Rules of the Road

by Geron Kees

Chapter 10

©2016 by Geron Kees. All rights reserved.

Brian and Ed appeared at the shopping center at just 7:30. Brian nosed the Bee into an empty couple of spaces between Wade Tomlinson's Chevelle and Pete Brigg's GTO. Pete was a sometimes member of the car crowd, but had been making himself seen around a lot more lately. His green '67 goat was pretty, but was bone stock, and Pete was more of a driver in it than a racer.

Mike Zurka was at the window even before Brian shut off his car's engine. "Brian! What the fuck? I thought you went AWOL on us."

Brian laughed. "Nah. I was just straightening out a few things. You'll be seeing more of me now."

Ed laughed and stretched out a hand from the passenger seat. "Pay up, motherfucker."

Mike scowled, dug in his pocket and pulled out a handful of crumpled bills. He found a fiver, flung it in the window at Ed.

"I should have known better than to bet with the guy's best friend."

Ed nodded. "Yep. You should have."

"Seen Bailey around?" Brian asked. A cold beer would taste pretty good about now.

"He's on a run," Mike said, nodding. "He'll be back in a few minutes."

Ed grinned. "You ever wonder what the guy behind the counter at the beer store thinks of Bailey coming in every few minutes and buying more beer?"

Mike laughed. "Probably just thinks Bailey is real thirsty."

Another car drove into the lot and pulled up. Dave Routh, in his Nova - his red Nova.

Brian gaped, and looked over at Ed. "I gotta see this."

They climbed out, and headed over to where Dave was just getting out of the car. The new arrival wore a smile that could best be described at elated. No shit there, as the car was simply beautiful.

Wade Tomlinson reached Dave first, and was clapping him on the back when Brian and Ed arrived.

"It looks great, man," Wade was saying, while eyeing the car's satin finish. "Who did the job?"

Dave grinned. "Well, I took your advice and went down to the industrial park and talked to Ricky Bergen."

Wade nodded, his grin growing. "I told you he did good work."

"Hey, Dave," Brian said, indicating the car. "Looks sharp as shit."

"Oh, hey, Brian. What's up? Yeah, thanks. It cost me a little, but it does look great, doesn't it?"

Ed made a small noise. "Don't think them Kennedy dudes will recognize it now."

"Nope. And I haven't been down there, either. I don't intend to take any more chances with those guys."

Bailey Maxwell returned, took Brian's money and his order.

Bailey grinned at him. "Two sixes of Molson? You never get two, Brian. You expecting company?"

"Actually, I am. Maybe a Kennedy guy."

Dave Routh snorted. "You're kidding." But then he smiled. "Oh. You mean Tim? I like that guy."

Brian shook his head. "No. Someone else. But he's cool, too, and I'll vouch for him."

Wade looked at him. "Good enough for me. Anyone we know?"

Brian grinned. "Yeah. The guy I raced, with the Camaro."

Wade's jaw dropped. "No shit. Man, I'd love to check that Camaro out." He looked at Dave. "Like to look under the hood of that car?"

Dave nodded. "Yeah, I wouldn't mind it." He looked at Brian. "You sure he's coming?"

Brian shrugged. "Said he would. Nothing's ever certain in this world, though."

Someone plugged in a tape, and some old AC/DC drifted across the end of the parking lot. Bailey returned with the beer and Brian took one of the sixes and stashed it in the little cooler of ice he'd lashed in a corner of the trunk of the Bee with bungee cords. Then he handed a beer to Ed, one to Bailey, offered ones to Wade and Dave, and put one into the cooler, saving the last one for himself.

"Wish I had some smoke," Ed said, sighing.

Wade laughed. "Pete's got a little. Go talk to him. Maybe he'll sell you a joint."

"Yeah?" Ed turned away, grinning, and headed for the green GTO.

"So - Brian." Wade grinned at him. "You been hanging out with the other side?"

Brian laughed. "I've been hanging out with Jeff some, yeah. He's the Camaro guy."

