I spent the next week recuperating, mostly from being in bed for three weeks. I was surprised at how weak I felt. I wasn't good for much more than fifteen minutes out of bed before I had to lie down. I started taking solid food and was eating pretty normally by the end of the week. Ken picked me up the following Friday. Doc Forrester gave him a two-page list of instructions that I was to follow for the next two weeks. If I didn't feel pretty normal by then, his phone number was there. Ken had a suitcase full of new clothes for me. The guys had chipped in to buy them. There was also a toothbrush, comb and hairbrush and a couple of pairs of sneakers.
It took a while to get to the highway, then traffic was real heavy. We weren't making very good time.
"How long?" I asked.
"Usually about two hours. Traffic's all screwed up today, so I don't know."
"Does Timmy hate me?"
Ken was annoyed, "Whaddya want from me, Dave? You guys are best friends for three years, then ya dump him like a sack of garbage. You won't talk to him, you won't write to him. He was sure it was something he did. He blamed himself. He went into a bigger shell than ever. It weakened him, Dave. He was like a little kid, always trying to stay close to somebody. He would'a sat on my lap if I let him. Didn't ya know what you meant to him? Couldn't ya see it?"
"But does he hate me?"
His tone softened, "Of course not. He loves ya like a brother. Maybe more. But I doubt he ever wants to see you again."
I was confused, "If he loves me, why wouldn't he?"
"You hurt him too bad, Dave. How can he trust you? If he can't trust you, why should he want to be around you?"
"Is he ... better now? What's he doin' for a job?"
"He works in a book store on Thursday and Friday, then at a gas station on Sunday. He's doin' better I guess, but he's back to bein' a loner."
"How'd he find me, then? Why'd he bother?"
Ken shook his head slowly, "I honestly don't know. He won't say. We all think he wanted to kill you himself."
We drove the rest of the way mostly in silence, except for Ken pointing out things once in a while. We got off the highway and drove about another half hour, going through some pretty little towns. We crossed a river, then made a turn, and Ken said his uncle's farm was both sides of the road. The barn was on one side and the house was on the other. There were a lot of other buildings. The house was big, but it looked like a wreck. It couldn't have been painted in the last fifty years. I was really surprised at how nice it was inside.
I met Ken's aunt and uncle, Judy and Wes. They were probably around sixty, and real nice and friendly. I got a bedroom with a big bed. It was really tall, and I had to almost jump up to get on it. It was beside the kitchen and had big windows that looked out on a cow pasture. We had a huge dinner of bacon and blueberry pancakes, with real maple syrup that Wes made himself. They had a black lab named Storm who seemed real friendly.
Ken left right after he ate, saying he'd be back often. I stayed at the table with Wes while Judy cleaned things up.
Wes said softly, "Dave, all Ken told us is that you got in some bad trouble at home. I don't know any more than that, and I don't want to know. I also got this exercise list from your doctor, and I want you to make sure you follow it. I won't push you, but when you feel up to it let me know, and I'll set you up with some chores around here. In the morning I'll show you around. If you need anything, just let us know. Now, Ken left some beer money for you. What's that all about?"
I snickered, "Beer money? I don't know. I mean, he always let us drink beer. Maybe he wants to fatten me up?"
Wes grinned, "That sounds like Ken's thinkin'. What kind you like?"
"Anything that's cold."
He went to the fridge and got two Buds. We went on the porch and sat on the step. The dog dropped a tennis ball in my lap. I threw it. She was back in ten seconds, so I threw it again. And again. And again and again and again.
Wes smiled, "She'll never stop, Dave. You toss it for a while, then put it away. She'll drop dead before she'll stop chasing that thing."
"Are there any kids around here?" I asked, not sure why I wondered.
"Yup. Not too close by, though. I'm sure they'll be coming by once they learn you're here and got your own beer supply." He grinned, "Well, I'm goin' to bed. Sleep tight."
"Thanks." It was still light out. Oh, well. I climbed into bed and shut my eyes. It occurred to me how quiet it was, how totally quiet. At home you could always hear noise, even at Ken's. Here there was nothing. I fell asleep pretty quickly and didn't wake up until I heard a toilet flush the next morning.
I put on a pair of shorts and went into the kitchen. Judy was sitting there with a magazine. "Can I take a shower?"
She nodded, "Bathroom's all yours."
When I was done, I got dressed and went back into the kitchen. "Um, what should I do? About eating and stuff, I mean."
"Oh, I'm sorry honey. Just help yourself. There's bacon in the oven. Eggs in the fridge, everything else is on the counter or in the cabinets up top. We ate a long time ago."
