When we got back to Ken's, the telephone truck was gone. Barry basically told Rafe and Brian to take a hike, and that he and I had to talk in private. We went inside and Ken was really excited. "Check out the phones, Dave! I got Totalphone! I just been practicing."
"It's brand new! I can call two people at once. I can store numbers in the phone and just push a button to call someone! I just got done hooking up operators in the Virgin Islands and Alaska! They didn't know what the fuck was happening! It's too funny for words. Barry! What's your father's number?"
Barry told him. "See? I just tap these buttons and I can make your father number two. What's your brother's number?" Barry told him again. "I'll make him number three! Now I can get them ringing at the same time!"
He started pushing buttons on the phone, then started laughing, with his hand over the mouthpiece. He handed the phone to Barry, who started laughing immediately. Barry handed the phone to me after a minute.
"I'm tellin' ya, Dad, I did not call you. My phone rang."
"How could your phone ring? MY phone rang!"
I handed it to Ken and he listened for a minute, then hung up. "That'll disconnect both of them. I LOVE IT! Who wants to take a ride to the city?"
"New York, man. I gotta find a way to record this stuff. Did you hear them? 'Ooh, my phone rang. No it didn't, my phone rang.' This is gonna be so funny! I can break up half the families in the state. Come on, guys. I don't wanna drive by myself."
Barry grinned at Ken. "Gimme those instructions! You go and take the kids. I wanna play with this thing. Dave! Get in the car. Put some pants on! I'm stayin' and you're goin'. That's it!"
"How long's it gonna take? I don't wanna miss seein' Timmy!"
"We'll be back before he even gets off work. Let's move! Put some clothes on and let's get outta here!"
I put on a pair of pants and looked for Brian and Rafe. I called their names a few times, but not very loudly. I sure didn't want to be the one to break up a rare moment of privacy. I got in the car with Ken. I don't ever remember seeing him so excited.
"That phone's gonna be our primary weapon against Artie, Dave! If you think he's nuts now, wait'll you see him in another month. You're gonna float in and out of his life until he thinks he dreamed you up. Did I tell you Barry got a key to his house?"
"You're kidding! How'd he do that?"
"We know a whole lot about Artie, especially his schedule. We know when he goes out and where he goes, and how long he stays there. We have a friend that can see into his back yard from his office window. Barry got the key from the guy who built the addition. Your friend Artie doesn't have a chance of staying sane."
We were practically flying down the highway as traffic was pretty light. Ken wanted to hear all about my talk with Artie. By the time I was finished, we were almost into the city. He thought it was really important to see what Mary thought about it all. I could tell he had some new feelings about Artie, too.
"I don't want you guys to hurt Artie, Kenny. He's in over his head and he doesn't know it."
"I hear you. We never meant to hurt him, but you're makin' him sound like a fucked up kid. You really got him to lay off kids and porn just by asking?"
"He promised he would. He doesn't know he hurts people. He doesn't think he does. He just wants everyone to like him. I think I still like the guy, even after all the crap I went through. He was right, too. I asked for everything I got."
"I know you say that, but if he wasn't there you never could'a asked. That's what's wrong with him, Dave. He's there doin' what he does. You couldn't have done it if he didn't help."
We were downtown and Ken spotted a parking spot and pulled in. We had to walk quite a way, but we turned into an electronics store and Ken asked a clerk about telephone recording equipment. They had just what he was looking for and we left the store in less than ten minutes.
Walking back to the car, Ken said, "I don't know what to do now, kid. I guess you're the boss on this one. You know the guy. Do you really think he was being straight with you?"
"He sure seemed it. Especially when I said he wasn't my brother. I think he really wants that part. I just don't know what to think. It wasn't like he was pushin' it on me."
"Just trying it out?"
We got back in the car and pulled out into traffic. "Maybe that's it. I don't think he's trying to mess with my head, but he's doin' a pretty good job anyhow."
We were pretty quiet as Ken fought traffic, then when we finally got on the highway he asked, "Why'd you jump a second time today? The first time looked like it really scared you."
"It scared the shit out of me. I really thought I was gonna drown. I don't like being afraid. When I got back up top I just ran it through my head and figured out what I did wrong. I been watchin' everybody else do that for years now. It's the water I'm afraid of, but I knew I could swim that far. It's only about twenty feet. I just pictured what I had to do and then I did it. I still don't like deep water, but I could do it any time I want now."
