Sunday, November 22, 2015

Chapter 17

It wasn't until the following Saturday that Angelo was allowed to see his friends. Amadeo and Milo came to the house to pick him up.  They were greeted by Mrs. Di Marco as though they were long lost friends and who sat them down at the table with glasses of milk and freshly made cookies.  She placed another glass of milk at Angelo's usual place and went to the living room door to call him.

Angelo came to the door between the kitchen and living room where he stopped, head bowed, silent and unable to look at either of his friends.

Mrs. Di Marco walked back over to her son, pulled his head down and whispered in his ear.  Whatever she said caused Angelo's eyes to become bright. He buried his face in the curve of her neck and hugged her.  Neither of the other boys could hear what she said before she returned the hug tenderly, but they could see Angelo trying to get himself under control, so they turned their attentions to their milk and cookies, allowing him as much privacy as possible in the small room.

Julia rubbed her youngest son's back and then held him at arm’s length, holding his chin and making him look her in the eye.  She smiled encouragingly and squeezed his arms before sending him in the direction of the table.

He stood by his chair, eyes focused on the table top, took a breath and said, "Guys, I'm really sorry about scaring you that night.  I didn't mean to.  I... I..." he faltered.

"Hey, it's ok, man," Milo said reassuringly.  "We're just really glad you were ok." 

Amadeo wanted to say something encouraging, words of reassurance, of forgiveness, but he was still somewhat angry.  "Yes, we're glad you're all right.  So, what do you guys want to do today?" he asked, taking a bite of the still warm cookie and washing it down with the milk.

Milo didn't pick up on the slight edge to Amadeo's voice, but it wasn't lost on Angelo, who gave his friend an anxious look.

They finished their snack and wandered for the rest of the day.  To Amadeo's frustration, he was still under stricture to avoid strenuous activity, so baseball or football were out of the question.

They stopped at the park with a bag of day old bread to feed the ducks, laughing at the fish who would pop up to get their share.  They stopped at the railroad station, where Amadeo had to admit that watching the trains come in was pretty cool.  They went to the book stores to browse, making wish lists as they went along.  At one point Amadeo's head began to hurt so they stopped at Grammarcy's for burgers and cokes, where Angelo once again managed to gross Milo out by dunking his fries into his chocolate shake.

"Don't knock it till you try it, Mi!  I'm tellin' ya!" Angelo said with a grin.

"If I eat that and barf you owe me new fries," Milo said brusquely, pointing an imperious finger at his friend.

"And if you like it, you have up on the chair and sing Surfin' Bird," Angelo countered.

Milo hesitated.  He looked at Amadeo who merely sat with his hand poised thoughtfully by his mouth as was his habit, and raised his eyebrows in a way that clearly said, 'It's up to you.'

"Put up or shut up, man," Angelo said with a cheeky grin.

"Ok, deal," Milo replied.

"Deal."  Angelo replied confidently, holding out his hand to seal the bargain.

Milo, sure that he had a free order of fries coming,  picked up one fry, screwed up his face into an expression of distaste, dipped it into the shake and haltingly brought it to his mouth.  He took a bite and chewed slowly.  His eyebrows rose in surprise.  He was just about to dip the fry again when he noticed the grins on his friend’s faces.

Angelo cleared his throat and grinned.  "I believe you were just about to break into spontaneous song?  Rather like a.... like a bird, perhaps?"

"Awww, guys, c'mon..."  Milo said, blushing and slouching down into his chair.

"You shook on it, Mi."  Amadeo said reasonably.  "You don't want to be known as a deal breaker, do you?"

Milo crossed his arms and gave his friends a distinctly unfriendly look.  "I hate you guys.  You know that, don't you?" he said in a disgruntled tone.

"Here, I'll get you started," said Angelo helpfully, " 'Well everybody's heard, about the bird...' "

"Oh!" said Amadeo, clicking his fingers as though just remembering,  "Don't forget to stand on the chair so that we can see you." 

"You're despicable!"  Milo glowered, giving a fairly impressive imitation of Daffy Duck.

Angelo sat back in his chair with his hands clasped on the table, and looked at Milo expectantly.

Amadeo waved his hand with a flourish.  "The floor is yours, Maestro.  Or should I say, the chair?"

Milo stood on the chair and began to sing loudly, gyrating his hips and flapping his arms like a demented bird.

The manager, Mr. Gelson, interrupted him when he was about a third of the way through the first part of the song, politely asked him to sit on the chair like a human being and hush.  He then informed the boys that they were officially cut off from any more cherry cokes for the rest of the day.  

