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"Yeah," I answered back, merely a mumble.
"Son, you out there?"
"Yes!" I said louder, wondering why he was calling my room, 'out there'.
I pushed against the mattress and sat up on the edge of the bed. My legs told me that the bed was too close to the floor, and my hands said that the sheets on the bed felt awfully fuzzy. There was a weird familiarity about the situation that seemed confusing, disorienting, and very aggravating.
The lights suddenly came on, and after blinking for a bit, I saw that I was in the van, again.
"You want to talk about it?" dad asked again.
"No. I sure don't."
One day later, and here I am again, crying like a pussy in the van. Barely over twenty-four hours. What a fucking sad-sack, pathetic, shit-case I am.
"You know, at sometime, everybody hurts. Everybody cries."
He could tell, obviously. I was far more transparent to my dad than I cared to be, I realized.
"Every damned day?"
"Ah, language, son, thank you."
He sighed and scratched the back of his neck.
"I'm trying to help, son. This is hard, you know it? I thought someday I'd be having this talk with you, but I didn't know it would be... over a guy. I understand the feelings are the same, so I can feel comfortable saying some things. And one, is that love is a bitch."
I laughed at the unexpected phrase coming from him. Mom had said the same after Toby's death, the night his aunt had called and told me of it. I had heard it, and remembered it, but had never made the connection. Her saying that simple phrase proved her knowing that I was gay, or that I had been in love with Toby. Not until four days ago, more than six months later, during the party on my actual birthday, had I realized all that that sentence had meant. Thinking on the same sentiment, now from my dad, I saw how true it was.
"It works both ways, I guess. But, if I don't know what's going on with you, it makes it harder. And not only that, but I, I want to know what's going on with you. I just want to know. I am your father."
"Are you serious? You really wanna know this mess?"
Dad pulled his legs up into the van so he could sit facing me.
"Yes. Absolutely, son. I might be uncomfortable about some things, so spare me some of the more sordid details, but tell me anything. What's going on with you? Why did you go see Jeff and come back upset?"
Again, talking to my dad about... that gay stuff, and those things. I shivered, mostly in dread I supposed, and some in hopeful relief. That pressure behind my eyes began and it quickly spread through my cheeks and face and down my neck, even sliding over my scalp, setting my hair on end.
"I know it has to be hard to do, to talk about it, but I really think it will help. Even if I can't help any, I'd really like to understand, son."
I nodded, more to gain time to fight back the tears than to answer him. I had to manage my breath several times before I was fairly sure I could speak through my tight throat.
"I was talking to Jeff. We were talking about how to tell his mom."
I exhaled uncontrollably and very loudly after saying just that.
"His mom. Yeah. That is a stickler, huh? Uh, I know this will make you mad, but your mom and I, well, we've been smoothing those bumps a bit."
"What? What d'you mean?" I asked, feeling that worried, embarrassed, what-have-my-folks-done-now gut wrenching tornado drop out of the sky amid what was already an emotional hurricane.
"Well, we've been, talking to her. You know. A word here, a question there. Mentioning your cousin Art, how he's doing so well with his boyfriend and all. She isn't the zealot she seems, you know. She has a good heart, and cares a great deal for both of her sons. We haven't said anything to tip her off about you two-"
"Wait a second! Us two? What was there to tip her off about?"
"Son. A blind man could see what you two mean to each other. Even Tom can see it. We weren't thinking you were a couple so much as, well, that you both were gay. That was pretty obvious. Even if we mistook Tom as gay, too, we knew we weren't wrong about you, or Jeff."
"The way he looks at you. The way you look at him. Each other," he ended with a shrug.
"People said the same thing about Tom and me! Look how wrong they were."
"Were they?" dad asked leadingly.
"Oh my G-uh... yes!"
"What about you and Jeff?"
"I've liked him for a long time," I said softly.
