Trevor was forbidden from swimming in the pond alone. That’s why he’s been looking for Lindsey, hoping to find her.
I see him shift his focus from me to her, waiting for an answer to his question about Lindsey and me skinny dipping together. Lindsey grins at him and says, “If you want to swim, we’ll wait for you.”
I don’t know if he notices she hasn’t answered him. I watch as he shrugs out of the few clothes he’s wearing, apparently not a bit concerned about being seen naked by either a complete stranger or his sister, and with a whoop like the one I heard from Lindsey earlier, runs and leaps into the water. He splashes around, grinning, then looks at me. “You swim, not just stand in the water?” he asks.
I tell him I do.
“Well, come on in! Swimming is more fun than watching.”
He has a point. And I even have a suit, the Speedo I never ended up putting on with Lindsey. Somehow, though, with Trevor in the lake naked and Lindsey looking at me as she is now—that challenging smile in her eyes, eyes which she then proceeds to roll, making the challenge more obvious—well, what should I do?
I wait a second, then raise an eyebrow, asking a silent question. She lifts both of hers, asking me a question right back, enjoying herself immensely.
I notice Trevor is looking back and forth between us. It takes but a moment for me to make up my mind. I’m not going to wimp out. I quickly undress. Trevor watches me, but I don’t see anything except curiosity as my jock comes off. Then I’m in the water with him.
We rollick in the water. I don’t touch him like I touched Lindsey. He is all over me, but his touch is incidental. How do I know that? I don’t know, but it just is. He climbs on me, and I throw him in the water, and we both are splashing and swimming, and I forget all about Carly and Martinez and living in an old house that smells funny and Dad’s behavior and... and Chase.
We climb out after a time, and he lies on his towel, not covering himself at all—no modesty and obviously feeling no need for it. I watch him and then do the same. Covering up after seeing how natural he is would somehow be offensive. Even if Lindsey is watching.
The three of us talk. About anything and everything, and when we walk back to the house, we’re three friends. It’s rather amazing to me, but I feel better than I have for weeks. Carly’s still there, she’ll always be there, but the pain is less. It seems I can now accept what’s happened and maybe move on from it, not forgetting her but finding a way of living with that knowledge that’s a little easier.
Chase? What’s going on with him, why isn’t he writing… I’ll have to think about that later.
I turn to walk home when we reach the road, and Lindsey puts her hand on my arm. “Stay for dinner,” she says.
“Yeah,” says Trevor.
I hesitate, but I don’t want to go home. There’s nothing there for me. “OK,” I say. “Will your parents be all right with that?”
“There’s always enough food,” Lindsey says, “and Trev and I would both like you to come.”
It’s an easy decision to make. I go with them.
Mrs. Musso welcomes me warmly. I can see she’s that kind of woman, the ‘no one’s a stranger’ type. Mr. Musso is easy to like, too. He’s a big man and could be intimidating, but there’s always a joke in his eyes, and I know he’s no threat. He looks very comfortable in his own skin.
Mrs. Musso tells me she’s fixing stew but just getting started, so it’ll be a while yet. Trevor wants to show me his room, and Lindsey disappears to take a shower. I’d like to go with Trevor, but there’s something else I want to do more. I look at Trevor and smile, but say, “Hold on a sec,” and then speak to Mrs. Musso.
“Do you think I could watch—or even help? See, Dad’s real busy with whatever it is he’s real busy with, and I made dinner the other night, and I could tell he was really happy I did it. And, well, I have no idea how to cook, but stew sounds like something I could maybe make a big batch of and we could eat it more than just one night. So, well, could I watch you and maybe learn how to make it?”
I think that probably she won’t want me getting in her way. Instead, she steps over and hugs me! Really.
“Troy, that makes me so happy. Lindsey has no interest at all in learning to cook. I’d love to show you how to make stew. And anything else you want to learn to cook. Come on, let’s get started!”
Trevor looks at me with disgust and stalks off. I call Dad on my cell phone. He picks up before I even hear the ringtone. I tell him I won’t be there for dinner. He says thanks for telling him and hangs up. I’m not even sure he knew it was me from how he sounded. He seems to be regressing.