Dave squinted at him. "How'd that happen? I mean, after the race, the guy went a little nuts and tried to beat up on you."

Brian smiled. "Remember the day he came by the school, and wanted me to go with him? It was an apology, of sorts. He's really a good dude. He just lost it a little that night."

Wade nodded. "I can get that. Hard to go from being the king to second best."

"Our cars are really close, performance-wise," Brian said. "That race could have gone either way."

Dave laughed. "Well, it went your way, man, so you're the king for now."

Ed came back, grinning. "I need some help here." He had a tiny baggie in his hand.

"Not me," Brian said, holding up a hand. "Not in the mood. Beer's fine tonight."

Ed wagged his eyes at Dave and Wade, who laughed and went off with Ed so that they could use the mini-bong out of sight of the cars driving through the still open shopping center. It wouldn't get quiet until after the pizza place closed at eleven.

The sun had dropped low in the sky, and was filtered now through the tops of the tall trees behind the shopping center. With that had come a noticeable drop in temperature, although the humidity was still bordering on the unpleasant. Brian sat inside the Bee with his legs outside the open door, sipping his beer.

He hoped Jeff would keep his promise to show up. The other boy needed a life other than the one he had now - one without solitude built in as its base. Jeff was a sweet, smart, and funny guy, and he had a lot to offer if he'd just let some more of his walls down and join in. His fear of being recognized as gay was ruining what should have been a wonderful life for him. All that he had going for him, and he still could not be happy. Looks, a sense of humor, personality. A family that cared about him, even if they didn't always get along with him. And other things, less quantifiable as marks of success, but still there: a successful little business of his own, a great car and the freedom of movement it offered, the acceptance of his peers, if not always their understanding. All seemed bound to be wasted if he was unable to share himself with others.

Being alone in life is not a life.

Jeff had Brian, too. That the other boy had allowed Brian to draw him out of his shell was wasted if Jeff was still too afraid to take advantage of the things he saw out there. Brian intended that Jeff see what it was like to be part of something more than what he had now on his own. People were so important to happiness that Brian just could not imagine living with the loneliness that Jeff must had endured. Brian was familiar with the often solitary wind that blew through a soul that had been born gay; but he had not, in the end, let it turn him off of people. Brian had friends, and that kept his loneliness from being pure.

An old Ford station wagon came into the lot and pulled into a parking place outside the pizza place. Two girls got out and started inside; but one looked Brian's way, reached out and tapped the other. They both stopped, looking towards Brian.

Annabelle and Missy.

Brian waved, and held up his beer. The girls waved back, and went on into the pizza shop. Brian took another sip off his beer, gazed up into the inverted, crystalline bowl of the sky and noticed that the first stars were coming out, even while the setting sun still filtered through the darkening blue.

Impatient things, stars.

The girls reemerged from the pizza shop, Annabelle carrying a large, flat box. They got into the Ford, and it pulled forward and angled itself towards the cars parked in the corner. Brian watched it come, smiling.

The more, the merrier.

The car drew up and stopped with a small squeak of displeasure from the brakes. The girls got out and came over.

"Hi, Brian. What's up?" Annabelle was all smiles.

Missy peered inside the Bee, looked a little disappointed. "Ed's not with you?"

Brian laughed. "What, you want him to be here? I thought he bugged you."

Missy smiled. "Not that much."

"Yeah, he's back behind the building with Wade and Dave, getting his brain cells rearranged. They'll be back in a minute."

Brian looked at Annabelle, who was patiently waiting for an answer. "I'm doing good, little girl. How are you?"

She smiled, and one eyebrow went up. "That your first beer?"

"It is. You want one? " He dug in his pocket, handed her his keyring. "Round-headed key. Cooler's in the trunk. Get Missy one, too."

She smiled, took the keys, gave him the eye. "You're in a good mood."

"I'm not, really. I'm waiting even now to kill someone. I just haven't decided who yet."

Annabelle laughed, went around behind the car. Brian heard the trunk pop open, felt the car move as Annabelle swung up the lid. He could hear the movement of the ice in the cooler as she dug out two Molsons, and then the car dipped as the lid closed with a meaty thwunk!

