After Artie changed into jeans and sneaks, we drove the short distance to Ken's house. When we turned into the driveway Artie commented on how long it was.
I thought we were early, but there were already so many cars there that we had to back down the driveway and park near the garage. It wasn't easy because other people were trying to drive in. Artie had to rely on his backup lights to let whoever was behind him know what he was doing. When we found a spot for the car I got out, then Artie leaned over to lock my door.
"Don't lock the doors. Please? You don't have to lock anything here. Okay?"
He looked at me, then climbed out the driver's side door. He automatically went to lock it.
He turned around. "I just got this car, Dave. Are you sure it's safe?"
I felt a little stupid, but a bit paranoid at the same time. "Artie, if you lock something you'll change this place. Nobody's gonna take anythin' from ya here, okay?"
He looked hesitant. "If ... if you're sure."
"I'm positive." I grinned at him. "Let's go make you some friends."
Artie looked pensive for a second. "You really think I can make friends?"
"Don't worry. This is the place."
Artie gave me a weak smile. "Let's go, then."
Walking up the driveway he asked me three more times if his car was safe where it was. Was I sure? Was I positive? As soon as we got to the top of the hill we met Barry. He grabbed Artie and said he wanted to introduce him to his friends, at the same time giving me a look that said 'get lost'.
I did. I saw Doc Forrester and went to talk to him, then Rennie joined us.
I guess I was a little distracted. I was worried about Artie and kept looking around to see where he was. I saw Tim walking up and waved to him. He didn't see me at first, and was still looking around. When he spotted us he came running over with an urgent look on his face.
"Dad!" He and Rennie hugged. "Donny's gonna come over later. He has to work 'til two. I just told him what you're doin'. He doesn't hate ya, Dad! He feels just like I did. He's comin' to see ya, Dad!"
I could see Rennie tighten his hug on Tim. "He felt just like you? How was that?"
Tim looked up at his father. Their expressions both saddened. "Let down I guess, Dad. It stunk big time when you got messed up. You ditched us all, but now you're back. You're gonna make up for everything, aren't you?"
Rennie looked hopeful and sad at the same time. "I can't make it up, Timmy. All I can do is get better. It's all lost time now, and I can't do anything to fix that. Just know that I love you ... all of you. Donny's really coming to see me? I can't believe it! Out of all you kids I thought he was the one who really hated me."
Tim leaned his face against his father's shoulder. "Not true, Dad. Nobody ever hated you, not even Mom. I think you just made us afraid. It was like you were already gone before you went away. You're here now, right?"
Rennie started to laugh and cry at the same time. He pulled Tim even closer. "I'm here, Timmy. I'm here forever! If you feel that I'm starting to get distant again, just smack me or something. All I want right now is to be part of your life again. It's all I want, Tim. You've made me feel so complete again, wanting me to still be your father."
Tim looked at him with a question at first, then it turned into a little smile. "You can't get away from being my father. I want you to be my Dad again. That's what I want."
Rennie pulled Tim closer. "That's all I’ll be then, Timmy. Lord knows that I've messed up, but I want my kids back. All of you."
I looked around and saw a lot of people that I wanted to talk to. "You guys gonna make mush all day or ya gonna party?"
Rennie looked over at me. "You're right, Dave. Let's go have some fun!"
There was food all over the place - something on every table. It was early, so it was just munchies. Tim and I positioned ourselves near the most promising looking stuff and filled our faces as we talked to people. Jerry came up the driveway with Whit, then I saw my mother and sisters. Whit headed over to watch people throwing horseshoes and Jerry came over to us. He was smiling.
"Hey, brothers! How's everything?"
"Just ducky. Didn't you ask Deanna to come?"
"Yeah, she's coming later with her parents. They had to do something this morning. Where's Artie?"
"I don't know. Barry disappeared with him the second we got here. Try these artichokes - they're really good."
He made a face. "Artichokes? I don't think so."
I had to laugh. "Ever try one?"
"Well, try one. It's a stupid name for a vegetable, but you'll like it."
I love to watch people try a new food for the first time. Jerry picked one up and looked at it. He brought it to his mouth and almost flinched when it got there, then he took the tiniest of tiny bites. His face told me that he was certain he'd be throwing up in about two seconds, then his expression changed to one of serenity as the new flavor spread through his mouth. "Mmmm. These are good." He popped the rest of it into his mouth with one hand while reaching for another with his other hand.