Dinner with the Musso family is wonderful. These are people who like each other, and they make me feel so comfortable. I have learned how to make stew. It’s easy, but without knowing the little tricks, like how to make the gravy and how long to cook things and how hot to cook them, I’d be lost. I’d never have figured it out by myself. But I helped with it and so can take a little pride in how good it tastes, even if Mom M—she’s told me to call her that—really deserves all the credit.
I do get to see Trevor’s room. It’s much more what I’d expect an 11-year-old’s room to look like than Chase’s brother’s is, but then, Trevor is more like what I expect an 11-year-old to be than Charles is. Except he doesn’t mind if people see him naked. I’ve never known someone that age to be so indifferent about that. I sure wasn’t at that age.
When I walk home, it’s dark. The stars here are so bright and there are so many of them that I have no problem seeing once my eyes have adjusted. The night air is warm. I can hear the occasional owl hoot and a noise I’ve never heard before but decide might be a fox bark. There are also some faint scurrying sounds in the woods on my left and various insect noises.
I think of Carly and feel sad, but the pain isn’t as sharp as before. I start to feel guilty about that but realize guilt is a feeling that isn’t a bit helpful and try to put it aside. I think about writing Chase a long email when I get back. Maybe I will. Or maybe I’ll see if he’s written me first.
Chase hasn’t written. I want so much to call him and read him the riot act, yell at him, ask him what the hell’s the matter with him, but I don’t. Dad asked me not to use my cell phone unless I had to, especially to resist calling people back home; he said the signal my cell phone transmits can be traced, and while there are other ways we can be found, there’s no reason to make it easy. I know he’s thinking about Martinez.
Chase knows I’m not supposed to call. I told him that in an email. I told him he had to write me. So far, he has, but just the once. And he really didn’t sound like himself.
Dad says we’re not really hiding but doesn’t want to make where we are obvious. I know part of the reason he wants his isolation is so Detective Martinez won’t hassle him. If he can’t find us, he can’t bother us, and Dad doesn’t want to be bothered by him. I understand that. Martinez is an asshole and a bully and will bother us if he can, just because he can.
I wonder if I should write Chase. I lie on my bed and think. I love Chase. At least I thought I did when I was with him. Lately I’ve been pissed at him, and being pissed seems to make me love him a little less. Is that how it should work? Should love be that fragile? I don’t know. I just don’t have enough experience with this.
When I was with Chase, I thought I was gay. No, I knew I was gay. He said he was, too. But now I’m enjoying being with Lindsey. I really like her.
I think about what I feel for Lindsey. Is it love? No, I’m pretty sure it’s not. Of course, I wasn’t in love with Chase at first, either. Love seemed to grow out of getting to know him better, spending time with him, thinking about him a lot. I’m getting to know Lindsey better, and I already like her a lot. A whole lot. She’s easy to talk to, she’s competitive like I am, she’s no weak sissy girl but strong and feisty, and she laughs a lot. She makes me feel good.
I did stuff with Chase, sex things, and really liked it. I’ve only seen Lindsey naked, and we haven’t really done anything sexual other than just sort of touching each other all over when we were swimming. But I really liked that, too.
It’s difficult to compare the two of them. I think of Chase’s body and how it felt, and how I felt doing the things we did. I wonder if it’ll feel the same when I do them with Lindsey. Because I know I want to and think I will.
It’s confusing me, thinking about this. I decide to wait before I try to compare the two. I don’t know Lindsey well enough yet. But I know I like her, and it makes me wonder about being gay, which I never really wondered about before.
Thinking about all this has gotten me aroused. But for some reason, I don’t want to do anything about it. Instead, I get up again and check my computer. Still nothing from Chase. So I write another email to him, telling him how the day went. All of it. And that he needs to answer my emails. That he really, really needs to do that.
In the morning, Dad’s sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of coffee. It appears he’s waiting for me. He’s been gone, squirreled away in his office when I’ve gotten up the last few days. This is different.
I put some bread in the toaster and get myself some cereal
and milk. Then I grab my toast and sit down to eat. I don’t know what mood my dad will be in today. Will he be spacey and not entirely with me like the past couple of days?
When he speaks to me, I can see he’s better today. He’s entirely with me. I wish he’d stay this way.
“Troy, we need to go shopping. You want to ride into town with me?”
I’d told Lindsey I’d be over today, but hadn’t said when. Going to town with Dad and maybe talking to him when he isn’t in a fog is something I do want to do. So I tell him so, and he says we’ll go as soon as I finish breakfast.
