When you’re target shooting you need to be balanced.
Is the same thing true about a friendship?
It started when Rupert Albert Fellows-Emerson — who hated his name so we called him Rafe because that’s what his initials spelled — came to my house to show me the gun that his dad had bought for him. Rafe wasn’t my best friend, but I guessed that I was his best friend. It seemed that he didn’t have many other friends. So that’s how our relationship worked, and it was okay with me.
He was very proud that he had a gun. It was a target pistol, meaning that it wasn’t very powerful or something.
“Isn’t this just too cool, Toby? Ya wanna hold it?”
“No thanks. Only you should hold it, Rafe. Today’s the day you got it, right? Maybe I can hold it tomorrow.”
Actually, I didn’t like guns. I wasn’t interested in holding it.
“Okay. That’s a good idea. You can hold it tomorrow.”
“Are there bullets in it?”
“Nope. My dad didn’t give me any bullets. We’ll go to the shooting range and they’ll put bullets in the gun. Then I’ll shoot at the target and see how close to the center my shots are.”
Rafe was standing between my bed and the window that looked out on our backyard. He stretched his arms up toward the ceiling, closed his eyes, yawned with his mouth really wide open, the gun was in his right hand, and he squeezed both hands like he was making fists, and
OW! My god! That was so loud! I looked at Rafe and it looked like he was talking to me. I had to put my fingers in my ears and wiggle them because there was a loud ringing sound and I couldn’t hear what he was saying.
I finally realized that he wasn’t actually saying anything. He grabbed me and he was crying, I guess because he had fired the gun and there was a bullet and how much noise it made.
Finally, after about fifteen or twenty seconds, I was able to hear him.
“Why are you crying?” I asked.
He stopped crying and looked at me. He was wearing a long-sleeve shirt, and he rubbed across his eyes with his arm to wipe off the tears. Then he rubbed below his nose with his arm the same way. He did that because there was snot dripping out of his nose. I guess because he’d been crying.
“I thought I’d killed you, Toby!”
“Nope. It just made my ears start ringing and I couldn’t hear anything for a while. I’m still not hearing as good as usual.”
I looked at him. He looked miserable.
“I’m sorry that thinking you’d killed me made you cry.”
He blushed. “I’d hate myself if I ever hurt you, Toby. You’re my best friend.”
Now I didn’t need to guess that he thought I was his best friend. He just said it right out loud. That was sort of nice, even though I guessed I was probably his only real friend.
“So there was a bullet in the gun?”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“You pulled the trigger?”
“It was an accident! I was just stretching because I was yawning and I reached up and made both hands into fists and forgot I was holding the trigger with my right hand. And I didn’t think that there’d be a bullet in the gun!”
“Where’d it go?”
“I dropped the gun on your bed.”
“I mean, where’d the bullet go?”
“Your ceiling. Right there,” he said, pointing to a spot about two inches in from where the ceiling met the wall, and just past the far edge of the window.
I walked around my bed and squeezed past where Rafe was standing and looked up at the ceiling.
“Yeah, I see it now. Not a very big hole, is it.”
I looked at the gun where he’d dropped it on my bed. “Shouldn’t you make sure there aren’t any more bullets in that gun?”
“I don’t know how to do that. My dad said I’ll learn all that stuff when we go to the shooting range. To do target practice.”
I was curious. “Why’d he put a bullet in your gun?”
“I don’t know. I’m sure he didn’t know it was there.”
“Where’d he get the gun?”
“He said he went to a gun show in Daly City and bought it from a dealer there.”
I heard a noise. It was like thunder. Then outside my window there was lightning. A big flash of lightning. Then it started to rain. One of those really hard rains with real big raindrops. The kind of rain that’s fun to walk in.
“Crap! I gotta close my window. My mom’ll kill me if I let rain come in an open window.” I closed and latched the window.
“It’s too bad that you had to close the window. When it starts to rain it smells real good outside.”
“I know. But my mom will kill me if I…” then he said along with me, “…let rain come in an open window!” He looked at me and grinned.
I shook my head and laughed. “Whoa! What was that that just hit me on the top of my head?” I put my hand on the top of my head. It was wet. We both looked up.
“Crap! Rain is coming in through the hole in your ceiling!” Rafe said.
