Eric focused his attention on the ride's control, a simple on off lever that didn't require much thought, but he had to keep an eye on the kids. The ride was supposed to last three minutes, about fifteen revolutions, but there was a timer in case he lost count. Connors had told him that was about all the kids could handle before they wanted off.
The timer zeroed out and Eric pulled the handle back to stop the ride. It slowly glided to a halt and the parents moved forward to claim their kids. That was it, there was no one in line waiting and so Eric sat down on the stool next to the railing.
Farnham was a rural community and the boys here wore cutoffs or full length jeans. Alan had been wearing board shorts and that STX shirt, not some store brand knockoff. The sneakers were top end Nike and the boy wore ankle socks. The locals would rather die than wear those 'girlie' socks, but Eric wore them too.
Eric remembered the details now. The boy's blond hair fell across his forehead in what would be judged a prep school haircut. It wasn't very long but the color looked real and was not something out of a bottle. Razor cut he would guess, the expensive kind. Greenwich, Connecticut and a prep school…that said money right there.
There was this toothpaste commercial Eric remembered seeing when he was little. Two girls walking down the sidewalk whispering to one another as a boy approaches from down the block. There was no dialogue in the commercial. It was all done with glances until the very end.
Eric remembered that scene very well because the boy's looks were stunning. The girls moved closer and then spilt apart as the boy walked between them. Then just as one of the girls was going to say something the boy smiled, and that sudden gleam from his mouth was breathtaking. It was the smile of the century as far as Eric was concerned, such beautiful white teeth…much like Alan's.
"Excuse me, is this ride open?" A woman said.
Eric was startled out of his reverie. "It certainly is," He replied, looking down at the anxious face of a four-year-old boy. "Have you ever ridden an elephant before?" He asked the child, and the boy shook his head. "Wow, then this will be great fun." And that earned a smile.
The boy climbed in one of the elephants and Eric hooked the belt around the boy's waist. There were no other customers, but he decided not to wait and started the ride.
"You're very good with kids," The woman said. Her son grasped the hand rail in front of his seat as if expecting the ride to zoom off into outer space. But the pace was slow and the boy laughed, moving back and forth in his seat as if to encourage it to go faster.
"I remember enjoying this ride when I was his age," Eric said.
"When you have children you get to experience childhood all over again," The woman said.
The boy seemed braver now as he came towards them and gave a little wave of his hand. Eric and the woman waved back. Eric let the ride run for twice the normal length before he pulled the handle back to bring it to a stop. The boy climbed down and ran to his mother, babbling about the great fun of riding an elephant. But as he walked away he turned back to Eric and gave him a little wave which was returned.
"Isn't it fun to see the little ones enjoying themselves?" Mr. Connors said.
Eric hadn't even seen his boss approach and wondered how long he had been watching. "I agree. You know, I think I rode these very same elephants about fourteen years ago. Has the ride been here that long?"
"It has," Connors replied. "It gets overhauled every winter, but it's a simple machine to maintain. Was that boy you spoke with earlier a friend of yours?"
So Connors had seen them talking. "No sir, we just met, but we play the same sports. Do you know him?"
"I think I've seen him before, what's his name?"
"Alan Morgan. His grandmother has a house here down at the end of the boardwalk," Eric said.
"Hmm, Morgan," Connors said. "Maybe he's part of the Pierpont family, they own both those houses on the inlet."
"That's good to know."
Connors smiled. "You have to make friends where you find them, and there's a long summer ahead. I won't leave you stuck on this ride for long, you need to move around and see the rest of the operation. Keep smiling."
"Thank you, sir," Eric said as Connors walked away.
The sound level at Playland had been growing all day long. The video machines filled the building with noise, each giving off their own unique sound effect related to the game being played. The large carousel added its tinny music to the din which was punctuated by the thuds and screams of laughter from the bumper car ride.
The noise washed over Eric as he greeted small children and helped them onto the seats of the elephant ride. But the noise was only background and the ride a secondary distraction to the thoughts churning in his head. Alan Morgan was all he could think about.
