The Gulf of Love
A Rick Beck Story
Editor: Jerry W.
The day was bright.
I woke up in Ivan's safe powerful arms.
His lips were immediately kissing mine. He'd been waiting for me to wake up.
“Morning glory,” he said softly. “You do look good, babe.”
“Dylan has to go to school. I'm going to be late,” I said, hopping out of bed in one motion.
“You didn't mention you might stay the night?” Ivan asked.
“I hinted at it but I didn't say I was staying over night. I never intend to, but once I'm with you, leaving becomes impossible.”
“I set the alarm. It will go off at fifteen to seven. I won't let you be late, Clay. I'll walk down with you and I'll go with you when you take him to school. He needs to see us together as often as possible.”
“Yeah, we'll go together,” I said, stretching to look at a view of the Gulf I didn't get from my porch.
“In time he'll get accustomed to us being together,” Ivan said.
Ivan joined me on the deck and we embraced, kissing on the bright clear morning.
“It's seven,” Ivan said at seven.
We dressed and headed down the beach to the conservancy house.
“We can pick up where we left off when we come back. Will your mother feed us? We need to keep our strength up.”
“If we show up and look hungry, Mama will feed us,” I said.
As I came through the double doors into my bedroom, Dylan was sitting on the edge of my bed next to the nightstand.
He stood up as soon as he saw me.
“You weren't here. You're always here when I get up, Daddy.”
“Where did I tell you I was going after we read last night?”
“To my father's. You've always been here,” said with some stress in his voice.
“I won't stay up there again. You come first, kiddo. You don't want me to stay at Ivan's, I won't. That's all there is to it.”
He hugged me tightly like he was worried something happened to me. Dylan hadn't needed to stay as close to me as he once did. This was a side of him that didn't surface often.
“That's not what I said,” he said, not letting go. “You're usually here. I'll get used to it, Daddy. I'm not a child. I know you and my father have a lot of catching up to do.”
“You aren't a child but you are the most important person to me. Nothing comes before you, kiddo.”
“I'm fine. I just worried I might be late for school is all.”
I looked at the clock.
“It's twenty after seven. We have an hour and ten minutes to drive six miles, you think we might have time for breakfast?”
“Yeah,” he said, giggling. “I wasn't upset, Daddy. I wasn't. I want you and my father to be friends again.”
“Hey, do I get one of those or am I too ugly?” Ivan asked.
Dylan's face lit up. He practically jumped into Ivan's arms. Ivan held him close as the tears ran.
Ivan was home.
“We're OK, junior. We're going to be fine. We make a good team,” Ivan said. “The three of us. We're going to spend a lot of time together.”
“What's wrong with your eyes,” Dylan asked, standing back.
“Oh, it's breezy. I got sand in my eyes walking down here,” Ivan said.
“Everything is OK then?” Dylan asked, looking from Ivan to me.
“Fine. Everything is fine,” I said.
Ivan said the right things and Dylan felt comfortable around him.
“I've got a great idea,” Dylan said excitedly. “Let's skip school and go diving again. That was so much fun. The teachers can make it through one more day without me, Daddy.”
“No!” I said.
“Ah, Daddy. I want to spend the day with you guys.”
“We'll dive twice a week all summer.”
“We will! Cool!” Dylan said.
“Three times a week some weeks.”
“At our reef?”
“At our reef,” I said. “You have a couple weeks of school left. You need to go every day. We'll take you and pick you up.”
“You think your mother did biscuits this morning?” Ivan asked. “I had dreams about those biscuits.”
“If she got up, she did biscuits,” Dylan said. “They're super with her strawberry preserves. I had one with butter and honey last week. That was the cat's meow.”
“They're super with just butter,” Ivan said. “I'm starved. Maybe she did bacon.”
We went downstairs and into the kitchen together.
“Drop me at my car. I've got an errand to run,” Ivan said, after we took Dylan to school.
“You have a car?”
“Yeah, how do you think I got all those people back east?”
“You bought a car and drove?”
