The next morning a lot happened. That's not surprising I guess, given what happened with Scott, me taking off, then my outburst. First off, somehow Mr. Weston, through several very insistent phone calls, managed to get ACFS to agree to schedule an emergency appointment with Dr. Kirk on a Saturday, and also managed to find out Dr. Kirk's cell phone number and convince him to meet with me. I have no idea how he did all that. And despite the fact that I still was kind of wondering why he'd bother, it was beginning to occur to me that not everyone thought I was quite the complete nothing I was convinced I was.
I met with Dr. Kirk late Saturday morning and more or less, for the first time, spilled my guts about what happened. He didn't argue with me or try to convince me I was mistaken, or anything like that. He just listened and then asked me what needed to happen next.
I told him about the street hockey tournament, how I wanted to help raise money for the fire department and the burn unit. He seemed to like that idea.
Then, at Mr. Weston's insistence, I had to talk to Scott. Only he said I had to go over to his place. That it was up to me to make the effort, not him. So, that meant seeing Scott's parents for the first time in five months. I called Scott and asked him if I could come over to talk to him. He said yes.
Two hours later, at two o'clock Saturday afternoon, I was standing on the front doorstep at Scott's house, my finger ringing the doorbell.
The door opened. There stood Scott's dad, a smile on his face. I watched his eyes looking me over, from head to foot. I watched his expression change, taking in my twenty pound thinner frame from only eating when I felt like I had to, my buzzcut haircut, which I'd adopted lately because it was easier than bothering with my hair, my half healed bruises and cuts from the beating, the now permanent black rings under my eyes that the mirror told me was now just a part of who I was, that weird little twitch in the corner of my right eye that never seemed to go away. I could feel it but I didn't think it was visible to anyone else, but at the end of the inspection, Mr. Somners' gaze lingered there.
He tried hard, I have to admit. But he couldn't do it. His smile melted into a sad, concerned look that I expected but didn't deserve. I braced myself. I knew what was coming and was determined to handle it properly this time.
“Oh Randy…” Mr. Somners said. And he hugged me.
I was pretty proud of myself. I only tensed up a little bit. And I didn't shove him away. He released me quickly when he felt me tense up, looking a bit embarrassed, but still very concerned.
He studied me some more. “Randy, you look like shit,” he said.
I almost smiled. I'd missed Mr. Somners' direct approach to life. His way of dealing with problems. He was the one who taught Scott about how to find his calm.
“Umm. Yeah. Is Scott here?”
He looked surprised. Like he expected more. A smile, a sarcastic rejoinder. Once, that's what would've happened. But not now.
“I'll get him. But you listen. I don't like what I'm seeing. You're going to be spending more time over here. A lot more. We'll go from there. Am I clear?” He was sort of smiling, but I knew he was completely serious.
I couldn't just say no, but I didn't want to agree, and I didn't want to lie. So I struggled with how to answer him. I eventually just looked at the floor and nodded.
Mr. Somners seemed ready to say something else, but apparently he changed his mind. Instead, he just quietly said, “Scotty's in his room.”
I walked through the living room, ignoring Melissa's and Scott's mom's curious looks towards me, and headed down the hallway. A moment later I was knocking on Scott's bedroom door. He said, “Come in,” before I had managed to get the third knock finished. I began opening the door, then hesitated, trying to figure out how I was going to do this. But one can only open a bedroom door so slowly so I was looking at Scott, laying on his bed with his knees up propping up a book he was reading.
He just looked at me.
I walked in and softly closed the door behind me. I blinked several times, opened my mouth to say something, found my mouth was dry, and had to swallow hard several times.
Scott just waited.
“Scott, I'm sorry!” I said. “I know I'm an asshole but I didn't mean…”
“Stop it!!” Scott yelled. He looked angry.
I stopped. What the fuck had I done now? I just can't get anything right. I looked at him, a hairsbreadth away from running away again.
“Don't you dare stand in my room and do that. Nobody does that. Not ever.”
I was confused. I know I looked it. “Uhh…”
Scott just waited.
“Does what?” I finally managed to ask.
“Insults my best friend,” Scott said.
I couldn't remember insulting anyone. I wasn't even sure who Scott's best friend was these days now that I…...
My last words played back through my muddled head.
