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]

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9. Chapter Nine

                     So here we are again,

                     You, me, the night, and

                     The long list of things that could happen...

                     Oh! and pirate-tales.

 

                                        Unorchestrated Songs

 

     The breeze turned chilly, so we moved inside, to the living room.

     This room had apparently been redecorated many times in its century. The walls, wormy chestnut, were not friends with the cherry end-pieces. But the two hurricane lamps belonged on the mantle, and the granny rocker was here to stay. Jayson and Roxanne were still sinking into the sofa when I entered. Philip had the rocker and the guitar. There was an easy chair to match the sofa, but I sat on the floor in front of the fireplace.

     I was still nervous about being around everyone. Embarrassed, really. Suicide is one of those things you ought to succeed at, or end up with egg on your face.

     I smiled at that, and Jayson said, "Share the joke, Eric?"

     I looked up. Jayson and I—all of us, really—had tacitly agreed not to discuss that. "You had to be there, Jayson."

     "I hear that a lot."

     I regretted it immediately. The expression that flashed across his face didn't survive, but it was clear. He had been left out.

     But something else about that exchange bothered me, on some deeper, inexplicable level. I tried to trace it, but someone spoke, breaking my concentration.

     Philip was rocking, and tapping the chair arm. He said, "I wonder if it was like this a hundred years ago."

     Jayson said, "For which of us?"

     "Ha, ha. No. I mean being able to sit back and relax, with light from fire instead of bulbs."

     "Actually, the electric light was invented a hundred years ago, and the first power plant came a few years later, both by—"

     "Jayson?"

     He looked at Philip. "I'm doing it again, right?"

     Philip nodded.

     Roxanne said. "Are you comfortable, Eric?"

     "Yes, thanks."

     Philip grinned. "Are you, Jayson?"

     Jayson and Roxanne were sitting closer to the sofa's arms than to each other.

     "Fine, Phil, thanks."

     Roxanne ignored Philip. "I mean, Eric, you look more...relaxed than when we first met."

     My clothes were now more of a match for Jayson—they were, in fact, his. His T-shirts—mine was a Mr. Spock—hung on me, but at size 32, his jeans were out of the question, although we had found a few in his attic that would do until we hit the stores.

     She stood up. "I'm going to call home."

     Philip grinned. "Ah; and have Mom call off the S.W.A.T. team, eh?"

     "What do you mean?"

     "Oh come on, Roxanne. One girl alone with three unbelievably good-looking guys...?"

     She smiled. "Philip, one swing with this knee could change that ratio real quick."

     He blinked. "Tell her I said 'hello'."

     When she disappeared down the hall, Philip jumped up and landed next to Jayson. I joined him. "What's your problem, prof?"

     Jayson stared. "What?"

     "The Hatfields and the McCoys sat closer together."

     He shifted his seating. "Your point being...?"

     "This isn't Mississippi. Put your arm around her."

     "Maybe, Mary Worth, she doesn't want my arm around her."

     I said, "Right. That's why she sat there shivering in the middle of June."

     "Oh?" Jayson frowned. "Maybe I should start a little fire."

     Philip grinned. "That's my boy."

     I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed to the fireplace.

     "Oh." He sighed. "Look, Jayson, this 'shy, naive genius' bit is kind of cute—I've used it myself a couple of times—but don't you think that after six months it's beginning to wear—whoa!" He jumped back to his chair, and me to the floor, at the sound of footsteps. By the time Roxanne reappeared, we had not moved in days.

     She sat down, noticeably closer to Jayson. "No answer. She must be over at Mrs. Overcash's. Did I miss anything?"

     Jayson said, "We were discussing building a fire."

     "...In the fireplace," Philip said, as if he still could not believe it.

     She asked, "Do you think it's cool enough?"

     "I...thought you...might have been shivering."

     Her face reddened. "No. I'm fine."

     We were all quiet for a while, and let the wind and waves penetrate the walls.

     Philip was still the earth-brother, I'd noticed. He and Jayson and I had walked through the house earlier, checking for needed repairs. Maybe walking is an insignificant act; but Jayson and Philip had walked together as if they had done it all their lives: side-by-side, synchronous, comfortable. I sensed a big-brother attitude from Philip toward his friend, and no resentment from Jayson.

     Roxanne, the femme fatale, was working the Chameleon Bay Examiner's crossword puzzle. She wore sandals, shorts and a Buster Keaton T-shirt—and a purple silk scarf around her neck. She had toured the house with us, and it had taken Jayson fifteen minutes to casually take her hand. It had been the clumsiest casual I had ever seen, but she had not pulled away.

     As I watched them now, on the sofa, I thought with a wry smile that she still hadn't.

     Philip said, "Just think, Roxanne, if you were home right now, you'd be cleaning bedpans, and flipping invalids like hamburgers."

     "Philip! I'm very proud of that job."

     He nodded. "You ought to be, actually."

     I asked, "Where would you be, Philip?"

     Jayson said, "Wherever there's a fool and his money."

