Nick's Story

by Nick Brady

Chapter 7

The next Saturday morning I was up early and dressed. Mom was in the kitchen just starting the coffee. I didn't want to wait as the percolator started to burp slowly, so I poured a big glass of milk and grabbed the pie pan which contained two slices of apple pie left over from the night before.

"Can I take this to Jack?" I asked as I started for the door.

"I suppose so," Mom said, "But are you sure he will be up this early?"

"Sure, he said to come up first thing." and I started for the stairs.

Two flights of stairs taken two at a time got me up there puffing in a flash. I juggled the milk in one hand and the pie in the other and knocked at the bottom of the door with the edge of my shoe. It was closed tight and I couldn't hear any noise inside.

"Jack! Are you in there?" I yelled, kicking the door a little harder. This time I heard a muffled voice and stepped back to wait. In a minute Jack opened the door wearing only a pair of Levi's. His face, bare chest and stomach were covered with the impression of wrinkles from his wadded up bedsheet. His hair was pushed up on one side and his eyes were puffy and half closed.

"Did I wake you?" I asked.

Jack gave me an exasperated look. "No, I have been up for hours." He said as he stepped back and motioned me inside. He yawned, stretched his back and stood there with his hands on his hips. "What have you got there?"

"Milk and Mom's apple pie." I said. "There is enough for both of us."

"That might work. Let me get a couple of forks."

Jack opened a drawer in his little kitchen and pulled out a pair of mismatched forks and went over to the sofa and flopped down. I brought the milk and pie and sat down next to him, leaning against his shoulder and balancing the pie pan on his knee. He handed me one of the forks and we each attacked a piece of apple pie. I took a bite and washed it down with a little milk, then handed the glass to Jack. He looked a little surprised then grinned and took the glass.

He shrugged his shoulders and said, "It's nice to share." then took a drink and handed the glass back to me. "Good pie. Thank your mom."

We finished the pie, pretending to fight over the last bite but I made Jack take it. We shared the last swallow of cold milk and leaned back on the sofa. I kept looking at Jack. He was so nice to be with I would have liked him even if he was ugly, but he wasn't at all. He had a handsome face, a chin covered with dark stubble now and the solid slender body of a young man who worked hard and took good care of himself.

He told me one time that he didn't smoke or drink, and had lectured me several times about my preference for what he called junk food. His skin glowed with the kind of dark tan that people with olive skin get late in the summer. I loved the fine hair on his chest. I had seen men at the Y that were hairy and looked gross, but on Jack it looked good -- probably because the body it covered was so fine.

"OK, let's go." Jack said suddenly, making me jump a little. He chuckled, "Were you asleep?"

"No, I was just thinking, that's all."

"Hmm, I won't ask what you were thinking, we don't have time for that."

I grinned, thinking that Jack knew me pretty well. And so we began. Jack had cleaned all the paint off the fixtures in the kitchen and bath room, and had covered the graffiti on the walls with some Kilz primer. First we spread old newspapers on the floor along each wall, and then we started to roll paint on all the walls with an off white latex paint that my father had given him.

"It's so boring to paint everything white." I said. "Why does everything have to be white?"

Jack never looked away from his paint roller but answered, "White makes a small room bigger and goes with any color furniture is why. What color would you like to paint it?"

I thought a minute. "Maybe paint everything black and get some of those purple lights."

Now Jack turned from his painting to give me a kind of `get serious' look, but didn't say anything.

The apartment was small, and Jack painted all the ceilings while I did most of the walls. When we were finished Jack took a brush and touuched up the places in the corners where we missed with the rollers and I took a wet rag and cleaned up the drips on the old oak flooring that missed the newspaper. By 11:30 we were through.

We wadded up all the newspaper and straightened up the furniture. Jack had come up with some curtains from somewhere and added a couple of side chairs and a little table in the kitchen. The bedroom was pretty neat except for the unmade bed. Jack smoothed out the covers and that looked nice too.

"What do you think?" Jack asked. "Do you think your father will be pleased?"

"What do you think?" I replied. "You are the one who lives in here."

Jack laughed and sat back down on the sofa. "Well, I do for the moment."

