A Summer Story (of Recycled Trash)

Three. (Dennis once again)

I couldn't see Ralph and Ronnie anywhere, even after hobbling along most of the boardwalk, and decided that they must have gone for a long walk, maybe along the nature trail. I went back to my towel and was surprised to find Ralph there alone. Ronnie's things were gone. I got a sinking feeling in my gut.

I plopped down on my towel and looked at Ralph, who shook his head sadly. "Sorry man, I tried. I really did, but the kid's not ready."

I felt like crying. "Not ready for what?" I asked dismally, thinking I already knew the answer. I pushed too hard, too fast. I got away with it for awhile, but when I tried to decide things for Ronnie, talked about them with Ralph there, I'd gone too far for him.

Ralph saw my distress and said softly, "Relax Bax, it's not you. Ronnie likes you a lot, he's just not ready to be queer."

I looked up at Ralph, "He is queer, Ralph. I'm not nuts about bein' gay either, I mean it feels like a dirty trick. I didn't ask to be this way, didn't decide to be queer. It just happened. It ain't somethin' you can be ready for, it's not like bein' ready for freakin' breakfast or something." I looked pleadingly at Ralph, "Help me out here, man."

Ralph looked at me sadly, "I know, Bax. I tried with Ronnie, I just don't have the words, I don't know what it's like." He reached over and touched my shoulder so I'd look at him. I think he was trying to give me a reassuring stare when he said, "He likes you Bax, he really, really does. You're just scaring him, so why not wait 'til later and have a talk." Ralph sagged a bit, "I know how Ronnie feels, I'm the same way with women. I know what I like, but when I get halfway close I choke up." He looked at me seriously, "You can do it, Bax. I don't wanna be rude, but this is your game; Ronnie is your guy."

He gulped and looked at me, "I guess I just don't understand gay enough. I don't know what it's like. Ronnie likes you, but I can't help him trust you." Ralph's stare intensified, "I can't make him trust you either, only you can do that."

I hung my head, "I know, I suck at trust." I looked back at Ralph, "I'm surprised you trust me. I mean, I've really mucked up your vacation. I guess I screwed up Ronnie's too." I thought for a second, "My parents are supposed to come tomorrow. I'll go home with them if that's what you want. I mean it was real nice of you to bring me, but you should have fun too."

Ralph gave me a pained look, "Don't leave Bax." He smiled, but it wasn't a happy one, "Things are just gettin' interesting. Stick it out, man. I don't mind; not the way you think anyhow."

I stared at Ralph, really gave him the once over. He was a nice looking guy and he was well built. I knew he was straight and tried to keep it in my pants around him. He turned me on in his own way though, and I think he knew that and tried, subconsciously at least, to turn it back off. "How long should I wait?" I asked.

"I don't know, give him a couple of hours to cool off. He was pretty steamed there for awhile. It'll give you time to think of something to say, too."

"Maybe I should just leave him alone. I sandbagged him to start with. He didn't come on vacation to get hooked up with me. It's not right for me to keep trying to get him to do something he doesn't want to in the first place."

Ralph looked thoughtful, "You should still talk to him. You know his secret, and he at least needs your word that you won't tell anybody about him."

"You think he'll believe me?"

Ralph looked at me, "I know he'll want to believe you. He's scared Bax. You and Eddie used to be scared too, and you know what happened there. If you want to make a friend, try just being a friend. You both know you're gay, so if that's gonna turn into anything it'll do it all by itself." He smiled a little, "Listen to me, huh? Is all my experience in the ways of love shining through or what?"

I chuckled, "I don't know, Ralph. All I know is I can always count on you for good advice." I smiled at him, "You're a real friend, you know that?"

Ralph's gaze softened, "So are you, Bax. So are you. Listen, you gettin' hungry? My mom'll kill me if we don't eat those sandwiches."

I was, and we decided to go back to the campsite to eat. I was getting pretty good at hobbling on my heel and we were almost there when we saw Little Dickie. He glommed right on to Ralph and walked with us. He asked, "Where's Ronnie? I thought he was with you guys."

Ralph said, "I don't know, Dick. He's probably at your campsite havin' lunch. Maybe you should go keep him company."

Dick stopped, "You guys ditched him didn't you?"

Ralph and I just stared at him. Ralph said, "Ditched him? Where'd you get that?" His look softened, "He's probably eating, Dickie. We didn't ditch him. Why'd you think that?"

Dickie made a face, "Aw, all his friends dump him. He's such a girl!"

My temper flared and, fortunately, Ralph saw it and restrained me before I could grab Dickie by the throat. I still yelled, "How can you say that? Ronnie's the nicest kid we've met in a long time. He ain't no girl, and he ain't no sickly little whiner." I struggled to free myself from Ralph, but he had me in a firm grip, "You get your fat ass out of my sight before I kick it to the moon!"

Ralph was behind me, "Whoa! Calm down, man!" He glared at Dickie, "You shouldn't say stuff like that about your brother! If I hear it again I'll kick the crap out of you myself, you got that?"

