "Go ahead, Janssen. Mix 'em up, but throw strikes." He looked at me and said, "You mix 'em up, too. Left, right, middle."

Then he stood right there looking at me, his hand toying with his chin.

Bunting took some getting used to, especially with Baron throwing these fastballs that I just wanted to smack. My movement was jerky trying to get the bat down, and Coach finally stepped in again and made me play with gentler motions until I got it. The first ball that I hit, I hit way too hard and right back to Baron, then I knocked a whole bunch of them foul, mostly into the dirt right at my feet. Coach stayed with me in his own icy way, and I started to get some reasonable hits.

Again, this was done with enough hands-on that once I knew it, I wouldn't forget. Bunts were usually made knowing the batter would sacrifice to advance runners, but they could sometimes get beaten out, and from the batter's box I could see how. Just hitting those short balls, I could tell right away which ones I'd have a chance to outrun.

Fastballs were one thing, but when Baron threw sliders and curves, then the bunt became only marginally possible. It was interesting to me, and it was fun, but when coach left us there by ourselves I knocked Baron's next slider right out to the fence. That was the end of it, and I went to retrieve the ball while Chris took off his gear and Baron started back to the building by himself.

"What's he doing, Chris?" I asked, knowing he'd understand what I was asking about.

"I don't know, Ev. Maybe we've entered another dimension? I mean, Goodwin could be an alias for Asimov or Clarke, couldn't it? Even for King?"

I laughed, but said, "You're not too far off right now. I get the feeling that Coach wants me to be the best queer hitter in baseball."

Chris shrugged, "Hey, don't complain. You couldn't bunt yesterday, and you couldn't hit homers the day before." Chris grinned suddenly, "Maybe tomorrow he'll show you how to get a few million out of Steinbrenner!"

I shoved Chris' arm, "There you go! What better way to get me off the team than have Georgie offer me a sack of cash?"

"Race you!" Chris said, an he was gone.

I didn't run after him because I was lost in thought. I did not know what Coach was up to, and I wasn't prone to think he'd caught a sudden case of the benevolent flu somewhere. I did catch up with Baron, who was poking along and enjoying the weather. He didn't say anything, so neither did I until we were back at the gym entrance. I touched his arm, "Thanks for pitching. You're really looking good!"

"So are you," he said. "What are you, Goodwin's pet or something?"

I shrugged, mumbling, "Not hardly." I could have said more, but I'd have started rambling because I didn't know what was going on, so I left it. I didn't see Coach again, so I showered and changed out, then went to my next class after making plans to meet Chris for lunch.

When lunch rolled around, Chris showed up at my locker just when I was closing it. He grinned, "I have it figured out. I don't think you'll like it."

We started toward the cafeteria, "What won't I like?" I asked lightly, because his tone had been light.

"Coach," Chris said. "He's gonna play you against the other guys and claim you need special privileges, since you're gay."

He was still kidding I knew, because he made 'gay' come out in about four syllables. Kidding yes, but I wasn't so sure that he wasn't right. "He's up to something," I mumbled. "You know this isn't normal." Chris bumped me in acknowledgment, and we went to eat.

We were at our table, joined by Paul and Lee, Carly and Nancy. I was idly involved in the talk at our table, but mostly looking out the windows because it still looked so nice out there. Spring was solidly upon Mt. Harman, and it vied with autumn as our prettiest season. Outside the cafeteria windows, the challenge was more year-round because of the trees out there. There were clusters of paper birch trees, which were backed up by different evergreens, and the combination was always pleasing to look at. Now the grass was green again, and with the clear, blue sky above and around everything, I wanted to be out there. I started eating faster so I'd have some time to go outside for awhile before afternoon classes.

Then Nancy pointed and grinned, and when I turned Evan Two was walking by, apparently trying not to look at us. Nancy stood up and waved, "Yoo hoo, Two hoo!"

The poor kid's ears reddened, and he turned to look at us, embarrassment in his expression. He smiled weakly and nodded, then hurried off with his tray before we could say anything else. I looked at Nancy and smiled, while everyone but Lee just looked at us. "I know that kid," Lee said. "His name's Evan, too ..." and you could see understanding spread across his face. He grinned, "You already know that, right? Two hoo? That's funny!"

Chris looked at Lee, then at me, then he took a big bite of his sandwich so he wouldn't have to say anything at all. That gave me an excuse to finish off my lunch, while Lee and Carly plotted ways to tease Evan Two. It was nice to see Lee and Carly sharing such an easy friendship. I didn't know if they had romantic designs or not, but they did seem to have fun together.

