A Summer Story (of Recycled Trash)
Two. (Dennis narrates again)
We met Ron's mother, who seemed nice, and his younger brother Dick, who had an appropriate name. Dick's face resembled Ron enough that you'd be able to figure out they were brothers, but he was a chubby little whiner. Ron had told us that his brother couldn't do too much because of his asthma, and that was understandable. What wasn't forgivable was that Dick was the classic mama's boy. Ron said he was a pain in the ass, but it was more like a pain in the ears.
It didn't matter, really. Dick was eleven and just a noise that happened beneath our radar. Ron came to the basketball court with us and met some of the kids who Ralph and I already knew. He was embarrassingly bad, and Ralph ended up taking him to an empty court to coach him a little with his game. The lessons didn't help much because Ron lacked coordination.
He made up for it with good cheer. It wasn't a team game anyhow, just horse. Ronnie seemed to be a basically happy person, and when he actually sank a few baskets we all cheered him. When the smell of grilling food broke up the game everybody was calling him by his name and saying they'd see him on the boardwalk. We told Ronnie where to meet us, then headed off to our respective meals.
When we were walking back Ralph said, "Ronnie's a nice kid. I like him."
I said lasciviously, "He likes you too," and dodged Ralph's smack.
Ralph chased me for a second, then we started walking again. "I mean it, Bax. He's an easy kid to know."
That was typical Ralph, a spot-on comment that said a lot. Ronnie was easy to know. He said what was on his mind, laughed at his own shortcomings, and stayed with the game even when he knew his end was hopeless. He laughed easily and managed to get people to laugh with him.
Ralph and I knew he was gay, and his somewhat girlish mannerisms may have made some of the other kids suspect it, but his personality was bright enough to make the other guys like him anyhow. His humor was a good defense mechanism from what I could see.
I liked Ronnie, but I didn't have a clue what I was supposed to do with him. I found myself wanting to touch him, but that made him no different than Ralph. I always wanted to touch Ralph, even though I knew it would earn me a nosebleed and a lost friend if I did. Ralph was okay with me being gay, so were Richie, Pete, and Tyrone. It was rarely mentioned, and had certainly never been discussed with me present if they talked about it at all. We had a sort of unspoken agreement. The other guys knew that Eddie and I were queer, that Eddie had a boyfriend in Adam. I'm sure they knew that I looked at them when I thought I could get away with it. I got caught enough times. It was unspoken but understood that I knew they were straight and that I wouldn't 'try' anything with them, whatever that meant. Things had worked out fine for the better part of a year, and I had no intention of upsetting the apple cart
I'd seen them all naked in the showers and managed to keep my cool, outwardly at least. I learned rather awkwardly that it made more sense to be discovered jerking off in the boys' room than to pop wood in the showers. The potential reasons for the former were numerous and understood by all teenage boys. The latter was always suspect and cause for derision, although when a jock sprung wood people just laughed..
Ralph and I had been discreet on this vacation, both of us excusing ourselves from each other to take a rather phenomenal number of trips to the bathroom each day. I suppose it could have been camping food in his case. I knew it wasn't in mine, it was the quest for privacy, but at least by the time we got undressed for bed we could just talk quietly until we fell asleep.
The next two days proved something to me. It was simple enough, I could care for somebody other than Eddie.
I was developing real feelings for Ron, and he was for me. Our talks became less self-centered, more focused on the world around us and where we stood.. We touched each other more and more often, developed that bond that is friendship. Ralph was always there, and Dick sometimes was too. We all took to calling him 'Little Dickie' when his mother wasn't around, and the truth is he wasn't a bad kid when he didn't have her to whine to. He knew how to laugh, even when wheezing through his inhaler. His asthma was pretty active, so his spells of wheezing and gasping for breath were all too frequent.
Little Dickie was a godsend in a way. He seemed to idolize Ralph, and took up much of Ralph's attention. Wherever Ralph went, Dickie followed, and that gave Ron and me time alone together. Time to talk, time to wonder about each other.
Time to wonder what to do with each other. We both had instincts and we both lacked knowledge. We'd both heard the locker room yak, but sucking somebody's dick seemed hilariously out of the question, while the thought of sticking your dick in somebody's butt sounded like cruel and unusual punishment for both parties involved.
On that first Friday, Ralph and Dickie walked out on the jetty to try their luck at fishing. It was right after breakfast and the morning haze was almost like fog. Ralph's parents were going on a bird-watching cruise that didn't interest us, so his mother made us some sandwiches and left them in the cooler for our lunch.
Ronnie and I walked along the nature trail for awhile, but everyone else seemed to have the same idea that day, and it was hard to enjoy the nature or read the explanatory signs with a crowd hurrying you along. We ended up at the picnic table in our campsite, just looking at each other. It was the first time that we had been really alone together. The beach was a wonderful place, but it was almost impossible to be alone except in your tent.
"Ronnie?" I started.
I looked in his eyes and said, "I ... I like you. I like you a lot!"
Ron's ears reddened a little and he smirked. He could be a smart ass when he wanted to. "Oh yeah? Well you should. There's a lot to like."
I giggled, "Really? Where is it?"
"If it was up your rump you'd jump!" He started laughing like he'd really gotten the upper hand, which he had.