"I guess there's no sense doin' things you don't like."
"I'm glad you tried again. That took guts."
"Isn't there anything you don't like?"
He thought for a minute. "Well, I don't much care for oatmeal."
I think I did a double-take. "Oatmeal?"
"Yeah. You know: gruel. I think pretty much everything else is good."
"Are you talking about food?"
"No. Everything. The only thing that bugs me is oatmeal. Life is good. Life is fun. Without oatmeal it'd be perfect. What don't you like, besides deep water?"
Now I had to think. "The only thing I can think of is fat farmers that think listenin' to somebody talkin' gives 'em the right to call us fags. Oh, and blue cheese. That sucks."
"You don't like blue cheese? That's a pretty short list. You're gettin' better at this stuff, huh? Let's see. Deep water, bigots and blue cheese. Get Timmy to teach you how to swim better. That'll make water more fun. You're not gonna change a lot of minds about what people already think. Just keep bein' good and let them see that part of you first, then they'll deal with it better. I can't believe you don't like blue cheese, though. I always thought that if you absolutely, positively needed to know you had some food in your mouth, blue cheese is the stuff to put there."
"I'm supposed to like those guys?"
"Who swung first?"
"See, ya could have just paid for their breakfast and left without saying anything. You called Timmy a faggot once and I still gave ya a lobster. I didn't even poison it. You can't just keep sending people to the hospital. Doc's got enough money anyhow. Those guys you fought with yesterday are probably pretty nice people. It's what I told you last night, Dave. There's a way to connect with everybody. You already have me agreeing with you about Artie, and I never thought I would."
"You want me to like those guys?"
"Dave, you have to like those guys. They made one lousy comment about what they thought you were. You could have turned it around in ten minutes by showing them who you are."
"I did show them who I am."
"No you didn't! You showed them another part of what you are. You showed them you know how to throw a punch. You didn't change a thing. Well, maybe their dental bills. It's better to have friends than enemies. You can have friends ... good friends that don't like things about you. Just make the things they do like about you more important. Look at me. I've pissed off half the world by now, but most people still like me. I don't think anybody hates me."
What Ken said about himself was true enough, but I’m not him. "Why should I even try? I can already see what it's gonna be like. Everybody's gonna hate us for what we are. What's the point?"
"Answer your own question, Dave. Everybody does know about Rafe. He got some grief for a long time, but when people started seeing who he is he got pretty popular. He put up with crap for a long time, but when he let himself be the nice guy he is, it just petered out. He has a lot of good friends, and you're one of them. You used to have a problem with Barry, but you got over it. Don't you think you're a harder sell than most people?"
I laughed out loud, just thinking about myself being a hard sell. Did that hit the nail on the head or what? I had learned a lot in the last few years, but nothing like I'd learned about myself in the past several days. When Rafe had first told me he was gay I just shrugged it off because I liked the guy. Why should it be different with me and Tim? I already liked Rafe before he told me and it just didn't make any difference.
"I should just not worry about it?"
"Do good things?"
"Love good people?"
"Not hit anybody?"
"I didn't say that. It just shouldn't be the first thing you do. Some people absolutely need to be hit."
Ken started snickering, then I did. It turned into another laughing fit for both of us and he almost went off the road. We were nearly home.
"Where'd you guys go this afternoon?"
"To Barry's house."
"Really? Nice place, huh?"
"It's beautiful! I liked it better than Doc's."
"What'd ya do there?"
"We just looked around. Sort of a tour."
Ken looked like he was adding things up in his mind, but he didn't say anything. We got off at the exit and he stopped for gas. I didn't want to tell him about Barry's offer without asking Barry. I figured I'd change the subject.
"How're you doin' with Mary?"
"Whattya mean doing? We're gettin' to be friends is all. How's that your business?"
"You're my friend and she's my shrink. I'll leave it alone if you want. I only asked."
"Sorry. I really like her and I want to get serious. I just don't know how she feels."
"You gettin' bashful?"
"No, not bashful. She's just kinda hard to read."
"You ever try braille?"
I know he heard me. It took a minute, then he burst out laughing. "Braille? Where'd you come up with that?"
"I don't know. It just came outta me last night and I used it to say how Tim and me got back together. He always touched me, and I just thought of braille."
"Well, it's funny. I think I just feel out of place with her. She doesn't even swear."
"Yes, she does! She says fuck and everything!"