I closed my eyes and breathed deep. I was determined to do this right. Scott deserved that. I started again, “I'm sorry for pushing you when you hugged me. I shouldn't have done that. It was wrong. I'm sorry for running off. Again. I know I'm….” I had to stop before I insulted Scott's best friend again.
Scott just looked at me for a moment before answering, “I'm the one who should be apologizing. You told me what you're going through. I know how you're seeing this. Then I hugged you when you weren't expecting it. No wonder you did that.”
I didn't know what to say now. I was done apologizing. I needed to figure out a way to get out of here gracefully and let Scott get on with his day.
Scott seemed to have other ideas though.
“So, about that street hockey tournament…”
“No, it's okay,” I interrupted, “don't worry about it. I know you wouldn't want to…”
Scott was looking frustrated again, a bit angry. “Quit interrupting,” he interrupted. “You never used to do that.” He stopped suddenly, I think he was a bit worried about how I'd react to that, but I just waited. “Look, before when you brought that up I wasn't going to say no. But you jumped all over me before I could tell you what I was going to say.” Scott put his bookmark in his book and set it on his nightstand, then sat up, his feet on the floor. “I was going to say, it's a three-on-three tournament. There's only two of us. Who's going to be the third?”
I was surprised. For some strange reason, it hadn't occurred to me to figure that out. “Uh, well…” I racked my brain. I had no idea. It would feel weird to ask anyone I used to know, after ignoring them for five months. “Well, maybe Steven?”
I could tell Scott knew what I was thinking, but he just pointed at his copy of the sign up sheet from the school assembly. He must have rescued it from his backpack before I got here. “No, look. Did you read the rules?”
I shook my head feeling a bit foolish. I hadn't.
“We'd have to play in the twelve to fourteen year old division. We're both fourteen. That means one of our players has to be no older than twelve to keep things fair.”
Scott didn't have any younger siblings except for Melissa, and she couldn't play. I carefully avoided thinking about my own situation.
Scott asked, “Do you know anyone that fits the bill?”
I was dejected. “No. I guess I should have read that thing first. I…” A sudden image of Brenton, the kid in the alley with the lighter, went through my mind. I don't know why. I didn't even know if he played hockey. “Well, maybe I do actually,” I found myself saying. Somehow I felt far more confident about this than I had any right to.
On Monday morning before school I caught the earlier bus. Figuring Brenton probably wasn't too far out of his usual route when I first saw him, I waited by the intersection, looking carefully at everyone wearing his school uniform heading towards his school.
Finally I saw him walking with two friends. I think they were two of the same kids I saw in the alley with Brenton that day. I yelled Brenton's name and ran towards him. As soon as they saw me, his friends scattered. Brenton stood still and looked at me oddly.
Brenton glanced back at his fleeing friends then back at me, “They think you still want to beat the daylights out of them.”
I looked up towards them, now a block away, feeling guilty. “Yeah, uh, sorry about that.”
“I told them you were okay. I even told them what you said about almost starting a fire. I know they felt bad. But you still scare them.”
I shrugged, then changed the subject, “You're twelve, right?”
He nodded and said, “Thirteen next month, but still twelve, yeah.”
I continued, “Do you play any hockey? Even just street hockey?”
Brenton looked at me quizzically, “Yeah, every now and then. Why?”
I handed him the entry form, “Because we need a third player. I thought of you.”
He looked at me suspiciously, then began reading the form. I saw him reading the part about where the money was going and he looked at me, his head tilted sideways, then back at the form.
He finished reading it, then looked at me. “Okay, but only on one condition.”
Uh oh. I didn't like the sound of that. “What is it?” I asked.
“You tell me your story.”
I found myself become frustrated with the little twerp. Why should I tell him anything? Then I remembered why. Because I needed his help. I looked hard at him, thinking.
I remembered what happened the other day, how he reacted, our short conversation, how he stuck around while I was zoned out. I looked at his face, his eyes, looking for any hint of anything I didn't like. I found only a steady gaze looking back at me. Ever so slightly smug, somehow knowing he had me, but seeming to be trying hard to hide that too.
I decided to trust him.
“Okay,” I said, looking steadily back at him.
He seemed a bit surprised. “Okay?”
“Yes, okay. After school,” I pointed, “That park over there, the picnic tables.”
