W.A.R. Part Three - The Broken Boy
Chapter Five - Won't You Be My Neighbor?
by Jeff Wilson
"Get your fucking ass out of that bed."
It took me a few moments to orient myself to what was going on. I had finally gotten myself into a pretty good sleep. But now, I was being shaken and a harsh voice was telling me to wake up. The first thought I had was that there was a fire! My house was burning down and a fireman was trying to save me! I quickly tossed the covers off me and sat up.
"What the hell?" the man's voice said. "You're not Dustin!"
"Dad, it's five in the morning," Dustin's voice broke through the fog of my still not-fully-awake brain. I started to realize that I wasn't at home, I was at Dustin's house. And the voice of the person shaking me wasn't a fireman. It was Dustin's dad. But why was he waking me up and why was he in Dustin's room?
"Fuck, I forgot Billy was staying over," Frank's gravelly voice came clearer into focus.
"What's going on?" I asked, rubbing my sleepy eyes.
"Dad was just trying to wake me up for my morning jog," Dustin explained. "But he wasn't expecting to find you in my bed. Can we skip the jog today dad?"
"What a lazy fucking shit you are!" Frank scolded. "You have an excuse for everything, don't you? I know niggers who work harder than you."
"I promise I'll do double tomorrow," Dustin replied.
"You're damn right you'll do double. Fuckin' lazy good-for-nothing piece of shit..." Frank mumbled as he left the room." Dustin rolled onto his side facing away from me, but I sat there wide awake after his father's intrusion.
"What the hell was that about?" I asked. My voice was raspy and my nose was stuffy since I hadn't taken my allergy medicine since the previous morning.
"He always takes me for a jog in the morning," Dustin explained. "He must've forgot that you were staying overnight. It's nothing. Go back to sleep."
"He wakes you up at five in the morning every day?" I asked.
"Not every day. It's not a big deal. Lie down and go to sleep," Dustin said.
I laid back down next to him and faced the opposite direction from him so that we were laying back to back. "Good thing we got dressed before we went to sleep," I whispered.
"Yeah. That would have been bad," Dustin replied.
I re-entered a troubled sleep for a few more hours and then woke up about eight o'clock. We went to the kitchen and found Amanda eating a bowl of cereal for breakfast. Dustin looked in the cabinet and pulled out a box of Frosted Flakes. He opened up the box and scowled.
"What the heck?" he fumed. He flipped the box upside down, but nothing came out of it. Then he noticed that Amanda had filled her bowl with his cereal. "What are you doing? You hate Frosted Flakes!" he snapped.
"I thought I'd try something different," Amanda replied with a smirk.
"Then why did you put the empty box back on the shelf?" Dustin demanded.
"Shut up, Shithead," Amanda replied. "You're such a fucking crybaby." She took her bowl and poured half her milk and most of the cereal into the drain. "How can you eat this shit?" Dustin scowled fiercely at her as she left the kitchen.
"She did that on purpose," Dustin said crossly. "She knows that's the only cereal I like."
"I'm not really hungry anyway," I lied. I was really starving.
Dustin's mom came into the kitchen and noticed the mess in the sink. "Dustin Dwayne Smith, why did you pour all this cereal into the sink?"
"I didn't! Amanda did it!" Dustin defended himself.
"Your sister hates Frosted Flakes. We go out of our way to buy this shit for you and you just throw it away? Maybe you can get a job and pay for it yourself from now on! Clean this shit up immediately!" she scolded.
"But I didn't do it!" Dustin whined.
Mrs. Smith slapped him upside the head so hard the noise echoed through the kitchen. "Quit lying and do as you're told, now, you ungrateful little brat!" she yelled. The discussion was over. Dustin very quickly began cleaning out the sink. Though his back was turned, I could see his neck becoming very red. Mrs. Smith left the kitchen and it was just me and Dustin again. I didn't say anything and neither did he. I was still in shock that I'd just seen my best friend get the crap slapped out of him by his own mother. I heard a sniffle or two as he finished cleaning up his sister's mess. But when he turned around, there seemed to be no hint that he was upset.
"You want to go outside and play around?" Dustin asked.
"Aren't you even upset?" I asked. "Your mom just hit you."
"I shouldn't have mouthed off," Dustin explained. "She works really hard."
"You weren't mouthing off! You were telling the truth! That wasn't fair," I said.
"I didn't see you saying anything to help me," Dustin replied. There was finally a hint of anger in his voice, but it was directed at me!
