Farnham Beach

Chapter Nine

Wednesday morning dawned without the bright sunshine streaming through the window to wake Eric up. It didn't matter, he was awake, and a quick look through the window gave him a view of the dark clouds over the ocean. Great, he thought, my day off and it's going to rain.

But he wasn't planning to run today…there was a whole day of running around planned. He looked over at the other bed in the room and saw Freddy fast asleep. The boy had been out with Valerie all evening and just made the eleven p.m. curfew.

They had not shared much about the evening but knowing Freddy it seems he had spent much of that time in conversation with the girl. It would be difficult to have much of a date in the four hours between the time they met up until curfew, but Freddy seemed happy.

"Where did you go?" Eric had asked.

"She took us down to a place called Snappers just this side of Rehoboth. Good seafood, not too expensive…and they don't know her there. We acted like tourists, it was fun."

Freddy had undressed and sat on the edge of his bed. "But she was a little tense, you know? It felt like we were sneaking around behind her momma's back or something."

"Or something," Eric had said. "She's dated other boys here in Farnham and you're not a townie. Perhaps she didn't want to cause issues."

"What kind of issues?"

"Jealousy…envy? I don't know who Valerie has been dating before you came along but some of these Farnham boys are filled with macho bullshit. You might be seen as a threat on their territory."

"You mean she doesn't have a choice of who she wants to date?" Freddy had asked.

"Of course she does, but you’re the competition. You drive a Benz. Granted it's not new but it still beats out the old Fords and Chevys these guys have. Your car alone says money to them and they see that as a threat."

"Valerie didn't seem to mind my car…she said it had nice seats."

"Well, from what you say she seems like a nice girl, but she won't change overnight. She was probably smart to get you out of town for the date…so when's the next one?"

Freddy had grinned. "We're having lunch tomorrow. She doesn't have work until four and I have the day off. I plan to sleep until noon if I can, or at least until the noise downstairs wakes me up."

That had been the extent of their brief conversation last night and now when Eric glanced over at Freddy it looked like he probably could sleep until noon. The schedule of days off was posted right there in the office and Eric had forgotten that Freddy also had Wednesday off. But the shift schedules would rotate every ten days and they would both be working through closing the following week.

Two until ten wasn't bad, and it would only last for ten days. Eric's plans with Alan were flexible. They now had the whole summer ahead of them thanks to some inept kidnappers. It wasn't funny because Beetle had been in real danger, but the kid still saw it all as one big adventure.

Eric rolled out of bed and went to take his shower. He wondered if Alan was awake, but they had planned to meet at eight for breakfast and it was only six-thirty so he got dressed. He donned a windbreaker and went down the back stairs and out onto the boardwalk.

The sky was overcast, the dark clouds still nailed down the horizon, but it didn't look like much of a storm. The wind was blowing offshore, fluttering the flags out on the beach at the lifeguard stations, but they were still green. Perhaps this would all blow away in a matter of hours.

The early morning fishermen were out surf casting, a few hardy souls walking or running along the surf line. Eric wasn't hungry yet, but a coffee would be most welcome. He walked down to the snack bar on the corner and saw several others had the same idea. A few minutes later he sat on the steps to the beach with a short coffee in his hand and a smile as the wind gusts ruffled his hair.

There was never a bad day at the beach no matter the weather. Summer storms along the coast could be cold and nasty, but not in June with temperatures in the seventies and eighties. Hurricane season was still some months away and there had not been one of those big storms in Delaware for years. Eric relaxed and watched the distant waves roll up on the beach.

Later on he would take Alan to the condo and they would…they could…or maybe not. The subject of full on gay sex had not been a part of their dialogue because neither of them seemed ready for it. Eric had been waiting for Alan to bring it up, but then Alan might be waiting for him to reach a decision.

It's too soon, Eric thought. They had only been together for a week and their emotional attachment was still growing. Love doesn't demand we have sex, he thought, although what they had done so far was pretty terrific.

"Hey, stranger…mind if I join you?' A voice said from the boardwalk.

Eric looked up and saw Jack standing there with his own coffee. The man might be gay but Eric wasn't buying anything Jack might be selling. Still, there was no reason to be unkind.

"Sure…pull up a step," Eric said.

Jack sat down with a sigh and sipped his coffee. "Not a good morning for golfing," he said, looking at the overcast. "What gets you up so early?"

"It's my day off and I don't want to waste a minute of free time," Eric said. "Alan and I have a full day planned out."

"The blond boy?"

"Boyfriend," Eric said. Why not? Jack ought to know he was wasting his time.

