"God it's good to see you," said Joel, getting out of the car and giving Craig a short hug. Craig could see Karma in the back seat of the car looking excited.
"You too Joel. Believe me." Craig returned the hug and they pulled apart, just looking at each other for a minute.
It was about 7:00 PM on Friday evening, shortly after supper.
Joel suddenly noticed his parents standing outside the car looking at the boys with a slightly puzzled smile.
"Oh, sorry. Mom, Dad, this is Craig. Craig, these are my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bellings."
"Pleased to meet you Craig," said Mr. Bellings, and they both shook his hand briefly. "So, I understand you met at a birthday party a while back? You seem to know each other fairly well."
Craig hated lying. He hated it, but he wasn't sure what else to do. Another half truth. They were piling up and he felt awful about every one. "Um, yeah, someone I know real well was turning fourteen. Joel was there too and we kind of hung around each other for company." Oh god, that was pushing it.
"Oh, I see." Mr. Bellings looked like he wanted to ask more questions but Mrs. Bellings interrupted. "Now Jim, leave the boy alone. He's looking a bit uncomfortable, can't you tell?"
Craig silently thanked her. "Come on in Mr. and Mrs. Bellings. I know you wanted to meet my mom before you go."
Just at that moment though Craig's mom came outside and smiled at the newcomers. "I thought I heard voices," she said. "Hi, I'm Betty Jamison, Craig's mom."
Introductions were made and the parents shooed the boys off to "play" while they continued chatting. Joel and Craig decided take Karma and Rabble to the dog park. Joel walked back to the car and opened it to let Karma out. Karma shot out of the car like a rocket, ran at full speed across the lawn, and directly into the house through the still open door.
"Well, he certainly seems comfortable here," said Mrs. Bellings as the boys began chasing him. They didn't go too many steps though before Karma came galloping out of the house at the same speed he went in, this time being chased by a delighted Rabble. The two dogs ran across the lawn, into the neighbors yard, and looped around for another lap before ending up in a heap near Joel and Craig, wrestling and rolling on the grass.
"Will you look at that," said Mr. Bellings. "I think they're friends already." He turned to Mrs. Jamison. "Are you sure you don't mind having Joel and Karma for the weekend? I don't want you going to any trouble."
"No, no trouble at all. I'm glad Craig invited a friend over."
Craig winced a bit at that, but the boys managed to leash up the dogs and began the walk to the dog park, leaving their parents to speculate.
"You wouldn't believe everything that's happened since we got back, Joel. Guess what? I'm on the basketball team!" Craig laughed at the absurdity of this.
Joel joined in, "See, told you that you were getting better. Too bad our schools don't have gun ranges, maybe we'd both have a chance to be stars."
"Yeah, isn't it weird to be running around everywhere without a gun? I still feel naked every time I'm outside."
"My hand still goes to my hip about a hundred times a day to adjust it. Even my parents noticed. I had trouble explaining that one. Speaking of naked though, how's Andrew?"
Craig looked at Joel's grinning face and gave him a shove with his shoulder, "Wouldn't you like to know? You're just mad because we've been back three days and I've already got a boyfriend."
Joel's grin became wider. "Have I mentioned Anne from school yet?"
"Really!? Good for you Joel. God it's nice to be around people again. It's like an addictive drug all of the sudden. I can't get enough," said Craig.
"Yeah. I try and enjoy every day, though it's hard to ignore all the weird stuff, you know? But I'm having a bit of trouble getting to sleep every night."
Craig said, "You too? Every time I turn out my light I wonder what world I'm going to wake up into when my alarm goes off." They had arrived at the dog park and the boys unleashed Rabble and Karma and began throwing a ball for them. Joel was watching the dogs thoughtfully. "We should still train them, you know? Just to be safe."
"I was thinking the same thing. It can't hurt that's for sure, besides it'd be fun I think." Craig picked up the soggy ball again and threw it hard, Rabble and Karma giving chase. "I still haven't talked to Dr. Pollack. Andrew thinks it's a good idea though. He promised not to say anything about it until I tell him myself. I know you said that you told your friend Kevin. Has he come around yet at all?"
