The house was empty when I got up. I guess my aunt and uncle weren’t going to force me to go back to school until I was ready. I really wasn’t sure I would be able to face people again. I’d already had to endure their looks when Stephen spread the rumor that I was gay. I could only imagine what they would think about Wade dying in the car accident.
Dying. It was still hard for me to understand. Uncle Ray had helped me a little the night before, but it was hard for me to imagine a bright future. I just couldn’t see a rainbow ahead. My mourning had become a storm. Dark clouds surrounded me, and there was no way the sun could ever peek through again.
I sat in the family room for a while and watched television, but I soon discovered I was looking at the screen, and I wasn’t really paying attention to what was on. I went to my room and checked my email, but again nothing.
I picked up the cell phone on my desk and played a game, but I couldn’t concentrate long enough to even make a decent challenge. Tears welled up in my eyes when I opened my contact list. Only one name appeared- Fucker.
Why? Why had he paid for Wade’s funeral? It didn’t make sense. I had humiliated him in front of his coworkers. I had intentionally tried to hurt him. And I know I hurt him. I saw the look in his eyes when he was pulled from my hospital room.
I expected him to hate me. I wanted him to hate me. And I still wasn’t sure that he didn’t. He did agree for me to live here with Uncle Ray and Aunt Barbara. By the belongings in my room, it appeared he had completely cleaned out my room at his house. It was obvious he never expected me to return.
He hadn’t even spoken to me at Wade’s funeral. A nod of his head was the only acknowledgement that I was at the church a few seats away. He had held Wade’s mother and comforted her, but he couldn’t walk over to me and comfort me.
I am hurting. I needed someone to hold me. Two people I loved deeply were now gone. I loved him once, a long time ago. I had loved him before he left us- before he hurt Mom.
My mind is wracked with confusion. I want to hate him. But deep inside I want to be a little boy once again. I want to catch a blue gill and listen as he laughs with pride at what I have done. When Uncle Ray held me last night, I wanted it to be him.
But I hate him. Right?
I was asleep in bed when my phone indicated I had an email. I looked over at the clock. It was 3:36. I got up, sat down at my desk and opened my phone.
Gabedaman: can I come see u?
I sat and stared at the message for several minutes. I couldn’t decide if I was ready to see Gabe again. He was right when he had said that I wasn’t the same Richie he knew. I had changed and I didn’t know if he would like the new me. I didn’t even like the new me. I wondered if it would be best if I would just let him forget about me. I had too much baggage and I didn’t want him to try and carry it for me. He’d been doing that for years. He didn’t deserve a friend like me.
After all these years I knew he felt obligated to be my friend. I wanted his friendship, I needed it. But I was no longer the old Richie. I wasn’t the friend he had grown up with over the years. Something was different. Our friendship would be different.
Richierich: yeah, sure
I regretted sending it the moment my finger hit the key. I wasn’t prepared to talk to him. I didn’t know what to say.
Richierich: can we make it another time?
I sat at my desk and waited nervously for his reply, but it never came. He either had left his house before reading it, or he had decided to ignore it. I got up, removed my pajamas and put on a pair of shorts and a tee shirt. I walked over to the window and looked out, waiting for him to come.
If I had been at home, it would have only taken him a few minutes. But my aunt’s house was about fifteen blocks away. I looked over at the clock: 3:58. I knew it would only take him about ten minutes to ride his bicycle here. My body began to shake when I saw him ride up into the driveway.
He rang the doorbell several times before I got up the nerve to walk to the door and open it. He had his head down but lifted it and attempted a slight smile when he saw me.
“Can I come in?” he asked when I stood staring back at him.
“Yeah, sure.” I stepped aside as he entered. He was carrying an armload of books.
“Here,” he said as he laid them down in a chair. “I brought your homework for you. I wasn’t able to get your computer science assignments because there was a sub today.” He looked up and our eyes met.
“Thanks,” I managed to smile. His lips curled into a smile.
He then walked over and wrapped his arms around me. My body stiffened as he clutched me tightly. “Are you all right, Richie?”
Tears filled my eyes as I rested my head on his shoulder and nodded. His eyes were misty when he pulled away and looked at me.
“I know I should have come to see you,” he apologized, “but I didn’t know how to take all this.” Tears started to flow down his cheeks as he pulled me into another hug. “God, Richie! You almost died!”
We both started to cry uncontrollably. I don’t know who was more emotional, me or Gabe. One thing was for certain, I hadn’t lost my best friend. He was still here for me, flaws and all.
It surprised me when he pulled away, stared into my eyes and then…kissed me. On the lips! I think it startled him as much as it did me. He jumped away, and his face flushed with embarrassment.
“Jesus, Richie!” he exclaimed as his face continued to redden. “I didn’t mean to do that!”