Driving into town, he asks me what I’ve been up to. So I tell him about Lindsey
and Trevor and the Musso family. I tell him everything, except about the lake.
I don’t think he needs to know about that.
We’re on the highway into town by now. I’ve been talking all the time it’s taken to drive slowly down the bumpy dirt road to the highway. “I’m glad you’ve made some friends. I’ve been worried about you out here all by yourself. I don’t have to worry so much about you now,” he says.
“Dad,” I say, and wonder if it’s OK to bring this up, “you know, the last few days, you’ve hardly said a word to me, and when I talk to you, it’s like you’re only half there. What’s going on? I’m worried about you.”
He glances at me, then back at the road. He doesn’t say anything, and I worry he’s not going to. But then he does.
“I know. I’m sorry. And the thing is, I can’t tell you why. Well, I can, but I don’t want to. Troy, you’re just going to have to trust me. We came out here for a reason, and I am wrapped up in what I’m doing, but I also have good reasons not to talk to you about it.”
He drives on, not looking at me, and then says, “Please trust me, Troy. I’m not crazy, I’m not going crazy, and when I can I’ll talk to you about it. I know you’re confused and maybe worried. Don’t be. Go be with your new friends. Have fun. Enjoy the summer.”
He looks at the road and not at me, but he sounds OK. I stare at him for a time, then ask, “When? When will you be done with this, whatever it is? When will things be back to normal?”
He gives me a quick glance. “I don’t know,” he says.
We’re silent then. But I’m less worried now. I did wonder if he was having mental problems, maybe a breakdown. I’ve heard of those. He’s had an awful lot happen in a short timeframe. Losing Carly. Losing Mom. Martinez. Leaving his job. Moving. A lot.
So I decide I’ll do what he is asking me to do: trust him. He knows what he’s doing, and he’s OK.
But I decide to say one more thing to him about it, and then drop it. “If I can ever help, Dad, with whatever it is you’re doing, I will. I want to.”
He looks at me and smiles, a genuine, warm smile, then reaches out and squeezes my leg. “Thanks,” he says, then looks back at the road. After that, we’re both silent till we get to town.
We hit the grocery store. Since I’m cooking now, I know what I need. I buy stuff for stew and have decided on a couple of other meals I am going to try. I put stewing beef, pork chops, some rice, some herbs and green produce and cans of other things in the cart. I feel like I’m twenty years old instead of fifteen.
It suddenly occurs to me that I feel older anyway, and not just because I’m buying groceries. A lot has happened to my dad in the past few months. I guess maybe it has to me, too. And maybe it’s changed me some.
When we’re loading the groceries into the car, Dad spots a rank of newspaper dispensers outside the store. He tells me to wait a sec and walks over to buy a paper. We haven’t seen a newspaper since we moved. This is a small town, and I imagine they might have a weekly paper, but no more than that. I walk over to look at where there are several coin-operated dispensers. I see they do have daily papers, but from major cities around us, none of which is especially close. There’s a Chicago Tribune, a Denver Post, Kansas City Star, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Dad buys one of the latter, then drops a coin in another dispenser and buys the local paper. I was right; it’s a weekly. He glances at the St. Louis paper on the way to the car, then throws both papers in the back seat, and we drive home.
At home, I make lunch. Sandwiches. Dad sits at the table, reading the paper. I don’t ask him about the news. It’s been so long since I was in touch with the outside world that I don’t really care what’s happening, or even about how any of the teams I used to follow are doing. They all suck, anyway, especially the Royals.
I eat my sandwich, put the plate in the sink, and tell Dad I’m going to Lindsey’s. And that I’ll be home to fix dinner. I’m eager to try making that stew. Dad’s finished with the Post-Dispatch. He’s reading the local paper and doesn’t respond to me. It looks to me like he’s holding the paper really tight; his fingers are white and trembling. I start to ask if he’s all right, but he hasn’t been all right for a long time even if he had seemed a lot better today. Instead of talking, I go up to my room, change into basketball gear, then, grinning, grab a towel but no bathing suit and head for Lindsey’s.
