The Gulf of Love
A Rick Beck Story
Editor: Jerry W.
My love for Ivan hadn't diminished. I wanted him as soon as I saw him. My heartbeat doubled. It didn't drop back to normal until after I was home that evening.
I'd be normal when Ivan was home and I slept in his arms.
“I've got a knife in my pants. I can scrape some of the sea crust off your gold bars if you want?” Ivan said, toeing the basket. “Pop Pop told me about pirates sailing these waters, looking for a port in the storm. That what you found, Clay? Spanish Galleon laden with Aztec gold the Spanish liberated fair and square?”
He spoke without enthusiasm, like he knew bricks were used in the holds of empty ships for ballast.
“No thank you. I plan to use the bricks to prop open the doors in my room. The coconuts have seen better days. They're turning black.”
“You have come up in the world. Using gold bricks to prop your doors open. How come that doesn't surprise me? As I mentioned, I always knew you'd make something of yourself. And speaking of something, this isn't your average Chris-Craft.”
As soon as he looked into my eyes, I melted. He stood closer and I felt every feeling I'd ever felt for him, all at once.
He decided to prove he wasn't an apparition by putting his arms around me. The kiss was long and lingering. His skin was cool, mine was hot. Instead of feeling the usual feelings, I was reminded of what I'd been missing.
He still knew how to get my full attention. Resistance was futile. It never crossed my mind. It was there, If not seeing him for so long didn't stifle our love, nothing would, but I didn't know what he felt.
I never loved anyone the way I loved Ivan and I never would.
His manly arms squeezed me, he pressed the cold Pepsi in between my shoulder blades. Ivan had grown a sadistic streak.
I wanted to kill him.
Waves of chills ran up and down my spine. I spun away, glaring back at him.
Now I wanted to hit him.
“You asshole,” I yelped. “What's wrong with you. I don't see you for years and you pull that sophomoric crap. You're right, there is always a first time,” I blurted, mad as a hornet.
Was this really the man I loved?
“Have I ever told you that I love you,” Ivan said, taking my breath away twice in the same minute. “If you don't drink root beer, why is your refrigerator full of my favorite brand? Quite a refrigerator, might I add. You do live large, Clay.”
Why?” I spat out at him, keeping my distance this time. “When I pick stuff up for the boat, I always think, maybe this will be the week Ivan comes home. That's why I buy your stinking root beer.”
“Yeah, I do know why, Clay. Like I said, 'I love you too.' I'm sorry for being gone for so long. I'm sorry I can't get a phone call to you from Cambodia and Thailand. Most of all, what I'm sorriest about, is not being here with you.”
“I'm sorry too, Ivan.”
“I know I've hurt you and I'm sorry about that. It's easier on you if you're mad at me. I deserve that. I am an asshole and you deserve better, Clay. We both know that.”
He said it like he meant it. He'd been gone a long time. I had a good life without Ivan. It's not the way I wanted it but it's how it was.
“I know where I stand. I told you I'd wait as long as it takes. I'm still waiting, Ivan, but time is running out. You can't simply waltz back into my life and expect it to be the way it was.”
“I'm not that stupid. You've done well for yourself, Clay. You've never been lucky with friends. Those boys in Tulsa. Me. Sunshine! We all leave you one way or another. When I do come home, I'll never leave you again.”
“Let's leave Sunshine out of it. When you come home, we'll deal with that.”
“That surprised me,” he said, sounding surprised. “I don't think anything about you surprised me as much as that did.”
“I don't want to talk about Sunshine,” I said.
“And Dylan. Your son was a real shocker. When I said take care of her, I didn't think of that. I didn't mind if it made you happy. I wasn't going to be around and Sunshine was nice. I liked her.”
“Mr. Aleksa, you are treading on dangerous ground. Leave it be,” I ordered. “You don't know anything about Sunshine. I had to deal with that alone. Don't go there now, Ivan. You don't get to do that.”
“Another dirty trick I played on you is what I'm saying. It meant you weren't alone and that was good.,” he said. “I didn't see you as a father but you're good at it. It suits you to have a son.”
“Ivan!” I said. “I lived through it. I remember it well.”
He closed in and kissed me. I became wrapped in his arms. In this I could find no fault. He got no complaints. Our bodies were locked together as if we'd never been apart, but we'd been apart. Being together now was trickier. It was harder, even when I loved being with him. It was made harder because he was going to leave me yet again before I got use to him being home.
