Saturday. Jack was having a hard time concentrating on anything. Normally he did his homework as soon as he got home from school. His father had always insisted he do it immediately or face punishment. He hated that as an elementary school kid. Now it was his choice and he understood his father’s rule a little better. Getting it out of the way meant it wasn’t hanging over his head. The problem was, he didn’t do it last night. He was too excited about meeting Henry and Kevin to see if there was indeed a light in 327. And because there was a light, he couldn’t concentrate on it today. He tried starting with math. He thought the numbers would make him focus. No such luck. He put his math book away and closed his notebook. He got out his literature book from english class and opened it to the marked page. He tried to read the Beowulf poem. Again, no luck.
Maybe homework was too much focus. Maybe, he thought, I need something mindless. That was easy. Video games. He popped Super Mario Brothers into his XBOX. It was an old game, but it was his favorite. He made it through a few levels but kept making stupid mistakes. His mind was wandering back to the sidewalk and the glow of light behind the glass in the front door of 327.
He turned off the game and decided to go outside. It was Saturday after all. He walked down the street to Kevin’s house. Of the three of them, Kevin was the one who had a basketball goal at the side of his driveway. Kevin wasn’t playing basketball, or even outside when Jack got there. It didn’t matter though. Jack knew where the basketball was and Kevin’s parents didn’t mind when his friends played with or without their son.
It wasn’t long before Kevin came outside. The sound of the dribbling and shooting of the basketball had made its way inside and Kevin had looked out the window to see who was in his driveway.
“Hey Jack,” said Kevin as he approached Jack in the driveway.
“Hey,” replied Jack. He bounced the ball toward Kevin. “Couldn’t concentrate. I got that light from 327 in my head and I can’t seem to turn it off.”
“I know what you mean.” Kevin did a lay up, missed, and then retrieved the ball as it bounced off the edge of the driveway into the yard. “It’s got me a little freaked out.”
“Freaked out?” Jack stood with his hands and arms in position to catch the ball as Kevin threw it to him. He caught the ball and made a jump shot from where he stood. It was nothing but net. It seemed his focus was beginning to come back. “Why are you freaked out?”
“I hate to admit this man, but that house has always scared me.” Kevin was now dribbling the ball toward the side of the driveway opposite the goal.
Jack laughed a little. One of those laughs that are kind of silent except for the air you hear being pushed out of your nose, the entire upper body shaking.
“Don’t laugh at me you Dickwad,” smirked Kevin as he threw the ball at Jack.
Throwing the ball back, “What is there to be scared of?”
“I don’t know. I’ve kind of always been scared of the place.” Kevin had a defensive edge to his voice, but not enough conviction to really be upset by Jack's mockery. “I’ve never told anyone that before and I’ll deny it if you say I am.” This time the drive toward the goal was good and the lay up went in. Kevin had his trademark “yeah, I know” look on his face.
Jack rolled his eyes and went into the yard to get the basketball.
“Gentlemen,” said Henry as he swaggered into the driveway. Jack looked up from picking up the basketball. He felt his heart speed up and a small flutter in his stomach. He felt a smile part his lips. He ran toward the driveway, throwing the ball to Henry as he ran.
“Dude, what’s up?” said Jack.
“Not much. Just wanted to come out here and see who was making all the racket that was keeping me from concentrating on my homework.”
“You weren’t doing homework,” said Kevin with the sound of “who do you think you’re talking to” in his voice. “I called your house a little while ago and your mom said you were taking a nap.”
Henry laughed as he acknowledged the truth, “It’s a hard life.”
“Yeah, you’ve got it pretty rough over there at your house with your maid and gardener,” said Jack. There was no malice in his voice or on his face. Henry knew that Jack was just giving him shit.
Henry didn’t act like a spoiled child or anything of the kind. He never treated Jack or Kevin like he was better than they were. The truth was, he didn’t feel any different than them even though his family had money.
“So, what’re you guys up to today?” said Henry.
“I couldn’t concentrate on my homework so I came out here to shoot a few hoops,”
“It was the light wasn’t it?” said Henry. He knew he was right when he saw the look of surprise on Jack’s face.
“You thinking about it too?” said Kevin.
“Yeah, it’s been on my mind.”
Jack enjoyed the fact that he and Henry were thinking about the same thing. It made him feel more connected to his friend. It was also slightly painful. He knew that he shouldn’t - couldn’t - act on the feelings he was having, but it gave him pleasure to think of them as connected mentally.
“I think we should go back,” said Jack. He looked at both of them after he said it to gauge their reactions. Kevin had no response. He was waiting to see what Henry wanted to do before he made a decision. Secretly he was hoping Henry would think the idea was a waste of time. Henry got a wicked little smile on his face and Jack knew immediately that Henry was in.
“I think that sounds like a stellar idea,” said Henry, the smile getting bigger and a little more cocked to the left. Kevin was crushed. It was noticeable in the slight slump of his shoulders. Henry hadn’t noticed, but Jack had.
“Me too. I was hoping that you guys would want to,” Kevin spoke with all the courage he could muster. Jack marveled at Kevin’s ability to lie in the face of dread. He had to keep from calling him on his shit. He chose to just shake his head and laugh a little to himself.
Each new day was like starting fresh for Kevin. Last night he felt he belonged; today he felt he had to agree to go back to the house in order to again belong in this group of friends. He was never just secure that Jack and Henry were his friends and weren’t going to dis him for not doing something he didn’t want to do. What Kevin didn’t know was that Jack and Henry both knew he was scared and it didn’t change their opinions of him. They chose to keep it to themselves though because that’s what friends do. They protect each other until they are ready to acknowledge their fears or face the truth.
“I think we should go back to the sidewalk and wait for the light to come on again tonight.” Henry spoke as if he had more of a plan that he was just waiting to unfold before them. “But I think we need to step up our game this time.”
“What do mean?” asked Jack. He had to admit that he was excited that Henry was completely into checking out the house again and was giddy with anticipation at what Henry might propose they do next.
“I think that if, or when, the light comes on again, we go inside the house and see what it is.” Henry looked at them both, waiting anxiously for approval of his idea. Kevin swallowed hard when he heard the words. Jack felt the flutter in his stomach again.
“Really?” Kevin said, his face a bloodless white.
Henry looked at Kevin. “You don’t have to go if you don’t want to,” Henry told Kevin in a tone that he hoped let him know that it was okay to be scared. However, the look on his face said, "I reserve the right to make fun of you for this in the future."
“Well, I want to,” said Jack. “I’m in. Totally.”
Kevin looked back and forth between the faces of the two people he trusted most in the world. He nodded his head. “I’m in too.”
Henry’s crooked smile broke across his face as he nodded his head with approval at the next phase of their plan. They did their customary fist bump finger explosion to seal the deal.
Jack looked at the two of them and knew they were the best friends he would probably ever have in his life. He was excited about this adventure. It was the most exciting, and dangerous, thing the three of them had ever done. Stealing a flask full of whiskey, sneaking cigarettes when no one was around and shoplifting a lighter or deck of cards from the Rite Aid was a small time adrenaline rush compared to breaking into an abandoned house.
©2010 Michael Rohrer