Dilly and boz, p.5

Dilly and Boz, page 5


Dilly and Boz

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Still, he was the way he was. Peopling—what he called socializing—was a torture for him and always had been. There was no getting around it. Dilly had come to terms with his social anxiety, and he was doing the best he could to live his life as happily as he could in spite of it.

  At the trailhead of the Juniper Canyon trails, Dilly nodded hellos to his fellow Saviors and was doled out his equipment: a big black trash bag, gloves, and a broom handle with a nail protruding from the tip of it for stabbing litter. He checked a print-out sheet that told him which section of the trail he would be working today and set off in search of it.

  It was already turning out to be a warm day, and according to his work orders, he was supposed to clean the last half mile of the trail, which gave him a two-and-a-half-mile hike to get there. Not that Dilly minded. While the day was warm, it was also beautiful. Clear skies. A nice breeze whipping across the chaparral surrounding the trail. Birds were singing in the bushes, and all was right with the world. An occasional signpost reminded hikers to be aware of rattlesnakes in the area. That kept Dilly on his toes, don’t think it didn’t. But it didn’t spoil his enjoyment of hiking alone along the winding paths, no matter how many rattlesnakes there were. After all, he had a pointy stick for protection and enough common sense to stay on the trail and out of the bushes where a rattler might be lying in wait.

  By the time he reached the halfway point in the trail, Dilly had worked up a sweat even though he hadn’t picked up a single piece of litter, not wanting to take work from anyone else. He knew there would be plenty to do when he got to his own section.

  Enjoying the peace and silence of the trail, now that he was out of earshot of most of the other Saviors, Dilly found time to let his mind take over. And the first thing his mind’s eye homed in on was Boz Jenkins’s face. Dilly wondered if he should have asked Boz for his phone number. Dilly didn’t have a cell phone—too expensive—but he did have a landline at the apartment. It would be nice to chat with Boz now and then. Assuming Boz really wanted to. After all, as Dilly was more than fond of telling himself, Boz Jenkins could do a hell of a lot better in the friend department than Dilbert Allan–fucking–Jones.

  That thought brought Dilly stumbling to a stop in the middle of the trail.

  Why did he always tear himself down like that? Why did he belittle himself? How had he managed to let social anxiety and such a heart-numbing sense of inferiority take control of his life? What the hell was wrong with him?

  It would have taken years to figure out the answer to that question, so Dilly set off down the trail again. There was considerably less spring in his step now, and he had been so happy only two minutes ago. Good grief, was he bipolar too? Schizophrenic maybe? Just plain nuts?

  Dilly gave himself a shake like a wet dog, and while he was shaking off his insecurities, so to speak, he rounded a corner and spotted a tiny sign at the edge of the trail with his name on it. This was where Dilly was meant to start working. Somewhere up ahead, he would find another sign with his name on it, at which point he would know he had fulfilled his obligation to the Street Saviors for another day and done his tiny bit to keep the planet beautiful for others.

  Wielding his pointy stick like a pro, he went to work stabbing every piece of litter he came across. The assortment of trash to be found was nothing short of amazing. Everything from Dixie cups to cigarette butts to used condoms to an old sock. Whatever turned up, Dilly stabbed the shit out of it and stuffed it into his trash bag.

  It was satisfying now and then to stare ahead at all the trash bordering the trail in front of him, then to peer backward and see how pristine the same trail was after he worked his magic. Dilly worked diligently the next couple of hours with a beatific smile on his face he was only vaguely aware of. A contented calmness settled into him, the sort that came from knowing he was doing a good thing, making a difference.

  During the times when Boz Jenkins slipped into Dilly’s thoughts, a dreamy yearning washed over him that had nothing to do with cleaning the planet or making a difference. A yearning that could be attributed to nothing but the longing Dilly felt every time the image of Boz’s face popped into his head.

  And the longing he felt deep in his core, knowing Boz Jenkins might very well be the one he’d been waiting for.

  If only the impossible would happen and Boz Jenkins would feel the same about him.

  And while he was hoping for things, he’d sort of like to have a pony.

