Lightning in a Jar

A Summer Sonata

Chapter 3

 

Reggie looked wide awake when he met the bus.  More than I could say for me!  We all grabbed our duffel bags as the driver pulled them out from the storage area under the side of the bus.  Reggie then led us through the locked gate and down onto the dock platforms.  We found places to sit on the main deck while Reggie climbed to the top.  When he was halfway up, he turned back and looked down at us, found me and yelled, “David, would you cast off, please?”

I guessed that meant he wanted me to untie us.  I climbed back off the boat and onto the dock and undid the ropes from the cleats, tossing each one back onto the deck.  I could hear the engines throbbing by then, a sound that stirred something deep in my stomach.  I realized the boat was slowly backing away from its mooring, and so, a bit sheepishly, I hopped back on while I still could.  I remembered and, without being asked, pulled the bumpers up and stowed them.  Reggie saw me and gave me a big smile and a thumbs-up.

We’d all been over to the island at least once, and this time I was down below on the main deck, so the ride wasn’t quite as exhilarating, at least not for me.  We all took the opportunity to chat a bit, getting to know each other.  Luther seemed to take the lead.  I had no problem with that.  I was much more comfortable not being in the limelight, not being anyone’s focus, and he knew the ropes, and I didn’t.

When we arrived, Reggie told us he had appointments back in Ann Arbor, and what he was going to do was assign cabins and give us each a list of our campers.  How we spent the day was up to us, but he recommended we get comfortable with the area, maybe take a swim, hike some of the trails, or just kick back and get better acquainted with each other.  He said there were microwave dinners in the freezer in the kitchen—the cooks didn’t start till tomorrow—and we could take care of ourselves.  He’d see us tomorrow when he’d bring the kids over.

Saying that, he began taking us around to the cabins.  I was given the first one, which he said was called Fox.  That’s what my group was, the Fox tribe.  All the cabins had Indian names, and all of tribes that had lived nearby, or at least in the general Great Lakes area.  The list included Kickapoos, Hurons, Foxes, Ottawas, Wyandots, Sauk, Miamis, and Potawatomis.

My cabin was small, and when I saw my list of boys, I understood.  I only had five.  That sounded good to me.  I’d have been overwhelmed with twice that many or even more.  This way, I thought I’d have a good chance of getting to know each of them well.

I went over the list of boys I was getting.  The list included their names, ages, and hobbies or interests, backgrounds and what they hoped to do at the camp.

Their names were Nickolas Callison, Zachery Ryan, Samuel Wessley, Brandis Pierce and Collier Bailey.  I smiled when I saw their interests and expectations of camp listed beside their names.  I’d obviously been assigned to the arts-oriented campers.  There may well have been more than just these, but these certainly could be labeled that way.

In my mind, I’d already shortened their names.  Nickolas would be Nick.  He was a musician and, of all things, played the violin.  He hadn’t been playing long, only a little over four years, but that was pretty normal for a violinist to start at 8 or 9; of course, some started at 3 or 4!  The violin was listed as Nick’s major interest.  I figured Reggie put him with me on purpose.  He lived with only his mother, and they were very close to the poverty line.

Zach was an actor and had already been in a couple of school plays and several amateur-theater productions.  There was a small photo of each boy with their names, ages and interests, and the picture of Zach showed him to be really cute.  Longish blond hair, blue eyes, attractive face.  I couldn’t tell whether he had the outgoing personality and charisma and confidence of an actor, but if he retained his current looks, he could be the matinee-idol type for sure.  His was a very average, middle-class family.

Samuel—Sam—was listed as a writer.  I wasn’t sure how someone could be a writer at 13—he was the only 13-year-old; the others were all 12—as he lacked life experience.  But then, perhaps he wrote science fiction or fantasy.  Perhaps his stories were more imagination than anything else.  I’d find out soon.  He had dark hair, his father was a medical doctor, and they were well off.  So, brains and money, I thought.  I wondered if ‘nice’ went along with that.  Some rich kids can be aloof.

Brandis was a dancer.  Ouch!  Gay, a dancer, and a name like that!  Well, Brad, for sure; that was easy.  I hoped he was successfully out, because being a gay boy who liked to dance and wanted to keep his sexuality secret could sometimes be living a life of enormous stress.  But more power to him.  He was following his own dream, and I just hoped he wasn’t having to fight a lot of battles along the way.  He had light, sandy hair, hazel-green eyes, a middle-class family with three dogs.