Lee made friends easily, and that was nice to see. I'd always thought Carly had an odd personality, or at least a shifting one, and Lee seemed to have helped stabilize her like she did him. They were good together, and that much anybody could see.

When I was done eating, I lost everyone. Chris and Nancy stayed to make goo-goo eyes at each other. Lee and Carly left for a walk, while Paul went to talk to some other people. I didn't mind. I had fifteen minutes and a beautiful day outside, so I went out to make the most of it.

One thing that I'd started to notice, was that certain people cut me a wider swath than normal. Nobody said anything, nobody stared, but these people would just look a different way when I was around.

I can't say that it really bothered me other than in a general way, because they weren't people I considered personal friends to begin with. Things warmed up proportionately with how close I was with the people I did know. That's where things hadn't changed. Classmates who weren't personal friends acknowledged me just like they always had. Teammates, kids from my other activities, tended to talk more and engage me in whatever was going on. My friends were still my friends, and I couldn't see that I'd lost any of them for being out as gay. Aside from getting a wider berth here and there, I didn't think that my coming out had upset the apple cart. Well, maybe Coach Goodwin's, but not the one most people got their apples from.

I was a little bit surprised that none of the guys I knew or suspected to be gay had ever approached me, but they probably didn't care. There was no club or support group at school, even though there could have been. It was all legal and pre-approved, so there was a lack of interest. Truthfully, there weren't a lot of gays who were out, and the ones who were didn't seem to be harassed. Other than one guy in the halls, and my very-strange baseball coach, I wasn't having any trouble. I hadn't expected to, either. The school system had pretty much shoved it down our throats about differences and tolerance, anti-bullying, a whole lot of things. Whether anyone believed it or not, everyone knew the consequences for starting trouble, and the consequences were pretty harsh. I felt accepted, but even if I wasn't, I was well protected.

There was even some irony involved. Anyone who voiced their intolerance of another person would learn all about official intolerance for intolerant people, and they'd get bounced right out of school under the zero-tolerance policies.

There was a walkway that went all around the school, and I had just enough time to go the distance without rushing, so I started around at an easy pace. I just wanted to relax and clear my head, and I did until I heard, "Evan, wait up!"

I turned to see Jerry Brin trotting up to me, so I stayed where I was for the few seconds it took him to reach me. I smiled, "Hi, what's up?"

"Let's walk, he said, as he gave me a gentle poke in the direction I'd been headed. "Are things okay with you?" he asked.

I shrugged, "Pretty much normal. Confusion runs rampant, but I usually overcome it."

He snickered, "Good answer. I have something to ask you, and don't take it personally, okay?"

I nodded, and he said, "I talked to my pastor about you last night, and he said some things that made sense. Then I thought about it, and I went on the Internet when I got home and looked in some other places. So here's my question. Ready?"

"That's your question? Or do you mean am I ready for your question?"

He laughed, "I'll just ask. This is my curiosity asking, nothing else. Are you gay because you decided to be gay, or do you think you were born gay, and it's just the way you are?"

I thought before I answered. "It's not a choice, Jerry. Never a choice. I was born gay as sure as I was born healthy. Is that the argument your pastor's making? If it is, it won't hold water. It's too fundamental to be something you can choose, and why would I anyhow, if I had a choice?"

He said thoughtfully, "Back up there. You say fundamental, so you're telling me that it's natural to you? It's like you being white or ... or ... or even being male?"

"Yeah," I said. "Good examples, actually, because that's how basic it is to me. It's there like being white and being a guy, and it's there before things I get to decide on are there." A thought took shape and I jumped on it. "It's one of the nouns, Jerry! I am a guy. I am a white. I am a gay. Yeah, gay, white boy works, and white, gay boy does, too, but that's my foundation. You can pile on adjectives all day long, but they'll just modify the nouns. Everything else about me will evolve, but it'll evolve around me being gay, me being a guy, and to a lesser degree me being a white."

"Hm," Jerry said.

"What did you read?" I asked after awhile.

"A lot of things," he admitted. "Before you think my pastor has his head in the sand, it was him who told me to do some reading. He has his ideas about things, but he'll always listen to an honest difference."

I smiled, "That's pretty cool all by itself, Jerry. If you want, I can go talk to your pastor, but I don't want to be 'exhibit A' or something."

Jerry laughed, "Oh nuts! I thought I'd bring you in all pickled in formaldehyde!"