The boy had said he was going to be here for the week and that was a disappointment. There probably wouldn't be many who would stay the whole summer. Freddy wandered by, followed by a trail of kids. He stopped and grinned as he did a few coin tricks for his admiring audience.
"That's it," Freddy said to the little group. "You go back to your games. I have work to do." The kids wandered away and Freddy walked over.
"Charming the little monsters already?" Eric asked.
"Connors thinks it's great," Freddy replied. "So who's your new buddy?"
"Oh, you saw him, too? His name is Alan and he seems like a nice guy."
"That explains it. You're a sucker for a pretty face."
"Are you asking for it or am I just supposed to dodge the obvious and smile about it?"
"Whoa, good comeback," Freddy said.
"I'm going to make a lot of friends this summer, live a little," Eric said.
"You deserve that. Is it me or is this place noisy as hell?"
"The noise sounds like money to Mr. Connors, we'll get used to it. Thank goodness we're off at six," Eric said.
"Now you know why the curfew is at eleven, can you imagine trying to sleep upstairs with all this noise going on? Are you going to meet up with Alan later on?"
"Probably not, he has the parental thing to do…maybe tomorrow. You want to hang with us?" Eric asked.
"No, I don't want to be a third wheel," Freddy said.
"Come on, we'll just go eat something and walk around looking at people, you'll have fun."
"I don't want to keep you from having…never mind, I'll go."
Six o'clock came and Eric was relieved by Michelle, one of the college girls in the women's dorm. The afternoon had gone well, except for one little mess to clean up. Now Eric understood why there was a bottle of disinfectant cleaner and a stack of clean towels in the bottom of the control cabinet.
The poor little girl on the ride had become overexcited and lost her lunch in the blue elephant. The mother was apologetic, but then Eric figured she had probably overindulged the girl with too many sweets and the ride did the rest. He mentioned it to Michelle who shrugged it off and went right to work.
Eric went upstairs and made himself a sandwich because the buffet didn't have any appeal. He was already tired, but it was much too early to think about bed. Instead he changed clothes and rejected the idea of another Playland shirt. Tonight he would go out and pretend to be a tourist.
He hit the boardwalk and without even realizing it headed south towards the end. He was familiar with the houses that sat behind the dunes, but now they became an object of study. On the ocean side there was a narrow salt pond between the dunes and the wall around the property. A wooden walk-bridge led over the water to an iron gate at the back of the closest house.
Eric didn't want to seem nosey so instead of crossing the bridge he plodded across the dunes to the street that fronted the homes. He had never been this way before since the walls surrounding the property didn't allow for much of a view. But as he passed the driveway he could see cars sitting in front of the houses so at least he knew someone was home.
The houses sat at an angle to one another so that the upper floors had an unobstructed view of the ocean. If Alan did live there he wondered if the boy could bring him home and allow him a view from the upper balcony.
Eric walked up the street past the houses to the end where the inlet forced him to turn north and take the sidewalk back towards the center of town. The houses here were owned by the year round residents, as were the boats sitting at the docks of the inlet across the way. Picket fences lined the sidewalk and most of the houses had nice little gardens out front.
Eric was no more than a block away when he saw a white Cadillac coasting down the street towards him. There was probably only one place a car like that could be going and so Eric stopped as it approached and began to pass.
The rear window slowly slid down and an arm was thrust out from the interior. Eric couldn't see inside because of the tinted glass but he saw a hand raised and begin to twist in an all too familiar gesture. 'Turn around' the signal said, just as if he was on the lacrosse field with an opponent in hot pursuit. Eric smiled and did just what Alan requested.
He walked back up the block and turned towards the ocean. As he approached the first driveway he saw Alan standing beside the gate.
"We just got back from dinner," Alan said. "Can you come in and stay a while?"
"Sure…is this like meet the parents time?"
"Exactly. I was hoping you would catch the signal."
Eric laughed. "You have no idea how many times that little gesture saved me from being clobbered by an opponent."
"You must play forward, so do I," Alan said. "So come on, let's go meet Momma and Papa bear."
"I guess that makes you Goldilocks," Eric said.
Alan grinned. "Now what would make you think that?"
