Chapter 10
by Julien Gregg
Copyright 2005 Julien Gregg
Edited by Bruce

"I just wish you would have called me the minute you saw that he was moving in," said Tom at dinner that evening.  "I apologize for moving him in, but I truly did not know who he was at the time. Shirley wasn't with me when I spoke to him, so I didn't have her input. From now on I'll make sure that she is with me when I talk to prospective tenants."

"I accept your apology, Tom," I said.  "I didn't really need an apology, because you did nothing wrong. If he can pay his rent, then I can't say he can't live in the building. It isn't as if he knew I lived there, and Charlie was just upset to encounter him without warning."

"That doesn't excuse my behavior, though," admitted Charlie.  "I could have handled the situation better, and I'm sorry about what I did. I won't do it again."

"We did receive a few telephone calls from the other tenants," said Shirley.  "They were more surprised than upset, though. I calmed everyone down as well as I could. Please don't let anything like this happen again. If Keith bothers any of you, let us know. We'll deal with him."

"Thank you," I replied.

After that, no more was said about Keith or Charlie's reaction to his living across the hall from us.  Instead, Shirley talked to me about what duties she would be taking on as my business partner.  I was thrilled that she was interested, and I admitted that I didn't really know exactly what I wanted from her.  I was too ashamed to tell her that what I was thinking about most was money to get the business off the ground.  She wasn't ashamed to discuss money, though.

"Well, we need to sit down with Tom and Andy soon,"  she said.  "After I know more about what you have planned, I can start figuring out how much money we need. I can bring some money into the business, but we may have to think about a loan."

"I was afraid of that," I sighed.  "I hope we don't have to borrow too much."

"Loans aren't that bad," she said with an understanding smile.  "We'll be fine there, but we need a greenhouse as well as space for equipment, seeds and various other things to get it going. We'll talk about that later. For now, just know that you have a business partner."

Throughout the rest of dinner there was no more talk of the business.  Shirley and Tom talked to Phillip about his parents, and they told us that Wendy and Ben would be home the following day.  Phillip and I were happy to hear that they would be returning.  Wendy and I had gotten closer before their trip, and I was eager to reconnect with her.  Phillip was just happy to finally be able to spend some time with his cousin.

After dinner, Phillip called his parents while Charlie went to talk with Vince.  I sat with Tom and Shirley to discuss what I wanted for the business a bit more.  I told them about the new lawns, and we talked about masonry a bit, too.  Jason and Danny had both already told me exactly what they were going to be able to add to my list of services.  It would mean buying a bunch of new things, though.  They both had tools to work with, but if they were going to teach us to do those things, we'd need the proper equipment.

"I know a bit about masonry," admitted Shirley.  "I'll talk to Jason and Danny about that as well. As soon as we get a greenhouse, we can start to offer a lot more. You go ahead and take the classes, Dustin, and I can teach you the basics as we go along."

"That would be great," I said excitedly.  "I have been pretty anxious to start all of this. I'm really happy that you want to help."

"Well, I know how much money can be made by a business like this," she said.  "Being a partner in your business will help both of us a great deal."

"Just make sure that I don't get too excited," I chuckled.

"Oh, I'll keep you grounded," she replied with her own chuckle.  "I'll just show you the bills as they come in."

When Charlie came back, we headed back to our apartment.  Phillip told us he'd be along in a little while.  There was something he wanted to discuss with Tom and Shirley.  I didn't like the look on his face, but I decided not to prod him for answers.  Charlie had news of his own, and he was very excited to share it with me.

"They're getting married," he said, smiling as he drove us back to the apartment.

"The festival was a while ago, Charlie," I said.  "Why did Vince wait this long to tell us that Maria accepted?"

"I don't know.  All I know is that Vince wants both of us to be a part of the wedding."

"What does he want us to do?" I asked.  It was nice that Vince wanted to include us, but I couldn't see what he wanted from us.  Steve made the best choice for his best man, and I was sure that if Steve was in the wedding, Tommy would be, too.

"He's going to talk to us about that tomorrow evening," he replied.  "Vince and Maria are coming to supper tomorrow."

"Well then we'd better do some shopping," I advised.  "There isn't much to eat at home."

"One of us can shop after we do our lawns tomorrow," he said.  "I don't know much about cooking, and I'm sure they'd enjoy something other than grilled cheese or popcorn."

"Then I guess you aren't cooking," I laughed.  "We can stop at the store on the way home."

