sometimes just miss the hell out of high school? I do. At
sure did at that moment...
"Okay, y'all. Last half-a flight ta go," I said, exhausted.
It was the first weekend in January and one of my brothers had been nice enough to help me move my family's old refrigerator from our house to my dorm room, which was on the third floor. It was a full-sized son of a bitch and heavier than hell. We'd bought it in the 70's, and it was the obligatory lettuce green which was cherished by so many households back then. Today they call it "avocado green". I call it puke, but it sure beats "harvest gold." Anyway, my parents had it in our basement ever since we moved into the house in Stone Mountain when they used an "almond" colored fridge, thus keeping us current in the 80's.
There were four of us, myself, my brother, Greg and a guy we'd corralled down the hall named John, moving the behemoth up through the first floor lobby and then up to the top floor. Being full-sized it was damn bulky and clunked on every step -- all fifty of them. We made one last charge and shoved it up the stairs and into the hallway that our dorm room was on. Once we got it into the room and situated, my brother Roger stopped to checkout our new bunks. He'd never been to my dorm before, but was no stranger to the tight confines. Both of my brothers had attended and graduated from Georgia Tech.
"This is cool," he said. "How'd y'all come up with this design?"
"I think it was Greg's idea, tell ya the truth," I said. Most bunk beds were either arranged in tandem across the one long wall of the room, or set opposite each other with a space in the middle. Some guys would even have swing-down ladders gaining them access to the upper bunks while having a living area below.
But being architecture students, we just had to be different. We raised the beds off the floor with enough room for a recliner chair beneath mine and a double sleeper sofa under Greg’s, both of which came from Greg’s house. The beds themselves were set against the wall and were arranged to form an L. Greg’s head was nearest the windows. The foot end of his bed faced the side of the head end of mine. If I were to lie on my right side, I would be looking right at Greg’s feet. Fortunately, a low (very low) shelf separated the two beds. It was large enough to hold a small bed lamp, a couple of books and my alarm clock. Basically, when you walked into the room from the hall, if you were drunk, you'd walk right into the side of my bunk; there was only about four feet of space between the door and my side. The cool thing about this was that you could walk around the foot-end of my bunk and still have a full-height space in which to walk around the rest of the room. The fridge was behind the door as you opened it. Greg's built-in desk was nearest the door, mine nearest the window.
But wait a minute, wait a minute, you're saying. Paul! Bubbaleh! How did we go from dinner at American Pie to being roommates?
That first dinner went off pretty well without a hitch. Well, except for the fact that I was certain he'd forgotten my name from when I'd introduced myself to him in studio. So, genius that I am, I thought up a funny story to tell him where my mom called my name, and once I said it you could see a light go off in his head. I didn't make a big deal about it, but it was funny.
It turned out that Greg was actually a second year college student, but this was his first year in architecture. Our senses of humor were exactly alike. Both of us mimicked every sound and distinctive voice that we heard. Sometimes we'd have whole conversations as two different people, much to the amusement of our fellow studio haunters. Conversation was never lacking. We talked about funny stuff, bullshit, serious topics, you name it. I was always able to talk about things to Alan, Don and Glen, but I think that I'd matured somewhat over the past year. For some reason talking to Greg was a lot different. Perhaps because the other guys had known so much about my life and my past, but with Greg it was like involving myself with somebody who knew absolutely nothing about me. In a way it gave me a bit of freedom to be a little different than I was used to. Plus, I'm sure that moving off to college and turning twenty-one had something to do with the maturation process.
So the weeks went by, that first quarter, and Greg and I were around each other a lot. Many times, if it was really late, we'd head over to Dunkin' Donuts for doughnuts and coffee -- well, in my case hot chocolate. I hate coffee. Anyway, it was nothing to find us out with other studio-heads at three in the morning, taking a break from one project or the next in order to fill our gullets. After spending the previous year so seriously focused on my life and my health, it was an enormous pressure relief to be around somebody with Greg's personality. The two of us were like the proverbial peas in a pod, and soon enough, if our classmates saw one of us, they'd ask us where the other one was.