The house with the grey siding on the left belonged to Alan's parents and the one they were about to enter was painted in pale shades of blue, this was his grandmother's. Neither of them looked over the top or opulent, just your average very large beach house with a ten-acre yard that led down to the inlet.
"My cousins are down for the week as well so don't get confused by the crowd inside. Granny lives down here all summer and this birthday thing is a family tradition," Alan said.
"You call her Granny?" Eric asked.
"I do, but you may call her Mrs. Pierpont."
"A famous name in these parts, you didn't tell me about your family connections."
Alan paused on the wide entrance porch. "I know what you're thinking, the money and all that notoriety, but I'm not like that…"
"Whoa," Eric said. "Let's not get started on the wrong foot. Money doesn't mean that much to me, my father has his own pile. Maybe not as much as yours, but still, it isn't me either. I avoid the country club set and try to have my own very normal group of friends. I suppose once we become better acquainted we can laugh about this."
Alan smiled and Eric saw something in those eyes. He could only imagine how much anguish this famous family had caused in the boy's life. Wealthy parents had certain expectations of their children, Eric knew all about that. But the look spoke of desire and deep inside Eric knew that Alan needed someone he could trust, someone he could talk to.
Eric smiled back. "Why don't we go inside and get this over with? I'll be on my best behavior."
"Thank you," Alan said, and he placed a hand gently on Eric's shoulder as he opened the door.
It was the first affectionate gesture Alan made towards him and Eric was determined it wouldn't be the last. There was something there that needed to be explored, but first the hurdle of meeting the parents. The door opened into a tiled hallway that led straight back through the length of the house to the kitchen.
There was laughter and conversation echoing down the stairway from the second floor, and then a tall elegant looking woman walked into the hallway from the sitting room on the right. Granny, Eric thought, and then she paused to look at him with curiosity.
"Granny, this is Eric…he's working for the Connors this summer," Alan said.
Her eyes were a watery blue and despite the gray hair Eric could see that Alan's looks had emanated from this side of the family. She smiled and held out a hand.
"Eric, nice to meet you," Granny said.
"Thank you, Mrs. Pierpont." Eric gave her hand a brief touch and then stood back respectfully.
"So you're working at the Playland arcade this summer?" She asked. "I haven't been there in ages, is Robert sill running the place?"
"Yes, Ma'am, this is my first day as one of his minions."
She smiled at the word and Eric knew what was coming next. "Where are you from, Eric?"
This was like asking who are you and Eric knew he would be judged by his answer.
"I live in Bethesda, Maryland and I'll be a senior at Bethesda Prep this fall," Eric said, and then to make her understand his presence at the beach he added: "My father didn't want me to take a menial job with Mr. Connors, but I suppose this is all about asserting my independence before I turn eighteen."
Mrs. Pierpont nodded. "I like that school very much. If my daughter had raised her family here I would imagine Alan might be attending there instead of Brunswick. I think it's good for a young man to assert himself, and Robert Connors certainly doesn't tolerate any nonsense."
With Eric's credentials established, she turned to her grandson. "I'm glad you brought Eric over to meet me. Why don't you take him back to the kitchen and see if Nettie has some refreshments on the table?"
She then turned back to Eric. "I'm guessing you're quite familiar with Farnham and some of the people who live here."
"Yes, Ma'am, my father owns a good deal of property in the area…and I know all about the locals."
"Good. I'm off to watch the news, but it was so nice to meet you, Eric…?"
"Tolliver, Ma'am…Eric Tolliver. Alan will be my first new friend down here so I'll be sure to take care of him. Have a pleasant evening."
"Thank you," She replied, and began to climb the stairs.
Eric watched her for a moment and then turned to Alan. "That was nice and easy," He said.
"What a charmer you are, she likes you," Alan said.
"Charming older women is fairly easy, it's the younger ones I have difficulty relating to in any meaningful fashion," Eric said. "But enough about that, who is Nettie?"
"Granny's housekeeper and part time cook, we eat out a lot. Just be careful, she's one of the locals you seem to disparage so much."
