The Road of Dreams

by Geron Kees

Chapter 1

© 2016 by Geron Kees. All rights reserved.

This is a work of fiction. All characters and situations are imaginary. No real people were harmed in the creation of this presentation.

It was the late afternoon sun peeking through the trees that made the brief divide in the tall grass by the roadside visible. The entry was always overgrown and hard to see, and without that little bit of help from the sun, they might have missed the turn off completely.

Brian Temple slowed the Bee and swung it into the worn twin tracks, feeling the car give a small bounce as it made the transfer from two-lane blacktop to old compressed dirt and gravel. He was familiar with the rutted path now; he would need to take this slowly so as not to pick up the stones and toss them against the bottoms of the car's side panels. The wide L60 tires on the back, especially, had a tendency to pick things up and dash them against the car's burgundy paint.

Beside him, his buddy Ed tossed back his long, dark hair and grinned. He waved a hand at the windshield, where ahead of them the tall grasses swayed in the afternoon breeze everywhere but within the worn twin tracks of the drive. Solid stands of oaks and maples to either side of them acted to chaperone the old trail ahead as it wound its way back from the road.

"It's a fuckin' awesome day, dude," Ed said. "This was a great idea, comin' here."

Brian nodded. "Nothing like a swim on a hot summer day."

"No lie there. Man, I'm lookin' forward to this, Bry. That cool water is going to feel some kinda fine." Ed sighed, looked out at the brilliant blue of the sky. "Man, it's hard to believe that summer is almost over. It went like a shot this year, you know?"

"Yeah," Brian returned, nodding. "Be 1985 before you know it. We'll be seniors - I'll be eighteen at the end of next year. And graduated." He shook his head, the immensity of it still hard to grasp.

Ed frowned. "Yeah, that's next year. This is this year. For now I just want to see some cool water, and some fine chicks in bathing suits." He waved a hand in front of his face. "Doesn't feel like summer is almost over."

Brian smiled, absorbing a little of his friend's anticipation. It was hot; August usually ushered in the most uncomfortable portion of the summer, and this year had been no exception. The end of the month could be especially hard to live with: the humidity was high enough that Brian could feel the damp between his back and the vinyl covering of the seat right through his tee-shirt; the breezes that flowed in the open windows of the Dodge Super Bee were sun-warmed to uncomfortable and offered nothing in the way of respite.

"I hope the place isn't too crowded," Brian said, carefully negotiating a sudden turn in the timeworn lane. "That always draws the cops, and I just don't feel like dealing with them today."

Ed made a grumbling sound. "Yeah. Glad I left the mini back at the house, I guess." He sighed. "Not like we got any smoke for it, anyway."

Brian laughed. His friend's long-term love affair with getting stoned was legendary around the school. Ed's liberal California upbringing had instilled within him a number of attitudes and habits that his more conservative new friends on the east coast were still amazed by at times. Ed's herculean tolerance for the effects of pot on the human nervous system was just one of the things about his friend that Brian loved. Ed was easy-going, loyal, and tolerant of a lot of things that the locals would be frowning and downing. Ed had been Brian's best friend for a more than a year now, and the two had come to understand each other very well.

"Bet someone here has a joint for sale," Brian suggested, letting his eyes move momentarily to his friend before settling back on the way ahead. "I've got a few extra bucks, if you don't."

Ed beamed. "Now I see why Jeff loves you, man. You got a big heart, and you're always willin' ta share."

For a moment, Brian felt his face warm. Such bold statements from Ed were not unusual; and the fact that he meant them quite sincerely was very special. Still, Brian hadn't quite gotten used to having his secret life known - that he had a boyfriend, and that he was gay.

Well, at least Brian thought of himself as gay, anyway. Ed was of a different opinion. He had pointed out the special relationship that Brian had with Annabelle Catrelle, and that Marianne Davis liked him, too. Actually, there was no shortage of girls at school that at least smiled at Brian when he passed in the hallways - though most of them had come to understand over time that Brian was hard-to-get. For Ed, though, that feminine interest equated with Brian being bi instead of plain gay, and Brian and Jeff both had been content to leave their relationship within that definition in Ed's smiling eyes.

"Uh - yeah," Brian said, nodding. "Speaking of Jeff, he said he'd be here."

Ed grinned. "Dude, if the man said he'd be here to be with you, he'll be here. You guys are like a pair of magnets in a baggie. Jiggle the sucker, and you can hear the two of you click right together."

Brian looked over at his friend. "It isn't that noticeable to everyone else, is it?"

"Nah. You guys have been on the down-low when you're together. I see the love 'cause I know about it. But you guys are cool. Secret's safe, dude."