"Sorry," I said. "Your mom scares me."
"Whatever, Billy," Dustin sniped. "You're such a pussy. You could have told my mom what happened instead of standing there like a deer in the headlights. Remind me never to trust you if I really need help some day."
"I'm sorry, Dusty. I really am!" I apologized.
"Whatever. Come on, let's go outside."
I followed Dustin outside and we played around for a while. We threw his football around, or rather he threw his football in my direction and I fumbled around trying to catch it. And then I threw it back toward him and it landed about halfway between us and it rolled away. That continued for about a half hour or so until Dustin noticed the Mustang was back at the trailer next door.
"Hey look, they're back," He noted.
"You getting some new neighbors?" I asked.
"Apparently so," Dustin replied. "Maybe they've got a kid our age!"
"That'd be cool. You wanna find out?" I asked.
"Sure," Dustin replied. We walked over from Dustin's backyard into the neighbor's backyard. The trailer, I found out from Dustin, was owned by the same elderly man who owned Dustin's house. He owned a lot of the houses in the area, and none of them were all that impressive. The trailer seemed to be about the worst. It was very small, and I hardly ever noticed it even though it had always been there. We walked around the trailer to the front. The Mustang was there, loaded with boxes. We were disappointed when a woman who looked about sixty came out of the house. So much for them having someone our age...
"Oh, hello boys," she said.
"Hi," we replied.
"Don't worry about the heavy boxes, don't push yourself!" A young-looking man who looked maybe about in his late teens or so followed the old woman out of the house. He had short dark brown hair and was wearing glasses. He was wearing a red shirt with a flannel over it. He didn't look like he weighed very much. He was about the same size as me. I noticed he was wearing Nike shoes. When he noticed us, he smiled.
"Are you moving in, mister?" Dustin asked.
"Mister? You don't have to call me mister, dude. I'm Mike. Mike Evans."
"Dustin Smith," Dustin offered Mike his hand to shake. "I live in the house next door. And this is my friend Billy Roberts."
I shook hands with Mike and the old lady. "Are you his grandma?" I asked.
The old woman laughed and shook her head. "No, I'm his mother," she replied.
I turned a deep shade of red in my embarrassment. "Oh, I'm sorry!" I apologized.
"Don't you worry about it! It happens all the time. My Michael was a very late arrival," Mrs. Evans laughed.
"Are you both moving in?" Dustin asked.
"Nope, just me," Mike replied. "I'm finally getting out on my own after years of mooching."
"How old are you?" Dustin asked.
"I'm twenty-two. I'm hoping to start a little computer business out of here until I get a place in a bigger city."
"Wow, you don't look twenty-two. I'm fourteen and Billy's fifteen, but I'll be fifteen on Monday," Dustin explained.
"You were born on April Fool's Day?" Mike laughed just like everybody did when they found out what date Dustin was born on.
"Yeah," Dustin laughed. "Pretty pathetic, huh?"
"Dustin, I don't think the guy needs to hear your whole life story right now," I said. I'd never seen Dustin acting so chummy with a complete stranger.
"Hey, you need some help moving stuff in?" Dustin asked. If I wasn't in front of people I'd have slapped him on the back of the head. What was he thinking? We didn't know this guy! He could have been a serial killer for all we knew!
"Well, sure," Mike smiled. "If you don't mind." He looked at me, obviously feeling my uneasiness.
I smiled half-heartedly. "Sure," I said. The idea of lugging boxes around for some guy I just met hardly seemed like a fun way to spend the afternoon. I wasn't nearly as good as Dustin at hiding my feelings.
Dustin immediately began loading up boxes and lugging them into the trailer. I grabbed what I could and carried it inside. I'd never seen Dustin so chatty before. Mike found out all about the neighborhood, the school, Dustin's parents, and Dustin's views on the Pirates and Steelers and life in general. He was following Mike around like a puppy.
"Well, that's it for this load," Mike said when we'd taken the last of the boxes into the trailer. "Guess I'll head back to the house for the next load while you sort through this stuff, ma."
"Maybe we could come with you and help grab the next load?" Dustin asked.
"Gee I don't know..." Mike said. "Will your parents like you jumping in a car with a total stranger?"
"Yeah!" I chipped in, hoping Dustin's common sense would kick in and tell him that it wasn't a good idea.