I held out my arms. “I know that, you idiot.” He walked over and we hugged once again. “But thanks anyway.”
He pulled away and said excitedly, “If you ever tell anyone I kissed you, I’ll kick your ass into tomorrow!”
I started laughing. I knew Gabe meant nothing by it. It only showed how much he really cared about me. I may never tell anyone about the kiss, but I’ll always cherish it. It sealed our friendship forever.
I put my hands on my hips. “What?” I tried to sound insulted. “I’m not a good kisser?”
“No,” he said quickly, “you’re a good kisser.”
“I am?” I continued to tease him.
“No,” he blushed. “I didn’t mean it that way.”
“It’s okay, Gabe,” I said trying to make him feel more comfortable. “A kiss doesn’t always mean you want someone. It can show that you care for someone, like when you kiss your grandmother.”
It was his turn to put his hands on his hips and act insulted. “So now I kiss like someone’s grandmother?”
“Dunno,” I shrugged my shoulders. “You didn’t kiss me long enough for me to tell.”
“Well, you’re never gonna find out again,” he insisted. “And if you ever tell anyone...”
“You’re going to kick my ass into tomorrow,” I laughed.
“Damn, straight,” he replied. He put his arm around my shoulder and led me to the sofa. When we sat down, he turned toward me, tucking one leg under his other.
“So, are you all right?”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I guess I don’t have much of a choice, do I?”
“Guess, not,” he replied sadly. “But you know I’m here for you if you need me?”
“Yeah, I know,” I sighed. “Good old Gabe watching out for fucked up little Richie.”
He reached out and touched my arm. “Don’t, Richie.”
“It’s okay,” I replied when I saw how upset he was getting. “I’ll be all right.” I stood up. “Let’s go to the mall. I need to get out of the house for a while.”
He started to grin. “I heard Footlocker is having a sale on Nike’s. Dad gave me my allowance last night. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of money.
“Damn!” My eyes widened. “What did you do to get that much money?”
“Cleaned out the garage.”
“Without me?” I shrieked. “How come he’s never paid you when I’ve helped you?”
“You didn’t get me in trouble, Asshole,” he laughed. “When you help me it is usually because you got me to do something stupid at school. Cleaning the garage was our punishment.”
“You mean your punishment,” I giggled. “I never got into trouble.”
“Fucker!” he laughed as he held up the money. “And if you’re nice, I just might buy you a Big Mac.”
“You were going to buy me a Big Mac anyways,” I grinned evilly.
“What makes you so sure?”
“I’m blackmailing you for kissing me.”
“Fucker!” He pulled me back down onto the sofa and pretended to hit me. “I’ll kick your ass.”
“Tomorrow!” I screamed as I threw him on the floor. I held out my hand and helped him up. “Let’s go, I’m starved.” He put his arm around my shoulder as we headed for the door.
I intended to go back to school the next day, but I didn’t get any sleep. Every time I closed my eyes, Wade’s face appeared. Tears filled my eyes when I saw him grinning with his brown eyes shining with mischief.
God, I miss him so much! What I miss the most is not giving him my virginity. I had planned to do that after he had taken me out to the steak house. As we ate, I really began to fall in love with him. He would look over and smile innocently. And his eyes, those brown eyes, they would stare at me with so much love. When he told me that I was the first person he had ever told that he loved, I believed him. And I had wanted to give him the only thing I could to show that I loved him to- me. But now...
I was curled in a ball hiding under the covers when Uncle Ray entered the bedroom. He sat down and didn’t say anything for several minutes. I guess he didn’t know what to say. What can you say to someone whose world has been shattered completely?
He finally reached out and rubbed me on my back. “Just remember what I told you, Richie. It won’t last forever.” I nodded and then he got up and left the room.
I slept for about two hours until my cell phone rang. I was puzzled who was calling me because I hadn’t given it out to anyone. When I picked it up, I saw the word ‘Fucker’ on the screen. My hand started to tremble as I held it, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him. I turned it off and put it back on my desk.
After showering and eating some cereal, I went out into the garage and got out my bike. It took me about thirty-five minutes to ride across town. When I entered through the wrought iron double gates, I saw a large, green tent with many people standing outside. I wondered who they had come to mourn. Was it someone they loved, or were they there because it was the proper thing to do?
Then I thought again of him. Did he attend mother’s funeral because he still had feelings of love for her, or had he been there because it was expected? He was, after all, still her husband and our father.
I stood beside my bike as I looked at the large number of people surrounding the tent. Who had this person been that brought so many people to say goodbye to them? Tears filled my eyes as I wondered why no one had attended Wade’s funeral. He was a great guy, perhaps greater than the person whose casket sat under the tent. But no one came to say goodbye to him.