When we were 12, Chase and I were simply friends from the neighborhood of approximately the same age. It was summer, and I was bored. I decided to go swimming. There was a municipal pool nearby, and my parents allowed me to walk there by myself. I had no idea what any of my friends were doing, but it seemed like too much hassle to call around. There’d certainly be guys at the pool I knew, so I just grabbed my suit and towel and headed out.
We lived in a middle-class neighborhood in the city, a nice place. Decent homes, nice yards, lots of trees and wide streets. It was about a ten-minute walk to the pool, and I casually waved at kids riding bikes, mowing their lawns, playing catch or just lazily sitting in the heat talking to each other as I passed by.
When I got to the pool, I showed the guy at the desk my pass, and he handed me a locker key. I took it and headed into the changing room.
I knew there weren’t many people in there before I entered. I could tell by the lack of noise. When I entered, I found a few boys were changing into or out of their suits. No men were around. During the days, it was mostly boys and girls using the pool.
I could hear voices in the shower room, and then it struck me I couldn’t hear any water running. Odd, that. People in the showers, but no showers running? I dropped my stuff on a bench and took off my shirt. Then I heard a funny sound from the shower room, and my curiosity was piqued. I decided to see what was going on in there.
The first thing I saw was someone standing in the doorway. He saw me coming and stepped out to meet me. He was a couple of years older than I was, 14 or 15, I thought. But he was older—and bigger.
“Where you going?” he asked, and he moved to purposefully stand in front of me, intending to block my way.
“Checking out the shower room,” I said.
“Later,” he said.
Just then I heard a sort of yelp and feet moving. Then something else, maybe a gasp.
I looked at the kid in front of me. I didn’t know him. He was tall but not very heavy. I played football. I might have been as heavy as he was. “What’s going on in there?” I asked.
“None of your business. You’ll turn around and walk away if you know what’s good for you.” He was trying to talk like a bad guy but wasn’t quite pulling it off. I figured that if some guys were messing with someone in there, they’d leave the weakest of them to guard the entry. Maybe this guy wasn’t as tough as he was pretending to be. And maybe the guys in the shower room were giving someone some shit. Two- or three- or four-to-one. I’d never liked guys like that.
I wasn’t one to back down from things. I never had been. “I’m going to look in there,” I said, “and if you try to stop me, you’ll regret it.”
It might have seemed funny to him, a 12-year-old talking to him that way, but I did, and I’m sure the expression on my face had an effect, too. He looked a bit uncertain, and I reached out and pushed him—hard. He wasn’t expecting any problem from me and sort of stumbled. I stepped past him into the shower room.
There were three people in there. Two of them were guys about the age of the one who was guarding the room. The third was Chase. He was naked and being held by one of the guys. That guy had his hand over Chase’s mouth. The other guy was in front of him and had his hands curled into fists. I could see a red mark on Chase’s stomach where he’d been hit.
“Hey, let him go,” I said, loudly and angrily.
The fists guy turned to look at me. The guy holding Chase must have loosened his grasp because Chase suddenly jerked and wriggled free. Then I felt arms around me. The guard had come from behind and grabbed me.
I was strong for my age. The guy grabbing me was the one who really didn’t have his heart in this sort of thing. I’d seen it in his eyes earlier. You could tell, looking at a kid, how much fight was in him. You could tell on the football field and off it, too.
The kid with the fists was walking toward me. His eyes were eager. He liked this kind of thing.
It looked like it was going to be three against one. I thought I could hold my own against the kid holding me and either of the others. Three were probably too many. So I was expecting this not to go well. But…
I jerked away from the guy holding me pretty easily. He was off balance because of that and I had spun around him getting loose; that made it easier. I lowered my shoulder and blocked him into the fists guy. They both stumbled a bit, and I took the opportunity to look at the third guy.
I got a surprise. Chase, who was littler, lighter and naked, was squaring off against him. Chase had his hands up in fists and was staying between him and the action I was involved in. As his guy tried to come forward, Chase would move, keeping himself between us, blocking the guy from getting to me without fighting him. Chase was quite a bit smaller than his guy, but the guy was hesitating. I guessed maybe going one-on-one, even with a little kid, wasn’t really his style. Holding a little kid while his friend beat on him, yeah, he could do that. Maybe even enjoy it. He was that kind of kid.
