I was listening to Pinball Wizard from Tommy at about 7:30 that night when I heard the back doorbell ring. After a minute I heard my mother calling me.
I got out of my bed and faltered for a minute with the pain. I pulled up on my T-shirt and looked at my chest. It was all black and blue. I hadn’t yet found the courage to look at my balls. I knew I had been unconsciously rubbing them through my shorts.
"Who’s the numbnuts now?" I thought, and smiled. I’d have to share that one with Andy. But the brief smile reminded me of my split lip and I gasped in pain and stopped smiling.
I walked up the hall and into the kitchen and looked out the back door. I got scared as hell when I saw Mr. Thomas standing in the open doorway. I’m in big trouble, I thought.
He was just standing there on the back porch looking at me and then I noticed that Billy was with him too. Mr. Thomas had his big hand clutching Billy’s neck. Billy was looking straight down. The three of us stood there silently for a moment. Mr. Thomas looked at me and then down at Billy. Billy just kept looking at the floor.
“Come on now, do it,” Mr. Thomas said, looking at Billy.
Billy looked up at me. I was pleased to see that his right eye was blackened and half-closed but other than that he didn’t look any worse. I knew I looked much worse than he did. Although I hadn’t looked in the mirror yet.
I watched as Mr. Thomas squeezed Billy’s neck and then Billy held out his right hand to me.
“Come on now boys, shake on it,” Mr. Thomas said.
I looked over at Billy. We didn’t really look each other in the eye but I went over to him and took his hand and we shook up and down twice and let go. Billy looked back to the ground. Mr. Thomas nodded at me and then turned Billy around using the big hand that had never left Billy’s neck. A hand that had just four fingers, I knew.
Plenty enough, for now.
They left the porch for the short walk across the street back to their house. I went back to my room and lay down on my bed and chewed my lower lip. Pinball Wizard had ended and a song called Go to the Mirror was playing. It sounded like a command, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to follow it.
I lay back and thought for a while. Friendships were changing. And Billy was right. I was changing too.
- From Sumner Gardens
Rest in peace, Mr. Thomas.