I shot a surprised look at him before nodding then asking, "Just how did you figure him out, anyway? I mean, Toby. About us?"
"That was too easy! That first summer, it wasn't obvious at first, but after he left, we had the first real inkling you were gay. And that Toby, well, that Toby was special to you. A few other clues before Toby came back, then there wasn't any way to mistake it last summer. When he came up that last time, and the way you guys were those days, we saw that love there."
Dad played with a loose strand of the shag carpet before he went on.
"When he died, that night you received the call from his Aunt Barb, how could we not know?"
I nodded, hugging my knees to my chest. I pulled off my glasses, wiped my eyes and sniffed.
"How could I hide it?"
"You feel the same for Jeff?"
I finally knew it. There was no doubting it. I wondered why I had ever doubted it.
"Told him so?"
"A lot. But, not, maybe not as much as... fuck, I don't know!"
"Language, son. He tell you?"
"Yes. Pretty much, anyway."
"Then why did you come home?"
"He told me to leave. I wanted him to tell his mom. He said he couldn't, that she couldn't handle it. I said okay, but he still said leave."
"Were you angry, or fighting?"
"No. He just, asked me to leave. Ordered me to. I lost a game to him, I have to do what he tells me. I'm his slave until the next Circle meeting."
"Son, a game bet isn't life. You didn't have to take that order."
"Yes. I did. He meant it. If I wasn't his slave, he would have said the exact same thing. He just used the order to make it easier."
Dad shook his head, then a double-take.
"You knew that? When he said it?"
Dad came to me on his knees, wrapped his arms around me, and hugged me tightly.
"Oh, son. I keep underestimating you."
"Knowing what a person means, even when they cloak it like that, just knowing the thing for what it is. Most adults never even suspect, and here you are at sixteen, knowing it well enough to recognize it in someone you love, someone who's screaming at you to leave."
"He's so terrified!" I said, returning his hug and letting myself cry.
"She's his mom. His dad hasn't been around much, and she's both to him in many ways. And she's had to be strict, with two boys who push each other to find the limits."
"He thinks he'll lose her, or her love if he tells her, doesn't he? He'll think he'll be different to her, and let her down."
"Most likely. Imagine how frightening that must be. I bet you have an inkling of all that, huh?" he teased, shaking me by one shoulder.
"I don't even want to think about it," I said around the softening tears, remembering those feelings.
"So, you understand his situation?"
"Yes. He wants it to be secret. To everybody. But, he can't pretend it ain't happening to his mom. He's, he is way too, quiet. I don't know, reserved. Kinda like shy, but ain't the same. But he's shy. too. It'd make him paranoid, her not knowing. And upset. And freaked out. It'd fu-uh-mess him up."
"He knows in his heart he can't be with you, and not tell his mom. He knows he won't be able to be open with either of you. Or he doesn't know that, he only feels it, even if he hasn't thought of it."
"Yes! Exactly! And I don't wanna hide it! I want everybody that matters to know! Not all secret and shi-shhhhhushed up. And he can't even think about that."
Dad shrugged after pulling away from the tight hug, then laid one of his hands over my hands. stilling their frantic writhing. I had no idea that I was wringing them very much like Jeff until Dad brought my attention to it.
"Looks that way to me. For now. To him. He might come around in time. He may never. He may marry, have kids, make his mother happy. He might even be happy."
I didn't like that idea at all. I glared at the front of the van for long minutes, dad simply waiting quietly.
Christ! Her or me!? Why? I didn't want to hide it, but I could, if it meant we could be together. No I can't. I don't even want to. I could have, would have, before, but not now. And we'd be caught sitting too close on the couch, or possibly even making out. We probably wouldn't do anything there with Todd was there, anyway. Probably not even alone, not there. But we'd be messing around, or just too close one day when she came back early from one of her holy-rolling Catholic church meetings. Sooner or later, she'd find us. Or find out some other way. It'd be all over. And so messy.
