I make dinner for Dad and myself. Nothing fancy this time. Spaghetti, with the sauce from a jar. It isn’t very good. I decide I’m going to learn to do this better. It’s a job I can do, something that’ll help and something I need to know how to do anyway. Just how I’ll learn, I don’t know. Maybe get some cookbooks? Maybe find some recipes on the internet? That’ll be a start.
In my room, I check my email. Nothing again. The next time I see Chase, I’m going to pound him. Seriously. I write him and tell him that. I think about sugar-coating what I’m starting to feel about Lindsey, then think: He should be writing me. This has to make him write. So I tell him about her taking me to the pond and about her talking about skinny dipping. I leave it at that. He’ll have to write now; he’ll be curious. Maybe even jealous.
I write a long email. About everything I’m feeling. Wondering about Dad. About how I am missing him. About Lindsey. Well, some things about Lindsey.
I go to sleep that night thinking about all that. I’m getting used to there being no noise at night and how there aren’t any man-made lights at all, that any light comes from the moon and stars. I realize everything in my life has changed. And that I’m handling it pretty well. The last thing I remember, before drifting off, is the ache I feel about Chase. And Carly. That’s a pain that never seems to go away.
I take my bathing suit and a towel to Lindsey’s the next day. I have to decide, but it’s an easy choice. I take my smallest Speedo. It’s as near to skinny dipping as I can get. I hope her suit is tiny, too. I think about that. Think about the logistics of it all, changing into the suits, seeing her in hers, playing in the water with her. Getting back out. Stripping. Drying off. Getting dressed again. How that all might work. About the potential for embarrassment.
I wonder if older people think about this sort of thing, too.
Lindsey’s not outside when I get there. This time, when I knock on the door, a woman answers.
“Oh, you must be Troy,” she says, and she smiles. Her smile looks like Lindsey’s. I like her instantly.
“Yes, I am.” I smile back.
“Come on in! Lindsey’s just finishing up some chores. She’ll be done in a minute.”
She leads me into the kitchen. A man is sitting at the table with a cup of coffee in front of him. He rises and sticks out his hand.
“Hi, I’m Frank Musso.”
I shake his hand and tell him I’m Troy Hodges. He points at a chair at the table, then sits and says, “I understand you’ve been giving Lindsey a run for her money. You must be a pretty good ballplayer to do that.”
I can hear pride in his voice.
“She’s awfully good,” I say. “I have to play better than I ever have before just to keep up with her.”
He chuckles. “All that talent comes from me, you know?” he says, his eyes twinkling.
“Dad!” It’s Lindsey, just entering the kitchen. To me she says, “He doesn’t know anything about basketball.”
“Hey,” he says, his tone making it obvious he’s not serious, “I built the court! I figure anything that comes after that, it’s because of me.”
“Keep thinking that, Dad!” She grins at him, then turns to me.
“Come on,” she says, and walks toward the door.
I stand. “Nice meeting you both,” I say.
They both nod at me, and then I’m out the door.
The game that day is ferocious. I don’t know if it’s her mood or mine, but she starts off playing rough, and I do the same. So she gets rougher, and I do, too. We play for an hour, barely resting at all. At the end, I’m exhausted, covered in sweat and elated. I feel wonderful. Even the new bruises I have feel good. I’ve just had the time of my life.
She’s grinning, too, really grinning, and I think she shares what I’m feeling, my happiness and joy, even with being sore and abused. That’s all part of it. Both being exhausted together. Having experienced the same thing and both feeling the same way about that.
I sink back against the barn, then jump up again. I realize if I cool off too much, I’ll be stiff and sore. “Let’s go swimming,” I say. “I brought my suit.” I point to the rolled up towel by my side.
She agrees, gets her own rolled towel and two Cokes, and we walk into the woods.
I love these woods. It’s still warm here, but it’s much more bearable without the sun. There’s a calm here, a feeling of time and history and something else, something indefinable. But the place gives me a feeling of serenity.
We reach the lake. I look around for somewhere to change. Lindsey looks at me.
“What?” I say.
She grins, and I can’t read her eyes, but she starts taking off her shoes. I watch. Then come the socks, her shorts, her bra and her underpants. She’s naked. I’m simply standing there staring, my heart pounding so hard it’s making my ears ring. She’s naked, right in front of me!
She doesn’t stay there. With a whoop, she turns her back to me, takes five running steps and leaps into the water. She turns to face me and I can detect a slight blush on her cheeks. “Water’s fine. You coming in?”