"You're not a stranger, Mike," Dustin explained. "You're my neighbor. And besides, my parents don't care where I go anyway. Let us help you."
Mike looked at me. "What about you, Billy?" he asked.
"Whatever," I replied.
"Well, I guess it's okay," Mike said.
Dustin was in the passenger seat of the Mustang before Mike even finished his sentence. Mrs. Evans didn't look too happy with Mike and pulled him aside. I couldn't hear their conversation, but I knew the look of a son getting scolded by his mom. I quietly slipped into the seat behind Dustin.
"What's with you today?" I asked.
"What do you mean?" Dustin asked.
"We don't know this guy. You can't just jump into a car with a strange guy. Just because he has a cool car doesn't mean..."
"He's not going to hurt us," Dustin interrupted. "He's cool."
Before I could tell Dustin that there was no way he could know if the guy was cool or not because we just met him, Mike got into the car with us. As we drove through the neighborhood, Dustin gave Mike the tour of the town, telling him all there was to know about Donora. Dustin jabbered on and on all the way to Mike's mom's old house about ten miles away. I think they even forgot that I was in the back seat.
Mike's house looked like a house you would expect a grandmother to live in. But when I remembered that it was his mom's house, it made sense. Mike was certainly going to be slumming it compared to the neighborhood he was leaving. Every house had a nice green freshly-cut lawn with fountains and birdbaths and little sidewalks leading up to freshly painted porches. Dustin's neighborhood had yellow overgrown lawns, pieces of cars on blocks in every yard, and Dustin's porch was the gravel parking space between his house and the road. It was definitely going to be a different world.
Dustin eagerly helped Mike load up the car for the next trip back to Donora. He got so sweaty that he took off his shirt and tied it around his skinny waist. There was no air conditioning in the house, and it did get very hot moving boxes. But I would not have been comfortable taking off my shirt in front of this stranger. When Mike suggested we get something to drink, Dustin just opened the refrigerator and started looking for sodas.
"Dustin, you don't go rifling through a stranger's refrigerator!" I scolded.
Mike laughed, "It's okay, Willy."
I felt the back of my neck and my face get hot and Dustin peeked over the refrigerator door. I scowled at Mike. This guy had just officially gotten on my bad side. "My name is not Willy, dude," I said crossly. "I hate that name."
Dustin laughed nervously, "He really does. He's even flipped out on teachers who call him that."
"I don't flip out," I replied. "I just hate being called that. It's not my name. If you must call me something besides Billy, call me Bill. Even Bill is better than Willy. I hate being called Willy. Is that asking too much, Dustpan?"
Dustin flinched. Kids at school used to call him that because he was always dirty going through elementary school and they picked on him by calling him that name. I think he hated the name Dustpan even more than I hated Willy. I also think that's why he was almost obsessive about showering and washing his hair now that he was older.
"Hey, it's cool," Mike said. "I was `Mikey' until I was in ninth grade, and I still hate being called that. Billy it is."
After that little incident, we sat on the front porch and took a well-deserved break for a few minutes. Dustin and Mike sat on lawn chairs while I sat on the top step. The breeze felt good after hauling boxes through the warm stuffy house.
"So, I know think I know Dusty's life story now," Mike said. "So what's your story, Billy?"
I tensed up, "Oh, I don't know..."
"You got a girlfriend?" he asked.
"No," I replied as my face began to feel hot.
"Billy's too busy for love," Dustin butted-in. "Always studying or hanging out with Reilly."
"I am not!" I replied.
"Who's Reilly?" Mike asked.
"That's his rich little best friend," Dustin replied. "He's a bastard."
"Stop calling him that!" I defended. "Why are you always such a jerk to him?"
"Well he is!" Dustin sniped. "He's a jag off. He thinks he's better than everybody because he's from New York City and his mom's a doctor."
"That's not true!" I protested.
"I've been to New York City. It's definitely a different world. Much bigger than the little towns around here. I'm sure he probably felt really out of place when he moved here and probably had a hard time adjusting. That doesn't make him a jerk. I'm sure he was happy to find friends like you and Billy. I know I'm happy that I'll have you guys for friends when I move in."
Now I hated the guy even more because he was making sense! I'd been trying to tell Dustin that for years but I just couldn't find the right way to put it.
"So, where's your dad?" Dustin asked, trying, I think, to change the subject.