The days at the cabin seemed eons away.
The only bad thing, for Greg, was that he was still living at home with his parents. It doesn't sound like a big deal to live four or five miles from the campus, but when you have to trudge projects back and forth, in your car, to studio, it really sucked.
Greg worked at Applebee's as a cook. Well, sometimes he cooked, sometimes he prepared the food for the cooks, sometimes he worked expo. Basically, he worked the kitchen. One night during the first quarter, my roommate David, John and I headed over to Applebee's to catch a late dinner. It was in the middle of the week and the place wasn't really all that busy. I asked our waiter if Greg was working. He was, in fact, there that night, so the waiter went to mention to him that we were sitting in the dining room. A few minutes later, Greg came over to our table, sat down, and we all started talking about school.
David had asked Greg why he wasn't living in the dorms along with the rest of the architecture students, and Greg replied that he'd turned in his application to the housing office past the deadline to move in the current quarter. Earlier in the week, David had decided that he was going to move down the hall into another room with John. The two of them smoked, and John's current roommate and myself didn't, so John and David wanted to have a room where they could both smoke without leaving on account of us. So naturally, David asked Greg if he'd be interested in moving in with me, since I'd be without a roommate. Greg looked pretty uncomfortable, like he'd been put on the spot, so I tried to play it off by saying something along the lines of "you don't have to if you don't want to, blah blah." I did think that it was a good idea, if not more practical for Greg. He said that he'd give it some thought.
So obviously, he agreed to move in with me. His application was already in with the housing office, and his deposit paid, so all that was needed was for me to bop on down and request him as my roommate for the winter quarter. A week later Greg received a letter in the mail, which was basically the contract, assigning him to my room, and the deal was done. During the Christmas break, he and I designed the new bunks for the room and actually built them in his driveway so we knew that they'd actually fit once we got them up to the room.
Once Roger was done checking out the room, which took all of three seconds, the four of us headed over to Pizza Hut for a late lunch. Since John and Roger had helped us move the refrigerator in, Greg and I bought their lunch. When we were done eating, we all headed back over to the dorms, and Roger left to go back home. Not much to do in the dorms when so many people haven't returned yet, so Greg and I headed down to John's room. The guy liked to smoke, but he didn't like his room filled with it, and would always sit near an open window so he could blow the fumes outside. At some point Greg headed back down the hall to our room. I think he wanted to just veg out for a while, so I let him have his space.
* * * * *
It was the weekend, and being early in the quarter, our studio profs hadn't totally smothered us with projects to do, so I'd gone home to do laundry, regular homework, etc. George had liberty for a week before he had to go to Saudi Arabia for a 6-8 month tour, or whatever they're called. He'd come in the night before, and he, Glen, Alan and myself had gone out for a few drinks. Being a Friday night, Don was bouncing at the bar he worked at in Buckhead. The four of us had a good time, but we didn't get tanked. Well, most of us didn't. It's funny, once I'd turned 21 the previous October, drinking was no longer a big deal to me. Alan was still two months away from his twenty-first birthday, but as big as the damn guy was, nobody bothered to card him. Being a UGA football player, Alan had also gotten used to putting away more than a few beers in his three years at that school. Smartly, though, he didn't drink so much that it effected him, physically. The guy was a study in muscular perfection. But I guess you had to be, when you had hundreds of pounds of flesh and muscle propelling themselves at you on a constant basis. The nickname "Diesel" certainly fit him.