If her smile were any broader, it would reach her ears.
I’m still standing as though in a trance. Now, I realize it’s my turn. I reach up and pull off the tee shirt I put on before we entered the woods. I move one foot in back of the other to toe off a sneaker, and while looking down, see the bulge in my shorts. I can’t believe it; I’m hard and didn’t even realize it. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.
But how am I going to undress with her watching me and my dick stiff? If I turn around to hide it, I’ll never hear the end of it. I’ll hear about how she has more guts than I do, that I’m chicken, all sorts of shit.
My shoes are off by now, and my socks quickly follow. Decision time.
She’s watching intently. She has an eager grin on her face, and her eyes are full of life.
I hook my thumbs inside both my shorts and my jock. I’m sure not going to do a strip tease with this. I tense up for a second, then, yank down shorts and jock, lift my feet out—the thought of tripping is too terrible to think about for more than a moment but enough to make me take care—then race for the water, Lindsey looking on, looking at me bobbing away. I’m not going to cover myself with my hands. The hell with that. She’s already seen it, and she didn’t cover up anything.
I jump as close to her as I can, wanting to splash that grin off her face. She turns so the water hits her back.
She turns back to me and says, “You look good. I’ve never seen a 15-year-old naked before, but you look good.”
“What have you seen?” I ask.
“I had a boyfriend, my first, a year ago. We fooled around a lot, and I learned all about boys and their parts and all that. We broke up before he turned 17. He’s the only boy I’ve seen, other than my brother, and he’s only 11.”
see your brother naked?”
She laughed. “We’re a farm family. We don’t worry about that. He’ll skinny dip with me here, and we don’t think anything about it.
“He’ll come in from cleaning the barn or shoveling manure, and Mom doesn’t want him in the house like that, so he strips in the backyard and rinses off with the hose. He’s been doing it for years. I guess when you start doing that when you’re seven, it’s no big deal.”
“Wow!” I say. “No one in my family ever sees anyone else naked. I mean, back when my mother was around, we were like that. I’m sure my parents saw each other, but neither of them saw me after I was about nine or ten, I think. Probably nine.”
“Why not? We’re all just people. Maybe living on the farm, maybe watching nature up close makes it all seem sort of ordinary. Anyway, it doesn’t bother us. Trevor and I have been doing it all our lives.”
I’ve been sort of dog paddling around while she’s been talking. The water is perfect, a little chilly but feels so good after being as hot as I’d been. Now I ask, “Did it bother your boyfriend?”
She grins and nods. “He was shy as anything. But once we’d played around a little and he showed me how he jacked off and I showed him how I did and we learned how to do each other, he loved it. He was more eager to get his clothes off than I was.”
“So, did you two, uh, you know…?”
She shakes her head. “I didn’t want to do that. He’d have liked to. But we were too young.”
I look at her. She’s standing so the water is just below her shoulders. I go underwater and swim toward her. I can see her breasts now. They seem to be sort of suspended in the water, as if gravity doesn’t affect them here. They’re medium small. I think they look perfect.
I blow out some air and use my hands to float lower. There isn’t much to see there, just some hair and nothing else. I decide boys are much more interesting in that area.
I come back up for air. She says, “What about you?”
I start to answer, then stop. What I’ve done has been with Chase. And she doesn’t know anything about that.
I don’t want to tell her. I have no idea how she’d react. And I know, looking at her, that I want to do more than see her naked. I want to touch her and have her touch me, and... and do more.
I can’t tell her about Chase.
“I’ve messed around with someone, too. I haven’t done the deed yet either, but we also jacked off together. It was exciting. I really liked it.”
She smiles. Then she moves through the water to where I am standing, puts her arms around me, pulls us together and kisses me.
The kiss and the feel of her body against mine have the expected result. I’d softened a little in the cold water, but now I’m fully hard in an instant with it pressed between us. She reaches down and feels it. Not just touches it, but feels it, wraps her hand around it, slides her hand down it so she can touch what’s below.
“Uhh,” I say.
She grins and lets go. “You feel good, too,” she says, then splashes me in the face and swims away.
I chase her. She’s a great swimmer. We play in the water for some time. We manage to rub against each other now and then. By the time we’re tired and get out, I’ve felt all of her, and she’s felt all of me.
She spreads her towel out on the grass. I spread mine next to it. She lies down on her stomach, so I do the same. The sun feels wonderful on my back. I move so my body is touching hers. For some reason, that feels good. It feels right.
