When I awoke, I looked out my bedroom window towards Henry’s house. I was surprised to see him looking back at me. We waved before he turned away.
My bedroom is one of three on the second floor of a house built in the 1870’s. It seems as though most of the furniture in it has been there since the house was built. It had been my grandmother’s house and before that her grandmother’s house. I was born there 15 years ago. Even then my grandmother had been unwell, and my mom was caring for her. Grandma died when I was a baby, so I have no memory of her. In fact, I never knew any of my grandparents. Mom, who was an only child like me, inherited the house and she, Dad, and I continued to live there. Dad was a vice president in a local bank, while Mom worked in a lawyer’s office.
My bedroom has oak twin beds, an oak dresser with a marble top, an oak clothes rack, an old oak rocking chair, and a tall, oak, glass-fronted bookcase like the ones that are still sometimes found in law offices. A desk was added when I needed one for homework. It’s the only furniture in the room that isn’t made of oak. The room has two sets of windows, one of which faces out the side of the house towards Henry’s house. There are about forty feet of grass between the two houses.
For a few more minutes I continued to look out the window, trying to imagine what must be going on in that house.
Dressing quickly in shorts and a T-shirt, I went downstairs. Because I was still feeling a little hollow and unsteady, I grasped the solid dark wood bannister rather than race down like I usually did.
Mom asked if I was okay and I nodded. I still wasn’t hungry, but I drank a glass of juice and tried to eat an English muffin.
As I finished eating, there was a knock on the back door and Henry came in. We were such good friends that we were always at each other’s houses, and so we usually just walked in.
Henry is five or six inches taller than me. He’s really handsome. He wears his black, wavy hair so long that it seems to be trying to escape from under his ever-present baseball cap. He has deep blue eyes set off by his black eyelashes and eyebrows, and he wears black earrings in both ears. Most of the time, his face wears a rather devilish grin which I love.
I, on the other hand, am scrawny. Unlike Henry, who fills out his T-shirt so that it shows his muscles, I wear one that hangs loose, hiding the body I don’t want anybody to see. I have freckles which I hate, pale blue eyes that make me look like I’m about to pass out, and mousy hair which I can’t get to do anything I want it to.
Henry and I were born within a month of each other, and our moms used to push us side by side in baby carriages. So it’s just about literally true that we’ve been best friends all our lives.
I am in love with Henry; I think I was always in love with Henry. Since I was about five I’ve been really sure that I was gay, but I had to worship Henry silently because I was certain that a jock like him couldn’t possibly be gay. But as best friends, we did almost everything together. I even tried to play some sports, but that was a disaster and very embarrassing! So Henry, who never laughed at my feeble attempts, played the organized games with other friends.
After saying hello to my mom and grabbing an English muffin, Henry followed me upstairs to my room and sat on one of the beds.
I gave him a big hug, sat beside him, and said, “So tell me what the police said yesterday.”
Henry told me how his first clue that something was wrong was when he heard his mom scream. He raced up the stairs from the basement, where he and Chad had workshops. His mom was sobbing hysterically, finally managing to say that Chad was dead, killed by a hit and run driver. Robbie was in her lap, crying with spasms of sobs. The police didn’t tell them much more except that Chad had been hit by an old truck which they were trying to trace.
“From the moment Mom told me, my life has been hell,” Henry stammered, trying to hold back the tears. “When I left a few minutes ago, Robbie was crying, Mom was in tears, and Dad was trying to act stoic, but not being very successful. I just had to get outta there.”
I certainly didn’t want to give him the details of the accident right then, but I did say, “It was an old, beat-up black truck with no license plate.”
Henry looked up, startled. “No plate? Do you think it might have been stolen?” I nodded. “Shit!” he exclaimed. “I’m gonna find that fucker and kill him! Did you see the driver at all?” I shook my head. “Damn!”
“I’m not sure it’s a good idea to try to find the driver and kill him,” I said. “First of all he could be dangerous. Second, finding him is the cops’ job. Third, punishing him is the court’s job. If we find out anything, I think we should tell the police.”
“No way! Except for you, Chad was my best friend as well as my brother, and I’m gonna find the bastard.”
Right there in a proverbial nutshell was the basic difference between the two of us. Henry was a boy of action. He acted first and thought later. I was always the cautious type who tended to overthink everything I did.
We sat in silence for a while. I put my arm around his shoulders, and he just nestled into me and wept silently while I tried desperately to think of something, anything, I could say to make him feel better.
Finally, through his tears, he said that his mother had closed Chad’s door and didn’t want him or Robbie to go into the room yet. “I don’t think I could if I had to,” he went on. “Everything in there, every single thing, would remind me of him and I don’t believe I could take it.”
“Probably sometime you will though,” I replied. “You’ll want to remember him and the good times you had together. But give yourself time. There’s no rush.”
He nodded and leaned back. Laughing through his tears, he said, “My God you’re boney, Max.”
It wasn’t much of a joke but it was an attempt, and I took it as such, pretending to be offended. “That’s because there’s no fat on me,” I said. “I’m all bone and muscle.”
“Where’s the muscle?” He laughed again.
“You just wait until you feel better and I’ll show you. I don’t wanna take advantage of you while you’re down.”
“Fat chance.” He paused. “Did you know that Chad and I used to wrestle? Even though he was two years older than me I could sometimes beat him.”
“Yes way. In fact, the last time we wrestled, which was last weekend, I pinned him good.”
“Are you sure he wasn’t just letting you win?”
“I’m sure. He was struggling so hard his face was beet red.”
We lapsed into silence again before I said, “So that’s a good memory you’ll always have. He’ll always be with you, you know.”
At last he got up, saying he guessed he should get back to his family. As he headed to the door, he turned, came back, and gave me a big hug. “Thanks for being here for me. You’re a true friend, Maximillian Conrad Peter Neumayer the Fifth.”
It was my turn to laugh. That is my real name but of course nobody calls me that except Henry sometimes. It’s like a private joke between us. To everybody else I I’m just Max. Maximillian Neumayer the First was killed fighting for the Union in the Civil War after he had emigrated from Bavaria. I’ve always been glad he was on the winning side.
“I’ll always be your friend,” I said emphatically.
“I almost forgot. I really want you to sit with me at the funeral. Will you do that?”
“Of course I will. When will it be?”
“Mom and Dad will be talking to the minister today. I’ll let you know.”
With that he walked slowly down the stairs and out the door. I watched him through the window as he headed back towards his house and his family, which would never be the same.