Author's note: Before you go looking, I will tell you that there is no Farnham Beach, it is a fictional place and strictly a part of the writer's imagination. There are dozens of beach towns along the Eastern seaboard of the United States just like the one described and it is a given that there is a divide between townies and tourists. I certainly did capitalize on that division in the story.
A childhood visit to the beach should be filled with fond remembrances in later years. For a boy on the verge of manhood it is also a place for change and discovery. For some it is the chance to escape parents and explore the feelings of independence in a familiar environment. But then there are always the new faces from other places that make the difference…like that handsome boy over there.
"I certainly hope you keep up with your reading this summer," Mr. Gillette said. "The syllabus for senior English this fall will require several examinations on European literature, including the Shakespeare on your list."
Gillette seemed to realize none of the students was paying much attention to his directives. It was the end of Senior Week, a time when the graduating class slacked off, held parties each evening, and flaunted their disregard for the school's dress code. But that was normal, just as these junior class students sitting before him would allow their minds to wander on this final day of classes.
Tradition held sway in the classroom, and Bethesda Preparatory School was all about tradition. These sons and daughters of the elite were here because of that word and it had been that way for almost one hundred and sixty years since the school was founded. They were here because their parents saw a successful future for those who graduated from these hallowed, and yet often shabby, halls.
In Gillette's estimation they were all good kids, with few exceptions. BPS had a tough academic regimen which meant each and every graduate would enter a university to continue their program of study. That was also part of the tradition, something expected by the parents who paid an astronomical tuition to guarantee that lofty result.
Gillette halted his little end of term speech. Why bother when these expectant faces were focused on the clock above the classroom door. The second hand was ticking down the final seconds of the class period and Gillette leaned back on the front of his desk. He didn't need to glance at the clock, he could tell time by the smiles on their faces.
"Have a good summer," Gillette said and he smiled back at them. Three, two, one…and out in the hallway bells rang. "Class dismissed."
The kids were instantly on their feet, and the screech of chairs on the worn linoleum echoed around the room. Most of the students headed towards the door, but some stopped to thank their teacher for an interesting semester. He shook hands with many of them, admonishing them to enjoy the summer and look forward to their senior year.
Fourteen students left the classroom and yet Gillette remained perched on the edge of his desk and looked down the row of empty desks to the one remaining student. The boy sat quietly, a pensive smile on his face, hands folded on the top of the desk.
"Did you finish the assignment?" Gillette asked.
"Yes sir," The boy replied.
Gillette motioned with his fingers. "You may bring it to me."
In the sixteen years Gillette had been teaching at BPS he had never encountered another student quite like Eric. The boy was somewhat shy, and yet well-liked by his classmates. But unlike the others his attention to class assignments always seemed to falter.
Eric was one of the taller boys in his class, but not the tallest. His seventeen-year-old body was lanky and yet muscular. The BPS lacrosse team was one of the top contenders in the state and Eric played in most games if his school work allowed. But that was where the boy crossed swords with Gillette who was also his academic advisor.
It wasn't that Eric couldn't do the work. He was a gifted student when his mind didn't wander. Gillette had pondered the situation all year and decided it wasn't a lack of ability or a mental handicap. Plain and simple, the boy was bored and constantly needed to be challenged.
This latest example of the problem was that Eric had not done the homework assignment on John Irving's The Cider House Rules. He claimed to have read the book over the Spring Break and yet had just not found the time to write the required paper. Gillette had challenged the boy to put his thoughts about the story on paper and hand it in for the credit by the end of this final class period.
Eric walked up the aisle and laid the sheets of paper face down on Gillette's desk. "Thank you for allowing me to finish," He said.
"You have a good summer, Mr. Tolliver…and please, read the books I assigned. Your senior year will be quite a challenge." Gillette tapped a finger on the papers. "Things like this will not be possible next year, you need to stay focused."
"Yes sir, I will," Eric replied, and held out his hand to shake. "Thank you, sir."
"You're most welcome," Gillette replied, and then Eric left the classroom.
Gillette wasn't sure what the boy had written, but he had a few minutes before the faculty tea, enough time to glance at the contents. This assignment always seemed to produce some curious interpretations from his students who were from some of the wealthiest families in the state.
