The drive seemed to take forever, and I was angry and surly, as usual. I really didn’t want to make this move, so I was silent for most of the ride, except when Mom or Dad asked me a direct question and I grunted the briefest of replies. When we stopped to eat, I stayed out of the conversation. At night, we stopped at a motel where I had my own room adjoining my parents. I just lay in bed that night, not even wanting to masturbate, until I fell asleep.
The next day, just before dark, we pulled into a little street with only a few houses on it. Dad slowed, and I thought he was going to drive into a driveway on our left which had a nice-looking, two story white house. Instead, he pulled into the driveway on our right, which belonged to an old monstrosity. I mean, the house could be used in a John Bellairs’ book! It had sort of a pointed third-floor tower on the front with a curved roof and a dormer on each side. The second floor had French doors on the front which open onto narrow porches, while the first floor had recessed, curved window openings. The one on the left was wide enough for three windows. There was an opening for a recessed door in the middle, and then there were two recesses on the right, one for two windows and the other for one. The roof curved down like a ski jump, although I never tried skiing off it. All I could think of was an ugly, creepy, haunted house.
The space in front of the house was paved, so Dad pulled up there. He managed to get his key in the front door and open it, turning on the hall lights and the one on the front porch. Mom and I went in as Dad turned on lights on all three floors. I went back outside to see what the effect was with lights. Sure enough, it was a haunted house! Inside again, I went from room to room. They all had hardwood floors and dark wood doors and trim. Many of the doors and windows had stained glass in them. Even the kitchen had dark wood trim and cabinets. The stove was an old gas stove, the sink was an ancient soapstone one, and the refrigerator was old enough to have its cooling coils on the top. I claimed the third-floor room with the pointed roof. Unfortunately, the third floor had no bathroom. I had to go down the ancient creaking stairs with an old, shaky banister to use the one on the second floor, which had an old-fashioned claw foot tub with a shower. Even with the lights on, the house seemed dark and creepy.
The three of us unloaded the car and then drove to a B&B in Bardwell for the night, as the moving van wasn’t due to arrive until the next day. Bardwell was the town where the university was and where Mom and Dad would be working. Our house was in Syler Falls, a much smaller town nearby.
Before we went to bed, I asked Dad, “Why in heaven’s name did you buy that creepy house? It couldn’t have been the only one in the area.”
Dad laughed and said, “Because I’ve always wanted a house like that, and as soon as I saw it, I fell in love with it. Besides I thought you’d like it. I know Mom wasn’t sure about it until I assured her that we’d get modern appliances.”
“If I was a Goth, maybe I’d like it, but I’m not and I don’t.”
“Well,” said Dad, “perhaps it’ll grow on you.”
“It smells like someone died in here!”
He laughed again and said, “Someone did. He was 97 and he wasn’t found for about a week. But that was five years ago, so I doubt if that’s what you’re smelling. It’s probably just because the house has been closed up for so long. When we open it up tomorrow and let the fresh air in, that should take care of the smell.”
“I certainly hope so,” put in Mom.
The next morning, we got to the house by 9:00 and opened all the windows. We had stopped at the Syler Falls General Store, where Mom got some basic foods for the next couple of days. Fortunately, she had checked, and the refrigerator was running and cold. However, it had no freezer except a little shelf for ice cubes, so she couldn’t buy anything frozen.
The movers arrived about an hour later and spent a good part of the day carrying in and placing furniture. I’m not sure they were happy that my furniture had to go on the third floor, but they managed.
My room had a double bed, a desk, a dresser, some bookshelves, and a closet. My CD player was on the top shelf of one of the bookshelves, and my laptop was on my desk. I figured Mom wouldn’t be coming up to my room, so I could be as messy as I wanted to be, and I could put up any posters I wanted to.
