We headed back over the Bay Bridge in silence, turned onto The Embarcadero and from there down Berry Street, up 3rd Street and continued our journey until we reached Illinois Street and located the Espirit Factory Outlet which, as true as its word, offered "adolescent fashion at rock bottom prices - 30 to 70 per cent cheaper than department stores." My wallet would love this place.
Tony knew where to go and what he liked and he picked out a couple of shirts he wanted to try, rejected one or two, tried some others before finally settling on a couple he liked. Then a new pair of jeans was chosen, along with a new pair of pants, a couple of sweaters and a coat - a warm coat, suitable for the weather we would soon be experiencing - a more normal for this time of year temperature and I watched him, for an hour or so, I just watched him, picking, choosing, rejecting, admiring, asking my opinion and laughing at the most hideous shirt imaginable, bright orange with a lime green collar and cuffs and purple buttons.
"I gotta try this," he said, laughing as he headed into a changing cubicle to emerge a few minutes later wearing the shirt from hell.
"What do you think?" he asked, grinning.
"Actually, I think it belongs in the trash," I answered, honestly.
"Really? I didn't think it looked too bad once it was on."
"No - but if you don't like it, I wont have it."
He disappeared again and emerged a few minutes later holding the shirt on its hanger and replacing it on the rack.
"What now?" he asked. "Do I choose from what we've picked out?"
"What we've picked out you can have - and I think we need some shoes, socks, underwear and that should keep you going for a while."
"Do you really want to buy all these things?"
"Well, you can't wear the same things every day, can you?"
"Well ... no ... but..."
I saw the look of anxiety on his face and said: "Don't worry so much."
"I'll pay you back, John, I promise."
"Whatever - now let's get those other things, shall we?"
Another hour and we had chosen a pair of smart, black shoes and a new pair of sneakers, enough underwear and socks to kit out an army. Thank God for plastic, I thought, as my credit card was accepted.
We struggled back to the car under the weight of our parcels and deposited them in the trunk, before heading for something to eat - my stomach was rumbling and I was hungry and if I was hungry, then I knew Tony would be, too.
"Tony," I began, as we walked. "There's something I have to tell you."
"Well, it is, I guess."
"What is it? What's wrong? Is it something I've done?" Panic in his voice.
"Hey, calm down, it's nothing you've done - but it does involve you."
"What?" He had stopped walking and I had to take his arm to guide him forward until he fell into step once more.
"It's about this morning - what I was doing."
Tony said nothing; he just looked up at me quizzically.
"I went to Ocean Beach."
"I went to see if I could find Dave."
"I don't know - I guess I really went to see for myself where you'd been staying, I needed to see it for myself. There were three lads, young lads, sheltering under those arches and when I saw them, I thought of you and I thought of Dave and I just had to know if he was one of them."
"Was he? Was Dave there?" Tony had stopped walking again and his voice was pleading for an answer.
"No, Tony, no, he wasn't. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to build up your hopes."
Tony had tears in his eyes and he lowered his head to the ground.
"I didn't think he would be," he said.
"There was a boy there said he'd look out for him, said he met a lot of people and he might find him."
"Do you think he will?"
"I can't get your hopes up, Tony. I just don't know - even he wasn't too sure, but I gave him my name and 'phone number, just in case."
"Thanks - I guess it's a long shot, but it would be good to see him again, make sure he's okay. I know you'd like him."
"I'm sure I would," I said and smiled. Tony smiled back.
"Right, then - let's get that burger, shall we?"
"Hang on, a minute, there's something I should tell you."
"When you left this morning, I sat around for a while and thought about stuff - you know what I mean? Stuff like I'd been telling you, thinking it through, thinking how good you've been to me and I made a decision."
"I 'phoned home. I waited until I knew my Dad wouldn't be there and I 'phoned my Mom."
"Wow, Tony, that's a big step, a brave step, I'm proud of you. What happened?"
"Guess who's coming to dinner."
"My Mom," Tony had a big grin on his face.
"Jesus, Tony - that's great!"
"But, we haven't got anything in for dinner - I mean, I don't know what your Mom likes to eat, or anything and what time is she coming?"
"Hey, John, chill out - Dad's meeting some colleagues straight from work, so won't be home until around ten and Mom's coming around seven-thirty."
I checked my watch - 5:15. It was later than I thought.
"We'd better put that burger on hold and head home, we've got a lot to do."
It was after six when we got back. We unloaded the trunk and Tony headed to his room with bags full of new clothes. I headed for the kitchen and searched frantically in the cupboards and the refrigerator for something I could prepare for dinner. Normally, I wouldn't be in a panic, but this was not a normal dinner - this was for Tony's Mom.
As I searched, the doorbell rang and I heard Tony yell that he would get it as he came bounding down the staircase.
"Who is it?" I called from the kitchen, as I slammed closed the refrigerator door.
I turned to see Tony standing in the doorway, behind him stood a woman - attractive, striking, unmistakable.
"John, I'd like you to meet my Mom."