Glen had come down from Tennessee for the weekend, but things were somewhat strained between him and me. Over the past few years that I'd hung out with him, he and I'd become very close, obviously. I'm not sure if we just hit a certain phase of our friendship, but all of a sudden, after my piano recital, I started feeling like I was more of a psychologist than a friend. We'd nearly stopped hanging out, but I'd found that whenever he had a problem, he'd call me to get my opinion or my advice on how to handle it. To top that off he'd started hanging out more and more with Philip, which never really made much sense to me. But what are ya gonna do. I was getting jealous of his time with Phil, and I was getting sick of only being a problem solver. I guess part of my own pride was hurt, because I started thinking, hell, am I just not fun to hang out with anymore? Add that to Alan's being at school most of the time, and Don's working on the weekends, well, it started to feel like my old life was crumbling apart, and I lacked the mortar to put it all back together.
But it's not like I should complain, or bitch, that much. Every weekend, or every Saturday, I had dedicated an hour or so to my voice coach, and during the week our projects kept me busy. We normally had two to three substantial projects in studio each quarter, and whenever you neared the end of each of those, you ended up spending more hours in the classroom. My life was busy too, and I had no way of stopping it or slowing it down.
Rhett's opened up that January, without me singing. As all three partners had said, I wasn't quite ready to go on stage, but one other guy also had to sit out for a little while. Fine with me. I may have been a big cut-up, but I was always nervous as shit whenever I sang seriously in front of anyone. One change in the bar was that more waiters were hired who could also sing. It was sort of a throwback to the thirties and forties when nightclubs were too cheap to hire talent, but the singers were able to make money by waiting tables. I guess if you were an up-and-coming singer it worked out great. There were still to be the six main entertainers. I still laugh when I think of myself doing anything like that. But the restaurant/bar/club opened up and was a pretty strong success. Being in midtown Atlanta definitely guaranteed a myriad of patrons, but it was pretty fun being amongst the buzz and excitement.
But I digress.
George was pretty boozed up. He thought he was good at hiding it, but he wasn't. It was quite comical to watch him. He's one of those guys who when he gets drunk, loves everybody. He loved me. He loved Glen. He loved Alan. It was a friggin' love fest. If we had a baggie of drugs, we could've jump started the 60's. But there was no way in hell we were going to let him drive home. So Glen drove him. Probably not the best idea, since he drove like a bat out of hell and was more likely to get pulled over for speeding. Then if the cops smelled beer, well, we all know what would happen next. But Glen wasn't drunk and could probably pass a breathilizer.
I drove Alan to his house. I no longer had the Caprice, but was driving a Sentra, and to see his big, lumbering ass folded up in the front seat was quite comical. What was even funnier was watching him get out of the car, and then stretch his hulking frame back into its natural shape. He asked if I'd like to hang out a bit at his house instead of going home.
"I'm not sure, man," I said, looking down at my clock. "It's nearly one o'clock right now, and I gotta get up to go to my voice lesson."
"Um...I uh..." he looked uncomfortable. "I need to talk to you."
I turned off the car and got out. "Sure. Lessgo." If Alan needed to talk, I was gonna listen. I walked around the car towards the front porch.
"Hey man, it's nice enough out. Can we go sit out back?" He had a concerned look on his face.
"Sure 'nuff. Lessgo." I tried to be lighthearted without sounding insincere. We made our way around the house, taking the same path four-and-a-half years earlier when we first kissed on his patio. The landscaping had really grown in that time, I thought as we made our way to the back. His parents had purchased new furniture since then, but basically it was the same. It was an unusually balmy night, to be the second weekend in February. The weathermen had predicted some storms overnight as a cold front moved in, but they were famous for being wrong.
Alan took a seat on a lounge chair and lay back on it; I did the same on the lounge chair next to his. I knew something was up so I just waited to see what he wanted to talk about.
Finally, he took a breath. "It's been a long time since you and I were first on this patio, Paul." He looked over at me. I could still see the traces of the kid who was sixteen years old that first evening after the football game and the party at what's-her-name's house. But he'd matured a lot. Still the cool as hell green eyes, but his hair was kept shorter, nearly a crew cut. I couldn't help but smile at him. Deep down, a part of me was still completely crazy about him. I missed his strength. I missed the intimacy with him. I missed the feeling of knowing that I could just let down all of my guard. God, I missed him. "What are you grinnin' at, ya goob?" he smiled.
