Rabble and Craig had managed only a half dozen blocks before Craig wanted to go home. His feeling of strangeness was just getting worse. The sign at the mini-mart was the first problem. Specifically the bullet sized hole through the middle of the large letter 'A'. A bullet hole that shouldn't be there, but Craig knew exactly where it came from. Because he'd put it there, many months ago doing some target practice.
Then there was the truck, parked outside the house a block away. He had found the keys for that truck in the house beside it a long time ago. Nothing surprising about that, after all, that's where the truck was parked. The problem was the large scratch in the passenger side rear fender. Joel had scraped a pole while trying to maneuver the truck into a loading dock. Even the paint transfer was the right color.
The gas station on the corner was another problem. There was one gas pump with an out of order sign on it, and the cover off of the pump. The same cover Craig had taken off long ago to hook up a portable generator for power. He couldn't help but walk close to it to take a look. The same wires were cut open and exposed.
Something wasn't right. Craig's feeling of oddness continued to creep up on him until he just wanted to go home and get away from it. After tossing the ball a few times for Rabble he turned and started walking home.
Craig smiled at Rabble's excitement as they passed by the house where she was born. Then he lost the smile, realizing that she shouldn't have been born yet, and she could have been born somewhere else in this sudden change of reality. There was barking from inside the house, and suddenly a dog pushed through the front screen door and came barreling towards him.
“Emdy? Emdy! Hi girl! It is you, isn't it?” he said, petting the excited dog.
The owner, a middle aged woman, came out of the house. “Oh, dear, I'm sorry about that. She's not usually like that, she tends to avoid people she doesn't know. I don't know what's gotten into her.”
“That's okay, ma'am. She's friendly. And I feel like I do know her.” He turned to Emdy. “I know you, don't I girl? Are you a good girl, Emdy?”
The woman smiled a puzzled smile. “It's Emmy. You know, like the awards. Not Emdy. But how did you know?”
Craig was brought up short. Uh-oh, another awkward explanation. “Uh, I'm not sure. Maybe I overheard it at the dog park?”
The woman's smile was a relief to Craig. “That must be it. We go there all the time. That's a lovely puppy you have there. She's such an interesting color. These two could almost be related. And look how they get along!” Em was busily licking clean Rabble's ear.
Craig smiled, unsure of what to say next. “Well, uh, we should be getting home. Nice to meet you ma'am.” Craig turned to continue home.
Unfortunately, Emdy followed.
Poor Em. Both the woman and Craig were trying to persuade her to go home, into the house. Emdy looked torn, looking back and forth between them again and again before seeming to understand Craig's promise to see her again, and she reluctantly turned to go back inside.
“I'm so sorry about that young man,” the woman said. “That's so odd. She's been acting strange all day today. She keeps going under the porch like she's looking for something.”
“Uh, don't worry ma'am. I'm sure it's nothing. I've been feeling odd all day today myself.” He smiled and began walking, Rabble obediently following behind.
Craig had been home for ten minutes and was just starting to make supper when his phone rang. He anwered it quickly, thinking maybe it was Joel calling back.
“Hello? Craig? It's, uh, it's Andrew. From school.”
“Andrew? Hey, hi Andrew. I was going to call you tonight. How are ya?”
For almost the first time in his life, Craig knew what it felt like for the shoe to be on the other foot. The voice on the other end sounded a bit reluctant, a bit hesitant, a bit embarrassed. “Uh, were you? I wasn't sure...I mean...Sorry. Um. Anyway, I was just wondering if maybe you wanted to shoot some hoops or something. After supper?”
Craig thought hard. He really wanted to spend some time searching on the internet for answers about everything. And he was hoping he and Joel could talk. But here a boy actually wanted to spend some time with him. An awfully cute boy, and one who seemed to like him.
“Yeah, sure, I'd love to,” he heard himself answer, before he had actually decided. “Um, I don't have a basketball net. Where do you want to meet?”
“Well, you could come here if you want. I have a net in the driveway. I can text you the address, it's about five blocks from the school.”
“Okay, sounds good. Thanks.”
The plans were made and Craig checked the text with Andrew's address. He slipped the phone in his pocket feeling happier than he had all day.
By the time his mom came home from work Craig was, despite everything, almost humming to himself as he finished setting the table for supper.
