Plan D:Lake Effect

by Driver

Chapter 8

Sunday morning came all at once, and with a bang and a roar. The bang turned into a rumble of thunder. "Jesus!" Aaron cried, "I bet that woke you up!"

I giggled, "It did." I opened my eyes, and could see an unnaturally black sky outside, and rain was pelting the windows. The roar I heard was rain on the roof. It was early in the year for thunderstorms, and morning ones were uncommon as it was. I still liked the fact that it was storming outside, and that was just because I liked waking up to loud rain outside. I didn't wish to be out in it, but I liked thunder and lightning, and I loved storms that just blew in like this one seemed to have done. "When did this start?" I asked, looking at Aaron. He was sitting up kind of wide-eyed, his frizz out at all angles, and it made me giggle.

He said, "It just started. The wind came up, then the rain, and that first bang sounded like it was right out the window."

There was a good flash of lightning outside, and the thunderclap that followed it made me blink, it was so loud and sharp. "Wow!" I said, climbing out of bed. I headed toward the window saying, "I want to watch!"

Aaron was beside me in an instant, and he pulled a little bench over so we could watch the storm sitting down. It was a pretty wild sight outside. The rain was coming down in buckets, and the wind had trees bending right over while it whipped up big whitecaps on the lake. It was the kind of storm that might cause some damage, but it also might not.

It was definitely right over our heads, and the lightning bolts were huge. For a few minutes, the thunder was almost continuous, then the worst was over. It rained for another twenty minutes or so, but less and less all the time. The lightning moved out of our sight, and the thunder came from farther and farther away. The sky brightened, then there was blue over the far end of the lake. By the time we'd finished our shower together, it was a bright, sunny morning outside, albeit kind of soggy.

Aaron guessed correctly that the fishing trip was off for the time being. The lake was too unsettled for the fish to rise, and the boats were undoubtedly full of water anyhow.

We actually thought we'd be the only ones up when we went to the kitchen, but Lee and Justin's friend, Greg had beaten us. Not by much, apparently, because the coffee was still brewing. I greeted them by saying, "What a storm! Did it wake you up?"

"I was already awake," Greg said. "It sure got me out of bed, though. That thunder sounded like it was right in the room with me."

I nodded, and the guys started talking a little while the coffee brewed. I took the fruit from the refrigerator and started arranging it on plates, and I was pretty full from tasting by the time I had it looking good. The grapes, cantaloupe and pineapple were all juicy and sweet, and the bananas were fine. None of the other things were particularly bad, but they weren't wonderful either. The beautiful looking strawberries were faint of flavor, as was the honeydew melon, and the kiwis weren't nearly as sweet as I was used to.

The plates looked good, though, and I told the guys already there to just dig in, then I sat down with a coffee. Aaron had wandered off somewhere, so I told Greg about my baseball coach's strange behavior when he learned I was gay. Lee had heard it before. He listened idly for awhile, then started some bacon going, still listening.

Greg said, "You make it sound like he's a good coach. Maybe he just decided he'd better be a good coach again."

I looked at him, considering the plausibility of that. I said, "He really is a good coach. He even makes gym drills fun, but I think something else is going on. Somebody said he was talking about me to the other coach yesterday, but not by my name, just that he was stuck with a gay guy on his team."

Greg stroked his chin, and it looked like the wheels were really grinding in his head. "Okay, tell me again. He wanted you off the team, and told you it was players who really wanted that, right?"

I nodded. Greg went on, "When you didn't go away, he used you to start, then coached your hitting?"

"My power hitting," I said. "Then my bunting. I never bunted for real before in my life." I chuckled, "I don't care if I ever do again, either, but at least now I know how."

Greg looked at me and he thought for a long time, finally shrugging and saying, "I don't know what to say, Evan, I really don't." He gave a weak smile, "Maybe he's on drugs?"

I snickered, "I really doubt that. I guess I'll have to wait and see what happens next. I didn't know what he'd do, but I didn't expect to see any playing time. I don't know, I just don't. I still get the feeling that he's up to something."

Greg smiled, "You're playing, that's the big thing." His expression changed, "Hey, what's with the shooting thing at your school? Your guidance counselor was booking bets?"

I groaned, "That's what they say." I nodded at Lee when he turned around, "The kid he shot was picking on Lee. I went to guidance that same day, and talked to the guy who killed himself. I thought Ron ... the kid who was picking on Lee ... was being abused or something, so I reported it. Then a few hours later we're under lock down. I had to find out what happened from television."

Greg's eyes were wide, and I knew that he was impressed with me. I wasn't just Evan anymore. Now I was involved in a school shooting. I wasn't a shooter or a victim, but I'd interacted with both of them on the day it happened. I smiled inwardly and changed the subject. "I didn't even know there was gambling in the school. I mean, I never heard of it!"

Greg's eyes looked like they might fall out of his face. "You lie!" he said emphatically.

I sensed Lee beside me, so this subject interested him. Greg said, "I don't know about your school, but at Riverton there's gambling all over the place." He looked flustered, and started fiddling with his hands, switching his spoon back and forth between them. "I ... tell me this. You've never seen people betting on games? Never bought a numbers ticket? I mean, in our school there are pools on absolutely everything that gets played. If tiddledywinks was a sport they'd be gambling on that!"

I suddenly felt stupid and naive, and you can throw blind into that mix. Pools. Of course. Somebody would make squares on a piece of cardboard, and you'd buy some number of squares, and each would represent something, something one person could win by. Sometimes it was a matrix for the final score of a game, sometimes the inning a baseball game was won in, sometimes something more esoteric. Still, for games played by our school teams, and college and pro games, there were any number of pools that you could play in. I'd done it more times than I could think of, and never once considered it to be gambling.

The numbers were there, too. For any given pro-sporting event, at least for any sport that anyone cared about, there were many pools floating around the school. There were twenty-five cent ones and dollar ones, meaning the price of a square. Each card for a pool had a hundred squares, so was worth either twenty-five or a hundred dollars. It had never once dawned on me that it wasn't a winner-take-all proposition, though. The money was always, always, always split between the winner and whoever was running the pool, with the winner getting around seventy-five percent.

Greg started to say something, but I held up my hand. "Let me think about this." That's what I did, and even with no way to know the real numbers, I could guess at a ballpark, and the dollars involved had to be astounding.

High school games probably didn't generate much, but the pros were a different story. For the Super Bowl - just one game - there had to be a hundred pools floating around that school, and the dollar limit went out the window. They had games up to ten bucks a square. The college basketball playoffs didn't get that much per game, but there were a lot of games Add the NBA, the NFL, pro-baseball, hockey, and the magnitude of the gambling that took place right under my nose ... nay, that I participated in, became apparent.

It was all done out in the open, too. You could give your money away right in the cafeteria or in home room, in the locker rooms before and after gym, and on the front steps before and after school. It wasn't just students, either. Teachers played, as did custodians and kitchen workers, office staff and assistant principals. It was a free-for-all, and it took Greg to make me recognize it.