A few cars down, AC/DC had been replaced by Bon Jovi in the tape deck.

Ed and the others came back, laughing over something probably silly.

"Whoa! Look who's here!" Ed sounded pleased.

"No hugging," Brian heard Missy protest, and the sound of Wade and Dave laughing.

"I wasn't going to touch," Ed said, sounding mock-hurt. "I was just tryin' to shoo that angel away that was flyin' around your head."

Missy laughed.

In the car, Brian grinned. People mean everything.

Annabelle came back, carrying her beer. She leaned up against the pillar of the door, careful to keep herself off of the exterior paint. "What do you guys have planned? Missy and I have a pizza, if you all want to share."

Brian shrugged, smiling at her. "Not a damn thing. Sit here, drink a beer or two, listen to some tunes. Maybe eat some pizza." He laughed, and so did she.

"No cruising tonight?"

Brian shrugged. "Maybe later. Maybe not. Sometimes it's nice just to sit."

The girl looked at him a little strangely. "You're really mellow tonight. You have a few hits off of Ed's bong?"

"Nuh uh. Just the way I'm feeling, I guess."

She nodded. "I see." She looked up into the sky. "Pretty night."

Brian laughed. "I was just thinking kinda the same thing."

Out along the road, the streetlights lit, followed soon by the shopping center's tall parking lot lights. The sun settled further, giving the sky behind the trees a rose color that sent wavy tendrils into the darkening sky overhead. Crickets could be heard in the woods to the rear of the shopping center, a soft, underlying summer chorus unable to be totally submerged in the sounds of traffic going by.

Brian sighed. "I love these kind of evenings. Especially this time of the evening."

Annabelle smiled. "Me, too. It feels like everything is kind of stopped for a few minutes, just so we can enjoy it."

Brian just nodded.

In the distance, he heard the sound of engines. He sat up straighter, turned to look at the road.

Just stopping at the traffic light at the intersection was Tim's green GTX. Behind it was Jeff's Camaro.

Brian indicated to Annabelle that he wanted to get out, and she took a few steps back. "What's up?"

"Company coming," Brian said, grinning. He took another swig off his beer, looked for Ed. "Hey, guys! They're here."

He looked at Annabelle. "You coming?"

"Where are we going?"

Brian grinned, took her by the forearm, closed the door of the Bee, and walked her around to the back of the car. "Right here. So they can see us."

"Who?"

"You'll see."

The light changed and the cars moved out with the briefest of complaints from their tires.

Ed and the others came around to stand beside them, and they all watched as the two Kennedy cars entered the parking lot. Tim knew where they would be - he'd been here before. He turned the GTX their way, and the Camaro followed.

"Bad sons-a-bitches, both of them," Wade said, admiringly. "Pretty as shit, aren't they?"

There was a general nod of agreement, even from the two girls.

The two visitors drew up to them, revved their engines a couple of times, and shutdown.

The door of the GTX opened, and Tim got out, beer-in-hand, grinning. "Hey, y'all. What's up?"

He came over, patted Brian on the shoulder, mock-swung at Ed, pointed at the other guys. "See the whole gang is here."

Brian squeezed Annabelle's arm, smiled at her. "Be right back."

He circled the GTX, went up to the Camaro's side window, leaned down. "Hi."

Jeff looked out at him, and Brian knew him well enough now to see the nerves in his expression.

"Hi. I'm here."

"Uh huh. You have to get out of the car, though."

Jeff smiled. "Aw, do I gotta?"

Brian laughed. "Yup. Come on."

Jeff licked his lips. "I'm nervous as shit."

Brian looked over his shoulder. Everyone was talking to Tim; no one was watching them.

He dropped a hand inside the car, shielded by his body, found Jeff's hand, gripped it reassuringly. "Just be yourself. You already know how much I love that guy. I think the others are going to like him, too."

Jeff smiled, squeezed his hand, let go, found the door handle. Brian stepped back as the door opened.

