The Gulf of Love

A Rick Beck Story

quillswritersrealm@Yahoo.com

Editor: Jerry W.

Chapter 8
Partly Cloudy

 

“Hey, Clay, It's for you,” Lucy yelled from the foyer.

“Who is it,” I yelled from the third floor landing.

“Your Aunt Hooty. Who do you think it is? It's collect and the meter is running, bucko.”

“Hi! How are you?” I asked, breathing hard after the four second dash downstairs. “You in Iowa?”

“Yes. I made it this morning.”

“Have you eaten?”

“Yes.”

“What's Iowa like?” I asked.

“It's corny. The stuff is everywhere.”

“Corn,” I said. “Kansas grew corn.” 

This was how it would be. When he got somewhere new, he called to tell me how the search was going. Ivan told me about the last guy and how the trip to the new place went. I was all ears, waiting to hear he was coming home.

He liked to tell me what each man was like and what it was like where he lived. He'd often found a job before he went to talk to a guy from Boris' unit. This meant he didn't need to hurry. They could develop a relationship before the serious questions came up. The most important pieces of information often came out a little at a time.

Ivan never mentioned Sunshine. I saw no reason to mention that she was living with us. I wasn't sure what to say about it. He mentioned her one time and he asked me to take care of her. I did.

I felt good about Ivan staying in touch. It made it easier to work and study knowing he was OK and I didn't need to worry as much. Ivan was a big boy and he knew what he was doing. Waiting for him wouldn't be my best thing but I kept busy to keep my mind off him.

 

*****

 

One afternoon a few days later, coming home after a long day, I came in intending to catch a quick shower and a short nap before dinner. It was the first day that week I wasn't gone twelve hours.

When I came in the kitchen, the empty jar I'd left on my dresser had found its way into the middle of the kitchen table. I figured I wasn't going to have time to shower and to nap. Mama turned around from the stove to face me.

This was not going to go well.

“You want to explain that jar, young man,” Mama said, knowing exactly how this was going to go.

“No ma'am, not really. The money was used for a good cause. It's gone, Mama.”

“That was your college fund,” she said in dismay.

“I never agreed that's what that money was. That was the story you made up without me giving you my thoughts on it.”

“Where'd the money go?”

“It went for a good cause, Mama.”

“There was twenty-five hundred dollars in that jar the last time I counted it. What could you possibly spend that much money on?”

“Mama, I gave it to Ivan. I gave it to him to help him find Boris. I didn't know what else to do for him. I had to do something.”

“Marvin Clayton Olson, you gave all that money away? Let me tell you something, young man, twenty-five hundred dollars would have kept our home and made it possible for us to stay in Tulsa.”

It was twenty-six hundred and forty two dollars after my final fishing trip with Mr. Aleksa.

Boy, I was sure happy I didn't have that money then. My entire life would have been ruined if we'd stayed in Tulsa. Leaving there was the best thing that ever happened to me.

“You mark my words, one day you'll wish you had that money. One day you'll live to regret what you've done. You are a foolish boy and I can't tell you how disappointed I am in you. Go to your room. I don't want to talk to you.”

Maybe I would get the nap after all.

That's when I said it and if I ever regretted anything, I regretted that.

“If Ivan comes back to me a day sooner because of that money, Mama, it is money well spent,” I said, leaving the kitchen.

If Mama hadn't suspected more than friendship was going on between Ivan and me before, she couldn't help but wonder now.

I wasn't quick on my feet and Lucy wasn't there to bail me out.

*****

When I walked into my bedroom through the wide open door, there were impediments to my plan to nap. Lucy and Sunshine were lying across my bed looking into one of those teen magazines. Sunshine had on a powder blue sun suit. Her pure white skin and deep blue eyes had her look radiant.

They were giggling about a bare chested Davy Jones cavorting through life in a made up story that had young girls in mind. Lucy was more mature than me. It didn't sound like Sunshine had much of a childhood, but this discrepancy stop either of them from acting like teenage girls.