Dickie looked stricken, then he started to cry and walk away. He hadn't gone five steps when he started to wheeze and bent over at the waist. Ralph let me go and ran over to him, kneeling and putting his arm around Dickie's back. "Oh man, where's your inhaler?" Dickie couldn't answer, and Ralph stuck his hand in first one pocket then the other, where he found it. He held it to Dickie's face. "Inhale, Dick! Come on, breathe in!" Ralph patted his back, "There you go. Come on, I'll walk you home."

Dickie slowly stopped wheezing into his inhaler and stood up straighter. Ralph took his hand and they started walking away, then Ralph looked over his shoulder at me, "Go ahead and eat. I'll be right back."

I watched them walk for a moment, my anger gone and replaced by renewed wonder about how Ralph could be such a nice guy, such a solid person. I had been ready to rip into a little kid for what he said. His words had angered Ralph too, but the second he saw he had upset Dick he changed his tune. Now he was back in big brother mode, holding Dick's hand while they walked and, I'm sure, saying funny enough things to make the kid's stride change from a trudge to a bounce.

I scratched my head. Instead of going straight to the campsite I detoured to the toilets, took a leak and washed up. I walked back to our campsite wondering what Dickie had meant when he called Ronnie a girl. Could he possibly know that Ronnie was gay? Would he even know what gay was at that age? I didn't think so, but what did I know?

Gay had snuck up on me as I suppose it does on anybody. When I was little I popped wood often enough, I just didn't know what it was all about. My parents chuckled when I had a hardon, and it seemed like just another thing, no different than a cramp or a fart. It wasn't until I was about twelve and solidly friends with Eddie that I got boners all the time when I was around him, maybe another few months before I realized that he was the cause of them, longer yet when I found myself in love with Eddie.

It was too late when we found out that we both felt the same way. Eddie tried a sample kiss and his world blew up in his face because of my reaction. My world exploded a year later, and here I was. I had friends again, even Eddie. He just wasn't my best friend anymore. That honor went to Ralph I guess, but I'd never expressed it to him. All the friends I did have I owed to Ralph. He was the great mediator, the one guy who put things into perspective well enough that everyone understood his common sense. I owed it to him to say what I felt, I just had to think how to word it so he wouldn't get the wrong idea.

My foot was hurting, I was alone, and my prospects with Ronnie were dim. I knew I was going to cry and I was trying to save it for the tent, which seemed to be farther away than I remembered. When I finally got there I grabbed the top sandwich from one cooler, then a soda from the drink cooler. I was hungry but didn't feel like eating. I knew I'd only feel worse if I didn't, so I popped open the soda and unwrapped the sandwich and took a bite.


I jumped at the greeting, then looked to see Ronnie standing there with a hesitant smile on his face, his eyebrows calm for once.

Ron said evenly, "Ralph's eating my lunch, I'm supposed to eat his."

I was surprised for about a half-second then grinned so hard my cheeks hurt. Ralph! He wasn't just a friend, he was a freaking magician! I was thinking Ronnie was history, and there he was, and on the innocuous mission of looking for lunch! I gulped down my bite of sandwich and indicated the cooler with the sandwiches. "In there! Mine's ham and cheese. I don't know if they all are."

I couldn't stop smiling as I watched Ron fish out a sandwich, then a soda. He sat opposite me and returned my stupid grin with a shy smile. He said, "You look happy."

"I am. I thought I lost you, man. I really thought I blew it. Listen, eat your sandwich. I have things to say, but I'm starving right now."

Ronnie looked right into my eyes, then his eyebrows started a little dance and he smiled, "I'm hungry too." He took a big bite of his sandwich so I took a bite of mine. We were just looking into each other's eyes, smiles returning when we weren't actively chewing. I stopped eating long enough to say, "I'm sorry, Ron. I hope you know your secret's safe with me. I was just all wired up before when we were talkin' to Ralph. I'd never tell anybody. I even talked to that Tom, and didn't tell him when he asked."

Ronnie smiled glumly, "He knew anyhow, didn't he?"

I chewed and swallowed, "I don't know, I mean ... he thought maybe. He didn't say anything."

Ronnie stared at me for a second, "It's okay, Bax. I know I'm kind of a fairy, I can't do anything to stop it." His eyes focused down, "I'm surprised you even still like me. Um, you don't really hate my brother do you? It's not his fault that he's sick, and he's tubby because he can't do much."

I didn't hate Dick to begin with, it was his words against his brother that set me off. "He called you a girl, Ron. It just pissed me off, I don't hate him."

Ron looked at me with consternation, "We're some pair, I'll give you that much. Dick has that damn asthma, so I can't do much. I'm supposed to be his big brother, but I'm just a little queer." He grimaced, then he smiled grimly, "At least I have somebody I can say that to." He leaned forward. "I know Dick's a pain, but he's my brother. I hafta watch out for him. It comes with the territory." He smiled, "Dick really thinks the world of Ralph."

I almost choked, "I do too! I was just thinking that Ralph's my best friend, I just never told him. I think he likes your brother too. Ralph's an only child like me. I always kinda wanted a brother or sister. I think Ralph's adopted little Dickie."