It was my turn to blush. "Jeez, can't a guy say he likes you? I got sumthin' you might like to swing on too, ya know."
"Oh yeah? Let's see!"
I blushed and looked at him. "Jeez!" then I thought better of the idea. "You wanna? I mean we're alone. We're .. um, we're both gay. I think we're supposed to do things like that."
Ron leaned forward, elbows on the table and his chin in his hands. He seemed to be studying my face for a few moments, then he lit up with a smile. "Tell you what. We could go in the tent and see what happens. I do like you too, you know."
I was flattered, "Really? What do you like?"
He paused, "Well ... I like the way you look. I, uh ... I like the way you smile and the way you talk. I think you're funny, but you're not making fun of people all the time." His brow furrowed and his eyebrows did a little samba, raising, lowering, and curling into new shapes, which was very cute to watch. "Let's see, you're good at sports where I stink, and you never knock me for being lousy. Um, you're generous, and you can play baseball." His studied stare turned into a little smirk, "You learn fast, too. You figured out how to eat in no time at all."
He giggled and I blushed. I wasn't prepared for such an involved answer, and had no idea of how to respond. I got serious. "Uh, you wanna go in the tent and hold hands or something? I like your hands."
He stared at me with an indecipherable expression that turned into a shy smile. "If you want, yeah. I'd like that."
We looked at each other but neither of us moved. I was worried. This was new territory and I wasn't sure I was ready for it.
Ronnie was cute right then. I'm pretty sure he felt like I did. We were safe enough out in the open. There were people around. They weren't really paying attention to us, but they were there and I didn't want to upset the campground. I didn't want to get into something I couldn't handle with Ronnie, either.
I'd been forward trying to meet him, probably too forward. Now he was sitting across a picnic table from me, ready to go into a tent to ... what? We needed some ground rules. My head, for once, seemed to be in control of my loins. If it was up to them I would have flown into that tent dick first, but I felt in control of that part of me right then; barely maybe, but in control.
I smiled meekly at Ronnie. "Um, it's probably hot in there."
He turned to glance at the tent and back to me, "Yeah, it probably is. You wanna forget it?"
"NO! Um, unless you want to." I gazed helplessly at Ronnie, at that beautiful face with the hesitantly compliant expression on it. Ronnie was waiting on my lead. Why was it my turn? Why couldn't he know what to do, and show me what it was and how to do it? I had a chance. I didn't know exactly for what, but I wasn't about to pass it up. God, what did I want? Was I messed up or what?
"If it's hot we can come back out. It won't be too bad with all this fog. We can take these shirts off."
Ronnie was dressed like me, sweatshirt and bathing suit. That was pretty much what you needed for camping at the beach. The bathing suit was a constant, the sweatshirt good for cool nights and misty mornings. T-shirts were carried, not worn. Ralph used his for an eye shade sometimes, I just always brought one with me and brought it back later. It probably should have bothered me that I took time to swap out shirts that I'd never worn, but it didn't. I put unworn shirts in the dirty clothes pile with my towels. It was really time to hit the Laundromat. Technically, Friday is a week from the preceding Saturday and my mother had made me pack for a week. I needed to launder, and that was going to be a new experience too.
I looked at Ronnie, "Wanna wash clothes instead?"
He returned a dismal and unbelieving stare. He looked like he was working up some resolve and said, "No thanks. We could just sit here some more. I like looking at your face."
Those words disarmed me. When I first saw Ronnie I thought he was good looking, somewhere between cute and pretty. I had spent a few days looking at him all the time and had time to find his flaws. They were minor to begin with, but added up to make his face more interesting than a quick glance would show you. The truth was that Ron's character showed in his face, at least it matched what I thought his character was.
His face was what my father called rubbery, but I thought of as very expressive. It started with those eyebrows of his. They weren't bushy or anything, but they wouldn't stay put. They seemed to be an opposing pair of little waves above his eyes, able to contort themselves of their own volition. Then there was his nose, just a tiny bit bigger than it needed to be. Below the nose was his mouth, with lips such a dark red you'd swear he colored them.
Ronnie's teeth weren't perfect, no orthodontist had gotten his hands in there, but he kept them white and the slight crookedness only added charm to his smile. His chin bone was the other thing that seemed different. It seemed oddly detached from the rest of his jaw, able to move on its own.
The whole package added up to the most mobile and charming face I'd ever seen. His eyes were round and bright and full of humor and good cheer. Ron's face was the expression of the person behind it more than anybody I had ever met. With everything working independently, he could have multiple expressions at once.
I was sitting at the picnic table, my own cheek resting on my fist. "Ronnie?
"You know what?"
"I, um ... I like your face."
He gave me a crooked smile, "Really?"
"I do like it. You just said what you like about me, I'm gonna try to say what I like about you. It's kinda the same stuff, but not exactly. Ready?"
He gave me a quick and expectant nod.
"I like your face first. I think you're, um ... good lookin' for starters, but there's more than that. I don't know how to say this." I looked to Ron to see that he was trying to follow. "Okay, when you look at me you have to figure out what's inside, what's goin' on there. I can look at you and you're wearin' it. I mean, I can see everything just by looking. If this makes sense, you wear yourself on your face. I just figured it out, but that's what it is."