He glanced at me, giving me one of his sternest looks. I knew that he absolutely hated shopping of any kind, but we had to have something to feed Maria and Vince.  If we went all the way home and I had to go back to the grocery store, it would just be wasted gas.  I was ready to explain all of this to him but he surprised me.

"Can we please just not be in there for two hours?" He asked.

"I promise," I laughed.  "We'll only get a week's worth of groceries."

"I'll hold you to that," he said.

We talked about this and that while he drove to the grocery store.  We were both wondering what Phillip had to talk to Tom and Shirley about.  I told Charlie that I thought Phillip was upset after calling his parents, but I didn't say anything to him.  Charlie and I both agreed that whatever mood Phillip's parents put him in, it was best to only talk to him about it if he wanted to talk.  Forcing someone to talk never gets anything accomplished.

At the grocery store, we were doing fine.  I had the cart a little more than half way filled, and Charlie hadn't said anything.  He went off to another section of the store to get something that he told me only he would eat.  I took that time to get some things that I liked and a few that Phillip liked.  I was looking through the cereal selection when I almost bumped into Keith.

We stood there, staring at each other for a few minutes.  I didn't know if I should say something or not.  Most of everything I wanted to say to him was not really appropriate for where we were.  I wasn't sure I even wanted to hear anything he had to say.  For a bit, I was sure that neither of us would say anything.  I was about to  turn away from him when he finally broke the silence.

"Thanks for calling Charlie off the other day," he said quietly.  "He scared the crap out of me."

"Well, I won't be able to hold him back a second time," I informed him.  I couldn't believe that there had been no animosity in my voice at all when I said those words.

"I didn't even know you guys were living across the hall until that morning, Dusty," he said.  I flinched at his use of my nickname.  He had no right to be so informal with me now.

"Well if it gets to be too much for me to deal with, we'll move again," I said, turning to walk away from him.  I about snapped when he touched my arm to stop me.  I pulled my arm back like it had been burned and glared at him for a second.  I wasn't able to hold that glare long though.  For some reason, I could feel my face softening into a more tolerant expression.

"I'm sorry for everything, Dustin," he said.  "I know you have no reason to believe that, but I really am. I just . . ."

"Keith, I don't want to talk to you," I said, happy with myself for finally feeling something other than confusion.  "Just leave me alone."

I turned the cart around and walked away from him, leaving the cereal isle untouched.  We'd just have to eat pancakes for a while.  I was finished shopping for that night.  I just wanted to get out of there.  I hunted Charlie down and made him select his final selections.  I hurried him to a check out lane as fast as I could.

"What's with you?" He asked as he pushed the cart to his Jeep.  "You're the one who likes to shop."

"I was just done," I said as we started to load the bags into the back of the automobile.  "Now hurry up. I want to go home."

We were silent for the rest of the time that it took to load the groceries into the Jeep.  He kept looking at me with a strange look on his face, but he didn't say anything.  He took the cart back, and that's when he saw Keith coming out of the store.  I prayed that they would just ignore each other.  We didn't need a scene in the parking lot.

"Why didn't you just tell me Keith was in the store?" He asked as we climbed into the Jeep.  He'd just abandoned the cart in the middle of the parking lot and walked away from Keith.  Even though the thought occurred to me that someone might hit the cart with their car, I was happy that Charlie had just walked away from Keith.

"I just decided it was time to leave, Charlie," I said.  "That's all."

"Did he do something?"

"What could he have done?" I asked, turning to look at him.  "We were in a grocery store, Charlie. Besides, I can take care of myself."

"As long as I don't have to go across the hall to have another talk with him," he said, looking out his window.

What was really bugging me was that I'd actually liked standing there talking to Keith.  I was supposed to hate him now, but for some reason I just couldn't.  I didn't trust him, and that was not likely to ever change.  I just wasn't so sure that I hated him anymore.  I had plenty of reasons to, but a lot of those reasons weren't really at his feet.

What really shocked me was that I missed him.  He'd been my best friend for so long, and it was hard not having him to talk to about things that went on every day.  I guess its true what they say about best friends, though.  They can turn into your worst enemies incredibly fast.  I wasn't ready to start talking to Keith about anything important, but I didn't hate him any more.  That was just something I needed to think about for a while.  It was really strange for me.

"You're being quiet, Dustin," said Charlie after a while.  "You're starting to make me think that something did happen at the store."

"Nothing really bad happened," I admitted.  "He spoke to me, but he wasn't rude or anything. I'm more shocked by my own reaction to talking to him."

"What do you mean?" He asked, looking at me for a second.

"Well its hard to explain," I said.  "I'll talk to you about it after I've thought about it some more."