Collier.  I wasn’t sure what to call him.  Maybe he already had a nickname.  For now, in my head at least, I’d call him Colley.  I liked the sound of that!  He was listed as a painter.  Collier wasn’t a bad name at all for a painter.  He was a redhead, and he had two fathers; I had to wonder if he was claiming to be gay to fit in with his family.  The bio I had didn’t give details of whether he was a biological son of one of the dads or if he had been adopted.  They, too, were a middle-class family.

The reason for the smile I’d grown when reading about them was their expectations for their time at camp.  It was listed right on each sheet.  None of them, not one, wanted to come here!  Every one of them wanted to spend the summer at home doing their own thing.  What a group!  I was going to enjoy this, I decided.  I was determined I’d make their stay here fun and that they’d be glad they’d had this experience when it was time to leave.  Each one of them was signed up for the entire summer.  Either their parents wanted to be rid of them for that time or thought their kid desperately needed the experience of being with other kids, living with them, engaging in something other than their individual artistic pursuits. 

So often, gay kids growing up knowing they were different, realizing they were gay, had a lot of problems, both with society and their own acceptance of who they were.  Those with artistic talents and inclinations often had a harder time than others, as those very activities could lead to pejorative labels.  These days, some high school athletes were coming out and for the most part were pretty well accepted at their schools.  Arty, creative kids often had a tougher row to hoe.

Maybe these kids were like that and had become loners.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, but life is richer if you have other people in it.  I felt 12 was too young to be deciding not to let anyone else in.

 

§   §   §   §

 

I’d picked which bed was going to be mine.  It was the same as the rest of them, not a whole lot more than a cot.  Maybe a shade too small for me.  Not the king size I had at home.  But I’d spent time before in a small cot; it wouldn't be anything new.  I’d chosen the bed located on the end of one of the double rows of three cots, the bed closest to the door.  I didn’t want anyone going out at night without my knowing about it.

While I was calling these cots or bunks, they were actually better than that; they had regular mattresses that were thick enough to be comfortable, and they were large enough and had decent frames that allowed for a good-sized drawer underneath where the boys’ clothes would be stored.  There also were nightstands beside each cot, six of them, with a small lamp and room to set a book or a wristwatch, a glass of water or anything they wanted to set there. 

There were sheets and pillows and blankets on each bed, and the linens were folded and looked like they were new.  What the hell, I thought, why not, then made up all the beds.  I thought the kids would be happier not having to do that themselves, and it made the cabin look more homey.  After that, I decided to give my new bed a test drive, checking out how comfortable it was going to be.

I was lying down with my eyes closed when I heard the cabin door open.  I sat up and scrunched back so I was leaning against the wall at the head of my bed.

Luther had come in.  He glanced around the place and nodded.  “This looks good, better than mine, and you’ve made the beds for my guys already.  Great.  Look, I’m going to take this cabin.  You can move into mine.”

“Uh, Luther?  These cabins were assigned to us.  I don’t know that we could switch even if we wanted to.  You’d have to talk to Reggie about that.”

He scowled at me.  “No, I’m the senior counselor.  I get some say in this.  He just suggested possibilities is all.  I like this one better.  It’s closer to the showers, to the mess hall, to everything, really.  It’s comfy, too.  Mine is larger.  I’ll just bring the five guys I want; your guys can go with you and you’ll also get my leftovers.  Just grab your stuff and get going.”

“Which cabin are you in?” I asked, not moving off my bed.

“The Potawatomi.  On the end of the group of cabins, farthest from the lake.”

I laughed.  Maybe I shouldn’t have.  It might have been like waving the red flag and irritating the baleful bull.  He looked a little like a bull, and like a hair-triggered one that it didn’t take much to tease into an undisciplined fury.  But I laughed.  “No wonder you want to trade, Luther.  We’re Foxes.  You’re a Pota-whatever.  Don’t blame you.”

He took a step toward the bed.  Obviously being laughed at wasn’t his thing.  “Shut up.  And stop calling me Luther.  It’s Lute.  L-U-T-E.  Lute.  Got it?  You’d better.  Anyway, now I’m a Fox and you’re a whatever.  Get moving.”

I slowly twisted and let my feet land on the floor but didn’t rise.  I sat there, my posture straight, and looked up at him. “Not going to happen, Luther.  You want me moved, you’re going to have to move me, and it won’t go how you think it’ll go, and Reggie will be very interested in why we’re both covered in bruises.  I might have given you the wrong impression on the bus this morning.  If you want a counselor to lord it over this summer, sort of a slave-and-master deal, go ahead and pick one out, but it won’t be me.”