I was no fool but I was incapable of hiding my love for him. His lips ignited my lips and our bodies fit together as they always had and they did a lot more. His body was heavenly, new, familiar, and he knew how to move to get me as excited as I'd ever been.
My passion was a hungry part of me I'd learned to anesthetize. It was remarkable how close to the surface the passion and lust was. The memory of what we'd been recreated what we used to do.
I found out that making love had a lot in common with riding a bicycle.
We sat facing each other at the table in the galley. It seemed like old times. We'd once faced each other across the galley table on the Vilnius Two about a thousand times. The Vilnius Two was gone now, sunk in a storm in the Pacific off the coast of Chile.
But then and now had a million miles between them. This was how we did it. We started off mad, me anyway. We got glad, and we made love. We got sad toward the end, once love making ran out of steam, and it always did.
The realization became too strong. Even Ivan couldn't pretend it didn't hurt each time we saw each other, each time we said goodbye. He might be determined to find Boris but our love for each other was obvious, and from my perspective, it hadn't changed. Each time he came home, I expected it would change. It never did, not for me.
Being together reignited all the old feelings and the love.
“I miss you so much,” he said to his root beer. “You help me get through the bad days. The days when I think I'll never see my brother again. It's thinking about you that keeps me steady.”
“If my being here for you helps, I'm glad, Ivan. You've been gone a long time. I didn't know you were alive until I saw you standing on the Sea Lab. Then I couldn't be sure I didn't surface too fast.”
He was looking deep into my eyes before he looked down. I saw signs of the teenage boy I met after getting to Florida. It was half a lifetime for us. We'd been apart twice as long as we'd been together, but we'd always been together after we met, even before we were in love, admitted we were in love.
“I am sorry, Clay,” he said softly. “I'd love nothing more than to go back to how it was before.... I know I can't make it up to you.”
“Come home, Ivan. It's been long enough.”
“Can't,” he said.
“I know,” I said. “You say you're getting closer? You've said you were close before. How is it different this time.”
He put both of his hands on top of my hands. He looked at them while tears ran down his cheeks. Ivan didn't cry often. Emotionally he was far tougher than me. When he cried his tears were real.
As hard as it was on me, the search for his brother left Ivan with no life of his own.
His life literally belonged to Boris.
Getting my mind back on my business, I realized it was about the time Pop would be looking for me to get back. I needed to call and let him know he should go home and to take Dylan with him. It would be a few more hours before I'd make it home.
“Sea Lab to base. Sea Lab to base,” I said, knowing Pop may already be gone when I looked at the time.
“Go ahead, Sea Lab. You OK, Clay?” Pop asked.
“Yeah, I'm fine. I ran into an old friend on a wave out here. Go ahead home Pop. Take Dylan with you. I'll be late,” I said.
“When I sent Ivan out there, I figured you'd be late. I'll see you when you get to the house. I waited to hear from you before I left.”
“I'll be late. Don't wait up for me,” I said. “We're about to sit down and talk. That will take a while. He can't leave, unless he swims, until I get the answers I want.”
“You haven't thanked me yet, Clay. I did send him to you. I don't remember the last time I saw him. He hasn't changed, except he grew up since his last visit.”
“Thanks, Pop. I do appreciate it,” I said. “He is a man now.”
“I knew just where you were diving. I called Harry's man at the marina and he agreed to carry Ivan out to where you are.”
“I can never be sure things haven't changed since the last time I was there,” Ivan said.
I held down the button on the radio so Pop could hear him.
“It's all the same, only better, Ivan,” Pop said. “Stop for dinner when you get a chance.”
“I will,” Ivan said. “Next time I'm in the neighborhood.”
“Did he meet Dylan, Pop?”
“No, Harry came by to see your new specimens. Dylan took him to the lab to show him the new ones. They were over there. I saw Harry out next to Ivan's car right right after Ivan left the shop. Dylan wasn't with Harry. I didn't know Harry knew Ivan.”
“Funny how things work, Pop. You just never know who Harry might know, and I'd been expecting something to happen all day. Figured the FBI was tailing me again. I guess it wasn't the FBI after all. Thanks again. Sea Lab out.”
“What did you and Harry have to talk about?” I asked.
“Things you aren't supposed to know. You know I can't talk about what he tells me.”
“He told you something?”
“More like he was glad I was out of Southeast Asia.”
“He knows more about what you've been up to than he tells me?” I considered, expecting what I got.