It was dripping on my head! I moved out of the way.
“We gotta stop it before my mom gets home. She’ll kill me if there’s water all over my floor.”
“You got a bucket?”
“Yeah. There’s a mop bucket in the laundry room. Get a couple towels from my bathroom and put ‘em on the floor where the rain is dripping in, and I’ll go get the bucket.”
By the time I got back upstairs to my room the rain had moved on and it wasn’t coming down outside or through the hole in my ceiling anymore. So I went downstairs and put the mop bucket back where I’d gotten it.
When I got back upstairs to my room Rafe had wiped up all the water that had been on the floor. He handed me the towels. They weren’t very wet. I put them back in my bathroom.
“Toby, we gotta seal up that hole. And not just in your ceiling, but it must be through your roof, too.”
“Crap! How do we do that?”
If you noticed that we say ‘Crap!’ a lot it’s because it’s the popular cuss word at school now. We used to say ‘Fuck!’ a lot, but the school decided that wasn’t appropriate for kids who were newly minted freshmen in high school to say. So they started giving detention if they heard anyone at school say it. That stopped almost everyone from using it.
We needed a way to cuss without getting detention, so we switched to saying ‘Crap!’
I’m guessing that the teachers and administrators at school will get tired of hearing that and we’ll have to find another word someday real soon. Maybe ‘Hell!’ would be good. Or a foreign cuss word that most people don’t know might be better.
And you might notice that we say ‘cuss’ instead of ‘swear’ or ‘curse’ because Mr. Brownley, our English 1 teacher, explained the difference. So, what is the difference? I’ll use something Mr. Brownley likes to say: “I’m leaving that as an exercise for the class.” In other words, I just gave you some homework — you can look it up yourself!
Rafe had been staring at the hole he’d shot through my ceiling and through the roof.
“You know how I’ve told you my dad’s always buying stuff he sees advertised on TV? There was this stuff that will seal holes and he bought a crap-load of it. There’s some like paint that you spread on with a brush. There’s some in a can with a spout that you can squirt into small holes. The stuff seals up real fast and is waterproof. He got some in white and some in black.
“We can use the squirt can of the white stuff to fill the hole in your ceiling. We can seal the hole in your roof with the kind that you spread on. Do you have a paintbrush that you can throw away after we use it?”
“How are we gonna get on the roof to seal it?” I asked, ignoring his question. “There’s no way to get outside onto the roof.”
“My dad used the spread-on stuff to seal a hole that a squirrel made in the roof of our garage. He nailed a piece of window screen over the hole on underneath part of the roof — it was a pretty big hole and this one isn’t — then he spread it on, all from the inside of the garage. If we can get into your attic we can squirt it into the hole that’s underneath the roof, then use the spread-on stuff over it so it’s sealed real good. Then we can do the same thing for the hole in your ceiling but do it in the hole in the attic floor.”
“Sounds like a good idea,” I said. “There’s a pull-down stair in the hall that we can use to climb into the attic and take a look. There’s even a light up there so we can see what we’re doing.”
I climbed up into the attic and turned on the light and Rafe followed me. We found the hole in the attic floor that went through from the hole in my ceiling. I looked up and saw another hole that was in the wood underneath the roof.
“If this stuff works, it’ll be easy to get at both holes from right here,” I said.
“You get a paintbrush and I’ll go home and bring back both kinds that are the white color,” Rafe said.
He got back in about fifteen minutes. He had one of those big plastic bags like mom gets at the market and he had both kinds of the stuff he told me about. He also had a screwdriver to open the can because it was like a paint can, and a bunch of rags for cleaning up. I had two paintbrushes, a wide one and a narrower one.
I looked at the cans. The brand was ‘Whole Sealant’.
“They spelled it wrong,” I said, pointing to the name.
“I think they spelled it like that because they mean it can be used anywhere in your whole house where there’s holes. My dad says things like that are called a play on words.”
“Huh. I guess that makes sense.”
We climbed back into the attic. I looked at the hole in the underside of the roof.
“Let’s do this one first,” I said.
“Okay. We can squirt some into the hole in the roof and let it set up. Then we’ll squirt some into the hole in the floor of your attic and let it set up. Then we’ll paint it over both holes.”