Young Mr. Tolliver could hardly identify with the level of poverty so aptly displayed in the story, but he was a bright boy. Gillette had lost his father in the Vietnam War and been raised by his mother and grandmother in near poverty. His personal struggles were more akin to John Irving's characters…and yet he was always amused to read what his boys and girls thought of the story.
There were no orphans in this prep school, but in some ways he felt some of the students were just as isolated. Sons and daughters of the wealthy attended the school, many of them boarders who only went home for the holidays. Parents too busy with their own lives to raise and nurture a child.
His fingers grasped the edge of the pages and turned the document over. "The Cider House Rules, by John Irving," the title read, and what followed was more revealing then perhaps Gillette would ever have expected.
"I am Homer Wells," Eric had written. "I was not raised in an orphanage, never received any medical training by a kind and succinctly disillusioned doctor, nor did I ever find myself in the arms of a misguided woman…but I am Homer Wells. He is everyman."
Gillette got up from his perch on the edge of the desk and dropped heavily into his chair. Eric had stunned him, and he had to read the rest of this now.
"The characters in every John Irving novel display a richness of life, even in death. His stories share a wealth of human desires, and not all of them are kind. Exploring the depth of human folly in this story we are presented with contrasting images of life and death. The orphans of St. Cloud's, in their misery and discontent with life, are the survivors with an uncertain and fearful future.
"With little hope of adoption, these children are still better off in their lives compared to the harsh reality of the illegal abortions performed by Dr. Larch. Larch has established his own set of rules regarding life and Homer cannot accept them so he arranges to leave the only home he has ever known.
"The story takes a turn when Homer ventures out into an unfamiliar world and discovers that most situations in life have their own set of rules even if people don't follow them. It is this blatant disregard of authority and morality, as symbolized by the list of rules posted on the cider house wall, which eventually leads Homer back to the orphanage.
"I believe that Irving's analogy regarding the rules of life that are constantly broken is the main theme of this work. The relationships of the characters all focus on this personal disregard for basic rules in the way they treat one another. Homer is the omniscient perceiver of this wanton disregard and although he resists breaking the rules he finds himself in situations where that is not possible.
"Life cannot be a set of rules posted on the wall since most people will either not read them or discover they cannot understand the intent. That meaning seems to convey Mr. Irving's view of society as a whole who pursue their own selfish needs at great cost to others. The rules of life are like orphans who will never be adopted. They languish and exist only because they must survive.
"But even though Homer is the central character in this morality play, he is caught up in the same cycle of flaunting the rules. This shows that for good or for bad, life goes on despite our best intentions to change. The orphans of St. Clouds continue to exist on small doses of kindness in the dull routine of their lives. Homer eventually finds his truth only to discover that it is the same as everyone else's."
Gillette set the two handwritten pages down on his desk. He could distinctly remember his first year of college when he had read The Cider House Rules. That was some thirty years ago when the book was just published. Could he have digested the contents of the book and elicited such profound thoughts at that age? No, he could not, but to some degree Eric had.
The mind of young Mr. Tolliver was a challenge to them both. Gillette certainly hoped the boy had some moments of growth this summer, he would need his wits about him come fall. The junior year had covered great American literature, but the seniors would study European writers, a more difficult course of study.
Gillette picked up his grade book and turned to his seventh period class list. He found Eric's name and wrote a 'B' in the empty block for this assignment. It was worthy of an 'A,' except it was late and that knocked it down a grade.
He smiled, that was one of the little rules espoused by this school…but what the hell. He made the erasure and wrote the 'A.' Perhaps Mr. Tolliver would appreciate the irony of this decision to break the rule, but he would never know.
Eric was in the midst of gathering the dirty gym clothes from his locker when the hands slid around his middle and gave him an affectionate squeeze.
"Hey there, big boy," The voice behind him proclaimed.
"Hi, Connie," Eric replied. "It's finally over."
"It will never be over between us, lover," Connie said. "Oh, you mean the semester."
Eric laughed and turned with a grin. "That's what I mean."
