BOYS’ NIGHT OUT
Maria’s Pizzeria, established in 1905, was a Waterbury institution famous for its original laminated red-checked tables. The floor reverberated with the servers’ thudding feet, hoisting steaming pizzas on metal platters for the jouncing youngsters talking loudly, families with young kids, townspeople in their rougher clothes, and tourists decked out in fashionable sportswear. And everyone was speculating about the apparent murder.
Lucas and his friends claimed a table in the back away from the hustle and bustle where they could talk below a shout. He was very contemplative tonight, thinking how strange life could be, that because of what had happened yesterday, everything had changed for him.
The image kept nagging him: the dead woman with the silk snake scarf around her neck. His mother’s scarf? He wanted to chalk it up to coincidence. The big detective asked if anyone could assist in the investigation, and he had gone hollow inside. The thought of being summoned prolonged his anxiety: Just because my Dad isn’t home, I’ve become a scared little sissy and thinking the worst.
Nothing had been normal about this summer and the terrible event was the final proof. He had remained disconnected for much of the time. Even the pure Maine air and the hectic course of daily activities wasn’t an antidote to his anxiousness. He forced himself to hold out until evenings after dinner. Then he and his friends charged full-bore to the lake to go skinny dipping. The full moon cast tattered ribbons of light over the water. The boys jumped from the wooden floating raft. At least he had his friends to sustain him. \
“C’mon, Freddy, show us your famous double flip,” said Liam. “You claim to be the greatest.”
“We’re waitin’ on ya,” said Kenny. “Do it and I’ll faint away green with envy,” standing arms akimbo on the raft. “In your honor, I’ll dye my hair pea-green.”
“Bull shit! You thrive on attention. If I do that flip, you’re gonna hafta paint your whole body chartreuse.” Freddy stood naked under the moonbeams. His tawny skin and muscled build gleamed in the bluish light, a live beauty that could vie with a marble Greco-Roman athlete. “Anyway, Danny’s the only one who appreciates my talents, so you’ll have to wait until next year.”
His thoughts had been submerged in the heady heat of a day’s swim or vaporized in the dust of hiking paths. Freddy’s words were a sudden reminder that time was abstract in one sense and real in another, because time had kept them apart.
He was unaware that they had already ordered their pizzas.
“All the people in their white jumpsuits, it was like seein’ a TV episode being filmed,” said Liam. “And Luke was right there on the spot when she was found!”
Lucas blurted out: “I’d never seen a murdered body—live. I mean, we’ve seen people on TV killed in war zones. This was different, up close.” Strangely, he was prodded sharply by the present and pulled back into a filmy past of Grandpa taking him to Fenway and buying him a cap and a hot dog. He ruffled his hair and called him “Slugger”. The old man barked a natural laugh, didn’t put on airs. He was tough and did highfalutin government work. When Grandpa took ill, Lucas visited him in the hospital. The room was bright white and Grandpa’s hair was white. It all seemed to go together. Whiteness and illness. Grandpa’s watery blue eyes brightened. “How’s my Slugger doin’?” He didn’t know what to say and edged over to the bed to take his hand. The old man said: “I didn’t ask to come into the world.” Lucas was flustered. “Won’t you get better, Grandpa?” The man answered: “Slugger, one day I won’t be here anymore.” A person didn’t just vanish. It wasn’t so simple. The dim memory of the sendoff, gazing at the stiff facsimile of what was once Grandpa in his coffin was creepy, scary for a little boy half a lifetime ago.
Freddy was sitting next to him and gave Lucas a sympathetic pat on the shoulder: “But you’re okay? If you want to talk about it, we’re here to listen.” “I’m all right, really,” he answered flatly. Freddy sensed that all wasn’t right. But this wasn’t a good time to push Lucas. Instead, the boys turned to the favorite topic of who had the most sex appeal.