Gambling wasn't just buying lottery tickets or playing slot machines at a casino. No. I hate to admit this, but gambling was fun. My high horse had taken off and left me in that kitchen at the lake, and I had to face the fact that I was a gambler, too. An exuberant one, sometimes. I could play cards with plastic chips for the rest of my life, but every time I laid a dime down on a pool I was gambling every bit as much as Amarillo Slim did.

I finally slumped, hitting the table with my chin. "I'm an idiot," I said. "I never saw it ... never thought that it was gambling." I smiled weakly, "Don't even say it, because of course it is. I do it myself. Not like some guys, but I play those games too, and they're fun."

Greg smiled, "They're fun."

Just then, Aaron's grandfather came down, and he was immediately followed by everyone else in the house. I gulped down my lukewarm coffee and hurried to get a refill, relinquishing my seat along with any possibility of getting it back.

Aaron had disappeared, so I went looking for him. When it became apparent that he wasn't in the house, I looked around outside, and eventually found him working on the driftwood he'd started on the day before. He was all intent on it, too, and he didn't hear me come up on him. I watched for a minute, and he was carving what looked like a knob into the one piece that had a bend in it, then a split. He was whittling or carving, and he had no idea I was there watching him, which made me chary of letting him know I was there lest he chop off a finger or something. I finally backed away as silently as I could, then put a respectable distance between us before I walked back toward him, humming this time.

He looked around when he heard me, and he smiled. "Hi."

I kept walking to him, and said, "Hi. What is that?"

Aaron looked at his project, then turned a smile to me, "It's a big bird, I hope. Not like the Big Bird, just a pelican or something." He smiled meekly, "One with a big beak. I don't think it'll look like anything specific."

I chuckled, then watched him work for a little while He noticed me goofing off and said, "You could help, you know."

I said, "I'll help. What should I do?"

"In the shed ... the one attached to the garage ... I need some things. I need paint and a brush. Bring a shovel, too, one with a pointy end. Oh, and a drill. There's a hand drill out there. If you can't find it, ask Justin what he did with it. That should do it."

I grinned, "At your service! Is, um, is there any particular color of paint you want? Is there a wheelbarrow or something in there?"

Aaron said, "Bring all the colors you can find. There won't be many. Oh, I need thinner and some coffee cans to mix it in. And yes, there's a garden cart leaning against the garage."

"Got it," I said. "Do I have time for a coffee, or do you want things right away?"

Aaron's expression changed. "Coffee. Boy, that sounds good. I'll go with you." He stood and we started walking. "I need a chisel or something anyhow," Aaron told me. "I want to do something for eyes, but I'm not sure what yet. I need something round."

I decided not to make a wisecrack. I'd seen plenty of Aaron's creations, and he was pretty clever. I don't know what compelled him to make trees out of bottles and a bird out of driftwood, but the idea came to him immediately when he saw those logs. I didn't want to interrupt his creativity with a lot of questions. I'd just wait, then admire the finished product.

There was some activity outside when we approached the house, and Aaron's father waved us over to where he was. They needed some muscle in the back of the house. The pontoon boat had been sitting on its trailer in the yard, and the wind had managed to knock it over on its side. It was strapped to the trailer, which was also on its side, but it wasn't lined up with the bottom of the boat anymore.

Forgetting coffee, we stood with all the other people and pondered the situation. It wasn't funny because it was a really nice boat, and it presented a serious problem.

It was hard to see if the side of the boat that was on the ground had been damaged seriously, but it was easy to see that the trailer's wheel well on that side was in the perfect position to inflict some real damage if we weren't careful moving it.

There was a lot of thinking going on; a lot of chins cupped between fingers, a lot of head scratching. There was no obvious solution given the absence of a crane of some kind. I don't know about the other guys, but every idea I had that seemed promising fell apart on further consideration. That boat had to go up before it could be righted, and it was far to heavy to move by hand.

We were standing around, exchanging thoughts and collectively beginning to despair of a solution. Just when Aaron handed me a cup of coffee, John Balls said, "Okay, how's this?" We turned to him as one. I hadn't noticed before because I was looking at the boat, but John wasn't wearing a shirt, and he turned out to be really well built, in a wiry kind of way. He had wide shoulders and his arm muscles seemed to want to flex of their own accord. He also had nipple rings, and a jangly looking contraption in his navel. That one had to hurt.

"The side of the boat on the ground has to come up," John said. "If we can get it up higher than that fender we should be able to just push it back on the trailer. That means we have to hold the trailer up right where it is, or it could turn over the other way and crash everything."

That was well spoken, and about what I thought. John continued, "The boat's not too hard. We can tie off the front to a tree to keep it in place, then put a rope over the top of my van and pull it up with a car. I'm not sure about the trailer. We really need some kind of giant jacks." He looked at Aaron's father, "Is there somebody around here with a forklift or a loader of some kind?"

"The marina," Mr. Castle said, "But if we ask them they'll want salvage value." His look blanked out, "Nobody I know of."

"I saw one yesterday," Justin said. "Not a big one, though, just one of those Bobcats. It's down by the church in someone's yard."

Mrs. Castle smiled at her husband, and said gently, "Dear, we do have insurance here." There was amusement galore in her voice, "As a matter of fact, you work for the insurance company, and your father ran it for years. Can't you just make a phone call?"

Aaron's dad gave her a dirty look and held it until he thought of something to say. "We could do that, but who knows when we could find a contractor. This boat is in a very precarious position the way it is. If the wind comes up again it could go over, and that might be the end of it."

His wife nodded suspiciously, and he went on, smiling a little as he gestured around at the rest of us. "There's enough manpower here to do this right now, and this ... this ..." he gestured to John Balls, "this young man has a sound idea." He looked at John, "What's your name again?"

"John Balls."

"Yes, of course." He smirked at his wife, "Young Mr. Balls has a sound idea, and if we can find someone with a bulldozer we should trust it to work." He shrugged, "If we don't find equipment, then we can call the marina, but that's not my preference."

"They're leeches down there," his father offered. "If something's worth a dime they'll get a dollar for it, sure as shit."

Aaron's mother rolled her eyes and turned to go, turning back at the door to say, "Be careful. I prefer my heros alive!"

Justin grinned, "I'll go see about the Bobcat. How high should I say we'll go?"

His father shrugged, "Start at fifty an hour. Go higher until they say yes, but over fifty it's for the job, not by the hour."

"Gotcha," Justin said. "C'mon, guys, let's go make a deal."

He took off with his friends, and the rest of us went about setting up. We needed rope, and there was lots of that, and a wide variety. John and I chose what we'd need, then a bunch of us began tying off the boat and the trailer.

Justin was back before long with bad news. There was a lady at the house with the Bobcat, but her husband was gone for the weekend. She'd be happy to let us borrow it, but only with assurances that somebody actually knew how to run one.

I smiled and held up my hand like I was volunteering in class. "That would be me," I said.

Justin looked at me, "I think she wants proof, Evan."

"She can call Bobcat. They all know me."