Jerry tried to talk while he was still chewing. "Isn't Richie coming?"
"He said he was. I think he's bringing a date. He asked if he could, anyhow. I didn't walk around much yet. I'm not sure who's here."
Jerry looked toward the horseshoe game. "I promised Whit I'd play a game with him. You guys up for partners?"
I looked at Timmy and he just shrugged. "I guess. I only played a couple of times." He looked at me. "You ever play before?"
"Not much. I probably suck, but it's kinda fun."
"Let's go then."
We all walked over to where they were playing horseshoes. Tim and I were holding hands and nobody gave us a second glance. When we got to where Whit was standing, he said it was a winner/challenger type thing. Whoever won the game we were watching would take on the next challengers. We just had to wait for somebody to win. It took a while. The guys playing had a score of 19-13 when we got there, but they seemed to forget how to score. I found myself leaning back to back against Timmy holding hands.
I'm not sure who the four guys that were playing were, probably friends of Ken from work. They finally finished their game, the losers going to get beer for the winners. Whit and Jerry stepped in. Jerry was pretty good, getting several ringers and leaners, but Whit was fantastic. He seemed to be able to toss a ringer whenever he wanted, but he took particular delight in knocking the other guy's horseshoe out of point position. The game was over in very short order, and the losers went to get beer for Jerry and Whit.
They let me and Tim take several practice shots, but we knew it was hopeless from the get-go. I was throwing from one end with Jerry, but Tim got stuck throwing against Whit. When the score got to be ten to nothing, Whit started giving Timmy lessons and he scored a ringer. The game ended at twenty-one to two and we went to get beer for Jerry and Whit, who were already facing the next challengers.
When we were walking back with the beers, I saw Bud and asked where Richie was. He wasn't sure where, but Richie was there someplace. We found him talking to Doc Forrester. There was another kid, who I didn't recognize, with them.
"Richie! You made it!"
He looked around and grinned at me. "Dave! Tim! Where you guys been?"
"Gettin' creamed at horseshoes. When'd ya get here?"
"I don't know. A half hour ago, maybe. Where is everybody? I mean, I haven't seen Ken or those guys yet."
"I don't know. They're probably cookin' up some kind of explosion or somethin'. You know them."
"Oh, hey! This is Eddie. We go to school together." He indicated the boy standing with them, and Tim and I both held our hands out to shake.
The boy we were looking at was about my size and shape, with red hair and lots of freckles. "Hey, Eddie! I'm Dave and this is Tim."
We shook hands, first me, then Timmy. This boy was either seriously bashful or seriously afraid of us. I sensed the latter. His hand was all sweaty and he seemed to be shaking a little.
He looked at the ground. "Hi."
I was taken a little off guard, but I smiled. "Hey, we don't bite people here. Any friend of Richie is a friend of ours." I looked at Tim for confirmation.
Tim smiled at Eddie. "Dave's right. Come on, let's go for a ride in the duner."
Tim literally dragged Eddie away. I looked at Richie. "What's Eddie afraid of?"
"Everything, I guess. Himself, mostly. He's the kid I told you about, Dave. The one you told me to be friends with."
I gave Richie a surprised look. "He's the gay kid you were talkin' about? I thought you wouldn't even see him 'til next week."
"I ran into him at the park. I was goin' to shoot some hoops an' he was there on a bench, so I said Hi. I feel like a total shit for bein' so rotten all that time. Just sayin' hi got him all scared, so I sat down with him. He was afraid of me, Dave. Of me, Richie Lafleur!" Richie seemed to be upsetting himself. "Davy, he was right on the edge of ending it. He wanted to kill himself!" He really started choking out his words. "If ... if you didn't make me promise to ... to be ... nice to him ... to try to be his friend ... Oh, shit, man. What if he did it? I been thinkin' about it all week. You were so right, man. Just one friend makes all the difference. You were right about the queer thing, too. It doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter ... he's a good kid."
I was trying to absorb all this. "What's he like? You guys can really be friends?"
"It's hard to tell. He opens up, then he clams up. He's really havin' a bad time right now. I practically had to drag him over here. I'm just hopin' that meetin' some regular people that're like him will make him feel better ... give him some hope."
