A Summer Story (of Recycled Trash)

One. (Dennis narrates)

I had some friends again. I still got weird looks at school and around town, but nobody really said anything. The big thing in my mind was that Eddie was still my friend, or he was my friend again, however that worked. Life wasn't bad, it just wasn't great.

I had outed Eddie as gay two summers before, and when I finally tried to fix things, I outed myself by way of default. The problem, my problem anyhow, was that I still loved Eddie. Now he loved someone else and, in our little town, that left me out in the cold. Oh, I had a great right hand and, as someone once told me, when I used the left one it was like 'somebody else doing it.'

That somebody else to me was almost always Eddie, but there were other guys who pushed my buttons. The problem was that they were all straight, at least until I met Eddie's boyfriend, Adam.

Adam was a nice, friendly, bright kid to start with, but he was also gorgeous and very queer. I don't mean in mannerisms so much as that he was already in love, deeply in love, with Eddie by the first time I met him. That meeting had been tense. Both Adam and I recognized that the other one also loved Eddie. We tried to be gracious and hide it that first time, but I knew Adam resented me, and I was definitely jealous of him.

I wasn't ugly or anything, but Adam was a male model. Everything about him was perfect; his hair, his eyes, his mouth, his shape.

If you were to think for one second that I wasn't hot for Adam myself, you'd be very, very wrong. Just knowing that another gay kid could look like Adam fed many a fantasy. Late night, early morning, midday, whenever I got a chance. I found myself treating myself to visions of both Eddie and Adam. It may have been an exercise in futility, but believe me, I got plenty of exercise.

I loved Eddie and I always would, but I knew I'd blown any chance I ever had with him. I was happy and surprised enough that we could still be friends after the way I'd treated him. He was sharing his own friends with me, too. We formed our own little circle of baseball players and skiers, and we had fun in our own way. Everybody benefitted, especially me.

I was back with Eddie, even if our relationship had changed, and he had his Adam. We still touched and he still sang. I still loved. Eddie loved me back, in his own way anyhow, I knew it. Now he had Adam, and there wasn't anything either of us would do to wreck that.

It left me in a lonely position. I loved the times I spent with my friends, and I loved them as people. Eddie had Adam and Richie had Joanie. Ralph, Pete and Tyrone weren't hooked up with anybody special, but they had the luxury of looking in the normal places for a love interest. I guess Tyrone was more or less in my boat, being from one of three black families in town, only one with a daughter anywhere near his age, and she was already going steady.

We were both always included, though. I wasn't a complete misfit by any means. Richie and Joanie were always dragging the rest of us along to dances and things. I learned to dance and enjoyed the company of girls, I just couldn't work up any desire for them.

White girls were happy to dance with Tyrone. He was just always afraid to try to go beyond that, afraid to ask for a date because he was black. Pete was moderately successful at getting dates, but never seemed to find quite the right girl. His relationships tended to be brief.

Ralph was shy with girls. He liked to dance, but he never asked anybody to, only dancing when Joanie forced him into the arms of one of her friends. After that he'd try to hold onto the girl all night, but his conversational skills seemed to evaporate in the presence of women.

My problem was different. It was the 1970s and snug chinos were the pants of choice for guys at dances. I would find myself dancing with a girl and looking over her shoulder to check out the other guys. I'm pretty sure that more than one girl thought she had straightened me out when my erection pressed into them during a slow dance.

It was a warm early summer night and Ralph and I had just walked outside from the VFW teen dance so he could have a smoke, a new thing for him. We sat opposite at a picnic table and he lit up. "Why do you smoke?" I asked, "Isn't it supposed to be bad for you?"

Ralph blew smoke from his mouth and nostrils as he looked at me. "Yeah, they keep sayin' that. I just do it when I'm nervous. Didn't you ever try?"

"Yeah, a couple of times me'n Eddie smoked. It was pretty gross, if you ask me."

Ralph tried a smoke ring, "I guess it's hard at first. Once you get used to it, it's kinda relaxing."

"So, you goin' on vacation this year?"

He perked up a little, "Yeah, we're goin' camping at the beach! You?"

"Not this year. My dad's got a big project at work. Maybe on Christmas vacation."

"That sucks. You gonna just shoot baskets all summer?"

I sighed, "Probably." My family usually spent a week or two at a summer resort, me stuck in a kids program while my parents did the good stuff. It wasn't awful, just that you had to spend the first few days trying to make friends, then just turn around and leave. The activities may have been forced, but at least they were activities.

My prospects for this year seemed pretty dim when Ralph said, "I could ask my folks if you can come with us. If you want, that is."

I dismissed the thought at first, thinking that at least Eddie was here. Then I dismissed that idea when I thought about how much good it would do me. "You think they'd let me?"

Ralph shrugged, "I don't see why not. They were gonna let Richie come, but he wants to stay with Joanie. Will your parents let you go?"

I suddenly liked the idea. I liked Ralph and I loved the beach. His parents seemed nice enough; they pretty much let Ralph do what he wanted. I drew myself a nice mental picture of days on the beach and nights around a campfire, eating hamburgers and popsicles. I wanted to go!

"Should I ask first, or should you?"

Ralph looked happy, "You wanna go? Ask your folks first, 'cause I don't wanna ask mine again if you can't go."

I looked at my watch and thought they should be home from dinner by now. "I'll go call. You come with me, okay?"

Ralph tossed his cigarette butt and we headed towards the pay phone in the front hallway. By the time we got there my interest had turned to excitement. I dropped a dime in and dialed.


"MOM! If it's okay with Ralph's parents can I go campin' with them?"

"Oh, hello Dennis." There was a bit of humor in her voice, "Kindly speak clearly and calmly and quietly into the mouthpiece. Did you say camping?"

"Can I go camping with Ralph if it's okay with his folks?"

"Camping where, when?"

"Talk to Ralph! " I handed him the phone and let him explain, since I hadn't asked. My excitement grew as he told my mother about the trip. I knew the place. It was a state park with about a mile long beach, a boardwalk, concession stands, hiking trails. We'd been there many times, and I guess I'd seen the campgrounds and never thought about them.

Ralph handed me the phone back. "Mom?"

"Dennis, it's fine with us if you go. I think Ralph might have asked his own parents first. This may be a rude surprise for them."

