“Why are you panting so hard?”
“As soon as John told me what happened, why you weren’t there, I panicked. I ran all the way here.” He was still rasping hard, and just saying that, he broke the words into one- and two-word efforts in order to get them out.
When he’d said that, his eyes suddenly got large. “John!” he said.
“What about him?”
“I left him! He’s all alone there. I’ve got to get back. Right now. Tim, I need to borrow your bike.” His voice was still ragged, his words were still broken up, but he had an expression on his face, in his eyes, I’d never seen before. It was a combination of begging and fear and total need. “I have to go. Now. Tim, whatever you feel, please, please, I have to go. I have to use your bike. Please. Tim, I have to.”
I was feeling strange. I’d been as mad and hurt as I could remember. Five minutes ago, I’d been devastated with hurt and suffering from betrayal and humiliation. Now that I knew that he’d been worried I was going to kill myself and had run to stop it, I had to feel a little differently, but he’d still betrayed me, so I just couldn’t let all that anger go. Not this quickly. But, here he was, begging me for something. And the need in his eyes overwhelmed me. I couldn’t turn him down. I could get mad at him again later. I probably would. But now he needed help, I didn’t know why but he was desperate, and I couldn’t turn my back on him, no matter how good it might feel to.
“Come with me,” I said, and leaned over and offered him my hand. He grasped it and I helped pull him up. When he was on his feet, I led the way downstairs.
Our garage was detached from the house and just behind it. I walked to it and opened the overhead door. Dad had driven his truck to work, but the garage wasn’t empty. There were two motorcycles there. My dad and I had brought them from Ohio with us. Riding together was something we loved, although it was something we hadn’t done since moving, partly because I hadn’t got my license here yet. Screw it. If Terry needed to get to the park so desperately, we’d do this.
I grabbed Dad’s helmet and handed it to Terry, then put mine on. I climbed on my machine, kicked the starter and it roared to life. I pointed behind me and Terry quickly got on, grabbing me around the waist. I slowly let out the clutch and we began moving forward.
It was at least a 15 minute bike ride to the park. On my cycle, we were there in less than half that. I parked in the parking lot. Terry had already set his helmet on the ground and was off and running toward the bridge by the time I had the kickstand down and was taking off my helmet. I hung both helmets on the handlebars, then, after hesitating a minute, followed him, my curiosity tweaked.
The bridge was about a 5 minute walk through the park. Terry was out of sight almost immediately. I started jogging, spurred by the anxiety his urgency provoked. As I reached a spot where I could see the bridge, I was shocked by the scene that was unfolding in front of me.
Over by the bench, John’s wheelchair was lying on its side. John was on the ground, too, but not lying down, sitting, holding his left wrist. I looked around for Terry and spotted him across the lawn. He was running, and I quickly saw he was chasing another boy. He was quickly gaining on him, which was no surprise at all.
As he closed in on the other boy, that boy stopped, turned to face Terry and reached into his pocket. He quickly pulled something out. I was too far away to see it clearly, but the way he was holding it in front of him, the thought “knife” was immediately in my mind, and fear immediately in my heart. Terry by now was up to the other guy and had stopped short, obviously looking at the weapon, if that’s what it was.
I changed direction and headed for Terry. I was mad at him still, but I didn’t want to see him stabbed. I guess I wasn’t really thinking, I was just reacting. I’m not big enough to help anyone in a fight, and a knife fight? I don’t think so. But my legs just went in that direction.
As I approached, I realized the two were talking. I heard Terry say, “That’s not going to save you, Pritchard.”
“Back away, Kauffman. I’ll kill you, you come any closer.” And he slashed at Terry, who was well out of reach of the knife. I could clearly see it now. It looked like a switchblade. Long bladed and ugly.
“Sure you will, you asshole. Except you’re looking at me now, not some little kid in a wheelchair. And I’m going to fuck you up real bad. I should have years ago. You’re a worthless piece of shit, you know that? Always have been, but you’re all through now. You’re going away for a long time for this. First I’m going to hurt you, then you’re going away. Bye bye, Grady.” While he was talking, Terry had been moving, taking a step closer, then away, circling too. I had stopped several feet behind the other boy and was watching, scared and barely breathing.