"I hope you live here forever" I said.

"Forever is a long time. I am about finished with this place and your dad's half price rent is only good while I am remodeling."

"There are 18 units in this apartment house and they all need something." I said. "This one was the worst because of the dope heads but there is plenty to keep you busy. Dad does a lot of it on the weekends and Kevin and I help, but Dad really could use some help. He works full time at the airport and then works here all weekend. Sometimes it makes him grouchy."

"Your dad is kind of quiet. He seems nice but I don't feel like I know him. Your mom is a sweetheart. I feel like I have known her forever."

"Yeah, Mom says that Dad is a man of few words." He says what he thinks we need to know but isn't a lot for chit chat. He loves us for sure, but he doesn't have much time to mess with us."

"Does he come to your ball games?"

"Sometimes. Not very often though. He used to come more but now he is always working." I thought about my parents. "Kevin and I can hear them talking sometimes. I think they worry about money. Mom says she should work to help out but Dad doesn't want her to. He says that me and Kevin need her more than we need the money."

"If she was working, she might not have time to bake apple pies." Jack observed.

"Yeah, that's worth a lot, isn't it? I don't know, we get by OK. It's nice that she is here when we get back from school, and in the summer it would be kind of bad if she was working somewhere else all day. I think Dad is right."

"You have a nice family, you know?" Jack said.

"I know. Kevin is neat too but don't tell him I said so." I looked at Jack. "I think maybe he knows I am gay. He is pretty sharp. When he saw me with Tony he put some things together. I thought he would be grossed out but he was cool about it, you know? Like he was worried about me."

"Have you talked to him about it?" Jack asked.

"No, not like that, but I think he has an idea. It is hard to talk about."

"Jack leaned his head back on the sofa. "Yeah kid. I know."

I looked at Jack and wondered about his family. Does your family know you are gay? You have never mentioned your family."

"Yes, my mother and father and two older brothers live in St. Louis. They know I'm gay."

"Is that cool?" I asked.

Jack continued to stare at the ceiling, "If it was, I wouldn't be in Tulsa."

"What happened?"

"Oh, my dad does construction work and my brothers are both macho jock types. They are both married and one has young kids. They do trade work too. They are good people, I don't mean that, but they are very conservative and can't understand why I want to make out with other guys. They think I should change my mind about that kind of thing and get married like they have. "

"You didn't really choose to be gay, did you?"

"Of course not Nicky, no more that you did. They just don't understand that. I got outed by a guy who saw me playing around with a buddy in his car. He and I were both 16. This guy couldn't wait to tell my brother – he thought it was funny. My brother told the rest of the family and they had a kind of private family inquisition. The bottom line was that if I insisted on being a pervert I wasn't welcome any more."

Gee, that's pretty rough."

"Yeah it is. I think maybe they thought they could force me to give up my evil ways and then felt like they had to stick with their ultimatum. Real men don't back down, even if it's stupid. I really think that my mother could have accepted it, but she is geared to do what my father tells her to do so it was pretty unanimous that I wasn't welcome as part of the family any more. It's kind of hard." Jack looked down at his hands in his lap and examined the backs of his thumbs. "Really, it's hard to talk about Nicky."

"I'm sorry." I said. I didn't mean to be nosy."

"No, that's alright. I don't mind you knowing. You've been honest with me and I should be honest with you. Actually, you are the first person I have ever told that to.

I didn't really know what to say so I asked, "Does that make me special?"

Jack laughed out loud. "No, that makes you a nosy little twerp." then he turned and smiled at me, "And I do love you Nicky."

"I know." I said. "I love you too."

We looked at each other for a minute. It occurred to me that this wasn't a sexy kind of I love you, it was a friendship kind of I love you. I leaned against Jack's shoulder and took one of his hands in mine and held it.

"Hey Nick." Jack said.

"Hey what?" I said, looking at Jack.

Jack looked at the wall and sighed. "I have been thinking. I am friends with a family at my church. They have a son about your age who is a musician. I am going to hear him play at a recital tonight. Would you like to go with me?"