After my room was finished, I walked into town to see what there was. The answer was: almost nothing. Besides the general store, there was the Syler Falls Gas station, the Syler Falls Feed Store, which I was sure I would never use, a bank branch, and a typical white, New England church. No library, no school ‒ nothing. Oh yes, I forgot that there was a Post Office window in the store, so I could at least buy stamps and write to my nonexistent friends. I could see it would be a very boring summer.
At supper, Mom asked what I had seen when I went for a walk. I told her in a disgusted voice.
“Well,” Dad said. ‘Bardwell is bigger.”
“Great,” I said sarcastically, “I bet it’s a teeming metropolis!” I got up from the table and went out on the porch. As I went, I heard Dad say, “He’s certainly fifteen, isn’t he?” and my mom laughed, but I knew that, even with the joking, they were worried about me.
I sat down on our front steps, fuming. I was so angry at having to move to this crummy town in this crummy state and this crummy house. “Why couldn’t he have at least gotten a job in a decent city?” I wondered.
As I sat, a woman and a boy came out of the house across the street. The boy walked kinda funny. He seemed to limp, but it was more than a limp. In the twilight, I couldn’t make it out. He gave a little wave, but I didn’t wave back. Then he climbed into the car and it drove off.
That night, we slept in the house for the first time. I lay awake listening as the house creaked and groaned around me. Tree branches were brushing against the walls and the roof. I wasn’t scared, but I was irritated. However, I did figure out one good thing ‒ if anybody came up the stairs, I would hear them long before they arrived at my door. So, I was safe to jerk off as much as I wanted with no fear of one of my parents walking in on me. I did it gratefully and was finally able to go to sleep.
The next morning, I was arranging some of Dad’s books in the living room when the doorbell rang. It was the kind that had a key-like fixture on the outside of the door which you had to twist so the bell rang on the inside of the door.
“Tyler, please see who that is,” Mom called from the kitchen.
I shrugged and opened the front door. There was the boy from across the street holding a foil-wrapped plate in his hands.
He held it toward me and said, “Mom baked these for you as a welcoming gift.”
I took the plate, said, “Thanks,” and closed the door.
“Tyler,” Mom, who by then was standing in the doorway between the dining room and the living room, scolded, “that was rude. Invite him in.”
Even though I didn’t want to, I shrugged, opened the door again, and asked him to come in. He climbed back up the steps, his left foot making a clunking noise, and stepped inside, where he followed me, still clunking, into the kitchen.
“Hi,” he said. “I’m Cole Greene.”
“We’re the Prescotts,” said Mom. “The silent one here is Tyler.”
“Hi,” said Cole again as he held his hand out to me. I didn’t have much choice but to shake it.
“Mmmm. Oatmeal raisin!” said Cole, but he was careful not to take one until Mom urged him to. I had to admit, they were really good, not at all like the packaged ones you could buy in the market.
As he ate, Cole looked around the room. “This is such a cool house. We’ve lived across the street ever since I was born, and I’ve always wanted to see it, but I’ve never been inside.”
“Tyler, why don’t you show Cole around the rest of the house?” Mom prodded. So, Cole and I each grabbed a couple of cookies, and we started the tour. First, I showed him the mudroom, which was off the kitchen. When Cole asked what a mudroom was, I was able to tell him because I had asked Dad the same question the night before. On the first floor, in addition to the kitchen and the mudroom, were the dining room, the living room, and what Dad called his “den.” Just inside the front door on one side was a closet and on the other was a toilet room with a small sink. On the second floor there were bedrooms, the biggest of which my parents were using. There was a room which Dad was setting up as an office, and Mom had also taken a room, which she called her sewing room, but I suspected that she would also use it as a place where she could retreat and read. They suggested that I might like the other room as a study for my homework, but I said I didn’t want it, so they made it into a guest room.
As he looked around, Cole asked, “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“No. I guess my parents decided they couldn’t improve on perfection.”
Cole laughed and said he had an older sister, Elizabeth, but she was in college and almost never came home except for a week at the end of the summer and a week at Christmas.