I felt good when I saw Lucy and Sunshine doing girl things. The two Olson girls, Coleen being the first born, hadn't been close. Coleen hadn't been close to any one. Lucy's four brothers weren't a big help, although Lucy and I were closest among six kids.

Mama picked this time to come into my bedroom behind me. She carried a basket full of fresh underwear and socks. She immediately set the basket down and went over to see who the girls were ogling.    “There goes my nap,” I said, not particularly happy my bedroom had become Grand Central girl's world.

Mama's attention was diverted from the picture of the 'half naked' Davy to the wide open door between my room and Sunshine's room. If ever the Lord was going to be trotted out, this was going to be the time. 

This definitely was not my day. I should have stayed at work.

Mama walked over to turn the handle to see if it was unlocked. Then she cast a knowing glance in my direction. Mama walked back to the clothes basket without speaking. Another offense was recorded and would be brought up at a time and date of Mama's choosing.

“Your socks are threadbare. Clay. The next time you and your father go by Woolworth's, pick up a package of socks. You might want to pick up a package of tee-shirts too.”

“Yes, ma'am,” I said, still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“I picked up some lovely seafood at Piggly Wiggly. We're having seafood gumbo with hush puppies, fresh spinach, and my sweet potato casserole. Do you like sweet potatoes, Sunshine?”

“Oh, that sounds delicious,” Sunshine said. “My grandma used to fix gumbo when I went to her house in Louisiana. She was a good cook too. I liked going there.”

Sunshine knew how to score points. It did sound delicious. It was the kind of thing Mama liked fixing once we got to Florida. Once Mr. Aleksa began supplying us with fresh fish, the fish warehouse was a regular stop once or twice a week to get oysters, clams, crabs, or scallops. I didn't remember eating that well in Tulsa.

This was a nice  change from the constant meat and potatoes we'd eaten as flatlanders and there were no complaints.

*****

 

None of us knew Sunshine was sick then. The Olson house was warmed by her presence. She was a delight to be around. Sunshine hadn't experienced much security in her young life. The grandmother in New Orleans took her when her parents couldn't take care of her. 

Once she began sleeping in Mama's sewing room and eating at our table, there was no talk about her living elsewhere. This small girl had managed to replace my missing siblings without really trying.

Lucy, Mama, and Sunshine were steady companions often going out together. Lucy and Sunshine spent the evenings in one or the other's room, involved in girl talk, sending laughter throughout the house. I'd sit on the porch outside my bedroom reading, and I'd smile when their laughter came my way.

A few times, when I came in around six, too tired to take a shower and with no time to nap, Sunshine and I sat on the porch outside my bedroom watching the last of the fading light in the western sky before dinner. As October ended the days shortened.

Like so many other things that happened to me, there was no explaining Sunshine. It was what it was. My life hadn't gone all that well the last few months. Sunshine did her best to turn it around.

Just being with her restored some of my energy. She made me glad I was where I was. Her insecurity disappeared after a few days and Sunshine was happy.

We had become friends and I certainly needed one. I can't imagine what my life had been like if I hadn't brought Sunshine home.

I was sure glad my 'Later Gator,' plan got lost on the way back down the beach.

 

There came a time when I'd wake up and Sunshine would be in my bed holding onto me. When I began waking up the first time this happened, she said, “I was afraid. I wanted to be close to you.”

“You're safe here. I'm here. I won't let anything hurt you,” I said, putting my arms around her.

I kissed her forehead and fell back to sleep.

Ghosts haunted Sunshine. Even in the safest place she'd ever lived, the ghosts still haunted her dreams, dragging her back to the insecure life she'd once known. I would be there for her at those times, easing her back from the fear she arrived with.

I didn't ask what scared her. She never left an opening I felt comfortable exploring. It didn't seem like a good idea to ask her to discuss her past with me. If she felt like talking about it she would.

After the first time i woke up with her in my bed, I told her, “Ivan and I are lovers, Sunshine. Do you understand?”

Sunshine giggled and said, “I know. That's why I trust you.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “How could you know that?”

