Oliver of the Adirondacks

by Dashiell Walraven

Chapter 36

As much as I wanted to stay awake until Neal got home, the events of the day did me in. When I woke up, the sun was just cresting the horizon and light was starting to pour into the room. I stretched and yawned, looking over to Neal's untouched bed, surprised to see he was not in it. Scanning the room, I found him sitting in the window seat, still dressed in his school uniform, his knees drawn up to his chest, looking as miserable as I have ever seen him. He saw my movement and looked over to me silently, his brilliant eyes glistening with tears. Immediately, my heart ached for him. Before I could rush over to hug him and kiss away his tears, there was a quiet knock at the door. Both of our fathers walked in.

"Oliver," Neal's father said, "can you give us a minute please? I need to talk to my son before I go off to work." I got up out of bed, thankful to have kept my pajamas on. Dad ushered me out and closing the door behind us; as we walked down the hallway, I heard Neal's dad raising his voice, he sounded very angry.

"Dad?" I started to ask.

"Shh, son," he whispered gently, "I'll fill you in with everything that I know soon enough, but for now, we need to keep quiet, okay?" I nodded, understanding, but not quite. Something big was going down and I felt extremely anxious not knowing just what it was. Dad and I sat in awkward silence at the breakfast bar in the kitchen, while the moms prepared coffee and breakfast. Apart from the occasional throat-clearing, and muted please and thank-you exchanges, everybody was mostly silent. I accepted a bowl of cereal from mom, and dad got a cup of coffee and some toast, we both ate in silence; my spoon making unnaturally loud scraping noises against the bowl while dad thunderously crunched through his toast.

On the other side of the house, though I strained to hear, I couldn't make out exactly what Neal's father was shouting about. It seemed to go on forever, making the atmosphere in the kitchen thick and strained. Nobody could pretend it wasn't happening and we all seemed anxious for it to be over, whatever "it" happened to be. Finally, Neal's door slammed in the distance, followed shortly by Neal's father sweeping into the kitchen, exchanging some quiet words with his wife, who nodded and answered in muted tones. He delivered a peck to her cheek, which she seemed reluctant to accept, pulled on his suit jacket and straightened his tie as he headed out to the garage to leave for work.

Dad accompanied me back to Neal's room and instructed me to get dressed. Neal watched me forlornly from the window seat, he had not moved from it. If anything, he looked more miserable than ever, tear tracks streaked down his cheeks; he was a sodden mess.

"Come on, Oliver," my dad said, quietly, "Let's you and me take a ride."

I snuck a look over at Neal, who was staring holes in his knees. I couldn't stand it any further, I went over and embraced him. He didn't return my hug, but did lean his head on my shoulder and let out a short sob.

"Oliver," my dad persisted, "Please, let's go." I looked back over my shoulder at my father and then back to Neal, who was looking up to me with his tear-stained face.

"I don't know what's going on," I said plainly, "but whatever it is, we'll figure it out."

Then I kissed him. On the lips. Right in front of my father. Neal's eyes opened wide and he made a moist gasp as I did so. He looked shocked, scared and amazed, all at once. I hoped for a smile, but nothing was forthcoming, if anything, Neal seemed to look even more deflated. I touched my forehead to his, which only elicited a sniffle. Dad's hand came to rest on my shoulder and I knew he wanted me to go with him. My eyes searched Neal's, but he turned away to stare out the window; it was almost as if he felt ashamed about something.

Sighing, I turned and left the room with my Dad. He walked me out to the car on the curb, where we sat silently for minute. We both started talking at the same time, and then both stopped.

"Go ahead, son," Dad said.

"Neal looks awful Dad, he looks like he wants to die or something, I'm really scared for him," I cried out, "I'm scared too. I don't know what's going on." Dad reached over and put his arm around my shoulders, pulling me close into him. I could smell his aftershave very strongly and it was comforting.

"Well," he started, "firstly, Neal was expelled from his school last night. I'm not very clear on the circumstances, but it seems he assaulted a teacher."

"What?" I sat up, my jaw falling open in disbelief.

"That's the story. I don't have all the details," Dad continued, "but it all sounds perfectly terrible and completely out of character for Neal to do such a thing."

"Wow," I breathed, "holy cow."