"I think not!" I said in mock indignance. "Just tell your pastor that I don't think I'm a threat to the future of the human race, nor will knowing me lead you into a life of bigamy, child molestation, or animal um, husbandry." I broke out laughing because that was not the word I meant to use. Jerry Brin understood, because he laughed cheerfully, clapping a hand on my shoulder as we walked along. This time he left his hand there.

When the warning bell rang before we were back, Jerry called, "Later!" and took off at a run. I ran after him, and made it to my class just in time for the final bell to sound while I was sliding into my seat.

It was an easy afternoon, with a substitute in physics and pronunciation in French. When I got to the gym for baseball practice I groaned immediately, because the people who supplied uniforms were there to measure us, and with Smiley for a last name I was far down on the list. There were thankfully two people there to do the measuring, and they were pretty quick about it. Waist, inseam and chest, and that was it. The guy the year before had to have been gay, and he was in the perfect job for a gay man if he in fact was. A waist and a chest took him about a second each, but he noodled around for a long time getting the inseams just right, and when he was done, all that was missing from it being a hernia test was the cough.

Guys hit the field as soon as they'd been measured, and there was a semblance of a game being played by the time I got there. Coach was hollering out orders, and he didn't seem to notice me when I took a place on the bench.

I liked practices like these. It pitted the juniors and seniors against the sophomores and the lone freshman who'd made varsity, and I thought it was great to learn that way; sort of do or die. It wasn't umpired, so if you didn't have a hit, a walk, or a strike-out on five pitches, you were out anyhow. That encouraged us to swing the bat at pitches we might ordinarily watch go by, and made us worry a little less about strike zones. The older guys were generally better players from having more experience. That gave the lower classmen a real challenge to perform, and we learned from both the challenge and by watching. One thing I knew was that the longer you played ball, the smoother you got. The neat part was that we learned that smoothness from getting creamed time and again by the upper classmen.

You couldn't lose over and over again without learning why, and a certain slickness came from that experience. It was a lot of things, but mostly instinct and timing, that made better players.

It made being on the bench tolerable because you could still watch, and that's what I was doing. I was half resigned to the bench, and half waiting for another surprise. Coach and his assistants paid no attention to me, but they were busy, so I couldn't say they were ignoring me. Well, they were, but that's what you get when you're on the bench. Ignored, I mean.

I was still on the bench when practice was almost over, then Jerry Brin poked out what should have been a single, but it kept rolling. There were two outs and nobody on. When he turned to go on to second base, which he should have done with ease, his foot got out from under him and he went sprawling, just barely scraping his way back to first to put his hand on the bag ahead of the throw. He sat up immediately, wincing in pain and rubbing his ankle. Coach and the assistants all ran out to him, and I heard Coach calling for ice before he even got there.

They huddled around Jerry for a few minutes, then helped him to his feet. As he hobbled in, Coach called, "Get in there and run, Smiley!"

I didn't take a second telling, though I was surprised he didn't just call off practice. I trotted out to first, thinking that calling off practice probably wouldn't occur to Coach. It wasn't in his nature.

I didn't care. I was on base, and I touched first before taking a long lead toward second, and the pitcher immediately tried to catch me off base. Good luck. To me, running the bases was the best part of the game. Yes, it was fun to be at bat, and it was fun to play defensively, too. Running was the best, though; screwing up the pitcher's concentration, getting the catcher's mind away from defense of the plate. It was like swiping their game from them for a few minutes. I was the only one on base and there were two outs, but still; having old Evan out there playing with your head was not what you wanted, not even under winning circumstances.

I laughed and I danced and I teased, and I tried to make it seem like my lead was longer than it was. It worked, too, because I got the pitcher to make a low throw to first, which the baseman had to go way off to get control of. I tagged and made second before he got his balance back. I stood way off second, too, but he didn't take the bait, and tossed the ball back to the pitcher instead.

There were hoots and hollers, and even the pitcher gave me a little grin and bow. I would ordinarily be on his side and therefore his opponent's problem. I was soaking it up, enjoying it, when a sight appeared on the hill leading down to the field.

It was Aaron, and sometimes he just took my breath away. He had on a baseball cap, and his hair fuzzed out exuberantly from under it. He was wearing an orange, sleeveless jersey and jeans shorts that came way below his knees. Oh Lord, he looked fine, and he was a welcome sight always. Lee Erasmus was right beside him, and even from the distance they seemed to be together. I filled right up with anticipation, and I missed the pitch that caused the hitter to swing and miss, which ended the practice.

Who cared? I trotted toward Aaron, feeling ever happier as he loomed up in front of me. I was bad, I guess. I needed Aaron like I needed food and water, air itself. He didn't pick me out until I was almost to him, then his smile came out like sunshine. "Evan!"

