Alan didn't show up at Playland the following morning, but Beetle did, and he had his grandmother in tow. The youngster led her through the crowd of kids and right up to Eric.
"Hi," Beetle said, holding his hand out to shake. It was an endearing habit and one that Eric knew made the boy feel like a grownup.
"Hello, Beetle…Mrs. Pierpont."
"He insisted on stopping by on our way to lunch," She said. "Goodness, how can you think in here with this racket?"
"I don't even hear it anymore," Eric said, wondering if he should ask about Alan. It wasn't necessary, Beetle supplied the information.
"Alan is off with Mom and Dad. They went to Rehoboth for the day."
"So you get your grandmother all to yourself…how lucky can you get?"
Granny smiled and nodded. "I don't suppose you have time to accompany us to lunch, or do you?"
"No, Ma'am…I'm sorry, but thank you for the invitation…" And Mr. Connors walked up.
"Mrs. Pierpont…to what do we owe the honor of a visit?" He asked.
"My grandson seems to love this place, Mr. Connors…and some young man named Freddy."
"Ah…the magic man, he should be…"Connors started to say and Freddy appeared from the restroom where he had been taking his turn at the cleaning chores.
"Freddy!" Beetle said, and rushed over to offer his hand.
Freddy went down on one knee which put them just about at eyesight with one another.
"Wait…what's this?" Freddy exclaimed, and then he pulled a quarter out from behind Beetle's ear and handed it to the boy. Granny smiled at the exchange and was then introduced to Freddy.
Mr. Connors wasn't going to be left out and he turned to Mrs. Pierpont. "Are you bringing the boy to see our magic show this evening?"
Magic show? This was the first Eric had heard about Freddy giving a performance.
"Perhaps I can get Beetle's brother to bring him," She said. "What time will you start?"
"Seven o'clock…we can't run any later because of the little ones," Connors said.
"I'll be sure to send him over," She said. Beetle left with his grandmother for their lunch and Eric gave Freddy a grin.
"So you have a show, huh? Where is this going to be?"
"Back behind the carousel. Connors has a bunch of folding chairs back there…you want to help set them up?"
"Sure, Freddy…so how are you going to advertise this show?"
"Glad you asked…"
After lunch Eric was walking the boardwalk in front of the arcade with a sandwich board sign strapped across his shoulders. The sign encouraged parents to bring their kids out to see Freddy, The Magic Man, for free. Eric just hoped the show would be worth all this effort.
The mindless walking back and forth gave him time to think about Alan. The meeting with Valerie and her friends had been a total failure, but Alan seemed to have given up on the experiment rather quickly. It didn't seem like the boy was trying very hard to meet a girl.
The boardwalk was teeming with people and among them were some young ladies that most guys would find attractive. Alan seemed fatalistic about his chances with girls. Didn't he know how good looking he was? Eric sensed that they had been on the brink of discovery last night when they started talking about kissing, but then Alan had walked away.
Eric didn't want Alan to feel like he was backed into a corner. The boy wasn't a quitter; his lacrosse background wouldn't allow that. An aggressive forward was always on the move, always in attack mode. But there was a right time to hand off the ball if keeping it meant a loss of play. In this situation neither of them had a means to pass on the play, they only had one another.
Eric was off at six o'clock and hurried to shower and eat before going downstairs to help Freddy set up chairs. He really hoped Beetle was going to come back for the show because Freddy would be disappointed if the kid wasn't in the audience. But his thoughts weren't really about Beetle, he wanted to see Alan.
Given too much time to think about their discussion last night, Eric was afraid Alan might regret some of the things he said. But with little brother in tow they would not be able to talk about anything important this evening, and maybe that was a good thing.
Beetle found Eric and Freddy wiping down the chairs before the show, and when Eric looked up Alan was standing in back of the chairs watching.
"So…come to watch Freddy saw your little brother in half?" Eric asked.
Alan grinned. "Don't I wish…does he do tricks like that?
"I have no idea," Eric said. "I've never seen his act beyond the coins and the juggling. He won't tell me anything."
"Magicians are a secretive bunch."
"How was your day in Rehoboth?"
"Like most days with my parents…excruciating. They went shopping and I walked the boardwalk. It's longer than the one here, but just as touristy. I went all the way to the end and discovered the gay beach. Did you know it's at the end of Queen Street? How appropriate."
Eric smiled. "Must have been a sight."
"I guess, just people lying in the sand…I didn't see anything particularly gay about it. I saw a gay bar down on the main street in town. They didn't have a sign that said gay bar, but there were photos of guys wearing women's clothing on a board in the window."