“So you want me to move you, then.”  Not voiced as a question.

“No,” I said, no emotion at all in my voice.  “What I want is for you to leave.  I’m catching up on my sleep.”  Then I twisted back on my bed and settled back down.  I didn’t close my eyes.  I wasn’t sure how angry or stupid he was.  I did very much doubt he’d escalate what was already going on between us, but there was no reason to be naive.

He stared at me for a few moments and clenched his fists, then said, “You’ll regret this.  It’s going to be a long summer for you.”

Then he stepped forward and reached down to the mattress I was on, slipping his hands under it.  I could read his intentions: to tip the mattress over with me in it.  Not going to happen, I thought.  I flicked my leg out and caught his wrist, kicking it away from the mattress.  Then I just stared at him.  He stared back, his face red.

I watched, wondering what if anything was running through his head.  I saw him come to a decision.  What he did then was move to the bed across the aisle from me and tear the sheets and pillow off it, dumping them on the floor.

I was on my feet in an instant.  “Hey!  Put that bed back together the way it was.  Right now!”

He straightened up, making the most of the few inches and pounds he had on me.  I returned his look, absent his challenging glare, but with my eyes on his.  I didn’t know what he’d do, and I could see that neither did he.  He’d come here thinking he could get what he wanted, not expecting resistance.  He was having to make a decision, and he wasn’t sure how to make it.

Eventually, after we stared at each other for a few moments, he decided how to handle the situation.  “Fuck you!” he said, turned and marched out of the cabin, leaving the sheets on the floor and the door wide open.

 

§   §   §   §

The counselors all ate together the following morning, and I could tell by the chatter and body language that they were all excited, awaiting the arrivals of their campers.  I’d asked Reggie how many trips he’d have to make, and he said one; he was renting a larger boat.

I sat at one table for four, Luther at the other.  I guess he was scowling at me the entire time it took us to eat because whenever I happened to glance in that direction, there he was, his eyes on me, hard and nasty.  I didn’t think a thing of it.  It was his problem, not mine.

When we left the mess hall, one of the counselors came through the door right after me and stepped up alongside of me, walking with me as I headed toward the lake.  I didn’t have anything to do before the kids arrived and had thought to just amble a bit.

“What’s Lute’s problem?” the guy asked me.  “Oh, my name’s Evan, in case you’ve forgotten.  Evan Swan.”

I stopped and stuck out my hand.  When we’d all been introduced, only names had been given—no backgrounds.  We stood up in turns and nodded to people.  There was no way I’d even tried to remember who was who.  I knew it wouldn’t take long to put names to faces when we were all at the camp together.

Speaking of faces, he had an interesting one.  It was a little off.  A little too long from the top to the chin, dark eyes a little too close together, ears protruding a little too far from his head, his coal-black hair a little too long and messy.  In addition to that, he was tall, taller than I was by at least three inches, but rail thin.  I couldn’t help thinking Ichabod Crane.  Crane would have been a more suitable name for him than Swan.  Swans are regal and graceful; he was neither.  The thing was, with all his individual embarrassments, the entire package kind of worked.  Altogether, he didn’t look bad at all.  There was a subtle appeal to him.  I wondered how he did that.

“David,” I said, in case he hadn’t remembered my name, either.  “And Luther?  Somehow he seems to have a burr under his saddle.  Do you know him at all?”

“No, but I’ve been in hearing distance when he’s been speaking with some of the others.  He sort of takes command.  Like he knows everything and they know nothing.  I wouldn't be surprised if in an earlier life he was a bully.  I don’t much care for bullies.”

I nodded.  “Who does?  He seems to have picked me out for special treatment, but so what?  Life’s too short to worry about guys with a thorn in their tail.  A knot in their paw.  A twitch in their getalong.” I smiled.  “Whatever.”

Evan grinned.  “Mix metaphors much?”

I laughed.  “Yeah.  We had an English teacher in high school who cautioned us about those.  I’ve always found it funny to mix them.  He was probably my favorite teacher.  I thought, if and when I went to college, maybe I’d be an English major like him.  Not that I really have any passion for that.  Anyway, that’s the way to look at life.  Take it as it comes.”

“Not a bad attitude at all.  I tend to be a bit more intense than that, but whatever works for you.  What’s your list look like—the boys I mean?” 

I was finding him easy to talk to.  Not always the case with me.  “Boys with artistic talent.  None of whom want to be here.  Good thing I like challenges.  How about yours?”

