The Foxwood Chronicles
“Well, how’s our new Foxwoodian feeling this fine morning? All bright eyed and bushy-tailed?”
The last person Evan wanted to see Sunday morning as he stumbled down to the breakfast nook was his grandmother’s neighbor. His first instinct was to reply, “No; actually my tail is feeling pretty God-damned empty right now.” That response, however, would probably not be received well, so he said, instead, “I’ll be OK after my first cup of coffee.”
Grant and his wife both raised their eyebrows.
“Dear,” said Rosemary, “you’re not old enough to be drinking coffee yet. You should have a nice cold glass of orange juice! That will make you feel just right! Here you go! Now, drink up!”
Evan’s grandmother suppressed her chuckles as Evan gave Rosemary a sideways glance indicating he wasn’t entirely convinced of her sanity.
“You look like quite the young gentleman there, Evan,” his grandmother said. “That’s a smart-looking tie.”
“Oh, yes!” Rosemary gushed as Evan pulled his chair out and sat. “He’s quite a handsome young man!”
Evan took a gulp of OJ and, as he set the glass down, muttered, “They didn’t send all my clothes, Nana. The only jacket I have is my school blazer. I can’t wear that. It’s got the Hillside crest on it.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that, dear. You should be proud of where you went to school.”
Evan cringed at her use of the past tense and, as she set a plate of bacon, eggs, and toast before him, smiled reluctantly, chalking it up as just another brick in the wall. Grant and Rosemary continued their small talk with Evan as he tried to eat, seeking to make him feel welcome in his new town. He described his foray into the wilds of downtown Foxwood and his first contact with Foxwoodius Adolescencius, leaving out the insults and jeers.
“There!” Rosemary gushed. “You see? You’ll be one of them in no time. Isn’t it amazing how resilient young people are? You put a boy in a strange city where he knows no one and within five minutes, he has five new best friends! And, just wait ‘til we get you to the club this afternoon for brunch! You’ll have a dozen tennis partners before we leave!”
Evan finished the last of his bacon and excused himself to retrieve his blazer from his room. In the solitude of his room, he gazed at himself in the mirror and critically examined his hair. It was perfect, parted in the middle, feathered back along the sides. He knew he was beautiful. Perhaps that was why he had been the butt of so many comments the night before. Was he really going to have to let himself go to stay alive here? He sighed and slipped his blazer on.
The ride the three blocks to church was uneventful. The Sinclairs kept up their running dialogue of the glories of teen life in Foxwood as Evan’s grandmother smiled sweetly the entire way, enjoying her grandson’s discomfort. Grant dropped them off at the front and as Evan opened the door for Rosemary and his grandmother, he noticed that several elderly people were eying him critically as they stood on the lawn and the front steps of the Foxwood Congregational Church. He felt he was on display. This was not an unknown feeling, but usually he enjoyed it, being the center of attention and the object of admiring looks. This morning, however, the examinations, he could tell, were critical and searching, inspecting the new boy from California for any sign of West Coast decadence or debauchery. Evan played his part admirably, giving them nothing but the image of the polite and well-mannered teenager with whom no one could find fault. Of course, he suspected that that would simply inspire the same kind of sneering and contempt as if he had pulled a joint from his pocket and toked up right there in front of God and everyone.
His grandmother stopped to speak to several elderly ladies and introduce Evan. Naturally, they all were exceedingly polite, even as Evan could see they were minutely examining him for even the slightest fault about which to gossip later in the social hall. He was as correct as he could possibly be, using every acting skill that he had absorbed from fourteen years of living among “the beautiful people” of Southern California.
By the time they were seated in their pew, Grant had joined them, nodding and smiling to people all over the congregation. Evan took the time to look around himself. Not far in front of them and on the left side of the congregation sat the dark haired kid he had seen the previous night with the lawn mower. His shaggy dark hair was combed down over his forehead and across his ears. There was another boy beside him, a younger twin, yawning and fidgeting in the pew. Behind them, several pews back, was the dirty blond, his hair parted in the middle and curling down beneath his ears. Evan couldn’t help but think he looked like Luke Skywalker. Evan had always thought Mark Hamill was hot and had almost made a fool of himself at a party in Beverley Hills once when he had met him. Evan would not make that mistake here. Neither boy seemed to have noticed Evan and his grandmother enter.