"Lucky man, congratulations," Jack said.

"I know you were checking us out, even Freddy said you were gay."

"I am gay, but I don't chase after teenager boys. It's just…just…I lost my partner this past January…"

"Oh no…I'm sorry," Eric said.

"Thanks…we were together for nearly twelve years. I guess that seeing you with Alan reminded me of what Barry and I shared. We met in high school and it was never supposed to last that long…all our friends were amazed."He sighed and gave Eric a smile. "I wanted to kill him…but I got over it."

"What? I thought he died," Eric said.

"Oh, I'm sorry, it did sound like that didn't it? No, he left me for some eighteen-year-old dancer. He turned thirty and lost his mind, that's all I can figure out. It took me a while to realize it wasn't my fault."

"Is that normal? Do guys just leave a long term relationship?"

"Barry did, but I think he's delusional. Why would a younger man entertain a long term relationship with him? He gave up a good solid partnership for something foolish…perhaps I misjudged him."

Jack smiled. "But at your age everything is new, enjoy what you have and don't worry about it. So, I have to go and set up for the day. Stop in and say hello sometime…enjoy your day off."

"Thank you, Jack."

He watched the man leave and realized how wrong he had been. Gay relationships were all so different. This was all part of what he had come down here to learn this summer and Alan was only the first step.

Here he was on the cusp of independence and everything he did from now on would have some meaning towards that future. At some point in the next few years he would break away from his parents and venture out on his own, although the relationship with Alan meant he would not be alone.

In this, I am not Homer Wells, Eric thought. Perhaps that had been a naïve and very adolescent assessment on the rules of life. Gillette would probably laugh at him, maybe he already had. But there had been wisdom in that story and the immediate lack of understanding had been what kept him from writing that analysis.

He could not tell Gillette about the gay feelings because he did not understand what they meant. In a real sense the written rules on the walls of society seemed to be against his gay thoughts. But those were someone else's rules and ideals, society was changing, being gay was more acceptable.

Eric and Alan were both children of privilege, wealthy enough to avoid the pitfalls of a normal life, and yet their success was tied to the family. What would his parents think if they knew he was gay…what would Granny think? Alan would face a more difficult censure because of his father's prejudices. It would not work out well if their relationship became known any time soon.

Having Alan at Bethesda Prep was a coup but also fraught with danger. Connie would immediately see the attachment and approve, others might not. It was the price of their love…and speaking of love…Eric looked at the clock on the gazebo in the traffic circle. It was time to go have breakfast with Alan and then take a drive over to the condo.

Their plans had not been set in stone but somewhere along the line Eric knew he was willing to lose his virginity today. He went up the steps to the boardwalk and poured the remaining coffee down the shower drain, the trash can was right there and he tossed the cup into it.

That first glimpse of Alan striding down the boardwalk towards him brought a smile. It was more than the beauty of the boy's face, the eyes spoke of an intensity of purpose, the desire lovers shared. And when their eyes met Alan grinned and the day was made glorious.

"Good Morning," Alan said.

"Hi there," Eric responded. "Are you hungry?"

"Yes…but first the news. Granny spoke with your mother yesterday afternoon. I just found out about it last night."

"Oh? Why would she do that?" Eric asked.

"She wanted to thank your family for raising such a responsible boy and get the scoop on Bethesda Prep."

"Did she mention the kidnapping?"

"I don't know but she probably did, is that a problem?"

"My parents didn't know I was involved…so now they do. This could be a bad thing."

And it was. They ate breakfast at the Daisy Chain and headed for the condo. Eric was quiet, unsure what they were going to do and afraid to talk about it. But that didn't matter as he pulled into the parking lot off the Coastal Highway and saw his father's car parked in the slot for the condo.

"Oh yeah…a bad thing," Eric said.

"Your parents are here?"

"We have Granny to thank for that…so much for our quiet time alone."

"We came as soon as we could," Eric's mother gushed. "You poor boys, what a terrible thing to happen. You must be Alan, so nice to finally meet you…how is your little brother?"

"He's fine…it was all a big adventure for him, Mrs. Tolliver."

"How did you find out?" Eric asked.

"We read about the kidnapping in the paper. That boy Freddy is a real hero, but we didn't know you were involved until Mrs. Pierpont called."

"Well it's over now," Eric said. "What are your plans?"

"We just came to make sure you’re all right…and your birthday is on Monday. I suppose you have to work that day but at least we could arrange to have dinner. I see you went shopping."

"Just the basics…I guess you can pick up the rest. How long are you staying?"

"Your father wants to go home in about two weeks…why do you ask?"

