|Publisher:||Whiskey Creek Press|
|Sold by:||SIMON & SCHUSTER|
|File size:||404 KB|
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The Bend of the River
"Barry, what are the seven ways a batter can reach first base?" asked Mickey Paquette.
"Seven?" replied Barry Haskins. "Hmm, let me see."
Both boys waded in the river, a soft warm breeze fanning their faces on this Labor Day.
"Okay--base hit, error, walk, dropped third strike, hit by pitch, fielder's choice. How many's that?"
"I'm stuck. I give up."
Mickey Paquette stood two inches under six feet, with light brown hair. Summer sun brought out the blonde highlights. He had his mother's light blue eyes, a medium-sized straight nose, high cheekbones, and thin lips. His body was thin yet sinewy.
His best friend Barry was stockier with broad shoulders, thick legs and biceps that would have pleased a steroid user. His hair was dark; his disposition light. His nose curved slightly downward with a slight bend in the middle.
"Good one, Mick. You ready for your last year of public school?"
"Senior year's going to suck," said Mickey.
Summer vacation, always a delight, always too short, was one day from completion.
"Twelve years of school almost done," said Barry. "We have to join the real world."
"I don't know what I'm going to do," said Paquette, who took a rock and skimmed it off the brown waters of the Blackstone River. "I like my world here."
"You going to college?" asked Barry, sitting with his butt on the bank and his feet in the warm water.
"I guess so. It's expensive. Syracuse would be great for journalism, but I don't even know if I could get in. Never mind afford it."
"Give Syracuse a shot. Even if you couldn't afford it, it would benice to know if you got accepted."
"Maybe. Even if I go to a state school, I'll probably have to take out a loan. Four years of school and I'll be in debt before even drawing a paycheck."
Paquette picked up his IBC Root Beer and swigged. The brown soda bottle could have passed for a beer.
"What about you, Barry?"
"The old man wants me to work for him. I'm thinking 'Army.' I can be a plumber any time."
"You want to get shot at?"
"The old man was a soldier. I'm an American. It's the very least I can do."
"Holy shit! You'll make some recruiter piss his pants in delight the day you sign up."
This bend of the river was a favorite spot for the two friends, a place where they discussed all matters vital, and not so vital.
Mickey pressed the sweating soda bottle next to his right temple. "I've done nothing special. I'll probably be lucky to get into a community college."
"You're smart, Mick. You know a lot of trivia."
"Too bad there wasn't an SAT for trivia. When I like the subject, I'm fine. Math and science blow. Hate both of them with a passion."
"I like them."
"That's because you're good with your hands. Your father, whether he's a hard ass or not, taught you many great skills. You can fix cars, put up drywall, and unclog a toilet."
"So? I'm not sure what I want to do. We've lived here our whole lives and now we have to face adulthood. I'm not ready."
"Me neither. I want this year to be great."
"How're you going to do that?" Barry swirled his legs in the water. He watched tiny fish swim by him.
"I don't know. Football rules the town. If you play football, you're treated like a god. My dad, your dad, and Travis's all played on the same team."
"I know. My dad says your dad had a cannon for an arm. QB and centerfielder."
"You dad was no slouch either. A great lineman."
"I know. He always says, 'For chrissakes, Luc Paquette and Dougie Stout got all the headlines. I did all the dirty work. No wonder I became a plumber.'"
Both boys laughed.
"Mickey, why don't you try out?"
"I haven't played football since Pop Warner. I'm not a big fan of being pummeled."
"You're a good quarterback."
"Barry, that's playing touch football. I'm no Travis Stout."
"He's the boy wonder. And the best student."
"You have to remind me, Barry?"
"Goes out with the best-looking girl in school."
"Don't remind me."
"Mick, face reality. Charlotte Boyer ignores you. Always has."
"Do you think she's still pissed that I tried to kiss her on the sixth-grade trip to Cape Cod?"
Barry started to laugh. He tried to talk through his laughter.
"What's so funny?" asked Mickey.
"After she slapped your face so hard, she left finger welts on your cheek."
