Chopin – Etude Op. 10 No. 1 (Waterfall)
It was an evil plan, a wickedness the boys would never see coming. But Valerie knew it was a necessary plan. She made them go by foot. You could reach the skinny-dipping pond by foot if you followed the tracks out south of town, past Uncle Dash’s farm and past the Sumpter Park Woods where the city of Norwall maintained a shelter house with picnic tables and a manicured lawn that led to trails into the woods and eventually to the old Sumpter log cabin, what was left of it.
There was an old ox-bow pond that once had been connected to the Iowa River, but now was a separate body of water coming out of an artesian spring that brought fresh water from the shared river water table.
“Really? We’re going to the old Pirates’ skinny-dipping place?” Ricky Porter asked skeptically.
“It’s too late in the year for swimming, Val,” Billy Martin reminded her. “October is too cold in Iowa.”
“You really think I would make you come this far just for a chance to see you guys naked? Again?”
“When did you ever see me naked?” asked Billy. At eighteen he was a rather bony and skinny youth. And he was so painfully shy that Val had not even seen him in swimming trunks.
“Okay, well… I wasn’t referring to you.”
“I only go in if you do,” Ricky said to her. He had dared her like that once before, though she had seen his golden-brown, muscled form and then successfully backed out of going in herself.
“We didn’t come here for that,” she answered with a frown. “I needed to talk to you both. I had another one of those dreams again last night. I spent the whole night crying.”
“The angel dreams again?” Billy asked, wide-eyed.
“Michel Volant, yes.”
“You know we’re here for you, Val. We’re your friends and fellow Pirates,” Ricky said.
“But you also know how much it hurts to talk about Francois,” Billy said, tears already forming in his eyes.
Valerie looked him squarely in the eyes. She knew he would see exactly what she meant.
“Oh, gawd, Val, you haven’t been hurting yourself already have you?” Billy asked, his voice quavering slightly.
“Not this time. But you know those dreams usually mean another black depression is coming on. And you know what we have to do about it.”
“Yeah. We promised to always tell each other if we ever had those kinds of thoughts again.” Ricky’s eyes were tearing up again too. Val was aware he had cut himself on the ankles more than any of them had ever done themselves self-harm. He was the one who had spent a week in the hospital two years ago.
“Have you been thinking about hurting yourself, Val?” Billy asked.
“Maybe. That’s why we had to talk today and not wait any longer.”
“Is it… is it Francois again?”
“Billy, we can talk about Tommy this time. I just need to hear it again. I just know if we don’t do something about the ones we lost…”
“…To keep them alive in our hearts, yeah,” said Ricky.
“You know I can’t tell you anything about Tommy. I never met him. I spent the whole blizzard down in the cellar next to the furnace while it burned propane.” Billy looked sadly across the wind-rippled water.
“What do you want to know about Tommy? I don’t know everything, but I knew him a few years longer than you did.” Ricky’s eyes were glistening.
“You haven’t heard from him since the blizzard, have you?” She asked.
“You know I would tell you if I had. Besides, he didn’t take anybody’s phone number with him.”
“He could’ve looked us up. He knows you were taken in by Cliff Baily and his new wife. He knows I live in town with my mother.”
“Yeah, but that’s not Tommy’s style. He survived on the road because he always lived in the moment. He was focused on where he was and the people he was with… in the NOW.”
“Yeah. I remember him that way too.”
“What more do you really want to know about him, Val?”
“Why did you boys follow him all the way to Norwall?”
“Well… um, I… Yeah…”
“You can tell me. No matter how hard it may seem, Ricky. We’re Pirates, you and I. You can tell me anything.”
“Are we still Norwall Pirates?” Billy asked. “We haven’t had a club meeting in two years. And you made your little cousin, Tim Kellogg, the new Pirate leader.”
“You did? You didn’t tell me?”
“Oh, Ricky. You left the Pirates before Billy and I did. They are all younger kids now. We’re old. Almost adults.”
“Yeah, but… Once a Pirate, always a Pirate.”
“We’ll always be a part of it. The club was started by my cousin Brent Clarke, and he says he’s still a Pirate. It’s just that the Pirates belong in the control of the Norwall kids, so they learn to rely on each other, and form the team that helps us all survive the perils of the unknown.”
Ricky and Billy both smiled and laughed a little at that. They knew it was true just as surely as Valerie did.
“We’re off topic now, Rick,” Billy said. “You promised her to tell her why you followed Tommy here to Norwall.”
“Yeah… um… You know that most kids in the foster care system get abused one way or another…”
“Yeah, Tommy told me that too… during the blizzard.”