“He's a congressman. If he doesn't know more than you about what's going on, he's in big trouble.”
“That wasn't what I said. Go ahead. The ball is in your court, Mr. Aleksa. I've got nothing to hide. If you won't answer my questions at least tell me what you're able to tell me. My time is your time. You're getting closer? How close and when do you come home for good?”
I didn't mean to be easy on him. I needed more details and his visits were coming too far apart to let him get away without some clarification concerning what he told me. If I wasn't too specific, he might give me more than I expected.
Ivan sat sipping his root beer and looking at me like he was seeing me for the first time. I could see he had something on his mind. He either wasn't certain how to tell me or he was deciding whether or not to tell me.
The distance between us was about a lot more than our geography.
For the first time since his Sunday phone calls and regular visits stopped, I had Ivan where I wanted him. He might not be able to tell me what I wanted to know, but I had no such restrictions on me.
We weren't going anywhere until I got something specific besides 'Harry knows more than he says.'
I sat across from him, admiring how the man I loved looked. I had the feeling I was in the middle of a dream. I had vivid dreams of the man I loved, but never had he looked as good as he did now. I always dreamed about the teenage Ivan. The Ivan I'd known.
He watched me until I grew quiet and waited without any more questions. Our hands were folded together and it was only a short trip to his lips, but I didn't want more sex without a little table talk.
The fear he no longer loved me crossed my mind. The thought he might have found someone else to love was troubling. I was looking for relief. Waiting so long meant I wasn't ready to give up on Ivan yet, unless he told me it's what I needed to do.
We sipped from our sodas, looked at our hands, and tried to get comfortable being together.
“I always worry you'll be gone when I come home. I worry the conservancy won't be there when I go to see you. I worry the Olsons have moved to parts unknown and you've gone with them and left no forwarding address. I worry I won't see you again.”
“Every time you leave me, I wonder if I'll ever see you again.”
“Touche',” he said, needing to look away from my eyes.
He couldn't escape my gaze. This wouldn't be easy. It hadn't been easy since the day he left and it wasn't easy now.
“I think about you a lot. I think of the time I've been gone. I worry about what you think of me. I worry you aren't going to wait any longer and are about to tell me that,” Ivan said, pausing so I could correct him. “You've waited a long time. Too long. Longer than most people can wait for someone.”
“The only thing I know about loving someone comes from loving you, Ivan. I can't unlove you. You have something you need to do. I'm waiting for it to be done. I'll always love you, whether or not you come back home to be with me.”
“I know. I walk into your life cold. I come from parts unknown, and here I am. I'll be gone in a few hours, heading for parts unknown. I never know if this is the time you won't welcome me home. I wish it could be different. I don't know how to do anything but what I'm doing. I need to find Boris.”
“You aren't home. We're in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. When you do come home, Ivan, if you come home, you'll be welcome. You left us. We never left you.”
“I was hoping you'd say that, Clay. I worry you won't be able to keep saying it and meaning it. It's not like I asked for this.”
“Knowing what we had and wanting it back doesn't mean I don't have a life without you. I have a good life, even though I miss you. My son is growing up, Ivan. My career is going great guns. It would be a dream come true if you became a part of it, but you aren't coming home, are you?” I asked.
“I can't. Not yet,” he said, watching his root beer.
“You won't,” followed easily.
“I know your life goes on with me or without me. It's plain to see that Clayton Olson is a success. I can only do the best I can with what you give me ...and you don't intend to give me much, do you, Clay?”
“I wish I could be here, but I can't,” he said.
“Come home,” I said, getting down to the nitty-gritty.
“Can't,” he said solemnly. “Still work to do. Promises to keep. People to meet.”
“I know,” I said. “How long have we got this time?”
All the emotion had drained out of me now. I knew the program and I knew the rules. We were just two friends thinking about the way we were and might never be again.
“I fly out of Miami at nine tonight,” he said.
I began laughing. Sometimes he did amaze me. As smart as he was, he still had no sense of time.
“Bet me! Do you know what time it is, Ivan?”
“I know. I get close to you and I can't help myself. I've got to see you. I knew when your father told me where you were, I wouldn't make Miami in time tonight. Didn't matter. I couldn't be this close and not see you” he said, taking a long look.
“See me? You see a lot of me when you get around to it,” I said.