He just nodded. “See you after school, then.” He seemed to be intentionally exaggerating his Newfoundland accent. He walked away without another word.
I was expecting a grinning and smug Brenton sitting on the picnic tables when I walked up to them after school, but that's not what I found. Instead, Brenton sat there looking serious and a bit nervous.
I didn't understand that. I was feeling a bit nervous, and that I could understand, but he looked decidedly uncomfortable.
Brenton noticed me looking at him and smoothed his face into a neutral expression, more or less. I sat down on the bench, at a ninety degree angle from Brenton. If I was going to do this, I couldn't be looking right at him. “So, you want me to tell you about me, right? Can I ask why?” I asked.
Brenton didn't answer right away, he was studying my profile. “Look, you don't have to. I'll play the tournament anyway. But, it's because you're weird. And interesting.”
I began to interrupt, I wanted to say, 'You think I'm weird…' but Brenton just held up a hand when he saw me open my mouth, and for some reason I stopped and waited.
Brenton continued, “Teenagers your age don't do that. Not usually. Tell kids my age to behave, and especially they don't do it like you did. If it's done at all, it's with sarcasm and eye-rolling and rudeness. You didn't do that. You did it with directness and,” he hesitated, “and passion.
“You were limping a bit when you walked around that corner. I saw you. Then you saw us and you came running flat out, limp forgotten. And that look on your face. My friends thought you were crazy. I thought you…well sorry…but I thought you were, I dunno, scared and mad and a bunch of stuff I couldn't figure out, then I thought you were going to cry. Then you did cry.”
I just looked at Brenton, trying not to squirm under his serious gaze.
“But you still didn't hit me or do anything like that, almost, but you didn't hit me, just swore a bunch.” Brenton grinned when he saw me blush in reaction to this, but he didn't stop talking, “You even told me to help you stomp out the fire. And then you did that weird zoning out thing. I was almost ready to go find someone to help when you finally opened your eyes again.
But even though you did all that, even though you were acting all weird, what you said, everything else, well it made sense. So I knew you weren't crazy. I knew something must have happened to you, I know what it's like to have something happen to you that changes things, that changes how you see things, so I got curious. You were so caught up in all that you forgot to even tell me you name. Even after I told you mine.” He stared at me with questioning eyes.
I blushed again, and then even harder at his grin and my realization that he was right. “I'm Randy,” I said.
The twinkle in his eyes told me his response before his grinning mouth even opened, and out it came, not the first time I've heard something like it. “No, I wasn't asking about that! Of course you're randy, me too, I want to know your name.”
I was almost surprised at that, but not quite. I just smiled and shook my head at him. He grinned back even wider. I almost felt like he was trying to flirt with me, but that couldn't be right.
“So get on with it,” he said.
I blinked, momentarily losing the thread, “Get on with what?”
Brenton rolled his eyes, “Your story.”
Oh. Right. Now I was nervous again, remembering why I was here.
I stood up and walked around the picnic table, trying to figure out where to start, how I was going to tell him this, even if I still wanted to. Besides, he was just a kid, even if he sometimes didn't quite talk like most kids his age, so how much should I say? I bent down and picked an early spring dandelion from the half-brown, half-green grass, and then stood up before blowing the fluff away, watching the wind carry the seeds drifting.
Brenton just looked and waited.
I sat down again, and began.
I'd done this three times now. Told the story. Once to Scott, once to Mr. Weston, and once to Dr. Kirk. Each time I began the same way, but, for some reason, not this time. This time, instead of beginning with me killing my family, I did something else. “Have you ever had all that you knew was completely solid, completely permanent, completely unchanging, suddenly change? Suddenly go away utterly, without any warning at all? Something so…basic…to your life that you know it's impossible for it to happen…but it did anyway?”
I was expecting a quizzical look, or maybe a head shake, or maybe no reaction at all when I glanced at Brenton. Instead, shockingly, he nodded. Emphatically. And I could've sworn that if I didn't continue at that moment he would start crying.
I felt bad. I didn't mean to remind him of something painful, it was a stupid question and I didn't think. But I was used to that, so I just looked away and continued, “My house burned down. My family was in it. They died. I wasn't home.”
Brenton looked sad, “Oh my god, I'm sorry. That's why you hate fire…”
I interrupted, “It was my fault.”