"I wish I was somebody he could look up to." Ron closed his eyes and shook his head, then opened them and looked at me, "I'm no kind of big brother, Bax. That's why my brother's so hung up on Ralph. That's what he deserves for a brother, a guy that knows who he is and what it's about. I'm such a wimp ... I don't even know what I want. I'll never be a man, so how can I help him be one?"

I stared at Ronnie's sad face for a second, then got stirred up again. "Dammit Ronnie! What, you gotta be ten feet tall to be a man? I talked to that guy Tom when you took off. He said real men do things, make things happen, change things for the better. It don't matter how big you are outside, it just matters if you care enough to do what it takes. You know what else he said?"

Ron's eyebrows curled up, "What?"

"He said men can love other men, it ain't that strange. He ... um," suddenly I wasn't sure how far I wanted to go, but I'd started. "He said men can have sex and it's ... ah ... um ... beautiful" Ron had one hand on the table and I reached across and put mine atop his, feeling his warmth again. He didn't budge.

I looked into his eyes, "It's what we are, Ronnie. You and me. I mean, if we don't end up together, we'll both still end up with other guys." I gulped, "I just never thought in the long term, but queer's what I am, it's what I'll always be." I squeezed his hand and smiled, "If that's the way it's gotta be I could do worse. Than you, I mean."

Ronnie's hand stirred beneath mine but he didn't try to withdraw it. Instead he looked at me with a quizzical expression.

He suddenly smiled and moved his hand to grip my wrist in a way that I could grab his the same way. He leaned across the table until our noses weren't a foot apart and said, "I'm not afraid of you, Bax." He winced a little, "I'm afraid of myself maybe, not you. Um, we're gonna be neighbors pretty soon, so can we just be friends 'til then?"

I stared at him for a second and considered that we were still in a wrist lock. I grinned, "Under one condition."

Ron smiled back, "What's that?"

I don't know where it came from, but it came out, "Trial kiss."

Ronnie backed up a bit, startled. "Trial what? You want me to kiss you?"

I beamed, "Yup!"

He grinned, "Here?"


Ron looked confused, "Where, then?"


Ronnie smiled the best one I'd seen yet. "One more sandwich. I'm still hungry."

His eyebrows went up to his hairline, and I laughed out loud for the first time, "I'm hungry too. You want ham and cheese or ham and cheese?"

Ronnie grinned, "Yeah, tuna's fine."

I laughed as I got the sandwiches out and handed him one. Ralph's mom had put some pickle spears in a baggie that I hadn't noticed. I put them on the table between us and extracted one. Instead of eating it I held it out for Ron, who took a big bite. I shoved the rest in my mouth, staring at him all the time. We were both chewing on pickle, but I had the feeling that we were back on an even keel.

I wondered if things would get as awkward as they had been earlier. As soon as we were done eating, Ron wiped his lips on the back of his hand and asked, "Ready?"

I was a little surprised and I guess it showed. Ron smiled sweetly, "I'm ready. Just do me a favor and don't break your arm or something before we get there. Wait! I'll help you up."

Laughing, he hopped up and ran around behind me as I stood. It turned out to be a good thing that he did, because I put too much pressure on the sore toe and might have fallen again if he hadn't been there to prop me up when I yelped in pain. We made it into the tent without further ado, then got settled side by side on my sleeping bag. Ronnie had obviously had a change of heart. He pulled me right to him and we tried a kiss. I say tried because it wasn't a very good one. It was fantastic to me just the same. We just kind of mashed lips for a minute, then pulled apart giggling.

I loved it! Ronnie loved it! We both looked at each other with wicked grins, then our lips met again, more gently this time. Ronnie relaxed his grip on me as I moved to get more comfortable, then I wrapped him in my arms and gently stroked his back. We held this second kiss for a long time, and when we finally broke apart it wasn't to giggle.

We just looked in each other's eyes, curiosity giving way to fascination with these new feelings. I was aroused almost to the point of pain and wiggled a little in a vain attempt to adjust myself. That didn't work and I had to let go of Ron for a second to manually put things right. He took the opportunity to do the same thing and that set us off giggling again, but we were soon back to kissing.

It felt so good to be holding Ronnie like that, kissing him like that. It was hot in the tent to start with, and the temperature seemed to keep rising. I was trembling and Ronnie was too, both of us struggling to breathe. I had one hand on the back of his shoulder and the other on the back of his head, pulling him to me, trying to get closer. We would have stayed the rest of the afternoon if we hadn't heard Dickie's annoying voice.

"They're not here. They musta gone to the beach."

Ralph said, "Bax wouldn't leave a mess like this. Hey Bax?"

Ronnie and I were grinning at each other as I yelled, "In the tent, give me a sec!"

Dick asked, "Where's my brother?"

Ronnie cried, "I'm in here too. I ... uh ... I had to help Bax with his foot." He gave me a helpless look about his lame excuse. It was better than I would have come up with and I kissed him again, just a peck this time.

