I took a long, deep breath then started to pull myself up to finally get a full look at the woman in the pool. But just as I started to make neighborhood history, I heard Tommy and Johnny bickering in whispered voices. Horrified, I looked down at them to see what was going on between the two.
The pair were arguing about something which I couldn’t make out. Their heads were bobbing or shaking back and forth as their voices became steadily louder. God, no, I thought. Are you kidding me? Not now! I didn’t dare say a word as I pleaded with them with my eyes, but they weren’t paying attention to me.
Tommy was the first one whose voice I could clearly hear. “Johnny, you can’t go now!”
WHAT? ‘Can’t go now?’ Noooo!
I took one last look over the top of the fence as I tried to pull myself up. The woman’s blonde hair glistened in the sun as I strained to look over the top of the fence. Then I heard the worst thing I had ever heard up to that point.
“Oh, yeah? Watch me.”
And with that simple statement, the support that I had on my right side was gone. I dropped a good four inches before I caught myself; if not for Tommy I would have been sprawled out on the ground. I struggled to pull myself back up to where I had been, using my right foot to try to scale the fence like I was Spider-Man, still determined to see if the woman was nude or not.
Reality quickly set in, though. It didn’t matter if it was the noise of Johnny carelessly stomping off through the brush or the sound of my right sneaker scraping the fence, the woman heard something. “What the-? Who’s there?”
A rush of adrenaline hit me as I looked down at Tommy and motioned for him to get out of the way. I let loose of the fence and dropped to the ground, landing with an uncharacteristic grace. I started to run off to Dennis’ house and our bikes, but Tommy grabbed hold of my arm before I could take a step. He shook his head and motioned towards the bridge.
We ran the short distance down to the river bed then veered right to the bridge. I was doing my best to make as little noise as possible. Tommy was doing the complete opposite, making as much noise as he could until we reached the bridge. I had seen Tommy run through the woods dozens of times before. He could run through the woods like a deer, hardly making a sound. What the hell is he doing?, I thought.
The area alongside the bridge was wide open, leaving us exposed. I started to panic until Tommy snapped me out of it. “C’mon! Keep going!” he commanded just before he darted under the bridge.
Our little group had spent countless hours beneath the bridge throwing rocks at leaves and limbs floating down the river, so I was quite familiar with the surroundings. We’d had tons of fun under there up until now, but it sure didn’t seem like such a good place to hide at the moment, especially after the ruckus Tommy created to get there. I was seriously questioning his intelligence.
“Come ON!” he pleaded. “We can’t stop here. We gotta keep going. Trust me.” I finally realized he meant to go to the other side of the bridge. Was he crazy? This meant breaking the last big rule, the last boundary set forth by my mom. This meant crossing Nebo Road. Not to get to the other side, ironically enough, but to get back to our home turf.
I considered the options for a second and almost went back. “Trust… me,” Tommy said one last time. I looked back once more then followed Tommy to the other side of the bridge.
We emerged in a thick brush that was even thicker than we were accustomed to. Tommy led the way, heading away from the river and towards Bradford Park – a neighborhood on the east side of Nebo Road. I was done questioning Tommy by now and just followed him wherever he wanted to go. He was in full stealth mode now, darting from tree to tree, once again moving like a deer.
He led us to the backyard of the last house before the river on Nebo. He paused to see if anyone was in the backyard. Satisfied that the coast was clear he signaled for me to follow him on a mad dash through the backyard to Gray Street. From there it was a short walk to Cummins Drive, where we finally paused for a moment.
“You wanta tell me… what the hell that… was all about?” I panted with my hands on my knees.
Tommy nodded and waited until he caught his breath. “I figured if we went running home she would figure it was somebody from our neighborhood. Coming this way instead might make her think it was some kids from Bradford Park.”
“So that’s what all the noise was about back there?”
“Yeah,” Tommy answered with a grin.
I had to hand it to him. It was a brilliant idea. I reconsidered just how good a field leader Tommy actually was. I also thought it might be time to start watching some of those old war movies myself.
“You know that I’m not supposed to be over here, don’t ya?” I asked.
“Yeah, but neither am I,” he responded, his grin bigger than before.
I looked at Tommy with a new sense of respect. We were both now a couple of “bad boys”.
We walked up Cummins to Penrod Road, which would lead us back to Nebo. We talked about how close we had come to learning the truth about the nudists. Tommy about flipped when I told him that the woman was a blonde. Tommy had a thing for blondes. He wanted to know how much I saw. The thought about lying to him crossed my mind, but I couldn’t do that to him this time. Maybe never again, in fact. I told him that all I had seen of the woman was her long, blonde hair pulled up on top of her head. I patted him on the back and told him how sorry I was that I couldn’t tell him more than that.
Nebo Road was just a stone’s throw ahead of us. We stopped to assess the situation.
“How we gonna get back?” I asked Tommy.
Tommy thought for a second, his left elbow resting in his right hand while his left index finger scratched his chin. With a mischievous gleam in his eye he said, “Here’s what I have planned.”