"Really?" Justin grinned. "Get in the car, then."

We drove to town, and the Bobcat was at the last house before you got to the main road. It was a small house with a tidy yard, and the 'lady' Justin spoke of didn't look much over twenty. She smiled when we got out, and after exchanging names I knew she was from the South.

She was surprised by my age more than suspicious when I said I could run the machine, and it only took me offering to call Bobcat for her, and my knowing the number, to let us take it. It was a 753 model, and it was all muddy, so we promised to clean it up and fill the tank for her kindness.

It ran fine, which was the big thing. Justin drove behind me, and we were soon back at Castle's hassle, a name that was gaining merit with me. I got a little cheer from the others when I drove into the back yard, and I brought the machine up close to the trailer so we could see what else we needed to do.

What John had proposed would work, but Aaron's father had a different idea. It was similar, but had me lifting the boat with the Bobcat, and others using the van to lower the trailer while I pushed the boat up onto it. That way we'd have control from two directions, which made sense to all of us.

It worked, too. We put John's van sidelong to the trailer, then pulled the up-side of the trailer tight over the van roof with ropes tied to the grandfather's truck. I used the Bobcat bucket, which we padded heavily with old moving blankets and life jackets, to lift the boat and push, while Aaron's grandfather backed up, letting the trailer down gently. Nothing even bounced when the boat and trailer came down together, that's how well it worked out.

It turned out that there was a little damage to both boat and trailer. The boat only had dented trim, while the trailer had a bent fender. Neither would interfere with their use, and despite promises to the contrary, I didn't expect to see repairs any time too soon. It was the kind of minor damage a guy could live with.

I was thirsty afterwards, and drank some water from the hose I was using to wash the Bobcat. Lee and Bruce came up to me kind of timidly, and Bruce asked, "Do you really know how to work with that, Evan?"

I nodded. He smiled, "Why are we fixing the beach with shovels and rakes, then? You could just drive over it and be done in two minutes."

He was right, but I called them slackers anyhow, then took the half-clean machine out to the beach. It took more than two minutes, more like five, but I leveled the beach, then told those guys to finish washing the Bobcat for compensation.

Before they could get to it, Aaron's grandfather came over and asked, "How long do you have this machine for? There's a piece of ground here that's been rough since I can remember. It makes it kind of useless for anything."

I grinned, "Show me where!"

He did. After I discerned that he didn't care about the existing grass, I did something I'd seen but never tried. The Bobcat salesmen always did it, and the principle was simple enough. I pulled the left side tight into reverse and pushed forward on the right, then revved it until the machine was spinning in its own length, and lowered the bucket slowly. That chopped off the high spots with the side of the bucket. I kept moving around until I thought I was done, then I got out and looked. It needed more, and when I was finally done, the ground was pulverized, level, and ready for planting. I was grinning like a fool, too, wondering how someone could even ask to be paid for having that kind of fun. It occurred to me why Harlan Blaine was such a happy man.

This all happened by mid-morning, and when I was bringing the shiny, clean Bobcat back to its owner's house, I saw a dark green SUV coming up the road. I knew that particular vehicle too, for no good reason other than it was as ugly as its driver. Chris! I looked behind, and only Justin's car was following me, so I drifted toward the middle of the road and stopped when I was over enough to block the oncoming lane. I lowered the bucket just enough to hide my face. When I could hear Chris stop, I lowered the bucket to the road and glowered at him. One of the neat things you can do with a Bobcat is exert a positive downward pressure with the front arm, so when the bucket hit the pavement I kept it going, and that lifted the front wheels right off the road.

It took Chris a minute, but when he realized it was me and not some other madman out to kill him, he burst out laughing. I couldn't hear him, but I could see that he was busting a gut, and it made me laugh hard myself. I jumped out and went to his window, which he was powering down. "Nice move, Evie!" he said. "I thought I was being attacked by the killer ... " he looked at the Bobcat, " ... whatever that is."

"It's a skid-steer loader." I chuckled, "Go on up to the house, I'll be back in a few. I just have to return this Bobcat."

Chris grinned, "Maybe I'll wait here. I haven't been here before, you remember."

I shrugged, "Okay, pull over. That's Justin behind me in the black Maxima. Just follow us when we go by."

Chris pulled over while I was climbing back into the Bobcat, after giving Justin a happy thumbs-up.

We brought the machine back, and thanked the lady profusely after she refused any kind of payment. I went back to Justin's car wanting my own Bobcat in the worst way. Justin tooted the horn as we passed by Chris, and he pulled out behind us. I was glad that he had come. For all the new relationships and friendships I'd formed over the past year, Chris was still my rock, and he seemed all the more important for being my friend all through everything. Chris was my roll, too. If I could have buttered him up and eaten him, I would have. Instead we did nonsense together, and it was all-occasion nonsense.

The rescued boat was safely on its trailer, and the trailer was attached to a truck. It was taking up what was left of the space in the driveway, so Justin pulled up onto the grass to the left of everyone. We got out of the car, and Chris was still in the road, apparently not sure if he should drive on the grass too, but Justin waved him in. Chris pulled in and turned his car off, then opened the door and started to get out. I was never certain myself when he was fooling around. His shoulder belt didn't fully retract, and when he got out his arm ended up still through it. His door wasn't opened enough to stay by itself, and when he turned to get loose from the belt, the door closed against him, eliciting a loud, "Oof!"

He got untangled from the belt, then pushed the door open with his butt. He turned around and grinned just as the door came back at him, causing his eyes to go wide in surprise. He stopped the door with his hands and gave it another push away from him, then stepped away and immediately tripped over something, falling flat on his face.

I ran over to him, not sure if he was putting on an act, and he'd just rolled onto his back when I knelt down. "Nice play, Shakespeare," I said.

He smirked, "Convincing?"

I laughed as I helped him up, "Beautiful, man. Just perfect."

By then, Aaron's mother and grandfather were there, both soliciting after Chris' degree of injury. He shrugged them off, dusted the dirt off his elbow and butt, and asked, "Where's the bathroom? I gotta piss like racehorse!"

I looked quickly at his crotch and said, "I think you already did." I was just trying for the upper hand, and Chris did look before he shoved me. It told me what I wanted to know, because you never, ever do a pratfall when you need the bathroom. The results are too unpredictable.

I helped Chris with his things, and a bunch of people followed us into the house. I pointed out the bathroom, and when the door closed behind Chris, I stopped where I was. I wasn't sure where to put him, and I briefly considered asking him to bunk in with me and Aaron. That's where he belonged, really, but we were in the only room in the house that didn't have lots of beds, and none of the other furniture converted into a bed

When the toilet flushed and Chris emerged, Billy O'Shea immediately said, "Hey, bud. You're bunking with us. Come on, I'll show you."

I looked at Billy, and his focus was on Chris. They'd met a few times, and they liked each other like I knew they would. Still, Billy always amazed me with his intuition. It wasn't just with me, he always seemed to know what people were thinking. With a simple situation like this, he could clear it up before it had a chance to become a problem, and that made me admire him all anew.

