It Started With a Kiss

by Kiwi

Part 8

"What? What did he fucking say?" Chalky grabbed my arm in a vice-grip and yelled in my face.

"Whoah! Settle, Chalky. You'll bust a blood-vessel or something."

"He wants you to come to his funeral? Tomorrow! He said his frigging funeral's tomorrow - with a barbecue to follow! What the hell's going on? Is he going to top himself or something?"

"I dunno, Chalky. I don't know what he's doing, I never do. We'll just have to wait and see. Do you want to come too?"

"Do I what?" he yelled. "Do I want to come? We're talking about his frigging funeral here, Man. His funeral! As in dead bodies and stuff. How can you be so calm about it?"

"I don't know. It's Carter, he does some pretty weird stuff sometimes - okay, all the time. But he always seems to have a reason for it and it usually makes sense in the long run, sort-of. Besides, you're doing enough freaking out for the both of us."

"Well he's got good reason to freak." Paul put his spoke in. "He said that his funeral was going to be tomorrow. Weren't you listening, Davey? His funeral! That means he'll be dead. Who cares what his frigging reason is?"

"Come on, Guys, get real. He's not going to die, not really. Is he?" ('Thanks Guys, now I'm starting to panic too.') "Oh God! Carter, what are you doing?"

Paul left us when he branched off at his street, and went home. I found it hard to believe, but he really wasn't much interested in what Carter was doing. He did ask us to phone him though, when we found out what was going on.

Bruce, Chalky and I all went straight to the Matthews' house. Carter wasn't there and no-one knew where he was. They did know that he was planning his funeral for tomorrow, but they were all as mystified as we were.

Amazingly, nobody seemed at all concerned about it. They all, even Dossie, said that it was just Carter. Bruce and Chalky took them at their word and stopped worrying. I didn't, I was worried - bloody worried. What was going on? Was I the only sane person around here? And, where was Carter?

I went home to drop off my school gear and change clothes. I didn't do my chores, no time for that. Back next-door, I went up to Carter's room. It was all in darkness, he'd blacked out the window somehow.

The light in the room didn't work - the bulb was gone. There was some light though, from four candles sitting at the corners of a coffin.

"Wow!"

A full-sized coffin sat on trestles in the middle of Carter's room. It was all glossy, light-stained wood, sliver brackets on the corners, silver handles on the sides. There was a small plaque on the lid, it simply read, "Carter."

Carter's coffin! A huge lump appeared in my throat and tears welled up in my eyes. What was he doing? I had to find him and stop him from whatever it was. He couldn't just die. Why wasn't anyone doing something? Didn't they care?

Close-up, there was something odd about the coffin. I reached out and touched it. It was cardboard! A huge wave of relief swept through me. It wasn't real - not a real coffin. It was just a big cardboard box.

The handles, brackets and plaque were painted on. Just a big, painted, cardboard box.

I touched it, bumped it, cautiously lifted one end, and then picked the whole thing up. It was empty, no weight in it at all. Just a big, empty, painted, cardboard box.

What was it doing there? Well, it was for the funeral, obviously. But why? It couldn't be real. They weren't going to bury Carter in a cardboard box were they? No, it must be all as false as the coffin. It must've been play acting or something. But, where the hell was Carter? What was he doing?

Feeling like a grave-robber, I lifted the lid and peeked inside. It was empty - I already knew that. The inside was lined with paper - white newsprint paper. But, then I noticed letters stenciled on the floor of the coffin. In large, blood-red letters, it read, "Place Carter Here."

Eww! It might be real! I hurriedly put the lid back on and got out of there.

Down in the kitchen, Marie was busy preparing a salad. Whoa, I wouldn't want to do a salad for this crowd. She looked up and smiled.

"Hello, Davey. Looking for Carter? He's not here - don't know where he is. You should try at dinnertime, he usually comes home to eat. Not always though, sometimes he eats wild-foods. Sometimes he doesn't eat at all for days on end.

Why didn't that surprise me? "Marie, umm. Up in Carter's room, there's a coffin, a big cardboard coffin with his name on it."

"Yes. That'll be for his funeral tomorrow. You will be coming, won't you, Davey? I think that's important to him."

"Important to him? Marie, what's going on? Why are you having a funeral for Carter? He's not dead is he?"

"It's Carter's funeral. He's doing all the planning, we're just going along for the ride. It's always easier that way. He's not dead, not yet. But, I suppose it comes to all of us sometime."