Brenton stopped, and looked at me, just blinking. “How do you know?” he asked.
I looked at the ground, my shame making my face unbearably hot, “I was mad at my brother, 'cause he didn't let me borrow a game, so I turned on an electric heater, aimed at his plasticine models. They were only about four feet away.”
Brenton didn't answer for, like, twenty seconds. “Okay, but how do you know?”
I looked at him, eyes narrowed. Now he was acting like just a little kid. “I just told you.”
“No you didn't. You told me what you did before you left. I didn't ask that. I asked you how you know. For sure. That that's what did it.”
I just shook my head and rolled my eyes, “That's a stupid question…”
For the first time since I met him, Brenton looked a bit angry. He stood up and jumped off the picnic table and turned directly towards me, hands clenched into fists, “You didn't do that before. Talk to me like a teenager talks to a younger kid. Now you are. I liked it better the other way, so stop it. And you're still avoiding the question. I asked how do you know! Houses burn down for all kinds of reasons. Wiring faults, furnaces, fireplaces, cigarettes in couches, all kinds of reasons. Okay, you did something really stupid, like every kid ever since the beginning of time, but how do you know for sure that's what did it?!”
“'Cause it's obvious.” I refrained from shaking my head and rolling my eyes this time.
He actually stamped his foot on the ground. “No, it's not! Those things have safety switches, they turn off if they fall over or get too hot. It was four feet away from the models, not touching! You said! And somebody could have turned it off before. And it could've been a hundred other things. Did you even ask for the report? Do you even know where they said the fire started? How do you know it's your fault?!”
I had no idea why he was getting so upset. I was regretting ever coming here now. He was almost hysterical, and really was crying now, wiping tears away furiously, face red.
“Why are you, like, freaking out?” I asked.
“Because I know what it's like to blame yourself for something you can't control! It fucking tears you to pieces!”
That was the first time I remember him swearing.
I just stared at him, as he desperately tried to control his emotions. I should teach him how to reach for his calm. How to pull it over yourself like a blanket.
“Oh,” I said.
Brenton calmed down, after pacing away almost all the way to the hockey rink and back. He stopped a few meters away from me. “Sorry. I shouldn't have done that. I'll play in the tournament. I looked it up online today during school, so I know all about it. Here's my phone number.” He handed me a piece of paper with his number scrawled on it. “We should practice, and I need to meet whoever else is on the team. Call me.”
With that, he simply turned and walked away without another word.
I found myself thinking over what Brenton had said while the bus took me home. I never had talked with anyone about the fire. I knew they did forensics on it, that's what was going on when I walked up to it that day. But I never asked. And no one ever told me. Not that I would have let them. I hadn't let anyone talk to me for months. About anything.
I should ask. I know I should.
But I was scared to death of the answer.
“Mr. Weston,” I said three hours later as I knocked on the frame of his office door.
Mr. Weston turned off his computer monitor and turned to look at me. “Yes, Randy?”
He was giving me his full attention. Waiting. Somehow that made me squirm, so I fumbled a bit, “Umm, uhh, well, uhh…”
He obviously noticed. “Come on in and sit down. Whatever it is, it seems it's one of those annoying things that takes its own sweet time to get out. So relax and we'll wait for it.”
I found I wasn't quite ready to get to the heart of the matter, so I asked another question instead. “Why was my cell phone still being paid for?” I did come in and sit down, though.
It looked like I reminded him of something, and he glanced down at a closed desk drawer before looking at me again, “Because I, well, ACFS through me, paid for it. Because I thought it was a good idea.”
Mr. Weston waited patiently. He knew that wasn't it.
“Well, uh, how do you know Scott?” I asked, still avoiding the reason I was actually here.
“Because I asked your teachers who your friends were.”
I was a bit surprised he went to the trouble, and I must have looked it. That seemed to make him slightly amused.
“So you talked to my teachers?”
“All year. Since you got here. Do you know how much they are worried about you? Especially your Social Studies teacher.”
I frowned, “Mr. Pratt?” I was surprised. He used to be my favorite teacher, but he was always so casual, like he didn't have a care in the world, and he certainly wasn't at all nosy about us kids.
“Yes, I believe that's his name.”
Mr. Weston's calm patience changed to puzzlement, though I think he tried to hide it. “Why what? Why do your teachers care? Why did I check with your teachers how you were doing when I am responsible for you?”