And telling her! Some option. She'll almost hate him for sure. It would be all she finds unholy, dirty, unclean, and in her own son. She'd be likely to take him to the church for an exorcism. Or a monastery, military school, or someplace even worse. No, there was no way to tell her and be easy, or come out well. And Jeff, he can't do it. Doesn't want to taint his mom's vision of him with it, or risk losing her love. Especially with almost no dad.
And if we did tell her, there still would be no us. She'd move that much sooner. Then he'd be miserable without me. I think he loves me that much. I love him that much. But she'd be shoving the Bible down his throat, making him regret the feelings we had. Have?
If I just left him alone, forgot it, he could be happy. Maybe someday he could find someone, when he moved out of her house on his own. Then he could be himself. Who knows, maybe I'll even still be around, or he could move here, or we could move somewhere together. Go to college together? Two years from now. At least.
NO! No, not that. No waiting. No torture. The loss would be easier. He's moving anyway. We'd have to work to prevent it, and now there wasn't enough to make it worth the effort. It would be worse if he stayed now.
No. Her. He has to choose her. And he did. He already has. He told me to leave. He might call me later, or tomorrow. He probably won't. If he does, it'll be the 'no way' speech. It's over. It really is. It's not even over, because it never really got started. We won't have it. It just won't be. It just can't be.
I shuddered and began crying deep, harsh sobs. I rocked on the bed and put my head down, the grief far too strong to bother fighting.
Not to be. Again, I wailed in my secret, dark place inside.
Eventually it stopped, and I felt my dad giving me another long hug.
"Alex, son, food."
"Not hungry," I mumbled into my forearms.
"Probably not, but you are going to come eat. Your mom did the Sunday brunch special for you and your grands. Don't make her waste her efforts, okay?"
The Sunday Brunch Special. Great. Trying to cheer me up. Like that could do it. And the grands. Damnit. Fine. I gotta do what I gotta do. Fuckin' don't I!
He clapped me on the shoulder and we left the van. He put his arm over my shoulder on the way around the family car and toward the kitchen door.
"She's not gonna get mushy and weepy, is she?" I asked, watching my red and white tennies carry me along on the garage floor.
"I don't think so. She just knows you're down, and she's hoping this will cheer you up. Okay? Just go with it. And act surprised. But don't over do it. I wasn't supposed to tell you. And one thing, well, can you take the sheet off?"
I snickered a bit, feeling like an idiot. I took off my coat, hat, and toga, placing them on the bench near the door.
"I'll get 'em later," I said, smoothing my hair uselessly; it was near my shoulders in length, and wildly forming wings, sticking out at angles I could easily feel with my hands after sleeping with it packed half-under a knitted cap overnight. Again
"If you cut it, it won't be so hard to control," dad hinted, once yet again, grinning, jabbing at me.
He nodded, opened the door, and gently pushed me through into the kitchen. I was greeted by mom and her parents yelling, "Good morning!" at me.
Mom was placing a plate of french toast on the table, the aromas of cinnamon, coffee, and bacon rolled over my senses, bringing back pleasant memories, and hunger. The grandparents where smiling at me, completely unaware that their grandson was a faggot and was in love with boy he couldn't have. Again. The hunger left in disgust.
That hurt, I realized, that they were so clueless. It hurt because it was true, but also because it was all so secret from them. And Toby as well, hidden like a shame.
My smile became a frowning, pouting expression as I held tears back yet again. I knew I couldn't stop them, they were too sudden and too surprising, and there was too much to fuel them. I wanted to run upstairs to my room, or back to the van, anywhere I could not be seen crying. I wanted to be away from the shame of hiding from them, but creating it with the same decision.
I choked and sobbed once as I ran both hands over my face and tried to smile. Dad shook my shoulder and pushed me toward the table. As I sat between my grandparents at the kitchen table, they both put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed it, smiling at me.
