I came back to the island wondering what Fox had done without a place to sleep. But not concerned. I’d known Reggie would handle it, and he had. There were several cabins that weren’t being used, and he’d simply had cots from his supply room installed in one of those. He’d asked Sam if the kids would be okay without a counselor for one night and been told emphatically that it would be no problem at all.
“But,” he said, “we’re short one man, and six would be better than five. To keep everything balanced and so Nick won’t worry, I think it best if we inherit Dillon from the Wyandots for the night.”
Evan and Dillon were right there when the conversation took place, and both agreed the balance in the new Fox would be best that way. Reggie had no objections.
I was to learn that they were glad I was missing that night.
The first thing I had to do when I returned was talk to Colley. I’d been able to undo part of Luther’s villainy by replacing Nick’s broken fiddle. What I couldn’t replace were Colley’s paintings. I pulled him aside when I returned.
“Colley, I’m so sorry. Luther was mad at me and took it out on you guys. There’s nothing I can do to replace your paintings.”
He was shaking his head as I spoke. He smiled at me when I was done. “David, it’s okay. The paintings were practice for me, and they weren’t all that good. I like painting, and I enjoy the time I spend doing it, learning how to do it better. But those really weren’t the best I can do and were nothing special. The first ones I did, I was sort of moping about Sam, about not knowing how to speak to him, about not being good enough for him, and, well, you know how someone is when he’s found someone but doesn’t think that someone has found him. I think my paintings showed that lack of confidence. To paint well, you have to be sure of what you’re doing.
“Then, after you told me what you did, and I bit the bullet and told him how I felt, and we got together, well, I was happy then, but the paintings I made? I, uh, I was a little distracted when he was there with me, and I wasn’t paying all that much attention to the canvas. More to him lying there, typing away, glancing at me. Usually with his shirt off. His torso bare. Uh . . . anyway, we sorta, sometimes did stuff that, uh . . . distracted is the best word.” He blushed, and I laughed.
“So the paintings being ruined is no great loss. I’d have painted over them eventually anyway. The only thing any of them would have been good for would have been a reminder of this summer, and I don’t need a painting for that. I have Sam for that.”
Reggie came and visited the new Fox and told us that any possessions we’d lost, his insurance would cover. That was mainly just clothes and shoes. He said to buy whatever replacements we’d need and send him the receipts.
Some of my time the day before had been spent picking up replacement stuff for Fox. I’d phoned Sam’s cell and gotten the sizes from him of all the kids and done some shopping for tees and shorts, underwear and shoes, and it hadn’t taken long to pick up replacements. I handed those receipts to Reggie.
So we were back in business. Fox was now a bit separate from the other cabins, no longer part of the somewhat irregular circle of cabins around the main camp area. The boys had to walk a little farther to the showers and mess hall. Somehow, though, I got the impression they liked it that way.
§ § § §
There was only one more week of camp. My boys suddenly got secretive on me. They told me to stop hiking up to check on them every day. Sam saw he’d hurt my feelings and told me it wasn’t that they didn’t want me around but that they were preparing a surprise, and they didn’t want me to see it before it was ready. He said it was a big island and for me to stay out of the part they were in, which was where they’d spent the summer doing their things.
It mollified me, and I was happy Sam had taken the time to tell me that. It also meant I was able to spend the last days of camp with Evan. We found places on the island that were very beautiful and very private, and we made excellent use of them.
I was new to gay sex, as was Evan. But he was a very creative lover, and if I came away from camp suntanned all over, it wasn’t entirely my fault. Evan can be very demanding, and I’m very ticklish. ‘Nuff said.
§ § § §
I was still spending the nights in Fox. The boys hadn’t kicked me out entirely. And I was eating with them in the mess. So I had time to talk to them all.
“Guys,” I said over our last breakfast together, the beginning of our last day in camp, “I’ve got some news. Zach and Rad, I spoke to the head of the theater department at U of M when I was in town the other day. I told him about you guys, and he’s very interested in meeting you. I happened to mention that you’d missed out on being in your Little Theater’s production of Billy Elliott this summer. He told me that the university was putting on the same play this year and that they’re going to be casting age-appropriate characters for the parts of Billy and Michael. He wants to audition you two. It’ll be a big production. Staging in the big auditorium, professional costumes, orchestra, the whole shebang. I think all the work you guys did this summer is going to pay off.”