I lie there, feeling the sun, feeling her skin warm against mine, and wonder if I should make a move. I like Lindsey a lot, and I’m horny. I wonder if a gay boy is supposed to be horny, lying next to a naked girl he likes. I haven’t read the rule book. I wish I knew if there was one.
I’m lying on my towel, wondering what I should do, what she might be expecting me to do, my heart racing, when I hear a voice.
“Linds, you there?”
The peacefulness of the moment explodes. Lindsey is suddenly on her feet, grabbing her towel and hissing to me, “Grab your clothes and disappear!” in as urgent a tone as I’d ever heard from her. She runs to her clothes and yanks her sports bra and shorts on before I am even up.
hear something in the woods, the sound of someone coming our way. I finally
react and jump up, too, not worrying about my condition. She’s already seen it,
and she isn’t looking my way anyway. I grab the towel and clothes on the fly
and make for the far side of the clearing. I just reach the trees when I hear
behind me, “Oh, you are here!”
I slip into the trees, then turn back so I can see. A boy is standing looking at Lindsey, who is now clothed and sitting on her towel, her body pointed toward the pond, her head swiveled toward the boy.
He walks over to her. “Where’s your friend?”
I pull on my jock and shorts while watching, thinking it would be interesting to see what lie Lindsey would come up with, but I don’t let her tell one. Instead, I step back in the clearing and say, “Here I am!”
Lindsey had been about to speak but now closes her mouth. So I keep talking. “We were just swimming, and then drying off in the sun. Who’re you?”
The boy looks at me, back at Lindsey, then at me again. He starts to say something but then stops. Instead of what he’d been thinking of saying—I can see in his eyes he’s thinking fast—he says, “I’m Trevor. Lindsey’s brother. Are you Troy?”
I walk over to him. “Yeah. Troy. Nice to meet you.”
He looks me over, so I do the same. I’m guessing he’s 11. He looks 11. Sort of on the cusp but very sure of himself—confident like a lot of 11-year-olds are. He is thin, wearing a tee and shorts, and carrying a towel. I am still bare-chested, but mostly dry. My hair is still damp. My shorts are damp, too, but damp from sweating in them all morning.
He glances back at Lindsey. Her bra and shorts are also damp.
He turns back to me. “Usually Lindsey skinny dips here. I do, too. But your clothes look wet.” He appears puzzled. “Did you swim in them?” There’s a pause when neither of us answers, and an adorable, eager grin sprouts on his face, and his eyes flash like I’ve seen Lindsey’s do when she’s excited. “Or’d you guys skinny dip, too?”
I don’t blush, thankfully. Instead, I turn to Lindsey. “He’s your brother,” I say. “You answer!
Chase has a brother. He is two years younger than Chase and nothing like him. He is quiet and reserved, while Chase was full of life and outgoing. The thing they had in common was that both were cute. That’s what I’d heard their mother say, ‘cute as a button’. And though I’d never have said anything so cutesy as that, it was true.
His name was Charles. Yeah, I know, Chase and Charles. Chase said it was because his mom liked alliteration.
I liked Charles OK, but he was just there, a little kid in the background. I’d never had much to do with him, had never got to know him well. He didn’t tag along after Chase much, and he simply acknowledged me when I was in his house, nothing more than that.
I did get to know him a little, though, later, after Carly was taken and near the time Dad and I left.
That had been a difficult time for a number of reasons. We were all really shook up by Carly’s being gone and the sick fear and misery the loss left us with.
Detective Martinez was harassing Dad all the time, too, showing up at difficult times, phoning him late at night to ask questions that had already been answered, even asking him to come to the station in the middle of the night once. Dad did that, and Martinez wasn’t even there, but showed up at our house the next day. We’d not invited him in and were sitting on the front porch. Dad complained about being called to the station and the detective denied making the call, mocked acting innocent, and then got a smirk on his face. My father had stood up then and taken a step toward him, and Martinez had jumped to his feet and clenched his fists and said, “Try it, you motherfucker!” His face had been bright red, and I could see the veins in his neck standing out.
I’d grabbed Dad’s arm and pulled him away, hard. I was as big as my dad and in much better shape, and I’d been able to jerk him away from Martinez.
“Yeah, let your boy protect you, you fucking coward,” he’d yelled.
