When Pete returned from tennis camp, we all convened again at his pool. As we swam and played around, Vinny sat in a deck chair looking forlorn. But he certainly wasn’t quiet. Nothing could keep Vinny quiet. He shouted and laughed as we played water polo, two to a side. It was a high-scoring game which involved a lot of dunking, holding, and laughter.
Later, sitting on Pete’s patio, we thought about what we might do in the afternoon and decided to go to the park and play two-on-two soccer. We all returned to our homes to have lunch before meeting at the park.
There was an older boy sitting on a bench in the park. I’d often seen him there. His name was Derek Waters. He was the son of Charlie, who owned the local mini mart. I didn’t much like either Charlie or his son. There was just something about them that I didn’t trust. Derek was older than we were but wasn’t any too bright. He just sat and watched the kids in the park playing their games. I was always a little uneasy about that, wondering if he was perving on them, but he never left his bench.
We went to a different part of the park, out of Derek’s sight. We used our T-shirts to mark the goals and started to play with the ball Art had brought. Vinny wanted to play but he decided he needed to wait a few days, so he refereed, making ridiculous calls and causing us all to laugh. He’d call a hands foul even when nobody was near the ball. He’d call shoving when nobody had touched anyone. He even called goals when the ball was clearly too high or wide of the goal. But that didn’t matter; we were just having fun.
While we tended to be together more often than not, of course there were days when one or more boys were missing from our group. There were doctors’ appointments, shopping trips, and for me, working with Dad on an installation.
By then Dad had full confidence in me and my wiring abilities. He told me that, when I was older, I could get an apprentice license and later an electrician’s license like he had. He said that because of my training, I would never go without a job. Even if I decided that I wanted to do something else, I would always have that to fall back on.
At that time, Dad, his assistants, and I were putting in a complex alarm system for a new mall east of Knoxville. I enjoyed working with him and his employees, and they all treated me as one of them. It took us a couple of weeks to finish the installation, so I didn’t see my friends for a while, but that was okay with me because I was keeping busy and liked what I was doing.
Towards the end of July, I returned to the swimming pool and the gang. Vinny was itching, literally, to get into the pool. He said that the skin under his cast was constantly itching. It even kept him awake at night. When we weren’t in the pool, we either played at the park or wandered around town.
Sometimes we played tennis. Vinny found it hard to serve so we let him bounce the ball and serve on the rebound. His serves weren’t very hard, but we never took advantage of that. Once he joined us on the courts, we rotated one player resting and cooling off while the other four played.
Usually after we played at the park we returned to Pete’s house to swim and sunbathe. By then we were all tanned except for Vinny’s arm and Oliver. I wondered how you could tell if he was getting a tan.
A week before we were scheduled to go camping, Vinny got his cast off and, as soon as he arrived at Pete’s, he plunged into the water. “Oh, God!” he yelled. “This feels so damn good!”
At first he was a little cautious of using his left arm, even though the doctor had told him his left arm was now probably stronger than the right one. But soon he was back playing soccer and tennis and shooting baskets at Art ‘s house.
The day before we were supposed to go camping, we took another bike ride, this time south of the town. Fortunately, it was less eventful than our first trip. Whoever was in the lead was careful to call out warnings about potholes or uneven pavement.
We found some good shade for lunch and a brief nap before heading back north to town.
Just outside of town, we called a halt and finished our water. We had thought we’d all just head to our own homes, but after talking about it some, we concluded we were still thirsty and hungry, and we decided to head to Charlie’s Mini Mart.
Arriving outside the store, we leaned our bikes against the wall and went in. We weren’t worried about our bikes. We never locked them and knew that nobody would touch them.
As we went in, Oliver said to me, “I don’t have any money with me.”
“No problem,” I answered. “I’ll treat you this time and another time you can treat me.”
The store wasn’t terribly big, but it was air conditioned so we spent some time inside just looking around. As I said, there was something about Charlie that I didn’t like. He usually wasn’t very friendly, and we didn’t go there often, but we had never experienced any real problems.