"Good." Brian blew a short burst of air between his lips. "You let us know if we get too happy in front of people, okay?"

Ed gave him a little salute. "Know my job, man. Been lookin' out for you for some time now."

Brian gave a little laughing snort, but didn't say anything else.

They began to pass small clearings now - places along the lane where the grass had been flattened and lay brown and dead on the ground from the regular presence of parked vehicles. Some of the spots had cars in them - some were even packed full; but even more were empty entirely. That was a good sign, because it meant the quarry wouldn't be too crowded when they got there.

Nicholson's Quarry had been an area landmark for well over a hundred years. Once the source of crushed bluestone for county roads and parking lots, the quarry had had another role thrust upon it in the middle-aged stage of its life. Opened just before the turn of the twentieth century, the quarry had grown from a small hole to a very large one in the next thirty-odd years. Then one holiday evening during the Great Depression, the lone night watchman had gotten himself drunk, and fallen asleep in the little shack at the top of the road leading into the depths of the quarry.

The quarry had always had problems with water accumulation, which leached into the dig from several natural springs. With the watchman missing his rounds that night, the big pumps that kept the water at bay had run out of fuel, and by morning ninety feet of green spring water had covered the steam shovels, crushers, and trucks parked at the lowest level. Those machines were still there; and now the cool and inviting waters lay as deep as four hundred feet in places, and were surrounded by stone cliffs as high as forty feet - each having acquired a name for itself from the more than three generations of teenaged swimmers that frequented the place for a cool summer dip.

The Big Drop. The Diving Board. The Front Porch. The Devil's Run.

Each of these places varied in height and danger, with The Devil's Run being the cliff that everyone bragged about liking best, but which few had actually had the nerve to jump from. That was because it stood better than thirty feet above the water, and in order to jump from it you had to run full tilt to the edge and leap; there were jagged mounds of stone at the cliff's base that you couldn't clear without that forward momentum. It was dangerous, and it was a stupid place to jump from - and the kids loved it, and it was a legend.

The present owners of the land were not happy about the teen traffic - not happy at all. In the fifty years since the quarry had become a swimming hole, 14 youthful swimmers had drowned in the clear waters - most hitting the surface wrong and being stunned after jumping from one of the cliffs, and then sinking into the depths before they could recover. The land was fenced and posted; but teenaged intruders cut the chain links of the fence to gain entry, and pulled down the signs calling for no trespassing. The quarry was a hangout now, passed along from one generation of teens to the next, and not even the police could keep them away.

Every so often three or four carloads of cops would show up, and corral the kids into a large group and check IDs, and hand out citations for trespassing to all those over eighteen years of age. The minors would get warnings - which most of them simply dropped into the weeds as soon as the cops moved on. Brian and his friends were mostly sixteen, and all he'd ever received was a warning. He had trashed his just like the others his age, feeling they were undue, and an overreaction to what was basically a case of kids at play. The quarry had been deemed cool, and not even the law was going to change that.

They pulled up beside another area of flattened, brown grass, and parked within were Jeff's '69 Camaro and Tim's '70 GTX. Brian slid the Bee in next to them. Both of the other cars were empty, their windows up and their doors locked.

"They picked a good spot," Ed said, as Brian shut off the engine. "It's shaded here, so the cars ain't gonna melt while we're gone. And the fence is right over there, so we won't be far off." He gave Brian a knowing look. "I know you don't like to leave your baby by herself too long."

Brian grinned, but otherwise ignored Ed's jibe. The 1968 Dodge Super Bee had a very special place in Brian's heart, no doubt. The car was almost as old as Brian himself - and he felt a special connection with the vehicle as though they were good friends. Since the first time he had driven it, the car had never so much as hesitated in its efforts to please him. That he thought of the car as a living, breathing thing was sometimes made fun of by Ed - but Ed also understood, and it had not been lost on Brian that his friend sometimes referred to the car as a person himself.

Ed was right about Brian's reluctance to leave the car unattended for long in a strange place. There had never been any stories of cars being messed with while parked at the quarry - but there was always a first time. Brian had had his dad weld a length of chain to the underside front of the Bee's hood, which, when the hood was closed, was wrapped around one of the braces supporting the nose of the car, and secured with a padlock. No one was going to get under the hood of Brian's car without some major effort.

Brian and Ed both wore bathing trunks; now the boys pulled off their shirts and kicked off their shoes, tossed them in the car, and locked the doors. They'd already stashed their wallets underneath the seats. Brian had a small, tight interior pocket in his trunks, into which he stowed the keys to the Super Bee for safekeeping.

They circled the other two cars and stepped onto one of the narrow paths running back among the trees. There were several, leading to different entry points through the tall, encircling chain-link fence. Almost Immediately they heard the sounds of water splashing and people talking in the distance, and saw empty beer bottles laying in the path.