Some of us followed them to their room and made sure Chris had his bearings, then it was back outside. The sun was out full by then, the clouds long gone. My folks had arrived when we were inside, and they were talking to Aaron's parents and his grandfather, Lilac and Rakeed. I went over to say hi and to ask if they needed help, but they were more interested in getting something to drink right then. I walked off thinking that a place on a lake was a good thing.

Aaron showed up beside me to remind me that we still needed to finish his bird, which I'd totally forgotten about. We went back to the toolshed and filled a garden cart with things, then wheeled it out front.

Aaron asked me to dig some holes, and marked where they should be. I had a shovel, and I'd noticed a post-hole digger in the shed, so I went back for that. When I came back with it, Aaron was painting the bird. I started digging, taking glances when Aaron giggled about his work. He told me to hurry up with the hole for the bird so he could get it off the ground to work on it. That hole was already dug, so we set it loosely in place. Aaron went back to painting while I continued digging. Aaron started singing the blues. "Summertime ... and the digging is easy." He laughed, "No, no, wait! Summertime ... and the painting is easy. Evan's all happy, and my bird's looking fi-i-i-i-i-ine!" He snickered again, "Do you know who first sang that, Ev?"

I laughed, "No, I don't. I have the feeling I'm about to learn." I watched while Aaron worked on his bird, wondering if he was going to say more.

He finally said seriously, "It was a thirteen-year-old white boy from Manhattan. He'd never even seen cotton that wasn't already a shirt, and he'd never seen a field of anything. He imagined the whole thing, and came up with that beautiful song."

"How do you know these things, Aar?"

"Well, with this one it was his name that got me interested."

"And what would that be?" I asked when he failed to continue.

"Sammy Lovecock. Don't you think that name has nice a ring to it?"

I hit a rock and stopped digging, laughing instead. "I think it has a stink to it, Aaron. You just made that up, didn't you?"

"Well, yeah, but don't you just love that name?"

I laughed, then got back to work. "Maybe that's what your bird can be, Aar: a lovecock."

"Is there such a thing?" Aaron asked.

I said, "If you say that bird is a lovecock, then that's what it is. After all, it's your bird!"

"Yeah," Aaron cooed. "Ouch! No, that won't do!"

I turned around, "What won't do?"

"Look at this thing, Aaron said. Its mouth is four feet long, and that's probably a good thing. It's flat, though, and it's all hard and, well, there's no tongue." He looked at it, hands on hip, "Do birds even salivate?"

* * * * * * * *

The grand unveiling of the sculpture, as Aaron called it, wasn't until later. We went to a garden center on the other side of the lake where Aaron brought some broadleaf grasses that would grow to resemble low corn plants, and we interspersed them with the bird and the bottle trees. When those were planted, the whole creation looked very neat. Just driving back, we noticed the bright blue bottle tops to the trees from a great distance. You had to be there to see the bird, which seemed about ready to eat a blue bottle off a tree, and it took some noticing to see that everything that wasn't a stick was really part of a bottle. Aaron even made little flowers out of plastic bottles, and his ingenuity tickled me to no end.

The bird was big, about six feet tall after being buried deep enough to stay standing. Aaron had drilled some holes in the back of its head and inserted twigs that served as head feathers, and he'd made a wing out of another, flatter piece of driftwood. That also had twig feathers sticking out of it. The wood was all gray from being bleached by the sun. Aaron had thinned out his paints to where they soaked in like stain, so the colors he put on were already faded.

The inside of the beak was red, and that followed directly to the eye sockets. The beak and eye sockets were outlined in blue, and the bird had big, blue spots. The twig 'feathers' were a brighter blue. Aaron had found a Tinker Toy set, and used two of the round things for eyeballs. Those were blue around the outside, then white, and with black pupils. He glued them into the eye sockets. The trees had some paint on them too, splotches of green and blue.

When we thought we were done, Aaron left me alone to clean up while he went back to the garden center. While he was gone, I raked out the area, then put our tools and trash away. When Aaron came back, he had a flat of snap dragons which were not in bloom yet, but he said they were all colors. We planted those randomly, then stood back to admire our handiwork, of which the handy part was all Aaron's.

I loved it! I really did. It was funny and decorative at the same time. The intense blue of the treetops made many cars stop so the occupants could figure out what they were seeing, and Aaron had himself an instantly popular little tourist attraction. Everyone who stopped laughed while they marveled, so my own feelings were valid based on the creation itself, not the creator.

Just before dinner, when everyone was around doing nothing, we asked them out front to see the lovecock. Reactions varied.

My parents and Aaron's were amused at best. His grandfather seemed delighted, though he didn't say why. Nobody didn't like it, but some liked it way more than others did. Chris, Billy and Lee all hooted their glee. John positively bowed down in front of the creation and cried that Aaron was the man!

My brother had a look on his face that I hadn't seen, so I asked, "You like it, Bruce?"

He looked at me, then back at the bird, then said, "I think I do. This is driftwood, right?" He shifted his weight, "Did it look like a bird, or did you make it look like a bird?"

I said gently, "It's art, Bruce. Aaron's kind of art. I think he saw a potential bird, and he made ..." I gestured, "this!"

Bruce stared long enough that I forgot him. Aaron was happy that people liked his bird, but it was clear that he didn't plan to dwell on it. He edged over to me and whispered, "Horny?"

"No," I lied. "I could go for some sex, though."

Aaron sighed, "I suppose there's a difference?"

I giggled, "Not so I've noticed. Come on!"

We got away, and instead of going inside we took a canoe out and paddled to an island where we'd made out once before. It hadn't changed, and nothing else had either, except that we were both about an inch taller than the last time we were there. And a mile more in love.

We didn't stay long, but we did well with each other. After, when we were laying on the sand, I said, "I love this, Aaron. I could get used to islands. You know what else?" I kissed his nose, "That bird is freaking awesome!" I snickered, "I always knew you had a lovecock in you somewhere!"

Aaron laughed happily, "I think you have one, too. We could be cheerleaders; Love cock, love cock, whatcha gonna do? Be a China-man; chew man chew!"

I laughed. Aaron could floor me sometimes, and that one did. When I wired down I asked, "Do you sit up nights thinking about these things?"

He snickered, "Not really. They just come spur-of-the-moment."

I looked around, "Do we have another moment here? How's this? Love you, love you, I'll show you! Let me blow you, then you can too!"

Aaron laughed happily, "I love cheers!"

* * * * * * * *

When we got back to the house, dinner was already in full swing. Most people were eating, and some had already finished. Rakeed was manning the grill, resplendent in a chef's hat and a green and white striped apron. I saw what he was cooking, and I'm pretty sure I drooled. "Oh man," I said. "Please say that kielbasa is for me!"

Rakeed laughed, "It's for anyone who wants some. There's already some on the table. How would you gentlemen like your steaks?"

Wow, somebody had splurged. "Rare," I said.

"Very rare," Aaron added.