Connie looked down at the bundle of grey and blue clothing. "What's that awful smell?"
"My dirty jock probably," Eric said.
"Eww, boys are so gross."
Eric shoved the offending items into his backpack and zipped it shut before flipping the locker door shut.
"All ready?" Eric asked.
"Ready for what?" Connie asked.
"You said you wanted a ride home today."
"Oh yeah…about that. I kind of asked Jim for a ride…do you mind?"
"Mind? I would never come between you and your next intended victim," Eric said.
Connie patted his cheek. "Good boy, I knew you would understand. So when do you leave?"
"I was hoping to go early tomorrow," Eric said.
"Well, don't be a stranger," Connie said. "Maybe I can get Jimmy to drive us down to the beach for the day. You'll be at Playland, right?"
"That's the place. Just be nice to Jim and don't break his heart," Eric said. "I think he's still a virgin between his ears."
Connie smiled. "Not for long. Bye, babes…love you." And with that she gave him a big wet kiss on the lips.
Eric grinned as she walked away down the hall. He hoisted his pack and set off in the other direction towards the student parking lot. Connie would have her way with the boy, poor Jim…he was only sixteen.
Eric had known Connie since sixth grade, the year she decided he ought to get to know her better…and wow. Like a true innocent, Eric had ridden his bike over to her house after she called. He didn't even question how she had come up with his parent's unlisted phone number. She had been on the back deck overlooking the pool which wasn't unusual since everyone in the neighborhood had one.
What was unusual was that she was wearing a bathrobe and it was such a warm day. Connie told him to go change in the pool house and they could swim before lunch. Eric assumed that her mother or the housekeeper would serve them sandwiches beside the pool before the other guests arrived. Such naiveté, how dumb could he get?
He changed and walked back to the lounge chairs where she waited, and then she insisted that he dive in the pool first. His head broke the surface of the water just as Connie approached the side of the pool and dropped her robe. There was no bathing suit underneath and Eric was stunned as her lithe body made a quick clean dive into the pool.
Eric had never seen a naked girl before, but he had seen enough to note that Connie was mature where it counted. He was twelve and could count the months since puberty on one hand. But he remembered reading that girls matured faster, and Connie only proved that bit of wisdom.
He was standing in four feet of water when she surfaced in front of him, her budding breasts stood out just above the surface.
"Like what you see?" Connie asked.
"Uh…naked is good, but won't your mother or the housekeeper object?"
"Maxine is off today and my parents are in Virginia for the afternoon," Connie replied. "It's just you and me, babe…so take your suit off."
"I don't think I should…"
"I won't kiss you unless you do. I know what boys look like naked, it's all good."
Eric hesitated. His body had reacted the moment her robe came off and that was embarrassing enough, but now she wanted to see it.
"I'll let you touch me anywhere if you take the suit off," Connie said.
How could Eric resist? He took off his suit and tossed it on the deck beside the pool and they stared at one another.
"You're very mature for twelve," Connie said.
"Thank you…I guess."
"Will you kiss me?" She asked, and Eric nodded dumbly in reply.
He had thought about this moment, not with Connie, but about that first kiss. Her arms went around his neck and she pulled him close until their lips touched. It was a moment of revelation because Eric didn't feel overwhelmed like he thought he should.
Her breasts pressed against him and her hands slid down to press his manhood against her pubic region, but it wasn't exciting. In thinking about it later Eric decided he was just so overwhelmed by the situation and nervous that someone might see them. But he kissed her back and she moaned with desire.
But it was only desire and nothing happened that day, except for the touching. Eric was given the opportunity to explore Connie's body and she in turn did the same to him. The pubic area was fascinating to them both and yet neither of them even considered the possibility of joining in sexual union…instead they became friends.
The years of middle school soon followed and allowed them time to grow closer. He had become the only male friend she had who did not sleep with her. Perhaps she valued their friendship too much since the boys she dated seemed to come and go so quickly.
By eighth grade Eric was very aware that Connie was sleeping around with older high school boys. Her mother must have known of her daughter's proclivities because the girl was on birth control. But although Connie poured her life out on the table between them during every lunch period, it seems that Eric was not interested in sharing as much about his thoughts.