“We didn’t form the Fantastic Foursome just by getting on that Trailways bus together. Terry and I met in the group home. He had nobody to talk to him in his previous foster homes… because nobody spoke sign language.”
“Did you know sign when you met him?” Billy asked.
“Terry taught me. He needed someone to talk to desperately. And I learned fast.”
“Faster than you taught it to me?”
“Well, yeah… You’re kinda a slow learner, Billy.”
“Okay, but that don’t mean I ain’t smart.”
“Of course, not,” Valerie said.
“Well, you can see what Terry’s real father did to him if you look at his burned ears. His father was the reason he was deaf.”
“And what about Tommy and Dennis?” Val asked.
“Well, you remember Denny had those crutches. He got that way from malnourishment. His first fosters only had him to get the money the State paid. They practically starved him to death. The mom of that family went to jail for it. Denny probably would’ve died if Brikkleputti… I mean, Mom, hadn’t followed us all the way to Norwall with the medicine Denny and I both needed.”
“Is Denny still alive, you think?”
“Sure, Val. If Tommy’s alive, and I know he is, he wouldn’t have let anything happen to Denny. He loved him like a little brother.”
“He loved all three of you like that.”
“Yeah, he did. That’s why he left us here when he left for Dallas. He took Denny with him, but he left me with Cliff and Mom to be a family like I never had before. And the Dawes family wanted to adopt Terry too. He left us behind for our own good.”
“But why was Tommy running away to begin with?”
“Well… the last foster family he lived with, they… beat him. And when he finally got strong enough to fight back, the cops came and took Tommy and locked him up… not that crazy old man who beat him.”
“Yeah, Tommy told me about that too.”
“And what about you, Ricky?” Billy asked.
“Well, I… uh… maybe I ain’t ready to talk about that just yet.”
“The Teddy Bear Killer?” Val asked.
“Yeah, don’t even say his name, please.”
“I know what you mean. I… um… I can’t talk about Daddy Kyle, either.”
“But, Val, what did we even come here for, then?” Billy asked.
“We gotta talk about the hard things. All three of us,” said Ricky. “We all are hurting inside almost all of the time.”
“Yeah, and that’s why we’re here instead of trying to meet in Zoomboogadoo. This pond is touched by magic, just like the gazebo in Zoomboogadoo.”
“No, that’s not a real place. We didn’t actually meet Francois and his sister in dreams. That was all just us imagining it. And Ricky wasn’t even able to meet us in the Dreamlands… not even once.” Billy was visibly upset.
“You are never going to convince me that Zoomboogadoo wasn’t real. I remember it too vividly.”
“But dreams can be vivid sometimes, and still not real,” reminded Ricky.
“All right. But this place is magic too. I have come here more than once to talk to Clovis. You just have to be in the right state of mind.”
“Val, there is no Clovis. He’s just a story they tell in the Pirates’ meetings to explain the disappearance of Conrad Doble. You said yourself, it was old Mrs. Haire that scared him away for good. He didn’t turn into no naked kid with horns and a tail.” It was Ricky’s turn to look visibly upset.
“Yeah, well… we need to stay ahead of the depression and the suicidal thinking. We are not any of us ever going to hurt ourselves again. That doesn’t cure the problems that are causing us pain.”
“You’re right, Val,” said Billy.
“Yeah, we gotta talk it all out,” said Ricky.
“Yeah. And we’re gonna do it here, by the skinny-dipping pond. And we’re gonna do it naked. That’s the evil plan.”
“What?” Both boys were upset.
“You remember how it was in Zoomboogadoo,” said Valerie, looking straight into the eyes of Billy. “We all showed up there in our dreams with no clothes on. Like we were born into it. Innocent as babes.”
“That was just a dream,” Billy insisted.
“Yeah, and it wasn’t cold fall weather either, I bet,” said Ricky.
“That’s true. But that’s what will keep us from being seen and watched by the other Pirates. They only come here during skinny-dipping season.”
“What if we can’t do it? Get naked here… I mean,” said Billy with a stutter.
“And what if we don’t want to do it?” Ricky added.
“Well, we’ll take it slow. It is not because of sex or wanting to see each other naked. It’s about being completely honest and open. No barriers. If we don’t help each other when the darkness returns to our brains, someone else will die. And I can’t lose anybody else in my life. I need to add people, not lose them.” All three of them saw the dark clouds coming on the horizon in the mind’s eye. At least, Val was almost positive they did. And the one advantage the Pirates had over other people who get darkly depressed and suicidal was that they had each other. These three friends, at least, actually knew each other better than most friends ever do. And soon they would be inside each other’s heads in ways that Valerie simply knew would help.