At last we all picked out sodas and snacks and went to the counter. When I paid, I told Charlie it was for me and Oliver, although I didn’t indicate which of us was Oliver.
As we headed out the door, we heard Charlie shout, “Hey, Boy.”
Since we were all boys, we all looked back.
“You,” he said pointing at Oliver. “You didn’t pay. That’s just like you people.”
I knew Oliver well enough to see that he was angry, but he was very controlled. He walked back into the store, slammed his open can of soda on the counter and then put the bag of potato chips down and pounded it a few times with his fist until the chips were broken and bursting out of the bag. Then he poured the soda onto the mess.
When he stopped, he said very quietly to Charlie, “Don’t you EVER call me Boy again.”
Charlie, who was irate, yelled back, “And don’t you ever come in here again. I don’t need your kind in here.”
I spoke up, saying, “Don’t worry, Charlie, none of us will come in here again. And neither will our friends or families. You’re a piece of crap!”
We climbed on our bikes and rode to the park, where we sat in the shade and finished our sodas. I shared mine with Oliver.
Oliver looked at me and said very quietly, “Thanks.”
“No problem,” I answered. “He’s a jerk and he doesn’t deserve our business.”
“Yeah,” said Vinny. “It’s about time he got into the twenty-first century.”
“People like him will never change,” observed Oliver.
“Is there anything we can do to change him?” I asked.
Art suggested that we make signs and picket the store. We all liked the idea except Oliver, who said, “If you do that it’ll make more trouble for me and my family.”
“Well, he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it,” said Vinny.
We all agreed but couldn’t think of anything to do.
“Just leave it alone!” said Oliver. “Please!”
There were tears in his eyes, so I put my arm around his shoulder until the tears stopped.
“Anyway,” he whispered to me, “at least that got you to hug me. All is not lost.”
We agreed that we wouldn’t do anything except for asking our friends and families to boycott the store.
Then we broke up and headed home. Oliver and I rode together to his house.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“No. I’ll never be okay with that, but I did appreciate the support you all gave me.”
“Okay. Now you know we’ve got your back.”
“Yeah. That means a lot.”
When we arrived, I asked him if he wanted me to go in with him.
“No, I need to talk with my family alone.”
I just nodded, said, “Bye,” and rode off home waving a hand to him as I went.
At supper that night I told Dad and Wally what had happened. Dad just shook his head and said, “Oliver’s right. Some people will never change, and you’re well off staying away from them.”
“Will you join our boycott?” I asked.
Wally piped up. “I will. I never did like the guy, and his son gives me the creeps.”
“Wally,” Dad said, “Don’t talk that way about him.”
“But he just sits on a bench in the park and stares at the kids. It’s creepy.”
“He probably has nothing else to do,” Dad replied. “Remember Wally, he’s a little simple.” Then he turned to me and said, “Sure, I’ll join your boycott. Just the beer I’ve been buying there has probably kept him in business. It’ll be a little less convenient to buy it somewhere else, but I’ll certainly do that.”
After supper, I went to my bedroom and put some clothes and toiletries in my backpack for the trip. Wally came in and sat on my bed, watching.
When I finished packing, I sat beside him.
“Trevor, are there many guys like Charlie around?”
“Who knows? That’s the problem. We don’t know who to avoid until it’s too late.”
“Do you think Oliver’s in danger?”
“I hope not. I doubt if he’s in danger from Charlie. I don’t think Charlie has the balls to do anything.”
Wally looked at me and then laughed. I don’t think he’d ever heard me use that word before.
When Wally went off to bed, I went into the bathroom to pee and brush my teeth, only to realize that I’d packed my toothbrush, so I had to go back to my room to get it and my toothpaste and my deodorant.
Back in my room, I stripped and climbed into bed. I was really sad, and I didn’t understand why at first. Then I realized I was sad for Oliver, who would have to go all through life afraid and looking over his shoulder. It was a long time before I finally slept.