She would talk about this boy and that which led Eric to begin speaking of them as her intended victims…and they were. Connie was a raven haired beauty and considered one of the prettiest girls in school. She could have been in a long term relationship with any one of a dozen boys but she never considered that. Eric finally came to accept that he was friends with a vampire who seemed to feed off all the new blood she could find.
Freshman year at BPS was the one and only time Connie turned her head and gave Eric a second look as a lover. It was the school's fall picnic, a time when the new freshmen were given the opportunity to rub elbows with the elite upper classes. Food, sun, and long deserted hiking trails, the perfect chance to mix it up.
But Connie was bored and so she dragged Eric off into the woods. The park at Whistler's Mountain covered several thousand acres of wooded landscape run by the state parks department. The BPS picnic was an annual event, another part of the vaunted tradition.
"I have something for you," Connie teased as they edged further and further away from the herd of rowdy students.
Eric just shrugged, sure that she was just enjoying the tease. "So what have you got?"
Connie reached in the back pocket of her extraordinarily tight jeans and pulled out a joint.
"Pot! You brought pot on a school trip, are you crazy?" Eric asked.
"It's just a small joint…we'll have it smoked up in a jiffy."
"I don't do drugs, Connie."
"Just this one time?"
Eric insisted he wouldn't, but then they found the shelter hidden in the woods off the beaten path. The lean-to was meant for campers, but at least it was free of debris and very private. Connie lit the joint and proceeded to get high but he wouldn't join her.
She stood up and stumbled a bit, laughing as he smiled up at her, and then her clothes started coming off. Eric watched the strip tease, reminded again of that afternoon by the pool. But this was no little girl…this was a mature and sensual woman.
He wasn't sure what was going to happen until Connie sat naked across his lap and began to kiss him. His body responded to her enticement and she stripped off his shirt and then reached for his pants.
"What are you doing…we can't have sex," Eric said.
"Sure we can…I'm on the pill, but if you’re worried about catching something then we can use a condom. I have three of them here in my bag…what flavor do you want?"
"No…this is not going to happen."
"You're gay, aren't you?" She said.
Eric froze in place and looked at her with confusion. "Gay…you think I'm gay?"
"Maybe you don't understand it yet…but I think you are," Connie said.
Eric was becoming angry now. "Why the hell would you think I'm gay?"
Connie shrugged. "You just got an offer to get laid for the first time in your life and all you can do is say no. I don't know what you're thinking, but sex with me isn't on your mind. I wouldn't care if you were gay. Well, I'd be disappointed because I think sex with you would be incredibly hot.
"Look, think about how you feel and try to be honest with yourself. You're one of the hottest boys in school and we'd still be best buds, that's forever. I just don't think you've given it any thought because it scares you. But if you ever get the chance to be with a guy then you'll know. Just be honest, sweetie…and be careful."
That was all two years ago, and Connie had never brought it up again to Eric's great relief. There was school, there was his place in sports and there was private time in the shower to relieve the tensions any normal boy might have. Eric tried not to think about the gay thing, but it was the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in his mind…he was scared she might be right. Something had to be done.
Was he masculine enough? What was enough? There was one way to find out. The martial arts lessons he signed up for didn't last long but they taught Eric that he was physically able to fight hard. The MATA academy was down off Wilson Lane in the heart of Bethesda, a fast twenty-minute bike ride from the house.
He spent a week watching students in combat practice before he decided this might be something he could learn. Jiu-Jitsu was a fascinating art, but then Eric was drawn to the Filipino practice of stick fighting. He was learning to play lacrosse at BPS and wondered if any of the fighting moves would be of use in the game. Perhaps…if he didn't get caught.
But like most boys his age, especially those in private school, there were just too many activities on his plate. Homework had to come first and with sports practice after school there weren't enough hours in his day. Four months of martial arts came to an abrupt end when lacrosse season began.
It had not been a waste of time, and he had definitely learned something about himself. Being masculine was more than a physical definition since there was the mental aspect as well. If he was gay, and that was a very big if at this point, then he would have to deal with it. But the bottom line for the moment: He didn't even know how to be gay.
