Me and Lew
“Absolutely not,” Lewis said, looking up at me from where he and D’wayne- the retired mechanic- were tinkering beneath the hood of one of the cars that we used to drive around our vicinity. Francis’s moonshine worked, but it seemed like it had a tendency to eat away at some of the more delicate parts of the engines and hoses.
I didn’t even bother to respond, and looked Lewis blandly in the eye. My silence was its own answer. Lewis pushed himself away from the hood, wiping his blackened hands off on his not so clean jeans.
“I need you here,” he said firmly. He said it in a voice that was meant to carry, and had all the authority of a middle manager wrangling his employees. I knew him better than that, though. It was a big show for anyone that might have been listening, but he and I both knew that I was going to do whatever the hell I wanted to do. While the boundaries may have withered away over the last year or so, I had always lived by my own set of rules and guidelines. That’s what had always made Lew and me an unlikely couple of friends; we were complete opposites in many ways. Even before puberty, Lew had always been a study in cool, calculated thought; I’d always been more inclined to rapid action.
I crossed my arms over my chest, continuing to say nothing as I stared him blandly in the eye. He could play the tough, stalwart leader as much as he wanted, but he wasn’t fooling me. I knew him too well for that.
“It’s safer if you’re here,” Lew said, and then his voice dropped down a bit. “Everyone feels better if you’re here.”
Oh, you sweet little shit, I thought to myself, look at you trying to cater to my ego.
I opted not to say anything- letting silence be my answer once more- and cocked my head suggestively. I wasn’t about to back down, and Lew got a stubborn look to his face. Things could have gotten a little more confrontational- and it wouldn’t have been the first time- if D’wayne hadn’t broken the silence for us.
“Ac’chilly,” the mechanic said in his Cajun twang as he pushed himself from beneath the undercarriage of the car, “I could use a few things m’self; if yer gonna make a run, dat is.”
D’wayne looked up at Lewis, and there were dark oil stains tinting his salt and pepper beard. Lewis gave him a bland, somewhat betrayed look, but then finally relented. “Give me a second?” he asked, looking at me. I knew what he meant. He wasn’t asking for privacy; he was telling me that we had to speak for a moment. I shrugged with feigned indifference, and turned around to stroll off a few feet. I felt the weight of Lew’s thin arm drape itself around my shoulder as he walked me off to the curb.
“You gotta stop doing this,” Lew hissed, dropping the mantle of “wise leader” and becoming the guy that I grew up with. He kept his voice low, and said it next to my ear. He had to bend his neck, since he had a half a foot of height on me. “It was all good in the beginning; we needed it. But now? Now, you’re just getting fucking dangerous.”
I couldn’t- in all honesty- disagree with him. Lew, more than any of the others, knew how much my needs had blossomed. It had all been fun and games when we were kids. Playing guns, cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians…fun little things that were heavily steeped in violence. Those were always my favorite games. But now, in this reality? Well, I guess that most people would have drawn back at those fantasies coming to life, but I’d embraced it. Money talks, and bull shit walks, as they say.
“I know what I’m doing,” I told him in the same lowered voice. “It’s perfectly safe. I’ve been over the area a thousand times. Shit, it’s been over a week since we’ve even seen one.”
“Four days,” Lew said, his whispered voice still managing to crack like a whip as he called me out on my lie. “I watched you go over the wall four days ago, and you weren’t back until the sun was starting to go down.” He cast a quick glance over his shoulder to where D’wayne was still tinkering with the car engine before looking back to me. “I know exactly what the fuck you were doing. You fucking stupid?”
“I put down three,” I said without a hint of shame or remorse. Lew was blustering, and I knew it. You’d think- after all the years we’d known each other- that he would realize he couldn’t fool me with bravado. “They were moving like drones and heading our direction. I got to them before they got to us. You’re welcome.”
Lewis didn’t respond, but his lips tightened in a way that I knew well. I spoke up before he could lecture me.
“I gotta get out, Lew,” I said beneath my voice, allowing some of my need to leak out. “I gotta do something. I can’t stand sitting still. I need to move. I need to have a purpose.You know how it is, right? How many times a day are you jerking off, now?”
I was the only one that knew that Lewis’s longtime girlfriend was actually a lesbian. He’d taken the revelation hard but the two of them maintained pretenses, although I secretly thought that- Jesabelle? Jermaine?- had taken up with Sister Tracy. All those late night prayer sessions, and you know how those Catholics can be.
At my words, my best friend recoiled like he’d been slapped. His face contorted with cold rage, and I took a second to enjoy the fact that I’d managed to get under his skin. Lew would have pistol whipped anyone else that insulted him like that, but aside from letting his arm fall from my shoulder he didn’t do anything to me. I don’t know if was because of our sibling like relationship, or if because he knew that if he brought a fight to me- hey Silly Sally, if you want to dally- I’d be more than willing to give one right back. After all, sibling fights are always the best fights. Nothing compliments love better than a healthy dose of hate.
“Fuck off,” he said, a hint of the old fire remaining in his eyes. There it is, I thought to myself. I managed to keep my face straight, but was smiling on the inside. This was the guy that I’d grown up with. This was the real Lewis, who didn’t feel the need for pretense because the weight of leadership hung heavy on his shoulders.
“I have to move, man,” I said, relenting with a sigh as I rubbed at my temples. I could feel the pressure there, building and growing as my need- my addiction- called to me. “There’re things I have to do.”
Lew didn’t respond immediately, and I could see that he was pissed at me. Good. Anger is truth, and while it may be ill mannered, it never tells a lie.
“You’re not going alone,” he said stiffly, relenting. “Who’s going with you?”
“Frankie,” I said immediately, feeling my shoulders unbunch as a flood of eager adrenaline coursed through me. “Lacy told me that he wants to get out for a bit.”
“Fuckin’ Frankie,” Lew said with a shake of his head. “I don’t know which one of the two of you is more of a pain in my ass.”
I allowed myself to smile as I held my hand up to him, cocked at the elbow. “Trust me?” I asked, even though I knew I didn’t need to. Lew sighed in vexation, but he slapped his palm into mine a moment later and we did one of those weird little “bro hugs” that involved a lot of slapping on the back.
“Yeah,” Lew said as we mutually separated. “I fuckin’ trust you. But get a list. Just check around, see who needs what, and check on Nancy, would ya? She’s starting to get a bit emotional, again. Shit, I thought that she’d be done with menopause by now. See if she needs anything?”
Absolutely fucking not, I thought to myself.
“Sure,” I said out loud as I turned to walk away. I would honor the agreement, and planned to return and talk to D’wayne in a few minutes, but for right now I had to leave. I didn’t want to give Lew a chance to reconsider things. I was going on a vacation, and I wasn’t going to give him a chance to second guess it. I’d gotten maybe a dozen yards down the road when Lewis hollered out to me.“And tell Frankie not to bring that fuckin’ crossbow!”