  Chapter Nine

  FEELING LIKE a fool, Boz lurked amid the shrubbery near the Retro Record Shoppe. It was approaching noon on another hot California day, and Boz was standing across the street from the record store in the only patch of shade he could find, leaning against a palm tree surrounded by a riot of honeysuckle blossoms. He had Leon stuffed in his backpack. The backpack was dangling off one shoulder where Boz could peek inside now and then to make sure Leon was okay. Leon had been on a leash to begin with, but he grew tired of walking—his little legs were almost ten years old, after all—so Boz relocated him to the backpack, where Leon liked to poke his head out the zippered opening and watch the world go by as his master ambled along. If Leon wondered why they were currently standing still, not ambling at all, he didn’t mention it, so Boz didn’t think it necessary to explain.

  Ever since Boz crawled out of bed that morning, he had harbored a sick feeling in his stomach. His run-in with Bobby Mayfield the night before had left him rattled and nervous. He had not seen Bobby for months, and now suddenly here he was again, making the same old demands. Telling him he wanted Boz back. Pushing him toward sex. Acting as if Boz belonged to him as he always had. Threatening violence if he didn’t get his way, a familiar refrain if there ever was one.

  It was because of the dark Bobby Mayfield cloud hanging over his head that morning that Boz decided he needed to see Dilly. There was something about Dilly’s presence that made Boz happy and comforted him. Boz needed a little happiness in his life about now. He needed a little comfort. He had only ever spoken to Dilly once in his life, but still he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that at this particular moment in time, it was Dilly’s presence that Boz needed most. Dilly seemed the only antidote to this bombardment of emotions cascading down on Boz’s head like a rain of rocks, thanks to Bobby Mayfield’s sudden reappearance after all this time.

  The record shop was open, but peering through the glass like a starving child peeking through a bakery window, Boz’s heart sank because he couldn’t see Dilly anywhere. Maybe he had Saturdays off. A tall, lanky figure passed back and forth inside the store window. The figure was so skinny and stooped, it had to be Puffer, the store owner. Even in his sadness, Boz smiled watching him.

  During his first and only visit to the store, Boz got the distinct impression that as far as Boz’s wooing of Dilbert Allan Jones went, Puffer Moran was solidly on his side. And an ally was exactly what Boz needed to get this show on the road.

  Before heading toward the shop door, Boz checked up and down the city street for the umpteenth time to make sure he wasn’t being followed. He wouldn’t put it past Bobby Mayfield to do something stupid like that.

  He breathed a sigh of relief when he didn’t see any mountainous figures lurking around. He still shuddered when he remembered the night before. How small he had felt standing there in the shadow of Bobby’s bulk. With Bobby’s heavily muscled arms clamped around him, holding him against that heaving wall of a chest. Jesus. Boz was still more than a little surprised he had escaped without a flesh wound or two. He knew from long experience that Bobby Mayfield could strike out with one of those massive fists of his, then blame his poor victim—usually Boz—for egging him into the violence. In Boz’s experience, it was always the meanest and the strongest among us who take the least responsibility for their actions. During the months Boz and Bobby had been together, Bobby became a master at blaming Boz for everything. Then he would turn around and fuck Boz into compliance, whether Boz wanted to be fucked or not.

  Boz shook his head no
w, thinking back to how stupid he had been. If Bobby hadn’t been so handsome and hunky, Boz would never have let their relationship go on as long as it had. And what the hell did that say about him?

  Leon whimpered in the backpack, and Boz gave him a friendly shush. Leon quieted right away, lowering himself down into the bowels of the bag and curling up into a furry ball before going immediately to sleep.

  A deep melancholy settled over Boz at that moment as he stood in his little patch of shade with Leon snoozing in the bag at his side. It was the simple act of thinking back on his time with Bobby Mayfield that did it.

  God, those had been dark days.

  It had taken less than two months living under the same roof with Bobby Mayfield for Boz to know he had made a terrible mistake letting the strapping, good-looking Mayfield claim him for his own. It took the next eight months, and a whole string of black eyes and busted lips and weeping nights, for Boz to escape him.

  Now Bobby was back, and that was absolutely the last thing Boz wanted. Little Bosley Jenkins had his sights set on love, all right, but not with heavy-fisted, mean-tempered Bobby Mayfield. That ship had sailed—not only sailed, but been torpedoed and sunk forever, thank Christ—and Boz was not about to resurrect it again.