"What'd you tell him?"
"I told him I knew some other gay kids around his age. That's the only reason he came, and I'm not sure he believed me." Rich looked me in the eyes. "Davy, I don't know what to do with this. I like Eddie, but I'm afraid for him. I don't know if he believes me, but I know he's hopin' I'm tellin' the truth. We live in a small town and he thinks he's all alone ... that he's the only one like that."
I felt bad. "That really sucks. How's everybody know?"
"It's really stupid. He went to a keg party last summer. He was with a kid he really liked, then he got all drunk and made a play for him right in front of everybody. I guess it's the kind of thing you can't live down."
"I guess. You like him, though?"
"I'm tryin' to. We don't like many of the same things, but we both like skiing. I think we'll have to wait for winter. I talked to my other friends, and they're at least gonna leave him be. A couple of 'em might try to be friends, but I didn't get any promises. Isn't Rafe coming? I really thought he'd be able to help."
That somehow struck me funny. If Eddie needed to meet other gay kids, Richie had brought him to the right place. I wondered whether I should tell Rafe, Brian and Adam about Eddie when they got there. Was it my business? Part of me said yes, and another part said no. Then I thought about what Richie said ... that Eddie really came because Rich told him there'd be other gay kids here. Eddie had gone through hell because, in a drunken moment, he'd let people know that he was gay. I was back to wondering if it was any of my business, and finally decided to just see how things went.
I was really wondering where Artie was, so I went looking for him. I didn't get too far when I was accosted by Kenny's daughter, Sandy. She was about eleven then, and she was really turning into a pretty girl. We talked for a few minutes, then I asked if she knew where her father was. She had no idea.
It was slow going for me. I kept meeting people and having to stop and catch up with things. I was almost to the living room when the door opened and I saw Artie coming out. Ken, Barry, Don and Jimbo were right behind him. Artie looked as if he had been crying. As soon as he saw me he came over and gave me a hug. I looked over his shoulder at the other guys. Ken and Don both had red eyes, and I think they'd been crying too.
Artie let me go, then said, "I can't believe it, Dave. Your friends are the best people in the whole world. I gotta be the biggest dickhead ever born. Never again! From now on I'm going to think before I do things. If I can't decide if I'm right I'm going to ask. I was a little scared coming here, but it might be the best thing I ever did."
I had to smile. "What the hell went on in there?"
Barry said, "We talked."
"No shit. About what?"
Jimbo laughed. "A wide range of subjects, Dave ... a very wide range." He looked at Artie, then back to me. "Your brother's quite the guy, kid. I guess none of us knew what you saw in him, then Barry said he was pretty nice when he met him. Now we know him, and you were right all along." He reached over and messed up my hair, grinning. "I still think Butch is hiding in that head of yours. You're really shit city, Dave."
I looked at him. "What?"
"Shit city, man. The best. The ultimate!"
I had never heard the term, and it didn't sound very complimentary, but Jim did live in Manhattan so I just let it pass.
Artie butted in. "Ken's taking me for a ride in his dune buggy! Have you ever been in it?"
"Yeah, Artie, I've been in it. Go to the bathroom first." Everybody laughed, and I looked at Ken. "Timmy's out in it right now."
Ken just shrugged and smiled. "We'll eat first, then. Anybody seen my kids?"
"I just saw Sandy a few minutes ago. I didn't see Denny yet."
He looked at his watch. "Damn! I didn't mean to spend that much time in the house. Lemme go round 'em up, then we'll have some fun." He nodded towards me. "You got just one second, Dave?"
He steered me into the living room and closed the door behind us. "Davy, you're not gonna believe this. Everybody likes Artie - he's really a nice kid. His intentions get him on my 'A' list, and he really wants to make his actions agree with them. You were so right to stick with this. Don't worry about doin' everythin' yourself. We're all gonna help, okay?"
"Really? You're gonna let him be your friend?"
"No, Dave. I want him to be my friend. We all do. He's a little screwed up, but who isn't? I think that deep down inside Artie's one of the nicest people I’ve met in a long time. I just wanted you to know that. Ya done good, kid! You stood up for somebody that everybody wanted to hate, and you were right all along. You're a real man now, and I hope we're friends forever."