Evan looked to the front and saw the choir enter the sanctuary and he felt a sudden sense of curiosity. Seated in the front pew on the extreme left, was the strange boy he had seen the previous night sitting in front of the church, the one who had been staring off into space. He seemed to be doing the same thing, his face aimed up at the rose window above the sanctuary. Adam, (was that what the younger boy had called him?), seemed transfixed by the light shining through the stained glass. The boy’s dark hair was not as wild as it had been the night before; it seemed to be combed over to the side, yet it still hung down almost to the collar of his white shirt. The other boy, the one who had called to him, was seated beside him, his darker hair also a bit more organized.
The music suddenly began and the congregation stood. Evan did so, as well, and tried to remember, unsuccessfully, the last time he had been in a church.
It was about half an hour into the service, (yes, his watch was not incorrect; it had been only half an hour), when the minister stood at the pulpit and, looking out at the congregation, declared, “Friends, let us praise the Lord by living as he asks us to. Let us praise the Lord by loving as he asks us to. Let us praise the Lord by accepting our neighbors as he asks us to. Let us live as members of the family of Christ, loving and caring for each other as the Lord asks us to.”
Evan looked around and saw only a few people seeming to nod off. The father sitting next to “Luke Skywalker” seemed to scowl at the pastor’s words. However, his grandmother and the Sinclairs were listening with rapt attention.
“There are some today who seem to think we should turn our backs on those whom we see as sinners, those with whom we disagree, those who don’t fit into our convenient definitions of good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable. I wonder if Jesus would turn his back on those the majority felt were unclean or unpleasant or unacceptable , those who were different.”
Evan liked this man. He did not fit his image of a hell-fire and brimstone preacher warning of eternal damnation. This was someone who made him feel good. It was quite unexpected.
When the service ended with the final hymn and the congregation was filing out, Grant commented from behind Evan and his grandmother, “What an uplifting sermon. I’m glad we hired this pastor. It’s sure nice to feel good when you leave, isn’t it, Dorothy?”
“It certainly is, Grant. I think he’s quite inspirational. What do you think, Evan?”
However, before Evan could reply, “Luke Skywalker’s” family was entering the aisle and the scowler snorted.
“Just another damn liberal wanting to make excuses for everybody. Hell, nobody believes in right and wrong anymore.”
“George,” said Evan’s grandmother as they came to door, “you seem awfully grouchy for an insurance salesman, this morning.”
The shaggy blond behind him, as well as the lady beside him, were obviously embarrassed. The boy, as well as a younger boy who looked very similar to him, both glanced at Evan, who nodded as he had the night before. The older boy’s face seemed flushed, but he nodded back. “George” forced a smile.
“I just think that too often the church gets away from teaching right from wrong. But, I guess that’s the way of the world now. I’m just wondering if there’s not going to be a conservative backlash to all this in another ten or twenty years.”
As they approached the minister at the bottom of the steps, Evan’s grandmother smiled politely and said, “Oh, I don’t it’s so much a matter of liberal or conservative as it is following Christ’s teaching to love one another.”
It was obvious “George” was wanting to respond, but his wife was tugging at the sleeve of his jacket, so he simply smiled insincerely and waited for Dorothy to greet the pastor.
“Dorothy!” the minister said as she approached him. He held his hand out and gave a warm smile. “How are you this morning? I am so glad to see you.”
“I’m doing wonderfully, Pastor Stuart. And, compliments on the sermon. I think it’s a message we all need to hear.”
Evan thought she might have emphasized the last sentence a bit more than he would have, considering the scowling George behind him.
“And, who is this fine looking young man?” the pastor asked looking behind Dorothy at Evan.
“This is my grandson, Evan, whose just moved here from California to live with me. Evan, this Pastor Stuart.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Evan said as he extended his hand. The pastor grasped it warmly and smiled.
“I’m so happy to meet you, Evan. Are you and your grandmother going to the social hall?”
Evan looked at his grandmother, who nodded and said, “Of course. Your wife brews the most wonderful iced tea.”
“Excellent! Excellent. I have someone I’d like you to meet, Evan.”