Eric dated, or at least he took girls out to movies and parties, but nothing happened because he never started anything. He was the perfect gentleman while all the other boys his age pawed at their dates and tried every trick in the book to get laid.
Connie's admonition to be careful stayed with Eric. The girl had no idea just how close she had come to that hidden place in his mind. But he couldn't be openly gay. That was just too difficult to contemplate. What would his friends and family say?
Back in the ninth grade, just about the time Connie was refining her sexual escapades, there had been one boy Eric thought he might like to know better. By then sports had become the outlet for his sexual frustrations and there was nothing like a good body slam on the lacrosse field to ease the tensions. That's where he met Charlie.
Eric had only been vaguely aware of Charlie over the past semester at BPS. Charlie was the new kid in town and as such had to earn his place in the social order of his peers. But they returned from the winter holiday and that heralded the beginning of lacrosse practice.
Forty boys gathered on the playing field wearing pads, helmets and each of them carrying a stick with a small triangular net on the end. Those who played defense carried the longer sticks, the forwards had shorter sticks for the attack, and Eric was one of those.
The new boys were loaned sticks by the coach until it was determined what position they would be given. The competition was fierce and Eric eyed each of the new boys with concern, certain that one of them would be after his spot as center forward.
They all looked much alike with their faces hidden behind a wire cage, but Eric was drawn to the shortest boy because of the blond hair spilling out from under the helmet. There was something menacing about that body and yet it was also attractive.
"Hey," Eric said. "Have you played before?"
"Nope, lacrosse is all new to me, but I played football when my father was stationed in London."
The boy was American but his accent had a decidedly English lilt. Eric was to discover Charlie was very out of touch with his American roots. But they had little time to share information that day before Coach Williams began the drills.
The game of lacrosse had been played by the native people of the Americas in various forms for centuries. The vicious sport had been refined over the years but was still not very popular across the nation. Here in Maryland it was embraced as the state sport and the best teams were formed by private schools. BPS fielded a championship team.
Players came in all shapes and sizes but they had one thing in common, they had to run with the ball. Eric was fast on his feet and thus was a center forward, the leading attack position. But as the running drills commenced he was stunned by Charlie's abilities. The boy was the fastest thing on two feet Eric had ever seen. He ran like a greyhound.
Speed was essential in the game, but so was ball handling. Charlie was unfamiliar with the use of his stick and the method of keeping the ball stuck in the crease of the net. This made Eric the better player with his two years of experience, but he suffered under no illusions. Charlie was a threat and would be an asset to the team once he learned the basic skills. It seemed Coach Williams was of the same mind.
"Eric, you show him the proper methods of play," Williams said. "He'll make a great backup forward in case of injury."
At least Eric's position wasn't threatened unless he got hurt. Practice might be rough but the games could be brutal. Handing out a bunch of sticks to adolescent boys and putting them out on a field in combat meant someone would get hurt. Running full tilt down the field, it often became a game of kill the man with the ball.
Charlie's speed would be of great use, but only if he learned to handle the stick properly. Eric pulled the boy aside and showed him the essentials of ball handling.
"The only sanctioned contact is stick to stick as someone tries to steal the ball from you, but you know better. Sticks are weapons and so the referee focuses on them while a few body blocks get uncalled. Just don't get mad and hit your opponent with the stick. It might feel good but you'll get tossed from the game."
"Never get mad, get even," Charlie said. "Football was a lot like that."
"So how did you end up in England?" Eric asked.
"My father is with the State Department and we were there almost six years."
"Wow, do you miss it?"
"Yes…and no," Charlie replied. "I was the outsider for a long time, that was hard, but I was at a boarding school for most of the year. Harrow, you ever hear of it?"
"No, was it a good school?"
"My father thought so, very prestigious, lots of history. A school for royalty and very much steeped in tradition. Winston Churchill went there so that's probably why he chose it."
"Welcome back to the real world," Eric said.
Charlie smiled. "You have no idea how good that sounds."