"You heard her swear?"
"Yeah! She called me a fuckin' punk."
"Ask Tim if ya don't believe me. It was just the other day."
"I'm glad you told me. I don't think I swear all that much, but sometimes it just happens. If I'm tryin' not to it gets hard to talk sometimes. Maybe she's just being proper, too."
"You should just loosen up. I talked to her a lot this summer. She's pretty funny when she wants to be. She already saw you in your underwear, so if she's still comin' around she must really like you."
He chuckled. "Good point."
We pulled up to the house. Ken ran in to play with his new toy. Brian's car was gone, but Rafe was sitting at a table on the patio reading a magazine.
"He had to go do some yard work at home. He'll be back over later. How was New York?"
"We only went to a store for about ten minutes, then came right back. Howcum you're not helping him?"
"I grew up downtown. I tried to help him a couple of times, but I guess I was killing everything in the yard. Plus, if I do the work for him he'll never lose that gut."
"Did he tell you we talked today? I like him, Rafe. He's a nice, smart kid."
"He likes you, too. Can you believe what Barry said today? I can't believe there's an adult that'll just let us use his place like that. I can't wait! Me and Bri never seem to be alone. Oh, thanks for not looking too hard before. At least we got a few hours today."
"What'd ya do?"
"We walked back out to the cliffs and sat there."
"Did ya hold hands?"
"Did ya smooch?"
"Yeah, we smooched."
"Did ya ..."
"Don't go there, Dave. I'm warning you!"
I put on an injured expression. "I was just gonna ask if you said you loved each other!" which wasn't precisely the truth.
"Oh! Yeah, we said it over and over again. I love telling him that I love him. I love so much when we get a little time alone. Why'd everybody spend all that time in Vermont? They said they were going to see Doc's new house, but I knew it was about you when Timmy went."
"That's somewhere I don't wanna go, Rafe. Let's just say they came up to beat some sense into me, okay?"
"It must'a worked. I wondered if I'd ever see you look happy, but you've been just about glowin' since you came back."
"It worked, Rafe. They took turns hittin' me and slappin' me and runnin' me over with their cars. I finally got the message and woke up. All the bad stuff's gone from my head, Rafe, and I'm never lookin' back. I'm happy 'cause I know how to be happy. I'm happy because Timmy loves me. I'm happy 'cause I have friends that stuck with me, and that includes you. When you're a deep-shit dildo like I always been, ya gotta learn to be happy."
"Man, you are hard on yourself. I guess I never saw the bad side of you. You've always been nice to me."
"You just got lucky. You didn't know me that long. I would'a managed to fuck you over one way or another. I did it to everybody else. Did I tell ya me and Tim got in a fight?"
"No. With who?"
"A couple of guys that called us fags. I just blew my top and punched one of them. The other guy got me pretty good and Tim took him out."
"Yeah. That's not what I'm gettin' at, though. Kenny said I should'a made friends with them, just paid for their meal or somethin' like that. It's got me thinkin' that he's right. He says you're popular now because you're a good guy, not because I socked every yo-yo that looked at you cross-eyed. Is it true? Nobody bothers ya anymore for bein' gay?"
"Not really. I still get wise cracks, but I think they're mostly friendly ... you know ... just to remind me that people know. I haven't had any real grief in a long time. You told me to talk to Ken, and I did. I just stopped holding back with people. Now I have a lot of people that I like. It's fun being like this instead of sneaking around all the time."
"My life's better since I met you, Dave. You really helped me turn around, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it. It's like you're my lucky charm or something. You helped me find friends when I really needed some, then you made me and Brian realize we loved each other. I don't like seeing you get down on yourself. You're the best thing that happened to me."
I was getting misty. Rafe really liked me before. Had I really been good for someone even when I was an asshole? The best thing? "You better explain yourself, mister. Everyone thought I was an asshole. Me included. My shrink wants me to ask this. What's my value to you?"
Rafe laughed at the question, then looked at me. Then he laughed again. "Your value? I guess nobody ever asked me that one before, so let me think. When I met you I was getting grief from everywhere for being queer. I only talked to you because you were little. I could have squished you like a bug. I thought I could, anyhow, before I saw you fight. Then I told you I was gay and you just shrugged your shoulders - like, so what? I don't know if you'll ever comprehend what that meant to me."
"I was trying to meet friends, too. Why's that so important?"