"A drag bar, they have those in D.C. at home. Not that I've ever been in a bar of any kind, but you read about stuff like that," Eric said.
"Reading is one thing, understanding is quite something else," Alan said. "The guys in those photos didn't look very attractive. I don't know why they do it."
"I don't either…and I'm not sure I even want to find out. When I'm eighteen I can go into a bar, but I don't drink so why would I?"
Alan sighed. "So how was your day?"
"Don't ask, that clown over there set me up to advertise this little show," Eric said, pointing at Freddy. "I spent hours carrying signs on the boardwalk."
Another grin, Alan seemed amused. "We saw them on the way in."
Parents began to arrive with children in tow. The small stage Freddy had to stand on held his trunk of magic tricks but nothing else. Eric didn't know what the show was all about but he had faith in Freddy who had run upstairs to change into his costume.
"We'd better get seats," Eric said. "Beetle will want to be right down front."
"You got that right," Alan replied.
Magic had been popular on television years ago, Eric remembered. Now there were a few magicians who did big shows where they made things like the Statue of Liberty disappear. Freddy couldn't do anything like that, but then his audience was a bunch of young kids who would be easily impressed by the simpler things.
There were about fifty kids and their parents in the chairs when seven o'clock rolled around and Freddy made his appearance. He had on bright red pants with blue suspenders, a yellow tuxedo jacket with tails and a blue bowler hat. He wore no clown makeup, but the red hair added to the image.
The kids applauded when he took the stage and Freddy immediately went into his act. The trunk was thrown open and a small table literally leapt out for him to grab, but he set it to the side. Then he took out five bright green tennis balls and began to juggle.
Eric had seen Freddy with four balls, but five seemed quite challenging. What the boy could do with those balls in five minutes was simply amazing, and then he set them on the table. Not just five balls lying on the table, he stood them one on top of the other and they stayed there.
"How do you suppose he does that?" Alan whispered.
"Magic," Beetle replied and Eric almost laughed. The little guy was caught up in the act.
There were flowers that grew out of the pockets on Freddy's jacket and every time he picked one another would appear. The jacket was rigged with all sorts of little tricks, like the bandana that disappeared from his hand. Freddy looked around puzzled, and when he turned the kids screamed with delight because the bandana was stuck to Freddy's rear like a tail.
He looked around to his right and the tail bent left, he looked left and the tail went right. When Freddy bent over to look between his legs the tail stood straight up and started to wag as the kids went crazy. Eric turned to look back at the rows of kids and saw Mr. Connors standing at the back laughing along with his patrons.
Eric caught Alan's eye and the boy smiled. There was something else in that glance, perhaps some recognition of being here together as friends. Eric wanted it to be so much more and knew that given time Alan would give him the chance to find out.
Freddy had assured his immortality at Playland, but he wasn't done yet. There were some of the strangest things in that trunk. There were balls that became square when dropped, boxes that collapsed when touched and then sprang back into shape at the snap of a finger. But Eric's favorite trick was the one Freddy used to close his show.
An ordinary looking balloon, well maybe not so ordinary. Freddy tried to blow it up and failed so he frowned. He took off his bowler hat and dropped the balloon inside. Then he pulled out a magic wand and passed it over the hat from which the balloon emerged. It grew and grew until it was nearly six feet long but very narrow.
Freddy plucked the balloon from the hat and Eric noticed it was already tied closed. The balloon was quickly bent and twisted into an animal shape by Freddy's skilled hands. He set the creature down on the stage and then looked right down at Beetle.
"Will you help me?" Freddy asked, the only words he had spoken during his act.
Beetle smiled and stood up, approaching the stage but never taking his eyes off the balloon creature.
"Will you walk my dog?" Freddy said.
"I don't know how," Beetle replied.
"Just pat him on the head."
Beetle leaned over and touched the dog's head and the balloon came alive. It barked and began to shuffle across the stage while Beetle stood back in awe. Eric was pretty awed as well, how was that done? He might ask himself that question but there would be only one answer… Freddy would never reveal his secrets.
Freddy picked up his dog and took a bow, the show was over. He got a standing ovation from parents and kids before the crowd broke up. Beetle climbed up on the stage and helped Freddy pack everything back in the trunk.
"I never would have believed it," Alan said. "He's brilliant."
"He's been doing it since he was Beetle's age," Eric said. "I imagine some of those tricks are quite expensive."
"He has a career in this if he wants."
"He's studying business in college, at least as long as his father is paying the bills."
"What a waste of talent," Alan said. "Mom will have a hard time getting Beetle to sleep after this. Are you off duty?"