  Now it was time to move on. His heart told him so, and it had been a long time since his heart had told him anything.

  Boz didn’t have a lot of friends, he was too shy for that. But he wasn’t dumb enough to turn down the possibility of one when it crossed his path. Somehow, Boz knew that Puffer Moran, the owner of the record shop, might turn out to be exactly that. A friend. Or if not a friend, at least an ally. An ally in helping him get close to Dilbert Allan Jones, because sure as heck, that was the target his clamoring heart was set on claiming.

  Boz straightened his shoulders, tucked in his shirt a little more neatly, and headed for the shop door. Still ten feet away, he could hear a record blasting inside, something about snow and Christmas and coming home. What the hell was that all about? It was July.

  Stepping across the threshold, Boz jumped when the little bell above his head tinkled out his arrival.

  Puffer Moran looked up from the back of the shop like an ostrich poking his head over a row of sand dunes. He had a joint in his mouth, a hula hoop draped around his neck, and a Beatles wig parked precariously on his head. Boz grinned when Puffer quickly yanked the wig off and stuffed it in his back pocket. Puffer’s lips were bright red, and when he moved closer, Boz saw it was because he was eating from a humongous box of Red Hots while he smoked. The smell of cinnamon and cannabis mixed rather pleasantly on the morning air.

  The first words out of either of their mouths came from Puffer, who seemed inordinately happy to have Boz pop in.

  “Your honey’s not here.”

  That got Boz’s attention. “What did you say?”

  Puffer cocked his head and squinted through a trail of smoke rising from the half-smoked doobie still protruding from the corner of his mouth. Feigning no embarrassment whatsoever, he pulled the hula hoop over his head and leaned it against the wall. He closed his eyes, suddenly captivated by the music in the background. His long, lean frame swayed like a sapling in a breeze. “She’s still alive, you know.”

  Boz blinked in confusion. “Who’s still alive?”

  Puffer hooked a thumb toward the speaker on the wall. “Darlene Love. She’s seventy-seven. About the same age as me. You like her?”

  “I-I don’t know who she is, but y-yeah,” Boz stammered, after thinking about it for a second. “I do like her.”

  Puffer smiled. “Goody. Then we’ll get along. Say, what’s that noise I hear. Sounds like a dog snoring.”

  “That’s Leon. He’s sleeping in my backpack.” For lack of a better explanation, Boz added, “He always snores when he sleeps. He’s old.”

  Puffer craned his long neck over Boz’s shoulder and peered inside the bag. “Aww,” he cooed, clearly charmed.

  He pulled back and studied Boz’s face. “You are looking for Dilly, right?”

  It seemed to be his day for stammering. “Y-yeah,” Boz said. “I am.”

  Puffer offered an exaggerated pout and repeated the first thing he had said when Boz stepped into the shop. “Like I mentioned before, your honey’s not here.”

  “Dilly’s not my honey.”

  “But you want him to be.”

  The statement was presented so openly and honestly, and it was so spot on the money, Boz didn’t quite know how to react to it. After a moment of indecision, he decided he might try dredging up a little belligerence and see where that got him. He opened his mouth to deliver it, but to his horror, nothing came out. His ears heated up, however, and he knew in a second burst of horror that a pair of bright red ears would probably be answer enough.

  Puffer’s amiable old face split into a lecherous grin, proving Boz correct.

  “You mean, Dilly isn’t your honey yet,” Puffer coyly stated, draping a long arm over Boz’s shoulder and shoving the box of Red Hots in his face.

  He steered Boz toward the back of the store while Boz dug around for a fistful of candy. Meanwhile, Puffer snaked a hand down inside Boz’s backpack to pet the dog.

  “Let’s see what we can do about that yet part, shall we?”

  Boz chewed up a mouthful of Red Hots, which were so hot they brought tears to his eyes. Not sure what else to say, he simply shrugged and said, “Sure. Let’s.”