Ronnie smiled and I pointed at him, "See? I can tell you liked hearing that!"
He laughed, "I guess you got me. What else? Am I just a pretty face?"
I said, "No, you're more than that. Ralph said you're easy to know and he got that right." I looked right into his eyes, "You are easy to know, and you're a really nice guy. You don't try to mess with people's heads, don't try to be what you're not. You know when to laugh even when you have to laugh at yourself." I smiled at my own thought, "Do you know how great that is? Um, to me anyhow. I'm really self-conscious about things. You? You just roll with everything, like the whole world's a funny place."
His expression proved my point. It was a combination of surprise, humor, and 'keep it up'!
"Ronnie," I continued, "I don't know about too much. I loved Eddie and he loved me, but we never told each other. I don't think I love you, but I like you a lot and it could turn to love. All I ever wanted before was to be close to Eddie and now I want that with you. I really want to touch you, to feel you, but I don't know about sex. Everything I heard about gay sex sounds kinda gross. I don't know what you want, or even if you want." I took a deep breath, "If we go in that tent, I'll do what you want to a point. I already got half a hardon just lookin' at you, but I'm not ready for anything more than havin' one." I smiled, probably stupidly, "I like you a lot, I really, really do, but that's where I'm at right now."
Ronnie was still smiling, but the smile had become hesitant ... nervous. His voice sounded like he was thinking before saying each word. "I ... I think I'd like that too. So, ya wanna?"
I was looking into his brown eyes, not sure what I was seeing. It looked almost like he was hungry for something, and I hoped it was me. "Uh, yeah. That sounds good, let's do it."
We sat and stared at each other. Ronnie seemed as reluctant as me to make the first move, feeling that it was a giant step and not sure if it was in the right direction. I don't know why I was so hesitant. Going with Ronnie would only confirm what I already knew about myself, what he already knew about himself.
I let out a nervous little laugh, "Kinda scary, isn't it?"
"Yeah, more than I thought." He shrugged a little, "You wanna just go to the beach and think about it?"
That's exactly what I wanted to do, but this might have been our only chance to be alone during the whole trip. "No, let's do it now. Who knows if we'll ever get another chance. We can just talk inside, we don't hafta do anything."
Ronnie nodded and we remained seated, staring at each other. I finally got up the nerve to move. I pushed myself to my feet and managed to lean too far back into the bench. This caused me to go over backwards, painfully hitting the bottom of the table with the big toe of my left foot at about the same time my head hit the ground. My head didn't hurt, but my foot was screaming pain at me and I was a little disoriented. I stayed there with my head on the ground, my butt hanging off the bench and my feet up against the table bottom.
I couldn't figure out what to move first. My inclination was to raise my feet, but they kept hitting the table bottom, with the injured toe sending shooting pain clear up to my knee. Well, down to it considering my position.
Ronnie was at my side in a flash and my blurred vision of him gave me my first clue that I was crying.
He joked at first, but I guess seeing my face in tears made him change his mind. "Oh, man. Are you okay?" he asked as he knelt beside me and put a hand on my shoulder.
I fought back the tears and said, "Help me up ... down. I hurt my foot."
He looked at my feet and my general position and said, "Bend your knees. I'll get you out."
I bent my knees and he grabbed my legs and swung them around until the rest of my body joined my head on the ground with a soft thud. Thankfully, Ronnie still had my knees so my foot didn't slam to the ground. He set my ankles down gently then scurried back to look at my face. He took his shirt off and started dabbing at my eyes until I could see clearly, then what I saw was his concerned face looking like he was on the verge of tears himself.
I pushed up a little and said, "I'm okay. Does my toe look broken?"
"The big toe on my left foot. It's killin' me."
He moved to my foot to check it out. "It's not bent or anything. Want me to touch it?"
I knew there was something about his hands, his fingers. He stroked along the top of my toe from where it joined my foot so gently that I barely felt it until he reached my toenail where the pain from even Ronnie's gentle touch made me yell out. He pulled away and touched the meaty part of the tip and continued around the bottom. That tickled, but it didn't hurt. Then he squeezed gently at the joint and that didn't hurt either. I heard him say, "Uh oh."
"It's turning color under your nail. Think you can stand up? Here, let me help." He stood and turned, then held both of his hands out to me. I took them and dug my heels in. With Ronnie's help I got to my feet.
I tested my left foot and it didn't really hurt to stand on. The toenail was blackening rapidly and I wondered if it would fall off. The second I took a normal step the pain shot through me. I almost fell backwards and I'm certain that I yelped, but Ronnie was right there to steady me.
"Hey, you okay? You better lay down, man. I'll go to the ranger station and get help."
I was testing the idea of just using my heel and it didn't hurt that way, it just made me walk unsteadily. I said, "I'm okay, I just can't bend it. Help me over to the tent."
Ronnie got behind me and took hold of both my elbows while I hobbled over to the tent. I couldn't figure out how to get inside without using my toes for a second, then I sat on the ground with my back to the opening and laid back, pushing myself in with my heels. I ended up atop my sleeping bag while Ronnie climbed in and sat on Ralph's. I looked at my toe and it was pretty ugly. It only hurt when I put pressure from either side on the nail. With it pointing up in the air it didn't hurt at all. I couldn't stay like that though, and wondered what this meant for the rest of my vacation.