"Okay, thanks." I made some eggs and toast, added bacon, and ate it along with a cup of coffee. I was looking at Doc's list. The first few days I was supposed to take fifteen to thirty minute easy walks, every two hours. I cleaned up my dishes and went outside. I walked down the road to the right. There was a field next to the barn that had all kinds of old rusty vehicles and machines here and there. We'd passed other yards like this on the way up. It was kind of fun to look at, and I thought Timmy would love it here. That thought made me sad.
I walked through the field to a line of trees, and came to a nice brook. I sat down on soft pine needles and watched the water flow by. I was thinking about Tim. It went through my head that the first thing I'd done to him was to hurt him, and the last thing was to hurt him again. He'd gotten over the beating, even laughed about it. I hadn't really hurt him, not like the guys that hassled Rafe. It was a couple of punches, then mostly wrestling until I twisted his arm and made him give.
Now. Now what had I done? Well, I knew what. I didn't know why. How I'd been so self-centered, so cruel, even. What part of myself made me do that? All of those guys had given of themselves to show me that things still went on after my father's death, that I could still have fun, still learn things, still enjoy life. I had a good thing going. A really good thing. I never thanked anybody for any of it. Ever. I just walked away. Right into the hands of Artie Loomis. Look at all the wonderful things he did for me, and I thanked him all the time. I practically praised the fucking guy.
Then, Tim. Poor Tim! He was my friend. We understood each other, cared for each other. We relied on each other. We both got to be so much better at being people because of each other. And I think I knew how he felt about me leaving, ditching him. I'd started to feel it that night I brought pot over to Ken's. When he walked away without saying anything, I was afraid he'd never come back. It was like part of me was leaving with him, a part I couldn't do without. But he did come back. All I had to do was try to fix what was wrong. He came back, and he was happier than ever because I did what I did. For him. But I knew what that problem was then, and I knew how to take care of it.
What could Tim have thought when I disappeared from his life? He had to think it was something he did. He tried and tried to talk to me, but I ignored it all. But he hadn't done anything, and it must have ripped him apart trying to figure it out. I tried to stop thinking, to just look at the water going by. I was crying, just tears. I felt like a total waste.
Wes came and sat by me. "Didn't take you long to find this spot. It's a great place for thinking about stuff. You Ok?"
I shook my head, "No, I'm a jerk. A bad person."
Wes chuckled, "Kenny said you'd been a jerk. He didn't say you were bad, though. Thinking about the trouble you got in?"
"Not really. That was just me and I already paid for it."
I stared at the water, "I hurt people."
Wes signed, "Where there's trouble, somebody's usually gettin' hurt."
"Nobody deserved it. I'm such a creep."
"No. Best friend."
"Uh oh. They're hard to find. Think you can fix it?"
I looked down, fiddled with my fingers, "Kenny doesn't think so. Tim doesn't trust me any more. I hurt him too bad. He doesn't want to see me, and I can't blame him. It's what I was just thinking about."
"You lied to him?"
"No. Not a lie. I just disappeared and never gave him a chance to know why. I just ignored him. He had to think it was something he did, and it wasn't. Ken said he ate himself up wonderin' what he did, but it was just me. He never did anythin' bad to me. I feel like a total asshole."
Wes comforted me with a hand on my shoulder, "You tried talkin' to him? We have a phone, you know."
"Wes, what can I tell him on the phone? I don't think it's gonna help."
"Well, spend some of that beer money on stamps. Write to him. Tell him what you think, what you're thinking right now. At least if he has it on paper he can look at it more than once. Keep writing. Say it every way you can think of. The worst that can happen is, if he really hates you he'll feel better knowin' you feel like crap."
"You think it would work?"
"I don't know. What I do know is it might, and doin' it's better than thinkin' about doin' it."
"I'm not much of a writer."
"Me either. It's what you say that counts. Stamps are cheap. Keep trying different ways. Let's go back to the house."
I was in the living room writing a letter to Tim. Barry drove in. He had Jerry with him. I ran outside to see them.
"What're you guys doin' here?" Jerry looked like he'd grown a foot, but he was all smiles.
Jerry said brightly, "We decided to take a ride. How ya doin', Dave?"
"Not bad. Hi, Barry."
Barry said, "Hey, kid. We brought ya something." He opened the back doors and pulled out a guitar case. It wasn't mine.
"Who's is this?"
"It's Ken's acoustic. He thought you could stay in practice."
"Learn all over again, you mean," I said sarcastically. "Thanks. Thanks a lot." I started to get tears in my eyes. "Thanks for everything, I mean all you ever did for me. I never said it. You too, Jerry. I really mean it. And I'm sorry. I'm really a dirtbag."
Barry pulled me aside, whispering, "None of the kids know about anything but drugs. Anything else is up to you, ok?"
"Thanks, Barry. Does Timmy know where I am?"
"I'm not sure, I haven't seen him to tell him. Somebody might have. Do you want him to know?"
"Sure! I mean, yeah I want him to know everything. One thing we never did was lie to each other, and I ain't gonna start now. I was just writing to him."
