As Cole and I scuffled through the leaves on the way home one day, I sensed a new smell in the air. It smelled like something burning, yet it was strangely pleasant. “What’s that smell? I asked.
“Just burning leaves,” he replied. “Haven’t you ever smelled it before?”
“No, it’s illegal to burn them back home."
Up to this point I had never mentioned Billy to anybody in New Hampshire, so only my parents and I knew about him. I believe they thought our move had separated me from memories of Billy. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Many nights in bed, I wept for him. When my parents weren’t home, I pulled out the old photo albums and went through all the old pictures, bringing back memories and tears.
Now I was beginning to think that perhaps I needed to tell Cole about Billy. Part of the reason was the pledge I had made to never become close to another boy, a pledge which I was now having difficulty keeping. The other part of the reason was that, if I was to continue with Cole as a friend, I didn’t want to have any secrets from him.
One day in early November, a day when I knew neither of my parents was home, as we were scuffling our way home through the leaves, I told Cole there was something I wanted to share with him and asked him to come to my house. After he had told his mom where he was, we went to my house, where I asked him to sit on the couch and I sat beside him.
“Cole,” I began, “I need to tell you about something that happened before we moved here.” I proceeded to tell him everything about Billy, how we were born together, how we were bosom buddies attached at the hip, how we did everything together, how we dressed in costumes and played in the woods, and finally how Billy died. By the time I finished, Cole and I were both in tears.
“Probably you didn’t know this,” I said, “but Mom was an incurable photographer. I think every time Billy and I were together, Mom was there with her little camera. We used to call her ‘Flash’. After Billy died, the camera seemed to disappear, although occasionally Mom would snap a picture of me and put it in an album where she was recording her growing boy. Other than that, I never saw the camera until work began on the Haunted House. You probably remember her taking lots of pictures, and now she’s gotten them all copied and put into albums, one for each of us. I’ll give you yours in a few minutes.
“But right now, if it’s not too much for either of us, I want to show you the photo albums of me and Billy.” I went over to the bookcase and pulled out several albums, basically one for each year of our lives. I didn’t show him all the pictures, but I showed him ones of when we were babies, some when we were a year or two old, some when we were three and riding our tricycles, some when we were in pre-k and then kindergarten and then some from each grade through grade 3. By far the hardest ones for me to share were the ones when we were in costumes and the ones when we were playing in the woods. Of course, there were no pictures of when Billy died and there were none after that.
Again, we were both in tears through the whole time. Cole put an arm around my shoulder and gave me a big hug. I turned and hugged him back and we wept together.
Finally, I said, “Thanks for letting me share Billy with you. He was and will always be my best friend. We truly loved each other.”
“And thank you,” Cole responded, “for sharing him with me. I know I can never replace him, and I don’t want to, but I do want to be your friend if you’ll let me.”
I hugged him again and told him that of course I wanted him as a friend, my first real friend in New Hampshire.
We put the albums back in the bookcase and went into the kitchen to wash our faces. Then I got out some cookies and milk and we settled at the table just in time before Mom came in the front door.
“Oh Cole,” said Mom, “I’m glad you’re here. I have something to give you.” She went to another bookshelf in the living room and returned with the Haunted House album. Cole and I spent a happy half hour looking through it. Then he took three of them to put in his backpack and give to the girls in the group while I took three to put in my backpack and give to the boys.
Then we went to the door, where I gave Cole a big hug and thank you. He hugged me back and went down the steps. Oddly, neither of us ever really mentioned that afternoon again, but a bond had formed forever.
November progressed, and we heard little from Connor although he still occasionally muttered under his breath, “Faggots,” or, “Homos,” or, “Pansies.” Generally, we just ignored him. But one day when there were four of us at the table and Connor, with his sycophants, walked by muttering one of his endearments, Cole called out, “Hey, Connor, come here.”
I guess since Cole had never called him before, Connor was curious, so he and his three stooges stopped at the table. Cole said, very quietly, “Since you were the one who told me twice to suck your dick, doesn’t that make you the homo? And what does that make your little friends, asswipers?” The three boys behind Connor giggled while Bruce, Paul and I burst out laughing. I thought for a minute Connor was going to smack Cole, but he just snarled and walked away.
That Saturday morning when I got up and looked out the window, I saw that the gate to the pool was open and there were two police cruisers in front of Cole’s house. Dressing as quickly as I could, I raced down the stairs and across the street. A police officer stopped me from going into the pool area, but Cole saw me through the open gate and came out to me.
