How many kids meet and become best friends that first day
and remain best friends — and more — through the present day, ten years later?
Damon watched as Cathy tried to open the screw-on cap on a jar of salsa.
“Here, Cathy, let me do that.”
He tried to open it but had the same result as Cathy. So, he set the recalcitrant jar on a folded kitchen towel and banged his palm four times, hard, on the top of the cap. Then he unscrewed the cap with relatively little effort.
“I’ve never seen anyone do that before,” she said. “That’s a very clever trick. Where did you hear about it?”
“It’s something I just figured out on my own. Works almost every time, though sometimes there’s a screw-on cap on a jar that just won’t unscrew. Then I use the jar opener.”
She took the jar and emptied the contents into a serving dish which she put in the refrigerator. She returned and leaned back against the edge of the sink and looked at her brother.
“I wish you could do something like that to unscrew me.” She tried to grin, but did so rather unconvincingly.
Damon laughed. “Are you serious, or are you just pissed off because you’re pregnant?”
“At this point I’d say it’s more serious than just pissed off. Kevin isn’t being cooperative. He grouses that I’m waking him up when I get up because I can’t sleep or I have to pee or I’m achy. I want to go out and get things we’ll need for the baby’s room; he says it’s too soon. For God’s sake, I’m in my third trimester already! It’s not too soon. But he’s off on another business trip and won’t be back until next Friday.”
“I agree it’s not too soon. The offer for me and Wayne to take you baby-stuff shopping still holds. All you have to do is drive us.”
Damon saw that Cathy was holding in most of her anger and frustration. If she’d only burst out crying then he could comfort her and this would pass. But that hadn’t happened yet.
He had his own problems. His boyfriend Wayne had been in the state wrestling championships. The Las Lomas High team hadn’t been given any chance of moving up in the playoffs, but they’d surprised everyone when they’d won their first three matches in the 138, 160, 195, and 220 pound classes and had moved into the championship round. Then they’d defeated Canyon High, the favorites from Southern California. Wayne had won the 160 pound class, and Las Lomas High had won the team championship.
Wayne had called around noon on Thursday to let them know that they were on their way back from Long Beach where the matches had been held but were caught up in a freak snowstorm that blocked Interstate 5 at Tejon Pass. Now it was Friday and they hadn’t heard from him again. Damon worried that his boyfriend wouldn’t get home in time for the party for the tenth anniversary of when they met and their seventeenth birthdays.
Cathy grinned and poked Damon with her elbow. “Okay, I’m over my pregnancy rant now. Let’s get on with preparing for your party. How many are coming this year?”
“Twelve of the kids who were at our seventh birthday party, which is all of those who still live around here, including you. And Wayne’s little brother Marty who was there but hadn’t quite been born yet. This anniversary is important for me and Wayne. Besides our seventeenth birthdays, this is the tenth anniversary of when we met each other.”
“I suppose you’re going to tell me, for about the hundredth time, how you two met, right?”
“Of course, but you’ll have to wait. Wayne and I will tell everyone at the party.”
Damon smiled at his sister as she stuck out her tongue at him. She stared out the kitchen window and didn’t say anything for a few seconds. Then she took a deep breath and let it out, then turned to Damon and grinned.
“It’s going to be wonderful for little Ryan to have two terrific uncles to spoil him and to play with him and babysit him and teach him how to play soccer and basketball and tennis and… well, you get it,” she said.
“What happened to teaching him how to wrestle? And to play baseball?”
Cathy ignored Damon’s questions, and he laughed at her.
“So,” she said, “to change the subject, have you heard from your boyfriend? Did the bus get through Tejon Pass? Will he be home in time for your party tonight?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t heard from him since he called yesterday.”
“Did you turn on the TV and check the news to see if they said anything about traffic problems over Tejon Pass?”
“No, because what happens in Tejon Pass isn’t Bay Area news, and if it was on the news they’d probably only mention it in passing. I think if they’d gotten through the pass and down to the Central Valley his cell would have been able to connect and Wayne would have called me. Since he hasn’t called I’m a little worried that he’s still stuck somewhere in the mountains.
“Unless his cellphone battery ran out. He’s not the most attentive person when it’s about keeping his phone charged. Or even remembering to bring his charger with him.” Damon shook his head in frustration. “It’s the waiting and not knowing that irritates me.”