I realized only then that it was a bit of a foolish question, so I tried to hide it by asking something else, “No, why did you let me come here?”
Mr. Weston pursed his lips slightly. “You don't remember the first time you saw me, do you?”
I searched my memory, surprised. “No.”
“I'll give you a hint. I loudly told you, 'don't touch that button!' You grinned at me and touched it anyway.”
I smiled, remembering. “That was you?!” My grade five field trip to the fire hall. I had climbed into the fire engine. The button was for the sirens. They were awfully loud in that enclosed space. I got teased about it for the rest of the year.
“That was me.”
“Yeah, but it was a set-up!” I found myself grinning. I couldn't remember the last time I grinned. “There was a post-it note above it, with an arrow pointing at it that said, 'Press me' Then you took the note away! And winked at me while pointing at it!”
Mr. Weston grinned. “Guilty as charged.”
“So you were a fireman.” Things were beginning to make sense.
“Yes. Do you remember the second time you saw me?”
I frowned, looking hard at him. Then I remembered. “You were there!”
“Yes. I was one of the people you saw when you came home that morning. The look on your face…well…I will never forget that as long as I live. I didn't have any foster kids placed here at that time. I was in the process of retiring from the fire department and was going to take a break from fostering, too. But, when they phoned and told me your name, well, I knew I had to say yes.”
Now what I was actually here to ask became even harder. Because I knew that he'd probably know the answer right away. Without even having to look at any report.
“So, uh, why did my…I mean…Did they ever find out the cause of the fire?” My voice rose to a squeak at the end, like it did all the time last year when it was changing. I was sweating and my heart was pounding.
“I've been waiting five months for you to ask me that, Randy. I would have brought it up myself, but Dr. Kirk suggested I wait. I think I now know why, what he was waiting for. After what happened here a few days ago and I found out what was going through your head, even more. I knew I had to wait for you to ask.”
I noticed he hadn't actually answered yet. “So, I'm asking. Tell me. I need to know.”
Mr. Weston looked grave. I don't think he wanted to answer. “Randall, I'm sorry, we don't have enough information to be certain. There was a lot of damage. But we do know, well, we know that the fire started in the family room. Probably very near that shelf where all your brother's plasticine models were found. I don't recall there being a heater there, but that room had a lot of things moved about thanks to the department's earlier attempts to put out the fire. It started somewhere on or near those shelves, where the figurines were, beside the TV and stereo. I'm sorry.”
Mr. Weston, I think, was expecting another outburst from me. He didn't get one, instead I looked completely confused.
“What?” asked Mr. Weston.
“But, that doesn't make any sense!”
“Why not?” asked Mr. Weston. “Look, we just don't know for sure, and that's the truth. But what I told you is accurate.”
I must be losing my mind, remembering wrong. I must be completely crazy after everything that happened. I must be. “But, he had models in his room, too.”
“Yes, we found those.”
“Randall, I'm sorry, but you're not making any sense. Maybe it was too soon still to talk about this.”
“Jake, no!” I said, not realizing at the time that for the first time I had called him by his first name as he had been insisting since I got there. “You don't understand. He had models all over the house. In the family room, in the kitchen, above the fireplace, and lots in his room. Most of them, actually.”
Mr. Weston, I think, was realizing where I was going. He raised his eyebrows and asked, “And?”
“Well, I think…maybe…” I stopped and squeezed my eyes shut, not really trusting myself. But then I remembered something else, and suddenly I was certain. “No. I'm sure of it. I set the heater up in his room. Not in the family room. In his room. On his desk. Across from the shelves. I remember because I had to clean all the papers off his desk first and pile them on his bed, and pull open his drapes all the way. I didn't want them to catch fire.” My voice caught at the last word before I continued, “I remember seeing his mark on his book report, a 76%, and thinking how mad he must have been. I remember. I'm sure of it.”
Jake was staring at me intensely, he leaned a bit forward, “Then, Randy, the fire wasn't your fault. It couldn't have been.”
“The fire started in the family room. That, we are sure of. We just don't know how.”
I sat there staring at him. My head spinning madly. I felt like fainting.
“Was there anything else on those shelves? Like candles or another heater, or anything? Anything unusual?”