“Boris didn't do well on the plane. I figured it would be easier on him if we drove back. When I called you, I said I'd see you in three days. You thought the plane took three days?”
“No, I thought you were flying home in three days,” I said.
“I drove. We saw the country. You know it's a beautiful country? Too bad about the people. The way they treated the original owners should have been an indication. It's how they looked at Boris and his family at some of the restaurants where we stopped. People stared.”
“Thank heavens we live in Florida,” I said.
“Yeah, only half the people are warped in Florida,” Ivan said. “Boy are they ever. Present company excluded.”
Ivan leaned and kissed my cheek. I blushed.
“I'll be home in a couple of hours, dear. Have I ever told you that I love you?”
“You aren't going to Tampa?”
“No. Didn't I tell you I'm home to stay? I'm not going anywhere. I'll be back in a couple of hours. I have an errand to run. Don't think you're ever going to get me out of your hair, Olson. You're stuck with me now.”
“I'll be at work. I pick up Dylan at two thirty, if you want to go.”
“I do. I do.”
I went to work and caught up with some notes I'd written the week before. I did my filing and I checked my camera and film to be sure I had enough for my next dive. At fifteen to two Ivan came in with a bag of jelly donuts.
“You hungry?” Ivan asked.
“Starved,” I said.
“Where you been?”
“I just came from your house. I had coffee with your mother. We had a nice chat.”
“I'm not home,” I said.
“I noticed. I left you something.”
“Better. I left Dylan something too.”
“At least tell me what you left Dylan.”
` “What you both need. Something I should have bought you a long time ago.”
“Tell me these aren't complimentary parting gifts,” I said.
“I told you, Olson, you're stuck with me. I ain't going nowhere.”
Ivan threw his arms around me and gave me a big kiss.
“Cherry,” he said in an analytical tone.
“Cherry?” I asked.
“I was just checking to see what flavor jelly was in your donut. It's cherry.”
“You're hopeless,” I said.
“Hopelessly in love with you, babe. It's nice being home.”
“Time to pick up Dylan,” I said.
Dylan flew out the door when he saw the Chevy.
“Hi! Both of you. Cool!” he said. “Where we going?”
“Home. Your father has bought us something and he can't wait for us to see what it is,” I said.
“What is it, Daddy-O?”
“You'll see,” Ivan said. “What do you think we're having for dinner?”
“You particular?” I asked.
“No, anxious. It's so nice to get good food again. You don't understand what people eat over there. Some of it was still alive,” Ivan said.
“Yuk!” Dylan said. “You ate something that was alive? Gross!”
“Just bugs. In Southeast Asia you don't get a wide variety of menu selections when someone hands you food. If you're hungry, you close your eyes and eat.”
“Yuk!” Dylan said.
I dropped Ivan off to get his car and he followed us home. We all headed upstairs when we came into the house. I could smell the corn beef and cabbage before I got to the second floor landing.
I went in through my door. Dylan went in through his door. I heard Dylan squeal.
With Ivan behind me, I picked up the teddy bear off my bed. It was three feet tall. I hugged it to me and I looked at Ivan.
“It's just what I always wanted,” I said. “It's perfect.”
“Daddy, look,” Dylan yelped, standing in the door with a teddy bear even bigger than the one I got. “He got you one too. Thanks, Daddy-O. It's great. I love it. I love you.”
“Sorry I missed so much of your lives. I plan to do better.”
Dylan held the bear by one arm and he jumped into Ivan's arms.
“Thank you. I love it. I think we'll let you stay for a while.”
“Not so fast, kiddo. Are you going to let him buy your affection with a lousy teddy bear. I think we can do better if we hold out.”
“The teddy bear is fine. I just want him home. I want him to stay home and pick me up at school every day and take me to school too.”
“Don't know. He's a busy man,” I said.
“I'm not going anywhere,” Ivan said. “I'm not too busy for my two favorite men.”
I slept in my own bed for the rest of that week. Ivan came down to get into my bed two of those nights.
We made love quietly. As quietly as we could anyway.
After the night I wasn't in my bedroom when Dylan got up, I didn't stay in Ivan's bed all night. I was back in my before daylight.