"Guess I am."
"Walk home with us."
Eric would like nothing better and he felt relieved of responsibility when Connors had several of the crew begin putting the chairs away. Beetle shook hands with Freddy and they talked for a while as the crowd dissipated.
A lot of people had seen the show and it wouldn't be long before Freddy became the talk of the town. Parents would bring their kids and perhaps Connors wouldn't need to advertise. Alan and Beetle went out to wait on the boardwalk while Eric told Mr. Connors he was leaving.
The weekend crowd was dense, a lot of families out and about, but Eric noticed the two single men standing by the entrance right away. They were begging to be noticed by wearing flowered Hawaiian shirts that looked out of place in Farnham. If anything they looked like Mafia types from New York.
Eric found Alan and they made their way south. "That was quite a show," Alan said. "Did you see those two gangsters in the arcade?"
"You noticed them, too?" Eric asked.
"Hard to miss…I guess you get all kinds of people down here."
"Not like that," Eric said. "I may say something to Mr. Connors when I get back."
But Beetle couldn't wait to tell his mother all about the show and he recapped the entire series of magic tricks while his father and Granny sat quietly. Alan led Eric up to his room and shut the door. Nothing was said as Alan turned and grasped Eric by the shoulders, pulling them together in a hug.
What was…? Eric thought, and then Alan pushed away only to lean back in for a kiss. It wasn't just a friendly kiss there was too much passion evident in those lips. The kiss went on for a dozen heartbeats and then Alan pushed back, looking straight into Eric's eyes.
"Oh…wow," Eric said.
"I just wanted to see how you would react."
"Like this…" And Eric leaned in for kiss number two.
It was Alan who slid onto his arms and pulled them close, as close as any two boys could come with their clothes on. It was Eric who pushed back this time.
"What's changed?" He asked.
"I'm an idiot," Alan said. "We both have the same desires and I get you to drag me off to some dark parking lot with a girl who doesn't even know my name. I…I have feelings, but they're for you."
Eric smiled and looked down at the bulging outline in Alan's shorts. "I can see that. Yes, I have feelings for you, too, but I didn't want to scare you away."
Alan looked over at the door. "This is hardly the place to experiment, where can we go?"
"My parents have a condo. I don't know when they're coming down but I can quickly find out."
Alan had a phone in his room and Eric called home. It had been three days since he had spoken to his mother but she seemed glad to hear his voice.
"I was just wondering when you were coming down," Eric asked once they had gotten past the pleasantries. "My roommate put on a terrific magic show tonight and I know the girls would love to see it."
"I don't know, dear…but we will probably be down at the end of next week after the crowd leaves town from the holiday."
"That's good. You want me to go over and stock the fridge before you get here?"
They had a short list of basic requirements like milk, eggs and bread, but coffee was on top of the list.
"That would be sweet, we might get there too late for me to go shopping," She said.
"Consider it done," Eric said. "Well, this is costing so I'll hang up."
"That's fine, dear. Have a good week and we'll see you next Friday."
"Love you, Mom…bye."
"Love you too."
Eric turned to Alan and smiled. "We have a condo for most the week."
Those few moments of passion were dampened when Beetle knocked on Alan's door.
"Do you think Freddy will perform again?" He asked.
"I'm sure he will, but you're going home with mom and dad on Thursday," Alan said.
"Oh…yeah, I forgot," Beetle said. "We might not come back for weeks. I hope he does the show again."
"I'll be sure to tell him," Eric said. "Mr. Connors looked very happy so I'm sure Freddy will continue to perform."
"Awesome," Beetle said, and he turned to run back down the stairs.
"The Freddy Taylor fan club just began," Alan said.
"He's a complex individual. He might just appreciate a fan club."
"How big is he…really? I only got a glimpse the other night."
"Twelve…thirteen inches…why, you interested?" Eric asked.
"Oh hell no, that's frightening. Besides…we're just getting started here."
"I will never do anything to frighten you," Eric said.
Alan smiled. "I know you won't."
"I…well, I didn't expect we would start anything this fast."
"But you wanted us to become partners, didn't you?"
"You…you're the most exciting guy I've ever met," Eric said. "I didn't think it was possible to find someone so much like me. I'm sorry we only have the week."
"We both need to explore these feelings. I've been avoiding the truth for a long time, and then I saw you at the arcade. I said all the wrong things, started you off with this crazy idea of introducing me to a girl. I feel so guilty for the lies…will you forgive me?"