Dad nodded. He didn't have much more information to tell me, only that he drove up with Neal's father to the school, packed him up in angry silence. According to Dad, he harangued Neal the entire way back, with Neal speaking nary a word throughout the hour-long trip home.

"So what happens now?" I asked.

"Neal's mom and your mother are going to take Neal to another school in the area, see if they can't get him enrolled there." I digested that news for a little bit.

"Dad?"

"Yes Oliver?" he replied.

"Neal isn't going to go to jail or anything, is he?"

"No, he isn't," he reassured me, "I heard Neal's dad saying something about how lucky he was the school decided not to press charges, or words to that effect."

Still nonplussed, I could not wrap my skull around Neal beating up on a teacher, it simply didn't compute. Dad took me out and about just to keep ourselves occupied and out of the situation. We managed to find the local Children's Museum, which was kind of interesting. They did have a planetarium, which under any other circumstance, I would have found fascinating. During the almost hour long show, seated in the dark looking up at the dome, I found myself distracted thinking about Neal. My mind tried to work out all the possible permutations for how Neal could find himself in such a situation as to attack a teacher. With the stars whirling overhead as the massive projector hummed and turned, I began to feel queasy. The lights came up just in time for me to flee the room and lean on the railing of the staircase near the doors. I'm not quite sure how I managed to avoid vomiting, but the nausea passed as quickly as it came, leaving me in a cold-sweat.

"You okay son?" Dad's voice came into my ear.

"I think the stars moving got me a little motion sick." I said, opening my eyes gently, testing to see if the room would stop spinning. It did, eventually. Dad took me to a picnic bench outside, near where our car was parked.

"Dad," I said suddenly, "I can't seem to stop thinking about Neal, over and over again."

"I'm sure your upset by the whole ordeal, Oliver," he spoke soothingly, "It'll pass."

"No, Dad," I persisted, "I keep thinking the same thoughts, like in a circle, as if I can't stop them. I feel really strange." Dad looked at me with a concerned expression and herded me toward the car. He drove me directly to the Newington Children's Hospital, where he demanded to see the doctor. A few quick tests, and a consultation with the doctor, resulted in us both walking out with an adjustment to my medication. I was relieved to be leaving without too much falderal, I felt like I was pretty much done with medical stuff. We stopped at a roadside hot-dog and burger joint where Dad treated me to a massive cheeseburger with French fries. It was delicious and did much to improve how I felt. Even the obsessive, circular thinking about Neal was starting to fade.

After lunch, Dad took me to Bushnell Park in Hartford. The ornate carousel was undergoing renovations, so we couldn't ride, but that was okay with me. Walking around the city center, we made a conscious decision to avoid the huge G. Fox building, where Neal's father worked, and instead, found a spot where we could peer through the chain link fence and watch the construction going on for the huge new coliseum and mall being built.

We sat on a bench, soaking up the afternoon sun that helped to warm the chilled autumn air. After several minutes of keeping to our own thoughts, my Dad suddenly spoke.

"I want you to know how very proud I am of you, Oliver," he said, his voice full of emotion.

"For what?" I asked.

"Well, for starters," he said, "you've had an awful lot of shit thrown at you in the past year and a half, son. With every hit, you took it standing tall. Whatever knocked you down, you just got right back up again. That takes guts and it makes me confident you have the makings of a hell of a man." I sat on that bench, stunned.

"Really, Dad?"

"Really, Oliver," he nodded, "many boys would have lashed out, or become what they call 'troubled', but not you."

"I still feel kinda knocked down by whatever this thing is with Neal," I said.

"That's because you're worried about him," Dad replied, "you two are connected at the hip. It's no surprise you feel scared and upset for him, even when you have your own crap to deal with."

I smiled wryly to myself, thinking about all the various ways Neal and I had "connected", which of course, led to a swelling in my nether regions. I crossed my arms and leaned on my knees as if being pensive, in an effort to hide the straining lump in my pants. Damned thing sure liked to make its presence known at the worst possible times. I'm sure Dad knew what was going on, because he chuckled and shook his head.

"You are something else, you two," he smiled, looking out over the construction.

"I can't help it Dad," I said, softly, "I love him.

"I know you do, Son," Dad sighed, "I know you do."

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