I took all that in at a glance, then focused on the other two. The fists kid was shoving the guard kid aside, regaining his balance, his eyes on me. He probably was thinking we’d have a fight, he and I, and as he was older, taller, and probably heavier, he’d have some fun. I wasn’t about to have a fistfight with him. I was going to do what I was good at. I lowered my shoulder and charged him. I played linebacker. I was good at it. I knew how to hit kids. And I hit this one, my shoulder straight and hard into his stomach, as hard as I could.
He made a loud ‘oof’ and crumpled onto the floor. I looked at the guard kid, who was now just standing where he was, looking lost, and said, “Come on, Chase.” Chase took a quick look around, then turned and scampered over next to me.
I put my hand on his shoulder, and we walked out of the shower room.
In the changing room, I asked him, “What was that all about?”
“I’d just undressed and was going to put my bathing suit on, and those three guys grabbed me and pulled me into the shower room. The one guy asked me if I had any money, then told me if I gave it to him, they’d leave me alone. Otherwise, they’d beat me up. I said something smart, and he hit me in the stomach. He liked that, I could tell. He was going to do more, but then you came in.”
“OK,” I said. “Put your suit on and let’s swim.”
I watched him fish his suit out of a towel lying on the bench. While he was doing it, the three guys came out of the shower room. They looked at us, but there were several other kids now in the changing room with us. I didn’t think the three guys’d do anything, and they didn’t. They headed for the exit. I waited just a second, then followed them. They were just hitting the outside door when I told the desk guy, “See those three? They were roughing up my friend in the shower room. Three-on-one, and all three of them are older.”
The three guys heard me and took off. The desk guy yelled at them, but they never looked back.
Chase and I swam for a couple of hours. We talked about what had happened. I told him how surprised I was, seeing him hold off the third guy, and how it had saved us both. He kept telling me how scared he’d been, but how I’d been the one to save him. We showered and dressed and walked home together after swimming.
From that point on, there was something new between us. I’d saved him from a beating, but he’d saved me, too, against a guy considerably bigger than he was. I looked at him differently, and he at me, too. We started to spend more time together than we ever had before. Our friendship grew from there. And I often recalled those moments when I’d think about swimming. Swimming and Chase tended to be lumped together in my memory banks.
I get to Lindsey’s house and can hear the thump of the basketball against concrete, and the occasional rattle of it against the rim. I head for the barn. Lindsey’s there, and so is Trevor. I’m happy to see them both, but my plans for later need adjustment. With just Lindsey and me at the lake, well… a kid can dream, can’t he?
We play some horse, some 21, and then some two-on-one, the two playing defense. They’ve already been playing, and it’s well over ninety. They’re beat before I am. We sit in the shade of the barn, drink Cokes, and talk. I learn more about Trevor and what’s going on with him. He’s a cool kid with lots of personality, all of it being of the outgoing variety. He’s the polar opposite of Chase’s brother, Charles, but I like them both.
I say, “We should go swimming. Cool off.”
Trevor says, “I can’t. My friend Tim’s coming over and we’re going to take our .22s and see if we can get some rabbits and squirrels. If we get enough, Mom’s going to make a game stew for dinner.”
I’m proud of myself. I feel disappointment that Trevor can’t swim with us. Oh, I feel elation, too, that he can’t, but I do feel sorry he won’t be with us.
Lindsey and I traipse through the woods. I’m already excited, and it shows even though I have a jock on. Lindsey sees it and grins. “Pretty sure of yourself, are you?” she asks.
“Nope, sure of you!” I answer and laugh as I take off running. I know she’ll hurt me for that if she can catch me.
We strip off and plunge into the water. It really feels good. But I’m excited, and she is too. There’s no question about that. In less time than I thought, she climbs out and spreads her towel. I follow her and lie down next to her.
I don’t know anything about girls. Lindsey knows about boys. We touch and feel each other. We’re both really aroused. She shows me how to make her feel good with my fingers. It’s so different than with boys. She likes gentle, whispery touches, even when she’s reached her climax. She’s soft, but knows what she wants and makes sure I know, too.
I’m unsure about kissing her there, but once I do it, I find it’s something I can do, and I enjoy the fact she likes it. She likes it a lot!
We’re both really happy, really relaxed when we go back into the lake. Walking back through the woods, I have this great feeling of contentment. I’m 15, and the world seems full of endless possibilities and promise.