That got the reaction I was hoping it would. When everyone had settled down, I spoke to Sam. “Sam, I also spoke to the creative writing teacher there. He said he’d love to look at some of the stories you’ve written, and he knows a writing circle of young and not-so-young writers that he thinks you’d fit into well if you’re as capable as I said you were. So if you’re interested, he wants to meet you.”
“And Colley, the art department has a program for young painters. I talked to the guy who runs it; he wants to see your work. He’s starting a program for young artists in town and thinks it’d probably be perfect for you. You could be part of it till you go to San Francisco, of course.”
I’d found ways to encourage all my Fox mates to continue with their passions after camp was over. Their pursuits certainly weren’t finished. They could all learn more, and with the proper guidance and support, who could tell where their talents would take them?
§ § § §
That night, after our final dinner in the mess hall, Reggie got up and made a speech, telling everyone what a great pleasure it had been having them there that summer, reminding them they were all invited back next summer, and then said something that took me by surprise.
“Guys, we have something special for you tonight, our last night together. I have no idea what it’ll be, just that I’ve been asked to allow it to happen. Knowing the boys who asked, I’m sure it’ll be fine. I now turn you over to your MC for the evening, Sam Wessley.
Sam got up, winked at me, and walked to the front of the room.
“Hey guys! I guess I don’t need to introduce myself. I know every one of you, and you know me. I’ve made it a point to talk to each of you, to interview you, really, even if you didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. I wanted to learn what you thought about this camp, our experiences here, the whole idea of having a camp just for gay or maybe-gay boys. I did that, and I did learn, and I thought it would be fun to let you all know what I found out.
“What I did was what I do. I wrote about it. But as I wrote, I saw how it would work in a better format than just a story of our time here. So I changed the format and instead of a story, I made it into a skit. My friends will perform that for you now. Please come to the auditorium. The show will start in fifteen minutes. Thanks!”
Every one of those kids was excited and rushed across the open lawn to the auditorium. The lights were all on, something I’d never seen before. It had just been a deserted building. Now, it was lit up, and when I got inside, I found it clean and decorated and ready for a performance. Kids streamed in and filled the chairs, although the room was big enough to hold twice, three times as many as there were of them.
The curtains were closed and spotlights on. Parting the curtain in the center, Sam walked out and said, “Ladies and gentlemen—well, luckily there are no ladies present because this will not be a PG-rated performance. Boys and girls—ahem, we ain’t got none of those, either (which got a whooping laugh from the audience)—we present an original play, a once and only performance, starring the Five Little Foxes and one Wyandot, of, ta da, The Best Days of Our Lives—So Far!”
Sam left the stage through the curtains. There was a moment of pause, and the curtain opened to show six beds, identical to the ones in the cabins. They apparently had six sleeping boys in them.
Rad then danced across the stage wearing only his sleeping shorts holding a sign that read MORNING in large capital letters. Then he slipped into one of the beds after casting a lascivious, knowing look at the audience, getting another huge laugh while throwing the bundled towels that had appeared to be a boy out of the cot. A moment later the bell rang announcing the mess hall was open for business, someone shouted, “Breakfast!” and there was an explosion of covers flying off the beds and boys jumping out. Two of them were nude, the rest in shorts, all scrambling to pull on tees and shorts and thongs as the boys rushed chaotically with sustenance in the mess hall in mind and stomachs calling. The boys were all in a near panic, all in each other’s way, tumbling around, each of them shouting, “Breakfast!” tripping over each other. The kids in the audience loved it! It was just what happened every day, kids wanting to be first in line in the mess hall. Those in the back of the line were invariably ready to faint from lack of nourishment by the time they reached the steam tables. Two of the boys being nude just added to the crowd’s excitement, even if in all the tumbling and bumbling on the stage, only the quickest of naughty glimpses could be seen.