“Yes, if I get within a hundred miles of you, I've got to make love to you. I think of making love to you a lot. We were together for so long, made love so often, I didn't see a time when we couldn't. When they said be in Miami, I knew where I was going. I had to see you. I wanted to feel you in my arms.”
“Is there an alternate plan or do you make it up as you go along?” I asked, worrying about how he'd get where he was going.
“I'll make some calls once we dock. I'll make up time along the way. I'll hitch onto a military flight if need be. They aren't as comfortable as Pan Am but all it takes is a phone call to get routed where I need to be. I've got three days to be in Cambodia.”
“Cambodia?” I asked.
“It's where I'm meeting the Russians. They have the information about Boris. My last mission bought me the Russians. My people sweetened the pot to get me to take the last assignment. They knew what I was after in Vietnam. They know what I'm after. They knew why I was out there when they arrested me.”
“They had no authority to arrest you. They're Americans. That isn't America.”
“Tell them that. They held me for two weeks before they first talked to me. I won't tell you what a tiger cage is but once you are in one, you don't forget it.”
“These Russians will tell you what?” I asked with suspicion. “It sounds too good to be true if you ask me, after all this time.”
“They've seen pictures of Boris. They have seen him in a village they visit from time to time, Clay.”
“Your people have known this how long?”
“I don't know when my people came by the information. I get the impression the Russians do work for my people. They knew they didn't have any way to hold onto me, after my last assignment. It's a long story but the Russian's were the bait to keep me on the job. I'll tell you the entire story once I'm home, but this time it's real. There is nothing else. They played their last card.
“Needless to say, trying to break into Vietnam is how I ended up in their hands. They intercepted me on the border in '73.”
“I remember your telling me you were going there. That was a long time ago,” I reminded him. “Five years and you were getting close as I recall.”
“They told me that Boris was alive in '77. I told them I'd known he was alive since '68. That's when they gave me the mission I just completed. That's when they told me what the Russians had.”
“Your people? Who are your people, Ivan?” I asked, afraid of sounding like an interrogator.
“My people,” he confirmed. “I can't talk about that.”
“Nice guys,” I said.
I was thinking they were snakes. They were using Ivan to do some dirty work with a promise to give him Boris once they were done with him. If they got done with him. There were bad words to describe men like that and they were protected by our government. These are the men who create the chaos that keeps the world at war.
“The Russians are the last card. They will take me to Boris. It's the jackpot at the end of the rainbow, Clay. It's almost over. I should be home by the end of next year.
“In '73 they threatened to lock me up for ten years. I violated federal law by being in Vietnam. The guide I hired told them where I was crossing. No one is what he seems over there. Anyway, they're the only law over there. It's still a war zone.
“If I'd joined the army, I'd have been in Vietnam before you could say, 'Mrs. Robinson.' They kept me locked up for a couple of weeks. I don't know how long it was or where I was. It wasn't far from where they picked me up. It was in the jungle.
“Men are surprisingly pliable once they've been locked away for a few weeks. You begin thinking you'll never be free again and then they ask you to do some work and if you agree, you get a get out of jail free card.
“They knew why I was over there. They offered me a get into Vietnam free card, once I did the job. They didn't know where he was. They knew it would give them an advantage over me to find out.”
“Nice folks. Why not tell you where your damn brother is? Why would you work for people who put bait in front of you to get you to work for them? It doesn't sound like the Ivan I fell in love with. What makes you think they're telling you the truth, Ivan.”
“I don't think they know where Boris is. They know. They're my people. I know when they're telling me the truth and when they're blowing smoke up my ass. There were reports of Boris being sighted after he went MIA. The reports were vague but they came from several sources. The Russians are traders and they do business with the company. When they saw a picture of Boris, they knew where he was.”
“We're the enemy to the Russians. Why would they help us?”
“The lines are blurred over there. Information is the coin of the realm. The Russians are the key to finding Boris. Whatever the Russians want, they get, after they take me to Boris.”
“Sounds pretty remarkable after ten years.”
“Information is their business, Clay. People talk. People listen. They keep track of who says what to whom. The Russians get what they want. The company gets what it wants, and I get what I want.”
“Why not give you the information you need if they're your people? They don't sound like your people. They sound like bad guys.”
“They don't give anything away. I did what I agreed to do and now, I get the Russians.
“I'm close, Clay. I'm close and that means I'll be home soon. It's almost over. One way or another, it's almost over. If this should be a dry hole, I'm done. I'm at the end of my rope. I don't think it is. I don't think my people know where Boris is but they know the Russians know where he is. Should the Russians be blowing smoke, it'll be the last smoke they ever blow. The game has rules. You promise something and don't deliver, you don't get to make any more promises.”