"I rather like most of the locals," Eric said. "There are a few problematic teenagers in the town, but I was just responding to your grandmother's cue. I take it she doesn't trust easily."
Alan glanced up the empty stairway. "At her level they're a breed apart, not something I plan to emulate. But like you said, we have to take our cue from her…a wise move. So, are you thirsty?"
"I could go for a tea, we'll save the beer bash for later," Eric said.
"Yes, I suppose we must," Alan laughed, and he led Eric down the hall.
Okay, Eric thought, their friendship had been blessed by the ruling member of the family, it only remained to be seen how the young scion would react. Alan seemed a little bit off his game here among the family. He would certainly have other friends but it was likely they were school chums up north.
It was probably for the best that Eric had asserted himself with the grandmother. The parents would come next, but they would be easier. They moved into the kitchen where a middle aged woman was setting out cookies and cake at the long counter.
"Nettie, this is Eric…we'll be seeing a lot of him this week," Alan said.
"Pleased to meet you," Eric said.
Nettie smiled and nodded at Alan. "So you've found a friend, good," She said, wiping her hands on a dish towel. "Nice to meet you as well, Eric. Can I get something for you boys?"
"I'll take a coffee," Alan said, looking at the pot on the stove. "Nettie makes the best coffee you ever tasted."
She gave a short barking laugh in response. "It isn't me, it's those imported coffee beans your father insists on having."
"I'll try that as well," Eric said.
The sound of footsteps thumping on the stairs was followed by childish laughter and two young girls came bursting into the kitchen. Eric immediately assessed them as Alan's sisters.
"Oh, Hi," One of them said to Eric. "Who are you?"
"This is my friend, Eric," Alan said.
One girl looked about fourteen, the other a year younger. Neither of them seemed shy and he felt their eyes appraise him with a look driven by their emerging adolescent hormones. Hungry eyes, Connie called them, but this small pair of foxes was too young for him to worry about.
Alan handed him a coffee mug, ignoring the girls completely, and instead focusing in on the boy who came wandering into the room. This had to be a younger brother since he looked just like Alan in miniature. Perhaps eight years old but definitely not shy. The boy walked right up to Eric and stuck out his hand.
"I'm Beetle," He said proudly, gazing at Eric with a bright animated look.
The girls snickered and Alan gave them a glare before turning back to his brother with a smile. "Beetle, this is my new friend, Eric."
"Nice to meet you…Beetle," Eric said, shaking the proffered hand.
"You like my new watch?" He said, holding out his arm. "Gran gave it to me so I can be on time for dinner. Where you from?" Beetle asked. It seems everyone in the family would want to know that information.
"I live in Maryland, but I'm down here for the summer…and working at Playland."
Beetle's face lit up. "Cool…can I get free rides on the bumper cars?"
"You may if your brother comes with you," Eric said.
"I'll take you up there tomorrow if Mom says okay," Alan said.
Beetle laughed. "She will." And that seemed to end the discussion.
The girls and Beetle went over to the counter to raid the cookies and Alan pulled on Eric's sleeve, guiding him back out into the hallway. They climbed the stairs, careful not to spill any coffee along the way. Nettie had added cream and sugar to them both which must be Alan's way of drinking it, but it sure did taste good.
They stood at the top of the steps and looked down the broad hallway towards the rear of the house and the lanai where everyone seemed to be gathered in the fading daylight.
"We could go get this over with or duck into my room and hide," Alan said.
"Parents first," Eric said. "And why do they call your little brother Beetle?"
Alan grinned. "His name is Bartholomew…I think he rather enjoys the nickname."
They stepped into the lanai and Eric could see why this room was the focus of family life. Out through the screens was the broad stretch of dunes and the ocean, a really stunning view. Half living room and half porch, the lanai was filled with patio furniture and six people. Two sets of parents, Granny Pierpont and a twenty-something man, all of who turned to look as they entered.
Granny was the first to smile and turn her attention from the television that sat in the corner. She gave Eric a wave and that's when he noticed the earplug connected to the television so she could hear the news program. Alan walked over to the group and Eric followed.