I was going to reply automatically, then realized I'd just gotten the best compliment of my life. I looked into Ken's smiling face, then held my hand out to shake. He started to shake hands, then pulled me into a hug. Neither of us said another word. I could feel his whiskers on my cheek and I started to get tears in my eyes. This was a father's hug for his son, a son's hug for his father. I realized then that Ken had been my father for a long time, giving me the guidance I would have gotten from my own Dad if he had lived.
It was an unspoken thing, and probably not a conscious thing either, but Ken had done for me what any good father would do for his own children. He had loved, prodded, guided and encouraged me for four years now. He had forgiven my failures, which were major, and shown me the way to my personal redemption. Hell, he didn't just show me the way, he paved it!
It wasn't just Ken, either. Barry, Don and Jimbo had all been there for me through everything. Now Rennie was willing to step in. I was a fatherless boy, but I had more fathers than anybody. I was the happiest and luckiest kid on the planet.
Ken backed up a bit and grinned his best. "Wow! We're connected now, huh?" His eyes looked right into my brain, and I grinned back my agreement. We went out to rejoin the party.
Mary was waiting right outside the door, so I said hi and gave her a quick hug and left the two of them together. I was thirsty, but didn't feel ready for beer yet. Finding anything else to drink at Ken's could be problematical at best, but there was a cooler marked 'soda', so I grabbed a grape one and went back outside. I immediately saw Brian talking to Richie, but Rafe and Adam weren't with them. I walked over to them.
"Hey, Bri. Isn't Rafe here?"
"Oh, hi, Dave. Yeah, him and Adam went to help Barry set up his smoker. They're just around back."
Richie said, "They came back once, but went right back out. Wanna go look for 'em on the bikes?"
"Sounds fun! Brian?"
"Uh ... you guys go ahead. I think I'll go help the other guys."
Rich and I went to the shed to get helmets, then fired up the two biggest bikes and headed into the woods. It was exhilarating for both of us. Noise and speed and a little nature. We were whooping and hollering at least loud enough to hear each other. Ken didn't believe much in mufflers, so we were making a whole lot of noise. We spent a lot of time on the hilly trails, jumping the bikes at every opportunity. We eventually followed the long, flat trail out to the chicken farm.
When we got there, we saw the dune buggy. Tim and Eddie were sitting on a little knoll beside it. They were hugging, and Tim had his chin on the top of Eddie's head. They both looked up when they heard us, and they both looked like they were crying. I got off my bike and pushed the kick stand down, but it was some soft dirt and I had to jump away when the bike fell over in my direction. It didn't matter right then.
I walked towards Tim. "What's the matter? You guys cryin'?"
I guess it was stupid to question the obvious, but it made Tim laugh through his tears. "Yeah, we're cryin'. Eddie's got a sad story, man." He looked at Richie. "Why didn't you say something? You bring him here to meet other gay kids, then you don't say who they are? What's he supposed to do, guess? We just wasted an hour trying' to seem like anythin' but." His look softened and he smiled over at me. "You take him, Dave. This is what you're good at."
"I'm good at?"
"You're better than me. All I did was get us both cryin'. You got the words, Dave. Eddie needs to hear 'em." He eyed the bike on the ground. "Any gas left in that thing?"
"Yeah, it should be about half full. Any in the duner?"
"Not enough for a joyride, but plenty to get back with." He stood up, then looked at Eddie and smiled. "Dave's the man. You'll be whistlin' a happy tune by the time you get back, I promise. You okay?"
Eddie wiped one eye on each shoulder and looked up at Tim. "I'm okay. Thanks, Tim ... for everything."
I helped Tim pick up the bike, then we kissed each other quickly. Tim whispered, "He's in tough shape. Give him some hope, okay?"
"I'll try. Be careful, Tim. We'll be back in a few." I hugged him before he got on the bike, then he and Richie left.
I sat down beside Eddie. "Tough times, huh?"
"Wanna tell me about it? We got time."
"I hate talking about it. I hate bein' the only queer around. I hate myself. I hate life. Wanna hear more?"
"Okay. I love to talk. You ain't hardly the only queer around. If you hate yourself, you're the only one that does. If you hate life, you're fucked in the head and I'm gonna hafta hit ya. How's that for starters?"