"My dad died about ten years ago. I guess I was a little younger than you guys. He was a dentist and mom was a school teacher. They were both over forty when they had me. I was a surprise, let me tell you. But dad was diabetic and he didn't care for himself the way he needed to. He was always smoking and eating sweets and not checking his sugar like he needed to. Then one day he had a heart attack and just dropped dead. It sucked."
"Wow!" Dustin said. "Isn't your dad diabetic, Billy?"
"Shut up," I said quietly.
"He smokes too, doesn't he?" Dustin continued.
"Would you shut your stupid mouth?" I snapped. "All you've done is blab blab blab all day! It's annoying! No one cares! Just shut up!"
Dustin sat there in a bit of shock. "Sorry," he said softly.
I knew I'd crossed the line yelling at him like that and I immediately regretted it. He got yelled at all the time, he didn't need to be yelled at by me too. "I'm sorry too," I said. "I didn't mean to yell at you."
"Okay guys, just calm down," Mike said. "You're both tired from moving boxes. No need to get angry with each other."
"You're right," I said. "Hey, can I use the bathroom?"
"Sure," Mike replied.
I escaped into the house and quickly found my way to the bathroom and closed the door. I didn't even use the toilet. I just stood at the sink and tried to compose myself. I looked at my reflection in the mirror and stared into my own green eyes.
"What's wrong with you?" I said aloud to my reflection. "Why do you have to be such a jerk all the time?" I knew it was wrong to yell at Dustin. He didn't mean any harm when he said those things. It wasn't Dustin who I was angry with. I was angry with myself. There was just too much going on with me. I felt like I was losing control. I felt lost. People kept warning me to watch my temper, and I was really trying. Why did my life have to be so difficult? Why did I have to have these feelings that I couldn't control? I hated it. I just wanted to be normal. I looked at the kid in the mirror and I hated him. I wanted to hurt him.
I splashed some water in my face and closed my eyes, holding my hands in front of my face. The angry thoughts subsided a bit and I felt better. It was getting harder and harder to keep my anger in check. This wasn't the first time I'd snapped and gone off on somebody. I dried my face with the hand towel and left the bathroom.
I didn't hurry back outside. I still felt frustrated with myself for being so moody. I looked at the pictures on the wall. It was fun to see young Mike in pictures with his parents. It looked like he was raised by his grandparents. His dad looked much older than he should have looked, like his life had been used up too fast. I thought about how old and tired my own father had been looking lately. How his hair had started turning gray and how worn out he was after doing even a simple task. It seemed like he had been through a war in the last few years.
Mike had been a cute kid, though. I found myself staring a little longer at the pictures of him as a teenager. He looked like a preppy kid. There was a picture of him in a band uniform holding a trumpet. There was a picture of him at his graduation holding his diploma over his head victoriously like he'd just beaten Stone Cold for the WWF Championship. There was a picture of him holding a great big fish with his dad. I had a similar picture with my dad at home on my dresser from the time he'd dragged me to his boss's cabin in Bedford. Anyway, like I said, he was a cute kid. Maybe if he were closer to our age we might have been friends. Finally, I stopped staring at the Mike from the past and thought I'd better join the Mike from the present outside. As I got closer to the door, I could hear Mike and Dustin talking. I slowed down and listened.
"He never used to worry about stuff like that until his grandma died. He took it really hard because they were really close. I know he's worried about his dad. I shouldn't have said anything."
"It's not easy to think about someone you love getting sick or worse. I still miss my dad all the time. It's tough. Billy seems like a good kid, though."
"Oh definitely! Billy's awesome. It's just..." Dustin's voice trailed off.
"You think he likes that Ridley guy more than you."
"You mean Reilly, and yes, I know he does."
"Why do you call him Reilly?"
"I don't know. Everybody does. Billy's like the only person who calls him Brett. I think his mother even calls him Reilly. I really hate that kid."
"Do you hate him because of who he is or because of who he's taken away from you?"
"Both, I guess. You're a pretty smart guy."
"You are too, Dustin."
"No I'm not. Everybody thinks I'm dumb."
"Well you aren't dumb. So why would anyone think that?"
"I guess because I don't act like I'm smart. I guess I act dumb because that's the way people want me to act."
"Who wants you to act dumb?"
"You know... People. If I acted smart, people would expect me to do stuff. I'd always have to get good grades like Billy. That's too much pressure. I just want to be myself. I'm lazy, I guess."
"I don't see that either," Mike said. "You sure do talk down about yourself a lot."