A concert would sound cool. Recital sounded like something that little girls did. It actually sounded kind of boring. "Sure Jack. If you are going. What kind of thing is it."

Jack laughed. "You agree to go, and then you ask what it is. You are so trusting." Jack laughed again. "I don't know if it will be your kind of thing or not Nicky. The recital is for a piano quintet made up of members of the Tulsa Youth Symphony. That's like a string quartet plus a piano. The son of my friends plays the piano."

What kind of music do they play? Is it cool?"

Well, It's classical music. Not exactly Rock and Roll, but I like it. The thing is that they are just kids about your age and they play brilliantly. Have you ever heard classical music performed live?"

"No." I said. I thought to myself, of course not. "My mom listens to it on the radio a lot. If you think it's cool, then I want to hear it. When is it?"

"It's tonight actually. Do you think you could go?"

"I am pretty sure that my folks will let me if they know I am going with you. It would help if you wrote a note with the details so they know where I will be. They like you."

Jack made a little face and shook his head, "If they only knew we are both gay." he said.

"They don't know anything like that," I said. "And if they did, I don't think they would make me move out. It scares me to think about telling them I am gay, but I don't think they would be like your family, or at least I hope not."

"There is more love in your family than there was in mine." Jack said a little sadly. "I think you are probably right."

"I would rather not know." I said. "About tonight -- when and where is this recital?'

"Oh, it's not far at all, over at Trinity Episcopal. We could practically walk over there."

"Do you want to walk?"

"No," said Jack, "I will drive over in my truck because we might want to go somewhere afterwards."

"OK, cool. Then I will ask Mom and Dad, whoever is home."

Jack wrote a note explaining about the recital and that we would probably go get something to eat afterward and that I would be back before midnight. When Mom read the note she smiled.

"My my, a classical recital at the cathedral. That is pretty fancy young man. You know that you will need to dress up for something like that."

"Dress up? Like what?"

"Like that nice blue suit I got from Mrs. Simpson when her boy outgrew it. I think it should fit you now."

"A suit? With a necktie?" This was beginning to sound pretty bogus. "I bet Jack won't be wearing a darned suit."

Mom laughed, "Well I bet you will be surprised. Yes indeed. Clothes make the man you know."

I was stuck. I didn't want to wear a suit and tie but I couldn't exactly cancel out on Jack just because of that. After all, this was the first time Jack and I had done anything like this together and I wanted to go. I wasn't sure about the music, but I was sure about going with Jack.

At 6:30 I knocked on Jack's door. I was wearing a dark blue suit that was only slightly too big for me. Mom had turned the cuffs under and pressed them, and I was wearing my one white shirt and one of Dad's gray neckties. Mom had said I looked very nice but I felt weird. I was sure that Jack would answer the door in jeans and a knit shirt and I could run down and dump the suit.

The door opened and there stood Jack in a black double breasted suit that fit him perfectly with a dazzling white shirt and a dark red silk necktie. He had shaved close and brushed his hair back very smoothly, parting it loosely in the middle. He smelled of some kind of wonderful cologne and looked like something out of the Gentlemen's Quarterly. I stood and looked at him with my mouth open. He was the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen.

"Hey, you look nice." Jack said with a big smile.

I looked down at myself and remembered that I was also wearing a suit, "Uh, thanks. You look terrific."

"Clothes make the man." Jack laughed.

"Damn, that's what my mother said."

"You look good." Jack said. "You clean up real nice. Who tied your necktie for you?"

"Uh, my Mom."

"Well, it is a little lopsided. Can I re-tie it for you?"

I said sure and Jack turned me around so that he was behind me. We stood in front of a long mirror he had leaning against the wall just inside the front door. He put his arms around me and loosened the tie while I leaned against the front of his black suit, tipping my head back against his shoulder. I could smell his cologne and the heat from his body, He carefully adjusted the long end of the tie so that it was at the bottom of my crotch and then started wrapping it this way and that around the short end. When he finished the knot made a nice smooth triangle that disappeared under my collar and the long end of the tie was just touching the top of my slacks. He looked at it from one side then the other and then buttoned my suit coat.

"Perfect" Jack exclaimed.