I knew where I was and who was there. I embraced Aaron briefly and platonically, then did the same thing with Lee. I turned back to Aaron and grinned, "You drove?"

He laughed, "I did! I also picked up Lee, so I'm a traffic felon just like you!"

I must have looked confused, because Lee said, "I was waiting for the bus. On the bench. This yellow thing stopped and ... well, it was Aaron!"

I had to stop for the post-practice speech. Jerry was there on his feet, although gingerly, so I knew he wasn't really hurt. We had practice again the next day, then, "There's a scrimmage on Saturday, right here at ten," Coach said. "Be here at eight thirty! It's against Central, so come breathing fire!"

There was a general cheer, then we broke up. I didn't want to spend the time away from Aaron, so I skipped taking a shower and just got my things, then I hurried outside.

Aaron and Lee were leaning against a bike rack, and I stopped to watch for a second. I liked what I was seeing there, because it was two of my friends making friends with each other, and on their own terms. They met because of me, but they liked each other because they did, and I wasn't involved in that.

I was too cranked up to dwell on it, and I hurried over. "You have your car with you?"

Aaron beamed and nodded, "I love it, Ev! It's not just driving, it's a way of life!"

I asked, suspicious, "That's from a Toyota ad?"

Aaron laughed, even happier, "No, it's from an Aaron ad!" He looked around, then came close and gave me a quick kiss. "I'll tell you about it," he whispered.

I said, "I want to see your car! Let's get out of here!"

I walked between Aaron and Lee, and in a minute we were in the front lot, and there was a spotless, yellow RAV4. Aaron's RAV4, and I could see that he was as proud of it as I was of my little Acura.

Chris came running over when he saw us, and cried, "That's your car?" when he realized that Aaron was showing it off. He climbed right in, expecting Aaron to take him home, and poor Lee had to get in the back. He didn't look disappointed, and I went to my car when Aaron took off. Well, the truth is I watched him drive away until he was out of sight, and what I felt had to be pride. I knew I'd see it a million times in the future, but that was Aaron driving, and it seemed hugely important.

I went to the back lot, where my car was one of the few still there. I thought I'd catch up with Aaron at my house, but I noticed his car on the side of the street in front of a convenience store, so I pulled in behind him. Aaron ran back when he saw me there, and said that Lee went in the store for a candy bar. Sure enough, Lee came out smiling, a small bag in his hand.

I stayed behind Aaron's car when I probably should have pulled in front of him, but he had Chris with him and I followed them into Chris' driveway. They all got out of Aaron's car, so I got out of mine and went into the house after them.

Aaron had been there before, and he was like me with the house. We both just loved it ... the modern design and rustic materials, the privacy to the front and the wide-open look out back. The Humphreys had a lot of art, and the ways they chose to display different things were as artistic as the things themselves. The overall look of that house was one of warmth and cheer, and there were all these surfaces that you just wanted to touch; rustic wood, stone, glass ... thick carpeting, leather, mirrors, stone and plaster sculptures, framed artwork on the walls.

The house bespoke love and character more than money. It was fun to be there in an ever-changing panoply of one family's life. Chris hadn't evolved in a vacuum, and neither had the rest of us. Still, I'd give Chris marks for having the most interesting parents of anyone I knew. They both had good jobs, so with only the one son they had more money with which to indulge their myriad interests. They were both amateur photographers, and had a darkroom off the kitchen. They collected art and antiques and pottery, and they were constantly off to one show or another. They were active outdoors; into hiking, camping and rock climbing, and they both used their bicycles a lot for around-town things.

They were also volunteers for a lot of good causes. Both were mentors with Big Brother and Big Sisters, and they put in an evening every week at the soup kitchen. Whenever there was a cleanup day you could count on them being there, and usually with Chris and me in tow. We'd removed ancient litter from woods, turned a canal bank from an overgrown tangle into a nice hiking and biking path, painted park benches, repaired just about anything that could be repaired. They were active in politics, too, and worked on the campaigns of Democrats they trusted, which generally meant younger ones.

Everything they did was with not just joy, but a zeal that bordered on lust. They'd come back from mentoring looking happier than when they left, and tired from the soup kitchen with the same calm humanity in their eyes that they brought there with them. Together they could use up a day like nobody else I knew, yet they always had their dinner at their own table, always had time for Chris.

