"Do you think you'd be able to give me diarrhea?" asked Daniel. He reached over to nudge the volume on the stereo that was filling Ben's bedroom with the latest from Jars of Clay.
Ben stopped to consider the question, his hands still wrapped around Daniel's outstretched foot. "Well, accupressure is usually supposed to be for healing ..."
"Yeah, but if I had diarrhea, I wouldn't have to work my exciting shift at McDonald's tomorrow." Daniel smiled hopefully. All this relaxing his tension and realigning his organs was nice, but he was a pretty healthy guy anyway. It would be nice to get something concrete out of the deal.
"I'll give it a try. I can relax your bowels more right here." Ben resumed his massage, pressing slowly with both thumbs against Daniel's instep.
"I can't believe you guys," said Gary, propping his head on his hands and his elbows on his knees.
"You're just jealous because he did me first." Daniel leaned his head back to grin at Gary.
"No, it's -- Ben, you're the last person I'd expect to buy into this crap."
"Why's that? You know I'm taking pre-med at college this fall."
"Because your whole family is a bunch of fundamentalists or something." Gary stood up and walked over toward Ben's bookcase.
"Baptists," clarified Ben.
"Whatever. You've got Bible verses taped to the TV and everything. But accupressure is some sort of New Age or oriental thing." He grabbed a gold lettered leather-bound King James Version off the shelf and ruffled its pages. "Does it say something in here in the Bible about foot massage?"
Ben scowled. Daniel muttered, "And they say the Christians are the close-minded ones."
"I heard that. It's just ... none of this mystical stuff makes any sense to me. I mean, I was thinking about this the other day. Even if God exists, how does it make any sense to worship Him?"
"What?" asked Ben.
"God is good, right?"
"Would He ever do anything bad?"
"Exactly. He's perfect. He can't help but be good. He doesn't have to make choices the way we do, because He only has one option. Where's the sense in thanking someone for something they can't help?"
"Oh, Ben, thank you so much for having such blond hair. I am eternally in your debt for having that exact color that you were born with." Gary framed Ben's head lovingly like one of the hand models on the Home Shopping Network.
"Gary, cut it out," said Daniel. "You don't really believe that, do you?"
"No, I guess I don't. Mostly because I don't believe in God in the first place."
"Do you want to get into a theological debate tonight?" asked Ben, the weight of 18 years of Sunday school behind his voice.
"No. We just graduated, so I intend to avoid any deep thinking for the next three months. My brain needs a rest."
"So what's got you so edgy tonight?" said Daniel. "Ever since we got back from playing nightstalker you've been pacing around or sitting weird, like you've got poison ivy growing up all around you."
Gary sighed. "Mind if I go get another hot dog?"
"No, go ahead," said Ben. "They should still be warm. And there's another jug of tea in the fridge."
Gary turned and left for the kitchen.
"Let me see your other foot," said Ben.
Daniel obligingly lifted it onto the bench. "Gary gets in these strange moods sometimes."
"Yeah. When we were lining up for graduation, he told me he's going to grow up to be 'Old Man Bollinger,' the crazy guy who goes to the grocery store just for an excuse to tell the cashiers stories that aren't as funny as he thinks they are."
Ben pressed thoughtfully on the fleshy area below Daniel's big toe. "Maybe we should get him a girlfriend, to straighten him out."
"Nah, any girl crazy enough to put up with Gary is liable to make him worse."
Daniel would have laughed, but at that moment Gary returned, two hot dogs in one hand and a Styrofoam cup in the other. He sat down on the corner of Ben's bed and chewed in silence for several minutes.
"Maybe I'll go up to Scranton. I've got family up there," Gary said suddenly.
"Scranton?" asked Ben. "Where did that come from?"
"My uncle's got a metal shop up there," Gary continued. "I hear they pay pretty decent. And I'd get to see my cousins all the time."
Daniel said, "What happened to working at the IGA for the rest of the summer and then going to Colgate?"
"Listen to yourself!" said Ben. "You don't know the first thing about running a belt sander or an industrial grinder or ... heck, neither of us even know the right words for that kind of equipment."
Gary gave a single embarrassed laugh. "Yeah, I guess I should've thought of this a few years ago and gone to Vo-Tech."
"You've got just about a full ride to Colgate, anyway. What's your dad paying a year, a couple thousand only, right?"
"My dad's not paying squat. He's not even picking up the interest on the loan I had to get for that three thousand. So I'll be paying however many dollars a month out of my own money while everybody else there has their parents writing out checks for anything they want -- Spring Break in Cancun, a new SUV ... ‘richie boobs,' my dad called them when we went up to visit."
"Besides," added Daniel, "you're too into camping. You'd die in a city like Scranton."
"Yeah, I guess … hey, what ever happened to our plan to hike the Appalachian Trail? We've got three months, and the trail comes right through town. We could throw on our backpacks and be in Maine in time to catch a bus back to Slate Hill before we head off to college."
"Sure," replied Daniel. "I'll just go tell Bob, ‘Sorry, I have to quit my job because my crazy friend decided he wants to go hiking all summer."
Gary frowned. "Yeah, I don't suppose Dick would be too happy if I quit down at the IGA. Not that he gives me that many hours anyway. I'd probably make more money picking up the change people drop on the trail."
"Are you trying to think up stupid ideas tonight?" asked Ben, squeezing uncomfortably hard on Daniel's foot. "Because you're succeeding."
"I do want to hike the trail someday, though," insisted Gary.
"Just promise us you won't do it alone," said Daniel.
"Would you guys actually go with me?"
"So you say now. Wait until you've been off at school for a while, finding new friends, maybe girlfriends, and getting internships and stuff. I may have to go alone if I want to do it before I'm forty."
"Look, we've both seen the solo hikers that come in to spend the night at Borough Hall. With their eyes all glazed over like they don't remember what a car or a person looks like, all spaced out from talking to themselves for so long."
Gary looked down at the last of his tea. "By the time I go, It'll be too late to stop that."
"What's your problem tonight?" demanded Ben. "I would've thought you'd be happy for a month after finally finishing High School."
"I would've thought so, too," said Gary.
"Maybe there's a pressure point on his foot to calm him down," said Daniel.
"You're not going to go for my feet. It would be too convenient to just massage my energy lines or whatever you're doing to make things right. I don't need some mystical force telling me things are going to work out. I'll believe it when I see it."
Ben let go of Daniel's foot and stood up. "If you're going to be irrational and irritating, you don't need to be here, OK? I asked you guys to come over because I thought we could have a fun night to celebrate graduation."
"Ben ..." began Daniel.
"No, that's OK. I don't need you guys to get mad at me. Not sooner than I have to, anyway." Gary stood up and headed for the door.
As soon as he was gone, Ben sat down with an exasperated sigh and resumed rubbing at the "bowels" point on Daniel's foot.
After a minute of silence, he asked, "Feel anything yet?"
Daniel considered for a moment. "Nope."
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