Barry eyed me and sighed, "Dave, you keep givin' me hope that there's somethin' real inside you. And you keep on fuckin' up. You do good things, really nice things, then you hurt again. I been tellin' ya to think for years now, and you never do. It ain't that hard to take a second to figure out if what you're gonna do or say will hurt somebody. Write to Tim, it's a good idea. But read what you say, and think if it's gonna help or make him hurt more. You hurt all of us, but what hurt the worst was seein' what you did to Timmy. If you're gonna do it again, then just stay the fuck away from him. If you gotta do somethin', then be real careful. He's just pullin' it back together. We were lookin' out for Tim before we ever heard of you. It looked like you were good for him, then you just turned everything upside down" He pounded me on the head. "Think, Dave!" Pound. "Think! Think long and hard about what that letter says before you mail it."
"Can I whack him a few times?" Jerry asked. I just held my hands up and told him to go ahead. He did. He gave me a shot to the stomach that bent me over, then pushed me face first onto the ground. I think he was going to kick me, but Barry must have pulled him away. "Asshole! Are you okay?" Jerry asked.
I was face down on the grass. I started to laugh a little. "Why didn't somebody do that before? Everybody promised, but nobody ever did it. Jerry, you gotta tell Tim you kicked my ass! Tell him I ate dirt." I stood up and brushed myself off. I got booted so hard in the butt that I went right back down. That was gonna hurt for a while.
Jerry got on his knees beside me. "Oh, man. I didn't mean to do it that hard! Are you still okay?"
I pulled him down and gave him a noogie that I was certain he'd feel for a week. It made him squeal, anyhow. We were both laying face down on the grass. I put my arm across his back. "I'm okay. Are you okay?"
"I'm okay. Are you an asshole on purpose?"
I giggled, "No. I think I'm an asshole by birth. Wanna go for a walk?"
We walked over through the field to the place by the brook. Jerry thought it was nice.
"Do you ever see Tim?" I asked.
"Not much. Once in a while. Why?"
"How is he? Do you guys talk about anything?"
"He's okay, I guess. He mostly stays by himself. He was always like that before."
"Before you came around. He was different when you guys were friends, like a lot more fun. He started doin' stuff with everybody and he was cool."
"Does he ever talk about me?"
"Not any more. When you first disappeared he called me like ten times a day askin' if I saw you. He looked for you all over the place. I think he gave up when you never even came home for Christmas."
I remembered that last Christmas. I sat alone all day. Not a single customer. It was the one day of the year that the diner closed. I hadn't known that, so all I had to eat was candy bars from the vending machine. I got the most wasted yet, snorting, smoking and drinking.
Jerry asked, "Why'd ya just leave like that, Dave? Couldn't you at least say goodbye, or fuck off or something? You left everybody hangin', especially Tim."
I didn't try to answer. I had no answer. "Why'd ya come up here, anyhow?" I asked.
"To keep Barry company, and to see you."
I smiled wanly, "Miss me?"
"I guess. I just wanted to see how you were. There's new kids coming around Ken's now. Rafe's friend is always there - his name's Brian."
"What's he like?"
Jerry smiled thoughtfully, "They're both pretty cool. Real good friends, just like you and Tim used to be. It's always fun when they're around."
"How's everybody else?"
"Oh, you gotta see Joey - he's gonna be a whale!"
"Joey's gettin' fat?" I asked in surprise.
"Yeah, man. Everybody else's gettin' taller, but Joey's just gettin' wide. And he's the one with all the girls. I wish I could gain some weight, but not like that."
"How long ya stayin' here?"
"Just 'til tonight, I guess. Barry told Whit I'd be back late. So, what do you do here?"
"I only got here yesterday. I don't know. I'm just supposed to walk and stuff for a while. Doc Forrester had me out cold for three weeks, and nothin' works too good right now."
"Where were you, anyhow?"
"I might tell ya someday. Not before I tell Tim, though. It ain't anythin' I'm proud of. You probably don't want'a know."
Jerry rubbed his stomach, "Is it lunch time yet? I'm starving."
"I'm hungry, too. Let's go back."
As we walked back towards the house, Jerry surprised me. "I missed you, Dave. I really did. Timmy really missed you, but we all did in our own way."
I felt bad ... awful. When I was gone I hadn't thought about anything except staying high and what it took to do that. Now I felt like I missed out on even missing everyone. It was a really screwy feeling. For six months I hadn't thought about another soul. Now I was finding out how much I'd hurt the people who actually gave a shit about me. I was exhausted, too. I didn't have any strength at all when we got to the house, and I had to lay down for awhile. I fell asleep. I don't know how long I was out, but I woke up to somebody pushing my shoulder.
I opened my eyes to see an upside down face framed in long black hair.
... to be continued
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