“I knew you’d be here,” said Topping to Bartholomew who was tucked in behind stacks of gardening books.
“Aren’t I always here? I assume you’re looking up jobs,” said Bartholomew happy to see his friend.
“Actually, I’m looking at books about painting cars.”
“So, you’re working for Uncle Cy again?” asked Bartholomew as he closed a book on garden design.
Topping looked down, picked up a book and ran his fingers over the spine. “No, he hasn’t had me back, yet. Well, just one day a couple of weeks ago, but now it’s almost March and I don’t know when he’ll call.”
Bartholomew smiled at Topping. “I’m sure his work will pick up soon. It’s getting warmer out and people will want to show off their cars.”
Topping squinted at Bartholomew and shrugged, “Yeah, maybe.”
Bartholomew wondered what he could do to help Topping. He hated seeing him so down. Then he said it without even thinking, “Do you want to paint my car?”
Topping looked at him. He wasn’t sure if it was a joke or just a bad attempt to make him feel better. Bartholomew couldn’t believe he had said it. But then he thought to himself, “Why not?”
“Topping, I want you to paint my car,” said Bartholomew.
“No…no, I couldn’t. It’s expensive to do and it’s a nice car just like it is.”
“No it’s not. My car is white with a big pink stripe down each side. That is not nice, or pretty or anything but ugly,” said Bartholomew realizing that he never really had liked the color of that car.
“But Bartholomew, painting a car isn’t easy and the paint is expensive…and there’s no place to paint it…and, and … it’s expensive,” said Topping.
“Geez, you make it sound like painting a car is expensive,” joked Bartholomew. “Paint it at Uncle Cy’s place after-hours and I will pay you.”
“No, you can’t pay me, I’m your friend!” protested Topping. Other people in the library started to stare disapprovingly at the two of them.
Firmly but more quietly, Bartholomew looked straight at Topping and said, “Design a new paint job for my car and I will pay for the paint and five hundred dollars for you. Don’t worry, Uncle Jeffrey submitted my taxes in early February and I just got my return. I can cover this.”
Topping didn’t know what to say. He stood quietly for a while but then leaned forward and whispered to Bartholomew, “It’s going to have flames. I hope you don’t mind a 1974 Peugeot with flames.”
Bartholomew looked up and answered, “As long as you get rid of the pink, I don’t care what you do.” Thinking for a moment, he then added, “But flames would be cool. Way cool.”
Topping pulled up a chair and sat across the table from Bartholomew. They turned their attention to the stack of gardening books.
“What are you going to plant?” asked Topping.
“I’m not sure, yet. Tomatoes, peppers, and kale for sure. Some lettuce. Other than that, I don’t know. The problem is I’m not sure where I am going to plant. And I want enough room for you and Charlotte and other people to plant, too.”
“Aren’t you planting in your yard?” asked Topping.
“No, it’s too shady. I have a big old oak tree that was planted there by my great-great-grandfather, and it covers the entire back yard. And the front yard is small and shady, too - it’s a really big tree,” said Bartholomew holding his arms out to indicate a sense of largeness. “I was thinking of maybe planting at the end of my street. It ends at a railroad track and there is a big space. Certainly big enough for a garden.”
“I’ll help you build it,” said Topping.
“What?” asked Bartholomew.
“I’ll help you build your garden. Your helping me do something I want to do, so I’ll help you do something you want to do,” said Topping.
Bartholomew stared at him for only a moment and then said, “All right. Good. I’ll let you know when I start. But it’s going to be big.”
“Big enough for chickens?” asked Topping with a grin.
Bartholomew laughed. “Yeah, Claire and her chickens. That’s dubious.”
“I can’t believe she wants you to have chickens in your garden,” said Topping shaking his head.
“I can’t believe her and Ned are still living together. And it’s your fault,” accused Bartholomew.
“My fault?! How the fuck you figure it’s my fault?”
“You’re the one that had the New Years Eve party. She never went home after that, did she? Stayed at Ned’s that night and every night since.”