"Alex, don't be upset," grandmother said softly in that voice I needed to hear. "We don't know what exactly is going on with you, but your parents told us you're having a rough time right now."
Grandmother was always the tactful one. She had a way of saying things without saying them, and I thought that I sensed it then. She had been supportive and loving my entire life, and her soft, worried voice had always soothed and reassured me when I needed it from her. Looking in her face, I felt even more guilt over keeping secrets from her, from them, for hiding so much.
"Your dad said you had a bad night, and ended up falling asleep out in the van. You don't have to tell us what's going on, but if telling us anything will help, we want to help how we can. Do you understand me?"
A thousand things ran through my mind that I did indeed want to tell them. Only a few of them were important though, and only a very few insisted on being shared. I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place, and I worried just how bad of a hard place and how big of a rock I had put Jeff between.
The tears grew even more insistent, my face contorting with the efforts to hold them back. My shoulders slumped forward, and I bent over my stomach as if sick. My breath caught over and over, only short gasps of near-sobs escaping. My own body was completely out of my control, my emotions seemingly wreaking havoc with it. That I was acting so childish and insanely emotional in front of my parents and grandparents only added more pain, embarrassment, and anguish.
"Alex, honey, just breathe, honey," grandma said, putting her arms further and tighter around me.
I held onto her arm across my chest with both hands, trying not to cry, trying not to ruin the breakfast. I was horrified that I was ruining their visit and mom's hard work on the brunch.
"Alex, we don't need to know what is so hard for you now, but anytime you want to talk, you know you can call us, day or night, don't you?" granddad said, patting my back.
"I don't want to bother you with my stupid stuff," I said around involuntarily hiccupping breaths.
"Nothing you have to say is stupid, Alex. Things can be tough for kids today. We don't know how tough, but we know it can get awful. And you're in that awkward stage of things, too. You're not a man yet, but you're more than a child. And anything we can do, or talk, or anything to help, we want to do that for you."
"I'm just sick of, of all, of all the confusion. The not knowing, and wondering, and... "
... the fears, worries, doubts, troubles, problems, scares, close-calls, horrors, shames... losses.
I sniffed back the tears, but it did no good. They came anyway, even harder, as if in revenge for my failed attempts to deny them. I tried to put my head on the table and hide it, but mom's arms around my neck from behind, and grandma's around my body, held me upright in my chair.
"I just hate things like this!"
"Like what, honey? Tell us about it. Let us help if we can," she said over my bowed head.
It was an inviting invitation. The hiding was becoming a heavy burden, and letting the grandparents in on it all would be a relief, I knew at that moment. But I knew it wouldn't be easy. As for Jeff, even mom and dad weren't in on all of that. I thought how if I could almost tell my grands, why couldn't Jeff tell his mom? I compared his mom to my grands, and once I factored in both of my parents knowing, as well as the difference in attitudes, I saw that the equations were too dissimilar for comparison. Jeff had to tell his mother; his strict, religious mother, his one parent. His brother knew, and would help, but that was all he had. I had two parents who knew, and it was my grands, not my sole parent. There was no comparison.
"It's just so much crap!" I exclaimed, throwing my glasses onto the table.
"Whatever is bothering you certainly is not so much crap, Alex. Especially if it is bothering you so much," granddad offered with another series of pats to my back.
"I can't! It's just so, I don't know what! I, just... " I trailed off, unable to speak around the wracking sobs.
Grandma held and rocked me as they all tried to comfort me with soft words and touches. I didn't think it was being helpful, as I wanted to be a man, not a child, and a man isn't rocked in his grandmother's arms as he cries like a baby. I wanted to put the tears away and be able to simply tell them all of the sordid truth. Each time I tried to do so, only more weeping and sobbing came from me. I felt worthless and pathetic.
After long minutes, the food growing cold on the table, my sobs relented, and I began breathing regularly again. My heart wanted to tell them everything, but my head couldn't come up with the words to do it with. I badly wanted to share it with them, but the unknown, the fear of their reactions, kept convincing me not to.