“I really like Ivan. He went after Dakota for me. When I left Dakota, I went back to Ivan's to be with him. When he woke up to find me in bed with him, he told me the same thing. 'Clay and I are lovers, Sunshine. Do you know what that means?' I did. I told him it was cool. That's the day he told me he was leaving.”

“Ivan was here with me the last few nights before he left,” I said, remembering he'd sobered up and decided to go in search of Boris.

“This was in the afternoon. He liked to take a nap in the afternoon and I slipped into the bed with him once I got back to his house. I didn't want to wake him, Clay. It took a while for him to realize I wasn't you. He called me Clay and he kissed me.

I wished I was you. He's quite something. The way he held me. I hated he woke up. He's gentle, like you, but he's got deadly hands,” she giggled. “Ask Dakota about his hands. Ivan has a lot going for him,” she mused thoughtfully.

“So you don't think two guys being in love is strange?” I asked, not having any way to know what other people actually thought.

“There's only two kinds of people, Clay. It would be strange if guys didn't fall in love some times. I could grow quite fond of Lucy. It's not like the idea scares me. She's totally awesome and she's sweet and open. I can talk to her.”

“You sure have her pegged,” I said. “I'd be careful about telling her how fond you are of her.”

“Lucy and I talked about it. It's not such a big deal as you and Ivan make it. Where you find people, you'll find love. Only because they  preach so vehemently against same sex love, you don't hear that much about it. I doubt it would be much of a deal if people minded their own business. If you don't want to love someone of the same sex, don't.” 

“I won't if it isn't Ivan.”

“Why do some people worry so much about who someone else loves? Don't they have a life?” Sunshine asked.

“It's what some people do,” I said.

“They're miserable and want to make sure no one else is happy.”

“How'd you figure all this stuff out?” I asked. “I'm gay and I don't have any idea what it means. Ivan and I just saw a movie with gay people in it. It's enough to make you sick. I know you don't let it get around if you want to stay healthy.”

“I lived with two gay dudes once. My parents threw me out the first time when I was sixteen. Gay men are sweet. One cooked, cleaned house, and did laundry and the other one was a doctor. My boyfriend took me over there to see if they'd help me.”

“How'd he know they were gay?” I asked.

“He lived with them. His father hated him. He'd gone out with the two gay dudes a couple of times. When he told them he was on the street, they took him in and then they took me in.”

“I stayed a few months. I don't know what I'd have done if they didn't let me stay with them. Like your family, Clay. I don't know where I'd have gone.”

“I guess I don't know much about what's going on,” I said. “I thought all kids had families and places to live.”

“We're eighteen. We aren't supposed to know everything yet.”

“You sure know a lot more than I do,” I said.

“You've got really nice parents. My parents didn't like me or each other. You figure out the things you need to know pretty quick once you're on the street. That's what I know.”

“I'm sorry,” I said, feeling bad for her. “You're safe now.”

I Wanted to do more to make her feel secure. Being her friend was the best I could do. I didn't have many friends.

“I'm happier than I've ever been here with you. I live with the nicest people in the world. I love being here. You're all so nice.”

Sunshine squeezed my hand and leaned to kiss my cheek.

“Did the gay men treat you OK? How does that work? I mean you and your boyfriend living there.”

“Oh, yes. Both of them mothered me something fierce. They were nice. They worried about me. They didn't want me to leave.”

“So why did you leave?” I asked.

“Busy bodies. A sixteen year old girl living with three men is a subject of gossip. Someone said if I didn't disappear quick, the cops would be notified that an under age girl was being kept by three men. I  didn't want to leave but I couldn't let them get in trouble.”

It was time for dinner before we got any deeper into Sunshine's story. My life had been a vacation compared to her's. My parents might have gotten upset with me from time to time, but I always knew they loved me. 

I didn't know there were parents who didn't love and cherish their children. Why did they have kids if they didn't want to take care of them?

 

*****

 

November was a busy month. It felt like I was gone from the house all the time. I was running a sleep deficit. It seemed like I no sooner put my head on the pillow and my alarm went off.

