My mind wondered back through the events of the day, replaying over and over what I had said to Chris and what Chris had said to me. It just didn't make any sense. "Katie really was there for me a couple years ago when I went through some very bad times" Chris had told me, practically in full cardiac arrest by the time he finished the sentence. Even briefly recalling the memory of that time in his life scared him. What could be so powerful? He would have been 13, maybe 14 at the time. What could possibly have caused him so much pain at that age and was it rearing its ugly head again now? As the echo of these silent questions rang through my head, a new series of questions arose. Why did Chris "need" to trust me? What didn't I know? Would I be able to be the friend to him I so desperately wanted to be? Would I be able to....."List the materials used in disposable diapers, Mr. Jordan."
"What? Excuse me?"
"Well Matthew Jordan, I do not excuse you for failing to pay attention in my class" the ever likeable Mr. Spivey was calm and respectful even in his attempt to chastise me for day-dreaming during the riveting class discussion on the environmental impact of disposable diapers. "That goes for all of you. There will be NO late-afternoon daydreaming in THIS 6th period class! Your full attention WILL BE REQUIRED!" Mr. Spivey's warning just barely beat the buzzer as this school day was finally and mercifully coming to an end.
Tommy must have sprinted from his 6th period history class to catch up with me as I hurried between buildings toward my locker to grab a few books before heading home with Chris. Tommy was frantic to say the least.
"Mattie, so what happened?" To Tommy, calling me "Mattie" was like his own little sweet declaration of friendship. I felt like Tommy really needed to call someone Mattie and I took it as the compliment it was intended to be. "You guys disappeared, then you missed 4th period English. Are you OK? Was there a fight? You know Chris can get really crazy. Man, I've been avoiding him all afternoon. I was really worried about you. Hell, I'm really worried about me. You don't think he'd kill me do you?"
My hurried pace slowed to a stand-still. Tommy, so caught up in his own frenzy, walked a good 20ft ahead before he spun around in a panic and came scurrying back to me.
At first, I found Tommy's rant to be amusing and I was planning to tease him with my reply, but what did he mean "Chris can get really crazy"? Tommy, after all was a pure- bred local. He had probably known many of the kids in this school since kindergarten. I didn't have the advantage of that type of history, including any real history with Chris.
"Tommy, calm down" as reassuring as I could be at that moment, my nerves starting to fray and just a little irritated that Tommy was over-reacting. "Tommy, exactly what did you mean when you said Chris can get really crazy?"
Tommy's face screamed of dread. "Mattie, I know Chris has been friendly to you. You two seem to click pretty well together. I shouldn't have said that. It seems like I'm always saying or doing the wrong thing" his face now locked in a grimace that conceded the fact that I wasn't going to let him off that easy.
"Chris and I talked things out. He knows the whole pizza incident was just a big misunderstanding. He was pretty pissed at you though, sort of like I'm getting pissed at you right now" my mind spinning with the overload of information I had received in the last three hours. "What did you mean when you said Chris can get really crazy, Tommy?"
"Oh fuck, Matt - not you too? Don't be pissed at me, please."
"Tommy, breathe deep, calm down, and talk slowly" as hypnotically as I could.
Tommy followed my instructions and gathered himself. "Well, a couple years ago, Chris got in a fight with another kid, Jay Henson. Matt, Chris almost killed him. Somebody had tipped Coach Briggs off that they were going to fight. They say if he hadn't shown up when he did...." Tommy paused for effect. "Well, Jay spent a month in the hospital and another 6 months in physical therapy. He missed a whole school year. They say he's still deaf in one ear. Chris just went off the deep end. His dad got him checked in to this place up near Charlotte. I don't know how long he was there. This happened just before Thanksgiving and he didn't miss that much school because of the holiday breaks and all. I'm sorry, Matt. Nobody ever talks about this anymore. I feel real bad telling you, but I don't want you to get hurt."
My mind was now at full boil. "It doesn't make any sense! I may not have grown up with Chris, but I just don't believe he could hurt someone like that! Tommy, this better not be some bull-shit rumor like the one about Donna Simpson blowing Mr. Duncan. I bet that's it. You fucking southerners, you're all just a bunch of sneaky gossips smiling to each others faces, then making up stories about one another behind each others backs" the last part coming out way too loud as I noticed people starting to gather, watching me scream at poor Tommy. As I quickly regrouped and refocused on Tommy, I could see tears starting to stream down his cheeks.
