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SUMMARY: What if you were homosexual but refused to admit it to anyone, especially yourself? The year is 1971 and fourteen year old Jimmy Barnes has discovered growing up in a small town can be boring in a way not even the solitary masturbation sessions he enjoys so much can relieve. When his best friend takes a job at the local newspaper, Jimmy finds himself on his own for the summer. What follows is a decade long saga with numerous twists and turns, a tale that’ll reveal the best and the worst of the nineteen-seventies and beyond.
WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Unless otherwise noted, all of the characters in the story are fictional; any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. While some of the places described or mentioned in the story are fictional as well, others may be real. However, some liberties may have been taken with the truth to enhance the story. Please note that the story may describe, depict or otherwise include graphic portrayals of relationships between men and/or adolescent boys that are homosexual in nature. If you do not like For approve of such discussions or it is illegal for you to read such material, consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting you are fully capable of understanding and legally consenting to reading a work of adult fiction.
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NOTES: Please check these notes every week. If there’s something I want to alert you to as I post each chapter, this is where I will I do so.
Returning to the office after having lunch with Tommy, I found a message waiting for me from Tim.
“Hey, Jeff, give me a call when you get back. I finally talked to Henry this morning about the funding issue and I’d like to get together with Susan and you this afternoon to explain what we’ve decided.”
Returning the call immediately, we agreed to meet at 4:00 p.m. Tim had good news when we did.
“I talked to Henry earlier today about how you thought it would be helpful if there was an authorization bill recommending new funding for AIDS. He asked how much I thought we should ask for and I laid out what each of us had suggested.”
“The upshot is that he talked to your boss about all of this just after the House went into session today and plans to introduce a bill later this week with Congressman Phil Barton. The bill will authorize $10 million for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct AIDS research and $5 million for the CDC’s AIDS surveillance work. In other words, more than I suggested but less than you wanted.”
“I gather Congressman Bresnahan felt $100 million wouldn’t fly at this stage of the game. Henry offered to let your boss cosponsor the bill along with Phil and himself, but your boss felt that would be counterproductive when he tried to get the money in the appropriations bill. So, for now at least, it’ll just be Phil and Henry. This is a big issue for Phil, of course, what with him representing San Francisco.”
“What about Ted?” I asked, looking at Susan.
“Ted feels kind of like your boss, Jeff,” she replied; “that having his name on the bill wouldn’t help and would only compromise his perceived objectivity on the oversight committee. But he’s supportive, of course.”
“It’s not enough,” I said, “but it’s a start; and my boss has a better sense of what’ll fly with Jamie than I do in any event. I assume you’ll be seeking cosponsors once you introduce the bill. Maybe we should get our working group together to see if they can get their bosses on board once you drop it in the hopper.”
“That’s a good idea,” Tim agreed. “By the way, did anything come of the meeting you had with that reporter from the Post?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “It was a good meeting, but there’s a complication so I don’t know what he’s going to do, at least at the moment. I’ll let you know once I do.”
Hurrying back to the office, Annie told me Tommy had called in the interim and wanted to talk to me. Calling back, I was surprised when he picked up the phone immediately.
“Hey, Jeff, I just got out of a long meeting with my boss a little while ago. I won’t go into all the details, but the bottom line is that he doesn’t think it’s a problem for me to do this story because I know you and Jimmy. We’ll have to disclose that’s the case in some way, of course.”
“That’s great,” I said. “Uh, does that mean you actually want to do the story?”
“I do,” he replied, “but I need to talk to you guys about that. I mean, this is the kind of story where there’s no going back. If you want me to do it, I will. But you can’t be half-pregnant you know. You have to be all the way in, including the disclosure of names. That’s the only way it’ll work and that raises a lot of questions.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Well, for one thing, I gather you’re not out to everyone, Jeff; at least that’s what you told me at lunch. You need to be certain you’re willing to be out because you will be once this story runs in the Post.”
“I’ve been thinking all along the story would be about Jimmy, not me,” I said, surprised. “I’m still not sure why I should be part of it to be honest. But if I have to be, that’s fine.”
“Believe me, Jeff, I don’t think I can write this story effectively without you being part of it,” Tommy replied; “and if you have any doubts about that, you need to be upfront with me about them.”
“Okay, sure; I will.”
“The other thing I wanted to check is whether Jimmy is out to his parents,” Tommy asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “He doesn’t talk about his parents at all and we’ve never discussed that. Is it important?”