"Oh. Nothin'. Just remembering a couple of scared teenagers looking up at that same moon," I nodded towards the sky. "Here I was, some little nebbech, sitting across from a jock who'd shown more interest in me in five minutes than anyone had in the previous seventeen years--"
"You weren't a nerd," he interrupted.
"Alan. Yeah, I was. I had a mirror. I may not have had the glasses, but I was a nerdling," I said, and he laughed out loud. I missed his laugh, too. "Anyway, you and I both sitting here, trying to figure out how things were going to go. It's funny, looking back I have the eyes of someone a bit more mature. Hard to believe how scared I was then."
"Me too," he said.
I nodded, then sat up and put my elbows on my knees, palm under my chin. "Is everything alright?"
Alan looked down and started playing with the hem on his untucked shirt. He wasn't nervously fidgeting, just running his fingers back and forth slowly over it. "There's somethin' I gotta tell ya." His eyebrows raised and lowered once as he said that.
I was starting to get a funny feeling. "Alan...what?"
He paused a second longer. "You know Reed," he stated. I did. At the end of summer I'd helped Alan move in with his new roommate into an apartment. Alan was going into his junior year and didn't want to stay in the dorms any longer. Fortunately, he'd moved in with a guy who was going into his senior year, Reed.
"Yeah. Seems like a pretty nice guy," I said. He said nothing. "Alan. What?"
"Um...Reed is...uh..." He couldn't seem to finish.
Now the funny feeling was growing, though I didn't know why. "Alan. What?"
"Reed and I are...dammit this is hard," he muttered the last part.
"Dammit, man, what is up?" I was feeling something in my gut...
"Reed and I are...well, we're more than roommates, now." Bam! Fuck! That's what it was.
I sat back onto the lounge chair in a daze and looked up at the moon. "Woah," I said, quietly.
He blew a short breath through his nose. "Yeah. Woah." I could see in my peripheral vision that he was still looking down at his shirt.
I couldn't' believe it. I mean, I figured that at some point, both of us would find somebody new, but I never imagined how I'd feel when we actually did. It was killing me inside; not because I didn't have anybody, or that Alan had somebody else, but because somebody else had Alan. It was probably really silly of me to think that way. Hell, we'd called it quits a little over two years before. But Christ, the guy still had my heart, though up until that time I was too stupid to recognize that.
I took a deep breath and blew it out. "How long..."
He sat there for a minute. I could tell this wasn't easy for him, either. "A couple of months."
I nodded and looked a thousand miles into the patio beneath his seat.
"I knew the guy didn't really date," he went on to explain, "but I never really thought about it. Then a couple of months after we moved in together--"
"Please. No details," I said.
"I know. I wasn't going to. I'm saying that I realized a couple of months after moving in that I was feeling...something..."
I was still staring at the ground. "Except you didn't have the distance to worry about." I wasn't being cruel, or trying to be hurtful. I was just stating a fact. Alan cleared his throat. "You've known him a while, haven't you?" I was still in a bit of shock. I knew that Alan had met him at the end of his sophomore year in one of his business classes.
He nodded, and I looked back up at him, square in the eye.
"Is he good to you?"
Alan's mouth turned down at the corner on one side. He simply nodded.
"Wow," I whispered. "I never thought I'd feel this way...." I looked back down.
He cleared his throat again. "What way?"
"I...I...don't know. I'm not sure how I feel," I said.
"Can you...figure it out?" I looked up at his face. He looked like a hurt, little kid. This time, I told myself, I was not going to cry.
I cleared my throat and took a breath. "I guess I've been so busy with school, and my life, whatever...I never even thought about one of us meeting someone else. I do know this, though. Reed's the luckiest son of a bitch alive." I attempted to smile, as did Alan. "Alan, has it been two years? Shit." I looked back down and shook my head slowly. "I still love you, ya know." He shifted in his seat a bit.
"I do, too," he said.