For the second time today, I felt absolutely miserable. I hadn't just shot the messenger, I had done it public- execution style practically in front of what seemed like the whole school. Tommy really had been worried about me and in all honesty I never questioned his sincerity for telling me what he had. What a day this had been. I felt like an ice- man that had just been thawed out and then expected to absorb all the history of mankind in one day. I did the only thing that made sense to me at that moment, reaching out and first grabbing his hand shaking it with the most apologetic face I could muster, and then I pulled Tommy by my side as I turned him with me toward the lockers, splitting a path through the gathered crowd. I moved my hand up on top of his shoulder still tugging him close to me and just simply said a heart-felt "I'm sorry Tommy" as we made our way.
"Matt, I'm the one who should be sorry. I shou." I cut him off in mid-word. Sometimes you had to do that with Tommy.
"It's Mattie. It's always Mattie to you, OK Tommy?" affection and lingering apology mixed in my voice. Tommy didn't say a word - which was a first. He reached to his face, wiping away a tear before it ever had a chance to dampen the smile that had widened from ear to ear as we finally arrived at our lockers.
Having gathered my books and gym clothes into my bag, I finally made my way out to the front of the school, where a long line of mustard-yellow buses lined up, quickly filling with noisy teenagers. I didn't see Chris anywhere yet, but I found his bus number and waited nearby. I spotted him running down from the student parking lot area, and in the background I could see a displeased Katie getting into a friends car. Something else caught me eye, as I also noticed a dark-haired boy, apparently about to get into his beat-up black truck, watching Chris as he neared me. This boy looked vaguely familiar. I thought I'd seen him leaving Tommy's 3rd period health class, but that wouldn't make sense because a freshman wouldn't be old enough to have a driver's license.
Chris arrived throwing out his hand and clasping mine in a warm greeting, showing no stress from our emotional conversation just a few hours earlier. As we boarded the bus, I peered back into the parking lot surprised to see the dark-haired boy still standing by his truck and still intently watching us. When my eyes met his, he quickly looked down and opened his truck door, never looking back at me again as he drove off. Something about this brief encounter disturbed me, I just didn't know why. My thoughts were quickly distracted by the intense amount of good-natured ragging Chris was getting from the kids on the bus.
"Chris, buddy, you didn't miss your ride did you man?" asked one boy I didn't know. Several others chimed in with similar jabs.
"No man, I just thought I'd check in to see how the other half was living now a days" Chris replied laughing and playfully punching the boy in the shoulder.
That explained Katie's latest displeasure. It turns out that Chris catches a ride home most days with Katie and her older girl friend. I pondered why Chris hadn't just invited me along to ride with them, but thoughts of the day's earlier lunch-room catastrophe quickly came back to mind. To Katie, Chris's choice to hang with the low-life (me included) over her was no doubt considerably displeasing. I had lost all sympathy for her and now just simply smiled at the thought of her irritation. This day would mark the beginning of a rivalry between us and an on-going competition for Chris's attention. What had started as envy was steadily evolving into bitter jealousy. Chris said he loved Katie, but I couldn't for the life of me understand why. I was afraid that a choice was in his future. Who would he choose? I was getting a headache.
The bus ride wasn't too long and 20 minutes and about 10 kids later, Chris let me know we were entering his "neck of the woods". I started paying closer attention wondering how many of these heavily treed hills Chris had climbed his way over. The houses here were pretty small, not poor - just modest. One house was a little more on the poor side, but it was the appearance of a black pickup truck in the front yard that really got my attention. I rubber-necked at the window trying to get a better look as the bus continued down the road for another mile or so before coming to a stop in front of another small but well-kept house sitting just off the road in a large clump of trees.
"We're here, buddy. Home sweet home." Chris said flatly as we made our way through the aisle and plopped out the door.
As we walked down the gravel driveway side by side, Chris lamented the formidable task of raking all the leaves that would soon be falling from the large Oak trees hanging overhead.
"Don't worry Chris, you'll have me to help you out this year" I offered up enthusiastically.
"Matt, trust me dude, you do not want to sign up for that job" Chris just laughed in reply.
"No really, I want to help. I've lived on concrete my whole life, I've never even raked leaves. It would be a new experience for me" now sounding like I was trying to convince myself.
"Matt, you're a piece of work, you know that?" Chris smiling and patting me on the back. "Unfortunately for you, those leaves back there will be falling on top of your carcass because I'm about to plant you right under that goal" as he smiled big and pointed to the basketball goal sticking out from a pole cemented in a clear patch of the backyard. A basketball that looked like it could have been the first one ever made was lying nearby under a tree.