When my eyes cleared, I could see them all around me, except mom, who continued to hold me from behind with her chin on the top of my head. They all looked worried, and I hated that I was the cause of it. I hated that so much, that I started talking.
I inhaled and exhaled, shuddering intensely several times. As I got my body under control, I began telling them how I felt about Jeff. I told them about the feelings I had for him, how Jeff made me feel when he was around. I told them of some of the things that had happened at the party, how I had learned Jeff was gay too. I told them about sitting on the couch with him and feeling so wonderful. And I told them what had happened the morning after, upstairs.
Then I told them of the events at Jeff's apartment. The changes of attitude and interest from Jeff. How Jeff had changed his mind so many times before. Then I told them of the reaction Jeff had when his mother had gotten home, and about being told to leave. By the end of the story, the tears and the crying had stopped, and I was calmer, feeling sick, but better all the same. Lighter. So much lighter!
"I'm just so confused! I thought he loved me. I don't know anymore. It's so hard!"
"Love is, Alex. It doesn't matter who with, it is a royal pain. Every time," granddad said softly.
Everybody knows it! I thought.
"Oh, really?" grandma asked, throwing him a snide look that I managed to catch.
A few soft laughs relieved the tension around the table, and I released more of my own tension with a loud sigh.
"I can't believe I'm not still crying like a baby," I said as I put my glasses back on.
"You're a strong kid," mom said, kissing my hair again before squeezing me tightly and letting go.
"Strong young man," granddad insisted.
Mom walked around the table and started handing out breakfast again. The talk centered on my worries, but frequent laughter kept the mood light. I ended up eating more than anyone else, to my own surprise.
Grandfather arm-wrestled me for the last piece of bacon, and I won for the first time. And I knew I won honestly. The last time I had nearly won, but this time it had been close until the last moments. I only gained the advantage as granddad's stamina began giving out, while I still had plenty of pent-up frustrations to channel down my arm.
"Knew it would happen some day," he said, tousling my hair. "Come out to the van with me. I want to have a little chat," he said, standing up and stretching.
"What about?" I asked as I followed him through the garage door; I was pretty sure I had a very good idea of what.
Grandfather closed the door behind us, then took me to the van with his arm around my shoulders. When we reached the van, he waved me inside the sliding door to the driver's seat as he took the passenger's seat. Once we had sat there several moments, he pulled out his pipe and lit it before he looked over to me and started talking.
"Nice van," he said casually. "Not very long, so not too bad on gas. And I like the inside. Spiffy."
I snickered at his wording, surprised I had any kind of laughter in me.
"Alex, I've lived a long time, and I've known a lot of people. I've fought a war, killed, been shot. I've fallen in love and lost it, too. Before I met your grandmother, when I was a soldier in World War Two, I hadn't so much as kissed a girl. I was eighteen when I joined up. And, well, I had kissed a girl by then. Janet Willows. Pretty thing. Blonde hair, blue eyes, ta-tas that went out to here!" he said, holding his free hand nearly a foot in front of his chest.
I laughed at the exaggeration that I sensed there, as well as the slight awkwardness of the topic.
"I was just a kid, only two years older than you are now. It was lonely in the Army. Leave was so far away all the time. And so short when it came. I lost my virginity on leave, to a Hawaiian girl. In a, well, one of those places. It was nice, but it was frightening, too.
"I got attached to this guy in my group. Steve Sellers. Taller than me. Blond and blue-eyed. He was nice to me, watched over me, helped out with things I needed help with. On leave one time, just as we learned we were shipping out after the next weeks final training, to Europe and the war, we got drunk. Got a hotel and talked about going out to find some girls. We just talked about it. We drank the beer we bought, real beer, not that watered Army stuff, and we talked. Before I knew it, we were in bed together."