The nude boys were Rad and Zach, and they used their time while buried in the pile of boys to slip into their shorts. By the time the pile unpiled, somehow both had shorts on. They made faces at the audience and were solidly booed. I’m sure most of the kids watching had wanted more than quick flashes of the nudity! Those two boys were two very attractive kids, and the audience was composed of mostly gay boys!
The curtains closed and opened again to a backdrop that had been painted, I was sure by Colley, to look like the baseball field. Zach was up to bat, Rad was pitching to him, and Sam, Colley, Nick and Dillon were all in the field. Rad threw an imaginary pitch, Zach swung so hard he twisted around and fell down, then got up and started running the bases. The other kids acted like it was a pop-up; they kept looking up and circling around as Zach rounded the bases, then let the ball drop in front of them. Rad picked up the pretend ball and raced with all the others to tag Zach sliding into home, everyone ending up in a heap. Evan ran out dressed as an ump, wearing huge, thick glasses and spread his arms wide in a safe signal, then ran off again, and the boys started arguing and throwing their caps and mitts squaring off to fight, when the bell rang again and a large sign plopped down, hanging from above, that read LUNCH. All the boys immediately were friends again, racing for the mess hall.
The curtains closed and opened again against another backdrop. This time it showed a hiking path through the trees. Two boys, Sam and Colley hiked out on stage, looked around, asked each other if they were alone, searched some more to be sure, then got into a passionate kiss and started tearing each other’s shirts off. Zach and Rad suddenly appeared, saw them, pointed and laughed, and Sam and Colley acted all embarrassed and ran off, which led to Zach and Rad beginning to make out and tearing clothes off, too, and quickly getting down to their essentials. Just when they both only had underwear on and they were each pulling down the pair worn by the other, the bell rang again, and a sign dropped saying AFTERNOON SNACK, at which time the two boys tried to run off to the mess hall as the curtain closed only to keep tripping over their lowered shorts. The audience was hollering with laughter.
Next time the curtain opened it was to a boxing match! It showed Nick, the smallest of the actors, versus Sam, the largest one. Sam had additional fake biceps that were huge. Sam chased Nick all over the ring until finally Nick stopped, turned and blew at Sam, who tripped and stumbled backwards halfway across the stage before falling over, at which point Zach, dressed as a doctor came out with a stethoscope, checked Sam out and declared him unconscious, and then Colley and Rad came with a stretcher and carried him off. All the while Nick was dancing around declaring, “I’m the champ, I’m the champ.”
The next portrayal was shown against a lake backdrop with Zach and Rad in swim trunks in a canoe. They were rocking around and kept falling out. Then they’d get in again and fall out again, and every time they fell out, someone backstage would throw a bucket of water on them. The wetter they got, the more see-through their trunks became. They noticed, and started trying to cover up, with their hands while also forgetting to use their hands to fend off the oncoming waves of water from backstage, to the delight of the audience. Finally, when modesty was a thing of the past, another placard dropped reading DINNER, accompanied by the bell, and the curtains closed to whooping from the audience.
I was sitting next to Reggie. “You approved this?” I whispered to him.”
He looked a little shocked, but whispered back, “I had no idea! But they see each other naked in the showers every day. Where’s the harm?”
I figured he had a point.
The next act was at night. I shook my head when I saw two tents set up, again against the lake backdrop. The entire cast came out in swim trunks, looked at the audience, at the lake, and then dropped their suits and splashed in the plastic kiddie pools that had been set up there. They splashed each other and frolicked, then jumped out, dried each other, mostly with their backs to the audience, and then, with Zack adopting a wonderfully erotic, sexually-charged look at the crowd, the whole group ran into the large tent and started erotically moaning loudly as the curtain slowly closed. The audience went crazy!
There was a pause, then the curtain opened with just a piano on stage. Sam walked out. “Our last set will be a musical tribute to our summer here. The players will be Nick from Fox on violin and Dillon from Wyandot at the piano. The chorus will be the rest of us. We will start with the songs we sang around the campfire at night, and we expect you all to join in. Then we’ll finish with our tribute to the camp. We’ve mashed up some show tunes. You know, we’re gay boys; we like show tunes! Okay? Here we go.”