“You mean that worries you.” Cathy pulled away from where she’d been leaning against the sink and grabbed Damon in a hug. She pulled away and held him at arm’s length. “Let’s sit down and listen to some music and relax. Wayne will call when he calls, he will get here when he gets here, and if you get all frustrated it isn’t going to help.”
“I suppose you’re right. You pick the station, okay?”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she replied with a grin.
By 3:30 there still hadn’t been a call from Wayne, and Damon’s worry had increased significantly.
“I think it’s time to call the bus company, don’t you?” Cathy asked.
“I don’t know what bus company to call. The school ordered the buses for the team and for the fans.”
“Call the school.”
“Today was a short schedule day and we got out at 1:30. And no one’ll be in the office at school now since this is a Friday.”
“The school district must have an emergency number you can call. Look it up online,” she suggested.
“Okay, that’s a good idea. Let’s go up to my room. I can look it up on the school directory and then call.”
Damon found an ‘Emergency Contact’ number at the bottom of the home page. It was the same number for all five of the high schools. “Here it is. I’ll call now.” He dialed the number and listened for a few seconds then ended the call.
“Unless you’re reporting something serious like a fire at one of the schools, the only thing you can do is leave a message and they’ll return the call. Fuck!”
“Damon! Language, please!” Cathy grinned, despite her rebuke.
“Hey,” she said, “I have an idea. You remember Mrs. Bresher, my French teacher?”
“I’ve heard the name but I never had any classes with her. I’m taking Spanish, not French.”
“Well, I have her cellphone number and she might know how to get in touch with someone who would know what bus company they used.”
Damon handed her his cellphone. “Sounds like a plan, Cathy.”
Annette Bresher answered and Cathy spent about five minutes talking with her, getting caught up. Damon tried to contain his frustration, and managed not to say anything. Finally Cathy looked at him and pantomimed writing. Damon got her a pad of paper and a pen. She wrote down a name and number and handed it to him. The note read, ‘Coach Reynolds, 925-555-8934’. Cathy continued talking with her teacher.
Damon rushed downstairs to the kitchen and picked up the house phone. He dialed the number, and after two rings a boy’s voice answered the call.
“Hi. You’re talking to Jerry Reynolds. Who’s this?”
“Hi, Jerry. This is Damon Wilkins. Is your father home?”
“Yeah. You wanna talk to him?”
The phone banged as Jerry dropped it, then Damon heard him shout, “Dad, it’s for you. Someone named Damon Wilkins.”
After a short pause Coach Reynolds picked up the phone.
“Damon, how are you? Are you rested up and ready to pitch the next game in the league baseball playoffs on Monday?” he asked.
“Looking forward to Monday’s game. Worried about something else, Coach. The buses carrying the wrestling team back from Long Beach might be stuck in a snowstorm over the Tejon Pass. I haven’t heard from Wayne since he called yesterday to tell me about the snow, and I’m worried. Have you heard anything? I would have called the bus company, but I didn’t know which one the school used.”
“I haven’t heard anything, but that’s not a surprise. The bus company we always use is Lindhoff Transport. Hang on a minute, I have their phone number in my desk.”
Damon heard the phone being put down, then silence for about thirty seconds.
“Hey, Damon, you still there?”
“Got a pen?”
“Got it. Thanks, Coach. Bye.”
“Damon! Wait a sec.”
“If there’s a problem, please give me a call.”
“Will do. So long. And thanks for their number.”
“You’re welcome. Bye.”
Cathy came downstairs. “Did he have the number?” she asked.
“Yeah, for Lindhoff Transport, the bus company. Now I remember seeing that name on the sides of some of the buses at school.”
Damon dialed the number.
After about eight rings someone answered the phone.
“Uh, hi. I’m trying to locate one of your buses that’s bringing the Las Lomas High School wrestling team from Long Beach, California to Walnut Creek, California. My son,” Damon fibbed, “called yesterday around noon and said his bus got stuck in a snowstorm and we haven’t heard anything from him since then, and we’re worried.”
“Lemme look it up. Hang on.”
“‘My son?’” Cathy whispered, then laughed at her brother.
Damon put his finger over the phone’s microphone and whispered, “Hey, I gotta do what I gotta do to find out where Wayne is right now.”