Even I couldn’t bring myself to follow the hearse for the last ride to the cemetery. I remembered how difficult it was to watch as the long black vehicle led the procession to where I now stood. It would have been too emotional for me to have to do it again so soon. So, I went home and buried my head under the covers of my bed. Now I didn’t even know where he was.
I got back on my bike and rode it up the sloping hill to where my mother was. As I approached, I noticed a black BMW. He was here. I turned and headed to a large oak tree and hid behind it so he couldn’t see me. He was sitting on the ground beside the now wilted and dry flowers. Andrew was sitting in his lap and Melinda was pressed up against his body with her head buried in his shoulder. She was holding a bouquet of fresh pink carnations.
I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it appeared he was trying to console my little brother. He put his arms around him and held him tightly. I dropped to the ground and started crying silent tears. I didn’t want to make any sounds because I didn’t want him to know that I was watching.
After several minutes they got up off the ground and he put his arms around Andrew and Melinda and stood staring down at the ground. She leaned down and carefully placed the bouquet atop the mound of dirt. They turned and headed back to his car. Harley jumped out from the back seat, ran to Andrew and embraced him. Freddy got out of the passenger’s side and helped Melinda into the car. When he turned, he saw me standing behind the tree watching. Our eyes met. We stood staring at each other briefly before he nodded slightly and then got into the car. I watched as his black car pulled away and he drove off down the sloping hill and through the wrought iron gate.
After I was sure they wouldn’t return, I walked over to her gravesite and sat down. I crossed my legs and just sat staring at the flowers my sister had placed upon the grave. After several minutes, I finally began to speak.
“I don’t even know where to begin,” I said tearfully. “So much has happened since you’ve left.” My shoulders began to shake, and I leaned forward and cried for several minutes. Finally, I sat back up and wiped my face clean.
“Did you know?” I picked a fresh carnation from the bouquet and held it in my hand. “There were so many times I wanted to tell you, but you already had so many other things to deal with.” I plucked a few petals from the flower and let them fall to the ground. “Somehow, I think you knew, though. Mothers always know, don’t they?”
Tears again filled my eyes. “I want to make you proud of me. I really do. But things are so hard right now.” Again, I feel forward and started sobbing loudly.
I sat back up and plucked a few more petals from the pink carnation. “I fell in love, Mom. His name was Wade. I think you would have liked him.” More tears. They wouldn’t stop flowing from my eyes. “He died, though.” I sat staring down at the mound of dirt.
“I wish you were here. I’m so confused.” I plucked more petals from the pink carnation and let them fall to the ground below. “But I guess you’re not here, so I’m going to have to learn to do this by myself,” I said sadly. “Life sure is hard, isn’t it?”
I lifted my sleeve to my eyes and wiped them dry. “Where ever you are, I hope you’re not in any more pain. I hope you’re watching over Andrew, Melinda and me. I’ll try to do good. I promise. It’s just isn’t easy.” I plucked a few more petals from the carnation.
“I guess I’m going to have to be a man now, huh?” I blinked back the tears. “Dad is taking good care of Andrew and Melinda. Don’t worry about them.” I reached for more petals, but there were none. “He hates me, so I’m living with Aunt Barbara and Uncle Ray; but I guess you already know that.”
I looked up as a flock of birds flew overhead. I sighed and sat motionless for several minutes. I watched as the mourners at the big, green tent walked quietly back to their cars and drove away.
“I guess I better go,” I finally said. “I’m meeting Gabe and we’re going to the mall. He’s still my best friend.” I fought back tears. “I don’t know why, though.”
I took a deep breath. “I love you, Mom. I know you didn’t want to leave us.” I leaned down, kissed the dirty ground and then sat back up. “I promise I’ll try to be good. I won’t let you down no more.” I wiped the tears from my eyes and then stood up. After staring down the mounded soil for another minute, I walked to my bike and headed home.
Gabe was sitting on the porch waiting for me when I arrived home. “Where the hell have you been, Richie?” He looked down at his watch. “I’ve been sitting waiting for ten minutes.”
“Wow,” I laughed. “Ten whole minutes?”
“Well,” he pouted. “It seemed like a long time.”
“Did you get the money for the shoes?” I asked as I opened the door. He followed me up to my room. The shoes he had seen the day before cost more than he had, so he was going to ask his father if he could do more chores to make up the difference.
“No,” he frowned. “He told me I had to learn to live within my means. I’m fucking fifteen, I don’t have any means. Whatever that is.”
“You saw that other pair you liked,” I reminded him. “They were cheaper than the ones you wanted.”
“Yeah,” he frowned again. “But everyone is wearing the ones I wanted. They’ll know I couldn’t afford them.”
“Does it really matter what they think?”