The pastor moved on to the Sinclairs behind him and Evan’s heart sank as he followed his grandmother around the church toward a more modern looking annex behind it. No, no, he thought.
“You know,” his grandmother said, “Pastor Stuart has two boys, one of whom is also fourteen. I think he might be wanting you to meet him. You know, they just moved to Foxwood, as well, and I think Adam may be having some trouble making friends. I think it might be nice if you could pal around with him. He could help you get to know the town and you could…”
“Nana, the guy’s… well, I don’t know… retarded, I think.”
They were approaching the door to the social hall and as Evan held the door for his grandmother, she looked at him reproachfully.
“Evan, what would make you say such a thing? You haven’t even met him.”
“I saw him last night when I was walking,” he replied following her in. “He was sitting in the grass in front of the church just looking off into space. He had this kind of dead look on his face.”
However, before his grandmother could say anything else, several ladies approached them and, after Evan was introduced, his grandmother sent him to get bring them two glasses of iced tea. As he was waiting in line, he looked around and saw the dark-haired boy and his younger brother in the corner talking with some other teenagers. They were looking at him and all seemed to be grinning in a disagreeable way. He turned away and saw Adam, the pastor’s son, standing near the wall, motionless, gazing out the window at the linden tree outside. He didn’t seem rapt or a fascinated by it. His was simply staring, motionless, at the tree. Evan snorted. Adam was wearing a short-sleeve shirt with a tie. Didn’t anyone in this town know you never wore a tie with a short-sleeved shirt? Evan shook his head as he moved forward and requested the iced tea.
As he was walking back to his grandmother, however, he was waylaid by the Pastor.
“Evan! So good to see you again.”
Evan’s reluctance was tempered by the good feeling he had when the minister looked at him. He had such a warm and genuine smile. The man was probably in his late thirties, possibly forty, with dark hair and striking blue eyes, He certainly didn’t fit the stereotype Evan had.
“Hi, um Reverend, um Pastor.”
The minister grinned and took one of the glasses from Evan. He took a couple of steps and handed it to Evan’s grandmother with a smile before returning to the boy.
“Dylan!” he called. The younger boy with the darker hair came over from a group of boys with whom he had been chatting. “Son, could you bring Adam over here?”
Dylan seemed less than enthused to have his conversation interrupted, but he nodded and walked over to the teenager staring through the window. The minister was uttering some inane comments about how difficult he knew it must be to move from California to the Midwest and Evan was politely nodding at appropriate pauses in the conversation as he watched Dylan attempting to get Adam’s attention. Adam seemed not to be aware that his little brother was speaking to him until Dylan waived his hand before Adam’s face. Only then did the older boy turn with an innocent and curious face, toward Dylan. Meekly, he followed his brother over, his face emotionless, as he walked in a strange, almost loping, gate.
“Ah, Adam. I want you to meet someone. This is Evan. He’s Mrs. Vanderlyn’s grandson and he’s just moved here from Los Angeles and he doesn’t know anyone here in Foxwood.”
“Hi,” said Adam looking intently into Evan’s eyes. “My name is Adam and we moved here a month ago and I don’t know anyone either and I don’t have any friends here.”
Evan felt distinctly uncomfortable with the way Adam was gazing so intently into his eyes. It was as if he were examining him. In fact, Adam leaned closer as he stood there, never breaking eye contact.
“Um, hi. It’s, uh, nice to meet you, Adam.”
“Do you want to be my friend? I have a telescope. It’s a reflecting telescope with 400 power. I can see the Giant Red Spot on Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. I play the piano, too. Do you like Bach? I do. My favorite is the Third Brandenburg Concerto. I can play chess, too. Do you…”
Dylan interrupted his brother, as if he were accustomed to doing so.
Adam looked at Dylan and nodded.
“Oh. OK. I was talking to much. I do that. You see, I have autism, though I am what they call a High Functioning Autistic. That means I have trouble sometimes communicating with others and sometimes I have trouble understanding what people are saying. Actually, I can understand what they are saying, but they tell me that sometimes people don’t say what they mean. They say something that means something different from what they say and…”
“Adam,” said Dylan indulgently, “you’re doing it again.”
Adam averted his eyes and looked downward.
“It’s OK. Evan doesn’t mind, do you Evan?” Dylan said, looking at Evan with warning significance.