"Well," I said, trying my best to sound positive, "I hope that it all...works out...for ya." I stood up, feeling the need to run as far away from there as possible. Alan stood up, and we were facing each other.
He had a dazed and confused look on his face. "Do you really?" he spoke, quietly.
I smiled to keep from losing it and pulled him into a hug. I nearly melted when he hugged me back. I couldn't help it, and I turned into a ball of mush. "No," I whispered. I buried my face into his shoulder and he gripped me tighter. "I mean, I do," I said, my voice muffled by his body, "but why couldn't it have been us? You and me? Huh? Why couldn't things have worked out?" Then I couldn't help it. I started doing that man-cry again, like I'd done two-and-a-half years before in his dorm room when we'd broken up. Alan gripped me even tighter and didn't say a word. I had truly believed that I was over him, and that I could just be friends forever with him. Now, I knew that wasn't true. I needed him, because he was my missing piece. He was my keystone. God, how I loved him.
"I'm sorry," he whispered into the side of my head. "I am so...damn...sorry."
I pushed away from him. "It's okay, Alan. I understand. I really do. I don't have to like it, but I understand." He rubbed the heels of his hands in his eyes for a second, and I wiped at my leaking nose with my wrist. "You know I only want the best for you." In my mind I continued with the thought, 'but I just wanted it to be with me.'
"Paul, I'll always love you," he said.
It took immense control to keep from losing it completely. But I'm a guy, and guys don't just lose it. "I love you too, Alan." Part of me wanted to know the logistics of being a Bulldog, playing an extremely important position at that, and having a relationship with a guy. How did that work, how did they keep it quiet? And then part of me didn't want to know at all. Because someone else had Alan, now.
He leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek. I closed my eyes and held him there for a second, in my mind's eye.
"Well," I said, sniffing, "I'd better get on home now. Gotta get up early."
"Yeah," he croaked out.
"I'll uh...I'll see you around, Alan," I said, and walked back around the house. I could feel his eyes looking after me. I wanted to turn around again and look at him, but I knew if I did I'd be a complete wreck.
* * * * *
Saturday, February 9th at about 5:15 in the morning. I'm a person who has to have white noise when I go to sleep. Ever since I was a kid I loved hearing the humming sound of a fan, and I go bezerk at the idea of going to bed without having one on. That particular morning I was woken up when my brain heard the sudden silence in the room. The silence was overcome by the wind howling outside, and the thunder rumbling. For a moment, my mind flashed back a few hours earlier when Alan and I were sitting on his patio, enjoying the balmy night. Well, it was balmy, but I don't think we enjoyed it.
I got out of bed and started to head down the hall to the bathroom. As I did, I looked down the stairwell and saw that my mom, my grandmother and my oldest brother were all standing in the open front door, looking outside.
"What are y'all doin'?" I asked.
"Your dad's out running in this," my mom said.
Nothing really connected because my brain was still mostly asleep. "Why would he go out running in this?" My dad had a habit of getting up every morning and running two miles. Nothing tremendous, but enough to keep him in shape and his heart rate in check.
"It wasn't like this when he started running," she said.
It dawned on my why the power was out, and I proceeded to finish my business in the bathroom. Afterwards, I headed downstairs just as Dad was coming around the house. As he did, part of our chimney flue was ripped off by the wind and was sent sailing across the street. One of our garbage cans soon followed as Dad came into the house. He was drenched and out of breath, and the lightning was flashing like a strobe light. Looks like I was wrong in my assumption of the Atlanta weathermen's predictions for bad weather.
"Are you alright?" my grandmother asked.
Out of breath, he said, "You wouldn't believe it. It wasn't raining a drop during the first part of my run, but once I turned to start coming back, it was like somebody dumped a bathtub of water on me! It was hard running into all of that rain, and the wind. Jesus!"