"Freddy is going to perform his magic show on Saturday evening, and I thought the girls might like to see that," Eric said.

"They're already in the pool, why don't you go ask them?"

Rebecca and Janet, fifteen and thirteen, right in the middle of those early devastating teenage years. Eric led Alan through the building towards the pool area as his mother went back upstairs. They stopped at the glass doors to the sundeck.

"I'm sorry…I had no idea they were going to show up," Eric said.

Alan smiled. "The best laid plans…we still have the rest of the day."

"I know…are you disappointed?"

"Eric, it will happen, we both know that now so don't worry about it. You think your sisters will want to see Freddy's act?"

"I think they would rather spend the time drooling over you so let's get this over with and move on."

Eric had to admit that his sisters were nice looking young ladies, like they had much of a choice. Mom was a stickler on the way they dressed and the styles they chose. But Rebecca had boobs and Janet wasn't quite there yet so they looked quite different in bikini bathing suits.

"Eric," Janet squealed from her seat on a lounge chair. Rebecca just looked up with a smile and stared at Alan.

"Rebecca…Janet, this is Alan," Eric said, and he wasn't planning to say much more.

"Are you working at Playland, too?" Janet asked.

"No…I'm just hanging around this summer," Alan replied.

"Mom is taking us to the beach for the day tomorrow," Rebecca said. "You're welcome to come hang out with us."

Alan nodded. "Maybe I will, it all depends on what my family has planned."

"Playland has a new magic show on for Saturday night. I thought you might like to see that," Eric said.

"What kind of magic?" Janet asked.

"Freddy is very good and I think my younger brother is going to assist him again," Alan said.

"You have a younger brother?" Rebecca asked.

"Yes…we call him Beetle," Alan said.

"Okay, we'll get the parents to bring us. Are you here to swim?"

"No, not today," Eric said. "You guys enjoy the pool…we'll see you later."

Eric almost laughed out loud at the disappointment on Rebecca's face as they walked back into the building's lobby.

"They seem nice…your sisters are pretty girls," Alan said.

"Don't get me started," Eric replied.

They rode the elevator up to the tenth floor to say goodbye to his parents although Eric wasn't sure what kind of an excuse he was going to use for them to duck out. Turns out he didn't need one.

His father was dressed casually but nice. He shook hands with Alan and mentioned how glad he was that the criminals had been quickly apprehended.

"I'm sure your parents are relieved," Mr. Tolliver said. "I read the article and realized I know your father, but I didn't know you were related to the Pierpont family."

Alan nodded. "We try to keep that a secret, especially down here."

"With some of the local characters I would imagine so. I'm sorry, Eric, your mother and I have a lunch date with the Davenports. Will you be back for dinner?"

"Probably not, but Rebecca says you’re coming down to the beach tomorrow so I’ll see you then."

"That's fine…you boys don't work too hard."

"Thanks, Dad." And that was their cue to leave.

Eric was not about to waste his day off but he wasn't sure what they could do for entertainment. Alan would gladly toss a lacrosse ball around but that would only last an hour or so…they needed something else.

"How about we go down to Rehoboth and check out the gay scene?" Eric suggested.

"Gay scene…on a Wednesday? What are you looking for?" Alan asked.

"I…I don't know anything about it, do you?"

"Nope, but then I haven't been trying to find out. I saw that gay club so there have to be others. I saw ads for several guest houses and restaurants…maybe we can go have lunch in one of them."

Eric took the Coastal Highway south until they reached Rehoboth Avenue where he turned towards the town. They drove all the way down the avenue to the turnaround at the end without seeing a single parking space.

"Crowded for midweek," Alan said. "Too bad they're not all gay people."

Eric laughed. "It isn't going to be that easy."

He drove back down the avenue to the first cross street and turned north. The hunt was on for a parking place. He turned right on Baltimore Street and they saw parking meters lining the sidewalks all the way to the boardwalk, but still no empty spaces. Eric turned around and headed away from the beach.

"There's the Blue Moon…I saw their ad in the window of that gay bar. It looks like a tiny restaurant," Alan said.

"Tiny means chic and chic means expensive," Eric said. "Let's go over another block."

He turned right at the corner and then right again on Maryland Avenue. A few hundred feet later they saw a parking spot on the curb. Eric maneuvered the Volvo into the spot and shut down the engine.

"Well, Mr. Morgan, here we are in Delaware's gayest beach town…what shall we do now?"

"I suppose a survey is in order otherwise how will they know we're here?"