Mrs. Jamison walked through the door, looking weary as she usually did after work. She kicked off her shoes and yelled upstairs as she walked into the kitchen, “Craig honey? I'm home. I think we'll order out for supper today, because I'm just completely....”
Craig looked up at his mom as she came into the kitchen, “Hi Mom. Supper will be ready in a minute. I just made some pasta and baked some chicken breasts that were in the fridge. I made a kind of teriyaki sauce with what I found in the cupboards. I hope that's okay?”
There was no answer for a minute as she looked at the stove and then at Craig, her expression befuddled. “Uh, Craig, what is this? I mean, yes, it's fine. Thank you. But, since when do you make supper? Since when do you know how?”
Craig didn't want to lie, so he evaded. “Aww, Mom, anyone can watch a cooking show and read a recipe book. I'm just trying to make up for how I've acted lately.” He smiled a bit sheepishly, “Umm, and I kinda wanted to go over to a friend's house after supper, if it's okay? My homework's done and I figured maybe if I cooked, well, would you mind cleaning up after?”
“Craig, of course it's okay if you go to a friend's house. I've been trying to get you out of the house more for weeks.” She smiled, “And a little bribery like this never hurts, that's for sure. I'll do the dishes, you go and socialize like a teenager is supposed to do.”
“Thanks Mom,” Craig answered with a smile. “Now, go get changed and wash up for dinner.”
Mrs. Jamison laughed. A laugh that Craig loved but hadn't heard much of since dad died. “Yes sir, right away sir,” she said as she walked up the stairs.
“Crap. That's an 'E' for me Andrew. You win,” Craig said as he sat down in the grass beside Andrew's driveway. He was panting lightly. He didn't feel as in shape as he did yesterday, but, strangely, he also didn't feel as out of shape as he used to. Somewhere in between, just another of the oddities that were cropping up. Craig continued to do his best to ignore them and enjoy himself.
Andrew plopped down beside Craig. “Good game Craig, I thought you had me with that last shot.” His eyes flicked onto Craig's and then away. Several seconds passed. His body language changed slightly, a bit stiffer. “So, uh, how come you, like, changed your mind about me? I thought you didn't like me.”
Craig blushed and studied an ant climbing a stalk of grass. He wasn't used to feeling put on the spot anymore. “Um, listen Andrew, I'm sorry about that. It wasn't anything to do with you. Honest. I was just a bit selfish and kinda feeling sorry for myself back then. It was stupid.”
Andrew's expression changed and he looked up at Craig, his head cocked slightly to one side, “You make it sound like it was long ago. Look, something's different about you today. It's weird. It's like you're standing up straighter, not so scared of everything. But, at the same time, you looked a little lost earlier today.” It was Andrew's turn to blush as he seemed to suddenly realize how what he said might come across. “Um, sorry, I didn't mean...umm...oh man, I guess that was kind of rude.”
Craig laughed and Andrew's blush was replaced with a relieved look. Craig said, “No, it wasn't rude at all. It was true. I think I am different now.” Craig thought fast. He was starting to feel a tiny tinge of his old uncertainty, trying to figure out how to keep the conversation going. What to say next. He felt good though. Like he was making a friend maybe. The first friend other than Joel in a long, long time.
He liked Andrew, he was funny and smart. And cute. Not only that, but he was also obviously trying to get to know Craig better, though he had been blind to it before. But, and this was a big 'but,' he wasn't sure if he was ready for this just now. It was complicated. The feeling of strangeness hadn't gone away, in fact it was worse, though he had been working hard on ignoring that for the past hour or two.
The strangeness, that wasn't anything to do with Andrew, or being at his house. That was the most normal thing about his evening. It was everything else. All of the little things that seemed just slightly out of place.
He didn't know what to say to Andrew. He finally came out with, “Sorry, it's just been a really, really bizarre day.” He hesitated again. He didn't want to start a possible friendship with evasion and lies, but he wasn't at all sure he was ready to say any more than that yet. Hey, he thought, why not say that?! “Look, honestly, about your question, I'm not trying to be evasive, but I'm really not sure I'm ready to talk about this yet. Maybe...”
To Craig's relief, Andrew was nodding. “No, you don't have to explain. You barely know me. Yet.” This was accompanied by what looked like a hopeful smile towards Craig. “Don't worry about it. Let's go inside and get something to drink, I'm kinda thirsty after the basketball.”
Craig stood up and followed Andrew towards his house. “Hey, where's you friend from school? I thought he might be here too, you guys are always together every time I see you.”