Off to the side and a little further away from the house sat a group of small fences. Puzzled, I wondered what type of farm animal was contained in them when suddenly a rowdy posse of beagles sprang out from their tiny shed to the front of the fence, short tails wagging passionately as they rose up on their back legs with their front paws rattling the fence caging.
"Oh man, look at all your dogs" I said scooting over and kneeling down at the fence sticking my soon to be wet fingers in between the fence loops as the beagles sniffed and licked at them wildly.
"Technically their not mine. Well, I guess in a way they are `ours'. But really, they're my dad's. Those are his bird dogs. He doesn't hunt anymore, but he still loves to just take the dogs out and scare up some birds".
Chris walked over beside me and I feared that the dogs might actually break their tails, they were wagging so violently - stirring up dust as they beat against the bare dirt floor of the cage.
"My dad loves these dogs more than anything" Chris said, again flatly, almost as if resigned to finishing no higher than second in that competition.
"They're really cute. I've never seen anything like this" it was truly a wondrous sight.
"No, no, no. Their NOT cute! These dogs are HANDSOME. Whatever you do, don't call them cute around my dad" and he seemed serious about it too.
"Come on Matt. Let's go in and get changed. I'll need to feed them before we start your ass-kicking" a teasing grin again plastered all over his face as we turned toward the open garage door on the side of the house.
"Is someone home?" I asked confused that the garage door was opened, but I didn't see a car.
"No, why do you ask?"
"You mean you just always leave the garage wide open. What about thieves?" I asked genuinely surprised at their carelessness.
"Matt, this isn't Sauce-oh-little, San Francisco, or
wherever. This is the COUNTRY, plus we don't have much to steal" as he pulled keys out of his bag and unlocked the interior back door leading into the house.
"Sausalito, thank you very much" correcting him and unsure if he actually knew how to pronounce the name of my former hometown. "I see we at least still lock our doors out here in the COUNTRY" raising my eyebrows and gently mocking him.
He didn't bother to verbally respond. A shake of the head and a smile were enough to let me know what he thought.
The inside of the house was consistent with its outer appearance. Everything was modest, old furniture, smallish TV, no fancy paintings or artwork for sure. As we walked through the living room, I noticed a room off to the side with a large trophy case and lots of framed pictures.
"My room's down at the end of the hall. We can just change in there. Or if you want some privacy, you can use this room here" pointing me to what appeared to be a guest bedroom and politely pausing for my reply.
"Your room's fine" I answered trying to sound casual, although my shy nature was begging me to dive into the guest room instead.
Chris's room was well-decorated with posters and full page photos of his favorite athletes. I had to smile in appreciation because my room looked nearly the same. I even called my collection the `wall of fame'. Chris had a virtual shrine of Michael Jordan posters. His Atlanta Braves were well represented as well, but it was the poster of Troy Aikman that got my attention.
"Oh no, don't tell me" dropping my bag beside the twin-bed and putting my hands on my waist, starring the Cowboy quarterback right in the eyes. "You can not be a Cowboys fan. Tell me it's not true." As I looked around the room and saw more Cowboys memorabilia, the conclusion was inescapable. "It's not enough that you get to torment my Giants with the Braves, but do you have to take sides with my Forty-Niners arch rival too?" I just looked at him incredulously, unable to comprehend the treason that must lie in his heart.
"Hey, bud. Your Forty-Niners have put plenty of misery on my Cowboys, just not so much lately" his answer completely unacceptable.
"Ok, we'll call a truce in baseball and football. For basketball, can we at least both settle on the Bulls?" I asked knowing the answer full well. Chris's right hand went in the air and we did a high-five across the bed.
"I knew there was something I liked about you" his words muffled a little by the shirt being pulled over his head.
The sudden exposure of skin caused me to blush and I instantly turned my back to him and fumbled into my bag for my own gym clothes. Chris went into a long tribute to MJ talking about how he had gone to see him play once in the ACC tournament when it was held in Charlotte. At this point, I was only hearing about every third or fourth word he said, my brain spinning out of control at the realization of being in his room taking off our clothes - together. By the sound of his voice, I knew he was still facing me. I hoped he didn't find my shyness just downright goofy. The ruffling sound of clothes told me his pants were now off. For all I knew, he was completely naked. One part of me wanted to turn around and face him, but that would require confidence and boldness that I hadn't achieved yet in life. Another part of me just wanted to run out of the room, but that would make me a coward to my own emotions and I wasn't quite that pathetic - yet. As I peeled my own shirt and dropped my jeans, my eye detected movement in a framed picture sitting on top of his dresser just in front of me. As I focused in, I could see that it was his reflection being cast into the glass by the fortunate angle of light coming into the room from his rear window. I knew I shouldn't look, it felt like I was spying on him - but my curiosity got the better of me for the second time this day.