Ronnie laid down beside me, kind of up on one elbow. "Does it hurt? It looks like hell."
"It doesn't ache or anything. It just hurts when I bend my toe like to walk."
Ronnie reached his hand towards my foot then pulled it back. "Think ice would make it feel better?"
"I hope so. I don't wanna spend the next week in here."
Ronnie got on his knees and climbed out of the tent. He was back in a few seconds with a melty looking ice cube. "Tell me if it hurts," he said as he applied it to my toenail.
I felt nothing at first, then the cold got to me and I squirmed. It felt good after a few seconds, kind of numbing. I said, "That feels pretty good. Maybe it's no big deal."
"I hope not. It'd really suck if you had to stay in the tent." Ronnie looked at me with concern, "Is that cold enough? I can't hold onto this much more."
I said, "It's fine," as I pulled myself to a sitting position so I could take my sweatshirt off. It had been cool outside earlier, but now the tent was getting full sun and it was really hot inside. I was feeling bad for Ronnie, too. I looked at him, "Ronnie, I got the feelin' that I kinda trapped you."
He seemed surprised, "What's that mean?"
"I mean, you didn't come to the beach to meet me. You didn't come to tell the world you're gay either. You must'a had plans, then I got in your way."
Ronnie stared at me curiously for a few seconds then flashed a real grin. "You're not in the way, Bax. Don't even think it. I said I like you and I meant it. Here," he held out his hand and I stared at it, "Let's hold hands at least."
I tentatively reached out for it, then took it gently in my own. Ronnie settled in close to me, but our only contact was at the hands. We were silent for a few moments and I suppose Ronnie was wondering about this as much as I was. It felt good to be touching him, but it was odd and scary at the same time. Eddie and I had been close and touched all the time. Neither of us knew what the other felt at the time, so it was casual touching. We'd lean into each other while watching TV, give piggy back rides to one another, wrestle and fool around, lay side by side and gaze at the sky when we talked. We'd never once held hands, and I wondered what it would have been like.
After all those years together I didn't have any sense of Eddie's hands, couldn't even try to describe them except to say they were bigger than mine.
Ronnie's had appealed to me from the beginning, and having one of his in mine did nothing to diminish that appeal. His hand was soft, almost fragile feeling, but oh so sensual. Both of our palms were moist from the heat in the tent and they were getting wetter from the heat of contact. It felt almost like a bubble between us, but I wasn't letting go if Ronnie didn't.
Ronnie broke the silence, "You got dirt in your hair. Want me to get it out?"
He had already let go of my hand, so I just leaned my head forward and a little to the left so he could get at it. He didn't do what I would have done either. I would have flat handed somebody's hair until most of the offensive material was gone. Ronnie started picking it off bit by bit, finally moving behind me so he could have a better go at it. I don't know what kind of mess was there, but Ronnie was gently removing it, even blowing on my hair when something wouldn't come away easily. He balanced himself by placing his left hand on my shoulder while he cleaned me up with the right.
That stirred something in me. Ronnie didn't grab my shoulder, he put his palm against it and gently landed his fingers one at a time, starting with the little one and rolling them on so gently they seemed to have grown there. Feeling his hand on me like that sent a nice sensation through me. It wasn't really erotic at all, just an nice feeling of closeness. I guess that's not completely true. Ronnie's touch was making me a little stiff. I always used to get like that when Eddie and I were close; I just never said anything, and hoped he didn't notice.
Now I wanted Ronnie to notice, at least to tell him. I didn't want to scare him away, and at the same time I wanted him to know what I felt. I was about to say something when he beat me to it.
"Done! Your hair sure hangs onto stuff."
I almost said something, then his right hand landed on my other shoulder just as sensually as the other one had. His voice dropped a few decibels, "You look strong, Bax. I wish I had shoulders like that. I wish I had something like that."
I said, "You look pretty good to me."
"I'm a weakling, Bax. I don't do anything. I suck at sports. All I do is ride my bike and run. Oh, and skate in the winter."
I leaned a little bit back. This caused Ronnie's hands to be on my upper chest and he left them there. "Sports aren't anything important. I like my baseball and I love skiing, but that's all I do. I ride my bike too, but not like I used to." I leaned back a little further. "Do you mind hearing about Eddie? We used to bike everywhere. We took off in the morning and came back at night. It was so much fun! We got lost, but not really. I mean, we'd know where we were from the hills but not the roads. We always got home, but half the time we didn't know where we went that day. It didn't really matter, we just did it for the ride, for the heck of it."
Now Ronnie leaned forward a little. I tilted my head right and he deposited his chin on my left shoulder. He moved his hands and arms until they were joined loosely in the vicinity of my belly button. His voice dropped to almost a whisper. "That's nice, Bax. I used to have a friend like that, a kid I did everything with. Then he moved and then I moved. I'm just makin' new friends there and now we're on the road again. My mom keeps gettin' better jobs, but they're never in the same place. You ever hear of a town called Franklin?"
My heart almost stopped. "I know Franklin, is that where you're going?"
"Yup, beautiful downtown Franklin."