Terry kept talking, egging the other guy on, making him turn to keep him in front of him. Terry kept circling till finally he was facing me and the other guy was facing away from me, looking in the same direction I was, and I realized he was facing into the sun. It was lower on the horizon now and directly in the guy’s eyes. I had my hand up, shielding it. Terry was now dancing sideways, back and forth. The guy was trying to follow him, but the sun was causing him problems.
Back and forth, back and forth, in and out, Terry kept moving. The other guy had to move, too. He was perspiring now and seemed very edgy. He had a knife, but he was smaller than Terry and didn’t appear to be nearly as athletic. His movements were much jerkier than Terry’s. He was no longer responding to Terry’s gibes. Then, suddenly Terry looked over his shoulder at me and yelled at me. “Tim.”
I called back, confused, “What?”
“Stop! No, don’t rush him!” Which I’d had no thought of doing, it hadn’t even occurred to me. But this Grady guy didn’t know that. Old trick or not, he quickly turned his head towards me, knowing I was there from my answering Terry’s first shout, and just as quickly, Terry sprang forward, grabbed the knife hand with both his hands and wrenched it hard behind the guy’s back, in the process inadvertently drawing it across the guy’s jeans.
There was a gasp from him and blood started oozing for the slash in his pants. Terry jerked the arm up hard, and Grady screamed. I heard a distinct snap. The knife dropped to the ground. Terry twirled the guy around, then socked him hard on the chin. The guy crumpled to the ground.
Terry appeared to be a little crazed. He looked first to me, then twisted around and looked back to John who was still in the same position I’d first seen him in, over near the bench sitting on the ground holding his wrist.
As Terry looked at him, the craziness left his eyes and was replaced first with a look of deep compassion, then tears. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he said, apparently to no one. “I’m fucking everything up.” Then he looked up at me. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone. He handed it to me.
“Tim, could you call 9-1-1 for me? Have the police come and the paramedics. And watch Grady. If he comes to and tries to get up, tell him you’re going to kick his ribs in if he keeps moving. You won’t have to. He’s a chicken at heart. If he does keep moving, holler.”
I was a little out of it. Violence isn’t my thing. My heart was racing and I was a little light headed. My stomach wasn’t quite right, either. But Terry’s body language was almost shouting at me that he needed to get to John, and I didn’t want to hold him up any longer. I did have one worry, however. “Terry. The knife.” I pointed at it, lying beside the kid.
“Forget it. Don’t touch it. Can you make the call?”
I told him I would. As he was running off to tend to John, I did.
The police arrived first and in only about five minutes. A squad car pulled into the parking lot and almost immediately I could see a couple officers heading toward the bridge. I yelled out and waved my arms and they changed directions, angling now toward me. Grady still hadn’t moved. I’d looked and seen he was breathing when Terry had left, and when I’d spoken to the paramedics on the phone I’d told them it appeared one kid was unconscious and bleeding, another might have a broken arm. I hadn’t got too close to Grady. I’d just left him alone where he was lying on the ground.
When the police got to me, I told them what I’d seen when I got to the park, John sitting on the ground holding his wrist, Grady running away and Terry running after him. I told them about Grady pulling the knife, and the fight. One of the cops asked where the knife was and I pointed to it, still lying where it had fallen, close to Grady. I also pointed to his leg, which was still bleeding, thought not heavily. They asked my name and I told them.
About that time I heard a siren, and then saw the paramedics pull into the parking lot. Pretty quickly I saw two guys get out of the truck and look around, then start toward the cops. One of them was carrying a bag. I asked the cops if it was all right for me to go see how Terry and John were doing and they said it was all right, but not to leave the park without checking with them first.
I headed over toward the bench by the bridge. I could see John was no longer on the ground but was again sitting in his chair. Terry was sitting on the bench next to him. They were talking. John was still holding his wrist.
I changed my direction a little and headed so I’d intersect the paramedics. When I met them, I told them that one kid was lying where the police were and needed help, but there was another kid to be looked at also, and I pointed to him. I told them the kid with the police was bleeding and unconscious, the other kid had something wrong with his wrist or arm. The paramedic not carrying the bag turned away from his partner and walked with me over to John.