I wiggled my butt against Jack's crotch and asked, "Can you tie it again?"

"Come on slowpoke, the recital starts at 7:00."

I had never been inside Trinity Episcopal Church before and was pretty impressive. It rose up high in the center with the ceiling supported by long thin columns and all the walls were covered with beautiful stained glass windows. It looked like pictures of old cathedrals I had seen, except that this was new and clean and about half full of people. Up on the second level near the front were 4 chairs with music stands in front of them and a long shiny black grand piano with the lid up on a prop facing the audience. I had never seen a piano that big before.

We were a little early and I looked around at the people. There were younger kids sitting with their parents and I figured they had kids in the recital. Several of these little groups had what looked like grandparents with them. This was kind of like little league baseball in a way. The kids on the team had family there to cheer them on.

There were other people there too, by themselves or in couples. I noticed one couple that was two guys sitting and talking in a very familiar way. I wondered about them. Another thing I noticed was that almost everyone was dressed up and I was glad Mom had made me wear the suit. I looked as good as any of them, except maybe for Jack.

Right at 7 o'clock, a lady walked to the center of the platform and made some announcements and introduced the performers. They walked out and everybody clapped for them. There were 3 girls playing what looked like fiddles but one of them was a little bigger than the others. There was a real big one that stood on the floor that Jack told me was a cello. It was played by a chubby boy with hair almost as red as mine. The piano was played by a tall slender boy who looked very serious. The girls wore long black dresses and both the boys wore fancy black suits and bow ties. I mentioned that to Jack and he told me they were tuxedos. They all looked very formal and elegant. After they were introduced they all bowed, and sat down to play.

Jack handed me a little printed program. I tried to read it but I wasn't familiar with any of the names. The first one was `Camille Saint-Saens, Quartet in G major, Allegro Animato y Andante Finale'. I asked Jack if it was church music and which saint was this one. Jack said it was French and not to worry how to pronounce it. I wasn't sure I liked the looks of this but it was fun to be all dressed up with Jack. I felt very worldly and sophisticated and wondered what was going to happen next.

It got real quiet and then they started. The string instruments began to play but the boy on the piano just sat there. I asked Jack why and he said that this first one was just for the strings and that the boy would play later, and that they were just going to play two parts of this piece, and that I should be very quiet. I looked around and a couple of people were giving me the bad eye so I chilled.

It was cool. It wasn't like anything I had heard before. It was kind of like the opera music my mother listened to on the radio on Saturday afternoons sometimes, but this was easier to listen to. Since there were just 4 parts I could kind of tell which person was playing what. I started to tell Jack which girl was playing the high notes but when I leaned over towards him he looked at me out of the side of his eyes and I decided not to.

Next the program said `Franz Schubert, Quintet in A major, "Trout"'. I asked Jack if this was about a fish or what and he shushed me again. He whispered that it was really nice and that they were going to play the whole thing. Now the boy on the piano stretched and rubbed his hands together like he was getting ready to play along. This was kind of neat. And then they started.

The sound was amazing. There were only the four strings instruments and a piano but the sound that rolled out of them filled the large church with layers of sound. There were no mikes or amplifiers or speakers yet it sounded big and exciting. The more I listened, the more I could hear. The different instruments were all playing different things but they weaved around each other and traded little phrases back and forth. In spite of my suspicions I was really enjoying this.

Behind and above the sound of the strings was the wonderful piano, sometimes laying a wall of harmony behind the moving strings, sometimes racing around dancing above the strings. All the time the tall boy moved his arms gracefully over the keys. sometimes rocking back and forth, sometimes almost rising off the bench as he pounded something strong and forceful. I was amazed that one person could get so much sound out of one instrument. His hands moved very quickly yet he seemed relaxed and sure. I had seen some pretty smooth double plays playing baseball, but never anything like this.

I looked at Jack and he seemed intently focused on the music, leaning into the sound at times as if anticipating what would come next. It occurred to me that Jack was familiar with this music and knew what was coming. There was more to Jack that I realized. I decided that probably I didn't really know anybody very well.