I was shocked. The idea of grandfather having done something like that was totally foreign, unexpected, and almost unbelievable. The look on his face told me that it was no tall tale.
"It was, interesting. I, enjoyed it. And we fell asleep with each other. Holding each other. When we woke up the next morning, we pretended it had never happened. Best thing, you know? But it bothered me. Not what we had done, not at all, well, not much. What bothered me was how I felt about him now. Suddenly I, it wasn't love, I don't think. It was something though. We were still friends, fought side by side through Europe, right into Germany.
"We never did anything like that again, but we came close. When the shells were landing near us, and we had to stay ducked down, we held each other. Lots of guys did that. I wonder if they had, well, if they had done something similar. And at nights, when it was so damned cold your breath froze to your lips, we curled up together and kept warm. Again, that wasn't anything new or different, other soldiers did the same, to keep warm. Many who didn't, well, they didn't do so well.
"It was that closeness that kept me, him too, I think, from just going shell happy. When we heard that Germany surrendered, we were on the outskirts of a concentration camp. We marched on it and took it over, even if we were ordered from higher up to wait. There were starving people there, and bodies. And it was a nightmare. If Steve and I hadn't had each other to talk to about it all, next to each other, sometimes crying and holding each other, I would have, well, I don't know what, but I would be different, I know. He too. For certain.
"Alex, I'm telling you this, so you know, you know you aren't, different. Not that way. You are just you. And if you like the guys, so fine. I loved Steve in ways I can't describe, and that one night has never left my memories. If what I felt, feel, about that night is anything like what you feel with another guy, I can see how it's wonderful. And if what you feel for Jeff, or anyone, is anything like I feel for your grandmother, then don't let it go. If you feel anything like I do for your grandmother, hold onto it as tight as you can. Don't let anyone get in your way. No one, or no thing. Do you understand me?"
I nodded and swallowed with difficulty. I was choked up from his story, and over what I thought he was trying to tell me.
"Did you see Steve after the war?"
"No. Once we were back in the states, and discharged, we wrote from time to time. We never mentioned it except to say from time to time that it, that it was nothing we regretted. He married and had kids. He died last year, heart attack on a golf course. I went to his funeral, and it was one of the most difficult days of my life.
"His family was very nice, his wife quite beautiful. He has three sons, all good-looking kids, like him. A bit older than your pop. He has grandkids now, did before he died, and they are the cutest kids. I got a letter from his wife just a month or so ago. She says I should write back and stay in touch, that she feels she knows me from all the things Steve told her about me."
"You write back?"
"No. Been thinking about it, though."
"Do it! You sit there and tell me to grab at things I want, but you don't write to her? Don't you want to?"
"Yes. I do. I guess I should, huh?" he said, tousling my hair again.
"I will. When I get home. But you, you need to do what you know is the right thing. If Jeff's mom can't handle it, she better learn how. Jeff won't change just because she don't like it. And if he did, it would probably make him miserable."
I had already thought that.
"I can't do anything about it. She'll move if I raise a stink about it. She'll move if Jeff does anything about it."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course. The best thing is to let it go. Maybe find someone else. Let him find someone else when he can get out from under her."
"Sounds grown-up. But is it the right thing?"
I thought on it before answering.
"Then, that's that. It's going to hurt. You know that?"
"I do. It does. But that's nothing new."
Not after Toby, I knew.
Grandfather laughed briefly and smiled at me, saying, "Love. Don't matter who ya are or who you're in love with, it can be a bitch. But, Alex, when it works out, there's nothing else even slightly close."
The morning went by too fast. Before I knew it, the grandparents were gone. They had reminded dad to get things taken care of on the van and send them the bill, but only for things it needed. I would have to work and earn my own money for the things I wanted to do that didn't have to do with making the van safe.
By lunch, I had started feeling better about things, accepting the loss of Jeff and dealing with it in a way. I smoked a joint and started writing in my journal, describing the events since my birthday. It was journal number seven, and the first was four years old.