He wasn't naked, but I could see that he was standing there in nothing but a well-fitting pair of CK boxer briefs. When he adjusted himself, I thought his hand lingered a little too long on the curve in his briefs and I was afraid that I had gasped out loud. I looked at the reflection of his eyes and he was looking me up and down, not with any apparent lust, but he was checking me out none the less. As I allowed my eyes to feast over his image, the only word that came to mind was beautiful. Chris was nearly 16 years old. He had been a natural athlete all his life, obviously the benefactor of genes that didn't run in my family. His young muscles were toned, his young chest, like mine - still hairless. His arms weren't huge, but definitely muscled with well-rounded shoulders. Everything funneled into a waist that was as flat and hard in the front as could be. I noticed his belly button was an outie, I always wished I had an outie. Like the rest of him, his legs were lean and strong and left no room for separation from the boxer briefs. The next time he spoke, I actually jumped a little.
"Matt, you don't have to be shy around me. You've got nothing to be ashamed of" he sounded sincere, trying to break the tension of my silence. Then in the reflection, I saw that familiar grin that meant he was about to deliver a zinger. "Lots of guys have small dicks, you know" he was trying to keep a semi-straight face but he couldn't hold it in any longer. Without even thinking, I spun around to show my displeasure but I wound up laughing with him instead. Having already put on a fresh t-shirt, Chris pulled up a long shiny pair of gym shorts, glancing down at my own briefs.
With a raised brow and a wide grin, he said "I stand corrected" throwing a pillow at me and walking out of his room.
I was afraid to look down, having gone completely numb sometime earlier. I was definitely showing signs of arousal, but it wasn't that obvious - was it? Maybe it was, but I couldn't accept that right now for fear of death via embarrassment. I quickly finished getting dressed.
Without the appealing distraction in the reflection, I squinted and took a closer look at the framed picture on the dresser. Arousal, embarrassment, humor for that matter - all fled the scene as the now crystal clear image of Katie Barnes stared straight back at me. It was a sobering reminder to say the least. She truly was a beautiful girl, and she was Chris's girlfriend. He was her boyfriend. I was just his new friend. I was also very confused.
"I'm going to feed the dogs, I'll just meet you outside" he said as I heard the back door close.
I couldn't stand to be alone in the same room with her for another second, and I drifted into the side room that had caught my attention earlier. There must have been 100 trophies in that room and dozens of old framed pictures - fortunately none of Katie. There were lots of pictures of Chris's parents, though no recent ones that I saw. The old ones of his dad looked so much like Chris that I had to look closer just to make sure it wasn't really him. There were pictures of his dad in military uniforms - Army I think. His mom had been a beautiful young woman and I wondered what she looked like now. His sister was very pretty and shared some of his striking features, with little resemblance to his mother. It was the old ones of Chris that really got to me. I stood there in a trance looking at these pictures of a little boy accompanied by many more that seemed to document every year in his life. I couldn't help but long for the days of youth that we had never spent together. I wished it could have been us fishing, playing baseball, hunting, shooting at squirrels - not that I had anything against squirrels. My dad had always told me I was way too sentimental for my age. I didn't really understand what he meant by that until this moment. It was hard for me to push myself out of that room. Maybe I could re-write history if I could only stay there long enough. My eyes clouded up as I conceded I had no such powers. I had grown up very much alone, without the benefits from a friend like Chris.
"You better not be jacking off in my room!" Chris announced his re-entrance into the house wondering why I hadn't met him outside as instructed.
I was still lingering by the photos when he found me and I'm sure he could see the emotion in my eyes. His face got very serious and after some hesitation, he entered the room to stand beside me, quietly reflecting on the pictures he must have seen a thousand times.
"I haven't been in this room for more than two years" his quiet words bringing a quick turn of my head as I stood there staring at his face, a face now seemingly as lost in the frames as mine had been earlier.
"Why?" Such a simple question, but one that can't always be answered - at least not today.