“Um, no. No. Not at all. It’s cool.”
Pastor Stuart had been watching the interplay intently, Evan knew, apparently to determine if Evan would be a good friend for Adam. Evan was desperately trying to think of some way to extricate himself from the conversation without being rude. However, before he could think of anything, Pastor smiled and placed a hand on Evan’s shoulder.
“Evan, your grandmother tells me you’re quite the tennis player. Is that so?”
Evan sighed and nodded.
“Yeah, I’m OK.”
“That’s cool,” said Adam in his even, matter-of-fact monotone. “If we’re going to be friends, you can teach me to play tennis and I can teach you to play the piano.”
Evan noticed that Adam, however, was still looking downward. The fingers on his right hand were moving back and forth in what seemed an intricate process and he had started to rock back and forth on his feet. Dylan noticed and put an arm around his brother’s waist, hugging him. Almost immediately, Adam stopped rocking.
“Well, yeah, I guess, I could show you how to play,” Evan replied.
“Good,” said Adam as Evan’s grandmother joined the group. “You can come over tomorrow. Mom will fix lunch and we will have a picnic in the back. And, then, I’ll show you how to play the piano and then I’ll show you how to play chess and then I’ll show you my telescope and then you can show me how to play tennis.”
Evan’s eyes grew a little larger than normal as he desperately tried to think of what he might be busy with Monday. His grandmother, however, ruined everything by enthusiastically declaring, “I think that would be marvelous, don’t you, Evan?”
“Um, sure,” he replied, his heart sinking.
“Adam,” said his father, “don’t you think that might be a bit much for the first day? Maybe you should save some of that for later. You don’t want to run out of things to do, do you?”
Adam shook his head, still looking downward, his unruly dark hair falling across his face.
“OK. I’ll show you how to play the piano first. Well, I have to go play the piano now. I’ll see you tomorrow. I’m glad we’re going to be friends. I’ve never had a friend before. It’ll be cool. Good-by.”
And, with that, he turned and loped away, his the fingers of his right hand furiously tapping out their patterns against the palm of his hand.
“Sometimes,” Pastor Stuart explained, “Adam likes to play the piano when he’s a bit nervous or uncomfortable. It helps calm his nerves.”
Dylan looked at Evan in the eyes and with a deadly serious voice, declared, “Don’t hurt his feelings. Adam’s the nicest guy in the world. He’s special.”
He turned and walked away from the shocked gathering.
“Dylan!” his father called with surprise, but the boy walked on and out the door of the social hall.
“I apologize about that,” Pastor said with an embarrassed smile. “Dylan’s very protective of his big brother.”
“That’s quite admirable,” Evan’s grandmother replied. “And, understandable. Adam seems like a very multi-talented boy.”
Pastor smiled. “Quite often, the Lord makes up for what some of us feel might be deficiencies. Adam has a sweet and loving heart, though he has different ways of showing it. And, he is quite gifted in many ways. Quite gifted. We like to think his autism is actually a blessing from God.”
Evan didn’t know what to say, but, fortunately, his grandmother did.
“I’m sure it is. Well, Evan will be happy to be here in the morning, won’t you, Evan?”
Politely, if not with a touch of his raging uncertainty showing, Evan replied, “Sure. I’ll be here.”
And, as they and the Sinclairs climbed into the Vanderlyn Land Yacht for the drive to the Country Club, Evan looked out the window.
Great, he thought. I get to move to a Podunk town in the Midwest and become babysitter to a retardo. Yet another brick in the wall. Man, before this summer was over, his wall was going to be insurmountable.
Yet, Evan remembered the way Adam looked into his eyes, that penetrating, deep, almost searching gaze, and felt that something had happened between the two, something had passed between the two. Was it possible that Adam might actually turn out to be interesting? Or something else? He was certainly pretty, now that Evan thought about it. He felt a stirring in his slacks as he remembered Adam’s strange, meaningful eyes, so different from the blank, emotionless face. He thought of the long, thin, almost delicate eyebrows, the high cheekbones, the voice that seemed to just now be breaking, jumping from one octave to another without warning.
Well, he thought with a cold and self-centered feeling, maybe he should see what possibilities might open up here. It never occurred to him, however, that it might not be he who was in control of the situation.