"Not yet? But Carter can't die - he just can't!"

('Oh, Damm. Carter doesn't listen to can't.')

"Davey, you really care about Carter, don't you?"

"Of course I care about him. I love Carter."

("Damm again. I shouldn't have said that - not to his mother, his sort-of mother.')

But Marie just smiled. "That's good, really good. It's not easy sometimes, but you just keep on loving him. That's exactly what he needs."

('Keep on loving him??') "I've, umm, I've got to go. If you see him, please tell Carter that I'm looking for him."

"Yes, of course. Please tell the rest of your family that they're all welcome to come over for Carter's funeral. We're going to have a barbecue afterwards. It should be a nice day."

A nice day? I got out of there too! I knew that Carter was not a bloody loony, but I was having my doubts about the rest of his family!

I went back over there a couple of times, but he wasn't there. I roamed the streets and public places of our small town, but couldn't find him anywhere. 'Carter, where are you?'

The third time I went back, he was there. Or, at least I thought he was. The door was closed and locked and there was no answer to my knocking. I could hear Beatles' music in there. I felt like smashing the bloody door down, but I couldn't do that - not my house.

It was getting late and I didn't want to make too much noise in their house full of kids, so I gave up and went home. At least he was there. I thought he was, he must have been. I hoped that he was there. I hoped that he was all right. What the hell was this funeral about? "You can't die. I love you, Carter."

Next morning, I woke late. It had been a terrible night, I was lying awake for hours thinking all sorts of crazy things. As I lay there, getting my head together, my phone rang. It was Chalky wanting to know if there was any news.

While I was talking to him, there was a strange noise going on next-door. I opened the drapes to have a look. (Yeah, those drapes - the ones I was never going to open again.)

Whoah! There was a digger in the yard next-door - a 'ditch-witch', one of those small diggers you see getting around on trailers. There was a small crowd of kids watching a strange guy in overalls working it, and Matt was standing there, directing operations. I stood there staring and describing the scene to Chalky.

"So they've got a digger in and they're digging up the back-yard. Whoop-de-doo!"

"No, Chalky. You don't get it. It looks like they're digging a grave - a real grave."

"A grave? In their back-yard? It couldn't be. That's illegal, isn't it?"

"Well, I don't know. It looks like a grave to me. It's about the right size and shape They're just digging it deeper now. Whoah! Matt's just put a white cross in the ground at the top of it!"

"Fuck! It must be a grave then. What's written on the cross?"

"Don't know. I can't read it from here, it's too far away. Anyway, we both know what it will say - it'll be 'Carter', of course. I've gotta go, Chalky. I'm going to see what they're doing."

"Ring me back, when you find out and have a look at the cross while you're over there."

"You could come and look for yourself. You're not even two minutes walk away."

"Yeah, I could. But then I'd have to get out of bed. You find out, Davey. Give me a call."

I got dressed quickly and ran over next-door - I practically jumped the fence. The digger had finished and was leaving. The kids and Matt were all watching the guy drive it back up the ramps onto his trailer.

"Matt, hey!"

"Hey, Davey. I hope we didn't wake you up. This was the only time he could fit us in - busy day for diggers."

"No, I was awake anyway. Matt, what were you doing? That looks like a grave back there."

"I should hope so! It is a grave - for Carter. This must've cost him a fortune, but it's easier than doing it by hand."

"It's a grave? Where is Carter? I've really got to see him."

"Don't know. He's around somewhere. I think he's going around saying goodbye, to trees and stuff. We'll be rid of Carter today. Pretty cool, eh?"

I was worried, I was upset, and that last comment got to me and I got mad! (Yeah, I know, I've got a shocking temper.) Anyway, I did something really stupid - I hit him. The guy was twice as big as me, like Chalky said, he could wipe the floor with me, but I didn't care. I hit him as hard as I could.

"You Bastard! How can you say that?"

Matt shrugged off my best shot like a puppy had patted him. "Whoah! Don't you ever do that again, Boy. What the hell's wrong with you?"

"What the fuck's wrong with you?" I yelled at him. "I thought you liked Carter. He's going to die and you're glad to get rid of him? What the fuck's going on?"

The stupid tears were bursting out of me again, I couldn't help it. Matt grinned and wrapped his big arms around me, holding me still.