     "Is your name Philip?" He turned to me. "Oddly enough, I'd be in Belltown, the land of milk-of-magnesia and honey.  All those poor old couples, who need someone younger to mow lawns, paint, wash cars—excuse me, Jayson, is there a mosquito in this room?"

     "I've had my say, Philip: your prices are outrageous."

     "Ha! Some genius; it's pronounced 'exorbitant'. Do they miss the money?"

     "Lord, no. But we're getting off the subject."

     Roxanne said, "That's right. Where would you be?"

     Jayson shrugged. "If I weren't here, I'd still be here. Eric?"

     "In a hospital, too, I guess."

     Roxanne and Philip looked uncomfortable, but Jayson had not heard. His eyes looked like tiny hurricane lamps.

     "You know," he said, slowly but gaining speed, "we haven't really explored that question enough: where would we be?"

     Roxanne's brow wrinkled. "What do you mean?"

     I like it when Jayson and I get on the same wavelength. "Where would we be, if we could be anything, and anywhere at all, with no restrictions like time or place—"

     Philip spread his arms in Jayson's direction. "—or reality—"

     "Okay," I said, "With all that, where would we be? Jayson?"

     "That's too easy. I'd be on the USS Enterprise."

     Philip closed his eyes and smacked his forehead.

     "Okay, but I'm not a fanatic. I just like to be in on anything that's new. When the first space shuttle went up, and we watched it on TV in school, I wanted to be on it. But everywhere a starship goes must be new. That's where I'd be."

     Philip snorted. "I thought you wanted to be a teacher. How is a teacher ever going to get to ride on the space shuttle?"

     "NASA will come to its senses someday, Philip. Where would you be?"

     He frowned. "I don't know."

     "You don't know? Oh, please. You know what college, which law school you're going to...you've planned which classes you'll be taking for the next eight years—you know where you're going to practice law...My God, Philip, you've planned your marriage and your divorce! How can you not know where you want to be right now?"

     Again the pair were silent for a moment, then Philip said: "Do you think that I plan too much? The way you were talking, about me planning my life and—"

     "Phil, everyone's life is planned to some degree."

     "Yeah, but most people let someone else do the planning. they don't even know how the plan works—just a vague idea of where it leads..." he shook his head, disgusted.

     "Ha! You've been reading the Foundation trilogy again."

     "Jayson....Well...I prefer to be...wherever I'm needed." He shrugged. "Not as a lawyer, but as me." Another shrug, embarrassed. "Failing that, I'd be on stage."

     Roxanne said, "I still think that's your true calling, Philip. I hope you'll do some acting in college."

     "Count on it...I—"

     Jayson coughed delicately.

     Philip rolled his eyes. "But I owe it all to my director, Cecil B. DeMillstone."

     Roxanne said, "How about you, Eric?"

     I hesitated. It would sound so silly spoken aloud. My own dreams found it laughable enough. "I'd be in a vine-covered cottage behind a white picket fence somewhere in Virginia, maybe, with a wife and two kids."

     Jayson frowned. "You're a poet...how can you conjure such a prosaic dream?"

     Roxanne said, "It's the classic American Dream."

     Philip said, "It's the classic man-trap."

     Although I could have stopped myself, I said, "That's all it will ever be for me—a dream."

     No one looked at me for awhile. Then Roxanne said, "Were you ever in love, Eric?"

     "Yes."

     "Did she love you?"

     I smiled. "Yes."

     "Then you've already had the best part of the dream—the part a lot of people never get."

     "Yeah," Philip said, "Love is grand...why get married and ruin it?"

     "Is that so—"

     Jayson said, "Ah...what about you, Roxanne?"

     She held her glare on Philip a moment longer, then smiled at Jayson. "I'd be at an art gallery in New York—and Paris, with my one-woman show."

     I asked, "Paintings?"

     "And sketches, and sculpture..."

     For awhile, we were all silent in flickering shadows.

     Then Jayson said, "Observation: No one mentioned here and now as being what they want."

     Philip said, "I wouldn't say that."

     Roxanne said, "I have an observation: no one's dream has anything to do with what they're actually going to do."

     I said, "And one of us picked a dream that can't happen to anyone."

     Jayson said, "I wouldn’t say that, either. I've told you. I'm going to be on the Enterprise someday, even if I have to build it myself."

     "Okay," Philip said, "We've explored the question...so what?"

     "Well, it proves something. It proves that we may be more than we realize."

     "Once more," Roxanne said, "with subtitles."

     "Like in the movie, V'ger wants to know: 'is this all that I am... is there nothing more?'"

     Philip closed his eyes. "How can you get your life's philosophy from a movie?"

     "Anything that can show me a new idea is worth the space on my shelf. Besides, whose future would you rather believe in—Gene Roddenberry's or George Orwell's?"

     "I get it." Roxanne pulled one leg onto the sofa, which of course made her lean against Jayson. "You mean, 'Is there some part of me that I'm not aware of?'"

     "Exactly." He stared at her. "There has to be. For everyone."

     "Yeah," I said, "but how do we find it?"

     "That's the easy part."  Just keep looking for answers—"

     Philip sighed. "Oh, I was wondering when we were going to get to 'every question has an answer.' I hate to break it to you, hermano, but not even you can find every answer."