Rakeed grinned, "I see. This is an affliction you white folks have, right? I have never seen so many undercooked meals in one place before tonight. Run along and fix up your plates, then. I'll walk by the fire with your meat."

Aaron giggled, "Don't dawdle, Rakeed. Walk by quickly!"

Rakeed poked at Aaron with a barbecue fork, and Aaron dodged out of the way. We got paper plates and filled them with lots of tempting things. There was a green salad, egg salad and macaroni salad. There was a big dish of baked beans, and a crock pot full of chili. There was also kielbasa, seared nicely by the grill, and kielbasa was a weakness of mine.

It was cut into two inch pieces, and those were cut in half, so each piece was exactly two bites, and I bit a bunch of them while I filled my plate with other things. It was good kielbasa, too. My taste for kielbasa wasn't born in my own house, for neither of my parents cared for it. I was twelve before I ever had any, and then it was love at first bite. That first time was with Chris and his family. His mother was of Polish descent, as was a sizeable segment of the population in Mt. Harman. There were a few shops that made nothing but Kielbasa, and all the locals had their favorite. The truth is that they were all excellent. Chris brought what I was eating that night. I knew that, even though he hadn't mentioned it. When I smiled at him across the yard I could see his mouth asking me if it was good.

What a meal! I had some bread to sop up my beans, but otherwise Dr. Atkins would have been proud of me. I ate enough protein in one sitting that I could probably drive screws with my little finger, bang nails with my tongue.

We sat around outside well into the evening. There was a stone fireplace there, and Aaron's grandfather got it going. We had dessert after awhile. John and Dean brought out their guitars and played, but not aggressively. It was background music, and nobody sang. My parents and Aaron's, and Rakeed and Lilac, all drank one thing or another with alcohol. The rest of us made do with cider, soda or lemonade.

We talked, but not much, and not about anything important. The air became chilly, and we variously went inside to get jackets or sweaters, then came right back out.

There was a mood there, and it's hard to describe. It was a place of contentment right then. We'd worked around the property, played a little, and now we were relaxing after a wonderful meal. In my mind, I thought of a new meaning for the term 'lake effect'. In Upstate New York, that was what they called snow in some places. The towns to the East of the big lakes got snow dumped on them in ungodly amounts, and it was called 'lake effect' snow when the prevailing winds blew frigid air down out of Canada, and that air picked up moisture from the warmer waters of the lakes.

My lake effect was something warmer. It was the sense of absolute peace and serenity I felt there.

Almost everyone I loved in the whole world was there with me. I was short a few brothers, one of whom would show up during the week if he could, and I still had Matt to worry about. He wasn't actively in the war zone, but we were losing almost as many people to accidents as to the war itself. I wasn't really worried any more, but every time I thought about my oldest brother, I tended to keep thinking for some time.

We had minimal illumination; the light from a propane lantern on the picnic table, from the fireplace, and more distantly from out the windows of the house. Cars passed occasionally, and their headlight beams danced off the trees. There were distant lights from homes and street lamps across the lake, too. I thought briefly that it was kind of bizarre to have a road that ran right through the front yard. Still, in a way it made it like having two yards. There was one for the house, and there was one for the beach. That's where we were.

One sound did get through to me after awhile, and I realized that I'd been hearing it for some time. It was my brother laughing, and it was a laugh I didn't know he even owned. Bruce had always laughed, of course, but it was normally a giggle, sometimes a snicker that was a little meaner. Now he was laughing with abandon; a really cheerful, happy laugh.

I craned my neck to see what it was about, and I was surprised to see that he was with Justin and his friends ... jocks! He seemed able to amuse them, too, and I nudged Aaron so he'd look, then gave Chris a poke. Aaron didn't know Bruce that well, and I don't think he knew what he was supposed to be seeing, so he just shrugged and smiled. Chris knew, though, and he took it in for a minute, then smiled at me before he raised a thumb. I'd never pressed either Chris or Bruce to tell me about the things they talked over when I was gone. I'd seen the change in Bruce, of course, and it was a big change. I just never, not even once, thought I would ever see him finding mutual entertainment with a group of athletes. Oh well, Aaron did it all the time, too. It was scary. Bruce had enough brain waves to power up a good sized yacht. He had killer good looks, too, and he was in pretty good shape for a guy whose exercise came from turning pages and clicking a mouse. He'd always had this damp rag personality, though, and that made him less frightening to normal people. He never got jokes in his life, and now he was laughing away at them. Not only that, he was telling jokes, making gestures ... acting like a real person. He was getting reactions, too, eliciting laughter from the other guys just like he was one of the crowd.

I laughed to myself though, and Aaron noticed. I'll wager that not many other people have been enlightened to learn that their own little brother might actually turn out to be a real person. I was way more than enlightened. I was delighted.

My parents stayed a lot later than I thought they would, and it was almost eleven when they left. That broke up the gathering. I talked to my folks at their car, then stood there and waved when they drove off, still waving a little after they were out of sight. I guess I was in a daze, and I might have stayed there waving for a lot longer if Aaron hadn't put an arm around me and broken the spell.

At sixteen I felt more connected to my parents than I ever had.

They'd always been there, of course, but I don't think kids are programmed to think in terms of where their parents should be. Well, they should be there when you need them and gone when you don't want them around. Simple. I'd been through a recent reality shift though, and I liked being around my Mom and Dad. It's probably selfish of me. I'd never, not once in my life, felt that I was not loved. That love always seemed to emanate from my mother, though. Dad was different, and I confused the way he was with indifference. He did teach me how to ride a bike, how to use a toilet even. When it came to sports, though, Dad came up short. He'd toss a Whiffle ball to me, but when I could hit it over his head he just watched it go. I had to run and get it. When we played catch, he always threw underhand, and you can just forget about football.

Then there was his anger, and I think I totally misjudged that part of him. He could get loud to the point of intimidation, but since I'd been home I hadn't seen that a single time when it wasn't justified. He got loud when he got angry, and that was really the worst of it. I'd had exactly two spankings in my life; one from my mother when I lied to her, and the other was a swat on the butt when my father found me playing in the road.

No, ours wasn't a violent family. We got loud, and probably too often, but I didn't know anyone who didn't yell at his parents, nor did I know parents who didn't yell at the kids. I did it, Aaron did it, Paul did it, Chris did it. All these people who wouldn't dream about yelling at a stranger yelled as a matter of routine at the people they loved most, the people they relied on most. I tried to paint a picture in my mind of my family as a non-yelling unit, and for the life of me I couldn't come up with it. Born to Holler? Love Decibels? I don't know. I think that a family implies, at it's very root, a lack of privacy, and it also implies invasions of personal space. Who in history has calmly said, "This is my room. I'd appreciate it if you left now."

No. "What the fuck are you doing here? Get out now, or I swear I'll kill you!" That was the reality. We need space ... private space. You get used to your own space whatever it is, but I doubt that a Kansas acre is any more important than a square meter in Bombay. Density is implied, privacy is not. I could picture myself as an Indian kid yelling at my brother, "Get your face out of my square meter! You have your own!"