"I'll let you off the hook about it for now," he said. "But if Keith does something wrong, I'm going to react. You have to know that."

"Do you hate Keith just for what he did to me?" I asked him.

"Isn't that enough?" He asked.  "Dustin, you are a good guy, and what Keith did to you wasn't cool. Add that to  what happened between you and our parents, and yes, I hate him."

"Fair enough," I said.  "I just wanted to know exactly why you hated him so much."

"Well, another reason that I'm so angry with him is because I thought he was a good guy like you," admitted Charlie.  "He just showed me that I can't trust my perception of people."

"Well I can't either," I replied.  "He was my best friend."

"Yeah," he replied.

We were silent after that.  I'm sure that Charlie had some things to think about also.  I decided to forget about Keith for the time being and think about Phillip.  I wondered what was said between him and his parents.  I thought again about the strange look on his face when he'd ended that phone conversation, and I had to admit that I was a little worried.  I wondered if something had happened and they'd changed their minds about letting him return to Storyville the following summer.

Borrowing trouble was a real problem of mine.  I decided not to think of things that could be wrong.  I was sure that whatever Phillip wanted to tell me about that conversation would be enough.  If something like what I'd thought of had actually happened, we'd deal with it.  Separation didn't mean the end of our relationship.  Sure, it would make it harder, but if we were meant to be together we'd find a way.

When we got back to the apartment building, Tom's truck was already parked in the visitor's space.  Phillip had  his own key to the apartment, so I knew that he was already upstairs.  I thought about going straight up to ask  him about the phone call, but that didn't seem like the right way to go about it.  Instead, I helped Charlie carry the groceries in.

"I wondered where you guys were," said Phillip as we came in the apartment door.  "I wish I'd known you were going shopping."

"Well I didn't know we were going until we'd already left Tom and Shirley's," I replied.  "Charlie informed me that Vince and Maria are coming to supper tomorrow."

"Cool," said Phillip.  "I heard that they're getting married."

"Yeah," I said, smiling.  "They want to talk to us about the wedding."

"Ah," he said.

I noticed that the strange look that was on his face at Tom and Shirley's was still there.  I was really worried about what made him look that way, but I still didn't want to push him.  I just hoped that he would tell me before too long.  My mind was famous for dreaming up all sorts of bad scenarios when I was left to think on my own.

Things got really quiet in the apartment after that.  From the way that Charlie kept glancing at Phillip, I was sure that he understood the mood.  When Phillip went into the bedroom to put his bag in there, Charlie asked me if everything was all right.  I didn't know what to tell him, so I just shrugged.  Phillip was the only one who could answer that question.

I decided that a night in front of the television would be a good thing.  That way none of us had to say anything, and Phillip could take as much time as he needed to tell us what was on his mind.  I just had to keep my own overactive imagination in check. Getting sodas for the three of us, I turned on the television and sat on the couch.  Charlie got the idea, because he came in, took a soda from the coffee table and sat down with no more questions.

I decided to think a little more about Keith.  It did bother me a little bit that my boyfriend was obviously having some sort of problem, I guessed with his parents, and I was thinking about a boy that had done just about everything he could to make sure that my life was miserable.  I also wondered just how my opinions and thoughts could change so much in the course of one day.

Just the day before, I'd agreed with Charlie that Keith had wrecked our family.  The day he'd moved in across the hall from us, I was sure that I couldn't live in the building with him.  Now I wasn't so sure that I hated him as much as I thought I did.  I was starting to wonder if the day he moved in had started me on this path.  Could seeing Keith on a nearly daily basis have changed my mind?  Sure, I was reminded of all of the times we'd hung out together, made plans for the future and basically talked about nothing important for hours every time I saw him.  That just didn't mean I didn't hate him though.  At least, I didn't think it did.

No, it wasn't that.  It was when he'd apologized to me in the grocery store.  He'd apologized before, and I didn't flinch.  This time, however, he'd been standing directly in front of me, and I could see his eyes.  I knew Keith very well, or I had known him.  What I thought I saw in his eyes in the grocery store was sincerity.  That was what it boiled down to.  I really did think he was sincerely sorry.  Now I just had to figure out where to go from that point.

He'd apologized, but what exactly was he apologizing for?  What did I blame him for exactly?  Really, all he'd done was lie about me.  I couldn't say that he'd had sex with me against my will, because I was a willing participant.  At any time in that event, I could have said no or stopped it.  It wasn't as if he was trying to overpower me.  Was I so angry with him mostly because I'd fantasized about that day for so long and had the reality be so disappointing?  That wasn't something I could lay at Keith's feet.