I had never felt unloved, but love in our house until the very recent past had always been expressed by deed. I was the one who always liked being cuddled, and I got my share of that when I was little, then somehow grew out of it. I think having two older brothers who were aloof put my folks into a mind set that boys older than about eight are 'too old' for that. Maybe it was me. Maybe I started to learn aloofness myself. I got hugs from my mother, but instead of a place on my father's lap, I'd find his hand on my shoulder or my leg, and that turned to pats on the back over time.

Chris, by contrast, had all the loving he could handle. Now, at sixteen, he was pushing back a little, but I'd seen that kid get more hugs and kisses in a month than I'd had in my life, and his came from both parents. When we'd come in from doing whatever, and Chris saw his father, he'd run and jump right into his arms, and Mr. Humphrey would shower his head with kisses, and they didn't care who was there.

I didn't either. Chris was showing Lee around, so I hung back with Aaron in the kitchen to kiss. It was a chocolate kiss, which was more fun in person. Lee bought a bunch of miniature Snickers bars that he'd shared.

Aaron was excited about his car, and I was excited that Aaron was there. I could tell that Aaron was itching to take me for a ride, so I yelled to Chris, "We're going for a ride! You need anything?"

He immediately poked his smiling head through the door from the next room and asked, "You're leaving?"

"Not leaving," I said. 'I want a ride in Aaron's car."

Lee's face appeared next to Chris', "You're coming back, aren't you?"

"Got any more Snickers?" I asked.

Lee nodded hopefully, and I said, "We'll be back, then." I tried to make my voice like Swarzenegger, "I'll be back!" I said, pointing an important finger skyward.

Then we left. Aaron was actually nervous, but it was from excitement and anticipation. I walked with him to the driver's side, then kissed him before he got in, and it was a surprise that made him smile. He asked which way to go, and I told him.

If you turned right out of our neighborhood, it led right to town. Left was a different matter, because the town faded out in that direction, and within a mile it was fairly rural. There was an undeveloped park there, with a road that led in and out in about a mile's distance, and there were lots of secluded turnoffs along the way. Even on a weekday afternoon, there were several cars pulled off the road, and one was a police cruiser.

We found an empty spot in a grove of pine trees, and it was nice and private. Aaron pulled over, then backed in so we were facing the road, and when he was pulling the brake up he said, "Let's park here."

"You already did," I said as I popped my seatbelt and leaned to him.

Parking, it turned out, left much to be desired, at least in bucket seats with a console and a floor shifter between them. We were in public during the daylight anyhow, so after a few kisses we decided to walk in the woods instead. That was nice for a little while, but we were too excited about being together to maintain any sort of discretion, so we made a short circle back to the car, then headed for my house.

Only Bruce was home, and he was on the phone in the kitchen. I indicated that I needed to use it, and he nodded. I wanted to ask Chris to bring Lee home so I could spend at least a little time alone with Aaron. I poked my head in the refrigerator and came up with a couple of apples, then we headed up to my room.

The apples ended up on my dresser while Aaron and I put our mouths to more urgent use, and we were kissing feverishly when Bruce tapped on the door and said he was off the phone.

I reluctantly broke the kiss to call Chris, and he and Lee had already figured out that I wasn't coming back. "He's staying to eat, Ev. Is Bruce around? He should come over, too."

"What?" I asked, a little confused. "Lee's staying, and you want Bruce?"

Chris sighed, "You don't remember? We've talked about this before. Both those guys need somebody to figure things out with, just like we did. They're the same age, and if things go right for Lee, they'll be in the same school next year. Anyhow, when you were gone I learned to like Bruce ... not as your little brother, but in his own right. He's pretty cool, Ev, and way more human than you ever gave him credit for."

I sighed, "I know. You don't have brothers, though, so don't just diss me. There's a dynamic in this house that you don't have to live with day in and day out."

Chris said, "I know. There's another side to that, because I don't get to live with it, either. I know you always argue with your brothers, but I wouldn't mind having a brother to argue with."

"That's why you have me," I said, and I smiled because it was the truth. We hesitated to use the words 'like brothers' to describe our friendship, because I had a bunch of brothers. Brotherly love is strange in its own way, because it's based on something other than friendship and trust. Quite the opposite things sometimes. Much like political entities, we all competed for the same goods and services.

"My shoes don't fit."

"I need a haircut."

"Something's wrong with my bike."

"I really need my own phone."

"This sucks, you know that? Take his side, I don't care!"

"How would you like it if I told you no every day of the world?"

That was our house, at least how I perceived it. Brothers were more likely to be competitors than allies, and that was still true. I'd also learned that when the chips were down, when one of us was in trouble, that the old rules went out the window. When it's your real, physical brother who has the problem, then suddenly it's family.