There was a long pause. "Shouldn't Billy be done already or is he taking a crap?"
I realized that I had been listening for too long and joined them outside. They started talking about baseball as if they hadn't been talking about what they had been talking about. I didn't quite know what to make of either of them. Who was this guy who had so quickly gained Dustin's trust? And why was Dustin trying to act dumb? Why shouldn't he be trying his best? I knew he was smart. He wouldn't have been in my classes if he wasn't, even if he was barely hanging on. There was more to Dustin than there appeared.
We finished packing up the car and there was barely enough room for me to squeeze into the backseat with the boxes. Mike said there would be plenty of other trips he would have to take before he'd be completely moved out, but this was going to be his last trip of the day. He asked us if we were hungry, and of course the answer was yes. Is there such a thing as a teenage boy who is not hungry? He stopped at Taco Bell. Dustin finally put his shirt back on before going inside. Mike paid for our meals and we had a nice time at the restaurant talking with him. He told us all about his plans for his new business. He'd gotten his degree in computers and he wanted to put it to work by running his own computer repair and parts business. He also planned to sell games and stuff and told us that we were welcome to come over and play anything new he got in once he got set up. He hinted that there may be some work to do that he'd be willing to pay someone to do as well.
When we got back to the neighborhood, it was already late in the afternoon. As expected, nobody had missed us while we were helping Mike. We helped Mike unload his car and Mike paid us fifty dollars each for helping him. It was time for me to leave Dustin's place. I still had to feed Brett's animals before I went home. Dustin reluctantly had to come with me to let me into his house to get my stuff. He hugged Mike before we left, which I found really weird. What in the world was going on with him? As I packed up my belongings, Dustin kept staring out the window at the trailer next door.
"Hey, thanks for having me over," I said.
"Yeah..." Dustin said. He pulled his curtain back and scrunched his face, as if he was trying to see something.
"I had a good time, even if we did have to work."
"Yeah. Me too," Dustin said.
"You're not even listening to me are you?" I asked.
"Sure. Whatever," he said. He just kept staring out the window absent-mindedly.
"I fucked your sister last night," I said.
"That's nice... Wait! What did you say?" Dustin asked.
"What's with you?" I asked. "You're acting really weird."
"I'm just being a good neighbor. He's cool," Dustin replied.
"Whatever," I said.
"I think I'll see if they need any more help," Dustin said.
"Hey, listen to me. Just because somebody's nice to you doesn't mean they're a nice guy. You need to be more careful. That guy could have raped and murdered us if he wanted and you just jumped in his car like you've known him for years. That's just dangerous, dude. Just because you had a rough night with your parents doesn't mean you should just cling on to some new guy."
"I'm not being clingy!" Dustin scoffed. "I'm just being nice. You were acting like a jerk to him all afternoon and I was trying to make up for you being a jerk."
"Okay, sure. Whatever," I said. "Just watch your ass around that guy. I don't trust him."
Dustin frowned at me. "Come on, dude. You really think he could do anything to me that I didn't want him to? Okay, if I have to watch my butt around him then should watch your butt around Reilly `cause I don't trust him either!"
"I will," I replied.
"Good," Dustin said.
"Okay," I said back.
"See that you do," he replied.
"Well, guess I'll be going then," I announced.
"That sounds splendid," Dustin replied.
After I'd gathered my things, we walked together through his yard to the edge of the woods. Before I departed Dustin stopped me. "Hey Billy..." he said. "Thanks for... You know... Last night and all. That was really fun what we did. You know, the game and everything. I guess it got a little intense. I'm sorry I snapped at you. I'm sorry about my thing in the woods too."
I put my hand on his shoulder. "You know I'm always here for you. I mean it."
"Just... Please don't tell anybody about what I did. I don't want people thinking I'm some kind of crybaby."
"I swear I won't tell a soul," I said.
"I know you won't. You're a real friend, Billy. Thanks!" Then he hugged me. I wasn't expecting it, but I didn't feel weird about it either. He must have been feeling really... clingy. He was just looking for somebody, anybody to love him. After that, we went our separate ways. I walked into the woods and he walked back to Mike's place. I turned around and watched him. From the distance, I saw Mike greet him with a high five and then the two of them went into the trailer together. I knew I should have been happy that Dustin had made a new friend, but there was just something about the whole situation that made me feel uneasy. I just couldn't figure out what it could be.
Hi! Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it!
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Next time: I'm Just a Kid