I didn't particularly want to go in yet, but most everyone did. I sat with Aaron for a while longer, and we let the fire dwindle down to embers. I thought everyone had gone to bed, but they started coming back out. Chris first, and he was followed by Billy and John Balls. Dean came out a little later, and Bruce and Lee were right behind him. I got up and tossed some more wood on the fire, and when I turned around Paul was there with his brother.

I was amused. "What? Nobody can sleep?" I asked.

Billy said, "It's too stuffy in the house after being outside all day. It's not that late."

John Balls asked, "Did your father say anything about me, Evan?"

I looked at him, "No, why would he?"

John shrugged, "No reason. He kept looking at me all through dinner."

"I wonder why," I muttered. John's hair that day was a metallic looking orange, and there were some shiny little wingtips at the tops of his ears. For dinner decoration, he'd glued some glitter on one cheek. "You don't think most people look at you?"

John looked hurt, so I hurriedly added, "I personally think you look great, and I wish I had the balls."

"The John balls?" Dean laughed. Everybody laughed at that one. The John Balls! I liked it. It was like when people called Donald Trump 'The Donald'.

I looked around, and John definitely stood out. Lee usually had a little spike in his hair, but he hadn't bothered that weekend. Aaron's hair was a lot longer than it was when I met him, but still not over his collar or anything. His hair was more like fur anyhow, so I didn't think it would really grow too long; it just thickened and frizzed out. The rest of us had short haircuts, to the point we'd be called well groomed. I'd messed around with longer hair, but short was easier, and I had stayed with it for almost two years by then.

To John, though, color was a transitory thing, and he tended to go for the bright ones. I can't say why I admired John for that, but I did. I asked him, "John, how many hair colors have you tried? Oh, and is that stuff you use toxic?"

John laughed, as did everyone else. "No, not toxic. I get it right at K-Mart. As for color, I've been through the primaries, now I'm working on tones with a little nuance." He brushed his hair back with his hand, "You like this one?"

I did, and I nodded. I laughed, "You just don't care, do you?"

John's eyebrows arched, "About what people think of me? No, I don't." He fixed his eyes on me, "Evan, I'm hardly an original. Other people dress like I do, look the way I look." He grinned, "Not exactly, maybe, but they try."

"John," Dean said, "I don't know that I really like how you look, but I do appreciate you taking the trouble. When my father saw you the first time, it was the last time he got on me about anything." He smiled, "Well, anything about how I look!"

John snickered, "Yeah, I'm a regular public service. Should I be charging people?"

I laughed. "You could try. What's your own father think about how you dress?"

"My father," John said, "is a biker. His favorite movie is 'The Illustrated Man', and one of his goals in life is to have more tatoos than the guy in the movie." John touched a line of the rings in his cheek and smiled, "All this stuff comes off. He indicated a different part of his face on the other cheek, "Piercing holes go pretty much away if you stop using them."

Bruce and Paul's brother were there immediately to judge the veracity of John's words for themselves. They scrutinized where John was pointing, much to John's amusement. Bruce said, almost to himself, "Hm. I'll bet I could see them if you just shaved." He looked at John and said, "There are Goths where I go to school. They aren't allowed in school like this, but they do it when they're not there."

He didn't say anything else, and John finally asked, "And?"

Bruce shrugged. "I always kind of avoided them. You're pretty nice, though. Maybe they are too."

John's expression didn't really change, but a new radiance seemed to appear in his eyes, and he said, "Yeah, maybe they are."

Bruce was going to say something, then a great yawn overtook him and he only got out a few pseudo words before he was caught by another yawn. He looked a little embarrassed, but within a few minutes everyone had yawned at least once, and it became funny. Paul laughed, "I always heard that yawning was contagious. It's funny!"

"Yeah, well I guess I'm tired," Chris said. "What's up tomorrow?"

Billy said snidely, "Everyone but Aaron and Evan. I think they showed great foresight by bringing each other here."

Chris laughed while he stood up. "That's good! Haha. Times like these, huh?"

Billy got up, too. "Oh, that's right. You got dumped too, didn't you?"

I gave Aaron a dark look, because I'd never told Billy much about Chris. Aaron shrugged in innocent horror. He was a good actor, but I guessed that Billy and Chris had probably compared that part of their pasts sometime earlier, most likely initiated by Billy. Just because I could, I took a deliberate misstep when I got up, and I crashed into both Chris and Billy, knocking them both down on the porch. The reaction was funny. The guys from Riverton weren't used to those particular antics, and they were all solicitous of us, asking if we were alright. I disentangled myself, and got up, brushing off my elbow. "I'm fine," I said. "That happens sometimes when my tongue starts flapping out of control. It makes me lose my balance."

That made Chris laugh, and when he was on his feet he touched my shoulder, "Sorry, Ev. I thought he already knew."

I glared the best I could. "Now everyone knows." I included Billy in my next glare. "Why don't you just put up posters? Oh, never mind, I get it. Why go to that expense when big mouths will run all day for free?"

Chris actually looked taken aback, so I winked at him. "Come, Aaron," I said as dramatically as I could while I propelled Aaron gently forward. "Let's let Billy and Chris be right for once." I looked over my shoulder with a smile just before the screen door closed behind us. "See you in the morning, girls!"

Aaron was giving me a look, so I smiled. He said, "You're not mad?"

I shook my head no. Aaron said, "You could have fooled me."

I said, "You know, some things don't have to be public." We turned to go up the stairs and I put my hand gently on Aaron's back.

"I knew about you and Billy because he told me. I told you about Chris, and Brucie caught us once, so he knew what we did. I'd be very happy if that little piece of knowledge didn't become public."

"You're embarrassed," Aaron said levelly.

I was. "I guess it doesn't matter a lot," I said as we reached the attic. I let Aaron go into the room first, then followed and closed the door behind me. "It is embarrassing, though. People can guess all day what you and me do together, and more power to them. It's just ... I don't know ... Billy shouldn't have said that."

"You're mad at him?" Aaron asked, looking doubtful.

"No," I said after thinking about it. "I'm not happy that he said it, but it's the truth in the long run. I just wish it stayed a private truth."

"Heh," Aaron said. "You know something? The way Billy said it, I wonder if the other guys are thinking Billy and Chris are gay. All he said was that we dumped them."

I stared at Aaron, then giggled, because he was exactly right. I was almost curious enough about what was going on outside to go back down there. I was, however, alone in a bedroom with Aaron, and that transcended other things just like it usually did. It had been a long time since I'd given a thought to who else was in the house.

Our parents had left, so it was Aaron's grandfather, and assorted relatives and friends still there.

The first time Aaron stayed at my house, I was absolutely paranoid; certain that the room was bugged somehow; that everyone could see and hear us. I never voiced that concern, but Aaron sensed it. He got me over my fears in a real hurry. We'd both been lonely and afraid at one point, and meeting each other was the cure for that. Then at my house the first time, desire overtook fear, as it should have, and we were left alone anyhow.