"Now, if I have to come back over here and talk to all y'all again I'm gonna call your folks.  Hear?" he said sternly.

"Yes sir," the boys replied politely, exchanging amused glances and smothering giggles after the man had gone.

Several of the other customers gave Mr. Gelson a standing ovation as he passed by them.  Gelson smiled shyly and waved before disappearing into the kitchen.

"Saved by the sound of hearing," Angelo quipped.

Milo grinned self-consciously.  "I'da finished it you know."

"We know, man. It's all good," Amadeo said with a smile.

"Oh shoot!" said Milo, glancing at his watch.  "I was supposed to be home ten minutes ago!  Aunt Sadie's coming to visit and I was supposed to be there."

"You won't be in any trouble, will you?" Amadeo asked worriedly. "We'll go with you and tell your folks it was our fault you lost track of time."

"Nah, don't worry guys.  Mom'll probably give me a whack or two to make her point, and then Aunt Sadie'll rush over to me, give me a hug and a dollar and tell mom not to be so hard on me."  Milo grinned.  "Later gators," he said with a wave.

"Gee," Angelo said wistfully, "Wish I had an Aunt Sadie to give me a hug and a dollar."

"We're outta luck, man.  Milo's got it made.  We've got the sultry, Mediterranean good looks, but Milo and his little brother have those dimples, and there's just no beating the dimples," Amadeo said regretfully.  "come on, let's head out."

Angelo and Amadeo bused their table, put their dishes in the basin and their trays on the stack and left.  Mr. Gelson didn't ask his customers to do that, but he did reward those who did with little perks like extra pickles on a hamburger platter, or extra chocolate sauce or cherries on a sundae.

The two boys walked in silence for a while until they reached the park.  Amadeo stopped and gently grabbed Angelo by the arm.  "Hang on," he said, pointing toward one of the stone gazebos that dotted the park.  This one was encased in overgrown vines to an extent that most people forgot it was there except for the occasional kid who wanted to sneak a smoke, or teens who wanted a private place to make out.

He walked over to where the entrance was and quietly pulled back the curtain of foliage to see if there were anyone inside.  Seeing it empty he looked at Angelo and said, "Come on, let's sit down here a bit and talk." 

Once they were seated on the stone ridge that ran around the inside, Amadeo turned toward his friend, right arm along the back of the sill, right leg bent slightly beneath his left, with a very serious expression.  "I'd like to talk about last week when you disappeared," he said solemnly.

Angelo licked his lips nervously.  They'd been having such a good time today that he'd hoped Amadeo would forget whatever it was that was bothering him that morning.  He fixed his large, dark eyes on his friend and sat on the ridge, mirroring 'Deo's body language.  "I'm sorry, Dae," he said quietly.

"I know, Ange," Amadeo said, putting up a hand to halt his friend's apology.  "What I don't get is why.  You have me and Milo, and there're a lot of kids in school who feel really crappy about the way they treated you, and even more who regret not doing anything to stop people from bullying you sooner.  Some of the guys were talking in the cafeteria, asking each other why they'd been excluding you the way they had and what it basically came down to was someone heard something from someone else who heard something from someone else..." he shook his head.  

"The point is that no one had any idea what had been said or by who, and everyone feels like complete heels.  The confessionals have been overflowing since May.  The funny thing is that there've been more folks going to the confessionals than belong to the church," he joked, trying to lighten the mood a little.

Angelo remained silent and kept his gaze on his hands which were clenched together on his lap.

"So, I just need to know why you had to sneak out to go back with these guys... what do you get from them that we can't give you?”

Angelo studied his hands for a while, then finally raised his eyes to look directly at Amadeo.  "They were the only ones willing to be my friends," he said quietly. "They didn't want my money, or to take my lunch.  They..." he stopped, searching for the right words. "They... When I came across them I was afraid at first.  There were all of them and only one of me.  They were older and bigger and I thought for sure they were gonna beat on me, take whatever they could and leave me in the dirt."

Amadeo sat quietly while Angelo gathered his thoughts.

"But they didn't hurt me.  They didn't make fun of me.  They didn't take my stuff and throw it around.  They didn't trip me up and laugh at me and make stupid remarks."  Angelo took a watery sounding breath.  Amadeo could see, even in the dim light of the gazebo that his friend was close to tears.