Dillon started pounding out songs they’d all sung every night, starting with John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, leading into The Little Green Frog, then The Green Grass Grew All Around, The Riddle Song, and ending with Kumbayah. Everyone was singing loudly, really into it.
Then Sam announced the cast would finish the performance. “I’ll start by saying each and every one of us up here on stage loved our time here. Reggie, stand up, take a bow!”
Reggie, surprised, stood, and the cheer was enormous. He blushed, waved, then sat again.
Sam continued. “For all of us, we were inspired; we saw how life can be when no one cares whether we’re gay or not. When we can be and act however we want. It made us wish for happy days to come, days like what we had here. To wish that the world will be as accepting of us as what we’ve felt all summer. With that thought in mind—remembering the near perfect summer we just enjoyed—we’ll leave you with this:
Nick and Dillon began to play Climb Every Mountain, a song that every camper had certainly heard. After working through the first verse instrumentally with both violin and piano flourishes of each boys’ own making, the cast joined in and sang:
[To the tune of Climb Every Mountain]
Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
'Til you find your dream.
Then they sang an additional verse Sam had written:
[same tune, with chorus/actors going through the motions of the mentioned activities]
Climb every steep hill
Hike every path
Swim in icy waters
And laugh and laugh and laugh
Then the music transitioned smoothly to the tune of Over the Rainbow, and the cast sang the words:
Somewhere, over the rainbow, way up high
There's a land that I heard of once in a lullaby
Somewhere, over the rainbow, skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.
Then came Sam’s version:
We’re here, not ‘neath a rainbow
Not in some dream or two
Here we can be what we wish to be
And here our dreams do come true.
While they were singing, in the background, Zach and Rad were seen sneaking out of their cots and making out in the dark.
Then the music again transitioned, a transition lasting only a few measures, that ended up with music from Man of La Mancha. The cast sang:
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To right the unrightable wrong
To run where the brave dare not go
This is my quest
To follow that star
No matter how hopeless
No matter how far
Followed without a pause by Sam’s version, but with changes of expression and body language from the chorus:
To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
(Here Zach and Rad recreated my fight with the Lute character, portrayed by Rad, going down for the count.)
To swim and hike and canoe and play
And end where the brave dare not go.
(The backdrop of the mess hall reappeared, this time with a food fight going on, to the delight and laughter of the crowd.)
Then, when the laughing had abated, a quick transition of a few bars ended with them singing a song from Annie:
The sun will come out tomorrow
So you gotta hang on 'til tomorrow,
Come what may!
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow
You're always a day away!
before ending with Sam’s lyrics:
The sun’ll come out tomorrow
Though we’ll leave dear Camp Tonaka
We’ll hold our mem’ries, come what may!
Tonaka, Tonaka we love you, Tonaka
You’re only next summer away.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, we leave Camp Tonaka
We regret we really can’t stay,
(spoken) “But - -”
We’ll climb every mountain [sung to that music]
(spoken) “And look - -”
Somewhere over the rainbow [sung to that music]
We’ll dream the impossible dream [sung to that music]
The music stopped dramatically, and in a faraway voice,
“And when we dream, we’ll dream of a better tomorrow, a tomorrow like all the tomorrows we had here at Camp Tonaka - -
The music to Tomorrow resumed, just the violin playing softly, the chorus humming the line, then the piano resumed, crescendoing with the violin to a loud finish, and the chorus belted out:
Tomorrow, tomorrow, we love you, tomorrow
You’re only a daaaay aaaa waaaaay.
I have to admit, I was a little misty when they finished. The boys in the audience were all on their feet, screaming, cheering, applauding, hollering for more. The cast had to run through the final medley again, then jumped down from the stage and mingled.
Bedtime was late that evening because we still had our final campfire to attend.
§ § § §
The boat ride back to the mainland was bittersweet. More than just the Foxes had tears in their eyes at parting. We’d all try to be back next summer, however, even Colley who’d be living in San Francisco by then. Would he and Sam last as a couple? We’d never know till summer came around again.
I’d still be keeping in touch with Fox. Nick would be taking lessons at our house. There was no way I was losing touch with him. He was like the little brother I’d never had. Dillon would be around, too, for sure. Anytime Nick was working on a sonata with Mom, Dillon would be there accompanying him. They were together other than that, too. I knew; Nick told me.