That seemed like a long time ago as we got ready for bed in the attic room at the lake. If anyone in either of our families ever wondered what we did when we were alone, I'd never heard it. We didn't get any encouragement, but neither family had seen fit to even mention anything like rules. We had always been left to our own devices in that regard. We were very good at figuring out devices, as it turned out, and though so far they were always plays on the same theme, we had developed quite a wonderful repertoire.

We stayed up late, alternately talking and loving each other, and when we finally went to sleep I was out like the proverbial lightbulb.

In the morning, it was the light coming in through the window that woke me up. Aaron was still zonked beside me, and his sleeping face had a curiously serious expression on it, as if he was pondering something important in his dream. I left him alone and went to the bathroom, and I decided to take a shower and do everything else while I was there.

The house was still quiet when I went back upstairs. Aaron had changed his position, and he was now facing away from the light, but he was still sleeping soundly. I put on some clothes before I woke him up. I sat on the edge of the bed and stroked his cheek until his morning smile appeared, then he opened his eyes. "Evan! What time is it?" he yawned as he sat up.

"I don't know. Does it matter?"

He rubbed his eyes, "I guess not." A look of distress came on his face, and he said, "I gotta pee! Woo, do I ever!"

He pulled on a pair of cutoff sweats and hustled out of the room. I made up the bed while he was gone, then picked our clothes from the day before up from the floor. When Aaron had been gone long enough that I figured he was in the shower, I went down to the kitchen, expecting to make our own breakfast.

Lee was at the stove when I got there, and John Balls and Paul were sitting at the table with cups of coffee. God, the coffee smelled good, so I poured a cup before I even acknowledged them. After I took a sip, I smiled and said good morning, then asked Lee what he was making.

He smiled slyly, "A fine country breakfast, Ev. I'm reheating kielbasa right now, and there's eggs, so I think we'll have some nice, traditional kielbasa omelettes."

John groaned while Paul made a face, but it sounded wonderful to me, and I commented on Lee's fine traditions.

He was Irish, but I didn't want to dwell on that little unimportant fact. I offered to help, not really meaning it, but Lee said he had things under control. I enjoyed my coffee, saying I'd ask Aaron and my brother to clean up afterwards. Lee shouldn't worry about it, since he was cooking.

Aaron showed up after a few minutes, and he was looking especially fine. It wasn't very warm yet, but the sun the day before had been bright, and he apparently tanned easily. I knew he'd get much darker as the summer wore on, but his winter pallor had turned in one day to a honey gold, and he looked good enough to forego breakfast over.

Of course, he announced, "I'm starved!" the minute he walked in, so I turned my thoughts back to food. I'm glad I did, because Lee's kielbasa omelettes turned out to be delicious, and not especially from the kielbasa.

"What's that cheese?" I asked after my first amazing bite. "It's outrageous!"

Lee shrugged and held up a chunk of white cheese. "I don't know, it was in the fridge. It's good?"

My mouth was full by then, so I nodded eagerly, and Lee sliced off a piece and chewed on it. You could see it on his face. That cheese was powerful, but not in the stinky way of a bleu cheese or Roquefort. This was simpler than those, but equally potent. Lee swallowed, then flapped his hand in front of his face like he was fanning it. "Wow! I mean wow! That's good cheese!"

I kept eating, and others began stumbling in. Billy and Chris came in together, and they seemed kind of contrite when they saw I was there. When they realized I wasn't angry, they loosened up and enjoyed their own omelettes. Aaron's parents surprised us all when they came in from outside. They'd taken a canoe ride starting at dawn, and had decided to go around the entire lake.

We made room for them at the table and watched while they wolfed down some food. Parents were usually discreet about eating, but those two were hungry enough to be comical.

That's how our day started, and it continued in the same vein. I helped Aaron with the dishes, and John and Bruce put them away. Then we checked out Grandpa Castle's to-do list. We'd already done a lot of the big things, and Justin and his friends had signed off on hanging a new garage door. Aaron and I chose to repaint the basement door, which was one of those Bilco things.

It was more work than we thought it would be, but still not too bad. The old paint was peeling off in sheets, but when we tried to get the rest off with a wire brush, it took a few hours. We made jokes about how hard it was to remove paint that, left to itself, would just fall off anyhow, but it didn't get any easier. Not that it was killer work, it was just boring and slow-going.

Before we started painting, we took a break. We both went to the bathroom, then we got glasses of water and sat at the table in the kitchen, our fingers touching. I was about to say something inane, and decided to just take Aaron's hand and keep my mouth shut.

"What?" he asked.

"Nothing what," I said, catching the look in his eyes. "I was going to say something just to talk, now I don't want to."

Aaron giggled, "Okay. Should I shut up too?"

I grinned, "Not in my lifetime, I hope."

Aaron's eyes bored into mine, and I realized he didn't have a clue what I was saying. I leaned forward, "Aaron, talk to me anytime you want to. I didn't want to say something idiotic just to say it, and that's what I was about to do. Let's not make a big deal about this. I didn't have any words is all."

Aaron lowered his face, but his eyes stayed fixed on me. "No words for me?"

Damn, he was cute when he was confused, I put my right hand on his left and leaned forward. "I love you, Aaron. I don't know what else to say. Sometimes quiet is nice."

He smiled, "Yeah, it is. We need a signal for times when we don't want to say anything and everything is okay."

I stuck my tongue out and Aaron responded with his, and we had our signal. We both laughed.

* * * * * * * *

When we were applying the second and last coat of Rustoleum to the hatchway, Lee and Mark came around the corner. They watched what we were doing, then Lee spoke, "Need any help?"

"No, we're almost done," I said. "Where's Paul?" I asked, knowing they had been working together resetting some bricks along a path.

Mark said, "He's taking a walk," while Lee held an imaginary joint to his lips and pretended to puff on it.

Aaron asked, "The walk's all set?" and when Mark nodded he said, "We're almost done. We can take a boat out if you want to."

That got Mark excited at least, and it sounded appealing to me. Lee seemed to like the idea, so we asked him to go and make some sandwiches, and we'd have our lunch on the water.

Aaron and I went back to painting when those two went inside, and I asked Aaron which boat we'd take.

He said, "You're right, there aren't any in the water yet except the canoes. I guess we should take the pontoon and make sure it's alright. We'll just leave that one in the water all summer anyhow."

I asked idly, "You think it will work after yesterday?"

Aaron grinned, "There's one way to find out." That made perfect sense to me. We were just starting to clean up when Mark and Lee came back, this time carrying a cooler.

"We're done," I said. "Perfect timing, just give us a sec to clean up."

Aaron pointed at the pontoon boat and said, "Put the cooler on there. See if the keys are in the truck."

They went to do that while we picked up after ourselves. Aaron and I went inside to wash up, then Aaron went to tell his grandfather that we were taking the boat out. He came back and asked if I could back the trailer onto the launch ramp, and I figured that I could.

In a few more minutes, I was driving Grandpa Castle's truck toward the town launch, with Aaron beside me in the cab and Lee and Mark in the bed of the truck.