Soon, the winds died down and the rain slowed up. Before long the sky started to lighten and we could see the damage from the storm around our house. Yes, it was our chimney flue impaled in the neighbors front yard, and we'd need to replace the garbage can that must've wound up in the Land of Oz, but otherwise, the houses around us were intact.
It was around six in the morning, and I decided to head back to bed and get some more sleep. At about six-fifteen the phone rang. I picked it up and was about to say "hello" when I heard my dad's voice on another extension.
"Hi Mr. Lyons, it's Don." I was tired, still, and just sat there listening. After hearing the news from Alan the night before, I wasn't in the best of moods to talk. Plus, it was about six-fifteen, and I'm really not a morning person.
"Don, how are you? Did y'all have any storm damage?" Dad asked.
"Well," he said, "the top of a tree crashed into our house, on top of my bedroom, and there's a huge branch that came down over my bed."
Now I was awake. "Don?" I said.
"Hey Paul," he said.
"Well were you hurt?" Dad asked.
"No, I'm okay, it was just a bit freaky, that's all. We have a tree laying across part of our house, though."
"Are your parents okay?" I asked.
"Yeah, they're okay. We're all okay, just a little shaken up. How's it goin' over there?"
"Paul, I'm gonna hang up now. Bye, Don."
"G'bye Mr. Lyons," Don said.
"Glad y'all are okay," Dad said, and hung up.
"Dude, are you okay?" I asked him again.
"Shit, Paul, this is so goddamn freaky," he said with excitement in his voice.
"I'm on my way over," I said.
"Dude, you don't have--"
"I'm on my way over," I repeated.
" 'Kay. See ya in a few."
I threw on some shorts and a t-shirt, then ran down the stairs. "I'm going to Don's," I hollered, grabbing my keys and heading out the door. I think my parents knew not to say anything to try and stop me.
I pulled out of our neighborhood and onto the main road, but I only made it a couple of hundred yards before I had to stop and turn around. One of the dozens of pine trees that grew in the median of the road had come crashing down in the high winds, and blocked all northbound traffic. I had to make a u-turn in the middle of the road and head south in the northbound lanes. Thankfully it was still morning, and the only people out were people on foot who'd come out of their apartments behind our house to check out the damage. I zoomed back through my neighborhood and got to the next northbound street. As I came around a curve I saw, too late, that several of the power lines were down across the road. I slammed on my brakes and skidded to a stop. Making another u-turn, I had to drive down to Rockbridge Road, and then head east on Memorial Drive before I could get to the main road that took me to Don's, and Alan's, neighborhood. That's when I saw all of the destruction.
Memorial Drive, itself, looked like a war zone. The sides of the road were littered with power lines here and there, and many, if not most, of the signs along the side of the road were just...gone. My father's turn-around point was at Memorial Drive, and he was damn lucky he wasn't killed by a flying sign. My heart sank as I headed east, through dead traffic signals, looking at the disastrous mess. All of the places where I used to hang out during high school were damaged in some way: some minor damage, some major.
I was finally able to make it to the road where Don's subdivision was, and headed north on it from Memorial. There were lots of pine trees down along the roadside, and several houses had debris and landscaping tossed around. I finally got to his neighborhood and turned in, but had to immediately stop. A telephone pole had been snapped in half and was lying across the main entrance. I could've turned around and gotten in through the rear entrance, but his house was closer to this street. I parked my car and, skirting the edge of the wires, bolted towards Don's house.
A light rain had begun again as I ran through another war zone. The worst part of the storm had wrenched its way through this part of the city. The streets were almost unrecognizable, as easily, half of the fifty- and sixty-foot tall pine trees had been snapped in half; some landed on houses, others littered about the streets like pick up sticks. Even though it was a year and a half since I'd had my lung surgery, I'd never really gotten it back into shape, and I was barely breathing as I rounded the corner onto the street where the Keller's house was. Again, I couldn't believe my eyes.