After the recital was over everyone clapped and clapped, standing up long after the players left the stage until finally they came back, smiling and laughing and looking both pleased and embarrassed. They kind of huddled up and talked to each other then took their places again and opened up some more music. This one they said was by Gabriel Faure. They played only one part of a longer piece but it was beautiful. It was slow and sad and the piano had a lot of difficult things to play. I thought it was the best thing of the evening. After they finished we all stood and clapped again until one of the girls came out and thanked us saying with a little embarrassment that they had nothing else to play. The audience laughed, clapped a little more and then started to file out.

"What did you think?" Jack asked.

It took me a minute to find some words. "It was wonderful." I said. " I never heard anything like that before." I tried to explain what I liked about it but found it very difficult to express.

"Would you like to meet the musicians?" Jack asked.

"Sure. Is one of them really your friend?"

"Yes," Jack said, "he was playing the piano."

"Oh!" I said, suddenly realizing that I was excited.

We approached the platform and waited patiently as several people waited for a chance to shake hand with the young artists and congratulate them. As I was waiting, I kept looking at the boy on the piano. He was taller than me, very thin, with a surprisingly deep voice that occasionally broke into a high pitched yodel. Whenever it did that he would pretend not to notice but his cheeks turned pink.

Then I noticed his hands. The boy himself was thin, but his hands were strong and powerful looking with long fingers, and when he talked he waved them around with a graceful motion. He was fine featured with a shock of dark brown wavy hair, a long thin nose, and wonderful deep set blue eyes, very large and expressive.

"Nick, this is Joseph." Jack said again, and I realized he had said it before.

"Oh, yes, nice to meet you." and I shook the strong hand that was extended to me. Nothing frail about his grip, and the wonderful blue eyes looked at me keenly before darting away with a shy motion. "I really enjoyed the recital."

Joseph rolled his eyes in a quick gesture that implied that he thought I was simply being polite. "Thank you." he said.

"No, really, I never heard anything like that before. It was wonderful."

This time Joseph smiled shyly and fixed his eyes on me for a moment longer. "Thank you very much."

Jack turned to Joseph's parents to talk with them and left Joseph and me to try and carry on a conversation.

After hesitating a moment, Joseph said, "I'm glad you enjoyed it. Do you play?"

I laughed and glanced away, "I play baseball."

"Really? Do you play for your school or for a club team?"

"For a club team, and we are doing pretty good this year." I said, surprised that Joseph was interested.

Just then Jack turned back to us and asked, "Would you guys like some pizza?"

Joseph looked at me and said, "Oh yes that sounds very nice. I'm famished. I'll have to ask my parents."

Jack said, "I have asked them and they said yes as long as I get you back by midnight."

"Wonderful", Joseph said.

"I'm always ready for pizza." I said.

"Well then lets go." said Jack.

We walked out of the church which was by now almost empty and found Jack's truck. Jack sat behind the wheel and I slid over next to him. Joseph squeezed in next to me. The bench seat of the old truck was a little crowded with three inside but Joseph didn't seem to mind. He was pressed close next to me and didn't try to pull away. I kind of liked that.

"Sorry about this old truck." Jack said, "It's a junker."

"Oh no, its wonderful. This is fun." Joseph was smiling broadly and seemed to be genuinely enjoying himself.

Jack drove us down to 15th street to The Hideaway for pizza. It was almost 9:00 o'clock but it was still crowded. We walked in all decked out in our suits and a lot of people looked at us and smiled. It made me feel good. We found a table and ordered Cokes and a large pizza. It was something I had never heard of but Jack said it was a specialty of the place and that we would like it.

I looked at Joseph and thought he looked very handsome in his tux. I wanted to talk to him but couldn't think of anything intelligent to say. Finally I asked, "How long have you been playing the piano?" at the same time that Joseph said "How long have you been playing baseball?"

We all laughed and Jack said "One at a time, guys."

Joseph said " I taught myself to play some simple things when I was about 4 so my parents found a teacher for me. I am 14 now so that has been about 10 years I guess. Now how long have you been playing baseball?"

"I started playing T-ball when I was 5 and I am 13 now so I have been playing baseball for 8 years. I guess my dad taught me how to catch and throw a little even before that so maybe I started when I was 4 too."