He lied about me.  Yeah, I was uncomfortable around the other kids at school for a few days, but no one actually believed what he said.  It was just as Wendy said it had been, "Gossip"!  Just like any other form of gossip, it burned hot for a few days and then died down when everyone found something else to talk about.  It just so happened that the second bit of gossip was about me and Keith.  However, I couldn't blame Keith for that.  All they had been talking about was whether or not Keith and I would actually start fighting physically.

Phillip put a stop to all of that thinking when he came in and sat beside me on the couch.  He took my hand in his and silently watched the television.  That got me to worrying about him again.  I wondered exactly when it was that I had become such a worry wart.  I wished he would talk to me and let me know what was going on.

"What time are you doing your last lawn tomorrow?" He asked finally.  He didn't take his eyes off of the television, though.

"Well, I thought I'd get up early and get them done before the day got really hot," I said, trying not to look at him.

"What time's Maria and Vince coming over?"  He asked.

"They'll be here around six," said Charlie.  "We'll all be done with our lawns by then, and we'll have plenty of time to clean up.  Which one of you is cooking?"

"Which one of us?" Laughed Phillip, and I was happy to see that worried look turn into a genuine smile.

"Well, we all know that I can't cook," laughed Charlie.

"I can do a passing job of it," I admitted.  "I'll do it."

"You're both crazy," laughed Phillip.  "We want them to enjoy supper. I'll cook."

"I'm not that bad of a cook," I protested.

"No, you're not," he agreed.  "But if you want to impress Vince and Maria, then let me help."

"It isn't as if Vince can cook anything special," chuckled Charlie.  "I stayed in that house for a few days."

"You?" I laughed.  "I had to endure Vince's cooking several times. It isn't that the food tastes bad . .

"Its just dryer than dirt," Phillip finished for me.

We laughed about that for a few minutes, and I started to wonder if I was imagining that something was bothering Phillip.  From the look on his face at that moment, you wouldn't guess that anything was wrong.  Was I getting so bad that I was inventing trouble? I surely hoped not.  Besides, Charlie had noticed it, too.

"Did Shirley or Tom tell you what time Ben and Wendy will be home?" I asked him, trying to keep the light mood going.

"All they know is that they'll be here tomorrow," he said.  "I'm looking forward to seeing Ben."

"Are you still planning to challenge him to a game of football?" I asked, laughing.

"Well, I saw the video tape of the last game," he said.  "I don't think I want to now."

"It was a good game," I said.  "Ben showed the video every chance he got. He was so excited."

"He should have been," said Charlie.  "It isn't often that Storyville High actually wins a championship.  Ben helped make that happen."

"It was cool that they beat Compton," I said, and Charlie nodded his head.

We talked about football for a while, and then the conversation died again.  This time, though, it was because of something on television.  I couldn't even tell you what we watched, but it was good enough to hold our attention until we were all yawning.  When the news started, we all agreed that we had to be up fairly early the next day.

Charlie turned the lights off while I got rid of the soda cans.  Then I followed Phillip down the hall to our room, and as soon as we were in the room with the door shut, he put his arms around me and held on tight.  I'd been right that something was bothering him.  I just hoped it wasn't something horrible.

"Did something happen between you and your parents?" I asked no longer able to stand waiting.

"Well yes and no," he said as he released me and sat down on the bed.  "I'm not in any trouble or anything, but they are."

"What do you mean?" I asked, sitting beside him.

"Well, what I didn't know when they finally agreed to let me come to Storyville was that they were having problems," he said.  "I'd heard them arguing a lot, but I just thought it was about me. I mean they weren't exactly thrilled to learn that I was having sex with Mike."

"They weren't arguing about you, though," I said.

"No they weren't," he sighed.  "They've decided to get a divorce, Dustin."

"I'm sorry," I said immediately.  I took his hand, and he squeezed back when I did.

"Well, we're getting part of what we want out of this," he said slowly.  "My mom said that she's moving here."

"I'm sorry that it took this to make that happen, Phillip," I said.  I knew all too well what the loss of a parent was like.

"There's more," he said.  "My dad wants me to live with him. They said its up to me to decide, but I don't know how to do that."

We talked a bit more about it, but I really didn't know how to advise him on this one.  I didn't know his parents at all, and I had to admit that I really wanted him to live in Storyville.  I just didn't want to be selfish about it.  In truth, he was the one who had to make the final decision, and as much as I wanted to, I couldn't sway that in any way.