I hesitantly reached to put my hand on his shoulder, but he grabbed it and turned to me.
"I saw you kiss Tim, and he told me you were in love. Why can't I have that?"
"Who said you couldn't?"
He dropped my hand and looked at the ground. "I messed everything up. There was this kid that I really loved ... at least I thought I did. I got all trashed on beer one night and tried to kiss him in front of all our friends. Now everybody hates me. I'm just a dirty little faggot."
I thought for a minute. "Let's start with that. Please don't use that word ... faggot. I really hate the way it sounds. I guess if you made a move on somebody that didn't want it you got yourself in trouble. I don't see why you think it's permanent, though. Do you defend yourself?"
"What's to defend? It's all true. Everybody saw it."
"Everybody saw you do somethin' stupid when you were drunk as a skunk. You loved this kid? Any reason to think he loved you back?"
"Lots of reasons, but I was wrong. Oh, man! I wish I could have that one night back and just stay home or somethin'."
"Can't do that. Why do you hate yourself? Just for one dumb move?"
"No, not really. I just hate bein' queer. Why me? Why can't I just be normal?"
"I don't have an answer for that. Why can't I? What's normal, anyhow? I'm just learnin' to like myself, but I had a lot of reasons not to. Bein' gay wasn't even one of 'em. I only figured that out a couple of weeks ago, and I'm only sure that I love Timmy. I know that makes me gay, but how can bein' in love be a wrong thing? It's a thing I'm never gonna worry about, because love makes me happy. Beyond happy ... way beyond."
"I wish I could remember what happy felt like. All I can think about is ways to do myself in. Honest to God, if it wasn't for Richie I wouldn't be here right now."
"Richie was my first friend. I didn't know what friends were all about until I met him."
"He's my first friend in a long time, too. He used to tease me like everybody else, then he's bein' all nice to me. I'm still not sure if he's tryin' to trick me somehow."
"Richie's pretty smart. He probably just figured out that he was actin' dumb. I know he ain't boyfriend material, but you'll never find a better friend."
"You really think he's not foolin' around?"
"You think he really just wants to be friends? Man, I been beatin' myself up over this ... wonderin' if he's serious."
"It goes both ways, Eddie. If Rich wants to be a friend, he wants to find one at the other end, too."
"I don't get what you mean."
"I mean, if he's makin' the effort to be nice I'm sure he don't wanna hear a bunch of crap about hate and suicide. Stop thinkin' crap and start listenin' to your friends. There's a guy here named Rafe. He used to be in the same boat as you, but he's popular now and everybody knows he's gay. He just went out and made friends. He's fun to know and he's good to people. You should talk to him when we get back to the house."
Eddie didn't say anything right away, then his voice seemed smaller. "I get what you're saying. I hafta be a friend, too."
We talked for quite a while longer. It was mostly me prodding him to just open up and be friendly. I told him more about Rafe, then a lot about Timmy and myself. He looked like he was getting more hopeful by the minute. When I couldn't think of anything else that would be useful I suggested that we go back to the picnic.
He looked up and smiled. "Timmy was so right. You have the words, Dave. Can I kiss you?"
I smiled. "Everything except the left ear's reserved for Timmy." I pulled him into a hug. He'd been nervous and sweating and I could smell it on him, but he gave the ear a good kiss and we stood up to go back to the house. I looked at Eddie one more time, and he was smiling brightly. It made him look great.
"Do you like blondies?"
"Just hold that smile. Wait 'til you meet Adam!"
I heard, "Who's Adam?" as the engine started, but I soon drowned out any chance of him hearing an answer.
I took it easy going back to the house. I parked the dune buggy, then pointed Eddie towards the bathroom so he could wash up. I had seen my mother and Artie sitting with Mary and walked over to see what they were talking about. They looked up when I approached them.
"Hey, people! What's up?"
My mother said, "Mary and Arthur are just getting to know one another. Arthur's going to start seeing her twice a week for a while, just to see if there's anything she can help him with."
I looked at Mary. "So, what do you think of my brother? Any surprises?"
She smiled. "Only that he's such a gentleman. I can name several people around here who could benefit from his example. I can tell you that he made quite a hit with Ken and his pals."