Matt was in a war zone, and his mail had to be taking up some space by then. With something to say or not, we'd all been writing to him almost every day. He was the kind of guy who'd save things like letters, so he must have had a mountain of them. He was also not one to give out personal details, but we all knew there was an American girl he'd met in Germany, and it was at least a little serious. He said more and more about her, how pretty and smart she was. He'd told her about his letters from home, and he told us about her letters, and how they combined to make him feel like the luckiest guy in his unit.

The guys there shared their letters, at least the non-personal parts, and that was something that brought them all closer together. Even though they worked together every day, shared living quarters with each other, it was the letters from home that helped them share their humanity. Even mawg dilligs had taken on a meaning. It had been teased around, used temporarily as a derogatory term, but it ended up meaning a steady state, as in 'everything's mawg dilligs'.

The most important aspect of Matt's letters was their upbeat tone. He was in a perilous area of the world and actively engaged in a war, but you'd hardly guess that from what he wrote. He complained about the hours he worked, about the heat, about the lack of entertainment; just gripes to fill up a page.

He never came out and said it, but we could all sense that he was feeling fulfilled by it all, that he felt he was contributing what he could to something much larger. Matt wasn't gung-ho, he wasn't the type, and he was too smart to be brainwashed. It was clear that he felt part of something bigger than himself, and that seemed to please him.

I think that a lot of people questioned the administration's intentions for going into Iraq, but there was widespread support for the people we had over there just the same. It wasn't over yet, but the Iraqi military hadn't put up much of a defense yet. The ease with which our forces moved on Baghdad had people worried about some huge and inhuman trap, where weapons of mass destruction would be pulled out and used when our people were concentrated in one area.

It turned out that Bruce did want to go over to Chris' house, and I found that out after I'd fooled around with Aaron. We were on my bed munching on apples when Bruce tapped on the door. It was locked, so I got up and let him in. Whatever he came there wanting, I'd never know, because once I told him that he could go over to see Chris and Lee he was gone like a shot from a gun.

I smiled after him and tossed my apple core into the trash, then turned to Aaron. It was as good a time as any to decide things for the following week at the lake. So far, I knew that I was driving up on Saturday after practice, and bringing Bruce and Lee with me. Paul was coming up on Sunday morning and possibly bringing his younger brother. Chris would come up on either Sunday night or Monday morning, depending on when he got home from wherever he was going with his parents. Aaron's parents were going to be there for the first weekend, and my folks were going to spend Sunday there, then Alton was going to try to get up for a few days later in the week.

Aaron had Billy, Dean, Huck and John Balls coming at various intervals, and Justin had some of his friends as well. It sounded crazy, but I already had an idea of how that place worked, and lots of people coming and going was the basic nature of the lake house.

Lilac's boyfriend, Rakeed, said it well. "It's the kind of house that winks at you. There's always more room; always, always, always." He was right, too. There was always more space for whoever showed up.

Aaron stayed for dinner, and got to show off his car to everyone, then he left for home shortly afterwards. His father didn't want him making that drive in the dark until he was more used to driving. Even though we wanted to spend the time together, neither of us could disagree with his thinking. It was a miserable drive on a perfect day, and not a road for a new driver after dark.

We had a whole week together coming up, and that was what really mattered. Aaron's dad had sent me detailed directions to the lake house from every possible direction. Even though it was farther mileage-wise from Mt. Harman than from Riverton, I'd have a shorter ride than Aaron because it was mostly highway from our direction, mostly a rural road from Riverton.

I was excited, and when I started my homework I had too many things on my mind to concentrate. I finally put the work aside and started on a list of things to bring along with me. I knew we'd be doing some work, so I needed old clothes. The weather had been nice enough, but I figured on some warm clothes too, just in case.

I didn't know what we'd do for leisure besides fishing. I couldn't envision any moonlight canoe rides in April, nor any water skiing. In the end, I didn't need much. They had a lot of outdoor games there, from badminton to bocce and croquet, and also probably every indoor board game that ever existed. I ended up with a short list, but making it out had helped to clear my head, so when I went back to my school work I got right into it.

The next morning was so nice that I decided to ride my bike to school. I had to carry my glove and cleats in addition to my books, which made for an uncomfortably fat bag on my back, but it wasn't a big deal. It was one of those mornings that even smelled nice, and some other kids were on their bikes, too. Younger kids, to be sure, and ones without their own cars, but I hadn't had a car long enough to make my bike a no-no yet. I was glad I took it too, because I liked the world from atop my bike, and I always had.