"No, not really," said Joel. "He kinda wants to believe it, I can tell. But, he was raised in this ultra-conservative household, I think he thinks the devil must be involved somehow, so he's trying to figure all this out. I trust him Craig, don't worry," Joel continued as he noticed Craig's expression, "I've known him since we were both about five. He's a good guy. I told him for the same reason you told Andrew. He noticed a bunch of stuff, and I couldn't explain it and didn't want to lie."
"More and more people seem to be finding out. So far I guess we've been lucky. Uh, I think we should tell one more too, other than Dr. Pollack. We're supposed to go over to Andrew's place tomorrow, so he and Jamie can meet you. I think we should tell Jamie."
"I trust him. He's a good guy too, Joel. I don't know him real well yet, but I know Andrew trusts him completely. It's hard for Andrew right now. He feels like he's hiding stuff from his best friend."
Joel sighed. "Ok, fine. Sooner or later though this is going to backfire on us." Joel called the dogs back over, they were starting to get a bit far away. They immediately turned and began trotting back. "What about our parents?"
Craig sat down on a bench and Joel joined him. "I knew you were going to ask that. I just don't know yet. I'm pretty sure my mom would have a hard time believing it. Give me some time with that ok? Whatever you feel right about telling yours though, go ahead."
"No, I'm not quite ready yet." He smiled his lopsided smile. "I think I kinda get what it must be like for a gay kid wondering about coming out to his parents."
Craig laughed. "You know what's funny? All of the sudden I'm hardly worried about coming out to mom. I'm way more worried about telling her about the Disappearance."
"So now that you're with Andrew are you going to tell her you're gay then?"
Craig's expression changed. "Shit. Now you've done it. You have a way of making me look at my self honesty, you know? Ok, maybe I'm still worried about that too. I'll tell her when I'm ready. Not yet."
"Let's go home. I mean to your place." he shook his head. "Sorry, it's still home to me. Anyway, let's go. Enough talking about this. Let's find something else to do for a change, like a movie or some video games or something. I want to feel like a normal teenager for a while."
Craig, Joel, Andrew, and Jamie were gathered in Andrew's bedroom, just before lunch on Saturday. Jamie was looking back and forth between the other three boys, a mix of emotions on his face. Craig had just finished telling Jamie his story, with a lot of help from Joel. "Ok, so what's the punchline?" he asked finally.
Andrew smiled thinly at Craig. "Told you. Don't worry, he'll come around."
Joel was looking worried.
Craig stood up and began removing his pants. Jamie's eyes widened. "Umm, dude! Wait until you and Andrew are alone, willya?!"
Craig smiled and stood up, clad in his boxers. "Look at my legs. These are the scars. Joel has his own set. You saw the one on my arm." He pulled his pants back on.
Jamie was looking back and forth between Joel and Craig, his eyes still narrowed in skepticism. "Guys. C'mon. Joke's over. It's not really all that funny."
Andrew stood up. "Plan B. Let's go," he said to Craig and Joel's worried expressions. "Guys, it's ok. We'll be careful. I've got it worked out if we get stopped. And you already gave me the papers from your parents. I told you it might come to this." He turned to Jamie. "C'mon, we're taking a drive."
Jamie stood up and followed the other three. "Wait a minute. Your dad isn't home. Who's driving us? And where exactly are we going?"
Andrew kept walking and looked over his shoulder at his friend. "Jamie, just trust me, ok. You've always been hard headed. I guessed this might happen, so I have a plan. Besides, it'll be fun. I've never been there before."
"Where?" asked Jamie, reluctantly following once again.
"You'll see," answered Andrew as they entered the garage and he thumbed the button for the overhead door.
"Guys. C'mon. We're gonna get in trouble," Jamie protested as they began piling into the car in the garage. "None of us is old enough to drive. Not even close." Jamie's eyes widened even more as he saw Craig get behind the wheel. "Umm, he's, like, the youngest one of us."