Artie was practically glowing, but he looked like he wanted to do something besides sit and talk. "The dune buggy's back, Artie. Go find Ken and get your ride. Don't forget to pee first."
He didn't need two hints. He politely told my mother and Mary that he'd be back, then bolted for the house. I looked at Mary.
"What'd ya really think? I mean ... is he okay?"
"I'm sure that he's fine, Dave. For one thing, he needs to decide what, if anything, he wants to do regarding his father. He also knows that he has a judgment problem, but things are much easier to fix when you're not in denial. I think he's a bit overwhelmed right now with new family and friends, but familiarity will take care of that. If you all just keep on doing what you have been ... making him feel useful and valued ... things will fall into place for him. I can work on the judgment problem, but your good examples are what he needs most. At least he's happy. I don't get to start out with that very often."
We talked a little more, then I went to find Tim. The bikes were back, so I thought he'd be there somewhere. I saw Jerry sitting with Deanna and her parents and talked with them for a little while. Deanna's father knew Ken from way back, and her mother worked with Don's wife. They seemed to be really nice people, and it was obvious that they liked Jerry. We told them about our new 'family' and they thought it was wonderful that we'd pulled together like we did.
I spied Tim up on the hill tossing a football with some other guys and excused myself. When he saw me, he threw the ball to me. I caught it and tossed to Kenny's son, Denny. I overthrew it and he had to chase it into the woods. Tim told the other guys to count him out, then we walked toward the smokers.
"How'd you make out with Eddie? He looks a lot happier."
"Okay, I guess. I told him he was bein' too hard on himself and to just be friends with people. Where is he?"
"I think he's down here with Barry and them. That's the last place I saw him. I just hadda get away from the smoke."
Brian and Rafe were there with Barry, Don and Jimbo. The ribs were smoking and didn't need much attention. They were just sitting there telling dirty jokes and laughing loudly.
Tim and I sat down and started listening and laughing. When things were quiet for a second I asked Rafe, "Where's Adam?"
"I don't know. He wandered off somewhere."
"Did you guys meet Eddie yet? Richie's friend?"
Rafe pointed behind me. "He's over there with Rich. We didn't get introduced yet."
"You should try to talk to him, Rafe. He's havin' the same kinda troubles you used to have. Wanna go meet him?"
Rafe looked at Brian, who nodded. "Why not?"
We all stood up, minus Tim, who wanted to hear more jokes, then we couldn't see Richie and Eddie anymore. Rafe spotted them walking toward the woods and we chased after them.
"Eddie!" He stopped and turned around, waiting until we caught up with them.
I introduced Rafe and Brian, then Rich and I left them to talk. Richie looked pretty serious. "Man, what'd you say to him? He's actin' normal now, and he's sayin' I saved his life! That's pretty heavy stuff."
"Wow. That is serious." I looked at Richie. "You did, you know. I don't think he would'a ever made it back to school." I fluttered my eyelids. "My hero!"
Richie laughed and shoved me. "Yeah, right. Whatever happened, I think it worked. It's like he trusts me now. He was so suspicious before, I felt like whackin' him one. You hungry? They're bringin' out hot snacks."
"Sounds good. Let me get Timmy. I'll see ya over by the food."
I went back to the smokers and told Tim I was going to eat something. He got up to come with me, then said, "Here comes Adam."
We called over to him and he ran to join us. He didn't look too happy. "What's wrong with you? Not enough to eat?"
"Huh? No, I'm okay, just a little bored. Everybody's with somebody else. I don't really know very many people here."
I was taken aback. "I never once heard anybody say they were bored at this place. You could go dirt bikin' or somethin', ya know."
"I ... I don't know how. I never went on a motorcycle."
"Let's eat somethin', then we'll show ya." I had a thought. "You like freckles?"
"Freckles. You never heard of freckles?"
"I heard of them. I just don't know what you're gettin' at."
We were at the food. They'd pulled two picnic tables together end-to-end, and they were loaded with steaming pots and trays. It smelled fantastic.
"Let's eat, then I'll explain. You didn't answer me, though. You like 'em?"
We got plates and started filling them with delicious looking things. I heard the dune buggy come into the yard and looked over. Artie looked like he was stuck in it and Ken went around to help him out. They were both splattered in mud, but both grinning. Artie looked pretty pale under the mud. They walked over to where we were and picked up plates. Artie was shaking visibly, but looked like he just had some scary fun.