Topping just shrugged his shoulders and flipped some more pages. “Not my fault they shacked up. You came to the party and you didn’t shack up with anyone. And if Ned has his doubts and lets a woman run all over him, that’s his problem – not mine.”
“Yeah, well I guess you don’t hear about it as much as I do,” said Bartholomew. “He's not hanging out at your place to get away from Claire.” They turned their attention back to the books.
After awhile, Bartholomew wanted to talk to Topping about something – to get his advice – but wasn’t sure how to go about it. His eyes skimmed the surface of the book pages while thinking about what to say. He decided to just start talking. “I still haven’t gone out with The Nanny.”
“Well, I’m not surprised,” said Topping.
Taken aback, Bartholomew demanded, “What do you mean by that?”
“Geez, don’t get your underwear in a bunch, I just meant with Geraldine missing The Nanny is probably too busy or too freaked out to want to get together.”
“Missing?! What do you mean Geraldine is missing?” asked Bartholomew as he pushed aside a stack of books to better see Topping. He heard a “shush” come from somewhere to his right.
“Didn’t you read about it in the paper? Geraldine has been missing for a couple of weeks now. She just disappeared one day,” said Topping.
“Wha…how, what happened?”
“Like I said, she just disappeared. No sign, no trace.”
Bartholomew sat quiet for a moment. Scenarios raced through his mind: was she abducted by one of her “lovers,” had one of her brothers killed her, had The Nanny done something to her? The last time Bartholomew had seen The Nanny she had mentioned doing something illegal.
“Are you okay?” asked Topping.
Bartholomew didn’t answer. He felt a ball of sadness inside him. How could Geraldine be gone? He had dated her - and now she was gone? This just doesn’t happen. This shouldn’t have happened. How? He had always thought Geraldine was kind to him – spoke well of him. She was wild, but Bartholomew always knew there was a nice person inside her.
“I dated her,” said Bartholomew, half catatonic.
“I thought you said you didn’t get together with The Nanny,” said Topping.
“No, I mean Geraldine… quite awhile ago, and she was too wild for me. But I got a sense that she liked me and there is a nice side to her that most people don’t see.”
Topping almost snickered when Bartholomew said that he had dated Geraldine. But then he saw how moved Bartholomew was by this news. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” said Topping. “They didn’t say she was dead or anything like that,” he added. “She might have just run away. You should ask The Nanny. Give her a call.”
Anger appeared in Bartholomew’s voice, “She’s been telling me for the last few weeks she can’t get together because she’s too busy dog-sitting. That it was taking up more of her time than she thought it would. All this time and she never has mentioned anything about Geraldine missing.”
“Dog-sitting?!” asked Topping.
“Yeah, she picked up a side job sitting somebody’s dog. I think it’s a pug.”
“And she hasn’t mentioned anything about Geraldine? That’s fucked up,” said Topping.
Bartholomew cringed inside at the sound of Topping swearing. It didn’t seem like appropriate language given the terrible circumstance.
“Yes, I will have to call The Nanny and ask her about this,” said Bartholomew.
“Yeah, let me know what you find out,” said Topping. He hesitated. “Bartholomew,…”
Bartholomew looked at Topping.
“…well, if you need anything, you can let me know that, too.”
In the seventy days that they’d known each other, Bartholomew and Topping had become friends. They had been running into each other at the library every other week. Bartholomew was very happy about this. He had never had a friend his age to support him when he was down. He had never had anyone who wanted to work on projects with him and help him do what he wanted to do. His friends had always been someone to play with, someone to have fun with – like children. His previous friends had no idea how to comfort him or simply sit with him when his parents had died. They never patiently listened to him when he was unsure about things, they didn’t know how to empathize and they never offered themselves up as emotional support. As he thought about it, he had never really had a friend who could help him like an adult can. Then he laughed quietly to himself, “Hmmm, am I becoming an adult?”
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Mark Granlund
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by Mark Granlund