"Because you're the first person that was sort'a my age that didn't make a big deal out of it. Everyone else avoided me or tried to beat on me. You teased me a little, then you brought me to meet your friends and I had a ball. You stuck up for me with the punks at school. You were my first real friend in a long time. You want value? I can't put a price tag on it, but you're worth everything to me. I hate it when you knock yourself, because you are a good person. You're the best, Dave, in my book anyhow."
"Man. I never expected that. I don't know what to say."
"Hey, it happens sometimes. Thanks. I didn't know you felt like that. I didn't think anybody did."
"You might be surprised. I think everybody here really likes you. I know Jerry missed the hell out of you when you were gone. He said you could always cheer him up just by talking your head off. And what'd you do with Adam last night? I've never once seen that kid so happy. He didn't shut up about you all the way home."
"Really? All we did was talk and play guitar a little."
"Well, you must'a hit the right button or something. He's always such a clam. Brian said he's like he used to be after he talked to you. You do have an effect on people, Dave, and it's usually good from what I can see."
"Alright, enough. You're givin' me a big head. What time's Timmy get here? I never even asked him how long he worked."
"He gets off at seven. He usually shows up around nine, but since you're here he'll probably come straight from work."
Ken and Barry came out laughing their heads off. They'd been having fun with the phone, and taping their calls. Ken had his boom box and played them. Some of it was really funny to listen to. We were all laughing. Ken managed to tell me that Don and Mary were on their way. I didn't know what to do about Rafe being there. I'd never told him what I was doing all the months I was gone, and I really didn't want anyone else to know it. At the same time, I didn't want to be rude.
I shouldn't have worried. When Mary and Don showed up Ken told Rafe we had something to talk about that might take a while, so he had to cook dinner. When Rafe went inside we sat at the umbrella table and I told Mary about my phone call and meeting with Artie Loomis. Mary was her usual calm self, but I thought Don's eyes were going to pop out of his face a few times. I expected Mary to analyze Artie right away, but it was new ground even for her and she wanted to think about it and do some reading.
Then Barry told her about the scene with the fire hose and we all ended up in hysterics again. I asked the guys to leave me alone with Mary for a little while.
"Mary, you're not gonna believe this. I am in love. I'm happy. I feel like a different person."
She put her hands on her cheeks and opened her mouth, then it changed into a huge smile. "Oh, David. Oh, David. I am so glad to hear you say that. Your little self-analysis the other day must have been exactly right. I thought it probably was, but you were still struggling. It finally popped for you?"
"Just went poof."
"Just poof? And you're in love?"
"With Timmy. I can't tell ya how good it feels. Everything looks better, everything sounds better, even food tastes better. I never felt this way before. My brain's workin' the way it's supposed to, and I'm findin' out that people liked me all along."
"I was sure they must have. Your friends are incredible people. You are really making my day here. I was starting to wonder if I was the right person to work with you, we had such a slow go of it. I thought you had a good mind all along, but you were so conflicted all the time I started to worry that we might never get to the core."
"I even asked Rafe what my value to him was."
"You didn't! I remember you telling me about Rafe. What did he say?"
"You're gonna meet him. He's doin' the cooking. He really surprised me. He said I helped him a lot, and not just by fightin' for him. If ya don't remember, he's the guy that everybody knew was gay. He said I helped him get past worryin' about it and that he's happy now. Kenny helped him, too. I guess people liked me more than I ever thought."
Mary started to stand up. "Well, David. Now that you're my former patient, how would you like to be my friend?"
I was really surprised by that. "I'd love to be your friend! I can't believe you're askin' me."
She took my hand and we started walking to the house. "Now that we're friends, will you please tell me how to get it through to Ken that I really like him?"
"Oh, that's easy."
"It is, is it? I've been trying for months."
"It's easy, Mary."
"So tell me, then."
"Swear at him. Then he'll know you're interested."
"Swear at him? Like four letter words?"
"Yeah. You want me to teach you some?"
She snickered, "I think I know most of them. You're not trying to get me in trouble, are you?"
"No, honest. I don't really mean swear at him. Just swear in front of him."
We got to the house and went in. Everybody was crowded around the phone. It had a wire leading to Ken's boom box. They were all laughing. Mary took a look at them and Ken turned around.
"Honestly! You're grown men, and you're playing like little kids with a new fucking toy."
Ken's face lit up.Next Chapter Previous Chapter