Westpoint Tales

by Kiwi

Entangled Tales - 51 - Carl

On Monday, school began again and Justin went back. He drifted through each day, surrounded and supported by his friends, especially Claire, Carl, Lucas and Dee, but also Jonathan and his circle - Claudette, Lana, Jinks, Toddy and Daniel.

Tony had flown home, promising to return at Christmas. He and Daniel e-mailed and MSN'd each other constantly.

Justin also spent time with the other members of Whozzat - Peter, Jay, Sandie, Kadie and Shelley. The days went on and he survived and he waited.

The only dark spots were when he actually saw Billy at school and sometimes around the town. Justin inevitably looked at him with silent yearning, but Billy made it clear that he didn't want to know.

Usually, he looked away and ignored him, but sometimes, when their eyes met, he flicked his head and walked away. Each time that happened Justin felt like his heart was breaking, but he struggled on and he coped, survived, and waited.

He still said that the music died but he did run again - constantly - sometimes with Lucas, Carl, Jonathan or others, but usually on his own. Early mornings and evenings he was seen running at full speed along the North Beach, but he didn't like the audience he often had as people came down to watch him. He didn't just run, sometimes he turned somersaults at full speed, did cartwheels or actually ran on his hands.

He laughed, a little, but never with his eyes. His eyes were often almost tear-filled as he watched and waited.

Rehearsals for Oliver were in full swing and everyone agreed that it was going to be a great show that year. Carl was good, Claire was great and Billy was brilliant. Justin still refused to participate, but he sometimes came to the rehearsals, sitting quietly at the back of the hall, until Billy loudly protested that people who were not in the show should not be allowed to watch. He, sadly, stopped coming.

The weeks went on and everyone was excited about the end-of-year show. Performances were planned for the town's movie theatre and for Saturday shows in Hoki and Brownsville. There was even talk of taking the show to Christchurch, but the logistics of that were just too great.

Special matinee performances were planned for all the country schools in the district to come to town, and Peter, with Jay and Crispian, were planning on doing audio and visual recordings. These were sure to sell well locally as almost everyone knew someone involved in the show.

Crispian had finally moved out of the hotel, despite Kathleen's protests. He bought the old Miners' Union Hall, in Cobham Street, and was living in the flat at the back. Whozzat moved out of Jay's mother's garage and used the Union Hall for their practices.

In his spare time, (he had a lot of it), Justin came up with another brilliant invention - a cream which removed hair, easily, painlessly and permanently. He gave that formula to Jonathan as well.

"Do you think it would sell?"

"Are you kidding me? We'll make millions, Brother. Millions."

"Don't be greedy, Jonathan."

The Gorge Marathon came and went - Carl was second in his age-group, Lucas was fifth. Jonathan, Lana, Toddy and Daniel were well back in the field, but at least they finished. Justin applauded from the sidelines, along with Claire, Shelley and Jinks. The weeks passed, life went on, then for one - it stopped.

On a dull and overcast Thursday afternoon, there was a full rehearsal for Oliver after school. Carl and Lucas were there; Carl as the Artful Dodger; Lucas as a chorus member - though, if truth be told, his singing wasn't that great really.

After it finished, they ran together out to the North Beach where they met Justin. He joined them and they ran together. When he suddenly performed a running somersault, flipping over without touching the ground and landing again on his feet, still running, they stopped and applauded.

Then they insisted that he do it again to show how it was done. He did a couple more somersaults, then coached Lucas and Carl as they attempted it. After a few stumbling tries, Carl managed to do one, then, flushed with pride, he did it again. Lucas, however, couldn't flip over without his hands touching the ground. Finally, he gave up - despite their coaxing.

"C'mon Lucas, just do it. What's the worst that could happen on the sand?"

"I could hit the ground and break my neck, that's what. No, I'll leave the flying to Superboy and his apprentice - Super Carl. Time we were going home anyway, it's getting dark and it looks like it's going to rain."