"Come on Matt, let's go play some ball" he said these words while still staring into their faces, pulling me by the arm out the door. It felt like he was trying to move both of us away from a danger that might cause us real harm if we stayed in its presence any longer.
Once outside, Chris headed straight for the old basketball under the tree scooping it up on a dead run then doing an impressive cross-over move against an invisible defender before skying for a lay-up on the shaky old goal. Catching the ball as it dropped through the net, he turned to me and threw me a bounce pass that I caught, and then promptly returned to him as a 15foot air-ball shot from 18feet out - one that would have hit him in the head had he not been watching. He held the ball and looked back at me. I made a sheepish wince and tried to explain that it had "been a while".
"Why don't we start closer in and work our way out. That will give us both a chance to get loosened up" Chris offered understandingly and obviously not wishing to embarrass me despite his earlier teasing.
For the next thirty minutes, we shot lay-ups and short jump- shots. I noticed that Chris would feed me the ball several times in a row, skipping his own turn to keep me in rhythm. I wasn't a bad athlete. I had above average quickness and was much more coordinated than I had remembered (air-balls aside). Since our family moved early in the summer, it had been a good six months since I had done anything athletic at all. I was encouraged by the new agility my maturing body seemed to have acquired.
I could count on one hand the number of times I had played basketball in my life. Needless to say, no one had spent any time showing me the ropes. Chris on the other hand was not only a great athlete, but also a coach's son. Along with all of his teams baseball trophies, I had spotted a couple old black and white frames of his dad with a basketball in his hand, so I'm sure Chris had lots of instruction - probably more than he wanted. Chris was definitely showing some pretty keen teaching skills with me. By the end of the first hour, I was respectable around the basket causing Chris to smile and playfully grab me around the back of the neck with some unspoken compliment.
"Chris, didn't you say that YOU were trying to get ready for basketball season?"
"I really appreciate all the help. Obviously, I need it. But unless you're planning on coaching this year, this probably isn't doing much for your game. Why don't you let me play ball-boy for a little while and you can get in some work." I bounced the ball out to him and moved under the basket.
"I've got a better idea. Why don't we do this so it helps both our games? I'll work on my ball-handling and my moves around the basket. You work on your defense. You seem pretty quick, defense might be your natural strong point" he summed it up well, and I was encouraged that he noticed my quickness.
"Matt, defense is all about footwork. I know where I'm going, you don't. That gives the guy with the ball a big advantage. But if you watch my feet and try to match your own movement, you've got a chance to at least slow me down. Remember, you don't play defense with your hands - you play defense with your feet" this sounded like something I could do. "You can hand-check, you just can't be too obvious about it. A hand-check isn't a push, it's just something like this" as he placed his open hand against the small of my back applying just enough resistance for me to know it was there. It dawned on me that this hand-checking was something I could really get used to.
"Matt, are you following me on this" snapping me back from my momentary loss of focus. "Now, try me. You need to get a feel for this" and I placed my hand flat against the small of his back just as he had done to me. "Here's the tricky part. When I lean back into you, or anytime I shift my weight against that hand, you've got to learn to use your hand to slow me down ever so slightly - giving you an extra feel for which way I'm moving. And you've got to do all this without the ref thinking it's a push. Let your elbow flex in and out, but keep that slight pressure at the ball of your hand. Got it?" I gave him a serious nod letting him know I was ready to give it a go.
Chris started his dribble, turning his back to me then quickly facing me again, moving to the side with his patented cross-over move. To my surprise, I shifted and stayed in front. He backed off briefly, and then made the same move to the left side, this time with a deft dribble behind his back. Again, I managed to stay in front. He backed off again, pulling the ball up and placing it under his arm looking at me quizzingly.
"Soccer" I said not waiting for him to ask. "We did play lots of soccer. You play soccer with your feet, you know."
Chris flashed that familiar smile. Now it made perfect sense to him.
"OK, your footwork is pretty good. Now I'm going to be more aggressive toward the basket, let's see you use that hand- check."
The move he started looked similar to the one earlier, but this time he turned his back to me setting his weight on his heels, leaning back into me and throwing me a little off balance. Before I could recover, he did a spin move pivoting around me straight to the basket for an easy lay-in.
"Matt, when I lean back, you use that hand to help keep space between us. If you let me lean into you un-checked, I'll kill you with that move every time. Let's try that again" my patient coach insisted determinedly.