I leaned back into Ronnie. I caught him off balance and he collapsed backwards onto the sleeping bag with me right on top of him. I rolled off and pushed up with one hand so I could look right at him. "Just for your information, beautiful downtown Franklin ain't five miles from where I live. There's even a bus, Ronnie. I think it costs like fifty cents!"
Suddenly things with Ron didn't seem impossible. He didn't have to be just somebody I met on the beach and got up the nerve to talk to. We didn't have to hurry things and squeeze everything into the confines of this vacation. I really liked Ronnie as a person, and was intrigued by the fact that he was another gay person. Neither of us knew yet what to do with that second part, but I'm sure that time constraints would have led me to try something stupid before the next week was out. Now we had time to figure things out. Just knowing that had me grinning at him. "We're gonna be neighbors! Let's be friends too, okay?"
Ronnie smiled shyly, "I thought we were friends."
"We are. I just mean I thought it would end after vacation. Now we can be friends all the time."
Ronnie's smile turned into a little grin as he pondered that, his eyebrows really dancing with his thoughts. "Oh yeah, that's gonna be great. I like it."
I said, "Way too cool. Wanna go down to the beach?"
He pushed himself up, "Yeah, that's just what I wanna do. You think you can walk okay?"
"I guess I won't know 'til I try." I grinned, "You might hafta carry me."
"Yeah, sure. If I try that we'll both break. See if it still hurts."
I tried and it did. "I dunno, maybe I should wear my sandals." I pointed them out and Ronnie handed them to me. My sandals were the kind with wide straps. I got them on managing to avoid my problem toe, then crawled out of the tent with my towel and the radio. When I stood up I realized that I couldn't walk normally without it hurting, but if I stuck to just using the heel of my left foot it didn't hurt as much. I did a little practice walk around the tent site and decided I'd be fine if I remembered to be careful.
We started walking towards the beach. Trying to walk on my heel was making my leg ache a little. We ran into Ralph and Dickie about halfway there. They'd only caught two small fish, but Dickie was all proud of himself anyhow. We agreed to meet on the beach after they got their things.
When Ronnie and I got onto the sand we found a nice spot near the breakwater and plopped down there. I found a good station on the radio and gave Ronnie some money to buy sodas with. I watched him until he disappeared on the boardwalk, thinking that I was a pretty lucky guy to meet another gay kid as nice as he was. When Ronnie was out of sight and I turned my gaze away I caught the eyes of a guy on a towel close to mine.
I wasn't good with ages, but he was probably twenty five or older. Something told me I'd been caught at the same game I'd played on Ronnie. I quickly looked away and started fiddling with the radio, but I was certain I'd been caught in the act. When I got the radio back on the station I'd started with I looked toward the boardwalk, hoping to find Ronnie on his way back. I could see the guy out of the corner of my eye, and he was staring at me.
I was totally embarrassed and didn't know what to do with myself. I took my sandals off and hobbled towards the water just to get out of sight. The beach we were at wasn't on the open ocean and didn't have a real surf. The little waves that rolled in weren't more than a foot high and I thought they'd feel good on my injured toe. I thought wrong. The force of the water landing on my foot brought instant tears to my eyes as the pain shot through me. I stumbled backwards a few steps and fell on my butt, holding my left foot by the ankle. The pain was immense and I was squeezing my eyes shut to keep from outright crying.
When the pain subsided a little I started to relax, then I heard an incredibly deep voice ask, "Are you alright? Was it a jellyfish? What happened?"
I knew who it was going to be without looking, but I looked anyhow and the guy was just starting to kneel down beside me. I looked back at my foot and said, "No, I hurt my toe before. I thought the water would make it feel better."
He leaned in to look at my foot, "Let me see."
I moved my left leg away from him a little and said, "It's okay, you don't hafta bother." The guy looked at me then. He was probably older than I thought at first, maybe around thirty or even more. He had a really dark tan and short brown hair. He looked almost like some kind of body builder, all muscle and no fat. He had a little tattoo of a pink rose on his left arm and was wearing a gold chain around his neck. I said, "I'm okay. I guess I'll go back to my friends now."
I started to push up on my heels, not looking at his face anymore. He asked, "What's your name?"
"I ... I gotta go. Thanks."
I got up and hurried back to our spot, almost hopping across the sand to get there. To my relief Ralph and Dickie were hurrying towards the same spot with their own gear. I knelt down on my towel just as they were spreading out theirs, then I saw Ronnie coming with sodas and some bags of chips. I felt safe in company, wondering what I was afraid of to begin with.
Before Dickie even sat down, he spied a kid his age that he'd made friends with and went to go swimming with him. That left me with Ronnie and Ralph, who were just settling in.
I whispered to Ronnie and Ralph, "Don't turn around, but there's a queer guy right over there," indicating the direction with my eyes.
Ronnie turned to look while Ralph stared at me, a little smile forming on his face. "Imagine that! A queer guy right here on the same beach as me." His smile turned to a grin and he laughed out, "I'm tellin' my mommy!"
I stared at Ralph in amazement for a second before I got his point. Who the hell was I to talk? I was queer and I was on the beach.
I was also sharing a tent with Ralph, eating my meals with him, taking showers with him. Why the hell did that guy make me nervous?