By the time they jogged back into town it was raining steadily. Nevertheless, they decided to accompany Justin back to the Adelphi and then run home from there. They turned into Cobham Street, near the school, and headed up to the main street.

As they ran along, the rain turned into a downpour and Lucas, blinded by the rain, stumbled on the kerb and twisted his ankle. On inspection, they decided it wasn't broken, just sprained, so he draped his arms over the other two's shoulders and they helped him along, in the pouring rain, to the shelter of the open doorway of the Union Hall where Whozzat were practicing.

Dripping wet, they went into the welcome warmth of the hall and Justin sat with Lucas while Carl ran home to get his car to drive them home.

They sat there in their personal puddles and waited. Ten minutes passed, twenty minutes, an hour passed while they waited and wondered where Carl had got to. Lucas took his wet shoe off, and then struggled to get it back on his rapidly swelling foot.

Crispian had just come over to offer to drive Lucas home, when Jonathan and Claudette came running through the open door.

"Justin! Lucas. We've been looking everywhere for you. Guys, there's been an accident - Carl was hit by a car. He was killed instantly. Carl's dead, Guys."

"What?? No!" Justin shot to his feet, and fainted. Crispian and Claudette caught him and lowered him back to the bench-seat.

As soon as he came around, he looked at Lucas who was slumped forward and muttering as he cried.

"Carl can't be dead. He can't be - he's coming back. He's gone to get his car and he's coming back. He has to take me home."

Justin flung his arms around him and they cried together. "Carl, not Carl!. Oh no!"

Crispian touched Lucas' wet back. "Come on, Lad. I'll take you home. You're in shock and you need your mother, she'll know what to do. Help me, Justin. Help your friend, we'll take him home."

Lucas shook his head as they lifted him up. "No, not home. She won't be there. She's at the hospital, she's a nurse there."

"Yeah. We know, Lucas. Come on, we'll take you there."

They drove the short distance back down Cobham Street to the hospital. When they walked in there, Justin and Jonathan half-carrying Lucas, Claire, bawling her eyes out, came running down the corridor to them. She embraced all three and they all stood there sobbing and crying. Eventually they got Lucas to a chair but when his mother saw him, she took him to the ER to strap up his ankle. Dr. Miller gave him a sedative, then came out and asked Justin if he wanted one too.

"Thank you, but no thanks. I don't need one Doctor."

They were allowed to see Carl's body, briefly. He'd been cleaned up and there wasn't a mark on him. He looked for all the world like he was sleeping, but he wasn't - he was dead.

Claire's parents took her home. Marcie was going to finish her shift and take Lucas home, but Justin to her to stay and he would look after Lucas. Jonathan and Claudette helped him to take Lucas home and put him to bed, then they left, but Justin stayed with him.

When Marcie got home shortly after midnight, she found them there - Lucas in bed in his drugged sleep and Justin lying sleeping on top of the covers. She covered him with a duvet from the spare bed and left them there.

When she came out in the morning, Marcie found Justin in the kitchen.

"Good morning, Mrs. Sheridan. I hope you don't mind, I'm just getting Lucas some breakfast. He needs some hot food in him."

"I don't mind, thanks, but I've heard about your skills in the kitchen - or lack of them. Move over. I'll get us some breakfast; you go back and sit with Lucas. And, Justin, thank you for staying with him."

"I had to, Ma'am. Carl was his best friend, but Lucas is my friend too."

"Get back to him then. You're a good kid, Justin Reynolds. Carl was his best friend, but there's nobody better than you."

"I'm just me." He left shaking his head.

Later in the morning, after they'd showered and dressed in Lucas' clothes, Claire came around to collect them and they went to Carl's parents' house to join the mourners there. They arrived and were greeted by the tearful mother, and then they moved around mixing with all the people in the crowded house. Justin was sitting with Claire in the lounge when Carl's father walked in and spotted them there.