Craig started the car. Andrew beckoned to Jamie through the opened backseat door. "Get in Jamie. Really."
"Oh fuck, I don't want to go to juvie," he said. But he got in. "What's in the envelope, Andy?"
"Waivers. I got your dad to sign one too."
Andrew just laughed as Jamie opened his mouth to ask another question, and waved him off. The car backed out of the garage and began heading towards the edge of town.
Several minutes later, Craig was apologizing. "Sorry. I've never driven in traffic before. It's a bit different."
"Just don't get us killed, all right? We're almost there." said Andrew.
They pulled into the parking lot of a large building. The sign above read, "Three Valley Gun Club and Shooting Range."
Jamie looked at Andrew, then at Craig and Joel, and shrugged. "Ok, now I see what the waivers were for. But so what?"
They boys exited the car and began walking across the parking lot towards the building. The sounds of gunfire and the smell of gunpowder were strong in the air. Craig said, "We called ahead, earlier this morning before you came over. We have a time booked, and an instructor, which is mandatory for our age. It's Andrew's idea. He printed out the waivers from the website last night and we all got our parents to sign them. I think Andrew must've got your parents to sign yours when he was over last night." Andrew nodded at this. "Let's just go in. Then you'll see."
An enjoyable hour later Andrew said, "That instructor was kinda hot"
"Hey, what were you looking at him for?" said Craig. "Besides, he wasn't looking at you, he was looking at Joel."
Joel's eyes became large. "Why do the gay guys keep looking at me all the time?"
Craig giggled. "I told ya, it's that cute butt of yours."
Jamie said, "Give it a rest guys. Look, that was fun, but so what? Ok, so, you guys can shoot. And Craig can drive. So what? It doesn't mean that crazy story is true."
"Jamie, see that door over there? The broken one?" asked Craig. He pointed to a door leading outside, hanging by one hinge and wide open.
"Yeah? So?" said Jamie.
"Just listen, and think Jamie," said Andrew. "You're going to be totally freaked when it hits you. I was."
Craig continued, "See how everybody is ignoring it? Like the fallen gas station sign on 3rd that we had to drive around? This is a gun club. There's guns here. Don't you think someone would fix that door? And the sign on 3rd. How long has it been like that? With people all driving around it?"
"I dunno. A while I guess, don't remember. Look, none of that matters. When are you going to get to the evidence you were talking about?"
Craig patiently continued. "Why hasn't the town fixed that pedestrian bridge by the river? Isn't that dangerous? Not even a barricade?"
"Dude! Think!" said Andrew. "I was the same when they started pointing this out. It's like some kind of mental block. Like something is making us not see this stuff. But, c'mon, think. It's totally weird."
Joel joined in and gave more examples. "The burned out store. The light pole on Anderson Street. Jamie, what would happen if the stop sign on your street fell over in a storm? Or worse, an electrical pole?"
"The town would fix it of course, probably fairly quickly. Sounds like it could be dangerous."
The three boys waited, looking intently at Jamie. He kept looking at the other three. Suddenly his eyes widened and his jaw dropped. "Fuck me!"
"No, you're straight." smiled Andrew as Jamie rolled his eyes. "Do you get it now?"
"Why the hell did I never think of that stuff before? It's, like, totally obvious. And completely bizarre." said Jamie.
"Now you know how I felt when it hit me. I was exactly the same way. It's like someone took a blindfold off my brain," said Andrew.
Jamie was staring at Craig and Joel, like they were aliens from another planet. Finally he looked at Andrew. "You were right."
"About what?" asked Andrew.
"Craig. And I guess Joel too. Superkids."
Craig looked disgusted and turned to Andrew. "I thought I told you to stop calling me that."
Andrew grinned at his boyfriend. "I didn't. Jamie did. Deal with it, Superkid. Now, let's go, we've got to get the car home before Dad gets back."
Craig rolled his eyes but didn't answer. The boys went outside into the sunshine.