“No. They were empty between the TV components and his models. I know, because we always had to reach around and wiggle the cords to get the TV and stuff to come on. It was annoying. We would have knocked stuff over if it was on the shelf there.”
Jake was just looking at me. “Wiggled the cords?”
“Yeah, sometimes they seemed not to work, then all the sudden….” I stopped.
Jake was looking at me, then glanced over at a pile of envelopes on his desk. His eyes rested on the top one. I followed his gaze. The envelope had the logo of a well known electronics company on it, one that happened to match my family's former home theatre equipment. It also had printed on it the words, 'Recall Notice.'
“Randy, your family's mail, that which is still relevant, has been forwarded here for you for some time now. Most of it had stopped quite a while back, but a few things still trickle in. I've been saving it for you, for when you're in a position to deal with it. This came last week.”
I just stared at the envelope, not daring to pick it up.
“I think, perhaps, it's time we contacted a lawyer.” Jake said.
I just sat there, my entire world spinning crazily. I couldn't think, at all. I tried, and failed to reach for my calm. Then twice more. It wasn't working. I felt like I was going to lose it completely. I knew what I needed, but I wasn't sure it was available to me anymore.
But, I had little to lose. “Mr. Weston,” I managed. I think he knew how tenuous my control was at the moment, “Can you, uh, drive me over to Scott's? Like, I know it's getting late, but, now?”
Mr. Weston looked at me, then handed me his phone. “Phone him first. Tell him we're on the way.”
We arrived at Scott's barely fifteen minutes later. Jake had hardly pulled over before I was unlatching my seat belt and opening the door. I half ran up the lawn, then rang the doorbell.
Scott's dad answered the door, a smile on his face. “Good to see you again so soon, Randy! I hear you and Scott are going to be playing…”
I was vibrating. “Is Scott here?” I rudely interrupted.
At Mr. Somners' bemused look I realized it. “Sorry, that was horribly rude. I just, I need…” I saw Scott behind his dad, looking at me curiously.
“Hey, Randy. Did you talk to that kid about the hockey team? Brenton I think you said his name was? We need to find sponsors, and we should really practice…”
But I wasn't listening. I just strode in and right up to Scott and took him in my arms, hugged him fiercely, and began crying.
I could hear Scott trying to ask me what was going on, could feel his arms, thankfully, hugging me back. First tentatively, then firmly. I could feel the eyes of everyone else on us, now including Scott's mom and Jake, who had made it inside the front door.
But I couldn't answer. I couldn't get any words out. I could just cry.
I could just barely hear Jake talking to Scott's parents. “Sorry. I'm Jake Weston, Randy's foster dad. We talked on the phone, and I'm sure Scott has told you about me? Anyway, Randy's had a bit of a shock. He needed someone familiar and, uh, close, I think. Let's just give them a bit of time.”
“Well, in that case, let's go into the kitchen. I think we have a lot to talk about,” I heard Mr. Somners say. The three of them left the room.
I was still hugging Scott, sobbing almost uncontrollably. We were still standing in Scott's front entrance. Scott, to his credit, wasn't asking questions or anything, just hugging back, as fiercely as I was, and making, 'It's okay, it's going to be okay' noises.
Finally I regained some control. As soon as I did, I realized how foolish I must have looked to everyone. And poor Scott! I must have been embarrassing him horribly. I made one last sniff and moved my head back so I could see his face. I didn't let go though.
“Sorry,” I managed.
He wasn't embarrassed. He was smiling at me. “Do you know that's the first time you've come near me in five months? Don't you dare apologize.”
“I know, but, sorry…” I looked around, “Where's your sister?”
“She's over at Allison's so don't worry. And I told you not to apologize,” Scott chuckled, “C'mon, the adults are talking about us behind our backs. Let's go to my room and do the same about them.”
“No, they're not gossiping! They're talking because, well, I think they care about us…”
“I know that, doofus!” Scott caught himself up short, then looked at me. “Do you know that's the first time I've called you a name, the first time I felt like I could, in five months? What's happened?”
I smiled at Scott, but then realized something, for the first time, and it made me become serious. “Scott, I miss them so very, very much.” I almost started crying again. I would have, but I was completely out of tears.
Apparently Scott wasn't.
He just said, “I know. About time you said it.”