Evan scratched his head, looking a bit disjointed when doing so.  I had a quick vision of him in a library, researching and making notes; he’d fit there so much better than roaming an island with a bunch of high-spirited boys, perhaps tripping on every exposed root they passed.  When he answered, he laughed for no apparent reason, and I wondered if he was thinking the same thing.

“I got the intellectuals.  The straight A’s.  I think they’ll spend the summer reading, or arguing about the symbolism in Tolstoy, or the merits of Keynesian theory.”

I stopped and gave him a look.  “Something tells me that that will fit you like a glove.  You’re about my age, which means a sophomore or junior in college.  Let me guess: you’ve already graduated?”

He blushed.  “How could you tell that?  You’re pretty quick!  Yeah, I started early and finished early.  Now I’m working on my Ph.D.”

“In what?”

He looked away, and I could read his embarrassment.  “Let me guess again,” I said, preempting him so he wouldn’t have to answer.  “Actually, you’re working on two of them—one in literature and one in economics?”

Evan laughed.  “Two out of two.  You got that from the Tolstoy and Keynes comment, huh?  You don’t have any moss growing on your north side, do you?”

I smiled and answered yes to the part about Tolstoy and Keynes, not the comment about being quick.  I was hardly quick at anything!

He, however, spoke to his obvious embarrassment.  “Sorry about the blush.  Growing up, I learned pretty quickly not to let on that I had any brains at all.  Bullies like to focus on that as a targeting device.  I guess it’s difficult to forget that.”

“I like smart people.  They’re not boring like I am.”

“Are you boring, David?”

Hmmm.  Somehow, his tone of voice had changed ever so slightly when he said that.  Hard to describe what I heard, but if I had to put it in one word, that word would have been ‘provocative’.  I’d have to think about that.  Just then, I had to keep the conversation going without any pregnant pauses.

“I don’t know.  Probably.  I’m certainly not smart like you.  I haven’t even started college yet.  I’ll be a freshman at U of M this fall.  A Ph.D. is something way beyond my imagination.”

“You took a couple of years off after high school?  You’re right, I’d guess; I think we’re about the same age, too.  I’m 20.”

I nodded.  “Me too.  Yeah, I felt the need to get away after high school.  I joined the Army.”

“Wow!  Did you, like, go overseas?  How do they put it: see any action?”

“No, thank goodness.  It was mostly stateside training.  They wanted me to go into officer training, picked me out of basic for it, and I did start in on that, which took some time, and then I dropped out.  Too much pressure, too much gung-ho regimentation for me, too much dressing without a thread out of place on my knickers, too much saluting with a ramrod-straight back, shoulders back, chin in, butt clenched.  That was fine for most of them, but it certainly wasn’t who I was.  So that, dropping out, put me back into basic again because I’d been pulled out of it early.  In reality, I spent a little over a year just getting started.  I didn’t like it, and after one thing and another, I managed to get an honorable discharge.  They were as happy to see me go as I was to leave.  So, lately, I’ve just been goofing off, waiting for college to start.”

“Me too,” Evan said, echoing me.  Then he laughed.  “Goofing off this summer, I mean.  I get pretty intense when I study.  I was studying 20 hours a day, sometimes, forgetting to eat and all that, and my dad told me I needed a divorce from any and all books and my academic lifestyle for the summer; I needed to do something different, get outside, seek new horizons for a spell—or else.  He found this for me.  He knows Reggie’s brothers.  He pulled strings.  So here I am.  This will certainly be something altogether different.”

“What would the ‘or else’ have been,” I asked, curious what hold his dad had over him.

“That was the devious part; he didn’t say.  Anyway, he’s smart, he knows how life works, and I have no problem with him—or this.”  He swept his arm around, taking in the whole island.  “We’re really close, Dad and I.  If he thought this was best for me, well, he had a clearer perspective than I did.  So I didn’t fight him on it.  I don’t know if I’m up to monitoring a bunch of brainy preteens for the summer, but I’ll find out.  I’m actually kind of looking forward to it.”

“Intellectuals,” I said, thinking of his kids.  “Somehow, I don’t think you got the mischievous, impish, troublemaking, overly adventurous kind of kids.  Your only problem might be getting them out of the cabin.”

“I guess we’ll find out soon,” he said, turning to look at the lake.  “At least I’m hoping they all have decided they’re gay.  Which is what I am; if they are, too, it may make it easier for us to bond.  Hey, there’s the boat.”

 

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