"Trashy motherfuckers," Ed said, grimacing. He bent and picked up the scattered bottles and laid them together by the side of the path. "Bad enough the people that own this land freak at us swimming here. But then you gotta have all this crap left all over the place by people too dumb not to know you don't shit where you play."

Brian nodded, keeping a straight face. "Probably Kennedy people. You know how they are."

Ed looked at him a moment, then grinned. "Yeah, yeah, I get it. Just remind me to get those bottles on the way out, okay? I see 'em and leave 'em, I'm just as bad as the assholes who dropped them here in the first place."

They reached the chain-link fence, where a large section had been cut out of it. At some point it had been repaired by taking a new section and weaving the strands of metal together; someone had come along after that and cut the middle out of the repair. The wire of the fence was tarnished by time, but the cuts were shinier at the ends, indicating a more recent assault on the quarry's defenses. They walked through the opening and continued onward.

They rounded a bend in the path, and the end of the quarry came into view, looking like a small lake nestled in among the trees, and surrounded on three sides by vertical walls of stone of varying heights.

The Front Porch, a long and wide ledge that ran along one nearby vertical wall about ten feet above the water, was crowded with people sitting at the edge, their legs dangling in the air. Others were standing, leaning against the rear wall, while others jumped into the inviting depths below. The surface of the water was dotted with heads and the wakes of people swimming, and sparkled with afternoon sunshine.

It was along this end of the quarry that the beach was located - actually just a long, curving stretch of rock and dirt that vanished into the water's edge. Years of usage had left the narrow strip of land relatively clean, and it was along here that people sat on blankets and beach towels, sunning themselves, talking, drinking beer - even a few with bongs or pipes, which were being passed around openly.

This was a place for kids, and when they were here, the rules were whatever they made them.

"Know any of that group?" Brian asked, nodding his head towards a seated mix of guys and girls passing a bowl back and forth.

Ed squinted at them, slowly shook his head. "Nope. Don't mean they won't sell me a joint, though."

He waggled his eyebrows at Brian, who nodded. "Get me a price and I'll run back to the car and get the money."

He stood and watched as Ed ambled over to the group of smokers and dropped to his knees next to the one currently holding the bowl. Brian grinned, shook his head, and looked around the quarry, his eyes searching for a certain familiar face.

He sensed someone come up behind him, and flinched as a hand landed gently upon his shoulder, and squeezed it warmly. Brian turned his head, found Jeff's bright gray eyes only a foot away. The boy's dark, curly hair was wet, and lay against his forehead in a twisted manner that made Brian smile. Jeff was dressed only in black swim trunks - quite short trunks, too. Brian took a breath, feeling his heart give a little pang of desire. "Hi."

Jeff's eyes crinkled in a smile. "Hi. Thought you guys would never show."

Brian returned the smile. "Sorry to take so long. I stopped and got gas and some beer."

Jeff looked down at Brian's empty hands, gave him a quizzical look. "What - you guys drink it all before you got here?"

"No. It's in the trunk of the car. I wasn't bringing it over until I knew for sure the place was cool. Last time we were here the cops showed, and they made me pour the whole six I had then out on the ground."

"Oh." Jeff smiled. "Always practical, huh?"

Brian looked around them, leaned forward slightly and grinned. "About most things. I have my vices, though."

For just a second Brian thought that Jeff was going to kiss him right there, in front of everyone. The other boy leaned in like he was going to, but at the last second did an odd little rotation with his body that took his face away again. Even so, Brian's breath caught at the daring of it. Anyone really watching might have raised an eyebrow at that move.

Brian grimaced. "Tease."

Jeff grinned. "I don't know what you mean."

Ed came back then, interrupting their moment. "Hey, Jeff. 'Sup, man?"

"Just telling Brian I thought you guys might not show."

Ed rolled his eyes. "With you here, waiting? Not likely, dude."

Jeff laughed, and Brian waved a hand at Ed. "What's the guy say?"

"Said he'd sell me three joints for five bucks."

Brian nodded. "You good with that?"

"Fuck, yeah. I took a hit - the shit's potent."

Brian nodded again. "I'll go get the cash." He looked at Jeff, smiled. "Walk with me?"

Jeff nodded, and fell into step with Brian as he headed back down the path.

"Guess I'll wait here," Ed said, to no one in particular. He grinned after the other two, then went back to squat by the guy with the bowl.

Jeff managed to bump against Brian as they walked. Brian was of a mind to tell him to be careful - but then decided he was enjoying it too much.

"We parked next to you and Tim. Where's he, by the way?"