"What position do you play?" Joseph asked.

"I have played most of the infield positions at one time or another but this year I am at first base. Do you really like baseball?" I asked.

"Oh yes," Joseph said, "I love it. It is my favorite sport."

"So do you play?" I asked.

Joseph made a little face, "Oh no, I can't play any sports that might injure my hands."

"Your hands?"

Joseph held up his hands, stretching his long powerful fingers very wide. "If I damage my hands, my piano will suffer," he said with a look of resignation. "I love to play and would like to perform professionally. These are my tools."

Jack explained, "You heard Joseph play tonight. Some of the things he played were very difficult. Many professional musicians have trouble playing things that demanding. He has to be very careful of his hands. If he breaks a bone or jams a finger it might slow down his technique and jeopardize his career."

"So I have to enjoy baseball vicariously." Joseph explained.

"That means by watching other people play, right?" I asked.

"Yes, that's right" Joseph laughed. "You say it better than I do."

"Well, my team is in the city finals for 14 and under next Saturday. You can come and watch us play if you like," I said. "We have a pretty good team this year, but I don't play baseball nearly as well as you play piano. You're amazing."

Joseph tossed his head back and laughed out loud. "No, no, I'm sure you are very good. You flatter me really. My situation tonight was not so different from your baseball team. There were five of us on stage and we all had to work together to present that music. We are a team too. You can be a star but if the rest of the team drops the ball it doesn't matter does it?" Joseph laughed again, "Piano players drop the ball occasionally too." Then he said, "It would be wonderful to watch a team play when I actually know one of the players. Can I come?"

"Of course. I came to your recital didn't I?"

Jack smiled at both of us, "I just might be able to get away to watch your game Nick. If Joseph can come, we can all go together." Then to Joseph, "Would you like me to ask your parents?"

"Oh yes!" Joseph said with excitement, "Oh, I would love that. It would be wonderful." Then Joseph laughed at himself. "I have used that word a lot tonight haven't I?"

Joseph looked at Jack, "It is so wonderful -- so very nice to see you again Jack. We used to see you more often and you always bring laughter with you. I have missed you."

Jack explained, "Joseph's mother is related to my mother, cousins of some sort. When I moved to Tulsa they were about the only people I knew here and they were very kind to me." Jack looked at Joseph, "You guys kind of took me in when I first got here."

"I wish you were still there," Joseph said, "You let some fresh air into the house."

And then the pizza arrived. The conversation died out as we pounced on the pizza with enthusiasm. Jack was right, it was really good. As it disappeared, we began to talk some more and Joseph tried to explain some things about his music to me. I talked some about my baseball team, but it was clear that Joseph knew a lot more about baseball then I did about music.

Joseph was different from any other boy I had ever met. He was so intelligent, and now that we had gotten acquainted he was not really shy at all. I realized that he expected that I would be bored with him just as I expected he would be bored with me. But we were hitting it off really well.

It was funny, sort of like each of us held a piece that was missing from the other. We talked and talked long after the pizza was gone. Jack threw in a comment here and there but mostly watched and smiled as Joseph and I got acquainted.

Finally it was almost 11:30 and Jack stood and said that we needed to get moving before we all turned into pumpkins. Jack paid for the pizza and we thanked him profusely, then walked to the truck parked on the street. I sat in the middle as usual, but this time it seemed like Joseph was leaning into my shoulder a little, our legs were touching the length of each other and the motion of the truck made them rub together. Joseph seemed very relaxed and contented to be next to me and laid his hands on each side of his legs so that his fingers were wedged between our thighs. I was sure that he meant nothing by it but still, I could feel my heart beat and was aware of a stirring in my trousers. I put my hands on my knees so that my arm was lying on his hand. With every bump of the old truck we seemed closer.

Joseph was quiet for a minute, then said, "I think my family is going to a church picnic tomorrow after church services. If you don't have any other plans you might like to join us. Are you coming Jack?"

I looked at Jack who seemed a little surprised. "Uh, well, I am sure that would be very nice. I hadn't really thought much about it, but if Nick can get permission, I will bring him." Jack looked at me. "Don't you and your family usually go to church Sunday mornings?"