“Granted, I know why I’m full of myself, because the girls see the same beautiful face that I see every time I look in the mirror,” said Kenny.
“Watch out, Narcissus. Keep looking in the mirror too much and you’ll wake-up metamorphosed into a flower,” said Freddy.
“Nah, I don’t buy turning into a flower or a beetle,” Kenny said seriously.
“You’re confusing Greek Mythology with Kafka,” Liam corrected.
“Speaking of confusing,” Kenny said abruptly, “Basically, Luke, you didn’t fit Allison’s picture of the ‘All-American Boy’ at the dance the other night.”
Lucas perked up: “What exactly did she say?”
“That she got a million tweets about you, but didn’t know what to believe,” Kenny answered. “I offered to lay down my cloak for her and fill your vacated place.”
“And your lovely damsel in distress?” said Freddy. “Doesn’t she want you?”
“She wants to have my babies,” Kenny replied. “Actually, she said that anyone prettier than her must be like them? ‘Yeah, I’m like them. We’re great friends that grew up together’, I told her.”
“Pretty is as pretty does. It’s only skin deep,” Freddy declared. “She can’t get past certain stereotypes—but we must concede that you are prettier than her.” Kenny’s androgyny rivaled the beauty of a Tadzio.
“Pretty enough to make some guy very happy,” Liam added.
Kenny sounded like a weary traveler to another land “I’m a lady’s man in the making.”
“Maybe a lady in the making,” Liam shot back.
“Sometimes the King has a wise-ass jester’s head chopped-off,” said Kenny, nodding emphatically.
“What do you think Major Sweethill?” Liam loved using Freddy’s middle and last name, “as both the sole officer and gentleman present.”
“I have a girlfriend waiting at home, so I’ll recuse myself from the Kenny question, unless he really wants me.”
The boys could go on and on razzing each other. Kenny wouldn’t take the bait again: “It’s a new beginning every first date: take her to a movie, dinner, the kiss goodnight. Every new girl, we go through a new courtship.”
“I’m lucky to have you guys as friends. Thanks, Kenny for being who you are,” Lucas said, becoming sentimental. Being mindful of the unoccupied space Danny would’ve filled, it was as if Lucas was an amputee continually undergoing the physical experience of the phantom limb. He was off his game, drifting, and then, retracting into a brittle defensive position without realizing what he was doing.
“Earth to Luc,” Freddy said playfully, using the French pronunciation. “C’est la vie, n’est-ce pas, mon ami?” Lucas grunted. “I understand completely,” he added thoughtfully. The caring was genuine; Freddy had developed an empathetic streak in his character early on. And his ancestry, from his part African-American father and Jewish mother, had produced a delicious blend of traits: big green eyes, high cheekbones, an oval head topped with wavy black hair, and full, red lips, (so naturally red, people who didn’t know him believed it was lipstick), and the fluid long legs and muscles of an athlete.
“It’s nothing to worry about,” Lucas said as if responding to a different question.
The waiter brought three piping hot, large pizzas to the table.
“Did you see his butt, Kenny?” asked Liam, elbowing Kenny in the ribs after the waiter had scooted away. And the razzing continued.
“You all know I don’t check out guys.” Kenny said. “Maybe, you’re doing that psychology thing: Blaming me for what you do.”
“What about having wet dreams about guys?” Liam quipped.
“Come on fess up. You’ve all admitted variations on that theme,” Kenny answered.
“Fess up? Have we taken a Time Machine to Maria’s grand opening?” said Liam.
“No. I’ve just finished reading “Huckleberry Finn,” Kenny piped up.
“Then, I wish you and Huckleberry many happy dreams together,” Liam smirked in a gracious way. Kenny growled…
Lucas winked at Freddy: “I’m paying for two, Liam’s my date tonight.”
“Yeah, I’m feeling lucky, I’m paying for Kenny.”
The cool mountain air had begun to hint of autumn and the four boys strode back to the camp along the winding road.