Eric could only imagine what an English boarding school was like, but Charlie slowly filled him in. As the only American he was not quickly embraced by many of his fellow Shells, the name given to the newest boys at the school. But with time he was accepted by the boarding community and finally allowed admission to the inner circles of the school.
"Every boy has to learn foreign languages, I studied Latin and French," Charlie said. "But we all had to write and give speeches to the whole school in the Speech Room. You know Lord Byron the famous English poet went to school there. 'She walks in beauty, like the night…'"
"We read that," Eric said. "Um, he was gay, wasn't he?"
"We had several queers at school," Charlie said. "Damn faggots used to drive me crazy."
That was a little harsh, but Eric didn't know what was behind the venom in Charlie's words. Perhaps there had been some bad personal experiences, but that was really none of his business. Eric wouldn't say anything, but that attitude put a damper on the feelings he had for Charlie.
Nothing more was said between them on the subject, and then fate and the United States government intervened. It was probably something Charlie had experienced before, but Mr. Becker was reassigned to some distant post in the Middle East. The family was gone in a flash leaving Eric alone with his thoughts.
He could have told Connie about the experience, but he didn't. And when she made her comments about being careful Eric already understood what she meant. He could pin all his hopes on one boy and lose. Charlie had been an attraction that was doomed to fail from the very start.
But summer was here and Eric was nearly eighteen. This time when he went to the beach it would be different. The coast of Delaware was three hours east of home and for as long as he could remember Eric had made the trek to the ocean every summer.
At first it was with his parents since his father owned a condo in one of the buildings off the coastal highway. In fact, his father owned the whole building since real estate was his business, or at least one of them. But it often seemed his father's real love in life was golf, something Eric thought of as a useless sport.
It really wasn't until he had been admitted to BPS that Eric realized something about his family. They didn't go to the mall on Saturday…they went to the country club. He couldn't remember a time when they didn't have a maid and a housekeeper. Eric even had a nanny for a while as a young child, at least until his mother gave up her job to have more kids.
He had two sisters, one of them already a teenager, before Eric noticed how different their lives where. They lived in Kenwood Estates with several acres of grass and a dozen dogwood trees in the front yard. Being one of the wealthy families in Bethesda didn't mean that much until Eric turned fifteen and his father took him out shopping for a car.
He didn't want a fancy Mustang or a Jaguar, although his father thought it a grand idea. He didn't see himself in a Mercedes or a sporty Audi, either of which his father would have gladly paid through the nose to buy him. Eric chose a comfortable Volvo sedan because it had the best safety rating on the road and it got good gas mileage. His parents were stunned and his friends laughed at him.
But it was gold in color and it had a sun roof which made it attractive. He might live with money in every aspect of his life, but by personal choice Eric decided to be frugal. The car had almost fifty-thousand miles on it by now which represented dozens of trips to the beach. But this time the trip would be different…different because he wouldn't be coming back until the end of August.
For the next ninety-seven days Eric would become a resident on the east coast of Delaware. The proper name of the town was Farnham, but it was called Farnham Beach by the tourists. The population of the town fluctuated by the seasons. During the colder months the local population was perhaps a few thousand people. But the minute the temperature soared above seventy the town and its environs swelled to ten times that many.
The locals might have found that number of people an aggravation since it clogged the roads and took up every parking space around. But the wealthy part-time residents paid taxes year round and that helped support the town infrastructure. So for most of the year the locals had the benefit of those improvements all to themselves.
The locals ran the restaurants, drugstore, gas stations and fast food joints to amuse these tourists and pull the money from their pockets. In what amounted to five months they made enough to sit pretty through the cold and damp until the next season began. Of course they ran the risk of violent storms, but everyone had insurance, they could afford it.
The road into Farnham was Atlantic Avenue, and there were hundreds of streets with that name up and down the east coast of America. This roadway terminated at the beach but there was no place to park that close to the water. In their infinite wisdom, the town fathers had left large open spaces just off the coastal highway for parking, and shuttle buses served the town center and the beach.
During June, July and August that beach was covered in people more numerous than the seagulls who flew overhead. The beach had been there for over a hundred years and little had changed in the sleepy town of Farnham, at least until the boardwalk was built.