"Thanks Mom! We gotta call Ralph's house! I'll call you back!"

She laughed a little, probably at my excitement level which had been at near zero since baseball ended. "I'll be waiting breathlessly for your call."

Wise ass. I fished out another dime and dialed Ralph's number, then handed him the phone when it started to ring.

He talked and asked. He didn't even have to plead before he grinned and stuck his thumb up to me as a sign of victory. When he hung up he looked as excited as I felt. "My Mom's gonna call yours. Let's dance!"

Ralph definitely had to be excited to talk like that. It was usually, "You dance."

As soon as we walked back into the hall Ralph was dragged off by Joanie to meet her latest hope for him. When a new tune was just starting up I grabbed Darlene Rivicki and pulled her onto the dance floor without even asking if she wanted to. Darlene was my favorite dance partner, a cute girl with a lot of life in her. I know it made her sad to think I was gay, because we would have probably been a good match otherwise. We liked the same everything, especially the harder rock music.

We danced up a storm for the rest of the night, partly because we were about the only people really dancing, and the D.J. just kept playing what kept us out there. Richie and Joanie danced a lot, but only a few other couples. I saw Ralph with a few girls, looking embarrassed every time. Not a lot of people had shown up to begin with, so it was less rowdy than most of the dances there.

I had a good time anyhow, and I know Darlene did. We danced the last dance of the night, a slow one, then headed in separate directions. I met up with Richie, Joanie and Ralph and we walked together on the way home. Pete and Tyrone hadn't even shown up that night, preferring to try their luck bowling instead.

When Richie and Joanie peeled off from us so he could take her home, Ralph and I kept going towards our own houses. He seemed a little dejected, so I said something.

"I had a good time. It's nice when it's not so crowded."

He sighed, "Yeah, I guess."

I looked at him, "Something wrong?"

He shrugged. "Come on, Ralph. What's eatin' you?"

"You won't get mad?"

"Why would I get mad?" Sudden revelations can suck. "Uh oh! You like Darlene?"

He gave me a little shove, "You're smarter than you look."

"Oh man, why didn't you say somethin'? Damn, I tied her up all night too." I looked over at Ralph and he seemed embarrassed. "There's lots of ways. You could have just cut in!"

"She ... she likes you though."

"Yeah, as a friend! She likes you too, you know."

He gulped out, "She does?"

"Yeah, when we got a soda she was askin' about you."

"Really? Like what?"

"I don't know, what you're like, why you're so shy."

Ralph perked up, "She really said that?"

"Ralph, she knows about me, that nothin' will ever come of us bein' friends." I shoved his shoulder, "Come on, Ralph. I'm the guy with no prospects."

He suddenly sat on the curb, dragging me down with him. "Whattya mean?"

"Ralph, if you haven't noticed there are exactly two queer kids in town. Eddie's taken, so that leaves me with no hope. At least you have a chance, if you ever get over bein' so damn shy."

I looked at Ralph, only to find him staring sadly at me. "You poor kid, you're right. I don't know why I get all in knots around girls, it just happens. My Dad says I want it too bad." He smiled, "Dad's exactly right. When I was little lots of my friends were girls, now I can't even talk to them."

I snickered, "Try looking in their eyes, Ralph."

He giggled, "You got that right. I don't know what it is, I just get hung up on looks and bodies and forget how to talk."

I smirked, "Maybe you should jerk off before you go. You know, get it out of your system."

Ralph smiled, "You asshole. I suppose that's what you do?"

I almost laughed, then swallowed it. "It's all I do, Ralph. It's all I can do."

I think Ralph sensed my down and tried to cheer me up. "Well, maybe at the beach. Maybe we'll both get lucky, huh?"

I smiled at the road, thinking that there would at least be some new guys to look at there. "Yeah, huh? Maybe we will."

* * * * * * * *

The next week was all preparation for me and Ralph. I was beyond excitement, I just couldn't wait. My father took me out to get the things I'd need and some things I probably wouldn't, but hey. Time in a camping equipment store was fun for him too. I got a sleeping bag and an air mattress, which were the only things I really had to have, then we got a special belt with slots in it, and Dad seemed determined to fill every slot. I got a flashlight, a canteen, a Swiss Army knife, a hatchet and a hammer. When I put the belt on in the store and my Dad hung everything off it, everything was so heavy I thought it was going to pull my pants down. I also got a knapsack and a duffel bag for my clothes and things.

I brought everything except my clothes over to Ralph's house on the Thursday before we were going to leave. They were bringing a lot of stuff too, and his Dad wanted to pack the car so everything would fit and still leave room for people. I spent most of my time with Ralph, though we both spent some time with Eddie, Pete and Tyrone. We saw Richie and Joanie a few times too, but they were too much into each other to pay much attention to anyone else.

The Swansons were supposed to pick me up at ten on Saturday, so I got up at six after a nearly sleepless night. I'd been too thrilled to be able to sleep. I didn't feel a bit tired either. I got ready and my mother made me a big breakfast while my father gave me a hundred bucks for spending money. He'd already given Mr. Swanson another hundred to cover the cost of feeding me. He told me to be generous with Ralph, to pay for his snacks and everything. My parents were going to come down and visit the following Saturday so they could spend a day at the beach themselves.

I was done with breakfast at eight o'clock and had two hours to wait. I put my things by the door, then paced. I got a glass of chocolate milk and started watching cartoons, then got up and checked to see if there was anything I forgot. I paced some more. Eight thirty. I got some orange juice and watched more cartoons. I went into the kitchen and made an english muffin, then checked to make sure everything was where I left it. I counted my money a few times, Dad's hundred plus forty I took from my room. Nine o'clock. These cartoons are lame. When the hell does The Road Runner come on? I checked the refrigerator, deciding on an apple. I watched out the window for awhile, then went back to the cartoons. Did I remember to bring both bathing suits? Oh yeah, already checked that. Nine thirty, just another half hour. I should put my stuff out by the driveway so as to not waste time when they got here. Well, that took a whole minute. I went back to the refrigerator. I didn't know we had root beer, the folks were probably planning to have it behind my back while I was away. Well, hah! Where's the can opener? I'll just take one more look around my room while I drink this. Man, now I gotta go.