What was once an immaculately kept yard looked like Bosnia. Much of the mature shrubbery had been torn up and relocated...somewhere else. A tree was down next to his house, but most noticible was the tree that was laying across the roof of the house, from the back yard. How the weight of that thing didn't crush that portion of the house was beyond me, but it was so long that it stretched and hung out over the street.
I ran up to the porch and opened the front door, stepped inside, and collapsed on the stairs. I couldn't get a breath. My lungs just weren't operating normally, and I felt like I had asthma. Don came over to me, "Paul, are you okay?"
I smiled a bit and held my hand up, gesturing to give me a second. Finally, after I'd had a minute or two to calm down, my breathing returned to normal. "I'm fine, now," I said. His parents had gone out in the backyard to inspect the damage again. The power was still out and there was no word as to when it might return to normal. "You okay?" I asked.
"Yeah, man, I'm fine. It's you I'm not so sure about."
"Trust me, I'm fine. Show me your room," I told him.
We headed up the rest of the stairs and my eyes widened when I turned into his room. He'd long since gotten rid of the twin bed and now had a queen size water bed. There was about a three foot jagged gash cut into the ceiling and the branch of a pine tree, about twenty four inches long, was poised right over the middle of his bed. I turned and looked at Don.
He read my mind. "Tell me about it," he said.
"What the fuck happened?"
"I came home late, around three-thirty, so I was dead tired and never really heard the storm. Next thing I knew, my bed was shaking and I heard thunder...well, you wouldn't believe what it was like. It was constant, so much that you could barely hear the wind howling."
"Shit," I muttered.
"Yeah. And you could hear the pine trees smacking against each other, and then I heard the freight train sound." Growing up in the South, or spending most of my life in it, people were all too familiar with the tell-tale sounds of a tornado. "It was like those trains that run alongside Ponce, only it sounded like it was in my backyard."
"Shit," I said again.
"All of a sudden," he went on, "I heard this tremendous crash, and I just dove off the bed. Then I heard water pouring into the room," he pointed up at the tree branch.
"Dude, you are so lucky you're not dead," I said, not believing how crazy all of this was.
"Tell me about it," he said, leading me from the room and back downstairs.
"What shook your bed?"
"We're thinking that when the tree that's laying on the house now fell, it must've shaken the house."
"Goddamn," I muttered.
"Yeah. Come check this out," he said, and I followed him into the backyard. It was a total disaster area. What was once well-shaded was now almost completely open to the sunlight, or at least the daylight. The tree that was laying on the house and over the street used to be fully rooted in the ground about four feet from the back of the house. There were two neighboring trees which had collapsed, and dominoed into some of those that once stood proudly in Don's backyard.
"That tree," he pointed to the one that was above his bedroom, "actually used to be over there," and he pointed at another neighbor's yard. "You can see how it snapped mid-height and fell into our house, only on the way down it must've gotten struck by lightning and broke off again." He was right. You could see the burn marks from the lightning that had struck it in mid flight. What was left of the top of the tree was wedged between the Kellers’ chimney and the roof above Don's room.
I rubbed my face with one hand. "Shit, man. You are so fuckin' lucky."
"Lyons, you scared the piss out of me." Don and I turned to see Alan walking into the yard.
"Alan?" I said.
He stepped over and around the pine boughs that littered the yard. "Christ, Keller, you really gotta fire your landscaper," Alan said.
"What are you talking about?" I asked.
"This," he said, gesturing around us.
"No, dope, I mean about scaring the piss out of you."
"I'd heard what happened over here and was walking over when I saw your car at the entrance. With all of the downed power lines and trees, I thought that one had landed on you." He clapped me on the back. My heart was still a bit sore from the night before, but I forced myself to ignore it.
"No, man, Don called my house this morning to see if we were okay, and he mentioned this," I pointed to the tree on the house.
Making light of the situation, Alan said, "Oh, and you just rushed right over. You're such a good friend," and he playfully put his arm around my shoulder and jostled me back and forth. I cut my eyes at him and he dropped his arm. I could tell this was awkward for him, too. The three of us stood there talking for a while, and I told them what happened to my dad. They were both glad that he wasn't hurt and agreed that he was equally lucky, especially once I'd described to them the condition that Memorial Drive was now in.