I knew why before I finished thinking the question. The guy was me fifteen years or so down the road, and my fear of him was really a fear of facing that. I knew I was gay in the here and now, I just never considered the prospect that I would always be gay. That's what was scary, knowing that I could never really follow in my father's footsteps, so to speak. It was an unknown thing, a thing that hadn't been thought about. Would I end up cruising beaches for little boys to play with? That's a prospect, huh?
Then I cursed myself. I had no right to think that. The guy had seen me in pain and offered to help, nothing more and nothing less. I was the one who had jumped to conclusions. I didn't know that he was gay, I just thought it because of the way he looked at me. For all I knew he had seen the queer in me and come over to smack me for being there. I looked sheepishly at Ralph's smile. "I think I have a character flaw."
Ralph laughed. Ronnie heard my comment and I heard his bemused voice ask, "That's what it is? Hey Ralph, how do you fix a character flaw?"
Ralph was still laughing, "How should I know? Murder maybe? I got it! Death by tickling!"
With that he dove at me and attacked my ribs. Ronnie had no way of knowing, but I was exceptionally ticklish and my reaction was pretty violent. I didn't squeal, I screamed loud enough that I think every lifeguard on the beach checked the water for a shark attack. I screamed some more. I bounced trying to get away, but Ralph had me good. When he finally relented I was red and sweating, still giggling. All through it I didn't hurt my toe once.
The worst part is that there was no chance of revenge with Ralph. He didn't have a ticklish bone in his body. Yes, I'd tried. He'd squirm at the sudden pressure on his ribs only because it was sudden, not because it did what it did to me.
When I could breathe again I said, "I gotta take a leak. Anybody want anything?"
Ralph said no and Ronnie said he'd go with me. He helped me to my feet and we headed towards the boardwalk, me hobbling. I noticed the guy still looking at us, so I left Ronnie and went over to him. "Sorry I was rude before. Listen, I'm straight, but the guy in the red bathing suit kinda wants to meet you. His name's Ralph"
The man opened his mouth to say something but I hobbled back to Ronnie and we went on our way.
"What'd you say to him? Is he really queer?" Ron asked.
I had no idea. It didn't matter right then. Either way I'd gotten one over on Ralph.
We used the toilets, then lingered on the boardwalk for awhile. I told Ronnie the water hurt my foot and said he didn't have to stay with me if he wanted to swim. He said it was okay, he didn't feel like swimming anyhow.
It was nice leaning on the railing like that. The haze had pretty much burned off the beach, and we were in the sun, but haze was still evident over the water, and there was no real dividing line between water and sky. A few of the kids we'd met in the campground stopped and leaned with us for awhile. Nobody talked much, it was that kind of day. A lazy, hazy day of summer like the song said. When those guys continued on their way Ronnie and I stayed, sneaking glances at each other, smiling when we did it at the same time and were caught in the act.
Then Ralph came into view. He hadn't seen us and turned into the men's room. When he came out I could tell he was looking for me. He checked out the area around the concession, then he spotted me. He didn't walk towards us, he marched like a man on a mission. I turned and smiled generously just as he got to where we were.
Ralph poked me in the chest, then wagged his finger in front of my face. "You are soooo dead, Baxter!" He looked at Ronnie, "If you have any smarts, get away from this guy! Do you know what he just did?"
Ronnie shook his head in astonishment. "N - no!"
Ralph smiled broadly when he looked back at me. "You're fuckin' good, I'll give you that, but I swear you're gonna pay! You just wait 'til school starts, I'm gonna tell everyone on the football team you think they're cute ... sexy ... something!" He looked back at Ronnie, "This bastard told that guy I was checkin' him out!" He whirled back to me and the finger was back in my face, "You're just lucky he's not stupid, Baxter!"
I backed up as far as I could, not sure if Ralph was really angry or just playing at it. "W-w-what happened?"
Ralph glared at me, "I'll tell you what happened!" then he broke out in a smile, "He's a nice guy, Bax. You're right that he's gay, but he only talked to you because he thought you got bit or somethin'. He knows you thought he was hittin' on you, and he feels bad."
I think my jaw dropped. I could be a pro. 'DENNIS BAXTER: CERTIFIED PROFESSIONAL IDIOT'.
A humbled me looked down and mumbled, "I'm sorry, Ralph. I was just tryin' to get back at you for the tickling." I looked up into his eyes. Ralph was pretty easy to read, and I found his usual humor there. He wasn't really mad, just busting my chops. I thought to ask, "Is that guy mad?"
I could see the change in Ralph. I already knew he wasn't really angry and I could tell then that he was actually concerned. "Nah, he's not mad. His name's Tom, by the way." Ralph looked at me and then Ronnie. "You guys should talk to him. You don't know what you want; it's all over your faces. I um ... I can't help, but maybe he can."
I looked at Ralph, my friend, and realized what a good one he really was. He'd taken my joking dirty trick and tossed it back to me with his own brand of humor and sincerity. Ralph always figured things out, always made wrong seem right. I had my chance with this Tom, the chance to be polite and civil. I blew it because I perceived him to be a gay man.
Ralph was okay with it and I wasn't, so go figure that one out. Ralph was as straight as whatever metaphor or simile you wanted to use to describe him. He could talk to a gay stranger and I couldn't, and I had no way to explain that to myself.