"Dennis? Ralph called while you were on the toilet!" my mother informed me.

Oh no! Something's wrong! "What'd he say?"

"They were just leaving. Do you have everything?"

YES! On the way! No more than five minutes by car. "Yeah, I double checked. I'm gonna wait outside, okay?"

"We'll be right out. Remember your manners and try to be helpful."

"I will."

I ran out to where I left my things and checked to make sure nothing had been disturbed, then watched the road awaiting the appearance of a red Buick station wagon.

My parents came out to wait with me, and the moment finally arrived. Ralph's family wheels pulled in accompanied by a mighty blast of the horn. Everybody got out of the car and our mothers started talking about everything under the sun while I handed Ralph's father my knapsack and duffel bag and he found room for them. My father thanked him profusely for taking me along while the women nattered away.

Ralph's father announced, "Ladies, we really need to get on the road here."

Good! Impatient. I like that quality in a man. I got hugs and squeezes and admonitions to behave, then we were on the way.

Ralph's father was looking over his shoulder as he backed out, and he glanced at me. "Got everything?"

"Yup! I really appreciate you letting me come. I'm totally excited about it!"

He pulled out onto the road and looked forward. "We're glad you could come. Ever been camping before?"

"No, but I can't wait!"

Ralph said, "You're gonna love it, Bax." He leaned back and put his hands behind his head. "Just picture it. Two weeks of sun and sand, nothing to eat but hamburgs and clams, all the soda you can drink." He grinned at the rear view mirror, "Maybe Dad'll let us have a nice cold beer or two. We'll look like Tyrone's brothers when we get back."

I sat like he was, banging my elbow against his as I did so. "Yeah, I can't wait. I so love just layin' on the beach, soakin' up rays, listenin' to the ball games."

His mother leaned over the seat and smiled at us. "Are you two brothers? Have I missed something?" She looked at her husband, "Doesn't Dennis sound exactly like Ralph?"

"He sounds like you too, save for the ball games. Honey, I think that's why most people go to the beach."

We were taking the back way, a country road that went through only one town once you got on it. You could get to the beach by the highway, but hardly anyone did. We made one stop at a farm stand for fresh corn and some other things, then we were there. In a line of cars full of people registering for camp sites. Ralph's father got out and walked up to the registration booth, then came back with a campsite number and told us it was going to be about two hours. He said we could head down to the beach and he'd wait with the car. He didn't have to offer twice. We split, not dressed right but not really wrong either. I was wearing shorts and a half-sleeve baseball jersey, sneaks with no socks. Ralph was in shorts, a t-shirt and flip-flops.

We hurried straight ahead until we got to the boardwalk. It was a nice Saturday in the summer, and there were a lot of people on the beach and long lines at the food stands. We stopped in the pavilion and went to the bathroom, then at a stand to get sodas. We walked the length of the boardwalk and checked out the action. At first it was hard to decipher. There were people of all ages all over the place. As our eyes discerned themselves down to eliminate old people, little kids and families, we both knew we were in the right place. There were loads of kids around our age, all wearing next to nothing.

Some were having fun in groups, others were couples and others yet were by themselves, probably distancing themselves from their families. We started watching some kids playing volleyball without a net and got invited to join them. Within a minute we were shirtless and barefoot, and in another five we were laughing and having fun. When it got too hot we'd go jump in the water to cool off, then join back in the game.

When the game wound down, the whole bunch of us went to get cold drinks. A few of the kids were campers like us, the rest just there for the day. We got names and campsite numbers, then went back to help set up. Ralph's parents already had two tents up by the time we got there, and didn't seem at all angry that we'd taken so long.

I dealt with things like coolers and lawn chairs while the people who knew what they were doing set everything else up. In no time at all the site was ready: two tents, a screen house over the picnic table, belongings where they belonged.

Ralph's father brought a cooler, his mother a basket of things. We all brought towels and headed to the beach after changing into bathing suits.

I wasn't really prepared for Ralph. I just had a regular bathing suit, the kind that's like shorts only flimsy material. Ralph wore the kind they use on the swim team, dark red and skin tight. Remember here that I'm a gay boy. As hard as it was not looking at Ralph in that suit, that's exactly what I tried not to do. Ralph was pretty good looking and he had a terrific body, way nicer than mine.

Anyhow, I managed to avoid looking at Ralph too much. His parents seemed oblivious to the both of us. By not looking at Ralph I discovered that I could notice who did look at him. I lagged farther and farther behind.

With some people it was just glances and nothing else. With a few girls we passed it seemed like there were longer, more admiring looks. What I paid attention to were the men. A few of them followed him with their eyes until he disappeared from view, one older man picked up his things and started following Ralph, presumably so he could look at him all afternoon.

I didn't care about the men, I wanted to see a boy my age who seemed interested in Ralph. It didn't happen, but it set the tone for our every venture onto the beach.

That afternoon we just enjoyed ourselves, spreading out our towels and splashing on the Coppertone. We alternated between swimming and sunbathing, the radio on a music station for awhile, then a Mets game. The cooler was full of soda and juices, and the basket had chips and crackers. Ralph's parents had beach chairs and an umbrella, so Ralph and I had to move every time the umbrella's shadow found us.

We were laying like that after a dip, me with shades on and Ralph with his t-shirt over his eyes. I was on idle, but after awhile I became aware of the same set of hairy legs walking past us, less time between each interval. I probably looked like I was sleeping, so I adjusted my position so I could see who was attached to them the next time they came by.

He turned out to be a fairly ugly college-age kid, tall and skinny, with acne and an unshaven face. He was blatantly checking out Ralph, and I thought his behavior was gross. At the same time I guess I felt sorry for him in a way. He was window shopping, and I'm sure he knew he didn't have a chance. I knew the feeling, and prayed that I wouldn't become pathetic and end up scouring public places for bodies that would give me a jerkoff fantasy.

I suppose I was doing sort of the same thing, using Ralph as a magnet so I could identify guys like me. I was also sneaking glances at Ralph's form when I could, excited by what I saw even though I knew that I didn't have a chance either.