"They asked me my name.  They thought it was cool.  One of 'em, Steve, put an arm around me and said I sounded like a good guy and asked me if I wanted to hang with them."  He looked up at Amadeo, fighting back tears, "They'd only just met me and they accepted me just like that.  I'd been in school for months by then and not one of those hayseeds would even say hello to me in the halls between classes," he said angrily.

"Ange?  Your new friends... did any of them ever ask you to do things you knew were wrong?  Or illegal?" Amadeo asked gently.

"Not... not really," Angelo replied hesitantly.  "They'd do stuff, you know?  I'd go along with em but I didn't do any of it myself.  I... I mean... a few times they offered me a cig and I'd take a few puffs... they'd get a good laugh out of it cuz I couldn't do it right and I'd end up coughing my gizzards out."  He winced, "I got sick a couple of times," he admitted.  "But Ralph or one of the others would give me a slug out of their Coke, or pop one open for me, and I'd feel better afterward."

"What kinds of things did they do?" asked Amadeo, noncommittally.

"Well, like that night... Frankie and Parker were painting graffiti on the walls. Steve passed around a couple of cigs.  One of em smelled funny so I wouldn't take a drag from that one.  Mighta been stale or something I guess," he said thoughtfully, "Carlos was passin' around a bottle of whiskey or something like that, but it smelled so bad I couldn't make myself drink any of it."

"Did they force you to do anything you didn't want to do?"

Angelo looked at Amadeo with a guilty expression.  "No, not really."

"What does that mean, not really?"

"They kept offering me cigarettes.  I didn't want em but then they were kinda makin' cracks, you know?  So finally I took a drag to make em stop.  I kept gettin' sick if I smoked too much, so I'd only take a few drags and pass on the rest.  They'd smile and pat me on the back and call me a trooper."

"What else happened that night?"

"Not much, really.  That night they were throwing rocks through the windows of an abandoned factory.  The night watchman came out yelling that he'd called the cops and telling us to get out."  Angelo said with a little smile of remembrance.

"What are you smiling about, Ange?"

Angelo shrugged.  "I knew it was wrong, you know?  But... there was this feeling... in the pit of my stomach... not bad like getting sick from smoking the cigarette but like a... a moth was trapped in there and... my head felt light... and I felt... happy.  I was in trouble, but I was in trouble surrounded by my friends.  It felt good," he said frowning.  "Can you understand what I mean?"

"Is that why you went back to them that night?  For that thrill?"

"I actually went to see them to tell them I wouldn't be back.  I didn't figure I'd be gone more than an hour, but I didn't know where to find them, so it took me some time to scout em out.  I finally caught up to em but then one thing lead to another and we ended up at the factory and then... well, you know the rest."  Angelo said, bowing his head once again.  

"All of us were scared, Ange," Amadeo said softly.  "I kept imagining the worst.  I thought for sure we'd never find you, or if we did you'd be dead.  I... "

Amadeo took a deep breath and leaned down a little to look his friend in the eye.  "Look, Angelo, I've been wanting to talk to you about something.  There's this problem..."

"No. Don't," Angelo said, sadly.  "I... I know what the problem is.  There's something wrong with me.  I've known it for a while now, and I guess you've figured it out.  That's why I don't really try to make friends... cuz they eventually catch on... You don't want to hang out with me anymore and you're trying to give me an out. I get it.  It's cool. No hard feelings," he said, getting up quickly and preparing to leave the gazebo.

"Whoa, what are you talking about?  What's wrong with you?  Catch on to what? What have I figured out?" Amadeo replied in confusion, rising to block Angelo's exit.

"You know!  I know you figured it out!  That's why you're dumping me!"

"Angelo!  Who's dumping you?  What's wrong?"

"I'm... there's something wrong with me!"

"Talk to me!  I'm your friend.  Tell me what's wrong!"

"I can't!  I can't say it aloud.  I'm sick.  Sick in the head.  I think I got it from my uncle Pat.  I think it's contagious.  Let me go, Dae! Just let me go?"

"Not til you talk to me.  What are you talking about?  Sick how?  You said you never met your uncle in person, how could you have gotten anything from him?"

"Maybe it was on the paper he wrote his letters on, or on the pictures he'd send, and I caught it that way."

"That makes no sense, Ange," Amadeo said reasonably.  "If he had anything contagious that could be transmitted through letters and photographs then your whole family would have gotten it, right?  Come on now, calm down. Sit here and tell me what's wrong," Amadeo continued, taking Angelo by the arms and forcing the smaller boy to look at him.

"You won't want to be my friend anymore if I tell you.  You'll be disgusted... you'll... tell everyone and I'll be back to... how I was," he sobbed.