When we got there, both Terry and John looked up at us. Terry spoke up first. “I think he broke his wrist. He’s got osteogenesis imperfecta. Are you familiar with that?”
The paramedic looked puzzled. “No, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that term.”
“It’s also called ‘brittle bone syndrome’. You have to be gentle with him. He bruises very easily. It might be better if you actually don’t treat him, just transport him to the McAddams Hospital. Dr. Thoroughby is his doctor and a resident there, and it might be safer to let him treat him.”
Through all this discussion, John was looking at me, which I found a little strange. But he was looking at me, and so I looked back at him. I couldn’t read the expression in his eyes. They were a deep blue color, so deep that the whites seemed to be bluish as well. When the paramedic and Terry were through speaking, the paramedic asked John if he were in pain. John admitted to some pain, but said it wasn’t too bad. He said if someone could wheel him to the truck and he could be taken to the hospital, that’s all he really needed. Then he surprised me. “Before that, I need to talk to Tim. Privately. Could you give us a couple minutes? Please.”
The paramedic didn’t think much of that, I could tell. I guess he was used to taking charge in this sort of situation. But John had a no nonsense air about him, and you could just tell, although his request had been worded like he was asking a favor, there was some steel in it, too. There’d been no upward inflection on his ‘please’, like there would have been if he’d been pleading. Instead, it was said forcefully like someone would order a steak: ‘I’d like a New York strip please, rare’. Not a request, more like a semi-polite order. The paramedic hesitated, then nodded OK and said, “Only a minute, though.”
He and Terry stepped a little ways away, talking. John spoke to me. “Would you sit down, please? So I don’t have to look up at you?”
I sat down, wondering what this was about.
John looked at me, then looked away again. The expression on his face slowly changed from neutral to one showing discomfort. After a long pause, he spoke. “Tim, I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. What I said, that Terry had told me all about you, that wasn’t true. I was upset, and I was mad at Terry, and I took it out on you. I was upset and I wanted everyone else to be upset too. But I had no idea you’d react like you did. I thought maybe you’d get mad at me, and we’d argue or something. I don’t know. I hadn’t thought it all through, I was just mad and striking out. Now, I feel like a complete shit.
“Terry had spoken to me about you, but hadn’t said very much. I’ll tell you exactly what he said. He said he’d met a neat guy and wanted me to meet him, too. He told me that you and I have some things in common, but he wasn’t going to say any more than that, that you were a very private guy and anything I learned about you had to come from you. But, that he really liked you and he thought I would, too.”
He paused and looked over toward Terry, then continued. “But Tim, I always share Thursdays with Terry. It’s the day I spend the afternoon with him, I look forward to it, it’s kind of special to me, and I was pissed someone was going to butt in. He’d said you liked your privacy, that’s about the only thing I knew about you, but it gave me something to throw in your face. But Tim, I had no idea, I just didn’t realize, saying that, well, it would cause you to do what you did, get really upset and run off and all. I guess I was hoping to get you yelling at me or something, so I could yell back at you. I don’t know. I want to apologize. I never apologize. About anything. But I’m apologizing to you. I don’t know if you want to get together again, I don’t blame you if you don’t, but I’d like it if we could try again. I feel like a total asshole, and I want you to know I’m not that bad. I’m really sorry.”
I looked into his face. Looking at him, I didn’t see anything wrong with him. He looked like a perfectly healthy kid sitting in a wheelchair. Except for his wrist, which he was still holding. I looked back into his eyes and saw what I thought was pain registering there.
“You wrist is really hurting you, isn’t it?” I asked.
“I’m used to it. It’ll be OK. But I apologized to you. Will you accept it? Are we OK?”
I grinned at him. I couldn’t help it. He seemed to be a really assertive, take-no-crap, feisty kind of kid who got what he wanted, and he was in a wheelchair. He could be pleading with me to accept his apology. He wasn’t. He could be hanging his head in shame. He wasn’t. He was asking me to accept his apology, but from the sound of it, it was something he was determined to make happen. He was a small kid, probably no bigger than I was and that really was small, he was in a wheelchair, and he seemed to think he was totally in charge. He sure acted like that. This kid was something else. Rather than being put off by his rather domineering demeanor, I sort of admired him for it. This kid could be interesting to get to know.