I still drove twice a week to Fort Myers for classes. On Monday and Friday I was with Bill Payne and three other marine biology students. We dove, had classes in the conservancy laboratory, and if there was time, I scouted the beaches for trash or rubbish.

On Wednesday Bill and I dove alone in the afternoon. We spent an hour in the water, an hour discussing what we saw, and another hour in the water. We took the specimens we gathered back to the conservancy at about three and we discussed the two dives and Bill summed up what I should take away from the day with him.

Wednesday was my favorite day. Bill's teaching style was to my liking. He didn't demand I answer his every question, but he went over and over material he wanted me to know. Inevitably, there were few questions he hadn't conditioned me to answer. Seeing his warm easy smile when I answered them correctly was great.

We spent most of our time in the Gulf and in my lab, having discussions about what we were finding in the water. 

Having a lab made me a curiosity with the other students. It gave me a leg up on the lessons we learned. Bill took advantage of the conservancy laboratory, bringing some of his work there rather than making the trip to the university's lab.

There were four hours in the afternoon on school days when I worked for Pop. The days I didn't go to school, I went to work at the conservancy at eight and got off at six. I worked six hours on Saturdays, picking up trash and monitoring the beaches.

When I wasn't working or going to school, I could be found in my lab doing homework and writing notes about my dives. These notes were concerned with the area around Sanibel Island.

When Harry, Bill, and I met to talk, it was these notes we talked about. The discussions covered what I found in the Gulf, the specimens I collected, and the changes I noticed. We often had similar discussions with the other three students.

When Harry came, I got to go over the details again with him. My work and schooling went hand in hand as my weeks were filled leading up to the holidays.

 

*****

 

At Thanksgiving I had four glorious days off. I slept late and went to bed early, but not until I got my fill of turkey with dressing, turkey with mashed potatoes, and turkey sandwiches with more turkey.

How I didn't gain a ton, I don’t know. I'd never enjoyed eating and sleeping so much as I did those four days.

Mama, Lucy, and Sunshine always had somewhere to go. They loved shopping together. Lucy was now working in the kitchen with Mama. She'd been doing food preparation to help out but Mama began teaching her to cook and Sunshine was learning too.

The three of them could spent hours in the kitchen. The results were often amazing. When I wandered into the kitchen looking for something to hold me over, I was sure to be scatted out like some miscreant cat looking to freeload.

If I was fast enough, I could pinch something on the way out. A growing boy has to eat and I liked seeing what was for dinner.

 

*****

 

Ivan called me twice over Thanksgiving weekend. He was invited to eat with a member of Boris' squad. He'd been in Duluth for a while. Kenny Blue had returned home that month on thirty days leave. Ivan said Minnesota was cold.

Ivan wanted to come home for the holiday. “But I don't want to spend the money. I'm working at the Dairy Queen. I eat there and crash on a couch of one of Kenny's friends.”

“Use the money I gave you. Come home, Ivan. You haven't spent it all?”

“It's in the bank. It's for emergencies. I'll think about it, Clay.”

I was cheerful and upbeat, hoping he'd come home to stay soon. He always said he wanted to come home, but he needed to find Boris more.

 

*****

Along with school and work, I was responsible for making sure Bill and Harry could make sense of what I was doing in the lab when they came. The really long days were the ones when one or both of them showed up and I didn't leave the lab until they did.

The things I found, the notes I took, and the conclusions I reached were made clearer once Lucy worked in the lab on Tuesday and Thursday after school.

She made sure things could be read and were easy to find. Lucy kept me organized and in the good graces of Bill and Harry, who both noticed when they could not only find my notes but read them. Since it corresponded with Lucy's arrival in the lab, she wasn't a secret.

 

*****

 

When Lucy and I came in together from the conservancy on the two days a week I had classes, Mama and Sunshine would be working in the kitchen. Sunshine was a big help in the kitchen. When Mama offered to teach her the tricks of the trade, Sunshine jumped at the chance.

