“I didn’t say nothin’.”
“So quit staring.”
I was absolutely not staring at him. I had deliberately been trying not to look at him. But the couple of occasions I had tried to steal a discreet glance at him, his eyes had already been fixed on me.
With no idea of how to reply to him, I just kept quiet and sat back against the cold railings. The metal pressed into my back and soon my shirt was soaked. In an effort to preserve some body heat, I folded my arms tightly. The cold air made me want to shiver. I guess I was a miserable sight.
In my mind, I was replaying the lecture Mrs McGuire had given me before presenting me with a detention note. What a decrepit crow! A lump came up into my throat as the hurt that her words inflicted resurfaced.
The cool dank breeze relieved the burning tears that had trailed down my cheeks. The hazy strumming of the guitar calmed the intensity of the storm within me. I could not do it here, not out in the open, not with an onlooker, I was going to have to contain the urge to dull this pain. So distracted by my own thoughts was I, it took some time to notice the song he was singing:
Stumbled over on spindly legs Like a bewildered newborn foal Sat down in a heap shivering Who is this cold and lonely soul?
“Noone, I’m noone.”
“Don’t be daft, everyone is someone. What’s up with you Kid?”
“Nothing is up. I’m just cold.”
“If that is all, I can fix that,” he rose up from the bench he was perched on and took off his leather jacket. I was so surprised I could not find any words to object before he placed his peppery scented jacket around my shoulders. The warm layer provided a great cuddle of warmth that I needed.
Still in shock at this absurd kindness, I gazed at him in puzzlement. He had returned to his guitar and was already strumming and humming to himself. I expressed my gratitude with a clear, “Thank you.”
“No problem,” he did not even look at me. He continued humming before he added, “If only all problems were that simple to fix.”
For the next fifteen minutes I was silent, trying to battle with sadness that sought to consume me. His presence, the constant sounds from his guitar helped me to keep rising above the dense darkness within.
Eventually, he put his guitar in the soft case that had been folded up on the bench next to him. He looked over towards me and said, “Now it’s me that is cold.”
Immediately, I stood up to give him back his jacket. But he shook his head. “How old are you Kid?”
“I thought you were about that. You’re tall though, so I wasn’t sure,” he was uneasy. “I’m starvin’. If you want, you can sit in the warm with me and watch me eat instead of watching me play guitar.”
“I wasn’t watching you.”
He let out a sort of snigger, “Come on Kid, there’s a juice bar that has snacks just across the road.” With that he headed down the steps from the gazebo and headed south through the park.
Why the hell did I follow him? That one decision probably changed the course of my life. I guess I followed him mainly because I still had his jacket around my shoulders. Nothing about him made me feel threatened. He was not trying to gain my trust or lure me into some kind of danger. He was just open and honest in a way that came to mark his speech and actions for many years. Dean would just say things simply, sometimes with brutal honesty. He did not put on any act, there was no pretense. Sure, the record company tried to propel an image they could market. But Dean was always true to himself. He just talked straight and did what made sense to him in the moment.
I wasn’t hungry, but I was very glad to be inside. He bought me a mango, pineapple and cherry milkshake. I did end up watching him eat. In between bites of his sub, he asked me the most non-obtrusive questions you can imagine. He did not ask me anything about where I lived, which school I went to, or anything that could compromise my security. He just asked me what I enjoyed – food, music, movies. There was one last question he asked – if he gave me his cellphone number, would I call him if I ever needed to talk to someone? Maybe he did not realize that now I knew how to reach him, I was going to crave another chance to see him.