I locked it in the rack at school, and the rest of the day turned out as nicely as it had started. I sat on the bench during practice because they were drilling the outfield. Jerry sat with me, though he said he was uninjured. It was an experience for me, because Jerry knew the strengths of every player on the team, where I only paid attention to the hotshots. He had me noticing that everybody single player had at least one strong point, usually several. Outfielders needed good running speed, and they needed strong arms. Our particular outfield challenged all of them, given its poor condition, and watching the guys chase wild hops and bounces could be pretty entertaining.

We had a good team, though. Jerry and I both agreed on that point, and I wondered wistfully how I'd fit into it. Finally, after forty minutes, I got sent to third and practiced relays from the outfield to all the bases. That was fun because there were three balls in motion at all times, and I'd have to relay a ball to home from the outfield, then catch and tag with one from first or second base.

I got in a good workout, albeit a brief one, and when Coach called for balls in, I threw the one I had to Chris so hard that it made a big cloud of dust blossom out from his mitt. He yelled a giant 'ouch' then grinned while I ran in. He wasn't happy to see me, he was happy because now we had a week off!

We had to listen to the very brief pep talk about the scrimmage the next day, then we were on our way. Chris had taken the bus in that day, so I walked my bike home with him while we yakked about all the great things we were going to do at the lake. I left Chris at his house and continued home, then I packed for the next day before calling Aaron and talking half the night away.

The next morning we got the ground rules for the scrimmage. It wasn't going to be a real game, but what they called 'twelve outs', and it was common enough for a scrimmage game early in the season. We were the home team, so the team from Central would hit until they had twelve outs, then it would be our turn. Playing that way cost the coaches a lot of their strategies, which were all based on three outs, but it hurried up the game like nobody's business. It was fun, too, because everybody tended to take more chances.

I walked to Chris' house, and we took his car to the game. We looked like bums, because we didn't have uniforms yet, and we wouldn't wear them for for a scrimmage anyhow, but just the colors. I happened to own a blue and white sweatshirt, which I had on. Chris didn't, so he had a blue tee shirt pulled on over a white sweatshirt. I wore gray sweat pants that were ancient and baggy, and Chris had on gray jeans that were ragged and too short.

It didn't matter. Nothing mattered. Well, I hoped I'd play and not sit the bench, and I didn't know where Coach was coming from anymore. Even that didn't matter very much. It was another fine day, and whatever happened on the ball field, I'd soon be at the Castle's family resort for eight consecutive nights with Aaron. Now, that mattered!

We started warming up with the team as soon as we got there, and guys were still trickling in when the other team's bus showed up. We had to give them the field then, and we got our marching orders. Coach was starting this kid Elias pitching, and he didn't usually start, but it was a scrimmage and I think the idea was to get him and Chris used to each other.

To my great surprise, when Coach started calling out the starters, "Smiley, third," was in there somehow. I was more than elated to know I'd play because I had enough energy stored up to play two positions, and I hadn't been sure if I'd ever actually start a game since the deal with Coach started..

Scrimmage? So what? I was a sophomore starting a varsity game, and if it was the last time it ever happened, at least it happened once! Chris was starting too, and he was as wired up as me.

Chris got into his catcher's gear while I watched the other team. I had this thing about other teams. In my brain, way down deep somewhere, I knew we were probably well matched, but right then those guys looked so freaking big that I worried about heart problems. That feeling had been with me ever since I started playing team sports, and it made no sense, but it persisted. I knew that by the end of the game they'd be just guys, but before it started all I could see out there were twenty five big men, and we were just little schoolboys.

The assistant coach came over with the batting lineup, and I was once again astonished when he called my name fourth! It wasn't just me, because everyone seemed to be shocked. I was batting cleanup? Not, I thought, but I was.

The game didn't start well for us. The first batter clocked the ball to the fence, and was rounding second before the throw came in, so I held him at third. He came in standing up. He had a happy smile, and I said, "Nice hit. You have our wonderful field to thank for that last base."

He grunted, "Yeah, this place is a shit pile. I hear you got a faggot on your team."


"Coach told us so. He said if we need to piss or something we should do it in the bushes."

"Your coach told you that? Where'd he hear something like that?"

The kid looked at me like I was stupid, "Duh, from your coach, I think. So, who is it? Which guy?"

"Got me," I mumbled, then I thought of something. "Did your coach really say faggot? Was it maybe gay or homosexual?"

The kid shrugged as Elias threw ball three. "Homosexual, I guess."

I squared for the next pitch and said, "That's it, then. Coach has a little speech impediment. It's hobosexual. Hobo, not homo!"