I looked sadly at Ralph, "Does he know ... I mean ... did he figure out ..."
"That you're gay?"
"I don't know, Bax. He didn't say anything." He looked back and forth at Ronnie and me, "Jeez, go talk to the guy! He's not gonna bite."
I knew that. I nudged Ronnie, "Whattya think? You wanna talk to him?"
Ronnie hadn't been saying much, now his eyes were like saucers. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it and shook his head slowly. "Um, you talk to him if you want." He turned a pleadingly serious stare to Ralph, "Nobody knows about me, Ralph. Nobody 'cept you and Bax, and that's the way I want to keep it." He looked at me too, "It's not funny. You guys joke around all you want. Just leave me out of it, okay?"
He turned and started walking away down the boardwalk. I was devastated and turned a helpless look to Ralph. He said, "I'll talk to him. You leave us alone, okay?"
I nodded, and Ralph hurried after Ronnie. When he caught up with him they were far out of my hearing range, but Ronnie looked angry as he talked to Ralph. After a minute they continued walking away, and I saw Ralph drape an arm across Ron's shoulder before they disappeared behind other people.
I leaned against the railing furious with myself, thinking I could screw up a wet dream. I shouldn't have treated Ronnie as casually as I did Ralph; I hadn't known him long enough to learn his sore spots. I should have recognized that his silence meant something. It was out of character for him, and I hadn't paid attention to that because I was all wrapped up in what Ralph was saying.
Ralph was trying to fix things again and I didn't think I deserved it. I hurt my best friend Eddie, actually caused him to get hurt. We were friends again, but now he had something I wanted. I tried to find that something with Ronnie and pushed too hard at first. Ralph had stepped in and gotten us talking, and we'd made some progress. Now my flip attitude had scared Ronnie away again, had Ralph trying to repair things yet another time on my behalf.
I wondered how long it would be before Ralph got sick of me. He had to have better things to do than clean up my messes. I sure hadn't done him any favors. He'd invited me along on this vacation to have somebody he knew to have fun with. Instead he ended up with my own personal soap opera, himself starring as the good guy. In return he got not one, but two gay kids gawking at him all the time, plus the bratty little brother of one of them.
In my mind Ralph was a saint. He'd hoped to hook up with a girl on this trip, but I'd taken up all his time. Poor Ralph had foot in mouth disease around girls anyhow, and I suddenly decided that might be a way I could start to return his patience and kindness. I'd find him a girl, make him the happy person he deserved to be! I wasn't afraid of girls like Ralph was. I had no reason to be.
That could wait a few minutes. First I had to apologize to this Tom guy, face my fears, learn what life was going to be like. I touched my right heel to the sore toe on my left foot just to cause myself some pain and remind myself that I was alive.
Alive I was. I almost screamed. I started walking back, then decided not to approach empty handed. I stopped at the concession stand and got a Coke and a 7-UP. He had to like one or the other.
I walked back towards our towels and saw Tom stretched out on his towel soaking up some sun. I knelt beside him before he realized I was there and said, "Coke or 7-UP?"
He started a little, then smiled. "Hey, how's your foot? You bought me a soda? 7-UP's good."
I handed it to him and sat in the sand, taking him in. Thirty-five-ish looked right for an age. He wasn't really what you'd call a handsome guy, but he had nice enough features, especially his smile. It was a lot like Ronnie's, all bright teeth that weren't particularly straight. I mumbled, "I'm sorry. I was just foolin' around before. Ralph said .. um," I blushed, "Ralph said you were a nice guy."
Tom just stared at me, so I continued. "I'm sorry I freaked out. You're like me. I could tell, and it scared me."
He smiled an understanding smile that was remarkably like the ones I got from my father when we had our little moments of truth. "It is pretty scary isn't it? I mean to know you're different."
"Yeah, it's real scary."
His expression became concerned, "I didn't frighten you because of anything I did?"
"NO! It's not that ... I ..."
He smiled a little smile, "You saw me for what I am, a gay man." His smile stayed, "It's okay. I don't hide it anymore. I'm gay, and nowadays I suppose it's fairly obvious. If you're worried, don't be. I'm not into sex with kids like you, though I was when I was your age. Your little Italian friend is gay too, isn't he?"
I almost answered for Ronnie, then realized I had no right to do that. I didn't have a fast enough answer and Tom said, "You're right, it's not your place to say or my place to ask. I take it you have questions, or you wouldn't be here."
I took stock of him and breathed deeply, "What's it like? I mean, the reason I ran away was ... well it wasn't ... I don't know what I mean. I think I was afraid because I'm gay, and never thought about always bein' gay."
Tom smiled at me, not a little one but a real sunbeam smile. "Believe it or not I was your age once. I was queer and I knew it, I just didn't have a frame of reference. It wasn't something that got talked about to begin with. I knew I was different, I just didn't have a word for it, not even words to explain it. Back then homosexuality was considered to be both a disease and a crime." He giggled, "I'm lucky I was young and dumb, because if I ever said what was on my mind I would have been either jailed or sent to the looney bin."