This time, I did the hand-check as instructed and I could feel his weight shifting ever so slightly to his left. The spacing gave me just enough room to shift my feet and get in front of his move beating him to the spot just a split second before he crashed into me sending us both sprawling to the ground.
I felt all of my earlier progress evaporate, feeling once again like a hopeless dork. "Chris, are you OK. Man, I'm sorry."
"What are you talking about, that was a charging foul on me! Congratulations, you just created a turnover" Chris was very pleased with me and even more pleased with his own coaching.
"I did? Are you sure?" unconvinced since I didn't think basketball was a contact sport.
"Hell, yes. That was perfect defense. I've only got one thing to say about this" Chris stopped and waited for me to ask.
"What would that be?" I had no clue where he was going with this.
"You're going out for JV basketball, my friend!" as he reached down and took my hand, pulling me to my feet and brushing enough dirt off my back to bury a small animal with.
"Chris, slow down. JV basketball? Me?"
"Abso-fucking-lutely! JV basketball! You! Bud, not everybody can play defense - especially against my moves. By the time practice rolls around, I'll have you ready, trust me! It would be great, Matt. Me and you. We play 20 games, half of those on the road. We'll travel on the team bus together. Plus we've got the Christmas tournament and conference tournament at year end. Who knows, maybe even the state playoffs" his confidence made me believe it was possible. The idea of doing this with Chris was the part that really hooked me. It was now my mission to make the JV basketball team. If Chris said I could do it, then I believed him. I didn't even care if they let me in a single game.
"OK. I'll give it my best shot. But I'm not gonna hold you back. If I even so much as feel like I'm dragging you down, I'm out" it was important for me to say that and I meant it. I wanted this, but not at any price.
"Matt, that's what you don't get. You're not gonna hold me back, you're gonna make me better. We're going to work like this every day until practice starts. Man, I'm so fired up. I can't wait! We're gonna have a blast, Matt!"
Satisfied with his accomplishment, Chris walked over to a large stump left behind by what must have been a tremendously large old tree. As he neared the stump, he pulled off his dripping t-shirt. For mid-October, it was a near-record hot day, still hovering in the low 80's. I followed Chris toward the old stump and felt so emboldened with my surge of newfound confidence that I too stripped off my shirt, though I draped it around my neck hanging down in front for at least some shelter for my shyness. Chris sat on one side of the stump. I took a seat on the other side with my back to him. We were both breathing hard and sweat was beading down our chests and backs. It was amazing how quiet things could be out in the country. You could actually hear nature all around you, especially the birds chirping merrily overhead.
"Matt. I'm really glad you came over. I haven't had a friend over in a long time. People at school treat me real nice, but it seems like they try to keep a certain distance. Maybe they stay away because of my dad. I don't know, maybe it's me."
"Chris, everybody likes you. I wish you could see yourself the way I see you, then you'd know. Maybe some folks are a little scared of your dad."
"I don't know, but I meant it. I'm glad you're here, Matt."
"You know you were the first person at school to ever speak to me? Did you know that, Chris?"
Chris just softly chuckled recalling the moment. "I didn't know that. You have to admit though, that was pretty damn funny."
"That it was, most definitely. If you hadn't spoken up that day, I wouldn't be sitting here with you right now. I've always been so afraid to talk to people, to make that first move. It just seems like I've always been a loner, like no one ever liked me enough to stop and find out who I was. The reason I never talk about any of my old friends from back home is because there weren't any, at least none good enough to miss. You know how earlier, I was staring at all those old family pictures? I know you wondered why I was standing there, almost in tears, looking goofy. You want to know why, Chris?"
"Tell me why."
"Because I wished there were some pictures of me in there with you, riding bikes together, playing little league together, opening Christmas gifts together, fighting over some toy, stuck up in some tree, just growing up together. It's like I missed so much, Chris. I don't want to miss anything else" quiet tears now mixed with the sweat running down my face.
There was more I wanted to say, but that would risk more than I could afford to lose. I had said enough for one day. What a day. We sat there, our backs to each other in silence for several minutes. Just as earlier in the day, I again hoped that I had not already said too much. Just as the worry entered my mind, and just when I least expected it, the most wonderful and most intimate thing in my young life happened. It was a simple gesture, but it meant the world to me. I felt Chris slowly lean back against me, resting first his bare back and then also his head against mine. In turn, I relaxed my weight back into him and the two of us sat there resting squarely against each other. I wished we could stay right there on that old stump together forever. If only we could.