He held on, listening to the click of keys on a keyboard, waiting for the person at Lindhoff Transport to find the information.
The man came back on the phone. “The buses are just outside of Edenvale, California.”
“Edenvale? Where’s that?” Damon asked.
“I don’t know. I’m just reading what’s on the dispatch screen. Let’s see. Next reference point is Milpitas, if you know where that is. They’re just south of there. The note here says because of the storm they had to turn around and go back toward L.A. then take Highway 101 north instead of I-5. Says here they stopped overnight in Ventura so the drivers could get the mandated amount of sleep. They left this morning around nine a.m. Says here they stayed at a Holiday Inn Express in Ventura and they’re stopping for lunch in Paso Robles. Anyways, they’re due at Las Lomas High School in Walnut Creek California at five p.m. today. That’s in about an hour and a half.”
Damon let out a big sigh. “That’s good news. I’ll be there to pick up my son. Thanks.”
“No problem. Thanks for calling Lindhoff Transport.” The guy hung up the phone at his end. Damon hung up his phone as well.
“So what’s the good news?” Cathy asked.
Damon related what he’d been told, finishing with the news that the bus was now due at the school at about five o’clock.
“It’s three forty-five now. Can you take me to school in maybe forty-five minutes? I want to get there early to be sure I’m there when the bus arrives. I hope Wayne isn’t too tired for the party tonight.”
“My opinion is that Wayne has never been too tired for a party.” Cathy shrugged her shoulders. “Right?”
“Okay, you’re probably right. I guess everything is ready for tonight.”
“Dad’s picking up the barbecue on his way home, and he should be home by five. Mom is picking up the ice cream and the birthday cake. She should be home in about an hour. Everything else is ready. We’ll open the chips when we get home after we pick up Wayne. The rest of your friends should arrive starting around six. So let’s sit down and relax until it’s time to leave.”
“Good idea,” Damon said. “I feel a lot better now that we know where the bus is. Assuming Wayne is on the bus. He was at a motel last night and never called us. Even if he didn’t have his cell charger, he could have used the phone in the room to call us, even reversed the charges or something.”
“That is strange, isn’t it. Do you know any of the other families so you could call them?”
“That’s a great idea, Cathy. Let me think. I know David Ho — Bob Ho’s twin brother. Bob’s a wrestler, in the 132 pound weight class. I’ll call David.” Damon wondered why he hadn’t thought of doing that. It would have saved a lot of calling around.
David answered his cell after two rings.
“Hi. David here.”
“Hi, Damon here. Do you know what happened to the buses bringing the wrestlers back from Long Beach? I’m trying to make sure Wayne’s on one of the buses.”
“My folks got a call last night from Bob saying they were staying overnight somewhere — I don’t remember where my mom said it was — and that they’ll be back this afternoon, and Bob and all the other wrestlers are together on one bus. So that should include Wayne.”
“We didn’t get a call from Wayne’s folks letting us know he called. That’s weird.”
“Yeah, Wayne should have called them. Would they have let you know?”
“I’d think so. They knew Wayne was coming to our house when he got back from Long Beach.”
“Are you sure your mom or dad didn’t get the call from Wayne’s folks and forgot to tell you?”
“I don’t think they’d forget something like that. But it’s possible. See what it’s going to be like when we’re old like our folks and forget things and have trouble getting up out of a chair and like to watch shows about people buying houses?”
“Jeez, you really know how to depress a guy, don’t you, Damon.” David laughed. “Actually, I’m never going to be that way. There will be improvements in medicine and I’ll take advantage of them and take a pill that will keep me from ever becoming old and weak and semiconscious.”
“Good luck with that. Say, what time did Bob call your folks last night?”
“Around eleven. I’d just gone to bed.”
“Okay, thanks David. Oh, one more thing. I found out the buses will arrive at school at about five o’clock. Cathy is going to drive me and we’ll pick up Wayne. Do you want us to pick up Bob and drop him off at your house?”
“Sure. Otherwise he’d probably have to ride all over town with one of the coaches. With his luck he’d be the last one to be dropped off, and who knows what time he’d get home. This morning my folks went to the hospital in Sacramento to see my aunt, my mom’s sister. She fell and broke her hip. They’re staying there overnight and’ll be back tomorrow afternoon. Otherwise they’d have picked him up.”