“Definitely,” Tommy said. “I know his parents. His mother is a nice woman, not very well educated but she has a big heart. I doubt she has a clue what AIDS is or how you contract it. On the other hand, Jimmy’s father is not the nicest guy in the world. I don’t think he’ll be happy with a story like this and I need to be upfront with Jimmy about that.”
“Okay,” I responded. “Should I raise it with him or would you prefer to do it?”
“Let me do it, Jeff,” he said.
“And I guess that’s the final thing,” he added. “When could I get together with the two of you? I mean, it would be partly catching up on old times and partly trying to explain to the two of you just how much a story like this could affect your lives.”
“I’d be happy to do it anytime,” I said. “We have a counseling session at the Whitman Walker Clinic tonight, but tomorrow night would be fine with me and I think that would be okay with Jimmy as well. Of course, tomorrow is a Friday night and you probably have better things to do than to meet with the two of us. We’ll do it whenever it’s convenient for you.”
“Tomorrow night is fine,” he said. “I don’t have any plans.”
“Uh, well, let me mention one other thing,” I added. “Usually Jimmy and I have dinner with a couple of friends of ours on Friday evening. They actually live in my basement rental unit. But they know Jimmy has AIDS and wouldn’t stick around after dinner in any event. Would having them there for dinner be a problem?”
“As long as you, Jimmy and I have a chance to talk candidly at some point, it’s not a problem for me,” Tommy replied.
“Okay,” I said. “Unless you hear otherwise, let’s plan on doing it tomorrow night; say around 7:00 p.m. What kind of food do you like?”
“What do I like or what do I eat?” he responded. “There’s a difference. I like all the food that’re fattening; steaks, fries, and Italian food especially. What I usually eat is salads or other stuff that’s healthy for me.”
“You didn’t look overweight to me at lunch today,” I said. “If anything, you looked kind of thin. Why don’t you let me surprise you.”
“Sure,” Tommy replied. “Just don’t go to a lot of effort for me.”
“It’s not a problem,” I said. “And who knows? You might even like my cooking. Jimmy does. He used to think my cooking skills were terrible, but he’s changed his mind. Not that he eats that much, but he says I’m a good cook.”
“Yeah, but Jimmy was never exactly a connoisseur of fine food,” Tommy replied, laughing. “He was a short-order cook at McDonald’s, Jeff.”
“Just wait and see,” I said. “You might be impressed.”
“Uh, listen, Jeff. I just want to apologize before I hang up for being so … I don’t know … so unsure about whether I wanted to see Jimmy. I was kind of overwhelmed at first by what you told me. I mean, the two of us were really close when we were younger. To learn Jimmy had AIDS was devastating. I’m still trying to come to grips with that.”
“I understand,” I replied. “It came as a big shock to me as well. You don’t have to apologize, Tommy.”
Jimmy was nervous when I got back to the house that evening and told him about my meeting with Tommy.
“Are you sure he wasn’t disappointed in me, Jeff?” he pressed.
“He was surprised,” I said; “shocked would probably be a better word. But, no, I didn’t sense he was disappointed at all; just sad to learn you had the disease.”
“That’s good,” Jimmy said, reassured. “I’ve been worrying about that all day.”
“I’m thinking maybe we should talk about this at our counseling session tonight,” I said. “What do you think?”
“Uh, well, I don’t know what there is to say exactly, Jeff, but sure; whatever you think best.”
So that’s what I did. At some point during our session that evening I mentioned that Jimmy and I were thinking of giving an interview to a reporter from the Post who was planning to write a story about AIDS.
“Why?” someone asked.
“The more people know about this disease, the more sympathetic they’ll be,” I replied; “at least that’s what we think.”
“That’s crazy,” another voice chimed in. “People hate us, Jeff. To the extent they know anything at all about this disease, they’re rooting for it to wipe us out.”
“Do you really believe that?” I asked, surprised by his reaction.
“Yeah, I do,” he responded, and I noticed several others nodding their heads in agreement.
“The media, they no care about people like us,” still another victim of the disease, a refugee from Central America named Hector, chimed in. “Most of the time they no want anything to do with queer people, but they also know sex sells so they write stories that no tell the real truth about us; just veiled references that border on pornography about how we make love.”
“Hector’s right,” Russ chimed in. “Reporters will tell you whatever they think they need to say to get an interview, but all they’re really interested in is selling papers.”