Lucy often came in late on  a lesson in making gravy, sauce preparation, or seasoning this dish or that. That's when Mama went over the tips again, as she put the finishing touches on a dish.

I excused myself to stand in a steaming shower. After wrapping a towel around me, I went to sit on the porch outside my bedroom to finish drying and read my textbooks or the latest novel I'd picked up at the book store.  

As I sat marveling at the green waters a few hundred feet away, Sunshine sat beside me, taking my hand, rocking in time with me in the second chair we'd brought out of storage.

“Hard day?” she asked.

“I'm beat and I've got homework.”

“Go lay down, Clay. I'll wake you for dinner,” she said and I did.

What seemed like five minutes later, Mama's voice got into the act.

“Clayton!”

As I began to get up, I felt Sunshine holding onto me. She was out like a light. 

“Clay,” Mama said a second time.

I was still in my towel and not ready to receive my mother.

“Do you think that wise, Clayton?” Mama asked with her tone.

“We were just taking a nap, Mama. I'm exhausted,” I said.

“I bet you are. This is not what we had in mind when we said Sunshine would stay.”

“Mama, nothing is going on between Sunshine and me,” I insisted. 

“I can see that. Which brings me to Ivan,” Mama said.

Was Mama about to chastise me for two timing my lover?

“You got a call on Thanksgiving. I've been meaning to ask how he is. You're gone so much, I decided to come up to ask and I find you and Sunshine sleeping together.”

“Sleeping, Mama. Just sleeping.”

I knew better than to have this conversation with my mother. Explaining the birds and bees to Mama, when both bees were boy bees, wasn't happening. Telling her I had no romantic feelings for Sunshine wasn't wise either, even when Sunshine helped fill the void Ivan left. I liked her company.

“He was in Duluth. He's fine. He sounds OK. He had Thanksgiving with a guy from Boris' unit. It takes time to get them to talk.”

“He can't just ask them what happened to Boris?”

“Most aren't anxious to talk about Vietnam,” I explained. “It's best to work up to the harder questions.”

“It makes sense. John-Henry still hasn't spoken about it. Your father's home. You might want to get your pants on and bring Sunshine down for dinner. It'll be on the table in ten minutes.”

“OK, Mama. How's she doing with cooking?”

“She's doing fine. No one has taken time to teach that girl anything. Why wouldn't a mother teach her daughter how to cook? She didn't know much but she's a fast learner. She's a big help too. Saves me a lot of steps,” Mama said. “She's a sweet girl, Clay.”

“I know,” I said.

 

*****

 

I was lollygagging on the streets of Fort Myers after leaving class one afternoon. Lucy didn't get out of school until three. I wanted to waste some time and get a sandwich before I went to pick her up.

As I turned down a side street, there was an audaciously painted sign with flowers, rainbows, unicorn, and fish, and more color than the law allowed in that part of town. Intrigued, I went inside. Tie-dye shirts, hand made metal peace symbols, and crazily colored cups, mugs, ash trays, bongs, and beads caught my eye.

The wall posters got my attention. There were the Beatles, Joplin, Hendrix, and Alfred E. Newman posters. There were anti war posters and wild crazy designs that led your eye astray and refused to let go. The walls were covered with posters, flower pot hangers, and hand woven scarves, shawls, shirts, and britches hung from the walls and the ceiling.

The girl had flowers in her hair and wore brightly colored clothes. Everything was loud, a feast for the eyes, a shock to my senses. I'd never seen such color inside of one store.

What originally caught my attention was the melodic tones from Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel. I was singing the words before going inside. Then it was Somebody to Love by Jefferson Airplane, followed by White Rabbit. I was  heading down the  rabbit hole right after that rabbit.  

“What kind of place is this?” I asked, unable to look at the young girl for all the distractions around me.

“This is a head shop. The first in Fort Myers. We make sandwiches in the back, tea, we have incense, chimes, anything you can imagine to expand your mind. You look like you need to chill out, dude. Incense & Peppermints played with its raucous sound.

“Chill out? Expand my mind? How do I do that?” I asked.