From there, we went up to the third floor, Cole clumping along behind me. I sat down on the bed in my room and, after looking out my windows, Cole exclaimed again, “This is so cool!” before he sat beside me.
I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer, so I asked, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“Nope,” he said. “But I bet you’re gonna ask what’s with my foot?”
I was embarrassed, but I nodded.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” he said. “Everyone wonders, and it doesn’t bother me at all anymore. I was born with a deformed foot and one leg shorter than the other, so I have to wear a lift.” He pulled up his pant leg and I could see that the sneaker on his left foot was built up by about four inches.
I found myself wondering what his deformed foot looked like, but I didn’t ask. Instead, I thought, “Just my luck, he’s probably the only boy near my age in town and he’s a cripple.”
He looked at me and I hoped he couldn’t read my thoughts. “Thanks,” I mumbled. “Don’t tell my parents I asked. They’d tell me I was being rude.”
“Okay,” he said. Before we went back down, we poked in the rest of the third floor, which was just attic storage space. “Your room is so great,” Cole said. Mine’s just a boring old ten by twelve box.”
We went back downstairs, grabbed a couple more cookies each, and went out to sit on my front steps. Looking across the street, I could see that there was a basketball hoop on the garage.
“Who in your family plays basketball?” I asked.
“Well, I can’t really play, but I can shoot hoops. Wanna play Horse?”
I heard him in disbelief. “How could a cripple play Horse?” I wondered. “I’d better take it easy on him.”
I agreed, and we went across the street. The garage door was open, and Cole got a basketball from inside before closing the door. He handed me the ball and said, “Guests first.”
There was a foul line painted on the driveway, so I stood at it and took a shot, the ball bouncing off the left side of the hoop.
Tyler took the ball and also stood at the foul line. His shot swished through without touching the rim. That meant I had to try again.
I lined up the shot more carefully this time and missed to the right. That meant I was an “H”.
Cole took the ball and stood to the left of the basket and at the edge of the driveway. Swish!
I tried it and missed again, so then I was an “H…O.”
Then Cole stood at the other side of the basket and swished it again, and again I missed, becoming an “H…O…R.”
Cole went back to the foul line and swished it. Finally, I was able to make a basket, so I got to make the next challenge. I stood way back from the foul line and shot. Swish. “Now, I’ve got him,” I gloated to myself. But he stood where I had and swished it again. So, I had to repeat the shot, and I missed. Soon, I was an “H…O…R…S…E.”
“Don’t you ever miss?” I asked.
He looked a little embarrassed and then said quietly, “Not often.”
“So you set me up.”
“Not really, because I didn’t have any idea how well you could shoot. Do you wanna play again?”
“No. I know when I’m beaten.” There were some chairs under a tree on his front lawn, so we sat there.
Finally, I asked, “So what else is there to do for fun in this Hicksville?”
Cole stared at me. At last, he asked, “Are you trying to be rude, or does it just come naturally to you?”
“I’m sorry.” I began to explain.
“No, I don’t think you’re at all sorry. I think you said it because you were thinking it. I don’t know where you come from, but let me tell you, the people who live here are not hicks. Maybe some of them don’t have college degrees, but they’re all good, hard-working people. They’re the kind of people who have your back if you get into trouble, just like I’ve got their backs.” He stood up. “I think you’d better leave now!”
I tried to explain, although I didn’t really know what there was to explain, but he interrupted and said harshly, “No! Go! Now!”
I trudged back home, humiliated. When I went in the house Mom asked, “Did you have a good time, Sweetie? He seems like a nice boy.”
“Yeah,” I said and went up to my room. “Just like me,” I thought angrily, “I had a chance to maybe make a friend and I blew it!”
I lay down on my bed. It was stifling in my garret that night. Even the fans were no help. Lying there, I thought of Billy. “Billy would have told me that Cole was right, and I was being stupid.”
“Billy was right,” I thought. “They both were. Fuck!!!!!