They locked the car and headed up the street towards the beach. This was a quiet neighborhood with small houses and gardens filled with plants and trees. It all looked a little more domesticated than Farnham, but then Rehoboth had been here much longer.

"Oh…do you see that?" Alan said as he nodded towards a two story white house. The rainbow flag was prominently displayed on the front porch where several men sat in lawn chairs. The little sign beside the steps identified the place as the Rehoboth Guest House. They looked, the men waved, and they waved back until Alan abruptly stopped.

"I want to talk to them," he said. Eric's reluctance was quickly overcome when Alan grasped his hand and pulled him up the walkway to the porch steps.

"Good Morning…I take it this is a gay guest house."

Of the three men sitting there the oldest nodded in reply. "The house has been gay for over forty years, not that it was always easy. Are you partners?"

Eric felt Alan's hand give him a squeeze. "Partners…yes, although we're fairly new at this."

The man smiled. "Young love is the best kind," he said. "Would you care to join us?"

"We're not guests…is it allowed?" Alan asked.

"Sure, the house won't get crowded until the Friday bunch arrives. I'm Mark, and these two are Jeff and Simon. They're an old married couple by now."

Eric knew he didn't mean the men were old since they looked to be in their twenties, so perhaps they had been married for some time.

"I'm Alan and this is Eric…we're just in town for the day."

"So where are you from?" Mark asked.

"Connecticut for me," Alan said.

"I'm from Maryland," Eric said. "How about you guys?"

"We're all from D.C., although I just met these two down here," Mark said. "So how long have you been together?"

"We just met last week," Alan said. "But we're both down for the whole summer…" And he went on to explain how they met. Jeff and Simon stayed a few minutes and then excused themselves to walk back in the house.

Mark smiled as the door closed. "Lovebirds, they've only been partners for two months."

"I have a sense they aren't comfortable with us," Eric said.

"Probably because of your age. The harsh reality of gay life is that the generations have a hard time getting along."

"You don't seem to mind," Alan said.

Mark smiled. "I work with the younger generation all the time…I teach at the University."

"Oh? Which one?"

"George Washington. I've been teaching philosophy there for nearly twenty years and many of my students are not much older than you... and some of them are gay or lesbian. Well, I rarely eat breakfast on a weekday morning but now that you’re here why don't we go find a place to eat and continue this conversation?"

"I'd like that," Eric said. "We saw the Blue Moon over on the next block."

"Interesting place but they don't open until dinner," Mark said. "Let's go take in the local flavor. Let me go get my hat."

Mark went back inside the house and Alan gave Eric a look.

"Interesting character," He said.

"Aren't they all?"

Mark soon reappeared wearing a broad brimmed straw hat and grinned. "Makes me look like a gardener, I know. But the hair on top is growing sparse and the sun down here is too strong."

They walked back over to Rehoboth Avenue and waited in the short line outside the Robin Hood Restaurant. Simple fare Eric noticed from the menu taped on the window, but it seemed to fit Mark's character. They didn't have to wait long and were seated amidst the late morning family crowd.

"Have you been to Rehoboth before?" Mark asked.

"No, this is all new to me," Eric said. "My folks have a place up in Farnham."

"Me too," Alan said. "It's always been family visits to the beach before now, but I'm still staying with my grandmother. Do you come to Rehoboth often?"

Mark nodded. "I've been coming here since I was a college student. That was forty years ago in case you’re interested. I heard this was a friendly place, or at least there were gay people here."

"We heard the same," Eric said.

"Let's hold that discussion for after lunch when there are fewer ears around."

Alan and Eric had the gyro, ignored the fries and opted for a salad. Neither of them was really that hungry but this was a social occasion. Mark had a breakfast omelette with coffee.

"You gentlemen on a diet?" Mark asked.

"Training…we play lacrosse," Eric said. "We have to watch our weight."

Eric paid for the meal over protests from Mark and then they headed towards the boardwalk.

"Rehoboth is a family town," Mark said. "Hasn't always been gay friendly but then gay money changed most of that. In my early days when I came down here the gay community huddled in small groups, a bed and breakfast here and there and the gay beach were about all we had.

"But gay men need a night life so a few bars opened, went through the usual hassles, and finally the town settled back and left us alone. Gay pride eventually made us more visible and the community was very careful about its exposure to the families. Now we seem to be nothing more than a curiosity."

They walked the length of the boardwalk and reached what Mark called the gay beach which was populated with several dozen men and their volleyball net.

"Not much to see," Alan said.

"Better on weekends when the crowd comes in from out of town," Mark replied.

They retraced their steps to the first shelter and Mark urged them to take a seat out of the sun.