When I was backing up to the launch area at the park, it occurred to me that I had never actually launched a boat before. Aaron knew the procedure, and he said we'd just take it slow.

I got the boat lined up, with the other guys standing there to watch that I didn't go too far off center. That part was easy enough, and when I was halfway down the ramp Aaron had me stop so he could do some other things. He climbed up on the boat and checked some things out, then had Mark stay there while he stayed on the ramp with Lee. I backed down some more, and when the rear truck wheels were just touching the water, Aaron told me to stop and set the brake. Then they winched the boat into the water until it was free of the trailer and floating. I pulled the truck up and parked it, then got out and watched the rest of the operation. Aaron and Lee had lines, and they pulled the boat to a dock and tied it off. Aaron went on board and fooled with some things, then he started the motor. Easy as that! Lee untied the lines and hopped on board, and they motored to their own dock while I brought the truck back.

I was smiling all the way. Aaron had told me once that when I was proud of something it showed. I was proud again, and not just that I had done my part right. I was proud of Aaron, too. Lee, Mark and I had all just learned something with Aaron as our teacher. It was a simple task for sure, but simple doesn't necessarily equate to easy when it's your first time doing something.

We had company ... lots of company ... for the first ride. When Aaron pulled up to the dock everybody, including Paul, was there for a boat ride. I laughed when I got there, and asked, "How many people can this thing carry?"

Aaron's grandfather grinned and asked, "How many you got? We're rated for sixteen, isn't that right, Aaron? There's a yellow sticker right by the throttle that says what this boat is rated for."

Aaron looked and called back, "Fifteen!"

"Close," his grandfather muttered. "Just get on board, and let's see what this lake looks like."

We all clambered aboard and were still getting ourselves situated when Aaron pulled away from the dock, then set off along the near shore. I was hungry and asked Lee where the sandwiches were. He pulled out the cooler and handed me one, asking "Coke, water or lemonade?"

When the other guys saw me with a fat sandwich in my hand, they wanted their own. Lee had only made two each for the four of us, so Aaron brought the boat back to the dock. We ate our lunches there while the others went into the house to make their own. We had finished by the time they came back, and when Aaron headed back out it was like a lunch boat.

Aaron's grandfather spoke up after awhile, and told Lee and Mark to put their shirts back on, and to use sun block. It wasn't a hot day, but the air was clear and dry, and the sun was bright. Add the reflection from the water and it was a recipe for a wicked sunburn. I had my shirt on, but applied new sun screen to my exposed skin. Lee was already pink, and his ears and nose were red. Mark didn't seem to have any color at all, and I guessed that Paul had lathered him up earlier.

I was next to Mark, so I asked, "Having a good time?"

His eyes brightened. As the youngest kid there, he didn't get a lot of chances to talk without being told to stash it. "Yeah!" he said. "This is the best! I don't mind the work because this place ... this lake ... it's .."

"Beautiful?" I suggested.

He grinned, "Yeah, beautiful! It's more than that ... it's free! It's America the Beautiful!"

I grinned at his patriotism, and Aaron heard him, too. He fumbled around in the glove compartment with one hand, then dug into the storage bin beside him, finally coming up with a furled flag on the mast that had the stern light on it. He smiled and handed it to Mark, asking if he minded putting the flag up.

Mark was delighted at the honor, and he made his way to the stern of the boat, getting there just as Aaron accelerated out into the lake. Mark's own momentum, propelled even more by bow lifting a little and the force generated by the engine, took him right over the back seat and rail and into the lake. Justin was in the back, and he yelled, "Man overboard!" before kicking off his sandals and jumping in after Mark.

Aaron immediately put the boat in neutral and hurried to the stern to see what was going on. Justin was making quick dives, then coming to the surface to look around before diving again. Doug and I climbed out onto the dive platform, and Doug immediately said, "There he is!" and pointed off to the side. Mark was on the surface looking distressed, but he wasn't in trouble at all. Justin swam to him and calmed him down, then they both swam the short distance back to the boat, where Doug pulled Mark onto the platform and I held onto Justin's wrist until they were out of the way and he had room to climb back aboard.

Mark was okay, more surprised and cold than anything. Paul led him to a seat on the side and sat Mark down on his knee. Mark had goose bumps the size of pencil erasers all over him, and he was shivering like crazy. Somebody handed Paul a big towel which he wrapped around his brother, and you could see the relief in Mark's eyes.

Justin was shaking, too, and he got the same treatment. Aaron stood there and shook his head, wry amusement in his expression. He looked at Mark and said, "I suppose you lost the light?"

Mark's look was one of horror, and he nodded guiltily. Aaron said, "I guess we go diving, then."

His grandfather said, "We can get another one."

Aaron looked over the side and said, "It's only about ten feet deep here. Leave a marker and I'll get a wet suit."

Justin said, "The snorkeling gear is in the forward locker."

"Right here?" Aaron asked, looking surprised. He went to the bow and opened the locker on one side, then the one opposite, and I could see him smile. He reached in and pulled out fins, a snorkeling tube, and then a series of wetsuits. He settled on the third suit he pulled out, which was obviously his, and proceeded to pull it on and get zipped up. I, unfortunately, didn't have a good view of him because people were moving around, and they kept getting in front of me.

Once he started walking to the stern, though, I got a look at my Aaron Castle in a wet suit, and he took my breath away. Lord, the one he had on was a silvery gray color, with dark red stripes down the sides of his arms and legs. I had seen all of Aaron many times, but in that suit it was like I was seeing all of him at once for the first time. He looked whole in it, like all those curves and bulges I'd admired so many times individually were doubly enhanced when viewed all in one color. When he passed me, just the curve of his butt almost made me faint. Then he turned around and said matter-of-factly, "Spot me, Evan."

I'll do more than that! I thought, then I dutifully clambered over the back seat and railing. While he pulled on his fins, I whispered, "I'm taking that suit off of you, Aaron! Don't you dare think otherwise!"

He gave me an understanding, and very seductive, smile, then pulled down his mask, set the breathing tube in his mouth, and fell into the water. He started floating around on his front, face in the water, while he tried to find the mast. A few times he started treading water as he looked around, then he'd swim a bit to another spot and try again. It wasn't long before he saw what he was looking for. He pulled off the goggles and tube and tossed them to me, crying, "Found it!" Then he dove under water and disappeared. After a long thirty seconds, the mast popped out of the water right in front of me, followed by a grinning and sputtering Aaron. There was a little cheer behind me. I took the mast from Aaron and just held it out behind me until someone else took it, then I helped Aaron pull himself up onto the platform. I grinned at him and said, "Well done!"

Aaron leaned in close and whispered, "What did you mean before?"

I'm certain that I leered. "Aaron," I whispered back, "I have never seen anything sexier in my life than you in a wet suit! It's a bigger turn-on than you are naked!"

He looked at himself briefly, then turned a smile back to me. "I'll tell you what. I'll wear it to bed tonight." I grinned in anticipation, and he added, "If you'll wear Justin's."

Continued ...

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