We were in a pitiful situation, all flushed from the heat and the beginnings of passion. I had a wicked hardon and I could see that Ronnie did too. We needed an excuse to stay in the tent and one finally popped into my head. I yelled, "Hey Ralph! Hand us an ice cube for my toe. This one's all melted."

Ronnie giggled and whispered, "Somethin' else better melt fast. I can't go out there like this."

Dick's head popped in through the opening and he held out an ice cube, which Ronnie took and applied immediately to my toe. I squealed at the cold, then remembered to shut up. I looked at Dick and said, "Thanks, Dick. You guys don't hafta wait for us."

He asked, "What happened? You guys are all red."

Ronnie turned his head, "Just give me a minute here, okay? I'm tryin' to concentrate."

Dickie disappeared so fast it was like he'd been dragged away. I guess he had been. His head was immediately replaced by Ralph's, and his face initially had a look of concern when he asked, "What happened?"

He looked at me, then at the back of Ronnie's head as he ministered to my toe. I believe I've mentioned Ralph's intelligence, and it didn't desert him then. He grinned briefly and backed out of the tent. I heard him say, "Yup Dickie, concentration's called for right now. Let's go swimmin'!"

Dickie said, "Yay!"

Ralph said, "My parents should be back any minute. Help me clean up this table and we're outta here." He spoke a little louder, "See you guys on the beach. Don't forget your money, Bax!"

I started laughing as quietly as I could, and it set Ronnie off in a sea of giggles. When he could talk again he said, "You're right. I wish I had a friend like Ralph. Uh, is he gonna blackmail you now? What was that about money?"

"He's just foolin' around. I'll buy him a Popsicle or somethin'. Um, how'd you like it?"

Ronnie tossed the ice cube out through the tent opening and put his arms around me again. We were nose to nose almost, and he said, "This much," and proceeded to kiss me again. This time he let one of his hands drift towards my lap and I moved to brush it away, then reconsidered and directed it to its target. He started to stroke me and I gasped with excitement, then reached to feel him.

It was his turn to gasp and shudder, then Ralph's words about the imminent return of his parents made me pull back. I didn't want to, didn't know where the willpower came from, but I managed. "We better stop man, Ralph's folks should be here any minute."

Ronnie had a funny look in his eyes, almost like they were glazed over and seeing something far away. He finally focused on me and grinned. "How'd I do?"


He smiled, "Did I pass your test? You got an A+ on mine."

I smiled back, "Let's not score yet, okay? I think we need practice before we take the test." I leaned in and kissed his lips again.

Ronnie sighed, "Yeah, more practice!" He hugged me and put his chin on my shoulder, "What's next Bax? I really like you. I thought kissing would be too weird, but it's not at all." He lifted his head and looked at my face, "You didn't think it was weird, did you?"

I kissed him quickly, "No." *kiss* "No." *kiss* "No, not weird at all." *kiss* "I like it, Ronnie." *kiss* "I could do this all day."

Ronnie grinned, "I'm not stoppin' you!"

I sighed, "We still hafta stop, Ralph's folks might not like it."

"We could test the waters ... see what they think."

I stared at Ron until he burst out laughing. "I'm kidding! Let's get outta here before we melt. Um, I'm sorry about before. I guess I'm just a scaredy cat. You didn't do anything wrong." He turned a pained look towards me, "I know what I am Bax, I'm just afraid of it." He sat up, "Nobody likes queers, you know."

His fear registered as the truth with me, but I had to smile anyhow. "Ronnie, stick with me here. Don't say nobody likes queers, I've been there. Maybe some people don't, but they probably don't like blacks or people with accents either. I think ... I guess you don't know who's who 'til people know you're queer. I got in a fight at first, now I have some friends at home. They still hang out with me. It's not that bad." I grinned, "I know one little queer Italian that I like a whole lot."

Ron beamed at me, "I'll get there, just give me time." His look softened, "I will Bax, just don't dump me when I get nervous." He smiled mischievously, "I'm glad you picked me up last week. I was lookin' at Ralph 'cause of his bathin' suit and ... well, he must look good to you, too." He smirked, "I don't know how you stand it. Ralph's a work of art."

I grinned, "I have somebody new to look at now. Wanna head to the beach?"

"We could go to my tent if you want, nobody's gonna be there now." He looked at me pleadingly, "Is that a good idea?"

I smiled and nodded, then scrambled out of the tent with Ron right behind me. I was excited about our first kiss, even more excited that Ronnie wanted to continue it. As we walked towards his camp site I kept thinking about the feelings I'd had when we kissed, when we touched each other. I'd been right about Ronnie's hands from the start, he touched gently, carefully, sensually: it was addictive. I wanted more of that touch, more of those lips. My hesitation had disappeared right along with Ronnie's.

* * * * * * * *

We emerged from his tent about two hours later, exhausted but in a state of absolute bliss. We had kissed non-stop, touched non-stop. We had seen each other, felt each other ... learned each other. Ronnie was carefully holding a towel that he promised his mother would never see again and we both still had hardons.