That first day was the model for the rest of the trip. We showered off the salt in the bathing pavilion, then went back to the campsite. Ralph and I joined a few kids who were shooting baskets while his parents cooked up a great meal. After dinner, his parents got together with people in neighboring campsites while Ralph and I went back to the beach. There were kids hanging around, some of whom we'd already met. We formed alliances with kids our own age and shot the breeze with them. By that time of day only people who were camping there were still in the park, so at least we didn't think we were wasting our time making acquaintances..

The other kids we met were nice enough, though nobody set my bells ringing. The beach officially closed at sunset, and lights out was at eleven for the campsites. Ralph and I spent the intervening time with his parents around a little campfire, then turned in.

I had a little trouble getting to sleep that first night, mostly because it was quite hot in our tent. I eventually did, and the next morning was our first whole day there. It was perfect. Breakfast, beach. Lunch, more beach. Basketball or wiffle ball, then dinner and back to the beach. Then a campfire and card games, then to bed.

Our routine was set. I still watched for people checking out Ralph, then on our fourth day there something interesting happened. I had gone to the concession stand for sodas and fries, and when I was just stepping off the boardwalk I saw an inviting looking back.

It appeared to be that of a boy around our age, which was why I looked to begin with. He had black hair and a dark tan. He was wearing a lime green bathing suit and his shape looked fine. I snuck a glance when I walked by, and he looked younger than me, maybe thirteen or fourteen. I couldn't be sure about the age, but I was sure that he was good looking, almost pretty.

When I got back to the blanket and gave Ralph his goodies, I positioned myself so I could get a better look at the boy.

He was gone, no ... there he was up on the boardwalk looking over the railing. As soon as I spotted him, he averted his gaze and started looking around. I put my shades on so he couldn't see my eyes, then busied myself with my french fries, keeping an eye on the mystery boy all the time.

I was almost certain that he was checking out either Ralph or me or both of us, but it was just too far to see where his eyes were focused. He could have just been looking at the scene in front of him. I hurried through my fries, then told Ralph I had to go to the bathroom. I strode up to the boardwalk, looking only once to make sure the kid was still there, then turned towards the pavilion. From there I went up to the first level, where I could observe him from behind. I watched for awhile learning nothing, then YES! Ralph put down his soda cup and laid back down, revealing much of what made him. He was a fine sight to me, but the kid in front of me actually flinched, every muscle in his body seeming to tighten at once.

I was gun shy. I'd made a mistake once and didn't want to repeat it. I had to get closer.

I walked back out onto the boardwalk and leaned against the railing not five feet from the boy, assuming much the same position he was in. I only took a chance once to look at him from there, and he was definitely staring at Ralph, moving a little every time Ralph moved to get comfortable.

My courage bolstered, I said, "Nice, huh?"

I startled him, and he looked right at me. "Huh? You talkin' to me?"

He had spoken, so I felt free to look. My first impression from the profile had been correct, this kid was cute to the Nth. He had round, deep set eyes that seemed almost black, dark red lips, white teeth and a straight nose that was fairly prominent. "Yeah, nice day isn't it?"

"Oh ... yeah, I guess."

Oops, I'd shaken his concentration. I looked out across Ralph to the water, "Nice view from here."

"Yeah, not bad."

I was getting nowhere fast. "You stayin' here?"

He eyed me suspiciously, "Yeah, campin'. You?"

"Yeh, Section C. When'd you get here?"

He relaxed a little, "Last night. We were supposed to come Saturday, but my brother was sick."

I smiled, "I'm Dennis. Everybody calls me Bax."

He gave me a curious little smile, "How do you get Bax out of Dennis?"

I grinned, "Dennis Baxter."

He grinned back, "Okay, I get it. I'm Ron Castagliano, everybody calls me Ronnie."

"Wanna come sit with us? We're just takin' a break. I'm with my friend Ralph."

He looked around, then said shyly, "I guess, where you at?"

I pointed out Ralph on the beach, "See the blue towels right there? That's Ralph in the red bathing suit."

He looked. If there was any reaction he suppressed it. "Okay, sure. Let me get my stuff, I'll be right back."

I went back and knelt beside Ralph. "I just met a kid, he's comin' to join us."

Ralph didn't open his eyes, "That's nice."

I shook his shoulder, "Ralph! He was scopin' you out!" I almost hissed,"This could be it for me, Ralph. Don't flip out, okay?"

He replied lazily, "I won't," then jerked up into a sitting position, "WHAT?" He looked around rapidly, "Who is this kid? He was checkin' me out?"

"Ralph," I pointed at his bathing suit, "If you wear these things you're gonna get people's attention."

Ralph's face went red and he made a grab at me, which I just managed to duck. "You little ..."

I was on my feet in an instant laughing, "Ha ha ha," then I ran towards the water, Ralph in hot pursuit. A guy yelled at us when we ran by, so I guess we probably kicked sand up on him. I ran right into the water, then circled around a family that was wading there. I could tell that they got annoyed too, so I just stopped and let Ralph grab me. There were worse fates than being in what was essentially his hug while he dragged me out into waist deep water and pushed me under. I went to the bottom, then spun around and pulled his feet out from under him.

We both came up sputtering laughter at each other, then wrestled until the lifeguard blew his whistle at us. When I turned towards shore I could see Ronnie watching us from where our things were. I waved and started walking towards him. Ralph asked, "That's him? You really think he's ... um, like you?"

I sensed Ralph's discomfort, and when I looked at him I could see it. There wasn't much I could do about it, so I decided to make it worse.



"We're friends, right?"

"Yeah, at least I hope we are. Why?"

"Do me a favor?"

He stopped and gave me a suspicious look, "Favor? What kinda favor?"

"Oh, I don't know. Put on a little show maybe?"

He glared, "You're sick."

"Just scratch your balls or something."

"You are sick! Scratch your own freakin' balls!"

I got in front of him and walked backwards, "Come on, Ralph! Just talk to him, then. I made a big mistake once, I don't wanna do it again."

Ralph was flustered and embarrassed. "I can't believe you want me to do this. I can't go flirt with some guy!"

"I didn't say flirt! I just said talk. I wanna see what he does."

Ralph stopped and looked at me. "You're pathetic, you know that?"

"I know, and thanks for noticing. Will you do it?"