"I'll always be your friend, Ange. Always. Trust me," Amadeo said, pulling his friend into a tight hug. At first Angelo resisted but his need for reassurance overwrote his fear of Amadeo's reaction.

"Talk to me, il mio angelo." 

Upset and distracted, Angelo didn't notice the term of endearment.  He disengaged himself from Amadeo's hug and walked a few steps away, back toward his friend, eyes on the leaf strewn floor of the gazebo. "Mi piacciono i ragazzi," he whispered.

"What was that?"

"Mi piacciono i ragazzi.  Mi piacciono i ragazzi! Ho cercato di non! So che è sbagliato e ho cercato di non ma non posso farne a meno!  It's sick!  It's unnatural! I can't... I don't mean to... I don't want to but..." Angelo said, unable to stop his tears.  He wrapped his arms around himself tightly, sure that Amadeo would either attack him or walk off in disgust.  (I like boys.  I tried not to!  I know it's wrong and I really tried not to but I can't help it!)

"Angelo," Amadeo said quietly, walking over toward his friend, "Non c'è niente di sbagliato in te. Non sei malato. Non sei innaturale," he said, turning Angelo back toward him and gathering him up into a hug once again.  (There's nothing wrong with you.  You're not sick.  You're not unnatural.)

"What do you know about it?" Angelo hissed.  "Mr. Popular!  Star of the wrestling and track teams!  Everyone's favorite!"  He struggled to get out of Amadeo's embrace but failed miserably.  "Bet you've had every girl in the school.  I see the way they look at you!  Who wouldn't?"

Amadeo wrestled Angelo toward the stone bench, sat down and pulled the angry boy down onto his lap.  "Il mio angelo, tranquillo ora. Tranquillo. Ascoltami. Non sono malati. Non sono innaturali. Non sei l'unico a sentirsi sempre in questo modo. Silenzio ora e ascoltami," Amadeo said quietly.
(My angel, quiet now. Quiet. Listen to me.  You are not sick.  You are not unnatural.  You are not the only guy to ever feel this way.  Hush now and listen to me.) 

Angelo stopped his struggles and looked at Amadeo in surprise.  No one had ever called him 'My Angel' except his parents.  The words were the same, but there was something different in the tone which was what caught Angelo's attention.

"Mi piacciono i ragazzi troppo. L'ho conosciuto da quando avevo tredici anni. E c'è un ragazzo particolare mi piace un sacco. Mi sono innamorata di lui il giorno lo vidi attraversare la strada con il naso sepolto in un libro."  
(I like boys too.  I've known it since I was thirteen. And there's one particular boy I really like a lot.  I fell in love with him the day I saw him crossing the street with his nose buried in a book.) 

"Me?" Angelo asked, afraid that Amadeo would answer by throwing him off his lap.  Afraid that Amadeo would laugh cruelly before stepping over him to leave the gazebo only to run to his friends and tell them all about Angelo the Freak.

"You," Amadeo said with a tender smile and a sparkle in his eyes.  "That first day when you showed me your garden, I wanted so badly to tell you how I felt, to touch your hair, your face... to kiss you.  I thought I felt a connection, but I wasn't sure.  I was afraid that if I was wrong you'd hate me and tell me to get as far away from you as possible, and I was afraid that if I were right I might scare you away if I moved too fast," he said, hesitantly placing a gentle hand on Angelo's cheek.

Angelo looked into Amadeo's eyes. A few years ago his mother had bought a clear glass coffee cup.  At first she'd been afraid to use it, sure that pouring the hot liquid into it would cause it to shatter.  She'd finally taken the chance and was pleased when the cup remained intact.  She'd then held it up to the kitchen window so that the morning sunlight could hit it.  The muddy looking brew was suddenly lit from behind.  Shades of brown, black and gold swirled in the cup. Angelo had thought the colors were beautiful.  He found them again now in Amadeo's eyes.

Much as Angelo's mother had done earlier that morning, Amadeo put his hand around the back of Angelo's neck and pulled the boy toward him.  Their eyes never left each other, but even though Deo had never kissed another man in this way, his lips unerringly found Angelo's and seemed of their own volition to know what to do.  Angelo's tears ran down his cheeks and Amadeo tasted them before kissing his love more passionately.

"I love you, Angelo Di Marco," he said softly.  "Ti amo."


Surfin' Bird, The Trashmen, 1964
Daffy Duck, Warner Bros. Cartoons, 1937 - 1964/present

No copyright infringement intended

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