Suddenly other things didn't seem intimidating at all. We had only kissed: kissed and touched, kissed and groped. We'd made a mess and stunk to high heaven, but it had been like Tom said ... beautiful and wonderful, and exciting beyond belief.

Ronnie was beautiful and wonderful. He wanted to get stronger, more manly. I thought it would make him too different. I was afraid that he'd change from the loving and gentle person that he was. All of my friends were pretty athletic guys, a few of them pretty tough. Ronnie was different from them, and I think that's what I liked best.

Eddie's friend Adam was sort of like that too, and I realized why Eddie loved him so much. It wasn't Adam's awesome looks, that was just the first attraction. When you boiled it down, Adam was a good kid, a very nice person: friendly and gentle just like Ronnie was.

I wasn't in love with Ronnie, not yet anyhow, but I felt he was the kind of person I could love.

He was good looking for sure, but even that wasn't it anymore. He was queer like me for starters, and that separated him from my other friends. Does nice sound lame? That's what Ronnie was ... nice: sincere, good humored. There was more than that, an inner spark, the ignition that helped him sort things out on his own. He'd walked away from me earlier all angry and upset. Even Ralph couldn't calm him down, but he'd thought things through on his own and he came back.

Ronnie came back to kiss me, not just because I wanted it but because he wanted to try it. It was his first time, and in a way it was mine. Eddie had tried to kiss me once and it ended in a disaster. He kissed my battered face one other time to prove his friendship, to renew our friendship, and it's a moment I'll always treasure.

It was different with Ronnie. We kissed to try it, to explore, to see where it brought us. Neither of us expected to get so turned on, to feel what we felt in our bodies.

We were walking towards the beach and stopped at the big dumpster where the campers put their trash. I held the lid open while Ron buried the towel under a few trash bags.

I had been grinning since we left the tent, but that little act seemed so funny I laughed out loud. "Your Mom's not gonna miss the towel? We could wash it, you know."

Ronnie looked at me hesitantly for a second, then at the dumpster, then back at me. "Nah. She might miss it when we get back home. She'll think it got lost."

I said, "We could still wash it out."

Ron headed towards the beach, "It's just a towel."

I was hobbling badly because my leg hurt from walking on my heel. Ron noticed and asked, "Sure you don't want to go to the aid station?" He giggled, "That probably happens all the time to campers."

I grimaced and thought about it. My fear was that some medical authority would tell me to go home, to forget this beach vacation because of a sore toe, and that wasn't going to happen. I could do without volleyball, even do without swimming, but I was damned if I was going home.

If life was fair I'd never go home, and summer would never end. I'd camp here forever with Ralph and Ronnie. The parents could go back home, Dickie could leave with his mother. We'd just stay here, soak up sun and eat fries and fish sticks, cool off in the ocean. We could listen to music until the baseball games came on the radio, hang out on the boardwalk at night. Life had nothing better to offer, so why not take advantage or it?

We stood under the showers for a long time, then walked out onto the boardwalk dripping wet. When we reached our spot, Ralph and Dick weren't there. Ronnie wondered out loud, "Where's Ralph?"

"Probably swimming. You can go in if you want. I'll come watch."

"Yeah? Okay, good idea. I haven't been in the water all day."

We picked up our towels and I sat at the water's edge while Ronnie joined Ralph and Dick, who were tossing a beach ball around with a few other kids. I saw Ronnie point to where I was sitting and Ralph came over to talk to me. He looked concerned at first, "Your foot's that bad? Mom's gonna make you get it checked out anyhow, so why don't you go to first aid while you're here? That way you won't have to walk all the way back."

"I guess I will later. I hope they don't tell me to go home."

Ralph smiled, "You don't have to listen to 'em. How'd it go with Ronnie?"

I grinned in response. Ralph asked, "Where were you guys? My folks didn't catch you, did they? You looked, um ... all heated up when I saw you. You could'a sent smoke signals from the looks of it."

"We went to Ronnie's campsite to talk, that's all." I grinned, "If you believe that I'll tell you another one."

Ralph made a face, "Please say no more!" then he smiled gently, "I knew you could work it out. Good goin', Bax."

"Thanks, Ralph. Um, I think your fans are waitin' on you there."

He turned and saw the kids he'd been playing with standing there staring at him, then he glanced at me with a smile and went back to them. I watched them until Ronnie left the game and came to sit with me. We both watched for a little longer, then picked up our towels and moved to where we had been and turned the radio on.

I knew right away that one big thing was already wrong. I wanted to touch Ronnie and I couldn't. I wanted to hug him and I couldn't. I wanted to kiss him again and I couldn't. This could have been one of the best days of my life. In a lot of ways it had been, but in one big way it wasn't. Ronnie was right there, just a foot away from me, looking at me with a puzzled expression on his face. I knew that if I so much as held his hand there was a chance we'd both be dead meat. There was nowhere to go, either. The beach was far from crowded on a Friday, but there were still people everywhere. There was no place to hide either. There was some dense shrubbery along the nature trail, but it was forbidden to leave the trail. Everything else was wide open and flat; beach, salt marsh and campgrounds.