I felt bad about being a born skeptic. I was lucky he came to see me. He wouldn't stop until he knew the truth about Boris. I hoped the people who were using Ivan gave him what they told him they would.
There was no reason for me to believe they would.
Until I saw him in the flesh, I didn't know if Ivan was alive or not. I had grown angrier about his absence over the years.
It made the pain worse when he called or came home. It reminded me of how it once was. I understood there weren't phone booths on every corner where he was and as time went on his search took him farther and farther away.
Then, one day, he was home, and there was more waiting, until he was gone. How long did we have this time? Before I had a chance to believe he was there with me, he'd be gone. He was a reminder of what I'd lost. At least he hadn't forgotten me. I wanted to be positive.
Talking to each other wasn't easy after being separated for so long. There were stages we needed to go through. Once we got mad, we were sad, and then we were glad to be together, even if only for a few hours. It took time to process what seeing him meant.
This is when we made up, made out, and made love. We didn't do that in steps. It simply unfolded and we did what came naturally. We did what we had to do whenever we came together. This time we started on the deck of the Sea Lab and ending up in the galley.
Once we exhausted ourselves, our passion grew quiet, we could talk, knowing the routine after so long. It wasn't something I planned or looked forward to. It's how it was for the years Boris was lost.
It was the force of two personalities colliding. We were grown men. We'd been boys when his search started.
If there was hope for us, this is where we'd start. Once he came home, we'd start with the steps we needed to go through.
We needed to establish common ground and it would be just like starting over again. It's what I wanted.
We sat at the table in the galley, facing each other. He smiled bashfully when our eyes met. He had become a gorgeous man. He was seeing me as the man I'd become.
I felt like he was still my man after he made love to me like he meant it. The way I felt when I looked at Ivan told me that he'd always be my man, whether or not I was his. There had been no other man. I dreamed of being in Ivan's arms.
My resolve to pin him down may have weakened but sitting two feet from him, I couldn't imagine finding another man like him.
As if he was reading my mind, he said, “I miss you, Clay. You don't know how much I miss you. The thought of you being here keeps me going. Give me one more year. If the Russians don't pan out, I'll hit a dead end. It'll be over. I can't do this any longer. I need to find my brother. Give me this one last shot. It may not be a year but we'll call it one year. Give me that and I'll come home and make it up to you for what I've put you through. Once I'm home, you won't be able to get rid of me after that.”
He was talking about coming home. He'd never before said he was coming home. I didn't need to ask for a day. The knowledge it was on his mind was enough for me.
“You're going to find him, Ivan. If my being here helps you, I'll be here for as long as it takes. I'm not going anywhere. The conservancy isn't going anywhere. You know where to find me, but don't forget what you said. I won't. It's been long enough but I'll wait one more year..”
“That's what you told me the year I left. Remember? I never knew things could get this complicated. The complexities of the world boggle my mind, and I'm ready to come back to the beach.”
“Yes.” I said, “I also told you, 'You're the only hope Boris has. If he's alive, and if anyone can find him, you can.' I believe that, Ivan.”
“That's when I got a grip on myself,” Ivan said. “You've always been here for me. I know this is home, Clay.”
Ivan's eyes sparkled with sincerity. He reminded me of the Ivan I fell in love with and the intensity he put into my life.
Making love proved we could still love each other physically. I didn't doubt he loved me in a romantic way. I could feel it. He still intended to leave me again at the end of the day.
His presence told me what I needed to know. He was saying all the right things and it gave me hope. I'd never lost hope but having him tell me he was on his way back to the beach, after he played the hand he had, made me a believer.
Our problem wasn't that we didn't love each other enough, and expecting him home if the 'Russians don't pan out' wasn't wise. I had a life to live until he did or didn't come home. I was luckier than Ivan. He'd given up his life to look for his brother.
I'd waited a long time. It's a long time to search for your brother. The passage of time changed the landscape of the world in which we once lived, but facing Ivan, seeing him seeing me, left me hopeful. I'd give him the time he needed. I'd encourage him.
Maybe we could reignite the passion from our past. Maybe we weren't so altered by time and life that we couldn't let our love take over and watch it grow strong.
I trusted him in spite of the time he'd been gone. If he wanted to make the effort, I was willing to wait until our time came.