Jeff shrugged. "He's around. Brought some girl with him. Diane-something. I've seen her around school."

Brian nodded. He liked Tim. "Cool. She cute?"

Jeff sighed. "Yeah, more or less. Less to me. But then - you know."

Brian grinned, took a quick look around, then reached out and squeezed Jeff's hand. "Anybody here today you think is cute?"

That brought a smile. "You. But you know that already."

Brian sighed, and nodded. "Still nice to hear it."

They came to the fence, passed through the cut out section, continued on.

"What are you doing tonight?" Brian asked.

"Hadn't settled on anything yet. Got something in mind?"

"Nope. Just asking. Let's think of something we can do together, then."

They arrived at the cars, and Brian dug out his keys and opened the driver's door of the Bee. He bent over and fished his wallet out from under the front seat, found a five dollar bill in it, and then returned the wallet to its hiding place. Jeff bent over and took a sniff of the interior, and smiled. "You love that Armor All, don't you?"

Brian nodded, straightening, and Jeff backed up so that Brian could close the car's door. Brian locked the Bee and returned the keys to the little pocket inside his bathing suit. "Yep. Gotta put something on that crap they used to make the seats back then, or it cracks and tears." Brian made a face. "We can't all have custom leather interiors in our cars."

Brian was referring to the custom interior that Jeff had had installed in his Camaro, but he wasn't serious about the jibe. Jeff's eyes twinkled merrily. "Sounds like jealousy to me."

"Oh, it is. I get that way sometimes." They started back up the path towards the fence. Again, Jeff kept bumping against Brian as they walked.

This time, just after they passed through the hole in the fence, Jeff looked both ways quickly, then grabbed Brian's arm and yanked him into the underbrush. Brian was surprised, but grinned inwardly and went with it. Jeff pulled him deep into the bushes, and when they were out of sight of the path, the other boy collapsed to his knees, drawing Brian down with him.

And then Jeff had his arms around Brian, and their bodies were together, and they were kissing intensely, and rubbing each other's bare skin.

Brian felt his dick stand to immediate attention, and just as quickly felt Jeff's pushing back. It took his breath away to feel Jeff against him, naked save for a small band of thin material about his waist.

"Damn." Brian's heart pounded in his chest. "How we gonna go walking around now? My dick's poking a hole in my swimsuit."

"Yeah?" Jeff looked down, frowned. "Oh. Shit, I thought you meant really." He looked back up into Brian's eyes and grinned. "If it had really poked through, I know what I was going to do with it."

Brian laughed softly, and kissed his boyfriend again. "I'd love to do something, I really would - but look where we are. It would take just one guy stoned off his ass to come wandering through here and fall over us while we're playing around. Then the secret would be out."

"I know. And Ed is waiting on us, too." Jeff sighed. "We have to have a little time alone tonight or something, or I'm gonna go nuts."

"Okay." Brian nodded. "We will. I promise."

They stood, kissed a last time, and moved back towards the path. They had to stand in the bushes by the trail for a few minutes while their equipment readjusted itself; but then they stepped out and headed back to the quarry.

Ed bounced up to them as they returned. "They're getting ready to roll out, man. I gotta hurry."

Brian laughed, but handed the fiver over to his friend. Ed grinned ear-to-ear, and his eyes lit with delight. "Back in a flash with the stash." Then he was off again.

"Where did you find this guy?" Jeff asked, grinning.

"I didn't. He found me. I was at boxing practice one day and I looked over, and he was shadowing me. You know - mimicking my punches."

"Why the hell was he doing that?"

"He was stoned off his ass." Brian smiled, looking fondly at Ed as the boy made his buy. "Grinned at me like a fool the whole time. I finally went over to him to ask what was up, and he said, 'Whoa, there, Cochise. Just havin' a little fun. '"

Jeff blinked. "Cochise?"

"Yeah. Then, when I went to the locker room, he followed me. And kept following me. It was weird as shit."

Jeff reached out and poked Brian. "You sure he isn't a little, um, friendly? I mean, maybe he likes you more than you know."

"Nah." Brian shook his head. "Ed's just a little crazy. After he followed me around we wound up sitting on the bench out in front of the school waiting on the bus. That's how I learned he lived just down the street from me, and that he was from California." Brian shrugged, grinning. "Been my buddy ever since."

Ed finished his deal and bounded back to them. "Got a light?"

Jeff and Brian looked at each other. "Do we look like we're carrying fire someplace?" Brian asked, patting his bathing trunks.

Ed's face fell. "Shit. Don't tell me I got me some poco loco but now I'm not gonna be able to find a way to light it!"

Brian sighed. "Let's go back to the car. We'll smoke one of those joints, and stash the other two. Okay?" He looked at Jeff. "Okay?"