I remember being taken aback.
“I don’t know,” I said. “We know the reporter who’s doing the story. He was a friend of ours, at least a friend of Jimmy, when we were younger; a good friend. I think we can trust him.”
“You can’t trust anyone, Jeff,” Russ said. “They’ll sweet-talk you, but they know what their editors want; and what they want doesn’t include portraying people like us in a friendly light. You’re making a mistake; a big one.”
“What do you think, Ned?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Most reporters don’t seem interested in this disease at all. The ones who are never seem to write any positive stories about gay people. But maybe that’s because they don’t know any of us.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Jeff,” he added.
Later, on the drive home, I asked Jimmy for his opinion.
“Do you think the guys were right?” I asked. “That we’re setting ourselves up for a big letdown here? I mean, I’ve been assuming all along most people are decent enough if you give them a chance to be; that they would be ashamed and embarrassed if they knew just how bad this disease is and how little the government is doing about it. But what I heard tonight makes me wonder whether I’m right about that.”
“I don’t know whether you’re right or wrong, Jeff,” Jimmy replied, “but Tommy and I were friends growing up and I don’t think he would ever do anything to hurt me; at least not deliberately. What I don’t know is whether he gets to write whatever he wants or whether someone else tells him what to write.”
“We should ask him about that tomorrow night,” I said.
When we finally got back to our place, I spent the rest of the evening getting the ingredients together for my homemade pasta sauce. Then I cooked it on simmer most of the following day.
I got home extra early to prepare the dining table and to get the rest of the meal prepared. I noticed Jimmy had shaved and taken a shower.
“You know you’re not supposed to shower unless I’m around, Jimmy,” I said, chastising him.
“I wanted to look nice for Tommy,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. “Besides, sometimes I think you made up that rule just so you could ogle me while I was showering.”
“That too,” I said, smiling at him; “but also because I worry about what would happen if you slipped and fell in the shower while I wasn’t here. But I’ll forgive you this time.”
“You should take a shower too,” Jimmy said, looking over at me. “A little freshening up wouldn’t hurt you either. I can finish up down here.”
“Is that an order or a request?” I asked.
“It’ll help you make a good impression,” Jimmy said, returning my smile.
So I showered and shaved and tried to make myself more presentable; and just about the time I was finishing up, the doorbell rang. By that time Mark and Leo had joined us as well.
“I’ll get it,” I shouted.
Racing down the stairs, I opened the door. Tommy was standing there and it seemed to me he must have showered and shaved as well because he looked very nice, especially dressed more casually than he had been for work.
“Come in,” I said. “Let me introduce you to some friends of ours.”
In retrospect, I was glad Mark and Leo were there when Tommy arrived. It seemed to ease the awkwardness of the situation.
“Tommy’s here, Jimmy,” I shouted, as the three of them chatted.
“I’ll be right there,” he responded. “I’m just finishing up in the kitchen.”
“Would you like something to drink, Tommy; perhaps a beer or a glass of wine?” I asked.
“I’m good,” Tommy responded; “nothing for me.”
“You can get me a beer,” Leo interjected, causing Mark and Tommy to laugh.
“Nice try,” I replied, “but I don’t think so, Leo.”
At that moment Jimmy made his appearance and slowly approached.
“Nice to see you, Tommy,” he said, hanging back and not offering his hand. “It’s been a long time.”
“Too long,” Tommy replied, stepping forward and holding his hand out.
“Uh, well, I would shake your hand, but, uh, my hands are kind of dirty from cleaning up in the kitchen,” Jimmy said.
He was lying. I knew it. He didn’t want to shake hands because he assumed Tommy would be nervous about that knowing he had AIDS.
“I’m not afraid to shake your hand, Jimmy,” Tommy said, having sized up the situation perfectly. “Everyone I’ve talked to says you can’t get AIDS from casual contact like shaking hands.”
Then, stepping forward, he embraced Jimmy instead.
“I’m very sorry to hear you have AIDS, Jimmy,” he said, before stepping back.
I could tell from the look on his face that Jimmy was overwhelmed by the gesture.
“Thanks, Tommy. I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
“You haven’t disappointed me,” Tommy replied. “Best friends forever; remember? We’re still best friends, at least as far as I’m concerned.”
“That’s great to hear,” Jimmy replied. “It means a lot to me to know that.”
That seemed to break the initial tension in the room and soon enough the five of us were seated around the dining room table breaking bread.