I had written everything up to that morning before Tom came up the stairs. He waved weakly and sat on the chair, scooting it near me at the desk.
"What'cha writin'?" he asked in a subdued tone.
"The last couple of days," I informed him with a shrug.
"That too. The parties, mostly," I lied, not concerned if he believed me or not, and sure that he didn't.
We were both quiet for a short time. Usually we could be quiet without awkwardness, but that silence was absolutely crammed full of it.
"What'ya doin' today?" he asked, finally breaking that long silence.
"Gotta go to Tim's. You wanna go?"
"Nah. To tired to bike anywhere."
"You did get plastered!" I said with a laugh. "I feel like hell, but I wanna go. I promised, and I wanna. Wanna smoke a doob before I go?" I asked, reaching for the hidden stash.
"Nah, don't feel like it," Tom said for the first time since I had known him.
Tom snickered and nodded. He was pale and obviously not feeling well.
"Sorry it didn't work out. Hope it didn't make the party, I don't know... bad?"
"Nah. No way. It was fun. The whole thing. Did you have a good time?"
"The party was the best ! You did most of it, didn't you?"
"Sort of. I guess. Not really. I mean, everybody helped. Came up with stuff."
He shrugged, his coat rustling in the quiet. He was as cute as ever, though he was doing nothing to make my mind wander along sexual lines. His fine, dark eyebrows over his dark eyes, under his black, straight hair, all setting off his pale, Irish complexion, it all was so cute.
"But you did most of it, didn't you?"
"I guess," he answered with a shrug.
I knew he had, the entire gang had dropped hints that Tom was instrumental in putting the party together. I knew he was not only a cute guy, but he was a great friend. I felt lucky, again, having him as my best friend.
"What're ya gonna do about Jeff?"
"I don't know. I don't even wanna think about it right now. I was writing about it all, so I don't want to even think about it anymore."
"I can understand. So, no bus?"
I glanced at him, not having thought of that problem since announcing that I was back on the bus at the party at Tim's. That was when Jeff and I were friends again. I knew I could ride the bus without the concerns of before, but entirely new ones made it impossible again - I'd rather bike in the cold than face him every day.
I shook my head.
"When ya heading to Tim's?"
"Should be soon. He's gonna get a pizza later. Sure you don't wanna come with?"
"Nah, man, too tired. Don't feel like it, either. Got a two day hangover I guess. And Tim's your friend, and he's leaving tomorrow. You two should go talk and such. When you gonna get back?"
"About six or seven or so. His folks are coming back by then."
"Okay. Call me when you do?"
"Well, I'm gonna go puke up lunch," he said as he stood.
"Don't miss the toilet," I said, returning the small laugh.
Tom slowly waved over his shoulder as he left.
Something's up with him. I'll find out tonight, when I get back from Tim's, I decided, getting ready to leave. I should wait and see if Jeff calls, I thought suddenly, glancing at the phone. Who am I kidding? I know what he'll say. I don't even want to hear it.
I looked to the footlocker under its pile of clothes and books. I again considered taking Toby's letter to share with Tim. He had heard very little about him from me, and I was sure something from Jon, and I felt that Tim might want to know more. I knew I wanted to share Toby with him. I didn't know why, only that I wanted to.
I shoved everything that was piled up on top of the footlocker onto the bed. I unlocked the padlock and then both latches. Once I swung the lid up, I pulled out the brown clasp-envelope. I took out the large photo of Toby that his aunt had given me, the one from his school, the one of him before he had gotten so thin, when his hair was still strawberry, and his face still full and smooth. I slid it back into the envelope with the letter, placed it on the bed, then closed, locked and covered the footlocker again.
Looking around the room, the envelope under my coat, and after a long gaze at the quiet phone, I felt I was ready to leave, to say goodbye to Tim.