The three of them ran down the stairs throwing caution to the wind – rotted steps be damned. They didn’t care. There wasn’t a thought in their heads about the possibility of falling through a rotten piece of wood. When they reached the street they all looked as if they were going to speak at once, but no one said anything until Henry broke the silence.
“Do you have any more of her movies at your house?” Jack looked genuinely surprised at Henry’s question. He knew that his friends would like Genevieve; he just didn’t know they would be as taken with her as he was.
“Yeah, I have a couple of her movies that I haven’t even had a chance to watch yet.”
“Could we go hang out at your place and maybe watch one of them?”
“I don’t see why not.”
“Cool. You in Kev?” Henry asked while turning toward Kevin.
“Yeah. I would really like to see what she looked like when she was younger.”
"Is that all you can think about; what she looked like when she was younger?" Jack questioned Kevin's choice of words. "That's kinda shallow, dude."
“Hey, I’m curious what she looked like when she was younger too,” said Henry, “but that’s not all I’m interested in. I would like to see her work. You gotta quit taking things so personally where she’s concerned, Jack.” Henry was trying to be honest and the voice of reason at the same time.
“I’m sorry. I just feel this need to protect her for some reason. I’m not sure what it is. I mean, I hardly know her, but she’s so nice and somehow…fragile. I think she’s lonely and needs us.” Jack’s reply was heartfelt. He was the most sensitive of the three of them. Henry knew not to push it. He understood that Jack felt things quickly and deeply. He didn’t push him further.
“So whatdya say we make a big bowl of popcorn and chill out on those beanbags that you hate so much. We’ll bring them into your room, pop in one of her movies and just…hang.” As the most charismatic of the three, Henry always knew how to plead his case with a smile and make it sound like the best idea anyone had every had. Jack knew charisma was what made Henry so irresistible. He just wished he didn't have to fight so damn hard to resist.
“I thought you had to get home?” asked Jack
“I do, but when I’m done with my homework I’ll come back over and we’ll watch the movie.”
“Homework? You’re going home to do homework?” The look of surprise on Jack’s face could have only been hidden by Botox injections.
Henry looked at Jack and opened his mouth to respond but caught the look Kevin was giving him. He looked at Kevin then back to Jack. He smiled the smile of someone caught in a lie. He acted cool as usual, but his suave, tough guy exterior had a crack in it; a crack he had provided. The jig was up and he knew it.
“Okay. So I promised my mom that I would get straight A’s and she promised me that I could go to the college of my choice. I have a rep to protect. I just wanted you guys to think I blow off homework like everybody else thinks.”
“You’re an idiot.” Jack and Henry both turned to look at Kevin. The words were unexpected and shocking coming out of Kevin’s mouth. Kevin was looking at Henry like a child whose dream of going to space camp had just been crushed.
“Kevin, dude, I just didn’t want to appear to be smart. Do you know how difficult it is for a guy to be both smart and popular? No offense, Jack.” Henry threw in that last part as an afterthought when the words he had spoken to Kevin actually cycled back into his own ears.
Jack rolled his eyes as he shook his head at Henry. It was just another one of Henry’s idiosyncrasies. So now he knew – Henry actually cares about his grades. Big deal. He was still the same old Henry.
“I’ll see you guys around 8 okay? Does that sound doable?” asked Jack.
Henry nodded his head. “See you at 8.”
“Yeah, I’ll see you at 8,” Kevin’s response was a little gruff. Jack cocked his left eyebrow as he looked at Henry and started backing away before turning to walk toward his house.
“Don’t 'Kev' me, Henry.”
“What’s wrong with you? Are you angry that I pretend to not do my homework?”
“I try to be like you, Henry. I always have. I look up to you. I blow off my homework because I thought you blew off yours. I just wanted to be popular like you. I wanted to be part of our gang. I’ve always felt like I had to impress you or you would convince Jack that I wasn’t worth hanging out with. Now I find out that you have straight A’s while I have straight C’s. I don’t ever do my homework because I thought it made me cool like you.”
Kevin stopped talking. His brow was wrinkled. He looked visibly angry. Whether it was anger at himself or at Henry was unclear. Henry wanted to convince his friend that they would be friends no matter what happened. Their friendship was important to him. He just didn’t know what to say. He didn’t have an opportunity before he heard Kevin say to himself, “Actually, I’m the idiot.”
Henry found his words. “You’re not an idiot, Kevin. You’re one of my best friends. You’re a goofball and you’re funny. I laugh at your jokes, even when they’re lame, because you say them. I enjoy hanging out with you. I enjoy hanging out with you even when you don’t bring your dad’s flask. You’re a cool guy, Kevin, and I’m proud to call you my friend. You have to figure out who you are and stop trying to be like me, or anybody else. Be who you are. I think you might find that it’s easier.”
Henry extended his arm, fist at the end, toward Kevin. Kevin hesitated briefly, and without breaking his gaze from the ground, bumped his own fist on Henry’s.
“How about you go do your homework?” Henry said to Kevin as he put his arm around his friend’s shoulders and they started walking toward Henry’s house.
“Okay.” Henry started down his driveway as Kevin cut across the lawn to his own house.
“Hey, Henry,” said Kevin midway across the lawn.
Without stopping or turning to look at Henry, “Thanks.”
Henry continued up his driveway completely unaware that Jack had been standing on his own front porch watching what had transpired between him and Kevin.
©2010 Michael Rohrer