If I could go in the water, we could at least touch by way of horsing around. I looked at Ronnie and said, "This sucks. We can't do anything, you know that?"

He traced a circle in the sand, "I know. There's nothing to even say about it. It's just the way things are, Bax. We can't do anything about it."

I started to lay back saying, "It still sucks," then decided to go and have my foot looked at. "I'm gonna go to first aid, wanna come?"

"Yeah, I'll go with you."

We walked up to the first aid station and I explained what had happened to the young woman working in there. She had me sit in a chair while she took a look. "I don't think there's much I can do here, Dennis. It looks like you managed to separate the nail. It might hurt all the time if I try to bandage it." She looked up, "You say it hurts just going in the water?"

"I'll say it hurt."

"Hmm." She stood up and put her hand on her chin, then started pacing a little. Tell you what, let's try something." She turned to Ronnie, "Run over to lost and found and tell them that Susan in first aid wants an adult swim fin. They always have a lot of them."

When Ron left she looked back at me. "It's just an idea, Dennis. Maybe we'll get lucky and be able to make you something of a safety shoe. The beach isn't much fun if you can't go in the water. I'll be right back after I get some things." She disappeared into another room and I sat there alone until Ron came back with two flippers.

He grinned, "Orange or blue? I got one of each."

I didn't get a chance to answer. Susan came back with some medical looking boxes and a pair of shears. She looked at what Ronnie had and selected the orange one. "This has a higher top. Okay, let's see what kind of engineer I am. Let's try this first to see if it'll work."

She opened two of the little boxes and took out rolls of gauze. She put one on the top of my foot just to the left of the injured toe, then she had me put my foot in the flipper and squeezed another roll of gauze in on the right side. She had me stand and try to wiggle my foot, which I could do until she squeezed another roll of gauze in on the right side of my foot. That made wiggling almost impossible. She then took the flipper off my foot and taped the rolls of gauze to the inside of the flipper.

I tried it on one more time and smiled. I grinned at her as she once again removed the flipper and proceeded to cut the big flat part off with her scissors. I ended up with a little orange bootie that looked kind of silly, but it would protect my foot. I still had to walk on my heel, but I could walk as well as I could earlier. I thanked Susan profusely, then we left to try out the little contraption. When we got to the water, Ralph and Dick were hanging off either side of Dick's air mattress. I stood at the waterline long enough to let one of the little waves break on my foot. Success! I didn't feel a thing except water as it seeped in to soak the gauze. I grinned at Ronnie and charged in up to my knees, then dove under and swam out to Ralph and Dick.

When I broke the surface and said hi, Ralph grinned. "Hey, back in the water? Did you get your foot fixed?"

I was happy, "It's not fixed, check this out!" I flipped over backwards and stuck my feet up out of the water, staying that way long enough for Ralph to see my special shoe.

When I came back up he was smiling. "Neat, who thought of that?"

I grabbed onto the air mattress next to Dick while Ronnie took hold of it beside Ralph. "The lady in the first aid stand. I think she's a genius."

Ralph's eyebrows went up, "Is she good looking?"

I grinned, "She is now! She's freakin' beautiful!"

I let go and dove under the mattress, grabbing hold of Ronnie's leg and pulling him under with me. As soon as I could line up with his face I gave him a quick underwater kiss. He got the idea. We went up for air holding hands, then dove under again. It was fun, and I remember thinking how nice it would be if we were porpoises, able to live underwater far from prying eyes. That was silly, but it was our first day and we'd already found a way to be together pretty much in plain view. There had to be a million other ways, we could manage it.

We swam for another hour until Ralph indicated it was time to head back to camp. We dried off and picked up our stuff, then we all walked to Ron and Dick's campsite and exchanged pleasantries with their mother, explaining why I had an orange shoe on one foot and a sandal on the other. We left her there and headed to the basketball courts. I had to sit that out. Ron and Ralph played with the other kids while Dick and I sat and watched.

Ron's game had improved a little. He was still the worst player there, but less worse than he'd been a week before. At least his shots were hitting the backboard most of the time instead of going under or around it. It was actually less exercise for him, because he wasn't chasing his missed shots halfway across the campground anymore. He was having a good time, and it made me feel good to see that.

I felt a tap on my hand and turned to Dickie, who was staring at me. I asked, "What?"

"I'm sorry, okay?"

"Okay. Why'd you say that anyhow? Ronnie sticks up for you, and you go callin' him a girl. That's what pissed me off."

He hung his head, "I know, Ralph said you like him."

I said, "You're lucky you have a brother. Me'n Ralph don't have any."

"I know that, too."

"Well, you shouldn't say crap like that about anybody anyhow. It's plain rotten."

Dick looked at me, "You don't like me, do you?"

I was getting annoyed, "I like you fine, Dickie, I just don't like some of the things you do. You're always whining when your Mom's around, then you go knockin' Ronnie. That's what I don't like, it's not you in particular."

He sniffed, "Nobody likes me. I'm fat and I'm ugly and I can't do anything. It ain't my fault, I didn't ask to have stupid asthma."

