My Favorite Season

For recent high school graduate Eric Sterling, the summer of 1980 will be his last. He wants to spend that summer alone, but new neighbor Jayson won't let that happen.
Jayson has also just graduated, and is seeking his own final summer adventure before college and "adulthood" change him forever--a change he fears more than he lets on.
For reasons he doesn't fully understand, Eric is reluctant to tell the truth about his leukemia to his brilliant, capricious friend. Will Jayson pity him? Avoid him?
However, Jayson finds out anyway... and their real summer adventure begins...

[Thirty Chapters]


5. Chapter Five

             "And I think it's going to be a long, long time..."

                                       "Rocket Man," Elton John


     It was a dream, of course, but again we were in the high school lobby, at the trophy case, and the huge model rotated silently, slowly. As Jayson and I watched, the colors faded, the model moved faster. Segments, blackened, shriveled, fell away. A klaxxon sounded. INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT! Jayson turned to me, horrified, betrayed.  The rotted, spiral skeleton flickered, twisted even more. IMMATURE CELL REPLICATION—-ILLEGAL GROWTH ILLEGAL GROWTH ILLEGAL ILLEGALILLILLILLILL

               *                       *

     It was perhaps the only reason I would go somewhere without Jayson, and I'm sure my mother knew that. She was not an impatient woman, just, like so many parents behind her, trying to do the right thing.

     Where was Jayson that day? Mr. and Mrs. Sterling had gone with him to an auction. I declined their invitation to go along. There was something I had to do.

     The Murdocks invited me over for a cookout that afternoon, but my morning was free, which was good. There was something I had to do.

                                                *                  *                   *

 I got my first look at Davidson College less than five hours before I was to wake up in the hospital.

      The campus had been built in the early nineteenth century, when people still associated higher learning with the Greeks: columns grew like trees. Sidewalks and gravel paths cut smooth geometrics across the lawns. I could see Jayson, the eager undergraduate, bouncing around like any other autumn leaf; and, years later, with a pipe and elbow patches, serving Aristotle like trout and warm beans.

      It hurt to be there. Of course, even if I had lived long enough, I would never have been accepted by such a school. But it reminded me that I would never be a college student. Luckily I reached Dr. Mahan's office before I could be reminded of all the other things that I would never be.

     Professor Arthur Mahan, greying, in his forties, did not have elbow patches, but he did smoke a pipe. He was taller than me, and broader, and Jayson's opposite: a man of slow, deliberate movements and thoughts. He welcomed me into his office, which was even more crowded than Jayson's room. He was excited to learn that I was a friend of his protegè's.

     "Good heavens! It's about time!" But what a dangerous occupation you've chosen!"

     I smiled. "So far, so good."

     Mahan sat down, and I took the chair in front of his desk.

     The room was crowded, but neat. All four walls were hidden by shelves, which were hidden by books on every subject: Mahan, Jayson had mentioned, was head of the Humanities Department.

     "I met him eight years ago; a colleague was researching prodigies—he found Jayson in a classroom writing sonatas, for heaven's sake—and gifted children. You see, when we're young, we think and solve problems using simple concepts; we're not afraid of combining unrelated ideas to make new ones. Growing older makes the concepts more complex, so as we age, we 'cheat' by using assumptions and stereotypes. I took it upon myself to make sure that he never lost his empathy with concepts."

     He smiled. "But enough! What can I do for you?"  

     Get this: It was easy to explain the situation to him. I guess because he was a stranger. I've done that before.

     He said, "I remember that a couple of years ago, Jayson had a friend who had become addicted to cocaine. When he discovered it—well, without details, I can assure you, if this is what's bothering you, that he handled it very well, he was a true sympathetic friend. His strength is his understanding, and he showed it then."

     I felt a little relieved, but I wasn't sure that my question had been answered.

     He noticed my expression, and said, "Which extreme are you afraid of? That he'll be frightened off, or that he'll try to spend every minute with you, squeezing life into every moment?"

     That, I thought, was a bit limited. Jayson was capable of extremes that real people hadn't even thought of.

     I frowned. "I don't really know. I guess it's just that I have no idea at all how he's going to react—" and this just occurred to me for the first time "—or if he'll react."

     "Well, there I can't help you, because I don't know how he would react to anything at all, except books and television.

     "True, Jayson has little practical experience, preferring ideas and theories. But a lightning quick mind. You've played games with him?"

     "Yes." I frowned at the memory. In the past week, Jayson and I ran through every board game, strategy game, card game we could think of, and they all rang the same: he would make his moves instantly, as soon as I made mine, then sit impatiently while I pondered. Such a technique should have cost him every game, but guess again.

     "Then you know. To some, it made him look careless, reckless. But he isn't. My point is, Jayson probably already knows your secret."

                                                *                  *                   *

     Walking back to the car, I didn't even notice the campus. Jayson's mentor had asked what extreme I was afraid of. He had unwittingly made his point. I was afraid.

     I suddenly saw telling Jayson as a test of courage, and I knew that if I couldn't pass it, then I would never find the courage that the doctors and nurses and parents had seen, with or without him.

     I felt very calm driving home.

                                                *                  *                   *

     Even as I turned the corner onto Phoenix Avenue, I knew that something was wrong. I could actually feel it; a stillness in the air. Quiet. I knew something was missing. Even before coming to the Murdock house and the empty space in the driveway, I knew that he was gone.

     Even a stranger arriving in town now would know that some vital element was missing. Of course, without Jayson, I was a stranger in town.

     I had wondered how his reaction would compare to the others. I had known that it would be different.

     It was worse. He had left Belltown, and he had taken every fragment, every hint of his existence with him.

                                                *                  *                   *

     My mother was waiting for me in the kitchen. It would be very dramatic to say that she looked old. She looked younger than me, dazed and frightened: the kind of fear that hits you when you realize that you've done something irrevocably wrong.

     I said, "You told him."


     "He's gone."


     That was all. I turned to the stairs.

     This is where my memory gets fuzzy. I can't remember if she called my name.

     I do remember that the stairs seemed to grow in pitch with each step; and of course as I climbed higher there was less air. By the time I reached the landing I could hardly breathe. I barely had the strength to reach my room, close the door behind me, and lock it.

                                                *                  *                   *

     I sat on my bed, and looked at my favorite wall.  There was a needle mounted there, and dozens of pictures, a piece of gray rope from the Flying Dutchman, and the box of condoms we had dared each other to buy. How did this compare, volumetrically, with Jayson's walls? About one ten thousandth of one percent.

     My gaze moved to the window. I stared one last time at Phoenix Avenue, the main street of this retirement community, and wondered what it was like to have lived a lifetime, and not be of any use to anyone anymore.

                                                *                  *                   *

     The recommended dosage of Thorazine was 1 tablet; there were eleven in the bottle. Sitting on the bed, I rattled the bottle, and listened to the voices on the other side of the door, the pounding.

     "Eric, let us in!"

     I almost said something corny in reply.

                                                *                  *                   *

     To say that "something happened" is a literary device used when the narrator, limited, doesn't know what actually occurred, but realizes some hidden, unnoticed, or forgotten action took place.

     So, I don't remember actually taking the pills, but I woke up in a hospital room, so something happened.


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