Al and Jonesy snuck up behind me, working their way through the crowd. There wasn't any time left.
"I can't tell you what to do now, Julie," I said. "I wouldn't dare. I just came to tell you that I'm not living Charlie's dream anymore. I'm going to live my own, or try to, anyway."
I turned my attention to the catatonic guests.
"That's all I came to say." I told them, "You've been very patient, and I want to thank you for that."
Did you ever see a bunch of fish lined up, staring out through the glass wall of an aquarium ?
I waited for Julie to say something—anything. But she she was silent. She didn't even nod.
I had tried. The rest was up to her. Like I said, I couldn't presume to know.
"Go ahead, William." I said. "Make your speech."
Al and Jonesy closed in on either side of me, but I didn't care anymore. My leg was killing me.
William took a moment to come to life again.
"Well." he said, and looked around uncertainly. "Well, as I—as I was saying… before this…"
Al put his hand on my arm.
"Don't," Julie said. "Please."
But she wasn't talking to Al. She was talking to William.
William looked a little dizzy. He paused, puzzled.
Julie took a deep breath, and patted Tim's hand before letting it go. She looked him in the eyes.
"I'm sorry Tim, I can't do this."
William looked me in the eyes.
"Why," he said, "am I not surprised by this?"
Suddenly, I felt differently about my friends Al and Jonesy.
Suddenly I cared whether they dragged me back to a locked ward and sedation.
Suddenly I cared very much.
I turned to Al, offering the tray I had been balancing the whole time.
"Would you like an hors d'oeuvre?" I asked.
Al hesitated, then reached out to take one.
"Have all you want." I said.
And I handed him the tray.
He grabbed it with one hand, had trouble balancing it, and let go of my arm to grab it with the other.
I limped toward the house.
Jonesy snapped at Al as he pushed past him.
"Put that thing down!"
Al looked around in panic, then handed the tray to one of the catatonic guests.
By the time I reached William, Jonesy had half caught up to me. I wasn't moving very fast.
I clapped a hand on William's arm as I passed him.
"Thanks, William." I said.
I meant it.
Jonesy was right behind me. I decided it was probably all over.
And then a curious thing happened.
I pushed past Julie and Ann and Tim, on my way through the door into the house, and looked back at Jonesy, hot on my trail.
He was just passing William.
If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes...
William stuck his foot out.
Jonesy pitched to the floor.
And Al fell on top of him.