“Who made this meal?” Tommy said as we were finishing up.
“It was mostly Jeff,” Jimmy replied. “He knows how much Mark, Leo and I love his spaghetti sauce.”
“It was great, Jeff,” he said, looking over at me. “The best meal I’ve had since coming to Washington. But I really shouldn’t pig out like this.”
“You’re still in great shape,” Jimmy interjected. “You don’t have anything to worry about looks-wise, Tommy. You look great.”
“Are you guys heading out for the evening?” I asked, turning to Mark and Leo.
“We are,” Mark responded. “We’re going to take in a movie with some of Leo’s friends from school; and then we’ll probably hang out and listen to music at someone’s house.”
“Have a good time,” I said, as they scurried for the door. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
“You don’t do anything except work all the time, Jeff,” Leo shot back, causing Jimmy and Tommy to laugh.
“Why don’t the two of you sit down in the living room and catch up while I clean the table?” I suggested to Jimmy and Tommy once Mark and Leo had left.
Knowing how close they had been in their youth, I wanted to give them some time together alone; and once they had settled in and were chatting, I made sure to clean up slowly enough to give them plenty of time to say whatever they wanted to say to each other privately.
Eventually, having finished up in the kitchen, I joined them.
“Have the two of you caught up on things?” I asked once I was seated.
“Kind of,” Jimmy responded. “Tommy filled me in on what he’s been up to more so than the other way around.”
That didn’t surprise me.
“Well, look,” I said, settling in on the couch next to Jimmy; ”this is kind of awkward, but I wanted to share a discussion we had last evening at our counseling session with you, Tommy.”
With that I proceeded to fill him in, sparing no details.
“I don’t blame your friends for saying that,” Tommy volunteered when I was finished. “In fact, it’s true pretty much. There are only one or two reporters I know who I trust when it comes to reporting about AIDS. Randy Shilts is one. He’s been doing some freelance journalism for a couple of years and recently landed a job with the San Francisco Chronicle.”
“Randy does terrific journalism on gay-related issues, including AIDS, but most newspapers don’t have anyone assigned to the story. To the extent they cover AIDS at all, they rely on whatever the Associated Press or UPI put out; and that’s not very much to be perfectly honest.”
“I trust my boss,” he continued. “If I write something and he likes it, he’ll go to bat for me and make sure it doesn’t get changed, at least not unless I’m okay with the changes. On the other hand, you guys need to understand that I’m a reporter as well as friend. To do this story justice, I’m going to have to ask a lot of tough questions; questions that may make you uncomfortable, including questions about your sex lives.”
“If that’s not something you’re comfortable sharing with me for whatever reason, you should tell me right now because I won’t be able to do the story the right way. I won’t have any hard feelings if you change your mind and decide you don’t want to do this. We’ve been friends for a long time, Jimmy, and we’ll be friends no matter what you decide. But if I try to sugar-coat the story, it won’t work. What makes a story work is the truth; good and bad, sweet and harsh.”
“Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Uh, well, sure; I think so,” Jimmy replied. “I’m not a saint, Tommy. I never was. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life and done some things I’m not proud of. I’m not letting you do this story because I want some publicity. I don’t. But Jeff has this view that the right kind of story could make a difference both with the gay community in terms of changing behavior and with people more generally not hating people like us so much.”
“I don’t know whether he’s right about that, but I figure it’s worth a try. If my story helps prevent one person from getting this disease or softens the heart of one person who hates gay people, well, that would be enough for me.”
“Speaking of that, can I ask a question, Jimmy?” Tommy said.
“Of course,” Jimmy replied.
“Do you parents know you’re gay?” he asked.
“No; not really,” Jimmy said. “I haven’t been in touch with my parents for a long time. I mean, I usually try to call my mother on Christmas Eve and we talk. I don’t talk with my father at all. You know how he is, Tommy. Why do you ask?”
“The reason I ask is because you could end up getting a lot of publicity if I do this story right; and that means reporters will likely go to North Adams and try to talk to your parents. I think that could be confusing for your mother; and as for your father, I’m not sure he would react very well to the news that you’re gay and dying of AIDS. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah; I know,” Jimmy said. “Do you think I should tell them in advance?”
“That’s up to you, Jimmy,” Tommy replied. “But it’s definitely something you and Jeff need to think about because the two of you don’t have any legal standing vis-a-vis one another. I mean, if you have to be hospitalized down the road and especially later, if you can’t make decisions for yourself, the hospitals and the courts may look to your parents to make all the decisions for you. I don’t know if that’s what you want.”