"Settle down, Davey. Don't get so upset. Nobody's dying here, not really. We're just getting rid of Carter, my cousin will still be here."

Nobody's dying? Nobody's dying! Carter was not going to die, but they were getting rid of him, and there was a grave and a coffin. I was relieved, but very confused now.

"He's not going to die? Matt, I don't understand how you can get rid of Carter if he's not dying. Is he going away?"

"No. He's not going anywhere; my cousin will still be here. It's just Carter who's going. The anti-social, multi-coloured weirdo is going and Jordan is going to take his life back. He says he's going to have a new name too, a new name for a new life."

"Oh. I see, I think. But I like Carter, I think he's great. Why can't things stay the way they are?"

"You like Carter? Really? Well, we don't, we're sick of him. Carter's bloody hard to live with. Trust me, you'll like Jordan even more - he was a sweet kid."

So he wasn't dying, not really. It was a symbolic thing. He was just changing himself. Well I still didn't like it - I loved Carter, he was fantastic. There was no-one like Carter - ever! Why did he have to go?

I was going to go home, but changed my mind and went inside and up to Carter's room. The coffin was still there. The candles were still burning - well, they were probably new ones by then. I sat down and stared at it. I didn't want to say goodbye to Carter.

The door was open when I got there, so I didn't close it. It needed some air in there anyway. The smell of the burning incense was pretty overpowering. The stereo was playing, an instrumental version of "Eleanor Rigby" - over and over again.

"So you're the chief mourner, are you?"

Mr. Matthews sat down next to me on the bed.

"Looks like I'm the only mourner. Why does Carter have to do this? I like him just the way he is."

"I know you do, Davey, but, look around you - you're the only one. Carter needs to change and, okay, it's a radical way of doing it. But that's Carter."

"It is Carter. I think he's great. Why does he have to change anything?"

"Davey, Carter's weird. Even you must see that. It wasn't so bad when he was a kid, but now he's growing up. He'll need to make his way in the world. Who's going to employ Carter? If you were a bank manager, would you give a loan to Carter? I wouldn't and I am a bank manager."

"If the world can't handle Carter, then the world's wrong."

"Maybe it is. Probably it is, but it's the only world we've got. I worry about him and how he's going to cope. If he gets any odder, they're likely to medicate him or lock him up, and he'll never have any friends."

"He will too. He'll always have me. I love him just the way he is."

He hugged me. Wow. No-one ever does that - not that I'd let them. But it was nice right then.

"Thanks, Davey. I knew Carter had picked a good one in you. This is a good thing he's doing, a really good thing. He'll still be the same person, just, hopefully, less weird. Stick with him, Davey. He loves you too, I think."

He got up and left me sitting there, alone. It was, nearly, dark and it was quiet. I nearly jumped out of my skin when Carter spoke.

"He does love you, you know. Carter loves you very much."

"Carter? Carter, where are you?"

The lid fell off the coffin as he sat up and smiled at me. "Hey Davey."

"At last! I've been looking everywhere for you. I thought you were really going to die."

"Carter is going to die. Then, like a phoenix from the ashes, Jordan will take his life back."

"Well, okay. I hope I like Jordan half as much as I like Carter."

"So do I, Davey. So do I."

"Carter, please get out of that box. You're freaking me out, sitting there in a coffin."

"I am? Okay." He climbed out of the box and stood looking down at me. "Do you think I'm weird, Davey?"

"No I don't! I think you're great, fantastic, just the way you are."

"Carter thinks you're great too. I hope you're going to like Jordan. He'll need you for a friend."

(Okay, now this was getting weird.) "I'll try, Carter. I really will, but the more he's like you, the more I'm going to like him. Do you think Jordan will climb through my window and feed me breakfast in bed?"

"I don't know. Do you want him too?"

"I do. I'd love it if he did that."

"He probably will then. I'm sorry for ignoring you the other day. I shouldn't have done that."

"That's okay. Please don't do it again though, that really hurt. Why did you anyway?"

"Because you hurt me. You were going home to get changed and you said you were coming back and you didn't. I thought you didn't want me anymore."

"Oh Carter. I'll always want you - always! I'm sorry I didn't come back, I got tied up and I couldn't."

"I know. Tease told me - Oh Boy! Did she tell me! That is why Carter has to go - he's stupid and weird."

"He is not! Look, if I do something, or don't do something, and you don't like it, then tell me. Don't cut me off again."