Clearly, he had been crying. “Oh God, Tyler! Someone has done terrible shit to the pool. They sprayed hateful anti-gay words all over the cover and the sides of the pool and they slashed the cover. And I’m not even gay! And they sprayed black paint into the water, so the water will all have to be drained out and the pool cleaned. Who in hell could have done such a thing?”
“I can make a pretty good guess,” I said. “This sounds just like the sort of thing that a coward like Connor would do. Have you told the police about him?”
“No. I hate to accuse somebody unless I can prove it.”
“I understand, but Connor has threatened revenge before. I think you should tell the police.” So Cole and I talked to the officer at the gate, who called the three other officers. They instructed Cole and his family not to go into the pool area, and then they drove off.
Sunday afternoon, while Cole was at my house, the police cars returned. I saw them out the window, and Cole and I hurried across the street to hear if they had found out anything. They told us and Cole’s parents that they had questioned Connor and three of his toadies. One of his toadies confessed to the whole thing, implicating Connor as the ringleader. Connor had been arrested and would be arraigned in juvenile court on Monday.
We thanked them profusely and Cole’s dad asked when work on the pool could begin. One of the officers said that a forensics team would take pictures, check for prints, etc. When they finished, they would tell us the pool was cleared for work.
The forensics team did a thorough investigation the next day while we were at school and then told Cole’s mom that work could begin on the pool at any time.
Meanwhile at school, word was spreading about Connor’s arrest and the arrest of his three toadies. His fourth toady had not been present, so he was cleared. Everybody asked about the damage that was done, most of them saying that they didn’t even know there was a pool behind Cole’s house. Cole and I always wondered how Connor had found out about the pool. It could have been unwittingly mentioned by Cole’s swimming teacher, who also taught Connor, but we never found out.
Cole and I described to the kids the damage several times. Some of the students talked about having the Student Council do a fundraiser to repair the damage. Cole thanked them but said his parents were quite sure that insurance would cover the whole thing, and if it didn’t, they could still sue Connor’s family.
Work began on the pool the next day, and by the end of the week, everything had been cleaned and a new cover had been ordered. The new cover was installed the following week, which was fortunate because snow was in the offing. Meanwhile, Cole’s dad had installed a lock system on the gate with a combination lock whose combination only Cole’s family and I knew.
After the water was restored and heated and the air was heated, Cole and I invited the Halloween group to attend a celebratory christening of the new cover. That Saturday they all came, and we had a wonderful time. Cole and Walter spent a lot of time with the girls, but Paul, Bruce, and I didn’t. That reassured me that l wasn’t different from all the boys, but most of the boys in school talked about girls a lot and some went as far as to say what they would like to do with them. I just couldn’t get any interest in that and continued to spend most of my time either alone or with Cole. I wondered if I might be gay, but I certainly didn’t want to be. I wouldn’t want to deal with all the social hassle.
A little snow fell that week, but not enough to be shoveled and it soon melted.
It began to grow quite cold as the month progressed. Mom and Dad insisted that I get some boots and a winter jacket, which I had never before needed. It had also become quite cold in my garret. The house had a fairly new oil furnace, but somehow not much of the heat made it up to my room, so Mom and I also bought a space heater.
My family was invited to join Cole’s family at the Greenes’ farm for, as we were told, a “Good old New England Thanksgiving.” On Thanksgiving Day, the three of us piled into the car and drove out to the farm, where we were greeted at the door by Cole’s grandparents. Cole’s family arrived right behind us. The fragrances of roasting turkey and baking breads and pies filled the house. When we were called into the dining room, the table was set for eight and laden with so much food that a side table had to be set up to accommodate it all. There was a huge turkey, which had been grown on the farm. Three kinds of home-baked bread were still steaming from the oven. There were mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, turkey stuffing, green beans, corn, carrots, onions, along with two kinds of gravy, and cranberry sauce.
Of course, Mom was there with her little camera, recording the whole scene. Cole looked at me and smiled as the flash went off.
Before we began, Grandma Greene said a short grace. Then Grandpa Greene carved the turkey, placing huge slices on a large serving dish, which we then passed around the table. We passed the other dishes and each of us took what we wanted as Mom continued to take pictures. Trying to be polite, I took small servings until Grandma Greene urged me to take more. Since nobody but Cole and I seemed to want the drumsticks, we each took one. When everybody finished taking what they wanted, silence fell over the table, and all that I could hear were knives and forks on the plates and little groans of pleasure.
