Friday, May 5, 2017

14 - Bartholomew Makes Another Decision

Topping stood in the doorway with a New Year’s hat on his head and a beer in his hand.

Bartholomew, come in!” he yelled above the din of music and conversation while handing him the beer.

Bartholomew entered the small, warm apartment that was packed wall-to-wall with people. He had not been around this many people in a long time and felt a momentary sense of dread. But then he saw Ned standing in the kitchen by a table full of food. Ned waved a Donkey Burger at him. Topping and Bartholomew made their way through the crowd.

Hey, Bartholomew. How’s it going? You have a nice Christh-muth?” asks Ned as he stuffed a pig-in-a-blanket in his mouth.

Yeah, it was okay,” Bartholomew lied. Bartholomew had not enjoyed the holidays since his parents died. Was this really the third Christmas he celebrated without them? Could their deaths be that far away already?

“What’d you do?” Ned asked as he grabbed another pig.

“I went to Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey’s house and had brunch and exchanged presents. And exchanged presents with Oliver.”

“Who’s Oliver?” asked Topping.

“Oh, he’s my cat.”

Topping snickered, “What did Oliver give you?”

Bartholomew blushed a little. “My Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey buy me a present from Oliver every year…and three presents from Santa.” Bartholomew wasn’t sure why he shared that last part.

Topping and Ned laughed.

Wanting to change the subject, Bartholomew asked, “What did you guys do?”

“I just went to my parent’s house,” said Ned after he finished laughing. “Nothing special.” He surveyed the cookie tray.

Charlotte and I went to my parent’s house and then her mom’s house,” said Topping. “My parent’s dog gave me a Christmas present,” he said looking mischievously at Bartholomew. “He took a whizz on my shoes.” They all laughed together.

Bartholomew, feeling hungry, glanced at the table. It was the usual party fare: store bought foods and a few homemade dishes that were of questionable origin but whose creators insisted they were the most delicious things they ever made. Bartholomew did not doubt these assertions, but chose to pass on the food for now. 

Come on,” said Topping. “I’ll introduce you to Charlotte.”

Topping led them through the short entrance hallway to the living room. About twenty people were situated around talking loudly over the music. Sliding doors to a crowded balcony were open to cool off the room. Claire was sitting on a blue chair next to the couch and gave a small wave and a smile to Bartholomew. He waved back. Ned waved at Claire even though they had already said hello to each other. Claire smiled.

“Charlotte! This is Bartholomew!” Topping yelled as he pushed Bartholomew through the crowd toward a pretty young woman. Bartholomew, after only knowing Topping for a couple of weeks, liked and admired him. Seeing Charlotte made him admire Topping even more.  Charlotte’s friendly smile framed by her long brown hair and green eyes greeted Bartholomew.

“Yeah - from the Christmas wrapping job, right? It’s very nice to meet you Bartholomew,” said Charlotte as she held out her hand that wasn’t holding a beer.

Bartholomew took her hand, bent low and kissed her knuckles... at least that’s what was going through Bartholomew’s mind. In truth, he shook her hand curtly and said “Hi.”

“That sounded like one screwed up family,” Charlotte said. “Who gets weapons of torture for Christmas? How bizarre!”

“Yeah, my guy had materials for making pipe-bombs,” said Bartholomew trying to impress Charlotte and the others listening to him.

“No way, dude! You didn’t tell me that!” said Topping.

“Yeah, Xavier bought pipe-bomb material, nunchucks, brass knuckles and a revolver.”

Everyone gasped and stared in disbelief at Bartholomew. Bartholomew thought that maybe he had said too much.

A couple got up from the couch and headed to the kitchen for some food. Bartholomew and Ned took their place with Ned slipping in next to Claire. The five of them talked and laughed while songs reverberated throughout the room.

“Hey!” said Charlotte all excited, “what are your resolutions or plans for the New Year? I mean, what do you REALLY want to do this year? Ned, how about you?”

For a brief moment, Ned looked like a deer in the headlights. That is if deer in headlights stuff chips and salsa into their mouths.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to spring this on you. You can think about it for a minute. Topping and I want to buy a house,” Charlotte said raising her shoulders and smiling at Topping. Topping raised his eyebrows having just heard this resolution for the first time; he said nothing.

“Okay, Ned, did you have enough time?” Charlotte asked with a pleading smile.

“Uh, yeah. Well, the first thing I need to do is get a roommate. Mine left about three months ago, and I can’t afford my apartment much longer without one. So that’s first, and then I want to get a real job. My job right now sucks. I really want to get something better – nicer environment, better pay.”