Andrew opened the fridge and grabbed two cans of root beer, handing one to Craig and popping open the other. They plopped down on two stools at the raised island in the kitchen. “Jamie. Yeah, he was going to come, but when I told him you were coming over he decided to stay home. He knows I....” Andrew stopped talking and looked very much like someone looks when they know they've said too much, and didn't know how to gracefully back out of it.
Craig did his best to try and ease his discomfort, though he wasn't quite sure of its source,. He had some thoughts about that though. Some nice thoughts. “Sorry Andrew, I didn't mean to pry. The same goes for you, what you said to me outside. We don't know each other very well yet, so no worries.”
Andrew took a long gulp of his root beer, and then set it down on the counter firmly. “Craig, look, I want to get to know you better. I really do. I've been trying to get you to talk to me since school started a couple weeks ago, but you never would. That's why I threw the basketball at you yesterday, and again today. I was running out of ideas, and figured either you'd talk to me or tell me to fuck off.”
“You did that on purpose?”
Andrew grinned sheepishly. “Uh, yeah. Sorry.”
Craig chuckled. “Man I'm stupid. Sorry I was such a dweeb. So how come you wanted to talk to me so bad?”
Andrew's blush told Craig he'd put his foot in it again. “Sorry Andrew, I have a real way with words. A way to make 'em sound stupid. I withdraw the question.”
“No, don't apologize Craig, I'm the one who's being the dweeb here. I'm not usually like that. So, even though I kinda don't want to, I'm going to answer your question.” Andrew paused and took another gulp of his root beer. “I wanted to get you to talk to me because, ever since I saw you on that first day, I thought you looked like someone I wanted to be friends with.” Despite his renewed blush, Andrew kept looking steadily at Craig. “Then I was sure you didn't like me, especially after yesterday. I was sure you were pissed at me for knocking the wind out of you with the ball. You wouldn't even look at me in class afterwards. So I decided I'd blown it. But there you were again today, walking by but looking kinda different. Kinda lost and sure of yourself at the same time. It was weird. So I tried again, almost without thinking. But this time it worked, and then in gym we talked, and now here we are. I'm glad you came over Craig.”
Craig smiled and started to answer when a loud noise from the doorway startled him. He dropped off his stool and crouched behind it, his hand going to his hip quickly. Then his brain caught up. He looked over towards Andrew, who was still sitting on his stool and looking at him like he'd lost his mind. Craig stood up slowly and sat down again. “Uh, sorry, I'm a little touchy with sudden noises these days.”
“Dude. It's just the garage door opener. My dad's home.” Andrew kept looking at him oddly. “Craig, I don't know what's up with you, but I just want you to know. You are going to tell me. My dad says I'm the world's most stubborn kid and I usually get what I want when I set my mind to it. Well, I want to know. Maybe not now, I'll wait until you're ready, but you are going to tell me.” Andrew raised his eyebrows to emphasize his point, then smiled to take the sting off. “Or, you can tell me to fuck off I guess.” A tired and stressed looking man walked through the kitchen door and Andrew jumped up and ran over to hug him. “Hi Dad! I want you to meet my new friend. This is Craig.”
The tired looking man hugged Andrew then stepped towards Craig, his hand extended, a smile on his face. “Hi Craig. Welcome to our home.”
Craig stood up and shook the man's hand, trying to figure out where he had seen his face before. “It's nice to meet you Mr... uh...” He suddenly realized he didn't know Andrew's last name. Fortunately, Andrew rescued him.
“Pollack. My dad is Dr. Pollack,” Andrew said, a note of pride in his voice.
“Nice to meet you Dr. Pollack,” Craig finished, hoping he was succeeding at showing a polite smile on his face. He was having a hard time containing his reaction. He knew who Dr. Pollack was. Again, he desperately needed time to think. Craig's eye caught the clock on the stove beside Dr. Pollack. It was fifteen minutes past the time he needed to leave anyway.
“I just saw what time it is. I have to get home Andrew. Thanks for inviting me over. We'll see you in school tomorrow.” He smiled at Dr. Pollack. “It was nice meeting you Dr. Pollack.” Andrew and Craig bumped fists, and Craig was on his way home.
His thoughts tumbled in his head. He had actually met him! Craig knew he lived in town, had known since before they moved here, but he never thought they would be able to meet in person!
Wow, he was friends with a famous guy's son.