He stared for a long moment, I hope recognizing the desperate look I tried to put on my face. "Alright, I'll talk." He put his finger in my face, "If he makes one creepy move he's hamburger!" He looked satisfied, but apparently he wasn't, "And you're the ketchup!"

I was elated, "Thanks, man. I really owe you!"

He smirked, "Yeah, well pay me back with money, okay?" The smirk turned to a smile, "Good luck, Bax."

We walked back to the towels. Ronnie was sitting on his, concentrating on spreading suntan lotion on his legs. He looked up when we approached, his expression hesitant.

"Hi Ronnie, this is Ralph. We're campin' with his folks."

Ralph held out his hand and they shook. Ralph asked, "Here with your folks?"

Ronnie looked a little sad, maybe only shy, "With my Mom and my brother."

"Where you from?"

"Hamilton right now. We're movin' in a few weeks. How 'bout you?"

"Brainard. You in high school?"

"Yeah, I'll be a sophomore this year."

Ralph and I did double takes, then Ronnie continued, "Yeah, I'm fifteen, be sixteen in January." He smiled a little, "Hey, so I look young. What's the big deal?"

I said, "No big deal. I just thought you were like thirteen or somethin'. You want a soda? I'm gettin' thirsty."

I was trying to read his thoughts. He looked at Ralph while he answered me. "I don't have any money on me."

"No problem, I have money." I looked at Ralph, "You want one?"

He smiled, "I'll go with you. I want some more fries, too." He stood right over Ronnie, "Coming?"

Ralph had his crotch right in front of Ronnie's face, no more than three feet away. I was suddenly pretty sure that I had been right about Ron, even if it was a cruel way to find out. Ronnie blushed, gulped, and stuttered, "N-no. I'll just wait, y- you don't hafta spend your money on me."

Ralph smiled at him, "Come on, man. Don't worry about money, Baxter's loaded!"

Ronnie turned a questioning look towards me. I grinned and gave Ralph a shove, "That's bull, but I have enough for a soda. C'mon, it's hot out. At least get in the shade for awhile."

Ron looked up, then got to his knees and finally to his feet. "Okay. Whatever you spend I'll pay you back!"

Ralph and I smiled at him. I don't know why Ralph was smiling, but in the transition from sitting on a towel to standing Ronnie's gaze had only left Ralph's crotch once to steady himself. I just had to get his attention on me somehow, and words were all I had. Ralph started towards the concession stand with Ronnie right in his wake. I tried desperately to think of something to keep Ron back with me.

Thinking of absolutely nothing, I just yelled. "Hey, Ronnie!" He stopped and turned around while Ralph continued forward. "Wait up!"

He waited, and by the time I got to him Ralph was well ahead of us. I asked, "You like Ralph?'

"Uh, he's okay I guess."

I got really bold. "Would you ever wear a suit like that? I mean, I don't have the nerve."

He kept his gaze on Ralph's butt, where my own eyes were focused.

I felt good and bad at the same time. I was by now certain that Ron was like me, but we were both fixated on Ralph. My own self-restraint amazed me. I'd been changing with Ralph, showering with him, sleeping in the same tent. I'd seen him everyday in the same bathing suit. Nobody, man or woman, would ever deny that Ralph looked good. I had managed to keep my cool with him. Looking at his ass in that red bathing suit, Ronnie beside me, made me ask the question, more accurately, state the fact.

"Ralph looks good, huh?"

Ronnie stopped in his tracks. I turned to look at him, an act of desperation about to take place. I didn't think I had anything to lose. If Ron got shocked or angry he could just walk away. "I saw you looking at him, Ronnie. You're like me, aren't you? If you're not, just say so."

He gulped, "What're you gettin' at?"

It was now or never. I stood proud even though I was scared, "I'm queer, Ronnie."

Ron took a step back, a look of suspicion on his face. He was looking at me but not meeting my eyes. He didn't say anything at all for a minute, then he mumbled, "Whattya want me to do about it?"

"Just tell me if you are too. If you say no, I'll believe you and we can just be friends if you still want. If you are, then we got something in common. Maybe we can help each other out."

He lifted his eyes to mine. His were still full of suspicion. "Help each other how?"

"Well, for me I'd at least have somebody to talk to, somebody who understands me ... what it's like."

He hesitated, "Does ... Ralph know you're gay?"

I sighed, "Yeah, the whole freakin' town knows. How 'bout you?"

He took a step back, "I never said I was gay. You're just guessin', man."

I was still nervous, but I managed a smile. "Yeah, I am. But you're still here."

He gaped, "I ... I gotta go. See ya." With that he turned and headed quickly down the boardwalk. I watched until I couldn't see him anymore, kicking myself for being so forward. I was still sure that I was right about Ronnie, but I'd made my usual mess of the whole thing. I trudged over to the concession stand where I found Ralph at a picnic table enjoying his fries and soda.

He looked up, then looked around for Ron. "Uh oh, struck out?"

I sat down and put my chin on the table. "I'm a fuckin' idiot, Ralph. Do me a favor and just shoot me."

Ralph giggled, "Nah, I think I'll keep you around for awhile. Look at the bright side. At least you didn't get your ass kicked."

I said glumly, "He's not big enough." I looked up at Ralph, "What the fuck is the matter with me? Do I have three heads or something?"

"What happened, anyhow?"

"I told him I was gay, and I thought he was."

Ralph sputtered, "Boy, that's a pickup line if I ever heard one." He started in a falsetto voice, "Hi there. I'm a little pervert and I'll just bet you're one too." He bounced with laughter while I blushed, "I don't even have a line Bax, but just askin' somebody if they wanna fuck's gotta be better than that."

I groaned because Ralph was right. I should have just tried to make a friend and let things happen if they were ever intended to happen at all. Of all people, I should have known better. I was the one who freaked out when Eddie kissed me the first time. I turned against my favorite person just because I was worried about what people would think, and it had cost us both dearly. Now I'd been Eddie to poor Ronnie, and he probably didn't know what to think.

I looked sheepishly at Ralph and moaned, "I wonder if they sell hand lotion here."

He grinned, "I doubt it, but they have baby oil. It's just as good."

I had to smile, "Who's pathetic now, Ralph? You do comparison shoppin?"

It was his turn to blush. He stood up abruptly, "Well, time to hit the water!"

