Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"Secret Friends" - 11 & Counting

Part 11: Secret Friends
The two boys traveled just beyond the low stone wall bordering Aunt Jenna's farm, Andrew barely keeping up with TJ's lanky strides. He must live around here, Andrew thought, he seems to know exactly where he's going without having to look around for landmarks. He couldn't see the grin on the TJ's face.

When they arrived at Peddler's Creek, TJ offered Andrew his fishing pole and the bucket of worms. "You get this one started and I'll go find a stick for ya."

"Okay," Andrew said uncertainly. He had absolutely no idea how to put a worm on a hook. His father usually did that for him. He wasn't about to tell TJ that though. He let the other boy run off. He reached his hand into the bucket and pulled one out, mushing it a bit between his fingers, enjoying the slimy texture. Worms were really neat. His dad had told him that if you cut one up it would eventually grow into two separate worms, and while he wasn't sure he believed that, from then on he thought worms were pretty cool.

He held the squirming worm in one hand and the lure attached to the pole in his other hand. Should he tie the worm like a knot? Would that work? He stared at the shiny metallic scales on the lure, which reflected little rainbows just above the surface of the water.  He looked down into the creek, but he didn't see any fish.

A hand shoved his back hard, thrusting him forward. For half a second he flipped upside down, heard a laugh and caught a glimpse of the sun before hitting the freezing creek water. The water cushioned his fall, flooding his nose and into his mouth before his feet hit the bottom and he pushed himself out of the water, coughing and snorting out water. TJ was on the shore just above him laughing hysterically.

"I got you good! You shoulda seen your face, your mouth was all," he made a fish face and continued to howl with laughter. Andrew scowled up at him as he crawled out of the water, shivering a bit. He knew this was too good to be true. He kicked the bucket and started to head back.

"Hey now!" TJ ran up beside him, "Don't get all sore on me, I was just fooling around. C'mon, I'll let ya push me in."

Andrew paused and then ran back, shoving TJ down the same way he had fallen. TJ tumbled into the water, laughing the whole way into a loud splash. Andrew smiled a little. That was fun!

"C'mon in," TJ said and splashed water at him.

This time Andrew jumped in without hesitation, completely soaking the both of them. They both came up laughing and splashing each other, scaring away all the fish for miles around.

Andrew had never really played with anyone else. He had friends at school of course, but they never played like this, out where the only rules were their own, with no adults to tell them to be quiet or to behave. TJ had an imagination as big as Andrew's and together his world expanded like it never had before. Now he had another actor in his play, someone to fulfill the other roles: the Ogre King, a rival Dinosaur Rider, a homocide detective partner, and a million other stories. Andrew became so lost in this other world that he didn't notice the sun was sinking fast in the sky, that time had flown by like a cool breeze, his whole day gone in what seemed to him like the blink of an eye.

He came back to himself just as they finished burying a treasure chest of jewels, which was really an old cigar box filled with pieces of quartz. Andrew stood up suddenly, feeling as if he had overslept for school. He looked up into the sky.

"Old Blackbeard will never find it here," TJ said in his pirate voice, but changed back to normal when he saw Andrew stand up, "What's the matter? Storm coming in?"

"I'm gonna be late," Andrew said, "Sorry TJ, I gotta go."

TJ grabbed his arm, "C'mon, it can't be that important."

"It kinda is," Andrew said. He really wanted to stay and play more. They weren't done yet and TJ was the first real friend he had made here, ever. He didn't want to be rude to him, but all the same, he could see the sunlight sinking behind the trees. The sun would set soon. He couldn't be late for the Counting Ceremony. He had promised Aunt Jenna.

"What's so important?" TJ asked, his eyes locking onto Andrew's. There was something about them that was familiar but he couldn't place it. Something about those blue eyes. Surely he could trust TJ. TJ was his friend.

"A Counting --" he broke off suddenly, remembering his promise not to tell anyone, even his parents. "I mean, it's just Aunt Jenna is counting on me to be back by sundown. It's my curfew."

"Aw, c'mon. She won't mind if you're a little late," he said, "You can even come over to my house if you want. You can stay for dinner too. My dad's grilling steak and corn on the cob tonight."

Andrew's mouth watered at the mention of steak, his favorite food in the whole universe. He couldn't though, he knew he couldn't. He had promised. Not that he was looking forward to the Counting Ceremony itself, but he did want to see his dragon relatives again. Besides, TJ lived near here. He could see him again everyday for the whole summer!