I needed to go home, so I started to head out through the house. Don stayed behind with his parents, and Alan followed me out. It was raining on and off all morning, and as we left Don's house it was sprinkling again. By now I was pretty wet, and Alan was coming in at a close second.
"You okay, Paul?" Alan asked.
"Yeah," I tried to sound reassuring.
"I mean...about our conversation last night."
"I know what you're talking about, Alan. And...I guess I'll have to be okay. What other choice do I have?"
Alan half grinned, but you could see sadness in his eyes. Then he nodded towards Don's house. "How 'bout him?"
I looked at him for a second, the water rolling down my neck and into my now-soaked shirt. "There is no 'him' Alan."
He smiled, still a bit sad. Then he shook his head a bit. "He's got you, ya know." Then Alan turned to walk off.
"No. Alan. He doesn't have me. Remember," I said, recalling our conversation in the hospital, "there's nothin' better, once you've had the best." Now the tears had started to flow, but they were hidden by the rain on my face. I thought I'd feel less pain if Alan had shot me in the head.
He stopped and turned towards me. "Then he's yours for the taking. It's so friggin' obvious. He may not have you, but he's got it for you. Why don't you just give 'im what he wants, Paul." He turned away again to leave, and it started raining harder.
"Because, people don't always get what they want! That's a lesson I've learned, and if you're right in what you're saying, he can learn it too!"
Alan stopped walking and shook his head, his back still facing me. I slowly walked up to him, the two of us now completely drenched in the falling rain. "Alan--"
"Paul," he turned, "I wish I could change things. But I can't. Man, this is killing me--"
"Not like it's killing me! You've got someone. Shit, fuck that, dude, someone's got you. Don't you get that? Can't you get what I'm tellin' ya? I understand that you have somebody else, but I don't have to like it. And what if Don did have it for me? So what? That doesn't mean that I've got it for him. It's you I want. You've gone on. I've been busy. But you know me--poor me. Life sucks. But I'll handle it. I'll get over it." I was starting to sound bitter, and I realized it. I could see the hurt in his eyes when I said that. "I'll have to handle it, because if I can't....being just your friend will be impossible. Just...let me get through this. I have to do it...alone. But trust me, I'll get over the hurt, yeah. And it'll be worth it, for your friendship. I told you once, I'd rather die than not have you as a friend. But you gotta let me get hurt, be hurt, and cope with it, 'kay?"
The rain was pouring down now, but neither one of us cared. I smiled at him. "You have a place right here," and I tapped my heart, then he smiled a bit. "I just gotta shift it around, in there. But you'll always be right here, man." I was starting to feel really emotional, and felt trapped. "But don't get me goin' on that now, " I laughed. "I have to...wrap my brain around the fact that you're seeing someone else. I promise you, I'll be okay. We'll be okay. I'm....just still in a bit of shock," I grinned, sadly. I reached out to do our hand gesture thing. He finished it with me and smiled. "I'll see you around Alan. Have a safe trip back to Athens." I turned to walk off. I was shivering, it was so damn cold in the rain.
I turned back, and raised my eyebrows at him.
"I really do love you," he said low, but I just heard him over the sound of the rain falling.
I grinned and nodded back at him. "I know. Love you to, man." We stood there for another second or two, then I said, "I'd offer you a lift, but..." and I gestured to the telephone pole in the road blocking my car.
"It's okay. I think I can find my way back," he grinned.
I walked towards my car, then said, "Hey Alan," and turned back. He hadn't left his spot and was still watching me. "You...." I hesitated. "Just know that you can always find your way back." God, I'd hoped that he knew what I was saying, that I'd always be there for him, in whatever capacity he wanted.
He nodded and smiled. I was too far away to read his eyes. "I know. I'm fuckin' lucky, that way."
Yeah. He knew what I was saying.