Both boys agreed, and they turned and headed again back to the Bee. And again, Jeff kept bumping up against Brian and smiling playfully.

Ed noticed, but just grinned. Brian still wasn't totally relaxed with having Jeff be affectionate in Ed's presence - but he was getting better with it every day.

Ed stopped and retrieved the empty beer bottles he'd stacked by the path, and Brian just shook his head at the other boy.

They got back to the car and climbed in, Jeff in front with Brian, Ed content to take the back seat. Ed put the empty bottles on the mat by his feet and waved the joints excitedly in the air. Brian retrieved a Bic lighter from the glove box and handed it over the seat. "Fire it up."

Ed did just that, holding the flame to the end of the joint, closing his eyes, and inhaling deeply. Very deeply.

"Goddamn," Jeff said, grinning, as fully half the joint disappeared into ash. "Take a hit, why don't you?"

Ed opened his eyes and grinned. His chest swelled and he gasped; then the smoke was pouring out again. "Gotta take a big first one to overcome my natural resistance. Now that the door's been busted down, the rest will be easy." He handed the joint to Jeff, who looked at it a moment before taking a short hit and passing it to Brian.

Brian smiled, but didn't say anything. Jeff didn't like to get stoned, preferring a few beers to a couple of hits. But he had learned to toke to be sociable, and that it went a long way towards being accepted by his peers.

Brian took a good hit, passed the joint back to Ed. "Go ahead and kill it, Ed. Me and Jeff are gonna have a beer - you want one?"

"Shit, yeah." Ed inhaled until the stub of the joint nearly disappeared between his fingers, then squeezed out the fire and ate the remainder. When Jeff eyed him incredulously, Ed just grinned. "Waste not, want not, I always say."

Brian laughed, looking at Jeff. "What he means is, 'why crawl like a drunk when you can fly like an eagle?'"

They put the remaining two joints in Ed's wallet and returned it to its spot underneath the passenger seat, then got out of the Bee and locked it up again. They walked around to the trunk and opened it, and each got a Molson out of the cooler.

"I'm learning to really like this shit you drink," Jeff said, examining the label on his beer bottle. "I've been drinking some real pisswater with the boys at McClelland Road."

McClelland Road was where the car crowd from Kennedy High School hung out to race - the counterpoint to Proctor High's Zion Road. Brian had taken the Bee there a couple of times to race, and had noticed that a number of the Kennedy boys drank a lot of the very cheapest brands of beer.

"No shit there," Brian agreed. "I saw a few of those dudes drinking the buck-fifty-a-sixpack stuff the drunks snort down by the railroad tracks."

Jeff laughed. "That would be Billy Jick and his Ford mafia. They think beer has to be painful going down to be really good."

Ed took a big gulp off his bottle, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Man, that's good and cold. Makes me realize it's hot as shit, dudes. What say we head back to the water?"

It was agreed. They retraced their steps up the path to the quarry, and walked around the right edge of the water towards the The Front Porch. A narrow trail, sloping upwards, appeared before them, and they scaled it, single-file, and emerged on the wide ledge overlooking the water.

There were a number of people there, many seated on the edge of the ledge, their feet dangling over the water. Brian let his eyes go down the line - and stop on the back of a couple of familiar heads.

"That looks like Missy," Ed said then, apparently seeing the same thing.

"Yup. Missy and Annabelle."

Ed grinned, and went off after the two girls. Missy and Annabelle were talking, and watching the swimmers below. Ed squatted carefully behind Missy and put his hands around her head, over her eyes. "Guess who?"

Missy gave one of her snorting laughs. "Is that you, Elvis? I thought you were dead."

She turned, grinning, and Ed withdrew his hands. "Close. Want me to sing to you?"

Both girls laughed. "No," Missy said, pointedly. "I've heard you sing, Ed."

Annabelle twisted around further and saw Brian and Jeff. Her eyes lit and she scrambled to her feet. "Hey, guys. What's up?"

Brian smiled, took a few steps closer. "Not much, little girl. What are you two doing?"

"Getting some sun. Hanging out." Her eyes went past Brian to settle on Jeff.

"Hi," Jeff said, coming forward. He smiled.

Annabelle smiled back, but there was a slight squint to her eyes as she looked at Jeff. Brian licked his lips, knowing that the girl had mixed feelings about the Camaro driver. In the time that Jeff and Brian had been hanging out together, she had sensed a change of some sort - something she could not identify, but that seemed to have even further widened the distance between Brian's world and her own.

She nodded. "Um, hi. Nice to see you."

