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“Sssh!” David whispered. “You’re gonna give us away! And stay still, will ya!”
“Okay, okay, okay. Sssh, to you too, Davey,” Billy whispered back.
Both boys were stretched out on their stomachs within a bed of pine needles. Above stood towering pine trees, so densely settled they prohibited sunshine from reaching the soft mossy floor below. The boys, positioned at the edge of the forest, surveyed the open field.
The clearing seemed like nature’s neutral zone. On the boys’ side stood the majestic pines, and on the other side were maples, oaks, and birch trees, displaying their rainbow of vibrant autumn colors, as summer slowly relinquished its seasonal grip.
In the middle of the field stood two stately trees, like warriors meeting halfway on the battlefield. One tree was an old pine and the other a twisted-limbed oak. The two trees stood side by side as if nature suggested they negotiate which forest would eventually spread their roots into the clearing. Negotiations were at a standstill.
The ground surrounding the two trees was a mix of languid field grass and half-buried boulders. A trail snaked its way through the grass to a large boulder near the pine trees. On the lower branches of the oak tree were the remains of the tree house David and Billy had built years earlier. Their weather-beaten flag of ownership was still nailed to a plank.
A breeze swept through the clearing. Needles and leaves floated to the ground.
The tree house had been the official baseball card hangout. Packs of cards were opened, traded, and played with while the gum insert was chewed. They had just enough room to play topsies or leanies. Red Sox cards were hung up around the tree house, while Yankee cards were debased on the spokes of bicycles. It was a great hangout until a neighborhood kid fell while climbing the tree. One twisted ankle later, the tree house was off-limits.
In the distance, a woodpecker’s hammer echoed through the woods.
David brought the Bushnell binoculars up to his eyes. He spotted one squirrel chasing another up the oak tree, and at the edge of the clearing he saw a family of pheasants deliberating. He focused on the large rock at the end of the trail, and noticed the cardboard box was empty. Chicken bones and bread crusts, leftovers from dinner several nights ago, were picked clean as expected, probably by Rocky raccoon and his gang of bandits.
A butterfly fluttered by, plagued with indecision.
Rocky was a huge raccoon who raided the neighborhood trash barrels until he realized food delivery was less arduous and more to his liking. The gang members were Rocky’s accomplices, family no doubt, and as a group they raided the trash barrels with surgical precision. Trash cover off, barrel tipped over, contents spilled out. After countless early morning clean-ups at his house and next door at old man Callahan’s, David came up with the idea of bringing leftovers out to the tree house. Again, the clearing served as a negotiation site; a cardboard box of leftovers in exchange for the end of trash barrel raids. It was working so far.
Birds chirped merrily, invisible within the trees.
Billy pulled on David’s arm and whispered urgently, “I want to look, Davey…with the nocs.”
“Wait your turn, Hammerhead,” David whispered back, “I want to make sure you don’t scare anything.”
“Ha ha, you’re such a screech, Davey.”
“Scream, Billy, not screech,” Davey said. “It looks like Rocky got the food we left out, nothing much else happening.”
David moved the binoculars in front of Billy’s eyes and adjusted the focus knob.
“Tell me when it’s clear.”
“Okeydokey, Smokey…right there!”
“Sssh, lower your voice, Billy!”
“Right there,” Billy whispered in an apologetic tone. He took hold of the binoculars and scanned the clearing.
“I don’t see no dinosaurs.”
David smiled. “Look harder.”
For David, it was always special when he could share these moments alone with his brother in the tranquility of the forest. He took great pride in watching Billy hold the binoculars, a huge grin on his face while he kicked his toes to the ground with excitement. He needed these moments for himself. Life hadn’t been easy for David Fuller.
He considered his seventeen years as tempestuous ones. He struggled through the cancer death of his father five years earlier. He would never forget how his father had changed before dying. He could never forget his words: Stand tall because you’re the man of the family now. And he would never forget his father’s apology for dying on him.
Along with the death of his father, David had to understand and cope with his brother’s learning disorder. At age twelve, Billy functioned at a younger level. For some reason, he stopped advancing. David knew he was everything to Billy. His mother depended on him to be big brother and father to him. So moments like this, when he knew he was doing as his father had hoped, were extremely important to him. He found great pleasure and love in seeing his brother happy.
To David, Billy was normal. Because of that, he expected everyone else to treat Billy as he did. When they first moved to their tree-lined suburban neighborhood, the kids would taunt and tease Billy. But that ended quickly when David found Billy crying under the back porch one day. He took Billy out and found the cruel kids. The message was clear even to Billy: Hurt my brother again and you answer to me. All David wanted was for the kids to treat his brother like anyone else.
Eventually they did, but when it came to friendships, the kids Billy’s age steered clear of him. So David became best friend along with brother and father. In Billy’s simple world, David was all he needed.
And then the tree house was built.
Years had past since they banged the first nail into the oak tree, but their appreciation of the forest never waned. They spent days catching grasshoppers and nights camping in a tent. They built snowmen by the two trees, and picked spring flowers for their mother. They grew up together in the clearing.
The pine needle viewing area was their latest adventure. From there they watched and listened twice a week. Sometimes they even dragged their reluctant mother along, complete with bug spray. How excited Billy would get explaining to her the goings-on in the open field. They saw rabbits and deer and once a large turtle, but Billy insisted it was a dinosaur.
The small clearing, so beautifully serene with the soft sounds of nature. Birds singing, bees buzzing, trees creaking in the breeze – nature’s orchestra.
“See anything yet, Billy?”
“Yep, yep, yep.”
“All the beautiful.”
David chuckled. “You’re right, all the beautiful. Look at those trees, Billy, look how cool the colors are getting. It’s like fireworks on July fourth, yellows, oranges, and reds.” Billy peeked above the binoculars and took in the full rainbow effect of the forest.
“No blues, Davey?” Billy asked, testing his brother.
“Leaves don’t turn blue, smart guy.”
Billy snuggled close to his brother. He wanted to ask David something that he had thought about, but was afraid, not of his brother, but of failure. When Billy thought things out and arrived at conclusions, he became nervous. He knew leaves didn’t turn blue, so that was safe to ask his brother, but what was on his mind, while surveying the clearing, made him anxious. He was afraid to be wrong, or sound dumb, when what he was thinking made so much sense to him, especially in the company of his brother.
Billy snuggled closer.
“Hey, give me a little room here, will ya?” David whispered.
Billy snapped a twig between his fingers. He scratched his arm nervously.
“What’s up, buddy?”
Billy reached for another twig to snap.
“You have to pee, Hammerhead?”
“Naw, I’m just thinking, Davey.”
“I’m all ears, Billy.”
“No you’re not, you got eyes, and a mouth and a nose…”
“Alright wiseguy,” David said, tickling his brother.
Billy rolled over on his back. He looked up at the pine trees that scraped the blue sky as each swayed gently with the breeze. Needles floated to the ground. Pine cones dangled. Billy whispered, hoping for his brother’s approval.
“Is this a Koduck moment?”
David rolled to his side, smiled, and looked at his brother.
“Kodak moment…where did you hear that?”
“The television says things pretty is a Koduck moment.”
David ruffled his brother’s hair. “Yeah, Hammerhead, this will always be a Kodak moment.”
Billy let out a sigh of relief.
“How about lunch?” David suggested.
“Peanut butter!” Billy roared.
David put the binoculars away, and then the boys began their usual race home.