"I don't mean to be offensive, but you don't seem gay to me," Eric said.

"Oh? What does gay look like?"

"I don't know…perhaps that's my problem."

Mark laughed. "As a group gay people have been so stereotyped, as if the image is all we are. I assure you we come in all flavors. The gay men who act differently, and sometimes feminine, have immersed themselves in a role that seems comfortable. Many of us don't need to play those games."

"What's it like being a gay professor?" Alan asked.

Mark laughed. "I don't teach gay, although the University does have some gay studies. Philosophy is a neutral subject that allows a lot of latitude for discussion. Of course many of my students know I'm gay and that has provided some awkward moments."

"How so?" Eric asked.

"We're back to that generation gap. Gay relationships are difficult to form, especially among young men. I think you two have been very fortunate in finding one another, it isn't always that easy. But a college student might think it would be easier to have a dalliance with his professor so I've had to disillusion several young men over the years.

"Most of them thought they could just have gay sex and voilà they're gay. It's an act of desperation fed by the fears and ideas cultivated throughout the teen years. Now they're twenty, it ought to be simple, but we know better.

"Go to a gay bar and what you see is gay men, although not always on their best behavior. I tell them the color is there but not the taste unless all they want is something quick without much thought. Relationships usually work better if they are found in a different venue."

"I get that," Eric said, "but it's hard to advertise desires."

"True, but then everyone is advertising in a gay bar although you don't know the product they are selling. I urge these young men to become activists or join a gay social group like the Gay Chorus. There are gay organizations all around the city, even for the younger teens.

"When you go home take a trip into the city. Go down to DuPont Circle, pick up a copy of the Washington Blade newspaper and you'll be exposed to virtually all the activities in the gay community. You have to do your research, talk to some people…just don't rush into anything."

Mark smiled. "You have an advantage in that by being in a relationship there is no hurry to discover the gay community. Being gay is part of a mental process and how you see yourself relating to the rest of society. Unfortunately, a lot of heterosexuals think all we do is lust after one another…but perhaps some of that is true."

"We…we haven't had sex," Eric said.

"Eric…why did you say that?" Alan asked.

"I would have guessed anyways, but that's pretty amazing at your age," Mark said.

"We haven't had the chance," Alan said.

"I didn't have a gay sexual encounter until I was in grad school," Mark said. "Opportunity was there but I just wasn't ready to accept my feelings. I'm glad I waited because by then all my childhood fantasies were long past and an adult relationship was so much easier to maintain."

"You've had a partner?" Eric asked.

"Several in my early years before I met Walter. We had a wonderful romance for nearly eighteen years before he died."

"I'm sorry," Eric said.

Mark sighed. "Life isn't always fair. He was killed in a car accident while rushing home from work to celebrate my birthday. I was depressed about that for a long while until I understood those feelings were unjust to the memory of the good times we shared.

"Don't feel sorry for this old man, I was luckier than many of my generation. Stonewall, Gay Rights battles, and the AIDS crisis all affected so many men my age…"

"You paved the road we walk upon," Eric said. "My generation may have different issues but we wouldn't be this far along without you."

"That's very kind of you to say," Mark said. "If there is one thing I've learned over the years it's that we are all family. Having a gay family is almost as important as your biological one for the survival of our species."

"I need to take a class from you," Eric said.

Mark laughed at that. "I think you already have. Just stay in touch when you go home."

"We'll do that," Alan said.

Mark walked with them back into town, showing them a few of the gay community highlights.

"CAMP Rehoboth," Mark said, pointing at a sign. "Our community center, museum, and social outlet. They sponsor and share information about local events so guys like me don't need to go into a bar to find out what's happening."

They finally walked back up Maryland Avenue and reached Eric's car.

"This is us," Eric said.

Mark nodded. "I hope I've given you a lot to think about…I suppose that's what teachers do best."

"Thank you, Mark," Alan said. "I hope we get to see you again."

"I'm in and around the guest house, but if your summer gets busy you’re free to call me at the university." He pulled out his wallet and handed Alan a business card. "Come down to the school and we'll go do lunch."

Both boys gave him a hug and Mark walked back up the street with a smile.

"He's cool," Alan said.

"I agree…hang on to that card. I have a feeling we're going to need some resources in Washington."

Alan looked at the card. "Marcus T. Horn, PhD., Senior Professor, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Religion and Philosophy…wow, that's a grand title."

"He doesn't seem to wear a fancy title very well," Eric said. "He seems quite human in this environment, not at all pretentious."

"I don't know anything about his university, but I like the man."