I took a deep breath and spouted, "Look, you're a little overweight, not hardly fat. You're not ugly either, you look a lot like Ronnie. You could try usin' your head instead of bitchin' all the time. I mean, there's things you can do besides sports. Learn chess or something, just stop complaining. Nobody's perfect, you can use what you have."

"You sound just like Ralph."

I smiled, "That's a compliment. I wish everybody sounded like Ralph."

"I wish Ronnie was more like Ralph."

I warned, "Shut up, Dickie. That ain't a fair thing to wish for. You get Ralph for another week here, but Ronnie's always gonna be your brother. I don't get why you think bad of him. Me'n Ralph think he's a great guy."

Ronnie said sadly, "I know, it's just ..."

"Just nothing, kid. Ron's your brother. You could'a done way worse."

"Okay, I ... never mind."

The game was breaking up as the kids headed to their campsites for dinner. They all made promises to meet on the boardwalk that night as it would be the last full day there for many of them. Ralph and I sat quietly with Ronnie and Dick for a few minutes and then we headed to our respective dinners. I longed to touch Ronnie, to hold him or kiss him, but it was impossible. Almost impossible. When Ralph and I had turned to leave, Ronnie called out, "Hey, Bax!"

I turned and he ran over to me and cupped his hands to my ear as if to whisper a secret, then he kissed me there. I grinned and did the same thing to him. It wasn't fully satisfying really, but my ear felt great afterward.

I was smiling when I got back to Ralph's side and he asked, "What was that all about?"

I could have told Ralph, I knew I could. Instead I said, "Ronnie just said how much he likes your bathing suit. I told him to come earlier tomorrow and see what you look like without it," then I laughed and ran ahead the best I could on my sore foot.

Ralph yelled from behind me, "You have a sick mind, Baxter. Really sick! You understand that?"

* * * * * * * *

After dinner the kids gathered on the boardwalk, many of them for the last time. It was really a nice bunch. I suppose spending a summer week or two at the beach had a lot to do with keeping everyone happy, but there hadn't been a single incident between any of us. Our nights had been fulfilling in the same lazy way that our days had been. This was a nice group of people; the usual mix of boisterous and outgoing ones providing the humor for the shyer and quieter ones. A few minor romances had cropped up, and I figured they were over no matter how strongly everyone promised to stay in touch.

It was that kind of thing. We were together only because we were of an age and were there at the same campground. The kids leaving were sad to go, and those of us staying were sad to see them go. I think we all understood that it was a transient kind of sadness. The ones going home would be back with their own friends and soon forget the kids they hung around with at the beach. The ones staying would have a crop of new potential friends coming in the next day and, would be happy to know them for a week or so, then we'd go home to our own friends, our familiar territory.

This was my first time camping, but the routine was one I was used to from my own family's stays at resorts with kid programs. You'd make temporary friends, promise to stay in touch, then forget all about it when you got home. I got a Christmas card once from a girl I met in the Bahamas when I was about nine. I never wrote back. I really liked her, too. It just seemed so much easier to let fond memories of a particular time remain as memories.

That's what was happening on that Friday evening. People were talking about the high points of the week, laughing at the funny and dumb things. That's how you fix things in your mind, how you remember your good times.

You do something, something happens, somebody does something funny, you really come to like somebody; the way to remember is to talk about it, and laugh again or cry again or boast again. That's what we were doing, just re-hashing the week's high points, sensing the temporary love we felt for each other. Don't get me wrong. It didn't seem temporary, that was just the fact of it.

It was fun and sad at the same time, bittersweet is a good word. I was with Ronnie and Ralph, and we were as well liked as anybody. Lots of people were hugging, so I took the opportunity to drape my arm around Ron. It wasn't all I wanted to do, and I briefly considered doing exactly what I wanted. I wasn't suicidal right then, and the feel of his shoulder under my hand was comfort enough for the moment. The feel of his fingers tickling my butt for a second was what I really wanted.

When things started to break up, the final goodbyes said, I started to long for a moment alone with Ronnie. I asked Ralph, "Give us a minute? I dropped a dime on the boardwalk and it fell through a crack. We're gonna look for it, so tell us if anybody's coming."

Ralph understood, though I don't think I could ever describe his expression. Ronnie and I hopped the railing and crawled under the boardwalk, which gave us about three feet of clearance where we were. I pulled him to me and we kissed and giggled. Ralph heard us and stomped on the planks, "You guys are nuts," he whispered loudly. "Keep it down!"

Well, keeping it down wasn't possible, but we managed to stop giggling and just kiss each other.

It was different than it had been earlier in the tent. Kissing had been brand new to both of us then, and it had been a raw session leading us into new territory. Now, in the dark, in the sand under the boardwalk, it seemed more familiar, less demanding, more loving. We stayed like that until Ralph stomped again and said the ranger was coming for his last sweep.

We scooted out and walked back to the campsites. Even in the dark, Ron and I knew we couldn't hold hands, but I wanted to so bad that I took his once as if to look at it. I just wanted to feel him one more time before we went to bed. It wasn't satisfying once again, but it was better than nothing. We stared at each other when we had to go our separate ways, then said good night.