“No problem, we’ll bring him to your house. Thanks a lot for the info about the phone call, David. Later, man.”
Damon ended the call and went looking for Cathy. She’d want to know what he’d found out about the bus. And Wayne. And that he’d promised that they’d take Bob Ho home. She was in the den using the family computer.
The news didn’t satisfy her. “What if Wayne never got on the bus and no one noticed? Or maybe it’s because he’s a gay wrestler,” she surmised. “There are other wrestlers who wouldn’t like that. Maybe someone from one of the other teams, someone he defeated in a match along with some of that guy’s friends, could have grabbed Wayne and kept him from getting on the bus.”
“Cathy, the coaches wouldn’t let that happen. First, they have a close watch on all the wrestlers. Second, they have a list and check off everyone who gets on and off the bus, and if Wayne didn’t get on then the bus wouldn’t have left Long Beach or Ventura.” Damon noticed her expression and anticipating what she would say next, continued, “And don’t suggest that he got on the bus, got checked in, and then sneaked off the bus. They don’t let anyone get off the bus once they’re on.”
“Then why hasn’t he called you ?”
“Maybe he figures we were told? We don’t know for sure that his folks didn’t get a call last night. You can assume they didn’t, but maybe they did and didn’t think to tell us in their rush to leave for work this morning.”
“What if he was on the other bus?”
“David said that all of the wrestlers were on the team bus.”
“But we don’t know that for sure!”
Damon thought of something. “We have caller ID, don’t we.”
“Uh, yeah… so what?”
“We can check the call log and see if Wayne’s folks called here last night.”
“How would we know if a call last night was from Wayne’s folks?”
“I know their home phone number. Let’s check.”
Damon picked up the phone in the kitchen and pressed the ‘Incoming Calls’ button.
“Look, right here, at 11:27 last night there’s a call from 925-555-2012. That’s the Simmons’ home phone number. They might have called here to let us know that they heard from Wayne.”
“We still don’t know if Wayne’s actually on that bus or not.”
“Now you’re starting to tick me off about Wayne and the bus. Stop already, pretty please?” Damon groaned.
“All right, all right!” Cathy groused. “But don’t you think someone should be pacing the floor about your missing boyfriend?”
“No. Especially not a pregnant lady. We’ll find out when you take me to school and we’ll see if Wayne gets off the team bus and if he doesn’t.”
“Don’t forget, he might be on the other bus. You watch the team bus, I’ll watch the other bus.”
Damon rolled his eyes, but decided to avoid extending a discussion that wouldn’t solve anything anyway. He wondered if being cantankerous was brought on by her third-trimester pregnancy. He checked the time; it was almost four o’clock. Still over a half-hour to wait before they’d leave for the school.
“I’m going to watch some TV. You want to join me?”
“No. I’m using the computer in the den to look up some baby furniture. I want to get back to that.”
Damon sat down in the family room and clicked on the TV. Not much worth watching on Friday at four o’clock. He found a rerun of “The Big Bang Theory” and watched to the end of it. Laughing at the show made him forget about whether Wayne would be on the bus or not. When it ended he turned off the TV and went to the den where Cathy had printed out a dozen or so catalog pages showing baby furniture.
“How’s it going?” he asked.
“Good. I really like the furniture I saw on Ikea’s website. They have a crib I like, and a changing table, and a playpen. I’ve decided to get all of it. Sleep City, the mattress company, has eco-friendly baby mattresses, and I’ll get one of them. A new store here in town, Baby’s Room, has a convertible stroller and some cute accessories including several blankets, mobiles that we can hang above Ryan’s crib, cute pictures and peelable stickers we can use to decorate the walls in his room. Lots of stuff. I’m ready to go shopping. How about tomorrow? But only if Wayne feels like coming along.”
“Wayne always feels like coming along on almost any shopping expedition. Especially when he doesn’t have to pay for anything.” Damon said. “You should ask him, since it’s your baby and your shopping expedition.”
“I’ll do that. Now, shouldn’t we get going? You wanted to be at school a half hour before the buses arrive.”
“Yeah, let's do it. I want to make sure we’re there when Wayne arrives. Besides, the bus could actually be early.”
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