He dumped his trash and we headed back out onto the sand. When we got to our things, Ronnie's were still there. That meant he had to come back, and I hoped he did that while we were in the water. I'd be too embarrassed to look at him again.

I put my money in the toe of my shoe and ran to the water, hoping it would make me feel less stupid. When I was in over my knees I dove and swam straight out until the lifeguard blew his whistle. Then I swam back and Ralph and I joined some younger kids tossing a beach ball around. We did that for a little while, then swam some more. When we headed back to the beach I could see Ronnie sitting on his towel by ours. He was looking at something else and didn't see us, so I told Ralph to go ahead because I wanted to stay in the water.

As soon as he walked away I turned around and waded back out, moving behind some other people so Ron couldn't see me. I just stood there staring out at sea, once again wondering about what might have been if I'd only used my head. It's not that I felt awful, it wasn't that bad. I was at the beach to begin with, and the weather had been cooperating beautifully. I just felt like an idiot. I'd met somebody who I was almost certain was gay like me, and scared him away with my intensity. I sighed and knelt down so I was in the water up to my neck to cool off. It seemed easier to just continue not trying. I wasn't going to meet anybody meaningful anyhow, not somebody like Eddie.

I stood up and felt somebody tap my left shoulder. I looked to the right instead, thinking it was Ralph with one of his favorite greetings, but he wasn't there.

"It's me."

I jerked around to find Ronnie looking sheepishly at me. "Ralph said you feel bad." He smiled timidly, "You shouldn't."

There was hope! I tried to smile, "I shouldn't?"

Ronnie stared at the water between us shaking his head. He spoke softly, "Nobody knows, and I just got scared. I had to think if I wanted anybody to know." He looked up, "I guess if you're gay it's alright for me to say it." His whole chin started to shudder, "I think I'm queer too, Bax. I mean I'm sure I am."

I just stared at Ronnie, thinking all kinds of terrible things. I knew exactly how he felt. In the past, my feelings had just been for Eddie and I never really looked at other guys. Somehow I never thought of that as being queer, though I guess that under the surface I knew it was true. I didn't want to face it, and I hid my love for Eddie. Then when he tried to demonstrate his love for me, I went nuts instead of just going with it.

Eddie had pulled himself back together even though it took him a whole year to do it. I had been getting better, accepting myself for what I was. I had a small circle of friends who accepted me and liked me, others who at least tolerated me. I was making my way as a teenager, just not as a gay teenager. I hadn't decided whether it was good or bad that everybody knew about me. At least I didn't have anything to hide anymore, and people could think what they wanted about it.

Now I looked at every boy I saw, lustfully sometimes. My problem was finding one who was like me, a boy who might feel a mutual attraction. I didn't have much to give back anyhow. I was hung up on Eddie. It was hard for me to not have Eddie for myself, harder still that he had someone as sincere and beautiful as Adam. I wanted a guy, but I didn't know who could fill Eddie's shoes. We'd been friends so long, done so much together, knew so much about each other, that it didn't seem possible somebody else could mean as much.

I was looking at Ronnie, though. He was right there, probably wondering what I was thinking about, and he'd just confided his biggest secret with me. He said nobody knew, which made me the first other person to know about him.

Help! What do you say to that? I suddenly felt responsible and Ronnie looked weak. I asked, "How about that soda? We can talk."

He nodded and we turned towards shore. I was behind him for a few seconds and took another look at his back. Ronnie wasn't very muscular really, rather he was slightly built. He had to hold his bathing suit up as he cleared the water, and I could see how it molded itself to his butt when it was wet. The lime green against his brown skin suddenly seemed appealing, especially when I could see the cheeks of his ass. That part of him was definitely in good shape.

We walked up to Ralph and I extracted my money from my shoe before he noticed us.

Ralph looked at me, then Ronnie and smiled. "You guys are okay now?" He grinned, "I thought it was gonna be divorce at first sight."

I laughed, "Me too." I looked at my friend, thinking about how understanding he was. I smiled, "Thanks, Ralph. We're goin' for a soda, you want anything?"

He just gazed up, "No, you guys go. I'm takin' a nap."

Ralph draped his t-shirt over his face and fell silent. I stared at him for a moment, wondering how I deserved such a special person for a friend. He was a jock in an athletic sense only. He was also straight-A, but not a dork by any stretch. I don't know where his shyness with girls came from because he was very, very good at figuring out how to deal with people situations. The proof of the pudding was that I was about to walk with the first other gay boy who I'd ever met on my own, down the boardwalk in broad daylight, to get a cold drink and talk about our mutual situation.

We were silent until we got to the concession stand. I know my head was so full of thoughts that I could hardly sort them out, much less process them. I didn't know what to do, what to ask, what to say. I decided it was probably best to avoid talking about gay stuff and just see if it was possible for us to be friends.

Facing the stand, I asked Ronnie what he wanted.

"Can I get a hamburg or something? I'll pay you back."

"Yeah, sure. What to drink?"

"Coke, I guess." I felt him looking at me, then he asked, "Are you as nervous as me?"

"I'm pretty nervous ...um, you want cheese or anything on that?"

He looked at the menu, "Yeah, cheese and onions. You getting anything?"

"Yeah, probably," I said before I studied the menu on the wall.

I was suddenly at the front of the line, so I ordered Ronnie's cheeseburger and some fish sticks for myself. I paid and got a number along with our drinks, then we walked to a nearby table in the pavillion's shade, where we'd be able to hear them call when the food was ready. It was a picnic table and there were people at the other end, so we were going to have to either whisper or talk about things in general. We sat opposite and studied each other's faces. I liked what I saw. Ronnie was nervous and kept sipping at his soda, but he was definitely a good looking kid. His hair was very fine, black and moderately long. Even the gentle breeze where we were sitting made it blow around, but it always seemed to end up back in place. My own hair was coarse, and every time I tried to let it grow long it just got out of control.