Rafe looked at the instructions on the back of the can.
“It says if we’re going to use more than one coat to let the first coat dry for ten minutes.”
“I don’t have a watch, but I can go down and get my phone and use it as a timer,” I said.
I went down and came back with my phone.
“Okay. You want me to do it?” Rafe asked.
“Yeah. You made the holes, you get to fill them.” I grinned at him.
“Do you have to shake the can?” I asked.
“No. The instructions say you don’t need to shake it. I’ll try it and see if it comes out.”
Rafe shoved the nozzle of the can into the hole in the roof, then pressed the trigger. I giggled.
“What’s funny?” he asked.
“I was just thinking, you pressed the trigger on the gun and now you’re pressing the trigger on the Whole Sealant stuff.”
“Yeah. I made a hole with one and I’m sealing the hole with the other.”
We both laughed because we thought that was funny. Hey, we’re teenagers. We think weird things are funny. Adults have their own things that they think are funny that we don’t get at all.
Rafe pulled the can away from the hole in the roof and used one of his rags to wipe the nozzle.
“The instructions say to wipe the nozzle after each use,” he said.
We inspected the hole. It looked like it was completely filled. I used the flashlight on my phone to light up where the hole had been. It looked great!
“Let’s do the one in the floor of the attic,” I said.
“You want to do it?” Rafe asked.
So that’s what I did. After wiping the nozzle we inspected the hole with my phone’s flashlight and it also looked great.
“Now we’ll paint both holes with the stuff in the can to make sure it’s really sealed tight,” Rafe said. “I’ll use the screwdriver to pry off the top.”
It took him a while, working the screwdriver around the edge of the lid until it popped up and he could set it aside.
“Do we have to stir it?” I asked.
“Nope. See?” He pointed to the can. ‘No stirring necessary’ was printed on the label.
He took the wide paintbrush, fluffed the bristles, dipped it about an inch into the sealant, and brushed it across the where the hole had been in the roof. He did it again, this time with a lot more of the sealant.
“Toby, you want to do the hole in the attic floor that’s the one from your ceiling?”
I did it the same way he’d done the underside of the roof, maybe putting a little more over where the hole had been than what he’d used.
“Should we do a second coat on the roof?” I asked.
“Yeah, I think so. To be sure it’s really sealed.”
“Do we have to wait ten minutes?”
“It’s been almost five minutes since we did the roof before. Let’s wait five more minutes then go for it.”
I set the timer on my phone to five minutes. That was a long five minutes, just waiting for that stuff to dry. There’s a joke my dad says when something is taking a long time. It’s actually pretty funny. It’s like watching paint dry. And that was sort of exactly what we were doing.
“You did the first coat, you should do the second coat,” I said.
So he did, using a thicker coating than the first time and spreading it around more.
“Looks good,” I said.
“Your turn,” Rafe said.
So, after waiting another five minutes I painted a second coat over the hole that went down into my ceiling.
“I say we’re done. How long does it take to dry?” I asked
“Twenty-four to forty-eight hours to set, depending on the temperature. It’s summer so it’s hot in your attic. I’d say it’s going to take closer to the twenty-four hours and it should be completely set.”
“Let’s hope there’s no more rain until tomorrow afternoon,” I said.
Rafe pressed the lid onto the can, but he couldn’t get it closed. “We need a hammer to close the lid all the way. And we need to do it up here. If I try to carry the open can on those pull-down stairs it might spill or some might splash out.”
“I’ll go down and get a hammer in the garage. Is there a way to clean the paintbrush we used?”
“I don’t know. There might be instructions on the label on the can. We can read it after it’s closed and we’re back in your bedroom.
I went down and came back with a hammer.
While Rafe banged on the edges of the lid with the hammer trying to force it on tight, I thought about what we’d done and if it was good enough to keep the rain out. Since the bullet went all the way through the roof — the outside of the roof, too — and we didn’t do anything to fix the outside, it probably wasn’t going to solve that part of the problem. But as long as the rain wasn’t coming into my room, that was the most important part.
It took more time to replace the lid on the can with the hammer than it had taken Rafe to remove it with the screwdriver. Finally, it seemed to pop closed all of a sudden.