Jeff was sensitive to Annabelle's hesitation. He and Brian had discussed the possible pitfalls of the two of them suddenly spending so much time together and the reactions it had already caused with Brian's other friends. They had agreed to just act as normal as they could for the time being, and hope that over time Jeff's presence came to be accepted by everyone. Ed's immediate acceptance of the Kennedy High School boy had done a lot to ease his entry into what had been until then exclusively a Proctor High circle; the car crowd had accepted him now, along with GTX Tim, and welcomed his presence in the corner of the shopping center in Alna where they all hung out. Annabelle's focus on the amount of time that Brian and Jeff spent together was a special case, because it had cut into the already slim allotment of time that Brian had been spending with her.

Jeff tilted his head back and examined Annabelle's bikini. It was just short of an ogle."Great bathing suit, if you don't mind me saying."

The squint in the girl's eyes lightened. "Thanks. Yours is okay, too."

Jeff tried not to grin, but didn't quite manage it.

Brian sighed. "Yeah, you're both sexy as hell. Can we get on with this?"

Annabelle turned back to face him and her mouth dropped open. She gave him a gentle slap on the arm. "You're bad, Brian."

Jeff's eyes twinkled as they met Brian's over the girl's shoulder, but he refrained from saying anything.

Brian gave a small laugh. Two months ago Jeff had been so shy he could barely be coaxed out of his car to meet new people. Now he had become quite daring in his new freedom, saying and doing things that sometimes had Brian inwardly gasping. That Jeff was in the grip of a release from years of loneliness and tension was obvious to Brian; that he needed to keep an eye on Jeff and help him occasionally with boundaries, equally plain.

"Okay, I won't tell you you look sexy as hell, then," Brian backpedaled. Brian actually meant the compliment; had his eyes had a slightly different bent as to what they enjoyed looking at, Annabelle would be one of the first things they sought out. He could still appreciate her looks, gay or not, and he already liked the girl far too much not to feel an attraction.

Annabelle put her hands on her hips and closed one eye. "Am I going to have trouble with you, too?" But she was just barely sitting on a smile, the enjoyment she was getting out of being around Brian too obvious in her eyes to entertain the idea that she was really annoyed.

Brian shrugged, offering a small grin. "Hey, I don't want no trouble. I'm just here to get wet."

"Why?" Ed said then, looking curiously at Missy. "You had trouble with someone else?"

The two girls looked at each other.

"Well --" Missy began. She stopped, shrugging at Annabelle, as though offering the ball to her.

Annabelle frowned. "No - it was nothing. Some weirdo who thought he was Romeo or something, who wouldn't leave us alone when we first got here."

Ed and Brian exchanged glances. "Anybody we know?"

"There were two of them, actually. Never saw either of them before. The weird guy did all the talking." She smiled then. "Well, the tall weird one."

"What'd they look like?" Ed asked, a small agitation appearing in his manner. Brian immediately reached out and touched his friend on the wrist.

"I'm cool," Ed said, glancing at him. "I just wanna know who's messin' with our friends."

Missy's eyes widened, and she quickly hid a smile of surprise. "They didn't do anything but be annoying, Ed."

Ed nodded. "Okay. What'd they look like?"

Annabelle shrugged. "The first weird guy was tall and skinny, with long brown hair and a big nose. The other one was short and a little fat. Greasy looking." She compressed her lips together and wrinkled her nose in distaste. "They were both just kind of strange."

"They wouldn't go away, even when we told them to get lost," Missy added. She smiled. "I finally said I was going to scream if they didn't beat it, and they took off."

"Um - the tall guy - he have glasses?" Jeff suddenly asked.

Annabelle gave him a surprised look, but nodded.

"And the little fat guy - hair that stood up on his head and looked like it hadn't been washed in a couple of years? Kind of a lost look about him?"

"That's them," Missy agreed. "You know 'em, Jeff?"

Jeff shrugged. "Maybe. Sounds like two guys at my school. Donnie Witmore and Gary Peterhoff. They're strange, but harmless."

"Well, they aren't too bright," Annabelle said. "They need to learn to get it when people aren't interested."

Jeff allowed himself a small smile. "They're a little lacking in the social graces. But they wouldn't have hurt you, believe me."

Annabelle sighed. "It doesn't matter. They're gone now."

Ed nodded. "You see 'em again, you point 'em out to me."

Brian was surprised at his friend's reaction. That Ed had a thing for Missy he knew; that Ed could be made to show a streak of anger for an apparent slight to her, illuminating.

Brian reached out again and this time squeezed Ed's wrist. "Easy there, Cochise."

Ed looked at him, and suddenly broke into a grin. "My warpaint's showin', huh?"

"Just a little."

Ed shrugged. "Just don't like anyone messin' with my friends, is all." Missy's eyes glowed at that, sensing that there was more to it.