The men all stood and shook Eric's hand, the gentlemanly thing to do. Eric offered a hand to the two women who remained seated. Alan was his mother's son and she was the source of his Nordic features. Mr. Morgan was solidly built and so perhaps his genes had contributed to Alan's athletic prowess.
"Tolliver, now why do I recall that name?" Mr. Morgan said.
"Tolliver, Steele and Pritchard perhaps," Eric said. "My father is in property management and acquisition."
"That's it," Morgan said. "I've met him at several conferences. His company does some business with our banks."
"What brings you here for the summer, Eric? Are your parents down with you?" Mrs. Morgan asked.
"No, Ma'am. They might show up in a few weeks, but I took a job here for the summer."
"Mother said you were working for the Connors," She said. "I know Robert runs a tight ship."
"Yes, Ma'am. His son Bobby enticed me to take the job. I've known the family for about five years."
"So you're part tourist and part townie, an interesting combination," Mrs. Morgan said.
"Why so, dear?" Mr. Morgan asked.
"If you live here long enough you'll come to understand. The locals have a love/hate relationship with the summer people. In many cases it's simply an economic factor, but the education the local children get is sub-par. I'm sure Eric knows what I mean."
"If you don't mind my saying so, I think that's changing," Eric said. "Farnham isn't the isolated little rural Delaware town anymore. My father says the same thing has happened to Rehoboth Beach as new people moved in year round."
"The queer population seems to have taken over there," Mr. Morgan said, and Eric nearly flinched.
"Well their money is certainly welcome, look how much Rehoboth has expanded," Mrs. Morgan said. "But Eric doesn't want to hear all that nonsense. Mother seems to think you'll take good care of Alan this week, and I agree."
"Yes, Ma'am," Eric said.
They stood around politely for a while listening to the conversation turn more adult with every minute and then Alan made a gesture with his head. Eric followed him out of the lanai and back down the hallway.
"That was all going nowhere for us," Alan said.
"Won't your parents be upset that we just walked away?" Eric asked.
"Hardly, they were ignoring us and that's usually my cue to make an exit. This is my room," He said, opening a door at the end of the hall.
Eric could see that Alan had moved in, unless this bedroom was exclusively decorated for his use whenever he came to visit. There was a large Brunswick School banner on the wall with crossed lacrosse sticks over it. One side of the room held bunk beds, the other a desk for Alan's laptop.
But the room was large enough to hold a comfortable looking couch and two lounge chairs, all facing the entertainment center and large screen television. Alan closed the door and gestured at the sticks on the wall.
"Perhaps we can get in a little play if we run across a particularly boring afternoon."
"I don't think the lifeguards on the beach would be too happy about that. Have you read the beach rules they have posted? No ball play on the beach, what a stupid rule," Eric said.
"We can play out in the yard." Alan said, dropping down on the couch.
Eric sat in one of the chairs and noticed the time on the alarm clock. "I have to be back before eleven," He said.
"You have a long weekend of work ahead so we don't have to make any plans. I'll try not to hang around the arcade too much and get you in trouble. Will you have a day off?"
"Next Wednesday is my first, but the schedule rotates," Eric said. "I want you to meet Freddy when you get the chance. He's my roomy…and quite the character."
"What's it like at your school?" Alan asked.
"Good teachers, intense academic atmosphere. A lot of my friends are on the team, but then we're all pretty competitive. Connie is probably my oldest friend, but we've been together since grade school."
"Love interest?" Alan asked.
"Connie? No, it isn't like that. She's my soul mate. We know entirely too much about one another to ever be in love, but I do love her."
"Brunswick isn't exactly my ideal choice for any romantic encounters," Alan said. "All those old money families have some pretty screwed up kids."
Eric smiled. "And so where does that leave you?"
Alan laughed. "Frustrated…angry, probably both. All the sports and cold showers in the world don't seem to work. I think there's something wrong with me."
"I doubt that; it sounds perfectly normal to me. My biology teacher calls it testosterone poisoning when he's trying to be funny. But I understand…it isn't any different for me."
Alan shook his head. "I'm sorry. This is a pretty strange direction for our first in depth conversation."