  Chapter Ten

  PUFFER MORAN’S real name was Leonard, although no one knew it but a few distant relatives in Alabama who hadn’t seen him in a coon’s age. He studied the box of albums in front of him while sucking all the goodies out of the doobie hanging off his bottom lip. He treated the doobie with such diligent and respectful attention one would have thought it was a feeding tube and he was in dire need of nourishment. He treated the albums with even greater respect. He had purchased this latest box at a yard sale for three bucks, and who knew what treasures might await inside?

  When the bell over the front door tinkled he glanced up to see who was entering, then immediately beamed brightly. What do you know; it was Dilly’s beau! Or would be Dilly’s beau if Puffer had anything to say about it.

  A few minutes later, after suffering through the niceties of exchanging hellos and meeting the dog and sharing his Red Hots, Puffer all but dragged young Boz into the back of the shop for a little one-on-one.

  Puffer grabbed Boz under the arms like a three-year-old and hoisted him up to perch his tiny ass on the checkout counter beside the cash register. Puffer exclaimed, “Why, you don’t weigh any more than a minute, boy!” and then he pulled up an old chair for himself and parked it at Boz’s feet. He blessed the young man with his most congenial smile—at least he hoped it appeared congenial—and got right to the crux of the matter.

  “You like my Dilly, don’t you?”

  Boz had a mouthful of Red Hots, so he simply nodded, eyes wide, clearly wondering what Dilly’s boss was getting at.

  Once he had managed to swallow the burning Red Hots and was able to speak, Boz admitted he did. But not without throwing in a couple of caveats in the process. “I only want to like him if he wants to like me. I’ve been watching him, you see. He lives across the street from me.”

  Puffer clutched at his chest, feeling as if every heartstring he owned had just been plucked. “You’ve been stalking him. How romantic!”

  Boz’s mouth was red from the candy, and suddenly his face was as red as his mouth. “I wouldn’t exactly call it stalking.”

  Puffer arched an eyebrow high. “What would you call it, then?”

  Boz stammered around for a minute and finally mumbled, “Okay. I guess I’d call it stalking.”

  Puffer grinned and slapped Boz’s knee, jarring the box of candy and sending a shower of Red Hots dancing across the floor. Leon poked his head out of the bag at the sound, and Boz removed him from the backpack and set him on the floor. Boz and Puffer smiled down while Leon pranced around, gathering
up the Red Hots one by one and chewing them into mush. He didn’t seem to care if they were hot or not.

  “He loves them,” Boz said.

  “He does indeed,” Puffer agreed, then turned his attention back to Boz. “Where were we?”

  “You were accusing me of stalking Dilly.”

  Puffer nodded, suddenly serious. “You’re right. So let’s get down to business.”

  He hunkered over, furling his long skinny frame into a capital C, and started rolling a joint, filling it with nubbins of marijuana he extracted from a tiny cloth bag with a drawstring. Puffer had the joint rolled, filled, glued together with spit, and ignited before Leon finished rounding up all the spilled candy, whereupon he laid himself over Puffer’s shoe, burped, and fell sound asleep.

  “Aww,” Puffer crooned, gazing down at the dog snoring on his foot. He lifted his eyes to Boz, squinting against the smoke rising up from the joint. “Dilly has a cat, you know. That makes you both pet owners.”

  Boz nodded. “I know.”

  Puffer slapped his forehead, and little sparks from the joint sprinkled down on his shirt, which he ignored. “That’s right! You’ve been stalking him. You’d know that.”

  Boz opened his mouth to comment, then just as quickly closed it.

  Puffer was pleased to see that Boz didn’t argue about the stalking thing. That meant they were getting somewhere.

  “Do you know where Dilly is today?” Puffer asked, leaning in close and watching Boz like a hawk.

  “No. Where?”

  “He’s with the Street Saviors, picking up trash. It’s a volunteer thing. Do-gooders for the environment and all that.”

  “Oh,” Boz said. “Well, that’s a nice thing to do.”

  “Yes, it is,” Puffer said. “Dilly’s a nice boy. You should join the Street Saviors too. You could be picking up trash at Dilly’s side.”

  Boz blinked. “Ooh, I’d like that. Where do I sign up?”

  Puffer was momentarily flustered. “How the hell should I know? Now, let’s talk about you and Dilly. What do you really know about my boy?”

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