As plates began to clear, chatter once again arose around the table. I turned to Cole, and said, “Oh, my gosh! I’m stuffed!”
“Me too!” He laughed, saying he didn’t think he’d need to eat again for a week. As we rose from the table, we all helped carry our plates and silverware and serving dishes into the kitchen although Grandma Greene assured us that we didn’t need to.
Cole and I went outside and walked around the farm just to get some exercise, while the adults settled into chairs in the living room. When we returned to the living room, they were talking about whether or not we would have a hard winter. I asked how much snow they got in the winter, and I was told anywhere from 1 foot to 6 feet. I was amazed as we had seldom gotten more than an inch or two at a time in Missouri.
Although we had said we wouldn’t be able to eat again for a week, 6 o’clock found us in a line in the kitchen getting plates full of apple, pumpkin, or pecan pie with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream available for those who wanted it. We took our plates into the dining room, where we once again stuffed ourselves. About 9 o’clock, we thanked all the Greenes for a wonderful day. Grandma Greene gave Mom and Cole’s mom huge bags of leftovers. Then we drove home, where we all headed to an early bedtime.
A week later, on Saturday, I awoke to a strange sound. I went to the window and looking out I saw snow and a plow clearing the road of our first real snowfall. Almost before I finished breakfast, Cole was at the mudroom door asking for me to go out. I put on my new boots and my winter jacket, donned some gloves, grabbed a shovel from the mudroom, and went outside, where I found about 6 inches of snow. Cole and I worked on shoveling our driveway and a path out to the road before going over to his house and doing the same.
I asked him if the snow was always that heavy.
“No,” he replied. “But it usually is this time of year before the weather gets really cold.”
“You don’t think this is cold?!” I asked, astonished.
“Nah, wait until January or February.” Then he reached down, made a snowball and threw it at me. Soon we were engaged in a furious snowball fight, laughing and yelling things like, “Ha, you missed!” and, “Gotcha!”
Finally, I got so cold that we went inside my house through the mudroom, removing our boots and outer clothes, and entering the kitchen. Although I had been wearing gloves, my hands were red and had almost no feeling. Cole told me to run cool water over them.
“Not hot water?” I asked.
“Nope, you can scald your hands that way because you can’t feel how hot the water is.”
I went to the sink and obediently ran cool water over my hands until the feeling returned.
Mom made us both hot cocoa with peppermint in it, just the way I liked it. Cole had not had it with peppermint but loved it. We sat in the kitchen drinking cocoa and gobbling down homemade cookies. Finally, we went up to my room and played computer games for a while.
Three days later, it snowed again, only about 4 inches that time, but that gave us a total of 10 inches. Again, Cole and I shoveled the drives and sidewalks. School had been closed for the day, which we didn’t mind at all.
“That’s one of the great things about living in the north,” said Cole. “If we’re lucky, we get several snow days during the winter when schools are closed. Actually, extra days are built into the school calendar. If there weren’t enough snow days built in, the extra days would be added to the calendar in June, but that never happens.”
Cole and I decided to build snow forts in his backyard. We took shovels and began piling the snow and sculpting it into walls with openings at the back. When we had finished the forts, we armed them with snowballs and began another snowball fight. Sometimes we remained in our forts and sometimes one of us would venture out and attack the other one’s fort, laughing with bravado.
When we were cold and wet enough, we went into Cole’s house through the back door. While his house didn’t have a mudroom, there were places to hang our jackets and take off our boots.
Cole’s mother already had hot cocoa with peppermint in it waiting for us, as Cole had told her about the peppermint my Mom used. After once again holding my hands under cool water until the feeling returned, I sat down and indulged in mugs of cocoa and several cookies. At first, I wondered whether feeling would return to my toes, because they too seemed numb, but as I sat in my stocking feet, the feeling slowly returned.
It snowed once more before Christmas vacation, about 5 inches that time. After our usual routine of shoveling, Cole said goodbye and returned to his house. A few minutes later, I saw their car back out of their garage with skis attached to a rack on the roof of the car.
Right then, I made it known to my parents that I wanted skis for Christmas. “What kind,” asked Dad. “Cross-country or downhill?”
“I’ve no idea. What kind do the Greenes have?”
“Why don’t you ask them?” he asked.
On the school bus the next day, I asked Cole and he said they had cross-country skis and they usually skied on his grandparents’ fields and in their woods. I reported that to Dad, who just smiled and said, “Okay.”