"Thank you, but I really gotta go," Andrew said, trying to remember his manners. He found he actually wanted to be polite here. He really cared about his new friend.

"Aw, you're no fun," TJ complained. Great, Andrew thought, now he's mad at me.

"But I'll see you again, right? Maybe tomorrow?"

TJ brightened up a little, "Sure. Wanna meet at the stone wall?"

"Sure," Andrew said excitedly, "Maybe you can come over to my house?"

"I can't."

"Why not?"

TJ sighed. Then he looked around, as if there might be someone else listening into their conversation. He lowered his voice as if had seen someone there, "Alright I'm gonna level with you, Andrew," TJ said, his voice suddenly serious, "See I'm not supposed to be friends with you."

"What? Why not?" Andrew hadn't realized he had lowered his own voice too.

"We've been neighbors a long time, but we haven't met before cause there's a feud between your aunt and my dad."

"What's a feud?"

"A feud! You know, it's... an argument of sorts. Basically, a long time ago they had an argument over something dumb and now she's holding a grudge and won't talk no more about it."

"What's that have to do with us?"

"If she knew you had talked to me, she wouldn't let you hang out with me no more."

"What! That's unfair, you didn't do anything!"

"Yeah I know, but that's how adults are."

Andrew nodded. It all made sense now. All this time she hadn't even told him about TJ's family and that was crazy! He wondered if it wasn't something else. Was it because of the Gulariss Dragons? Was she so secretive that she didn't even have anyone over? If it was that was even more unfair. Just because she didn't get along with everyone didn't mean Andrew couldn't.

Well, Andrew would be different. He wouldn't grow up to be all alone like her. He would have lots of friends over, and maybe, just maybe, one or two would know about the dragons, close friends who would keep their secret. Secretly, he hoped TJ would be one of those friends.

"What'll we do then?" Andrew asked.

"Let's be secret friends. Nobody'll know except us."

"What about your dad?"

"Aw, I'll tell him you're a visitin cousin of our neighbors, the Wilks brothers. They got lots of cousins and they always send 'em over to help us every summer. He'll never figure it out as long as you keep it a secret, okay?"

"I don't know." He had never lied like this to Aunt Jenna before or even to an adult he had never met. Though he supposed it wasn't that big of a lie since he was just going out to play. She just didn't know who with. And it wasn't like TJ was dangerous. He was just as old as Andrew and really nice. He didn't do drugs or was in a gang or any of that bad stuff his parents always warned him about. Aunt Jenna would like TJ too if she would just give him a chance. But he knew TJ was right. She wouldn't give him a chance, and then he'd never see him again.

And what was one more secret anyway? Aunt Jenna wouldn't have to worry and Andrew would have a new friend. He'd just tell her he was out at Ft. Andrew playing and sneak off to TJ's house instead. What harm would that do? Nothing that he could forsee.

"Okay," Andrew agreed, "I won't tell her, but I really do have to go now."

"Before you do," TJ said and fished something out of his overalls pocket, "Take this."

TJ held out a brown leather cord. Dangling from the end was a carved pendant, that curled like a snail shell. Andrew touched it, and realized it was made out of bone, maybe ivory. He saw two holes and realized it was a kind of whistle. He took it and put it around his neck.
"When you want to play, just blow this whistle. I'll find you."

"Wow! Thanks," Andrew said, admiring its craftsmanship. He wondered how long it had taken to make such a thing and if it was some kind of family heirloom. He couldn't say why exactly, but it felt old, older than Aunt Jenna, older than Grandpa even. Was it possible it was as old as the Gulariss? That was silly though, why would TJ give him something like that? He shrugged off the uneasy feeling settling around him as he tucked it into his shirt.

"See you tomorrow!"

"Definitely," Andrew answered and started to run back, "Bye TJ!"

Behind him Andrew heard TJ call out, but when he turned, he didn't see him anywhere. As he continued running through the forest, he realized he didn't know where he was exactly. How far had they strayed from the creek and the low stone wall? He started to call for TJ, but then decided against that. He wouldn't admit he didn't know the area outside the farm borders. At last he settled for finding the direction of the setting sun. From there he moved north, knowing evenutally he would find the lake, or so he hoped.

The woods began to take on unfamiliar colors and shapes as the sun sunk deeper. He had never stayed out this late before, and he realized when his stomach complained with a rumble that he hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. It was too late to stop by home for food. He'd have to wait until the Ceremony was over. Something else bothered him more than his hunger. Crazy as it seemed to him, he sensed something watching him, even though he couldn't see anyone or anything in any direction he looked.

Continue to Part 12?


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