“You let go, man. Let it happen. It's easier if you don't fight it. I'm Penny Wise,” she said, and it took me a while to catch on.

“I could use a sandwich,” I said. “I was going to a sandwich shop down the street. I heard the music and here I am.”

“Told you, Hawkeye,” another girl yelled from the back.

“Did you hear the music?” A disembodied voice asked from what looked like a leather shop.

“I did,” I said. “I like everything you've played so far.”

“Ever had a Reuben?” Penny asked.

“A what?”

“Come on back. Money back guarantee, but if it isn't the best sandwich you've ever eaten, I'm Clarabell the clown.”

She was no Clarabell. The Reuben was as full of flavor as the shop was filled with color and sound. I gobbled the sandwich down and wandered the shop while waiting for the second Reuben to be ready. A cup of Constant Comment tea was the perfect companion for both sandwiches. It was a distinctive beverage.

While I inhaled the pleasant scent of what I was told was sandalwood incense, I stopped at a pair of magnificently made leather boots. The leather was as soft as a baby's bottom. I fondled the boots, enjoying their smell.

“What's your size?” A tall lean man in his mid twenties asked. “I'm Hawkeye. This is my shop.”

I was sensing a pattern. The girl making my sandwich called herself Breeze. Each person was more attractive than the last. Hawkeye was a hunk. His long thin fingers reached out for mine. I shook in what was an unexpectedly gentle handshake.

“I'm Clay,” I said.

Hawkeye wore buckskin from his broad shoulders down to his extra large moccasins. His copper hair rested on the shoulders of an absolutely fabulous shirt.

“Not for me for my.... Size eleven,” I said, not thinking it required Ivan's history.

“I can have a pair made for you by this time next week. Is that too long?” he asked, worried it was.

“Too long? Are you serious? Hand made by next week? Like these. I want them just like these,” I said, rubbing the leather on my cheek.

“I could do it in six days if a week is too long. To do them properly, I can't make them in less time than that,” he said.

“What is the cost of a pair of handmade leather boots?” I asked, bracing myself but determined to give a pair of those boots to Ivan.

“You look like a cool dude. You're spending money in my shop.  Let's say fifty bucks. I don't need to make all the rent on one customer, and I'll have them for you Monday. I'll work a little late each night.”

“You've got to be kidding. Tuesday will be fine.”

With my second sandwich came a complimentary dish of Rocky Road ice cream.

I picked out a yellow scarf and tan shawl for Sunshine and a dark and light green set for Lucy. Christmas was two weeks away. When I came to Mama's, they had a wonderful royal blue scarf but nothing in a shawl that I liked.

When I asked Penny Wise if I was being foolish not liking the colors available, she took me to the yarn, had me pick a color I did like, and she told me it would be ready Tuesday too.

“Hawkeye originally made wallets and boots here. Breeze and I talked him into carrying our handicrafts. When business picked up, we added the deli. As you can see, we are an all-purpose head shop. You can get anything you want at Hawkeye’s,” she sang the last sentence.

Yes you could and I suspected Penny Wise was flirting with me.

The jar on the fridge had less than a hundred bucks in it. I was adding a little from each paycheck, wanting Mama to get the idea that I was able to replace what I'd given to Ivan. I was so lucky with all I had, I had to do all I could to make Ivan's journey easier on him.

Knowing Mama, I was sure she wasn't convinced and I'd just blown most of a months pay in a head shop. It was for Christmas. I probably would have spent more money on far less practical presents if I hadn't found Hawkeye's.

I'd pick it all up the following Tuesday and pay the rest of what I owed.

*****

Just before Christmas I came in from work to find Sunshine wasn't feeling well. Mama gave me a tray with chicken soup and mashed potatoes.

“Here! Take this up to Sunshine. This should be easy on her stomach. Sit with her for a while, Clay. Make sure she's OK. I'll send Lucy up for you when dinner's ready.”

Sunshine was sleeping when I went into Mama's sewing room. I set the tray on the table next to her bed and pulled the chair over to sit on. She woke up as I was sitting down.