"You! What are you doing here, Queer Boy? You needn't think you're coming in here and making a circus out of Carl's funeral like you did at the Carver boy's."

Red-faced and angry, Justin flared up. "Don't you talk to me like that, you horrible little man! You might be grieving for your son, but you've got no right to talk to me like that. If you weren't Carl's father . . . For your information, I loved your son, he was one of the best friends I've ever had and he was a bigger man than you are!"

He stormed off out of the house and Claire came running after him.

"Justin, wait. Where are you going? Don't let him upset you."

"It's a bit late for that now, I am upset. I know he's not thinking right, but I will not be spoken to like that. I'm nobody's doormat."

Claire grabbed him and hugged him, there in the street, which was exactly what he needed. He sobbed on her shoulder.

"I love Carl. I did, I loved him. I wouldn't make a circus of his funeral."

"I know you wouldn't, Sweetcheeks. Of course you wouldn't. Go for a walk and calm down. And, know this - Carl loved you too, he told me that often. Go home, Justin. Go and find your brother."

"Thanks Claire. I love you - very much."

"I know you do, and I love you too. I'd come with you, but I'd better go back."

"Yes, you had. I'll be okay. Keep your chin up, Claire. You're doing well."

Back at the hotel, he was sorry to hear that Billy had been there looking for him and he had missed him. However, he was pleased to receive the note that he'd left. He ran up to his room to read it, but the note said simply, "Sorry to hear about your friend. Take care when you're running. Billy M."

Soon after, Bob came up. "Justin, would you come down to the lounge please. There's some people there who want to see you."

He wouldn't say who it was. "Come and see for yourself." So Justin ran back downstairs. He rushed hopefully into the lounge, but stopped when he saw Carl's parents and a couple of other people he didn't know, there waiting for him.

Jim Douglas rose to his feet and said, "Justin, I want to apologize for the way I spoke to you. It was unforgivable, I know, but I really am very sorry."

"Mr. Douglas, thank you. I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have snapped at you like I did."

They shook hands and Jim said, "I didn't mean to call you a queer boy, it came out all wrong. What I meant to say was "gay-boy", I know that that was Carl's name for you."

"It was. He called me "gay-boy", but it was friendly, not an insult. I was proud to be his friend."

"Thank you, Justin. He was a fine young man, like you said, a bigger man than me. I'm pleased that he had Superboy for a friend."

Mrs. Douglas spoke up, "Justin, we've been talking and we want to ask if you'll sing at the funeral. We'd be honoured if you would."

Mr. Douglas agreed. "Mrs. Lewis is going to have the school choir sing his favourite piece of music - Pachebel's Canon - and she said that you would be perfect to sing the lead vocal. So, will you do it - please?"

"Oh no. I couldn't. I'm sorry, but I can't.'

"But you sung at Jeremy Carver's funeral and it was beautiful. You didn't even know him, Carl was your friend."

"That is why. Singing for Jeremy was the hardest thing I've done in my life. Carl's funeral would be so much harder. I loved Carl, he was special."

Jonathan stepped into the room and put an arm around him. "You should do it, Brother. Sing for Carl, and to show that here's no hard feelings with his family. Your outburst is the talk of the town already."

"I don't care about gossip."

"No, but you care about your friend. Sing for him and for Claire and everyone else who loved him. It won't be the same, you'll be singing with the choir and I'll stand beside you and sing it with you."

"You would do that? Okay. Mrs. Douglas, we'll do it, I'll try my best. But there's one condition - I don't want to stand up the front, we'll stand in the loft at the back of the church."

"Thank you Boys. If you'll sing from the back, that'll be fine."

"Right. We'd better go and see Mrs. Lewis then. Has Claire gone home yet?"

"No. I think she's gone off somewhere with Dee Jamieson and Shelley Buckingham."