"There's nothing to forgive," Eric said. "Coming to terms with these feelings is only the first step. We're going to be wonderful together, there's nothing to worry about."
Eric looked at his watch. "I better go…will I see you tomorrow?"
"Count on it."
Alan shut the door and gave Eric a good-bye kiss. The passion was different this time. They had cleared the first hurdle and the long straightaway was still out there before them.
"How early do you get up?" Eric asked.
"As early as I have to…what's up?"
"I run the beach in the morning, and tomorrow is Sunday. The arcade doesn't open until noon so I thought after the run we might go grocery shopping and drop things off at the condo. Are you up for it?"
"What time do you run?" Alan asked.
"I'll be there."
They kissed again and Eric had a thought. "Bring your clothes…we can shower at the condo."
Alan nodded. "You just want to see me naked."
"I do…of course I do."
"Clothes, shopping, shower…and then?"
"Whatever your heart desires," Eric said.
"How could I refuse?" A last kiss and Alan opened his bedroom door.
Eric said good night to the parents and Beetle, Granny had already retired for the night. Alan walked him out to the gate, gave him a hug and they parted. Eric barely felt the wooden deck beneath his feet as he ran down the boardwalk to Playland.
It was Saturday night and the holiday weekend had brought out the crowds. Playland was just shutting down for the night but the tourists would be out and about for hours. Eric ducked under the half closed roll up doors and wondered if Freddy was already up in their room. He was headed for the back stairs when he ran into Mr. Connors.
"You didn't tell me Freddy had such talent," Connors said.
"I didn't know…he never showed me any of his tricks."
"Well I think we'll give him a regular Saturday night spot for the summer."
"Oh, he'll love that," Eric said. "Will I still have to walk around with those sign boards?"
Connors smiled. "Probably not, we'll share the load on advertising. I should get with Maurice and put an ad in the newspaper, maybe some flyers around town. I guess this means I better give Freddy a bonus for his performances."
"Ask him, but I don't think he cares about the money," Eric said.
"I will ask, but he'll bring in more customers and that's worth some reward. Have a good night…are you coming to church in the morning?"
"My parents are coming in town and I have to go food shopping tomorrow before we open." A lame excuse, but Connors nodded and headed back to his little office. Eric had forgotten all about the gangsters in their flamboyant shirts.
Freddy was in their room sitting on his bed in underwear and sewing something on his yellow tuxedo jacket.
"Freddy The Magnificent…you did quite a show this evening," Eric said.
"Did you really like it?" Freddy asked.
"It was outstanding, but it doesn't matter what I think. You had all those kids wrapped around your little finger. As for Connors…let's just say you'll be working every Saturday but you won't have to clean a single bathroom."
Freddy smiled, and then proceeded to stick the needle in his finger. "Ouch, that'll teach me to be more careful. I made a little tear in the pocket here during the act. This coat is worth its weight in gold."
Eric nodded. "I won't ask how you do all those things…you probably won't tell me anyways."
"I won't, let's just say this coat is a wonder of miniaturization and each device is very expensive. Here, see how heavy this thing is."
Eric took the coat and felt the weight. "This thing must weight thirty pounds."
"Thirty-two to be exact," Freddy said. "It's loaded with little motors and controls. My big secrets are all mechanical."
"Well, Beetle was certainly impressed. He went home and told his parents all about the show."
"Cute kid…and so how is Alan?"
"I think I have something there," Eric said.
"Good, I could see that coming. Sometimes all it takes is the right match to get things started. Ouch," Freddy said, sticking himself once again. "Okay, I'm too tired to do this properly."
Eric lay back on his bed and sighed. "I don't know what's going to happen with Alan, he's leaving in five days."
Freddy set aside the coat and his sewing kit. "Does it matter? You're both inexperienced so you have to expect a lot of fumbling around at first. Just don't be in a hurry, enjoy the ride."
Eric was silent, lost in his own thoughts until Freddy began to speak again.
"I could have had a gay experience. Bobby would have been glad to show me the ropes, but I chickened out. Just don't do anything you might regret later."
Eric nodded. "Sage advice…"
They were in bed before midnight, but Eric stared at the lights on the ceiling while listening to the sounds of people out on the boardwalk.
Eric was sure he could deal with oral sex since Alan was no Freddy in the penis department, Thank God. But what did he want? Alan had mentioned guys at school who fooled around…what if he was one of them?
No, he was sure Alan would have mentioned any sexual encounters. Would it be a bad thing if one of them had some experience? All Eric had were fantasies and he was sure Alan shared some of them. He closed his eyes and smiled. Perhaps tomorrow they would get a chance to find out.