We sat on the beach for most of the day, and Greg, like he used to in high school, had his boom box playing softly in the background.
“James Taylor,” I said. “Nice.”
Greg nodded. He hadn’t said much since I got back into town.
We were sitting on the sand at Mission Beach, Greg’s favorite place in the world, particularly now, during the off-season when it wasn’t bombarded by tourists who flocked to town during the summer months.
I convinced him to go with me to the little amusement park next to the Beach, like we used to, and Greg looked more like himself as we risked our lives on the rickety roller coaster, then ate those weird tacos and a couple of orders of fries at the Jack-in-the-Box across the street. For a few moments, I imagined us back in school — what I wouldn’t give to have those days back.
“Ready to go now?” I asked him.
Greg shook his head. He was particularly non-verbal today.
“Alright,” I said. I understood why he wasn’t ready to face it yet; I wasn’t either.
Greg Holloway and I met in middle school at Tammy Thompson’s twelfth birthday party.
Boyd, his big brother, drove us home when my ride, which was supposed to be my mom, didn’t show.
James Taylor was on the radio. I remember Fire and Rain was playing because it was one of my all-time favorite songs.
“Ooh, I love this tune,” Boyd said, turning it up way too loud.
“You like this!” Greg had to yell over the music.
“It’s one of my favorite songs!” I yelled back.
Greg smiled, and we rode the rest of the way listening to Boyd sing off key.
Greg was always a quiet kid. If you got two words out of him in an hour, you were lucky. We had friends in common, but hadn’t been friends ourselves until that day after Tammy’s party — thanks to Boyd, who took me home, then invited me to the Holloway house the next day.
“Hey, your name’s Sherry, right?” Boyd asked as I got out of the car.
“My little bro here wants to invite you to our house tomorrow for a swim, but he’s too much of a chicken shit to do it himself, so I am.”
Greg was squirming in the back seat of his brother’s beat up Camaro, and I could see his beet red face from where I stood on the curb.
“Sure,” I said, “pick me up tomorrow.” I would’ve said yes to hanging out at the garbage dump if it meant being with Greg Holloway.
“See, dude,” Boyd said to the still embarrassed Greg, “I told you she’d be cool with it.”
I waited on the stoop for Boyd and Greg to pick me up. My mom usually worked on Saturdays, but her drinking had cost her another job. Just as the Camaro pulled up to the curb, she came out, plastered, her boobs practically falling out of her tank top.
“Where the fuck’re you going?” she slurred.
“Out,” I said, and hopped into the car. I could still hear her yelling at us as we drove off, “Get your ass back here now, you little slut!”
Greg didn’t say a word; he just awkwardly put his arm around me. And Boyd, who could be a real ass sometimes, smiled at me in the rear view mirror, then put on Fire and Rain.
I had to bite my lip so I wouldn’t cry.
“Why do you like that James Taylor song so much?” Greg asked as we laid on our towels near the pool.
“Well, first off, because it’s beautiful, but …” I hesitated for a bit. “That part when he says, Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus, You’ve got to help me make a stand. You just gotta see me through another day. Sometimes that line is the only thing keeping me from slittin’ my wrists.”
I don’t know why I said it, why I bared my soul to Greg that day. I just felt that he would understand.
That day turned out to be one of the best of my life. Greg and I didn’t become romantically linked or anything like that, but that day cemented our friendship for sure. From then on he was always there for me, and now I wanted to be there for him.
The waves were pounding the shore as seagulls swooped down and picked off their prey. A boat was gliding on the horizon, the sun slowly setting behind its sails. The day was almost perfect — almost.
“How’s your mom?” Greg asked. He was still staring at the waves.
“Fine, I guess.” I didn’t want to talk about her, not today, not here with Greg.
“Have you gone to see her yet?”
I was getting irritated. Why was he bringing her up?
“No.” I said flatly.
“You should,” he told me simply.
“Sure, Greg. We’ll have a real mother/daughter bonding moment over coffee,” I said.
Neither one of us spoke for several minutes. I knew she was dying and that’s why he wanted me to see her, especially since …
“Alright, I’ll visit her.”
“Good,” Greg said, nodding. “Good.”
“Well, it’s getting late,” I told him. “We should be going.”
Then, almost to himself, Greg said, “Yeah, I guess it’s time.”
I wasn’t surprised by the turnout. Boyd was loved, in spite of himself.
I was last on a list of the dozens of people who spoke at his funeral.
“Boyd was my friend,” I began. “He saved my life. On top of that, he introduced me to my best friend, Greg, when he was too shy to ask me to a pool party.”
There was a smattering of laughter.
“On the surface, Boyd Holloway was a brash loudmouth who loved to hear his own voice, but underneath all that bravado, he was one of the kindest people I have ever met in my life.
“Once when my mother took off on one of her boozy lost weekends, Boyd showed up at my door with a bag full of groceries. I burst into tears, and when I kept thanking him, he said, Don’t thank me, I’m no good guy, I just hate motherfuckers is all.”
There was more laughter.
“I can’t believe you’re gone, Boyd. You will always be remembered, and forever missed. Here’s to you, my friend.”
I sat down next to Greg as Fire and Rain began playing.
And when James Taylor sang, Just yesterday mornin’, they let me know you were gone …, Greg cried for the first time since his brother’s death.
I held him tightly, and realized that when I left town to escape my life, I also left my two dearest friends in all the world. Now Boyd was gone, and there was no way I would leave Greg again. Unfortunately, it took Boyd’s death for me to realize where I belong.
Rest in Peace, Boyd, and wherever you are, thank you.
Fire and Rain by James Taylor ©1970 Warner Brother Records