Ronnie had great eyes with long lashes, and his eyebrows seemed to take a new shape with every thought that went through his head. I found that to be a very appealing trait. His nose was prominent, but not overly so. He had dark lips that seemed to smile even when he wasn't trying. His teeth weren't perfectly straight, though they were nice and white. I'd been checking out guys for a long time and Ronnie's face was right up there with the best of them. Also, if hands can be described as sensual looking then his were that, even though I could tell he bit his nails. He had slender fingers that seemed perfectly smooth even at the joints. It was the way that he moved them that I found interesting. Every time he picked up his cup he just kind of folded his fingers around it, landing them one at a time. I'm not sure why, but it seemed almost hypnotic, not to mention erotic.

I was trying to push salacious thoughts to the back of my mind, but the front part just wouldn't let them go. I was facing a boy who I found more appealing by the minute, and we both knew the other was gay and available.

Reality told me that I didn't know what to do with that information, but the years of fantasies stored in my memory were telling me different, and I was developing a growing reminder between my legs. That thing was saying it knew all it needed to know.

I guess Ronnie was satisfied that we'd recognize each other the next time we met. "So, you want to talk?"

I blushed, and took a sip of soda. The other people had left to get their order, so we slid over to the middle of the table hoping that nobody else would sit there. Okay, where to start. "Uh ... um." I smiled weakly, "I don't know where to start. You're uh, you're the first guy I ever tried to pick up."

He looked surprised, his eyebrows going up about an inch. "That's what you were doin'? Pickin' me up? I don't know if I like that idea."

I decided to come clean. "Listen, that's not what I meant. Get used to the idea if there's a wrong way to say or do somethin', I'll be leadin' the charge." I explained how I noticed people looking at Ralph and how I waited until somebody seemed within age range. It was embarrassing to say it, and Ron was embarrassed that he'd been found out so easily.

Ronnie was as scared as I was, and we were both relieved when they called out our order. Forgetting that I had a major league hardon and only a bathing suit over it, I jumped up and headed to the pickup window. When I came back with the tray it had gone down a little, but Ron was staring at my crotch. When I realized why, I made that special little move and sorta stuck my butt out, hoping to tuck the rest of it under me. My face must have been as red as the ketchup in the little container on the tray.

I sat down and feigned an interest in sorting out the food and making sure we both had what was ours. I took an especially long time ensuring that we had equal numbers of napkins. I wasn't looking at Ron, that's for sure. I saw his hands pick up his burger, my eyes fixed on the fish sticks. It was only when I had a bite of one in my mouth that I looked at him. He was chewing through a grin and staring at me. I choked, spitting fish and tartar sauce right onto the middle of his chest. Thoroughly and irrevocably embarrassed, I grabbed a handful of napkins and reached across the table to clean him up, knocking over first my soda and then his.

My Dad always called these ostrich moments; the times when you wished you could see and hear nothing, just stick your head in a hole. I did not want to see Ron's reaction, I wanted to disappear. I knew I couldn't, and with a dick that had withered completely after being assaulted by ten ounces of ice and soda I got up and ran to the other side of the table to help Ron clean up, cursing my parents for teaching me manners all the way there. I knew I should be running the other way as fast as I could.

As soon as I got to Ron's side I slipped on some ice cubes and, after flailing around to stay on my feet, I found myself on the bench tight up against him, only facing the other way. He looked surprised at first, then started giggling. The giggle turned into a bouncy laugh and I started chuckling too.

He laughed harder and it turned into a high-pitched wheezy sound that was funny all by itself. Through his laugh he squeaked out, "Should I ... <wheeze> ... should I <heee heeee heeeee> ... sorry," he put his hand on my shoulder, "Should I consider myself <wheeze> picked up? Or was that an assault?" He burst out in gales of laughter, holding onto his stomach and destroying his cheeseburger with his chin when it hit the table.

Still on mission, I picked up his napkins and went to clean him off, only to discover that the fish and tartar sauce had slid down across his stomach onto the elastic of his trunks and his chest was now splattered with bits of meat, bun, onion and ketchup. It was disgusting and my turn to laugh. His chest was heaving so much with his own laughter that I could have just held a napkin there and he would have blotted himself off.

Anyhow, the body contact had me all erect again and when I snuck a look at Ron's lap he was in the same condition. Not bad either.

To maintain decorum, such as it was at that point, I slunk my way back around until I was across the table again.

Ronnie and I couldn't look at each other for a while, not even a glance, without busting out laughing again. We finally settled down enough for me to offer him a fish stick, even though they were cold by then. He started to say something, then asked, "Are you gonna let me take one or just spit it at me?" We both convulsed with laughter again. We finally calmed down and he looked up, "What's closer, the ocean or the showers?"

I looked around, "Definitely the showers. Go man, I'll clean up this mess."

Ronnie stood and took a step towards the showers, then turned back with a hopeful look, "Can you get my towel?"

I smiled, "Sure, no problem."

I watched him walk away. He had a bounce in his step and I had one in my heart. My Dad had once said that a shared sense of humor was the core of compatibility. I always thought he had to be right about that, just because the laughs he shared with my mother were about things so oblique to me that I usually just stared in amazement at some of the things that cracked them up.

Ronnie had just been laughing his ass off (there's a discomfiting thought, huh? What if that really happened?), but I never got the sense that he thought the situation was anything but funny, never felt that he was laughing at me. He was the guy covered in food and he laughed anyhow. I liked him just for that. I wasn't trying to compare, but it was exactly the kind of thing Eddie and I would have laughed ourselves silly over.

I hadn't really talked to Ronnie at all, but I liked him. He was easy to look at, seemed intelligent, and he had a sense of the ridiculous. The thing between my legs had a life of its own anyhow, but it seemed to also have a particular interest in Ronnie.

As I cleaned up the mess I wondered about that. If it came to us actually doing things, would we automatically know what they were? I was really naive about sexual things. I'd dreamt of boys for a long time, but it was usually either handsome faces or envisioning them naked. What I knew about gay sex was from derogatory remarks like cocksucker and butt-fucker. Did I have to do that? Did I want to?

I'd kissed Eddie and that felt good. It felt real good, and it seemed like enough. Both kisses were in ugly situations, though. We each got pounded good; different circumstances, but it was still just because we were gay. I didn't want to ever go through that again, and I didn't want Ronnie to either. God, he looked almost frail.