“How do you know? I only just realized it.”
Scott just shook his head. “Don't be dumb. You just hid it behind guilt and blame.” His expression changed. “Is that it? Did you figure out something?”
“C'mon, let's go to your room, like you said, I'll tell you there.”
We went into Scott's room and he plopped down on his bed, like he always did. He then threw two pillows in my direction, towards the foot of the bed, like he always used to do. So, I plopped down beside him, but with my head at the foot of his bed, and I used the pillows to prop up my head, so we could see each other, just like I used to always do.
Our legs were touching. Like they always used to do.
And I found myself reacting. Like I hadn't in five months. Or, at least, every time I had started to feel myself react, I'd wring the neck of the feeling and bury it, real deep. I didn't allow myself to feel that. Absolutely no way.
Now, there it was. I didn't feel like forcing it away this time. I think the feeling figured that out and got brave, and turned itself up an order of magnitude.
Well shit. That's not why I was here. I tried to ignore it.
Scott noticed though. Oh, boy did he notice.
His eyes were right there, wide open. He grinned. I saw his own reaction. It was hard not to.
I blushed. Scott raised his eyebrows.
“Sorry Scott, it's just, I haven't, uh, well, it's been a long time since I let myself…uh…” I had no idea how to explain.
“What do you mean 'let yourself?'”
“Well, 'cause I didn't deserve to feel nice. I wasn't letting myself feel, uh, that way. Every time I'd get, uh, you know, I'd get mad and force myself to not feel that way.”
Scott looked bewildered. “Uh, is that even possible?”
“I guess. I did it.”
“So…you didn't…like…” He made the universal jacking off motion.
I just shook my head.
“For five months?!” Scott looked utterly aghast.
I couldn't help laughing. “Nope. Not ever. Since it happened.”
“That can't be healthy. It just can't.” Scott was staring at me.
Scott continued, “But you're letting yourself feel like that now?”
“Well, sorta. I mean, yes, but I need to ignore it. Not force it away, ignore it. We have to talk. And not about that.”
Scott shook his head. “Okay, but we, you and me, need to talk about that too. I'm not going to let you ignore it for long. Not anymore.”
I just grinned at him. “Okay.”
Scott looked at me, his eyes narrowed. “Something happened. You're smiling, talking, agreeing. What happened? Why did you come over?”
“Scott, I think maybe, uh possibly, it wasn't my fault.”
“Well no shit Sherlock. I was sure of it. Even if you did what you said, plasticine isn't flammable like that, only at real high temperatures. I Googled it. And the base, well, your dad made your brother paint it with that spray paint, right? We helped him. I think that stuff is fire retardant.”
“No,” I answered, “it turns out the fire didn't even start there. It started in a different room. I think maybe the TV shorted or something.”
Scott stared at me. “You and Jake talked.” It wasn't a question.
“And you figured it out.”
“In one conversation.”
“And you've been blaming yourself, making yourself feel like the world's most horrible monster for five months.”
“You're an idiot.”
Scott propped himself on his elbows, and pretended to kick my shin with his socked foot. Well, he did kick my shin. Just really lightly. “You're lucky I love you, or I'd have to really beat you up.”
I was sure I didn't hear him right. I sat up, all the way. “What?” I don't think it came out very softly.
Scott looked a bit scared. But he didn't say anything. Just kept steady eye contact with me.
My head was swimming. Again. I just spent the better part of half a year trying to ensure that nobody had to feel burdened by me. I was sure everyone must revile me. To hear Scott say that, well, like I said, my head was spinning.
“Are you just going to stare at me like you're going to faint?” Scott asked. He was still looking a bit unsure of himself, but a bit amused at my reaction, too.
“You love me?”
“Yup. I said it. I mean it. Why, you don't feel the same?” He seemed to be steeling himself for my answer.
“Scott, we met when we were eight.”
“I remember. You pushed me off the top of the jungle gym, 'cause we were playing 'King of the Jungle.' I fell down into the sand.” Scott replied.
“Then what did you do?”
“I jumped up and laughed at you, and beat my chest with my fists while making a stupid Tarzan sound, and climbed right back up, then I pushed you off. Why?”
“That's when I fell in love with you, Scott.”
Scott just looked at me and grinned his best grin.
“Let's go eavesdrop on the adults,” I said.