Mickey rubbed his right cheek. "She had a great wallop for a girl. Charlotte should've gotten over that. I was young, immature."
"And you've matured?"
"Since the sixth grade I have."
Barry grinned as he slid off the bank into the river. A crow in a tree mocked the two friends. Near the bend the town created a conservation area for walkers, joggers, and birders. In a grove, a few shaded picnic tables afforded a pleasant view and breezes. Of course, at night the park wasn't lit, transforming it into the favorite parking spot for high schoolers. Occasionally, when bored, the men in blue flashed high beams and flashlights into fogged-up vehicles. Despite the element of being caught, parkers returned to the bend. During the day only a few cars might appear. A UPS or a U.S. Mail truck driver might stop there to catch a break.
Today, a black Chevy truck was parked, with a stereo blaring. The sub-woofer in the stereo system probably scared off all wildlife within a fifty-mile radius.
"Don't tell me," said Mickey. "They're here."
"Stay down. Let's see what they're up to."
"Cripes, Barry, you want to be a Peeping Tom?"
"Come off it, Barry, you've got a girlfriend. Mollie's a nice girl."
"More like a ball and chain."
"Come off it. You like being whippped."
"I'm not whipped."
"For the past six months you've been out every Saturday night with Molly Levangie."
"Two Saturdays we didn't go out."
"That's because she was on vacation with her family, and you were stuck with me."
"How come you never had a steady, Mick?"
"I like to play the field."
"You hardly ever go out. You didn't go to the junior prom."
"I have to be in the mood."
"Plenty of girls would go out with you."
"I don't have that much time. During school I work twenty-five hours a week to help Dad out. This summer I've worked as many hours as possible."
"I know. I know. But you have time. You have to get your head out of your ass about Charlotte Boyer. She'll never leave Travis."
"She doesn't really know me."
"That's weak, Mick, and you know it."
They studied Stout's truck, which boasted of its visit to the carwash. The driver and passenger sat far apart.
"Let's stay on the riverbank, Barry."
"Don't be such a pussy. Don't you want to see the lovely Charlotte Boyer?"
"I'll probably see her all year with the unlovely Travis Stout."
"C'mon, be a man."
They passed the truck on the passenger side. Stout saw them and popped his head out. "How touching. Two gay guys out for a stroll."
"We're thinking about coming out any day, Travis," said Mickey. "Hi, Charlotte."
Charlotte filed her fingernails and evidently had suffered from hearing loss since school ended in June. She stared at the nail on her right forefinger as if there was the possibility of gangrene.
"You two losers can continue on your merry way," said Stout.
"Always a pleasure to share time with you, Travis," said Mickey.
Clearing the dirt parking lot, they reached the paved road. "Just once, I'd like to remove that smirk from his face," said Barry. Despite his five-foot nine height and hundred and seventy pounds, he was never intimidated.
"I thought you didn't mind walking past the two of them," said his friend.
They walked, passing a few ranch-style homes. They arrived twenty minutes later in downtown Knightsbridge. Inside Fielder's Package Store they bought soda and stood over a footbridge overlooking Potter Falls. Plants lined the footbridge shooting the floral scents, while bees flitted from pistil to pistil.
Despite the closing of the mills in the seventies the water remained brown when it gushed toward the waterfall.
Barry broke the silence. "You really like Charlotte. Don't you?"
"Yup. She thinks I'm a pimple on the rear end of progress."
Barry laughed. "She thinks better of the fleas on her dog's ass."
"I really want to do something this year."
"Take Charlotte to the senior prom?"
"Without Travis and his thugs tossing me over this bridge?" Mickey chugged his root beer.
"We have to do something big this year, Bazz."
"Senior prank or senior skip day?"
"I heard that one class tore apart a Volkswagon and reassembled it in the bell tower."
"I think Dad said it happened before him."
"Senior skip day is dumb. Drive to the beach and try not to get arrested for drinking on the beach in Rhode Island."
"I can see the wheels turning. You'll come up with something, Mick. I know you will."
"I hope so. I hope so."