Ralph and I sat at the campfire with his parents for awhile, and listened to their stories about the cruise they'd taken. His mother was a witty story teller, taking little things and expanding them, so it was fun instead of boring. We all went to bed smiling and chuckling to ourselves.

* * * * * * * *

The next morning, Ralph and I set off to the coin-op Laundromat with a bag full of our clothes and towels. We joked about our domestic duties while we tried to figure out the machines, then waited for them to do their thing.

I was anxious to see my parents again. I hadn't really been conscious of it all week, but I really did miss them. I was a little excited. It was already a nice day and they loved the beach, so it should be perfect. They'd already become familiar with Ralph's parents too, through our friendship and baseball games. Their visit wouldn't be awkward, and if I knew my parents at all, we were going to eat especially well that night. My Dad would hit the lobster pound, then the clam place, then the crab place. We'd feast because that's the way my Dad did things.

We went back to the campsite with our newly cleaned clothes, and my parents and Ronnie and Dick showed up all at once while we were putting them away. I hurried out and hugged first my mother, then my father. There were introductions and I proudly introduced Ronnie to my parents.

I think my Dad got it right away. He glanced at me and then looked a little closer at Ron, then he smiled back at me. My mother missed it all because she was yakking with Ralph's mother. I stared at my Dad. I guess you didn't get to the places he'd gotten to in life without a big dose of understanding. That's the look he gave me anyhow, like he understood about me and Ronnie after about ten seconds.

I'm sure my parents weren't exactly glad that I was gay, but they'd suspected it before I even considered it. When I figured myself out and thought they didn't know, I came to hate and resent them. I was so sure they'd despise me so much that I dreamed up what they'd say, how they'd treat me and my friends. It wasn't a happy time for any of us, then when I had to face the truth with them they were fantastic about it, even when they weren't happy with me personally.

That unhappiness wasn't because I was queer. It was because of the pain I'd caused to other people; the lies I'd told, especially what I'd done to my best friend Eddie, because of my own fears, my own selfishness.

It was currently water over the dam according to my father, water under the bridge by my mother. Their parental point was that I had learned, had moved, on and was having fun. Oh, if they only knew how much.

After a short time, during which I explained the nature of my sore toe to my concerned parents, we all headed down to the beach. Ralph and I had been finding our own spot on the beach all week, but that day we sat with our parents, then when Ron saw his mother nearby he called her over to join us. It was fun staying all together like that. The adults all got along well, and even Dickie was on his best behavior.

After a swim, Ron and I went up to the concession stand to get something to drink. I was surprised to hear my name being called out in a feminine voice. I looked around to see who it was. I turned around in a circle before I heard my name being called again, then I saw a girl from school, Darlene Rivicki, waving at me from her spot on the beach. She was a good friend and my regular partner at dances.

Ronnie and I went over to her. I introduced Ronnie and she introduced me to her parents and her younger brother and sister. I asked, "Having a good time? I've been here all week."

Darlene smiled, "We just got here. We're camping for a week."

I said, "That's great! We'll be here all week too. I'm here with Ralph and his parents."

"Ralph Swanson? He's here with you? Where are you guys sitting?"

I pointed in the right direction, though it was too far away to see. "Down there. Take a walk with us."

She asked her folks if it was okay and it was. She gathered up her things and we got up on the boardwalk. I said, "We were just gonna get a soda, you want one?"

She nodded, and Ronnie stood in line to get the drinks while I talked to Darlene. I grinned, "Ralph's gonna be real glad to see you here. He kinda likes you, ya know."

Darlene seemed pleased to hear that. "You think he does? He's never said two words to me."

I said, "Yup, that's Ralph. Give him a chance. He knows how to talk. It's just, um, he's pretty shy with girls. He'll get over it."

When Ronnie handed us our drinks we headed towards our group. Ralph was laying on his towel with his t-shirt draped over his eyes. I nudged Darlene, "Say hi. This should be good."

She had stopped to stare and it was soon evident that Ralph's bathing suit had her attention, either that or it was the contents of that bathing suit. I don't know who was staring harder, Darlene, Ronnie or me. She took a few steps towards him and said, "Well, Ralph Swanson! Imagine finding you here!"

Ralph jumped at the sound of her voice and tore the shirt from his face. When he saw Darlene standing there, the rest of him turned almost as red as his swim suit. He squeaked out, "Darlene ... hi!"

She put her towel beside his and knelt down, "This is a nice surprise. I thought this would be a boring vacation."

I nudged Ronnie and we walked away to avoid making Ralph any more embarrassed than he already was. I already knew that they liked each other from a distance, and I was sure that if Darlene persisted long enough to loosen Ralph up, they'd like each other as people too. My parents were in the water with Ralph's folks and Ronnie's mother was creating a sand castle with Dickie.

We were thinking of going in the ocean to sneak another underwater kiss, then the thought of empty tents struck us both at the same time.

The new land speed record for walking on a bum foot was set that day.

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