I could see that it was - same dark hair, same eyes - she was, without question, Tony's Mom. I glanced at the kitchen wall clock as I moved forward and outstretched my hand as Tony moved aside and she accepted my hand.
"I'm sorry to be early, but in truth, I will be unable to stay for dinner. I had to come now as I am expecting my husband home earlier that I had hoped. I hope this isn't an inconvenient time?" she said.
"Not at all, please go through to the living room and make yourself comfortable. Tony, take your mother's coat, I'll join you both in a moment. I'll just make some coffee. You will have some coffee, won't you? Maybe something stronger?"
"Coffee will be fine, thank you."
I stayed in the kitchen as Tony led his mother to the living room.
"He seems like a nice man."
"He is. He's a very kind man. I don't know what would have happened if he hadn't taken me in."
Tony's mother sat in an armchair and Tony placed himself in the opposite chair. Facing each other across the room, mother and son, neither knowing what to say.
I broke the silence as I entered the room carrying a tray with freshly made coffee and placed it on the coffee table.
"Help yourself to cream and sugar," I said.
"Thank you, you're very kind."
"Not at all. I think if you don't mind, I'll make myself scarce. I know you two have a lot to talk about and not a lot of time in which to do it, so if you'll excuse me."
"Thank you," was the reply from Tony's mother, but Tony looked at me, almost pleading for me to stay. I gave him a wink and he half smiled at me. He knew this was something he had to do himself.
"I'll be in the kitchen if you need me," I said, to the two of them in general and I walked from the room.
I knew I would be able to hear what was happening, even if I couldn't see it and for a while there was silence and then I heard Tony's voice.
"How are you?"
"I'm well, thank you."
"He's fine. How are you, Tony?"
"I'm okay now, no thanks to you."
"Well, I'm sorry, Mom, but what do you want me to say? Hey, I'm having a great time, I've been thrown out of my home, slept rough and been mugged, but I'm doing okay because a great guy said I could stay for a few days."
"Please, Tony, don't be like this."
"How do you want me to be, Mom? What is it you want to hear?"
"I don't know. I don't know what I was expecting to hear. I know it can't have been easy for you..."
"Easy? Jesus, Mom, you don't know the half of it. What do you think has been happening in my life since that day?"
"Tony, please, calm down, let us discuss this rationally."
"Tell me, Mom - did you ever think about me? I mean, really think about where I was, what I might be doing, how I might be coping?"
"Of course, I've thought of you - every day, I've woken up with you in my mind and you've been there until I have fallen asleep at night. Wondering where you were, how you were. You're my son, how can you even suggest that I haven't thought about you?"
"At least you've been able to sleep at night - sometimes, I didn't even dare to close my eyes out of fear of the unknown."
"Tony, believe me, I have thought of you constantly, wished you were back home with your father and I."
"Then tell me, if that's true, why did you turn me away? Do you know what it feels like to be denied by your own mother?"
"You know what happened, Tony. I couldn't go against your father, but that never stopped me from hurting, from crying, from wishing you were home with us."
"But I'm a nobody. Why would you want a nobody?"
"You're not a nobody, you're my son - don't ever think of yourself as a nobody."
"I don't - but that's what you called me."
"When? When did I call you a nobody?"
"When I turned up on your doorstep a few days ago. I heard Dad shout to ask who was there and you said 'nobody'! Do you know how that made me feel? My own mother telling my father that her son was 'nobody'."
"Please, Tony, understand. If your father had known it was you on the doorstep, he would been angry."
"But what about you, Mom? How did you feel?"
"I was so pleased to see you. I wanted to hold you and kiss you and tell you everything would be okay, that you could come home and we'd work things out."
"Then why didn't you? Don't you know how difficult it was for me to knock on the door, not knowing who would answer?"
"I'm sorry, Tony. I feel so ashamed, but what else could I do?"
"Exactly! What else could you do? Do you realize that since you arrived you haven't even made the effort to give me a hug? Dad's not here, so why, Mom? Why haven't you even said you love me? That despite what I am, which is also who I am, you still haven't said those three words."
"Tony, of course I love you - you're my son, I will always love you."
"Then show me, Mom."
Tony stood and faced his mother, waiting, for her to make a move, to give him what he needed most - a mother's love. Tears ran down his cheeks as he waited and his mother looked at him, tears filling her eyes and she, too, stood, moving towards her son, arms outstretched, he fell into them. This much I saw, as I walked from the kitchen and into the hallway to answer the ring of the doorbell.
Standing there was the boy I had met earlier that day, the boy to whom I had given my name and telephone number on the off chance he would be able to find Dave.
"I'm sorry to call unannounced," he said.
"How did you find me?"
As simple as that - wasn't that how Tony had found me?
"You have some news?"
"You'd better come in."
I led the boy into the living room, where Tony and his mother sat close together deep in conversation, more relaxed than they had been moments ago.
"Excuse me, I'm sorry to interrupt, but Tony, this is the boy I told you about earlier - he has some news about..."
But Tony finished my sentence for me: "Dave!"
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