"Okay." He beamed that glorious smile. "This is why Carter loves you. Can I hug you?"

"You can hug me anytime, and you don't have to ask either."

"Cool."

He hugged me and I hugged him back.

"I'm getting back in the box now. I have to do this. Would you put the lid back on please?"

"Well, all right, if you have to."

"I do. Then you can go home and put your best clothes on - you've got a funeral to go to."

"I have. I will. I'm really going to miss Carter you know."

"I won't. I don't like Carter anymore. 'Bye Davey." He lay down in the coffin again.

I picked up the lid, and then bent over and kissed him. "Goodbye, Carter. Thank you for being my friend."

Tears rolled out of his eyes as he started crying. "Thanks, Davey. Put the lid on now."

I went home, lay on my bed and rang Chalky. The phone woke him up - serves him right. Time he was up anyway. I tried to explain to him what was going on, but he just didn't get it - as in, totally confused. He agreed to come to the funeral anyway. There was no way he was going to miss that.

"Davey, I do know one thing. I know why you like Carter so much. You're just as weird as he is. I'll see you later. Three o'clock, right?"

I lay back for a minute, thinking about that. Was I weird? No. No more than anybody. Chalky could be pretty bloody weird himself.

Paul was next on the list, so I rang him. I did no better at trying to explain the funeral. He said he'd come though. "Wouldn't miss it."

The day dragged on really slowly - every minute seemed like an hour. I kept glancing out the window to see what was going on - nothing! Life next-door seemed to be going on as usual. There was no sign of Carter, but that was nothing unusual. I was tempted to go over and see what he was doing, but I couldn't do that. I'd already said goodbye.

Finally, it was time. I showered and dressed in my best clothes - the same clothes I wore to Great-Uncle George's funeral not so long ago. Grey slacks, long-sleeved white shirt, black tie and black shoes - no jacket, it was a hot day.

I went downstairs to join my family and got some funny looks. They weren't dressed up at all - just everyday clothes. Mum handed me a couple of 3 litre bottles of OJ, and we all walked around - carrying food to Carter's funeral. That didn't seem right somehow.

Marie, Mrs. Matthews, met us at the door and said where to leave the food and stuff. At least she'd gone to some effort - dark burgundy-coloured dress, high heels and a pearl choker. Getting dressed up showed something, I thought. Respect and love for Carter. That's what it felt like anyway. I liked Marie.

We went out and joined the happy, (?), throng in the back-yard. Except for the mothers that is - they stayed in the kitchen where they belonged. (Don't tell them I said that!)

There were people everywhere. Most of the kids seemed to have brought some friends, especially Tease. They were all in their usual clothes, chatting, laughing and playing. I hated the lot of them.

David, Mr. Matthews, came out. He had his dark-blue suit on. That was nice. He could've worn a tie though. Anyway, he came over, put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed gently as he smiled at me. "Thanks, Davey."

Then he moved on to the other guests. I liked David too. Dad joined the circle of men, standing around, drinking beer and joking. I hated them.

After all the build-up, in my mind anyway, the actual funeral was a bit of a non-event really. At 3 o'clock, the speaker hanging out of the window, started playing Eleanor Rigby and the four evangelists - Matt, Mark. Luck and John - came out of the house, carrying the cardboard coffin.

They put it down on the ropes at the foot of the grave and everybody gathered around. Half of them looked like it was all a great joke. Bastards!

Looking a bit embarrassed, David read a short speech about Carter and how it was time to say goodbye to him. He finished by inviting everyone to come forward and throw a couple of shovelfuls of dirt into the grave. "To bury Carter and help him stay buried."

The four evangelists picked up the ends of the ropes, lifting the coffin, and shuffled forward to lower it into the hole, sliding the ropes out afterwards. I think that's what they did anyway. I didn't see that bit, it got too much for me.

I got overcome and started crying, so I moved to the back of the crowd where they couldn't see me. I stood there alone, crying quietly, while they filled in the grave. A hand landed on my shoulder.

I looked around into Carter's eyes - Carter's big, green eyes. He was bald! Totally bald, not a hair on his head and no eyebrows either!

"Hello. Thank you for crying for Carter. What's your name?"

"Umm, Davey - David Coddington. What's yours?"

"I'm Jordan Davidson. Nice to meet you, Davey. I hope that we'll be friends."

"So do I, Jordan. So do I."

And, he kissed me!

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