Ten blocks long, the boardwalk was the tourist's source for food and entertainment. Crews of workers spent much of the early spring replacing worn and splintered boards in the thirty-foot-wide walkway. The whole thing had been replaced several times due to severe weather, but it kept being rebuilt. The boardwalk was the cash cow for Farnham Beach and everyone knew it.
There were gift shops and pizza parlors, candy stores and French fry stands, everything that would add enticing smells to the salty air. But for entertainment there were two movie theaters for those occasional rainy days and four arcades filed with games for all ages, of which the largest was Playland.
Inside were hundreds of games in half a square block's worth of building right on the boardwalk. The Skeet Ball and Whack-a-Mole ran from ten in the morning until ten at night for the younger crowd. But there were small carnival rides and bumper cars in back behind the rows of video and pinball games. It was indeed a place to play.
The business took a dozen employees per shift to operate adequately, and there were two shifts to run, clean, and maintain the place. Eric had applied for a job there back in December and even though he had known the Connors family for some years he still had to go through an interview just like everyone else.
Robert Connors, his wife, and their twenty-something son and daughter ran the place. That included the in-laws and assorted younger children once they reached the proper age to work. In all, the family worked hard to supervise their staff of high school and college students. And to make that easier the employees lived in the rooms above the arcade.
Old man Connors and his wife lived in a house behind the building. It was a delightful cottage much like many of the properties in the old town of Farnham. It was there that Eric had his interview amidst the chaos of grandchildren and pets, all of whom seemed to ignore the new people who walked through the door.
Mr. Connors gave them all the same speech, one that he had used for years. No smoking, drinking or fornicating in the dorms. Beds were to be made and each employee was responsible for keeping their uniforms clean, unless they paid the wash lady to do that work. Breakfast was promptly at seven, work began at eight. They were on their own for lunch, but there would be food provided in various ways.
Connors was big on buffet meals, and they had a large one for their dinner which began at five-thirty and closed at seven. There was an office at the top of the back stairs where each employee had a mailbox. It was here that they would find a box containing meal coupons for various restaurants around town since Mr. Connors was also big on trading with other businesses.
They were each given one day off per week and three sick days per season, but Connor's oldest son was a doctor who would give them free medical care if necessary. The dorm rooms each slept four people in individual beds, and there was enough room to provide segregated sleeping space for the two sexes. The north wing was for the boys, the south for the girls, and no fraternizing was allowed. Mr. Connors and family were strict fundamental Baptists so no hanky-panky was tolerated, period.
Overall, the rules did not seem oppressive and the perks were outstanding. A seventeen-year-old boy would work an eight-hour shift and then have the rest of the day off. Where else could a boy make nine dollars an hour to watch people having fun and then swim in the ocean? The only concern any of them might have was the eleven o'clock curfew…and there were ways around that.
Eric left the school and headed home. He had packed the night before and was planning one last dinner with the family before leaving early the following morning. It all seemed so easy now, although that thought left little room for the months of arguing he had endured before his father finally agreed to the summer plans.
"You don't need to work a minimum wage job," His father had said. "I can get you a good paying job at the country club."
"You don't get it, do you? This is something I've done for myself. Its character building, isn't that what you said I need?" Eric tossed back.
The verbal tennis match had gone on for days, and with each encounter Eric had fought harder. But he had years of ammunition for the fight, quoting his father's platitudes back to him on each occasion until finally he won.
"Okay, you go down there and learn to run your own life. But if it gets hard don't come running back to me," His father had said.
Eric almost laughed in his father's face because that was exactly what the man wanted to happen. It was all about control and the old man knew he was losing the fight. Tolliver men were stubborn, how many times had he heard that? His competitors would swear his father was a cold-hearted tenacious individual, but only his son could pull down that shield and square off against the old man.
He would go and he would succeed no matter how hard the Connors family pushed him. This would be his summer to become a man and discover so much about himself. Eric had an agenda, although he didn't have the slightest idea what it would take to achieve his goals.
Perhaps Connie would understand since she had been the only one to challenge his thoughts. No, he had to go because this was going to be the summer that Eric would decide…am I gay or not?