I’d see Zach and Rad on campus now and then, too. They were loving rehearsing with the university students. They didn’t even look out of place, walking around the quad. I guess if you exude confidence, you fit in most anywhere. Every time I met the man directing Billy Elliott, he thanked me for bringing those two to him. He said they had better acting chops than any of his own college actors!
I met Evan at the Student Union the day before my first day as a student there. He’d already started, but then, much of his work was research, which he could do on his own. He’d carved out a space for himself and said he loved his faculty advisors.
“How about you, David? All set to start.”
“Not only ready, eager. One of the reasons for going into the Army was I wasn’t ready for college. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I thought being an English major would be right for me, but I wasn’t really excited about it. Now, I am!”
“Excited about being an English major?”
“No. That’s history. I’m going into psychology. I want to work in youth counseling. I loved what I did this summer, helping some kids. That’s what I want to do. I can’t wait.”
He laughed. “A violin-playing youth counselor. Who can work evenings as muscle for a mob; oh, that’s right, I’m supposed to forget about that.” He stopped to grin. “I think there’s a book in there somewhere.”
§ § § §
I saw Nick often. He was coming to our house for lessons every week. I was living at home. I was older than the other freshmen and didn’t really fit that well with them. It was a maturity issue, and maybe more. I was focused on what I wanted out of life now, where I was going. The other first-year students seemed so wide-eyed and naïve to me, and most of them had no idea what they wanted. To them, college seemed more a social adventure than a way to prepare for a fulfilling future for themselves. It was the future I was looking at. As I say, I just didn’t fit in with them.
Nick was loving the lessons he was taking, and Mom was ecstatic with the progress he was making and the potential he had. He was also happy to be with me afterwards. We’d sit out on the patio when it was warm enough and just talk. Otherwise we’d go to our basement room, which was where mom practiced with her quartet. It was filled with stereo equipment but had couches, too, and was comfortable for us. We were close. Like brothers who actually liked each other and talked about things that mattered.
I’d been able to do something else for Nick. He’d told me he and his mother were about to be evicted. She had been working menial temp jobs, often 16 hours a day, just to pay the bills and afford their crummy apartment, but the jobs had dried up. They were destitute. When I heard that, I got busy. I went and spoke to his mom, finding out what I could about her.
Her English still had lots of Italian in it, but she could get by. She hadn’t had a proper education, getting pregnant way too young and then being relocated to America, but she was smart. There was only one thing she seemed to be both passionate and knowledgeable about: music. That was why she’d got Nick the violin. She loved music, especially classical music. She’d been surrounded by it at home when young. She’d picked up an amazing knowledge of classical music just by listening to her parents, one of whom was involved with the opera in Milan, and the other who was a major participant in chamber-music circles there.
So I went to see Mr. Russo, and I twisted his arm a little. My mother steered a lot of business his way; I had a bit of pull with him. So Marie, Nick’s mom, got a job there and fit in beautifully. Within a month Mr. Russo was telling me how happy he was with her. She was even doing some buying for him from Italy. She had inroads, knew people. His store was the beneficiary!
There was no more talk about evictions. Only about getting a better apartment.
Having Nick in my life was . . . well, words can’t really describe it. I got to enjoy Nick’s continued social growth as well as his musical advancement.
He was still no social butterfly, of course, but he did have a growing self-awareness and much more confidence.
He confided in me, and I so loved that. One day he was feeling especially full of himself. It was wonderful when he got like that. He could be imaginative and loose and like a boy should be, and he never had been that boy before.
“David, I’m going to become a world-famous violinist, you know? The next Joshua Bell. I can hardly wait.” We were together, just the two of us, and he was expounding.
He grinned, and I didn’t say a word, not wanting to juxtapose myself into the happy and expansive mood he was in.
“I can see it. I can see myself, center stage, looking out over the packed auditorium at Lincoln Center. The spots are on, blinding me, but I still look toward where I know you guys are sitting in the middle of the sixth row, going deaf.”
“Going deaf? Why’re we going deaf. And who are these ‘you guys’ of which you so blithely speak?” I laughed.