“I want Jeff to make any decisions that need to be made if I can’t,” Jimmy said, firmly.
“Well, then, I think the two of you may want to consult a lawyer,” Tommy said. “I’m not telling you that as a reporter. I’m telling you that as friend. I’ve heard some horror stories from Randy about what happens when unhappy parents don’t do the right thing and listen to their child’s best friend.”
I hadn’t thought about any of this before, but realized immediately Tommy was right and was trying to do what was best for Jimmy. While knowing he had Jimmy’s best interests at heart put one set of concerns to rest, it raised another and I promised myself I would consult a lawyer the following week to make sure everything was done exactly the way Jimmy wanted.
“Thanks for mentioning that, Tommy,” I said. “Jimmy has said a few things to me now and then about what he would like down the road. I’ll be sure to talk to a lawyer to see what can be done to make sure his wishes are respected.”
“So how is this going to work exactly?” Jimmy interjected. “I mean this story you’re going to be writing. How does something like that happen?”
“It’s not that complicated, Jimmy,” Tommy responded. “I’ll be interviewing you, probably more than once, which is just a fancy way of saying I’ll be asking you a bunch of questions. When I do that, I’ll have a tape recorder so I can be sure I get everything exactly right. All you have to do is answer any questions I ask as honestly as you can.”
“Will Jeff be there when we’re talking?” Jimmy asked.
“That’s up to you, Jimmy,” Tommy responded. “He doesn’t have to be. Sometimes people are more honest and candid when no one is around to hear what they say. Or there might be some things you wouldn’t want to say in front of someone like Jeff out of fear of hurting his feelings. You know what I mean?”
“I understand,” Jimmy replied. “But I’d like Jeff to be there because there are a lot of things we’ve never talked about and I feel like this is my best chance to be honest with him. That’s important to me.”
“You don’t have to do that, Jimmy,” I interjected. “Don’t feel like you need to have me present to avoid making some kind of mistake. As long as you tell the truth, you won’t make any mistakes.”
“I know that,” Jimmy responded. “But there are things you need to know and I think this would be the best way for me to tell them to you.”
“Like I mentioned, it’s up to the two of you,” Tommy said. “I’ll probably want to interview Jeff to get his take on things as well.”
“I still don’t understand why,” I interjected.
“I’ve been thinking about this a lot, Jeff, and I think you have to be part of this story whether you like it or not. What Jimmy told me earlier when we were alone only reinforced my opinion about this.”
“That’s fine,” I said, still not convinced. “I don’t have a problem if that’s what you want to do.”
“And you’re welcome to be present if he does interview me, Jimmy,” I added. “I don’t have any secrets from you.”
“So when would this start?” Jimmy said, looking at Tommy.
“We could start whenever you want,” Tommy replied. “From my point of view, the sooner the better. This is too important a story for me to rush. I want it to be the best thing I’ve ever written and that takes time. We could start on Monday evening if you want; or anytime that’s convenient for you.”
“Monday evening would be good because Jeff works during the day and I would like him to be there,” Jimmy said.
“Okay; if that’s good with you, Jeff, why don’t we start Monday evening around 7:30 p.m.?”
“That’s fine,” I said.
Although I had expected Tommy to leave after that, he stayed and the three of us continued to chat.
“So tell me more about college, Tommy,” Jimmy asked. “Did you like it as much as you hoped?”
“I did,” Tommy responded. “It was everything I was hoping for and more. I mean, I loved majoring in journalism. From day one I joined The Daily Collegian, the school newspaper. I was the Editor-in-Chief by my junior year. I couldn’t get enough and even tried my hand at WMUA, the radio station on campus. That was a lot of fun.”
“And what about the girls, Tommy?” Jimmy asked. “Did you have better luck with the girls in college than in high school?”
“Not really,” Tommy said, laughing. “I mean, you know how I was never the most socially adept kid in high school. It was better in college; and yet, to be perfectly honest about it, I was just so busy all the time between my classes and the paper and all of the rest of the activities I participated in that I never got around to having a girlfriend.”
“What about after college?” Jimmy asked.
“I was moving around a lot do I didn’t have time for much of a personal life,” Tommy said. “I started out on a small newspaper in Keene, New Hampshire, and then went to work for the Berkshire Eagle. That was great because it got me closer to home and my Dad. He was pretty proud of me. And then later on I decided I should try something with a little bigger circulation so I took a job at the Springfield Republican.”