"Not really, it just establishes that we have common ground and I don't mind talking about it. I'm seventeen and almost had a sexual encounter three years ago, but that was with Connie and I think she just felt sorry for me."
"Ah, pity sex, you should have gone for it," Alan said. "I'm too carefully watched and my life is so planned. I couldn't even hire a hooker if that's what I wanted, which I don't. So…what was on her mind?"
"I think she would consider it consensual rape if she had managed to accomplish her goal. That was in eighth grade and at least she hasn't tried it again." Of course she hasn't, Eric thought, she knew what was on his mind but he couldn't tell Alan.
"Brunswick tries not to leave boys and girls together under any circumstances. I've had crushes on a few girls, but then their parents are even more suspicious so we never dated. Last year a couple of the gay guys at school came on to me and I was like what the fuck, is that the image I project?"
Eric shook his head. "No, but gay or straight, at this age I think we're all just frustrated."
"I can't see myself giving it to some guy," Alan said, and then he laughed. "Perhaps if I was stoned enough…but then that wouldn't solve my problem."
"Too true, it just might create a new one," Eric said.
"Yeah, my father hates queers, and that's all I need. But jerking off five times a day isn't working. Maybe you can help me out."
Eric raised his eyebrows. "Do you prefer it right or left handed?"
Alan laughed. "No, you silly clod. I mean you know the locals, and some of them have to be girls who might be willing to change my virginal standing."
"Oh, them. Now there's a bunch who would certainly talk about you after they did the deed, the whole town would know. I think you'd have a better chance with some girl down here with the parents for a weekend."
"You think? So how do I meet them?"
Eric shrugged. "That shouldn't be too hard. All you have to do is be available and let them come to you. I know…do you play Putt-Putt golf?"
"Nope, never tried it," Alan said.
"It's a good place to be seen. We'll give it a try when I'm off work. Speaking of which, I need to go."
Alan stood up and offered Eric his hand. "Thanks…I just wish we had more than a week of this."
Eric shook the hand then then Alan gave him a quick hug. It wasn't meant to be anything special, just an emotional thing. But Alan blushed after he let go and Eric laughed it off.
"I appreciate it but I'd be lousy in bed, you need someone with experience," He said.
Alan laughed in reply. "I just feel…well, I feel liberated. Just knowing you're on my side makes a big difference."
"Okay, I'll bring the condoms. We don't want anyone to think you're up to something if you have to purchase them in the drugstore."
"Oh, I never thought of that."
"You should," Eric said. "If Granny gets wind of this our friendship will be terminated, she might even have me killed. So slow down on the hand jobs, you might need a few ounces of sperm if you meet the right girl."
Alan grinned. "I think I can manage that."
He walked Eric to the gate and waved good-bye. Alan would bring Beetle by the arcade tomorrow and that would make Mr. Connors happy. Paying customers always put a smile on the man's face. Eric walked back up the boardwalk towards Playland and tried to evaluate the past hours with Alan.
The boy seemed pretty open about himself and at least he hadn't been completely negative about his brush with the gay boys at his school. Eric realized he was now in the awkward position of helping Alan find a willing girl to end his misery.
The tourist girls at the beach all seemed like such flirts, there had to be at least one who would give Alan what he wanted. The boy was attractive in so many ways, he should have scored on his own by now. It made Eric wonder if he was being told the whole truth.
In his own life he had definitely avoided becoming entangled with a girl. Connie had called that one right. Okay, so he had been waiting for the right guy to come along, nothing said it would be Alan. The boy was definitely attractive enough, open enough, and here he was offering to pimp the boy to some girl. Was he crazy?
Playland was shuttered for the night and Eric could see the lights on in the rooms upstairs. No matter what he thought, in the end Alan would make his own decisions. If he was to become a good friend then he would do his best to help the boy get what he wanted.
It wasn't a sure bet, neither of them had the experience. But Eric knew he couldn't deny the feelings he had for Alan, and to hide them would be deceit of the worst kind. No, if this friendship was to become anything else then he would have to be honest, and he just wasn't prepared to do that.
One week…that was barely long enough to cement a friendship. What a mess.