“You’re going deaf because of the thunderous applause and passionate screaming, of course. I just finished performing the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with the New York Phil. It’s my piece now, what I’m known for. I play it with, let’s see, how did the New York Times music critic word it, ‘with fire and passion never heard before, making this warhorse stand up on its hind legs and whinny.’ That’s me. SRO crowds at every performance. I’m fully booked for the next five years.”
“Warhorse? Where in the world does a 13-year-old boy get a word like that?”
He giggled. “From Mr. Russo when I bought the music for the concerto.”
“And you’re booked solid for five years? You’re that much in demand?”
“Yep. I’ve got a great manager. Dillon does all my bookings.”
“Is he one of the ‘you guys’ you referred to that’s sitting in the sixth row?”
“Yeah, him and Evan, and, of course you and your mom. The most important people in my life.”
“So you’ll still be with Dillon, then?”
“I’m never losing Dillon!”
I nodded. I felt the same way about Evan. “So that’s your vision?”
“Oh, no, there’s more. I’ve just been setting the scene for what comes next.”
He grinned. I loved his grin. It changed his usual seriousness into something so attractive to me I always felt like hugging him when I saw it. He even let me, sometimes. He was a teenager now, if only just. But he hadn’t become one of the balky, remote, secretive, annoying ones yet.
“Well, there’s this thunderous applause and, of course, shouts for an encore. You know, young girls—and older ones—yelling, ‘Encore, encore.’ And me with my dashing good looks smiling down on them, letting them think each one is the one I want. Showmanship! Hah!”
I laughed, and he did too before continuing. Enjoying the moment.
“So I raise my hand and quiet them. All this power I have. I just float my hand out and wiggle my fingers and they settle down. You have that, you know, when you’re an international star.”
He glanced at me, making sure I knew he knew he was being silly. The thing is, I didn’t think it was silly at all. But it was good that he thought so. Showed he still had no problem with an inflated ego. Not that I thought he ever would.
“Anyway, I quiet them, then speak in the sure-of-myself way I have.” That required a quick look at me to see I wasn’t scoffing, and then he continued. “‘Do you really want an encore?’ I ask, smiling roguishly. The audience thunders its approval, and I raise my hand again. I have them in my sway.”
He’s envisioning all this, and I’m the one in his sway, marveling at him. Gone forever, I think, is the painfully shy, excruciatingly shy little boy I’d become fond of, so fond of, at summer camp. In his place is this nascent superstar, this soon-to-become major celebrity. In my mind, he’d be handsome, vivacious, and have an arresting presence as large as his talent.
But Nick was going on with his dream. “I’m going to play for you the opening section of the Bach Violin Partita Number 3 in E major. It’s about three and a half minutes of music versus about 18 minutes for the entire piece, a brevity which I’m sure you’ll appreciate! Before I begin, however, there is a short story I’d like to relate.
“I first heard this piece—well, the part of it that I’m going to play for you—performed in a music shop by the best and most loving man I’ve ever known. I was 12 years old—and a mess. He played this piece for me. I was transported by the music and inspired by the man. He’s been behind me, there for me, ever since. I’m here today because of him. Without him, I never would be standing on this stage; I’d never have begun the career I am so enjoying now, never have fulfilled my dream. So I’m dedicating this encore to him, just a very, very small way to show the esteem and love I hold for him. He’s out there among you but wouldn’t like to be recognized more than with these few anonymous words.
“This is for you, David!”I felt tears in my eyes, but didn’t have the chance to wipe them away. I couldn’t because a young boy was in my arms, hugging me fiercely, and I was hugging him back.
Climb Every Mountain
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Music by Richard Rogers
Over the Rainbow
Lyrics by E.Y. (Yip) Harburg
Music by Harold Arlen
The Impossible Dream
Lyrics by Joe Darion
Music by Mitch Leigh
Lyrics by Martin Charnin
Music by Charles Strouse
Partita in E major by JS Bach, BWV 1006
Recording by Itzhak Perlman
Violin Sonata in A major by Cesar Franck
Recording by Isaac Stern: violin,
Alexander Zakin: piano