Brian nodded. "I see that. We don't want to be scaring the natives, though, so relax."

Ed just grinned, and tossed back the last of his beer. Jeff did the same, and handed his empty to Ed. Ed rolled his eyes, but sat both bottles on the stone ledge by the girls' things so that he could take them when they left.

Brian took a hit off his own bottle, then offered the last big gulp to Annabelle. She took the bottle with evident delight and polished it off.

They decided to go swimming after that. Well, kind of. Annabelle gave Brian a big push, and then turned and leaped from the ledge, laughing. Brian understood that he'd been dared and that he had to follow, or risk snubbing her. He gave a pleading look to Jeff, who simply grinned and nodded after the girl.

Brian jumped into the cool waters, and swam after Annabelle, who led him a merry chase. He finally cornered her by one of the stone walls, and she let him grab her and pull her close, and rested her hands on his shoulders and smiled into his eyes. "I guess you win."

"I guess I do." He leaned forward and gave her a small kiss. Her eyes opened a bit wider; but she understood immediately that it was a peace offering, and not a promise. They had known each other too long for her to misunderstand. Brian was about distance; she could follow, but she also knew she could never quite catch him.

But they had traded these small, affectionate moments before. They liked each other, and they were fond of each other, and that Brian had never quite taken the extra step needed to make it more had been something that Annabelle had always accepted. They were young, and she was in no hurry, either; and she had always held out a hope that someday there might be more between them. To press the issue would be like yanking back hard on the fishing pole; the line would snap and the fish escape. So Annabelle was, above all things, patient.

She looked about now, at all the people moving about them in the warm afternoon sun. "I love this place. I always have, ever since the first time I came here."

Brian nodded. "It's a special place, you're right. Coming here is kind of like visiting another planet or something. Different rules, different sense of time."

Annabelle smiled. "There's something neat about the way you look at stuff, Brian. You see the world a little differently than anybody else I know."

"Really?" Brian returned the smile. "Most people don't notice."

"I have. I always have."

Again, Brian felt a small pang of sadness that he could not feel about Annabelle in the fashion that she desired. The world had made him differently, and he had to abide by that ruling. He loved Annie as a friend, and he liked her very much; but he loved Jeff as a lover, and that was the way it was.

He smiled. "Anything happening tonight? What do you and Missy have planned?"

She sighed. "Well, the wagon's broke down - again," she said, referring to the old Ford station wagon that she and her brother shared for transportation. "I heard about a big party out in Komus - but it doesn't look like we'll be able to go."

"Komus?" Brian repeated, surprised. "That's the middle of nowhere. What the hell's out there?"

Annabelle grinned. "The way it was told to me is that the party is at this big old haunted house out in the middle of eighty acres of woods and cornfields."

Brian blinked. "Haunted house? For real?"

"Yup. The house is supposed to be two hundred years old, has a cemetery next to it, and belongs to some real estate investors in Pennsylvania or somewhere. There's a couple that live in a trailer on the land and look after it - they're the ones having the party."

"That sounds cool as shit," Brian said, grinning. "You know the way?"

"I have directions," Annabelle said, nodding. Her eyes were bright, sensing his interest.

"Is this by invitation, or can anybody go?"

Annabelle grinned. "I was invited, but it's an open party. My cousin, Jennifer, knows the couple that are throwing it." She leaned a little closer as they treaded water together. "She said I could bring anybody I wanted."

"Anybody?" Brian repeated, giving her the eye.

For a second Annabelle's eyes flicked up to the ledge above them, where Missy and Ed and Jeff sat with their legs dangling in the air.

She nodded. "Anybody. The whole car crowd, if you want."

Brian nodded at the unspoken agreement. "I'll drive, if we can invite all of our friends, too."

"Okay. Sounds good to me."

The thing about swimming at the quarry was that it could be tiring to do it for too long a stretch. With no bottom to stand on and rest for a moment, you were always treading water, always active. Every so often it paid to at least hit the beach for a few minutes rest.

So they swam that way, and got out of the water, and climbed the path back to The Front Porch.

Ed looked up at them as they arrived. He was sitting beside Missy, his arm pushed up against hers. "What's up?"

"Party," Brian said, grinning. "We gotta go back to the Twin Center and see who's in the parking lot. We wanna invite the whole crew."

Annabelle smiled. "I heard it was supposed to be pretty wild. A haunted house party."

Ed beamed. "Yeah? We going, Bry?"

"Yep. I told Annie that she and Missy could ride with us."

Jeff's face fell, and Brian immediately grinned at him. "You're invited,too. And Tim, if we can find him."

Jeff brightened. "Yeah? Great. Where's this party at?"