Topping and Claire nodded their heads in agreement with Ned.

Topping looked at Claire, “And you?”

“I need to move out of my parent’s house and get a job. Maybe there’s a theme here.” Everyone laughed.

“Yeah,” said Topping “What, are we all in our twenties? We all want to move and get a job.” Topping let out a loud and unedited laugh.

“And friends,” Bartholomew added. After a moment of silence his face turned red.

“So, I guess we know what you want this next year,” said Topping as he laughed even louder than the last time.

Charlotte reached out her hand and put it on Bartholomew’s knee. “I think you're a real nice guy, Bartholomew. Topping and I will be your friends.”

“Me, too,” said Ned and Claire at the same time. All four of Bartholomew's new friends laughed.

Bartholomew’s face turned even deeper red at catcalls and other people mimicking “I'll be your friend, too.” Embarrassed that he represented himself as a friendless loser, he looked down at the floor. But a smile wriggled across his lips, through the embarrassment, as he felt a sense of camaraderie with these four new friends. He began a quiet laugh that almost got out of control. It was a laugh that came deep from within, from a place he hadn’t touched in quite some time.

“Now wait,” Charlotte yelled above the laughing and catcalls, “maybe Bartholomew has a few other New Year’s resolutions. Do you Bartholomew?”

With everyone's attention focused on him, Bartholomew hesitated. He wanted to tell them he had been living on his own for too long. He wanted to tell them that a giant hole had been unfairly placed in his soul and that he had felt broken, almost beyond repair. That's what he wanted for this New Year; he wanted to be repaired. He wanted a year of laughing freely. He wanted a year of sharing himself unedited with someone – anyone. He wanted friends… and now he knew he secretly wanted a lover. He wanted to tell them all this and bring all these friends home with him, forever. But how do you begin to say these things? Bartholomew sat quiet for a moment and his stomach grumbled. Then he realized what he could say out loud.

“I resolve to grow a garden... full of the food I like to eat. And I want to grow it with friends.”

Everyone was staring at him, surprised by his answer…

“And every Wednesday night during growing season, I want all of you to come over to my house. We will harvest food, cook it, eat it and have beer and music and…” Bartholomew paused. He heard a song on the stereo, a melody that he recognized but couldn’t quite place. 


“…ever since I metchya, seems I can’t forgetchya. The thought of you keeps running through the back of my mind…”

“Hey, who’s this singing?” Bartholomew asked Topping and Charlotte.

“The Dionne’s,” said Topping, “They’re a cover band of some singer named…”

Dionne Warwick,” Bartholomew and Topping said at the same time.

You know her?”

You could say so.”

Bartholomew began to quietly sing the words to the song. People stopped their conversations as the infectious beat and melody worked its magic. Charlotte grabbed Topping’s and Bartholomew’s hands and they started dancing. The rest of the room joined in. Ned was the last to get up and move his body to the beat. The apartment became a giant hopping hothouse of wall-to-wall people. They broke into chorus.

Oh, oh, oh, oh, I never knew love before and then came you! I never knew love before, then came yooooooooooooou, then came you.”

Bartholomew laughed when Topping and Charlotte pointed at each other while singing “then came you.” They turned toward him with big smiles. Ned and Claire worked their way around the song the best they could with big self-conscious grins on their faces. Everyone sang again:

Oh, oh, oh, oh, I never knew love before and then came you! I never knew love before, then came yooooooooooooou, then came you.”

Bartholomew looked around at all the young men and women in the room, bumping and jumping and singing – not a care in the world. He thought it would be great to be young, and then he thought, hey! It is great to be young, it’s great to be such a long way from death. It had been too close to Bartholomew for too long. Surrounded by the music, the sound of people and the heat of the room, his soul lifted up to the ceiling away from all of his troubles. Closing his eyes, Bartholomew began to dance freely. Soon, the song he was singing pivoted into a long laugh. Now he couldn’t stop. He laughed an emptying laugh; a laugh so deep that it emptied some of his hurt.

And then he felt it. He felt an idea - an idea so powerful it hit his heart like an atomic bomb. He, literally, would never be the same again. He thought, for a brief moment, it might be possible for his life, this tragedy, to turn into a comedy. Instead of crying in his loneliness and loss, he could cry for joy, for that was what he was about to do. When he opened his eyes, he marveled at his new friends who were laughing and dancing and singing. This was what he wanted.
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Justin Terlecki

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