I’d stepped between them, looking at Martinez. I waited till his eyes met mine. “We’re filing a complaint with the Police-Citizens Review Board,” I said, my voice not raised but hard, stony. I was seething. “If you’re doing this to us, this harassment, you’ve probably done it to other people, too. I’ll bet there’s a file on you. If there isn’t already, my report will start one. I’ve made notes of all the times you’re harassed us: times and places and what you’ve done. I’ve also noted how you’ve accomplished nothing in all the time you’ve been on the case other than to mess with us. You’re an asshole and should never have been promoted. You’re not smart enough to do anything but bully people. You’ll never solve this case by going after my father, but that’s all you’re doing. It’s all you know how to do.”
I stared at him, and his face was still red, his fists still clenched. I looked and forced a false smile and said, “Why don’t you swing on me, you…” I broke off. I wanted to call him a name, but even with how angry I was, it was hard for me to do that.
Martinez actually took a step toward me. I stood there, and when he stopped, I shook my head and said, “No, I didn’t think so. This’ll go in my report, too.” Then I turned and grabbed my dad’s arm and we both walked into the house. I was so mad, I was shaking.
I think my talking about the Police-Citizens Review Board made a difference: that was the last time we saw Detective Martinez before we left.
But things were still hard. People we’d known in the neighborhood didn’t know what to say to us. They’d look away when they saw us. After the first couple of days when the news was out and some of them had brought casseroles or pies, it seemed we were invisible. I understood it. They were just nervous, didn’t know whether to talk about it or not, and it was easier to just leave us alone.
Kids aren’t like adults. I got asked lots of questions at school. Some of them were pretty awful, like: did I think some molester had her? Did I think she was alive? I overheard some nasty speculation, too, and a lot of kids stopped talking abruptly when they saw me.
So I started being by myself a lot. I’d walk home alone if Chase wasn’t available. I had no interest in dealing with other kids. They weren’t at all sensitive to what I was going through. I really missed Carly, I was afraid for her, and I felt entirely useless in doing anything to help. The kinds of thoughts the kids at school had—gruesome or hideous—I had, too, and often I’d end up shaking. To the kids at school, Carly wasn’t real. She was real to me, and if she was in pain, so was I. Just thinking about it and not knowing anything hurt me. I hadn’t cried for years before this had happened, but I cried then.
But I was talking about Charles. It was during this time that I got to know him a little better. I was walking home from school by myself, as I was most of the time now. And as I neared our neighborhood, I suddenly stopped. There, on a telephone pole, was a picture of Carly. I walked closer and saw it was a flyer. Over her picture were the words: Do You Know This Girl? Have You Seen Her?
What startled me was the picture itself. It was one I’d taken. Chase had been at my house, Carly had been laughing at something Chase had done, and I’d had my camera and got a great snap of them.
On the flyer, Chase had been cropped out, and just Carly could be seen. Laughing.
She was beautiful, and seeing her like that, I started crying again.
Under the picture were the words ‘Missing Since’, and the date she’d been taken. ‘If you’ve seen her, or know anything that might help, please call:’ and then my telephone number was given, along with Chase’s and the Police Department’s.
I couldn’t believe it. Where had the picture come from?
I stood thinking and looking at the picture, but eventually I turned away and started walking again. I’d gone another block, and seen six more flyers, when suddenly, ahead, I saw something. I took off running.
I came up to a boy stapling a flyer to a telephone pole and stopped. Charles. He had a bunch more of them in his backpack. He looked up at me with his normal expression, which was mostly neutral. He didn’t show you much. He was just Charles, and if you wanted to get to know him, it was up to you to make the effort.
I’d never taken the time. Now, I was curious. “You’re the one putting these up?” I asked.
That was all he said.
“Where’d you get the picture?”
He dropped his eyes for just a moment, but then raised them to meet mine again. “I scanned the one you gave Chase, then worked with it in Photoshop and made up the flyer and printed them out.”
“Why?” he asked, startled. “Because I hate that she was taken, and I wanted to do something.”
I just looked at him. Then I started talking to him, and he talked to me and I was amazed at his maturity. I probably shouldn’t have been. He was Chase’s brother, and Chase was both smart and mature beyond his years.
Charles turned out to have a lot more to him than I’d ever imagined. But he taught me something: don’t underestimate people by stereotyping them. Charles was younger than I was. He wasn’t the livewire Chase was. Chase eclipsed him in almost every obvious way, and so I’d dismissed him because of that. Charles had made no effort to get to know me. In my mind, these were all reasons to ignore him. But when I did talk to him, I found he was a very impressive kid. And I’d been wrong to misread him as I had.
After that, every time I went to Chase’s, I made it a habit to speak to Charles, to thank him for helping, and get to know him a little better.