"Komus," Brian said, his grin widening.

Ed and Jeff looked at each other.

"Komus?" Jeff repeated. "There's nothing there but fields and woods and squirrels."

"You mean out by Sugarloaf Mountain?" Ed asked. They had partied on the mountain in the past. It was a great place to watch the sunset with friends and a few beers.

"Actually, the house is right near the mountain," Annabelle said, her teeth showing now in a grin. "It's an old house. A haunted house."

Missy took a breath. "Oh, we're going to that?"

"With Brian and Ed, in the Bee," Annabelle returned.

Missy looked at Ed, and the two of them grinned at each other.

"I can meet you guys at the shopping center," Jeff said. "I'll follow you. Is that okay?"

Brian looked at Annabelle. "What time does this party start?"

"Jennifer said anytime after seven would be fine."

Brian nodded, looked back at Jeff. "If you meet us about six thirty, that would be cool."

"Sounds like a plan."

"We're leaving now?" Ed asked then.

Brian nodded. "We need time to find everyone and tell them."

Ed grinned at Missy. "I came here to swim, and I ain't even touched the water. See you." He leaned forward and gave the girl a quick kiss, then slid off the ledge and plummeted into the water below. Missy gaped, then laughed. "Wait for me!" She pushed herself forward and dropped with a splash into the cool waters.

"Ed's showing a romantic side, huh?" Annabelle asked, smiling at Brian.

Brian rolled his eyes. "You knew it was coming, the way he's always mooning at her," he returned. "The flag has always been up; now it's flapping in the breeze."

Annabelle laughed, and squeezed his arm.

They gathered their things, including Ed's forgotten round of empty beer bottles, and headed down the path to meet the others below.

Brian couldn't help grinning to himself. Party, y'all! The coming night looked like a good one.

The girls had hitched a ride to the quarry with friends; they found them now, and told them they were going back with Brian in his car. The five of them walked back to the parked cars, and found Tim sitting in the shade with his back to the side of his GTX, a pretty brunette sitting next to him. Tim looked quite nice in a red Speedo, and the girl wore a bikini that was even skimpier than Annabelle's, if possible.

"Hey, people," Tim said happily, getting up as the others arrived. Tim reached down and helped the girl to her feet. "Want you to meet Diane Christiansen. Deedee, this is Brian, Ed, Jeff, Annie, and Missy."

The new girl nodded, and showed a beautiful white smile. "Hi. Heard a lot about all of you."

"Nothing good, I hope," Ed said immediately, "'cause I know we won't live up to it."

Annabelle laughed, and Missy elbowed Ed in the ribs. "Speak for yourself, boy." She nodded at Diane. "Any friend of Tim's."

They all laughed.

Brian immediately mentioned the party, and asked if Tim and Diane would like to go. Tim looked at the girl, plainly begging with his eyes; she immediately smiled and nodded. "Sounds like fun. Sure."

They arranged to meet at the shopping center in Alna at six-thirty.

Brian unlocked the Bee and everyone climbed in. Jeff went to his Camaro and opened it, sat in the driver's seat with his legs outside. Brian went over to stand by him a second, smiling. "We'll find time tonight," he whispered.

Jeff smiled. "I'm gonna hold you to that, Brian."

Brian grinned, mouthed the words I love you.

Jeff beamed, and swung his legs into the car and closed the door as Brian stepped back. "Gonna hold you to that, too, Brian."

The Camaro started with a roar, and then Tim's GTX. Brian went back to the Bee and climbed in, added the Dodge's sullen grumble to the air of idling engines.

Tim pulled out, and Jeff followed. Brian backed the Bee out, turned to follow the other cars. Everyone kept it slow, aware, as had been Brian, of the stickiness of the gravel of the drive.

They got to the road, and Tim pulled out. He goosed the GTX; the tires spun, and the car took off. Jeff followed - his exit was even more impressive.

"Go for it, dude," Ed said, excitedly. Brian grinned, pulled out, and laid rubber on the blacktop for several hundred feet as he took off after the others.

Down the road, in the other direction, a county police car sat in the shade beneath a swaying maple tree. Two officers sat in the front seat, sharing a small pizza and sipping on large-sized Cokes. They both stopped chewing at the sound of roaring engines and tires squealing; then the driver smiled and resumed chewing. "Nicholson's sounds busy today."

The passenger nodded. "Damn kids."

The driver paused. "I went swimming there when I was a kid."

The passenger nodded. "Me, too."

The driver listened as the cars - sounded like two or three of them, went through the gears and vanished up the road in the other direction. "Wanna go?"

His companion frowned. "And ruin a perfectly good pizza? Hell no."

The driver grinned, and resumed eating.

Some things never change.

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