I thought I could meet him halfway. “John, I have a confession, too. I felt exactly the same as you did. I didn’t like the idea of having to share Terry either. So I understand where you were coming from, and of course we can try this again. In fact, I’d really like to.”
He didn’t smile back. He just looked at me a moment, then said, “Good. Thank you, Tim. Now, can you get Terry to push me over to that truck?”
“I’ll do better than that,” I replied, and walked behind him, took hold of the handles and began pushing his chair toward the path. I was surprised how difficult it was to push it over the grass. John looked like he couldn’t even weigh a 100 pounds, but the pushing was difficult. Once we reached the paved path, it got much easier, and by that time Terry and the paramedic had reached us. Terry just sort of naturally took over the pushing, looking like he was long accustomed to doing it, and I let him.
Ten minutes later, John was being driven out of the parking lot. A second paramedic truck was just arriving. I guess they’d decided they didn’t want to transport both boys in the same cramped truck. Or maybe they were being taken to different places. Terry was still with me, and I spoke to him. “What about my motorcycle? I don’t have a valid license.” I was looking at the squad car that was parked only about 20 yards from my cycle.
Terry eyes widened, and a grin spread across his face. He thought for a moment. “Tell you what, let’s go find out if the cops are going to charge me with anything for the fight. If not, we’ll just tell them we’re going to walk home. They don’t know how we got here, and with the crowd here now, it could be anyone’s bike. We’ll watch, and when they leave, we can ride it home, if you want to risk it. Otherwise, I have a friend with a pickup truck and we could call him have him take it back to your house. What do you think?”
I looked around while I thought about it for a moment. He was right, the paramedic trucks and the cop car had caused a small crowd to gather. Then I said, “Can I use your phone to call my dad?” I realized it was still in my pocket; I hadn’t returned it to him.
It was shortly after 6 by now, and Dad should be home. I called and he was. I asked him if he could swing by the park and put my motorcycle in the back of the truck. He started to ask questions, but I told him I’d explain when I saw him, and he stopped. My dad and I get along pretty well.
We walked over to the cops. Grady was just being carted off on a rolling stretcher, a large bandage on his leg, his arm in a sling. One of the cops was walking with him. The other cop was the one who’d asked me to check with him before leaving.
“Sir, we’re going to go home now if that’s OK with you,” Terry told him.
The cop looked at us, then reached for his notebook. He made sure the names and addresses he had were correct and checked our IDs against them. Then he told us we could go.
Terry couldn’t help himself, I guess. “Am I in trouble?” he asked the cop. “Am I going to be charged or arrested or anything?”
The cop smiled at him. “Ain’t my call, kid. I just report. If they want to talk to you some more, that’s why we have your name. But if you want a guess, I’d say it was self defense, even if you did chase after him. Who knows if there’d even have been a fight if he hadn’t attacked you with the knife. And he did assault the other kid in a wheel chair. I’d say he’s looking at some serious stuff, and you aren’t. But that’s just an opinion.”
I could see some tension drain from Terry’s face. He thanked the cop, and we walked off.
About then, my dad’s truck pulled into the parking lot and parked next to my bike. I smiled. I was sure he didn’t realize it, but he’d parked between my bike and the cop car so the bike was now shielded from the cop’s view. Neat.
We walked over to the truck while my dad was getting out of it. I introduced him to Terry, and vice versa. Then I asked my dad if we could walk while I explained everything. I didn’t want to be standing there when the cop came.
The three of us walked to the bridge, then back again. By the time we’d got back to the parking lot, the squad car was gone, and my father had been filled in on the events that had resulted in me driving the bike illegally. My father’s cool. All he said was, I’d done the right thing.
He asked Terry if he needed a ride anywhere and Terry said no, he was going to phone his father, which reminded me to hand him his phone back. He thanked me, then said, “Tim, we need to talk. Can I call you tonight?”
I told him yes, then the three of us loaded my bike into the back of Dad’s truck, and we drove home.