"Yes, we go to First Methodist. Well, not very often to tell the truth and we usually go to Sunday School then leave before the church service. I have visited other churches before. Where do you go, Joseph?"

"To Trinity Episcopal, where we had the recital tonight. Jack goes there too." Joseph explained. "They have a nice choir."

"That's a pretty church. Sure, I would like to go with you. I will ask my folks. Can I call you in the morning?"

Jack said, "If your parents say yes, just run up and tell me. I will call Joseph's family and take you. Joseph, you make sure that is all right with them."

"OK, but it will be." Joseph said, "Anybody is welcome."

We quickly turned west off of Peoria onto 32nd Street and into the long drive way of a beautiful 3 story brick house with huge old trees and well kept grounds. At first I wondered if it was an apartment building then realized that this was Joseph's home. The veranda was lit up and a light was on inside.

"I would ask you in but it is a little late," said Joseph.

"No problem, we have to get back ourselves," said Jack. I was sort of amazed to see the house Joseph lived in. It was a mansion.

"Well, goodnight Jack. Thank you for everything." Joseph said, shaking Jack's hand across my chest. "And goodnight to you Nick. It was really very nice to meet you. I am excited about your game next weekend, and I hope I'll see you tomorrow at the picnic". Joseph was not shy now, he was standing close to me within the open door of the old pickup truck with an excited smile on his face, and as he shook my hand, he held it a little longer than would be usual, and enclosed it briefly with his left hand. I felt a little surge of electricity as I felt my hand between both of his. He looked as if he was going to say something else, then stopped himself and smiled, letting go of my hand with a little bow. "Thanks again" he said, turned and walked into the house with long graceful strides.

Jack engaged the clutch and we drove on around the circular driveway and back out to the street. Neither of us said anything as we drove the short distance up to Denver and the apartment building. Jack parked in his slot at the back and cut the motor.

Jack didn't open the door immediately but sat there a moment and then looked over at me. "How was the recital?"

I opened and closed my mouth several times trying to figure out how to say even part of what was whirling through my head. "The recital was awesome, I never heard music like that and I really liked it. I mean I don't understand it but it was exciting. And Joseph.... I never met anybody like that before. I don't know how to describe him."

"Did you like him?" Jack asked, "Would you like to see him again?"

"Yes! I can't believe he is actually interested in watching me play baseball. Do you really think he wants to come or was he just being nice?"

"Oh, I think he really wants to see your game. I have known Joseph for several years, and I have never seen him as animated as he was tonight."

I took all that in and tried to make sense of it all. "Jeez, his family must be rich. That was quite a house he lives in. I would hate for him to see where I live."

"Hey now, I live here too you know." Jack laughed. You would be surprised. Joseph is blessed with a lot of advantages, but he is a very nice person, really very modest. I don't think he would actually pay that much attention to what your home is like.'

Jack touched me lightly on the shoulder. "Joseph is a very gifted musician and he has a passion for his music that will carry him a long way. But in many ways he is rather isolated and lonely. I think he was genuinely interested in you. You are doing things that he can only dream of and to him it looks very exciting."

Jack squeezed my shoulder just a little. "Joseph needs a friend like you. And it just might be that you could use a friend like Joseph."

"Thanks for everything Jack." I thought for a moment, "You are really my friend, aren't you?"

"Yeah Nick, I am."

I knew I shouldn't hug Jack in the downstairs hall where my mother might step out and see us, so I slid over under Jack's shoulder and wrapped my arms around him and held him tight in the cab of the truck. When I got in close to his neck I could smell his cologne. It smelled nice, expensive. He hugged me tight then took my face in his hands and gave me a quick kiss on my forehead then opened the door and got out of the truck.

I followed him into the back door of the apartment building and said goodnight at the bottom of the stairs then slipped into my apartment. The door was unlocked and the table lamp was on in the living room. I figured that my Mom was probably listening for me but she didn't say anything. I went into the kitchen and poured a glass of milk and drank it in front of the open refrigerator. I closed the door, turned out the light and walked quietly into my bedroom.

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