Tom smiled a little more sardonically, "It's not funny, kid, but at least being queer has a few one syllable words now, and you don't go to jail for it anymore." He had seemed pretty tense, but it seemed to lift. "I thought it was just me, I didn't know what to do with it for the longest time." He looked at me earnestly, "You want to hear it?"
I nodded and tried to get more comfortable, finally going to get my own towel to sit on. Tom told me his story, how he grew into his teens in a small town in Maine, in the mid 1950s. His life was pretty normal for where he lived except that he had feelings for other boys, feelings he never described to anyone, feelings he could never act on. He didn't even have a word to put to those feelings until there was a scandal somewhere, and he heard the word homosexual. Then he spent all his free time in the library trying hard but unsuccessfully to find out about it. He did learn that it was called a practice, that people thought it was a choice made by deviant men. Tom had to piece things together, learning about words like sodomy and fellatio and trying to figure out what it all meant.
During that time he fooled around with some other boys, but only if they initiated it, and nothing more than masturbating together. It wasn't until he was fifteen and on a school trip that he actually got involved with another boy, albeit briefly. That little liaison, which he didn't detail for me, taught him that he was indeed queer, and in it for the long run.
Nothing else happened until he was out of high school and moved to Boston, where lots of things changed. He got involved in what he called 'the scene', and basically went sex crazy for a few years, lots of one night stands and fleeting romances. Then he fell in love at age twenty-two, and had been with his partner Paul ever since. Tom owned a moderately successful art supply store and Paul managed a good-sized upscale restaurant. They'd carved out a pretty nice life for themselves and, according to Tom, they were hopelessly and irrevocably in love.
It was an interesting story, fascinating to me. I had questions. I understood his past, but he had just skirted around the important parts. I wanted to know about sex, about love. I didn't know how to ask, so I just stared at Tom hoping he'd read the questions on my face or something.
He read it and asked, "What? Something wrong?"
I blushed horrifically through what was mostly tan now, still some sunburn. "I ... em ... I don't get the part about sex. I mean, do guys really ... uh ...uh ..." I looked pleadingly, "Do they really?"
Tom looked at me gently for a moment, then said, "It's called gay sex, Dennis." He seemed to understand my consternation and continued, "Yes, it's true and it can be wonderful." I was still wide eyed. "Listen, Dennis. You're clearly not ready, so don't do anything right now, but you'll learn. Men can have sex with men just like they can have sex with women." His smile brightened, "Well, almost like that anyhow."
I just stared and Tom continued, "Don't be afraid of it. Two guys can make each other feel fantastic, and if you add love to the mix it's pure bliss, just like regular guys have with women." His brows furrowed, "I shouldn't have said it that way. Don't think for one second that you're not a regular guy, Dennis. You're as regular as Ralph in the man department; he told me what a good pitcher you are. Your sex life is your own business, and it has nothing to do with anything else."
I'm sure I was goggle eyed in disbelief and it made Tom chuckle.
"I'm not kidding. Sex may drive some of the things you do, but it's just a need like anything else." He shook his head, "Sorry, it's not a need until you need it. It's a function. Sort of like eating and drinking." He smiled, "Sex isn't up there with eating, drinking, and sleeping, it's just that the announcement of sexual need is sometimes more strongly pronounced."
I was starting to get it, and I smiled a little. "Okay, when you're hungry you eat. When you're thirsty ..."
Tom bounced, "That's it. You got it! When you're horny you ..." He gulped, "Well, that's up to you. Listen one more time, Dennis. There's an element we're leaving out, and that's that you have to live a life too. All the eat, drink, be merry, get laid stuff is fine, but there's still a world you have to live in, people you have to deal with. I do it on my own terms now, but it took me some time to get where I am."
I asked, "You like where you are?"
Tom beamed, "I love where I am, Dennis. Things could be better. I mean, you'd have to be blind to not realize I'm queer. Most people just let that go by them because they want what I have to sell. Others, well ... let's just leave that alone for now. At least I'm not considered a mental case because I love Paul." Tom gave me a serious stare, "There was a singer when I was younger, Buddy Holly, he sang, 'Love is love and not fade away'. The words confused me at first, but now I know what they mean."
He smiled and I asked, "What?"
He smiled again, "'Not fade away meant the same as real, maybe permanent's a better word, to whoever wrote the song. That's what the words said, My love is real and not fade away, like if that love wasn't real it would just fade away. It's a nice thought Dennis, a nice way to think about things if you find a true love ... that it won't fade away." He saw my confusion, "Sorry. If you're really in love it can't fade away. It can get lost, stolen ... lots of things." Tom laid back down on his towel for the first time since I got there, a nice smile on his face, "True love won't fade, not anymore than first love will. You'll see, Dennis, you'll see."
I understood. My first love was Eddie and that would never fade away.
I looked around the beach. Where the hell were Ralph and Ron?
Love is love and not fade away.
I'd heard it: Buddy Holly, the Rolling Stones.
I wanna tell you how it's gonna be
You're gonna give your love to me!
Where are they?
I wanna love you night and day.
You know my love not fade away.
I thanked Tom and excused myself to look for Ralph and Ronnie. I hobbled up to the boardwalk and couldn't spot them, then tried from the jetty.
Not fade away.
Not fade away.
Good words, perfect words.
I'd work things out with Ronnie, whatever it took.
I wouldn't fade away, not ever!