“It's time for you to be home already?” she asked, sounding tired.

“Yeah, what's going on with you?” I asked.

“Mama says I got the flu. Sick at my stomach and I'm really tired, Clay.”

“I brought you some soup and mashed potatoes. I picked up the mashed potatoes and held the plate out for her to take.

She sat up in bed and looked at the plate.      

“I'm not really hungry,” she said, holding the plate on her lap.

“Just take a little. It might help. There's chicken soup here. That's a bit easier to digest, I think.”

Sunshine stirred the mashed potatoes. She took two spoon fulls and handed me the plate.

“Set it on the tray. I'll get some more later,” she said, shifting back down in her bed. “I don't feel all that hot.”

“There's a stereo up at Ivan's. I don't think he'd mind if I borrow it. I'll hook it up so you have something to listen to.”

“Would you, Clay? I'd like that. Ivan played music a lot,” she said.   

I went to Ivan's and brought back the stereo and half the records. Dinner was ready by the time the speakers were hooked up. I put on Bookends for Sunshine to listen to, because it was fresh in my mind. I backed it up with Dylan's John Wesley Hardin and Johnny Cash's Bitter Tears. 

I left Sunshine resting and smiling to the music.

*****

 

By Christmas Sunshine was feeling better. She came to the table for dinner for the first time in a while that week. In short order we were all laughing and enjoying a good meal.

Except, I was waiting for Ivan's phone call. It didn't come. The later it got, the more angry I became. By midnight I was fuming.

This was not the way lovers treated one another. It didn't matter that there were no rules or instructions governing two men who were in love but the least he could do was call on Christmas Eve. He was going to get an earful when he did call.

I was as quiet as I could be when I went upstairs. I didn't want to wake Sunshine. The door between our rooms was open and I didn't turn on any lights, angrily kicking off my shoes and pants, leaving my clothes on the floor and I slipped into my bed.

“Glad you showed up before New Years. Do you know how long I've been waiting up here for you to decide to come to bed? It's after midnight,” Ivan said as I ended up in his arms.

He couldn't say any more with my tongue doing what tongues do at times like this. I'd never gone from mad as a hornet to happy as a clam as quick as I did Christmas Even 1968.

Ivan had come home.

“Get up. I've got something to show you,” I said, shaking Ivan awake after we'd both finally fallen asleep.

“What? Do you know what time it is? Do you know I was in Columbus this morning? I don't mind telling you I used up all my energy getting here, Clay. Can't it wait until tomorrow?”

“No, it can't. You had plenty of energy when I got here,” I said.

“That's because you got here. You give me strength. Did I ever tell you that?” Ivan asked.

“Here,” I said handing him the box with the boots that I didn't think he'd get at Christmas. I didn't wrap them because I thought I was going to send them to him.

As he held the box he said, “I didn't get you anything.”

I threw my arms around him and I kissed him as passionately as I'd ever kissed him.

“You silly boy. You gave me just what I wanted for Christmas,” I said, kissing him again.

We ended up back on the bed before he opened the box to see what was inside. Finally, after only a couple more interruptions, he held the handcrafted boots.

“They're beautiful, Clay. They must have cost a fortune,” he said.

“Half a fortune. Nothing is too good for the man I love. If you're going to be hiking all over the countryside, lose those Converse tennis shoes. These should feel good on your feet.”

He tried them on, walking around the room to model them for me. It was a great look. Boots and the rest was all Ivan.

“They don't even feel like I've got anything on my feet,” he said, looking down at them.

Ivan recharged his batteries after we spent time together. We spent a lot of Christmas day at his house in his bed, reminding each other how much we were in love.

Ivan stayed Christmas day and left the day after Christmas. The next guy from Boris' unit lived in Jacksonville. Once you got on the highway, it was only a few hours north and east. He called from there the evening he left. We were both sad. I hoped he'd come back.

Parting was no easier this time. I watched the bus until it went out of sight and I was alone again. I kept thinking he'd get tired of the search and come home.

Maybe he would by next Christmas.

 

                                          

*****

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