It's a strange truth, but my fantasies about other boys went back to kindergarten. They weren't sexual in any sense then, but I was always the protector or savior of other kids, rescuing them from every imaginable mishap. I'd dive in front of cars to scoop them out of the way of certain death, rescue whole families from burning houses just to make sure the boy survived. Then, when I had the chance to really do something like that when Eddie was getting kicked to shit, I just left.

I was getting afraid again, not of Ronnie, but of myself. Did I have the strength of character? If things got tough would I just run and hide, forgetting my five year old dream-bravado? I thought I'd learned from the experience with Eddie, I just didn't know how much. Eddie and Rich had even given me fighting lessons, and I was pretty confident that I could survive a scrap even with a bigger guy.

I kept thinking about it when I went to get Ronnie's towel. Ralph seemed to be asleep, but as soon as I made a little noise he pulled the shirt off his face and asked, "Dumped again?"

I had to laugh, "I'm not dumped, just gettin' Ron's towel. He's in the shower."

Ralph looked stricken, "Already? You guys ..." The question on his face was funny.

I threw the towel on his head without shaking the sand off. Ralph pulled it off and raised his head to spit sand out of his mouth. I said, "You prick! He just spilled food and had to rinse off!"

Ralph sat up, "You guys have a good talk?"

I smiled. "No, but we had a good laugh."

Ralph stroked a non-existent moustache. "Well, that's a start. You like him? Does he like you?"

I beamed at Ralph. "Yeah, I like him. I think he likes me too."

Ralph smiled up at me, "Does he have a sister?"

"I don't know. He's got a brother if you're interested."

Ralph unfolded his middle finger and directed my attention to it. I grinned and grabbed Ronnie's towel and hurried back to find him. He was standing soaking wet just inside the entrance to the showers. I handed him the towel and he started drying off saying, "Thought you got lost."

I smiled, "You should be so lucky. Feel like walking the boardwalk?"

"Yeah, I'd like that." He finished drying himself and draped the towel across his shoulder. We got on the boardwalk and headed in the direction away from where Ralph was.

Conversation suddenly seemed easier and we learned a lot about each other. Ronnie's parents were divorced and he lived with his mother and younger brother, who was asthmatic. His parents were reasonably friendly after the divorce and he spent alternate weekends and holidays with his father, who owned an auto body shop.

We learned that we had a mutual fondness for hard rock and baseball, though Ron admitted he was just a fan because he couldn't play well at all. The only thing that he claimed to be good at was ice skating, and he seemed interested when I told him I was a skier. It was a sport he always wanted to try, he just never had anybody to go with, and no place nearby to learn.

By the time we reached the end of the boardwalk and turned around, we knew quite a lot about each other. Neither of us had anything fascinating to tell the other, we were just two teenagers living pretty average lives. We had one important thing in common and we hadn't spoken about it. After a silence Ronnie said, "Ralph said he knows you're gay. He's okay with it?"

I looked over at Ron and smiled, "Ralph's a great guy. Basically everybody knows I'm gay."

His eyes went wide, "Even your parents?"

I sighed, "Yeah, they know. It's okay. Your parents don't know about you?"

"No, nobody knows. It's not like I ever did anything anyhow. I just look, just dream. You're the first gay kid I ever met, least the first one who ever told me."

"Tell me about it. My best friend is gay and I never knew it 'til it was too late. Now he's with someone else, so I know two other gay kids besides me. A lot of good it does me, I just get jealous. They're so much in love it hurts to see them together."

"They're in love?" Ron screwed up his face, then got a worried look. "Weird man. Somehow I never thought about bein' in love with a guy!"

"That's my problem, Ronnie. I love Eddie too, and I know I can't have him. It's my own damn fault too." I was getting choked up.

Ronnie looked at me, "You okay?"

I wiped my eye, "I'll live. Did you ever love another guy?"

"N-no, not love. There's ... man, this is weird. I never thought I'd be sayin' it out loud. There's guys I like to look at, guys I dream about ... uh ... sometimes."

I smiled, "Sometimes? Like when you're pullin' your pud?"

He stopped in his tracks and grabbed my arm to spin me around. "You too? You think about boys when you're ... you know."

"I think about boys all the time, especially when I'm ... you know. You can say it, all the guys jerk off."

He smiled meekly and whispered, "I know. What do your friends do? The ones that're in love?"

I shook my head, "I don't know. I see 'em holdin' hands and sneakin' kisses. I think they do other things, but I could never ask that."

Ronnie sighed, "No, I guess not. Did you ever do anythin'?"

I looked at him, "I kissed Eddie once .. well, almost twice. He's my best friend."

"How do you almost kiss somebody?"

"It's a long story." I plopped down on a bench and looked across the beach at the water. Ronnie sat beside me. I said, "I don't know what I'm supposed to do here, Ron. I like you, at least I do so far." I smiled at him, "So what are two gay boys supposed to do together?"

He stared glumly at the beach, "I don't know. Touch maybe?"

I smiled at the water, "You don't know about anything either, do you?"

He giggled, "Nope."

I grinned, "I could call Eddie and ask."

"You think that's a good idea?"

"Not really. I think the idea sucks. Why don't you hang around with me and Ralph, and we'll see what happens."

"I don't think that's a good idea either. Ralph um, kinda gets my attention."

"I don't?"

Ron stood, "You got it now!" As I stood to continue our walk he said, "It's just that bathing suit he wears. He smirked, "I love that shade of red."

I smacked his arm, "Sure you do!" I thought it was funny and I giggled at the idea for a moment. "Ralph's really a great guy, Ronnie. He's wicked smart and a good sport about everything."

"Yeah, I could tell that. He really stuck up for you. I was just gonna get my stuff and disappear, then he talked to me and said you're really a good kid." Ron looked at me, a mischievous little grin on his face. "He didn't mention that you spit your food on people, but maybe he just forgot."

I leaned into Ronnie just enough that he had to stumble off the boardwalk onto the beach. When he caught his balance and looked back I said, "I did not spit on you. I just choked is all." I held my hand out to help him up.

Ohmigod! When he took my hand he did it just like his cup of soda, landing one finger at a time from the littlest to the biggest. I shuddered at his touch.

My only thought was that hands can be sensual, especially Ronnie's.

I didn't want to let it go.

... more

I still remember the criticism from round one, so there's no need to repeat it. If you still don't like the story, it would be truly moronic to read it again.