     "I don't have to. I just have to look for them."

     Roxanne frowned. "What good is that, though? It sounds to me like you'll never be satisfied."

     Jayson gave a "so be it" shrug.

     I said, "That makes sense. I mean, nobody wants cheap, easy meals."

     Philip frowned. "What?"

     I had been thinking about this all day—longer, in fact: ever since Jayson and I sang that song all the way to the coast. "'Cheap, easy meals, are hardly a home on the range.' That's from a song by—"

     "Elton. I remember. Go on."

     I paused. That one line had really brought it all together for me. "I think that means that the easy life is no life at all; that doing what you want to—living life the way you want to—isn't always easy, but it's always worth it."

     Roxanne said, "I like that."

     Philip nodded. "Yeah."

     Jayson smiled. "Not bad, apprentice."

                                                *                  *                   *

     The party broke up at about nine o'clock. Philip went inside to put up his guitar. Jayson and I carried the dishes inside. Roxanne volunteered, but of course Jayson insisted that she not go near them. So she sat on the porch awhile.

     I filled the sink with hot water.

     Jayson, meanwhile, leaned against the sink, chattering on about plans for the summer, how we'd spend the days fishing and 'scoping out chickadonises.' A chickadonis, according to Philip, was the ultimately physical female.

     I said, "I hope, for your sake, that 'scoping out' just means looking for them."

     He frowned thoughtfully. "Me, too." He shrugged, then moved towards the refrigerator. "That was pretty good ice-cream. I hope there's enough strawberries left over for pancakes tomorrow—"

     He stopped, turned, and moved slowly back to the sink.

     The window above the sink was open, and although the light was on inside, we could still make out Roxanne's silhouette at the bluffs over the sea. The breeze moved her hair gently, as if pulling her toward the edge.

     Suddenly Jayson was no longer beside me. A moment later, his silhouette was moving towards hers. About halfway there, he stopped, paused, then turned back. Roxanne was facing the sea, and the ground was grassy, silent.

     Jayson took two steps toward the house and stopped again.

     I told myself that I should not be watching, but I wanted to know what the starship captain was like at romance.

     Jayson turned to her again, watching for a few moments, then his shoulders sagged, and he turned slowly and returned to the kitchen.

     I splashed busily in the sink as he walked through on his way upstairs.

     I looked out again. Roxanne's shadow was gone.

     Suddenly something flickered on the edge of my vision. From the southern corner of the house, Philip's silhouette had also witnessed the crime.

                                                *                  *                   *

     Later, as we prepared for bed, I discovered the mirror fragment that we had found that afternoon. I didn't even remember putting it in my pocket. I decided to keep it, and put it on my wall when we returned home. Which reminded me.

     I said, "How long will we be staying here?"

     "As long as you like. I usually stay all summer, but that's no rule."

     As I lay there, I wondered what it would be like to die at Scotland West, and to be buried at Fantasy Fane.

     Which reminded me of something else. I turned to Jayson, who was untying his shoes. "Which is better: burial or cremation?"

     "Longevity." He dropped a shoe. "Why do you ask?"

     "Well...I want to put in my will how I—"

     "Will? Eric, I really don't want to talk about that."

     "Oh. Okay. Sorry."

     We were both silent for awhile. He tapped the other shoe against his knee. Then:

     "Have you really made a will?"

     I nodded. He moved over to my bed and sat.

     "God. What was that like?"

     "Weird. I felt like...like it was someone else doing the writing, and I was looking over their shoulder. And it was scary. I was pretty sure that I would keel over as soon as I signed it."

     He smiled. "So you haven't, yet."

     "Nope."

     "I guess it's time for me to make one; but what do I have that's worth leaving?"

     I suppose I should have said this aloud: "Four walls in Belltown that I would trade a lifetime for." Except, of course, that I didn't have a life worth trading.

     But I said, "You? How do you want to go?"

     "Kicking and screaming."

     "Oh, I know. You want to go in a blaze of glory."

     He grinned. "You got it. Sailing up and over the edge of the world." He pulled off his shirt. "But for you, I suggest burial."

     "Yeah?"

     "Sure. I figure in your case, cremation will prove to be redundant."

     "Oh, we are clever at night, aren't we?"

                                                *                  *                   *

     I woke up trembling. No nightmare; just trembling. That happened fairly often. It was, after all, the middle of the night—and when it's dark, it's just me and my thoughts, and all I can think about is what's happening inside me, and how it can't be stopped.

     At home, all I could do is lie there shaking. I couldn't go to my parents, could I? They had to comfort each other. I couldn't cry—I'm too old, too manly, too stupid.

     This time, I stared across at Jayson, still asleep. I got up, moved to his bed, and sat down.

     God help me, I thought, for what I'm about to do.

     I shook Jayson by the shoulder. He sat up quickly.

     "What? Roxanne? Oh, Eric." He blinked. "What's..."

     I closed my eyes. "Hold me."

     "What?"

     I took a breath. "I'm scared. Make it stop."

     He held me, but he couldn't make it stop. 

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