“That wasn’t so great. I mean, the Republican was a great newspaper in its day, but times change and communities change and it was kind of a dead end for me personally. That’s why I jumped at the chance when the Post offered me this job. It was a big step up for me.”
“And I bet you’re like everyone else in this town, Tommy,” Jimmy said. “I bet you’re married to your job.”
“That’s true; I am. It seems like all I do is work. I haven’t really had time to make any friends in Washington. That’s why it was so great to hear from Jeff and then to find out you were in Washington as well.”
“Though I wish the circumstances were better, Jimmy,” he added, his face growing more serious. “I really do. There are times when I really miss the old days when we were best friends and did everything together.”
“Me too,” Jimmy said. “I miss those times too. Like I told you a long time ago, there are times when I wish I could go back and stop time entirely.”
“I remember you saying that, Jimmy,” Tommy replied, “and thinking you were crazy at the time. But now? Now I’m not so certain about that. There are times when I feel exactly the same way.”
After that the three of us talked for a couple more hours; and then, having exhausted our collective memories, Tommy said he had to leave.
“I guess I should call a taxi,” he said. “I foolishly rented a place in upper northwest; too far to walk and the bus will take forever if it’s even still running at this hour.”
“I can drive you back to your place,” I volunteered.
“Oh, jeez, thanks, Jeff,” he said, ‘but you must be exhausted by now. I know I am.”
“It’s not a problem,” I said. “In fact, I insist.”
Driving back to his place, neither one of us said very much at first.
“Those boys we had dinner with, Jeff,” Tommy finally volunteered. “They were kind of young. Um, I don’t mean to be nosey, but how do the two of you know them? I mean, are they gay too?”
“They are,” I said. “I met them through my work at the Metropolitan Youth Center. I helped them out of a jam and we became good friends in the process. I don’t know anything about your job, Tommy, but the Center does a lot of good work and you might want to take a look at it sometime. There might be a story there.”
“Thanks,” he replied. “I just may do that. But I was thinking the two of them might have to be part of this story as well. To me it’s a story about family and Mark and Leo seem to be part of your family, Jeff.”
“I hope you won’t go there, Tommy,” I said, concerned. “They’re too young to be part of a story like this, especially Leo.”
“I understand,” he replied. “Let me think about it. I know how prejudiced people can be. I won’t do anything to put them at risk, Jeff. You can count on that.”
“I have to tell you I still don’t think I should be part of the story either,” I said. “Not because I’m afraid of being outed, but I just think the focus should be on Jimmy.”
“It will be, Jeff,” Tommy responded. “But after everything Jimmy told me you’ve done for him, I don’t see how you I can avoid making you part of the story. I told you it’s a story about family and it is. But it’s also a story about love. I hope you realize that. I hope you understand just how much Jimmy loves you.”
“That’s the biggest regret he has,” Tommy added. “That he didn’t realize he loved you until it was too late.”
Hearing that from Tommy brought tears to my eyes and I lapsed into silence. When we finally got to Tommy’s place, I turned my attention elsewhere.
“How did he look, Tommy?” I asked. “Jimmy, I mean.”
“He, uh . . . I don’t know what to say, Jeff. He didn’t look great. He’s a lot thinner than I can ever remember him being; and, um, he seemed distracted at times. But he was still as sharp as ever, as funny as ever. Jimmy’s father used to put him down all the time; call him stupid. He wasn’t stupid. He was pretty smart actually and we were best friends.”
Looking over, I could see Tommy was struggling to hold back tears.
“I think tonight was one of the best nights Jimmy has had in a long time,” I volunteered. “Partly it was seeing you after all these years, of course; more importantly, knowing you weren’t judging him or putting him down. That was huge, Tommy. He likes you a lot and I appreciate your kindness to him.”
“I like Jimmy a lot, too, Jeff,” he responded. “It’s funny, you know; you don’t get many best friends in life and even now, all these years later, I consider Jimmy my best friend. I know that sounds weird, perhaps even pathetic, but it’s true. Just seeing him made me remember how much I care for him.”
“It’s not weird at all,” I replied. “The truth is we get disconnected from people as we grow older so it’s always nice when you see how enduring old ties can be. In any event, thanks for coming to dinner, Tommy. We’ll see you on Monday.”