True Colors

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Barry and I sat side-by-side on the dock near the boat launch a short distance from the rest of the group, dangling our bare feet in the water. Barry handed me a can of beer and I popped the top. I took a sip before passing the it back. Companionably, we shared the beer.

To fill the silence, I told Barry Dad worked for The Times and before I was born he'd been in Vietnam covering the war, though Dad didn't talk much about his time there. I described the articles I'd read in the scrapbook Dad kept on the living room bookshelf, admitting the complexity of the content was mostly lost on me.

A touch wistfully, I described the city at night. The sweet stink of the streets. How the air was charged with a buzz of expectation even in the wee hours of the morning... that it was almost as if the city was a living being, vibrating and vital. I told him about Sonny, the homeless man that lived in a cardboard box at the park down the avenue. How I'd bring him a bottle of Coke and sit with him on Saturdays. I told him I liked Sonny's stories, and told him a few short ones. Barry's eyes barely left my face. He seemed riveted by my words, listening with rapt attention. When I realized I had been speaking nonstop for a long time, I blushed.

"Sorry," I mumbled.

"Don't be," Barry said. "You have a way with words. You aren't like any girl I've ever met."

"Thanks... I think," I replied in a wry tone and Barry chuckled.

"It's a compliment. Trust me," he whispered as he brought his head to mine. My heart raced as I comprehended he meant to kiss me. He put his lips to mine and I closed my eyes, holding my breath. Barry's lips were tender but before I could enjoy his kiss we were interrupted by voices raised in argument.

"I saw you lookin' at him. Don't lie to me!" The couple was on the other side of the lake, the water carrying their voices so they sounded closer.

"I'm not lying," the girl protested. "I swear. I can't help if guys stare at me."

"Maybe if you weren't dressed like a slut they wouldn't be starin'," he growled then there was the sound of a scuffle.

"Dean, don't!" the girl cried, and I flinched when I heard a slap.

I leapt up, intending to do something, although I had no idea what. Barry restrained me with a hand.

In a subdued tone Barry cautioned, "Leave it be, Tye. You don't want to get involved."

"She needs help," I argued, but Barry shook his head.

"It'll get worse if you put your nose in. Trust me." Barry saw the determined look on my face in the moonlight and promised, "He won't do anything else; he's made his point."

I settled back down on the rough wood of the deck. As I half-listened to Barry talk about playing on the football team for Fairvale High, the queasiness deep in my gut wouldn't ease. We heard no more from the arguing couple but my conscience niggled despite Barry's reassurances.

I nodded at him as he spoke, but I was recalling how Dad interceded when a group of street punks harassed a woman with catcalls and obscenities back home. The fierce look on my father's face and his raised fists showed them he meant business. The toughs slinked away and we escorted the woman home. I was proud of Dad; he'd taught me to do the right thing even when it wasn't easy... especially when it wasn't easy. Not helping the girl at the lake wasn't jiving with me.

I would reflect back later on the incident and wonder: If I had intervened, would it have made a difference? Would it have changed the trajectory of what occured... or was it fate?

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