He threw up his arms. “Well, duh, yeah,” he replied. “I play basketball. If I’m going to get a girl to look at me, I have to look good.”
I scanned his body, fell on the bed and started laughing. “You gotta have a body to look at first.” He jumped on the bed and pinned me down. I continued to laugh as I attempted to wiggle from under his lanky body.
“So now I’m ugly?” I continued to squirm under him. Finally, I was able to break away. I ran to the middle of the room and turned. “Yeah,” I laughed. “And you can’t kiss, either!”
“Fucker!” he screamed as he shot up from the bed and chased me into the living room. He tackled me, and we went tumbling to the ground.
“I can to kiss,” he insisted as he held me to the ground. “I just can’t kiss another guy.”
“You didn’t have a problem yesterday,” I squealed as he pressed me harder into the ground. “And besides, you’ve never even kissed a girl.”
“I have to!” he shouted. I stopped squirming and he let me up.
“Really?” I looked over as his face reddened. I knew Gabe talked to a lot of girls, but I had never know him to date any yet. “Who?”
“I’m not going to tell you,” he said as he sat up and tried to catch his breath. “You’ll tell everyone if I tell you.”
“No, I won’t,” I promised. “Who have you kissed?”
He studied me for a minute before responding. “Promise you won’t tell anyone?” I nodded my head. “Okay. Teresa Scott.”
“Teresa Scott!” I started laughing. “I knew it. You two have been looking at each other since the sixth grade. When?”
“Idiot,” I laughed. “When did you kiss her?”
“Two weeks ago,” he blushed. “After a ball game.”
“Did you?” I ran my finger inside my fisted hand. His eyes widened.
“No!” He screamed. “We only kissed for a few minutes.” He scooted back, leaned against the sofa and looked over at me.
“What about you?”
“What about me, what?”
“You know.” He started making the same gesture with his hands.
Tears filled my eyes as I got up and walked into the kitchen. Gabe jumped up and followed me into the room. “Jesus, Richie!” he apologized as he grabbed my shoulder and turned me toward him. “I’m really sorry. I forgot.”
“It’s okay.” I got a paper towel from the counter and wiped my eyes. He continued to look at me.
“So, you two were like... in love or something?”
I started laughing nervously thinking about Wade’s proposal. “Yeah. He kinda wanted us to get married.”
Gabe’s eyes widened. “No shit! Weren’t you too young? And besides, is that even legal?”
“Dunno,” I responded sadly. I wiped a few more tears from my eyes. “I guess now it’s never going to happen.” Gabe walked over and pulled me into a hug.
“I’m sorry, Richie,” he said. “I was such a dick. I’m sorry for all the things I said about him. I didn’t know.”
I pulled away and walked across the room. “I guess I really didn’t give you a chance to know, huh?”
“I’m your best friend, though,” he said. “I should have known.” He walked over and stood before me. “Promise one thing though.” I nodded my head. “If you ever fall in love with another guy, let me know, okay?”
I started laughing at the serious look on his face. Good old Gabe. I knew why he’d been my best friend for all these years. “I don’t think it will ever happen again,” I smiled. “But if it does, you’ll be the first to know.”
“Good. I better be.” He hit me lightly on my arm. “Now let’s go to the mall. I guess I’ll have to settle for the cheaper shoes.”
“You’re not ugly.” I smiled. “I’m sure you’re going to kiss a lot of girls.”
“You think so?” he asked hopefully. Gabe is cute, athletic and smart. He is also a bit naïve and clueless about the charm he possesses. I have been jealous for years about the way girls fawn over him, trying to get him to pay attention to them.
“Yeah, I’m sure of it.” I threw my arms around his shoulder. “Let’s go.”
As we headed for the door, he suddenly stopped. “Wait a minute!” He reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. “I almost forgot. Here.” He thrust the envelope into my hand.
“I stopped by your house to talk to Freddy before I came over here,” he explained. “When I told your dad I was going to the mall with you, he gave me that.” He nodded at the envelope I was holding. “What’s in it?”
“Dunno,” I said as I fumbled to open it. I reached in and pulled out a large wad of money.
“Jesus, Rich!” Gabe grabbed it from my hands and counted it. “There’s two hundred dollars here!” he squealed. When he handed the money to me, I pushed it back into his hand.
“You keep it,” I insisted. “I don’t want it.”
“I can’t take this, Richie.”
“Sure you can,” I insisted. I didn’t want anything he gave me. “It’s only guilt money, anyway.”
“Never mind,” I smiled. “You want those shoes we saw yesterday, don’t you?”
“Then let’s go buy them.”
“You sure?” He looked at the money he was holding in his hand.
“I’m sure,” I smiled. “You’re my best bud.” I threw my arm around his shoulder and we headed for the door.
I started laughing when he shouted, “Fucking, hell yeah!”