We were almost at the end of the table. Adam nudged me. "So, what's the deal with freckles? I get freckles when I spend too much time in the sun. Is that why you're askin?"
Somebody bumped into me and I had to perform a heroic maneuver to keep my plate in my hand and to keep from going face first onto the table. Adam, Rich and Tim all laughed. I turned around and said, to nobody in particular, "Lard ass!"
We found an unoccupied spot on the lawn. I went to get beer and soda for everybody. When I got back, Ken and Mary and Artie were sitting there, so I went back for three more beers. Artie wanted a soda, so I gave him mine and popped open a beer even though I didn't really want it. We sat quietly munching for a while, then I asked Ken, "What? No explosions today?"
"Let me eat."
I knew that was a yes, and I got excited. "What is it? A blizzard, tornado? What?"
His mouth was full. "Come on! I'm hungry here."
"Please? I know you got somethin' goin' on!" I was going to beg some more, but I saw Adam looking up the hill with an amazed look on his face. I looked behind me and saw Rafe, Brian and Eddie walking towards us engaged in happy conversation. I looked back at Adam.
He was staring at them, then suddenly jerked his head to look at me. "Freckles. Is that why you asked? Ohmigod! He's adorable! What's his name? Where's he live? How old is he? Howcum I never saw him before? Oh, shit! Do I look okay? Red hair. Oh, man, I love red hair. Is that what you meant? Is he ... is he like us? Is it someday already?"
Adam's excitement got us all laughing. I told him to calm down. "His name's Eddie, Adam, and he really, really needs a friend right now. It looks like he found a few already."
When they got close enough for Eddie to see Adam, he almost fell down. Then he started walking forward like a zombie. Their eyes were locked, and when Eddie started to sit down he almost ended up in Timmy's lap. It was funny to watch, because they were only using their eyes to communicate. I introduced them but didn't get any response. I finally yanked Adam's arm and made him walk away a little bit with me.
"Go easy, okay Adam? Eddie's comin' down off a bad year and he only needs friends. You listenin'?"
It was hopeless. I told Adam how to get to the big flat rock by the pond. "Only good things happen there, Adam. Eddie just needs friends right now, so don't push, okay?"
"Don't push! I'm serious. If he gets hurt again right now it might kill him. Just take it easy and try to make a friend."
That seemed to jerk Adam back in to real time. His eyes opened wide. "Bad?"
"Real bad. Just be a friend, okay? Your someday will come."
"I'll be careful. Can I go now?" He gave me a sly grin. "I have a friend that needs help."
"Just don't forget to come back to eat."
Adam headed toward Eddie, but looked back at me grinning. "I won't forget." He knelt down in front of Eddie, and in a few seconds they were on their way to the pond, looking at each other and not where they were going.
I was in a very good mood. Tim had put his plate down on the ground, so I took the opportunity to sit on his lap. He wrapped his arms around me and laid his chin on my head. It made me smile, and I could actually feel his chin move as he worked his face into his own smile. Brian and Rafe were leaning against each other holding hands. Mary put her plate down and sat sideways across Ken's lap, her head against his shoulder. Artie was sitting there by himself, taking it all in.
Suddenly I heard Barry's voice. "Artie?"
We all looked up. Barry was standing there with a nice looking, brown-haired girl about Artie's age. "Artie, this is my niece, Pam."
Artie stood up, flushing every shade of red there was. He held out his hand, and they both said shy hello's.
"Pam's here alone, and I stink from standin' in all the smoke. I was hopin' you'd introduce her around and make sure she gets what she wants."
A whole bunch of surprised eyes turned to Barry and it was his turn to blush. "Heh, I mean food ... a place to sit. You guys are all assholes! Don't worry, Pammy, Artie's a gentleman. You'll be in good ha...." He rolled his eyes. "I give up! Just enjoy yourself." Barry walked back towards his ribs.
Artie offered to get Pam a chair, but she just sat on the grass and he sat beside her. Pam knew Mary and Ken, and they started to talk. That led to general conversation and everyone joined in. I found it very relaxing to just talk about the weather, the news and the prices of things. These were things that affected everybody, but usually not in a profound way. Artie started talking about the store that he wanted to buy. Everybody from town knew the place and thought it was a good idea.