Another bad pitch. "Come again?" the kid said.

"It's what Coach calls us," I lied. "Hobosexuals, like fucking bums!"

The next pitch was hit hard, but straight back to the pitcher, and he fielded it easily, but there was no other play.

"You're kidding, right?" the runner asked me.

"Naw," I said. "Did your coach really say that our coach said that?"

His look was innocent when he nodded, and I wondered more than ever what was going on. I didn't get to wonder long, because the next hit bounced toward me, backing me up a little too slowly to get the runner at home, so I threw to first for the out, which allowed the run to score.

Those guys were good, and by their twelfth out they had seven runs.

I didn't know if we could catch up or not, but only forty minutes had gone by since we started the game. That was good, and I didn't hear anything more about gays from the other team, though the guy I'd talked to managed to elicit a loud laugh from his team when he was back on the bench.

We ended up losing, even though I had a good day myself. Their pitcher was good, but he walked me twice, and I scored once. It was a good game even though we lost, and we had some fun trying to catch up.

After Coach walked off, I told a few guys what had taken place out on third base back in the first inning, and they thought it was hilarious. Jerry Brin was one of those guys, so I felt way better than him when he laughed like he did, and the unofficial name of the team was now The Fucking Bums!

I didn't get to talk to Chris until the game was over, and he was steaming about something. He didn't want to talk until we were alone, which was when we got to his car. He slammed his door a little harder than he had to, and started the engine before looking at me. "You know, Evan, maybe I'll quit even if you don't! I heard Goodwin today. He was whining to the other coaches about how he has to deal with a homosexual on his team."

I told Chris about the kid at third base and that made him laugh, but he still came up angry afterwards.

"That's funny, Evie, but coach was being really snide ... not so much about you, but about the rest of us. I heard him say how he tried to get you off the team and how the guys wanted you to stay, but he made that sound dirty." Chris pulled the shifter in gear and released the brake, "I'm pissed, Ev. I don't know what he expects to get out of it, but he's making us sound like you're our fucking sex mascot or something."

"He said my name?" I asked, horrified.

Chris thought and said, "No, I don't guess he did, but I still don't like it. You watch your ass around that dude, man. He's up to something!"

I was puzzled by it all. Coach had singled me out for special treatment, and he gave me some lessons that were really worthwhile. Why would he do that, then tell the other coaches that I was gay, or at least that one of his players was gay?

It was too short of a ride to talk it out, so Chris dropped me off, visibly calmer. "I'll see you when I get to the lake," he called as I got out of the car. "Call me if I should bring something."

I grinned, "I will. Let's see ... you have the directions ..." I couldn't think of anything, "Don't get lost!"

He waved, then drove off, and I hurried inside to get ready. Bruce was at the door when I opened it, and he looked anxious. I said, "Call Lee and say we're on the way. I just have to change."

I went up to my room and stripped off what I was wearing, then got into the clothes I'd laid out on my bed and I was ready. Back downstairs, I looked for my parents, and Mom was in the kitchen.

"We're leaving," I said, and she smiled.

"You drive carefully." She handed me a small cooler, "I made you some sandwiches for the ride. I guess we see you tomorrow?" she added hopefully.

I grinned and gave her a quick squeeze, taking hold of the cooler. "Don't get lost!" I said as I turned to go.

My optimistically small bag was already in the car, and I opened the back so Bruce could put his things in, then we were off to pick up Lee.

He was waiting in the driveway with his mother and his aunt when we got there, and the phrase 'bright-eyed and bushy-tailed' came to mind when I saw them. Lee's mother had really bounced back since the first time I saw her. She'd gone from being pale and withdrawn to out-doorsy looking and cheerful, and her apparent happiness was reflected in her sister's face.

Lee looked ready to explode with excitement. He was wearing a white visor that made his spiky, red hair look redder than it was, and he was smiling enough to make it look like his dimples had dimples. I popped the trunk open, then got out, as did Bruce. There were quick introductions, admonishments for Lee to be polite, etc., then we were on our way. My brother climbed in back after he lost the flip with Lee.

I'd barely got the car going forward on the street when Lee asked, "Did you hear the news?"


He sounded incredulous. "Ron Mastracchio ... Throckmorton ..."

"I didn't hear anything!" I said.

"Gambling," Lee said breathlessly.

"Say again?"

"They were gambling, Evan. Not like making bets, they were taking them. Well, I guess Ron was making bets, but they were like ... what's the word?"


"Yeah, that's it; bookies!"

Continued ...

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