Their visitors left and Jonathan drove Justin around to see Mrs. Lewis. After they'd talked, he asked if his brother was okay, and then drove away on his own business. Justin walked across the road and sat on the grass at the side of the small tidal estuary.

Claire arrived home with Lucas and Shelley and they came over and joined him there, sitting in the shade of the flowering pohutukawa tree. They sat and talked and watched the tide slowly rising.

On Shelley's suggestion, they went over and pulled the family's two fiberglass canoes down from their racks in the rafters in the garage. They took them over and put them in the water. Claire took Justin as a passenger in her canoe; he'd never been in a boat before - apart from the Interislander ferry. Lucas paddled for Shelley and they glided upstream as far as they could go on the flat, still water.

On the way back, Claire changed places with Justin and gave him the paddles. Slowly at first and with a bit of wobbling around as he learned to control the small boat, they headed back down-river.

He zig-zagged from side to side and spun a few circles, then powered back towards Lucas. He paddled backwards, frantically, to brake and they touched together with a small bump.

"Right, Superboy. Now you're getting the hang of it. I'll race you down to the river mouth - this is one race where I just might beat you."

He had no show. Justin had mastered the paddling now, it wasn't difficult, and, with very little splashing, he powered away down the river like an Olympic finalist. Lucas sped along as best he could but they were watching the other canoe disappear into the distance.

When they reached the river mouth, he stopped one paddle in the water and held it while the canoe spun to a halt.

"Justin, you're amazing. I should have had skis. Are you sure that you've never done this before?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. But it's not hard and it's a lot of fun. Good exercise for the arms and shoulders too."

"It is that, but I don't think you need the exercise. It's a wonder that you're not built like a younger Arnold Schwarzenegger, you're so bloody strong!"

"I'd have to bulk up to build body-builder muscles. I'm not really that strong, I've just got one really strong muscle in my body."

"One really strong muscle. Dare I ask which one that would be?"

"Not what you're thinking. I'm talking about my brain - stubborn to the max. How come you don't do this more often? I didn't even know that you had canoes."

"We get them out sometimes. When we were kids we used to use them more, especially Peter."

"Well I love this. I'm going to buy a canoe myself."

"You don't have to buy one - come and use ours any time."

"No. Thanks, but I'm going to get one of those sea-kayaks. That'd be great; I could paddle down the river, out to sea and back up this river."

"Yeah. Well these ones wouldn't be any good for that, strictly flat-water canoes here. Here's Lucas and Shelley coming, at last."

He didn't look back where they were; his attention was distracted by something over on the beach. Claire looked and saw, over the low sand-bank between the lagoon and the sea, a certain redhead coming along the beach. Billy was running, slowly, up the beach with a couple of his Carver cousins.

"Oh Sweetcheeks," she sighed. "Are you ever going to stop pining after that boy?"

"No. Never."

"One day you'll have to move on. There's plenty more fish in the sea."

"Not for me, there's not."

"But you could have anyone you wanted. A Hundred girls would give their eyeteeth to get you to switch sides. What's so great about Billy Mathieson anyway?"

"I love him, Claire. Just him and nobody else."

"You've got it bad, haven't you? Maybe you should be a priest or something if you're doomed to keep your pecker in your pants."

"I don't think so," he laughed. "Besides, some of them are not very good at keeping their peckers in their pants anyway."

"So they say. Have you ever known any priests?"

"A couple. One in particular always wanted to pray - after he'd fucked me."

"Whoah. I didn't mean to bring up your murky past, Honey. Here's Lucas. Hello Slowpoke. Do you want to race back now?"

"Oh? Was that a race? We were just cruising down the river, weren't we, Shell?"

"Compared to them, yes, we were."

They paddled together back to the small, Peter-built, jetty and put the canoes away. Claire drove Lucas and Shelley back to the Sheridan's, Justin went for a walk out to the cemetery.

He saw Claire again, on the way back, and then ran, alone again, home to the hotel.

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