“What’s it say about cleaning the brush?” I asked.
“Brushes can be cleaned with mineral spirits.”
“What are mineral spirits?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Paint thinner, maybe?”
“Sounds more like some sort of ghost,” I said. That made us laugh.
“Tell you what, I’m going to do what you suggested and just throw away this paintbrush. We’re not going to need it again, anyway.” That’s wishful thinking! I thought. That’s something else my dad says a lot.
“Okay. Let’s go down and check your bedroom and see what the hole looks like from down below.”
When we got to my bedroom I looked up where the hole had been in the ceiling. “Crap!” I said. “It oozed out so there’s a lump of that gunk sticking out. My mom will see that and wonder what’s going on.”
“Do you have a ladder?” Rafe asked.
“Yeah. What are you thinking?”
“It’s not real bad. You could use some sandpaper and smooth it out. You’ll need to climb up on a ladder to do it.”
“Okay. You’ll need to give me a hand to bring the ladder up here from the garage. And I’ll put the hammer back at the same time. And I’ll have to look for sandpaper. I think my dad has some.”
Our stepladder was shorter than me, maybe five feet. I found the sandpaper, but there were lots of different kinds depending on how coarse or fine it was. So I took a square of coarse and a square of fine, and with Rafe’s help we moved the stepladder from the garage into the house and upstairs into my room. Then we had to move my bed over a little so the ladder would fit between the bed and the wall.
I climbed up the ladder. In order to reach the ceiling I had to stand on the second rung from the top. That was spooky! Rafe held the ladder steady. Then I discovered I’d moved the ladder too close to the hole so it was right over my head, and it would be better if I was farther back. So I came down and we moved the ladder. It was still too close, so we moved it again. Once we got it positioned the right distance, I got up there and used the coarse sandpaper to rub most of the excess off. It wasn’t completely set yet, so it sort of smeared but that ended up looking better because it hid the edges of the hole. Just glancing at it you’d never guess that something had happened to the ceiling.
“How’s it look?” I asked Rafe.
“From down here it looks great. I say you’re done. Come on down.”
As I was coming down my foot slipped and I started to fall sideways off the ladder. Rafe was still holding it so as I slid down he grabbed me around my waist with his right arm and grabbed my crotch with his left hand.
I was surprised when I felt him holding onto my private parts. That made me lose my footing and the two of us fell onto my bed. I was lying face-down and Rafe’s left arm was stuck under me with his hand still holding onto me down there.
I started laughing. That got Rafe started, too.
“You could have asked me if I wanted you to feel me up,” I said, then we started laughing again.
“This way was more fun,” he said. Then he squeezed a bit, and that felt… really good!
“You wanna mess around?” I asked, my voice husky sounding.
“Yeah! But let’s put the ladder away first. Then we can move your bed back where it should be then we can lie down the way we are now.” So we did all that.
When we got back to my room the first thing we did was undress each other. That was a lot of fun. Neither of us had done any of this before, and by the time we were naked we were both so excited we were breathing hard.
We found that it was more fun lying on the bed facing each other. That way we could grab hold of each other at the same time.
“Toby, do you like doing this?” Rafe asked.
“Yes. A lot. Do you?”
We continued until we almost got caught when my mom came home. We barely got dressed in time. Luckily we’d put the bag containing the sealant and and the paintbrush and Rafe’s gun in my closet.
Rafe was sitting on my bed leaning against the headboard, his legs bent with his feet resting flat on the bed. He’d taken his shoes off so my mom wouldn’t yell at him about that. He had a book open against his thighs that he was pretending to read. I sat at my computer with a book open in my Kindle app that I was pretending to read.
My mom stood at the door. “I’m glad you two are doing some of your assigned summer reading.”
We both looked up at her. “We are,” we said at exactly the same time. That made us laugh at exactly the same time.
I heard my Mom mumble, “I’ll never understand teenage boys!” as she went back downstairs.
I looked at Rafe. He was looking at me and smiling. I was smiling, too.
“I’m glad you’re my best friend,” I said.
His eyes opened wide. “Really, Toby?”
“Really. Being best friends has to work both ways to be balanced, don’t you think?”
I could see Rafe was very happy. I was, too.
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