Sitting on the grass got uncomfortable after a while, and everyone decided to go mingle. Tim and I walked over to Barry's smoker. It was smoking, but nobody was there. We decided to walk out in the woods. We followed the trail down towards the pond, not really talking. Tim had his hand loosely around my back, but we were mostly looking at the woods ... the way the sun filtered through the trees and made everything seem different from the last time we'd seen it.
The sunlight and the shadows were never exactly the same, and you could notice a fern that you'd never seen before just sitting out there in all its green glory, even if the sun might never hit it directly again. Even though these trails were cut for dune buggies and dirt bikes, their particular beauty hadn't been diminished a bit as walking trails. It was a peaceful place and just perfect for a lover's walk. It was an ideal place to share in silence. No words could do it justice, so no words were needed.
I had forgotten about Adam and Eddie. When we got to the bottom of the path we saw them sitting on the edge of the rock, their feet in the water and their sneakers beside them. We made a silent right turn and headed toward the fish pond. After we got out of earshot Tim looked at me and asked, "You think?"
"Who knows, Tim? It'd be great if it's that easy. I know Adam wants somebody real bad, but Eddie's ... well, he's messed up. Adam's messed up, too, so I don't know what'll happen."
"Adam's messed up?"
Oh, Shit! Timmy hadn't been there for Adam's confessions. Nobody except Adam, me and the photographers knew the details. Nobody! Adam and I had promised each other that we'd never tell.
I was torn. I knew that things left unsaid could and would come back to haunt you, but now I had a promise between me and that. I had the feeling that I was going to hurt Tim no matter what I said.
"Tim ... Timmy. There's some things I can't tell ya by myself. It's ... it's Adam's secret and I need for him to be here, and he has to say it’s okay. Okay?"
He just looked at me. "You don't have to tell me Adam's secrets."
I didn't know what to say. "Tim?"
"You know what I did last year, right? I mean, I told you everything."
He looked at me, concerned. "Yeah. Why ya bringin' this up?"
Why am I? "Because we said we'd always be honest."
"You left somethin' out?"
"It wasn't important then, Tim. I don't know if it is now, I just don't want to get bit in the ass sometime in the future." I put my mouth next to his ear and whispered as softly as I could, "Adam was one of the guys in the movies. Please don't hate him, and please don't hate me. We didn't even know each other then."
Tim pulled away and looked at me. He looked confused, then angry. I was getting nervous. Then he relaxed a little. "Adam? Little Adam had you before I did?" He turned his face away from me. "I ... I don't know what to say."
I got a little pissed. "Had me? Is that what you do? You have me? I thought you loved me. I thought you ...." I burst out crying.
Tim got behind me and pulled me into a hug. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for it to sound like that. I do love you, Dave, more than anything. I ... I ... I just always kinda thought about guys without faces ... perverts ... I don't know what I'm sayin'. But, Adam? How do I deal with that?"
I was sniveling, and I tried to stop. "I don't know, Timmy. How do I deal with it? How does Adam deal with it? It wasn't love. It wasn't even sex ... it was a performance, and it's the reason he's all messed up. You gotta promise not to ever tell anybody!"
"Why would I tell anybody? I just wish you didn't tell me. I'm sorry about what I said. I take it back. I never meant to make it sound like that, I promise." He tightened his hug a little, and spoke softly. "I need you, Dave. That was before, anyhow. Just say you still love me?"
"We're whinin' here, ya know that? We sound like a coupla spoiled brats."
I could feel it coming. First, Tim's grip on me relaxed a little, then his knees started jiggling. He had let me go completely and his whole body was quivering with mirth before the first sound emerged, then Tim's voice started to let the laughter out. The forest did nothing to mute it, and I was soon helpless myself.
It took us a while to regain control, then I straddled Timmy's legs and faced him. We were looking in each other's eyes, our smiles coming from deep inside us.
I kissed Tim quickly on the lips. "Brat!"
He kissed me back. "Punk!"
We continued the back-and-forth for a solid minute, then I pulled closer to Tim and just held on to him. He laid back on the leaves and I laid on top of him, kissing for all we were worth. When we finally broke for air, Timmy grinned at me.Next Chapter Previous Chapter