Jeff got out, took a deep breath, shut the door.

Brian felt a small thrill. This might just work. "Want a beer?"

Jeff nodded slowly. "Sure."

Brian headed for the trunk of the Bee; Jeff followed. Wade and Dave looked up, grinned, waved. Brian smiled back.

He opened the trunk of the car, got Jeff a beer from the cooler. He polished off his own, got another for himself.

They closed the lid, went over to the others, who looked at them as they came up.

"Hey, guys. This is my buddy, Jeff Breakman." Brian raised a hand, gave Jeff's shoulder a little squeeze. "I know he goes to Kennedy, but he's hoping you won't notice."

Tim laughed. He had a Budweiser in one hand. "Hey. I resent that remark. Kennedy is just as good a school as Proctor."

Brian grinned. "Shhh. That's a secret."

Jeff laughed, raised a hand at the others. "Hi. Good to see you all."

Ed came over, gave Jeff a gentle clap on the shoulder. Wade and Dave were right behind him. "Dude, these two Chevy freaks want to see under your hood. Think that might happen?"

Jeff nodded, smiled at Brian. "Sure. Come on."

Brian let Jeff go on his own, watching as the other boy went to the Camaro and raised the hood. Wade and Dave crowded around, looking closely while being careful not to lean on the paint. Funny, the instincts car guys develop.

Brian felt someone close to him and looked over. Annabelle was there, smiling at him. "You like that guy, huh?"

Brian was surprised, but nodded. "Yeah. He's a good dude."

Annabelle looked over to where Jeff was animatedly explaining something under the hood, his eyes bright in the glow of the parking lot lights, a smile all over his face.

"Funny, considering the way you guys met."

Brian looked down at her, nodded. "Stranger shit has happened."

Annabelle laughed. "You say that a lot, Brian. Did you ever notice?"

Really? Brian knew it was a general opinion of his that things in life often ran along mysterious pathways; but he hadn't been aware that he had put it so much into words. Life had that quality about it. Each day a new adventure, each night a thoughtful rest.

Every summer was a time of change. Brian knew that, had felt it since he was a small boy. School let out, summer came on, wound on, ran down. School came back.

But you were never the same guy that left school in the spring, when you went back in the fall. Summer had changed you; the events of summer had evolved you. New people had come into your life, new ideas had made themselves known; new experiences had changed the way you viewed everything. Everything. Brian looked over at Jeff. He loved the guy, plain and simple. Brian had no illusions about the permanency of that; losing Chris had taught him that life seldom respected love. Life had rules all it's own, and seldom stopped to explain them. You had to be observant, you had to look, and you had to understand what you were seeing.

Jeff caught him watching, and his smile broadened. For a moment his eyes twinkled, before his gaze went back to his listeners.

Brian felt good inside. There was hope here. Jeff was likely going to make it. Brian would help every way he could.

Annabelle was watching Jeff. "He seems nice enough."

Brian nodded. Jeff was that. And many other pleasant things, too.

Annabelle turned to look back at Brian, and seemed to be wondering about maybe seeing something extra there. "Nice of you to invite the guy."

Brian looked down at her, saw questions in her eyes she likely never would ask.

"Courtesy," he said, smiling, "is one of the rules of the road."

Annabelle laughed, and squeezed his arm. "You're really acting weird tonight, Brian. We're not even on the road."

Brian nodded, but didn't say anything more.

Of course they were on the road. They were always on the road. Everywhere they went in life was down some road, be it smooth and pleasant, or rocky and rough. Everything, at every time, and everywhere, was just part of the journey.

There were hitchhikers, and traffic cops, detours, and barricades, breakdowns on the shoulder, off ramps and on ramps to be navigated. You had to be careful, you had to be alert. Courtesy went a long way, errors could be deadly, and the tolls you paid extreme if you weren't prepared to deal with them.

It wasn't the vehicle that carried you that made the difference. How you traveled the roads in your life was the important thing.

And, of course, who you traveled them with.

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