Ivan had stayed in my bed the night before I stayed out. He got up to go home at first light.
As I picked out a shirt to wear, Dylan came into my room.
“I was thinking, Daddy, since I'm growing up, I'd like a little privacy. Can you close the door between our rooms? We can use it to go in and out during the day, but let's close it at night.”
“Sure thing, kiddo,” I said.
My son was definitely not a child.
When we finished reading that night, I closed the door behind me when I went into my room.
I put my hand on the door remembering the day I brought Sunshine home and she picked the lock on it.
It hadn't been closed since, until now.
Dylan was out of school the last week in May. We went on a dive the first day and our son was excited to be out of school. Instead of clams at J.K.'s, we went for pizza and played Goofy Golf. It was a day when Dylan could let loose his energy and he didn't need to sit in a classroom for six hours.
I took Dylan and Ivan on dives as often as I could. If I saw something I wanted to go back to check out, I'd go alone, letting Ivan and Dylan have time alone, but most things the three of us did together. It was a time like no other time in my life. I think Ivan and I drew closer because of our love for Dylan. It gave us a lot more things to do, even if you can only play so many rounds of Goofy Golf before you dread hearing the words, 'Let's play Goofy Golf.'
Popov threw me a birthday part at J.K.'s a couple of weeks after Dylan got out of school for the summer. Later on my birthday, after sirloin steak and baked potatoes for dinner, Mama brought out a cake with twenty-nine candles and lots of ice cream to go with it. It capped off a day when I had everything I wanted and I couldn't have asked for more.
As I sat on the deck outside Ivan's room late that evening, he was holding my hand when he slipped the gold band on it.
“Oh my God!” was all I could say.
Never being one to pass up a chance to make extra points with his lover, he handed me a ring box, presenting me with his hand. In the box was an identical ring to mine. I slipped it on his finger.
“I love you, Clay. With all my heart, I love you, babe.”
I kissed him and he kissed me and one thing led to another and that led to the over stuffed down bed I loved. I wouldn't make it home that night, but Dylan didn't need to go to school and our son had started to sleep until after eight, and Ivan and I were there when he got up.
I was sure someone would mention the rings but I didn't care if they did. There were people who would frown on our love but Ivan and I weren't one of them. Being in love was as good as it got.
Dylan's tenth birthday was a big deal. Ivan and I took him out to get some models to assemble and a couple of comic books he requested. Lucy gave him books and Mama and Pop gave him clothes, the new tennis shoes he wanted, and more books. They were hoping he didn't out grow them before breakfast.
In the morning we went diving and we got pizza at Tony's before we heard the magic words, “Let's play Goofy Golf!”
It was his birthday and the final Goofy Golf of the summer.
Ivan was true to his word. He didn't leave our beach well into the summer. We were having a whirlwind time of it and Ivan wasn't finish buying things, although what he bought next wasn't discussed with Dylan or me.
We went to J.K.'s on most dive days. Now I went to J.K.'s all the time and I ran into Popov maybe once a month. I knew which days he fished and which days the fleet was in the cove. I wasn't surprised when Popov popped up to say hello.
All of a sudden, each time we went to J.K.'s, Popov was there. Each time Popov took Ivan to the rear booth where J.K. And his staff sat when they were taking a break.
“What was that all about?” I asked, when he came back to the table.
“Just talking. Popov and I go way back, you know?”
“I'd heard rumors. What do you talk about.”
“This and that,” Ivan said, taking one of his cold clams.
“What are you cooking up, Daddy-O? You and Popov talk every time we come in here lately. It must be something good,” Dylan said.
“He's giving me some tips on charter boats. I've decided to buy a boat to take people sport fishing. You know Popov has to approve anyone who sets up business in the cove. What he doesn't own he controls. I wouldn't make a move before consulting with him. He's a wise old pirate. He sailed his entire fishing fleet out of Russia under the nose of the Soviets.”
“I'd heard,” I said.
Ivan took some of his grandfather's fishing gear along, when I was collecting water samples and measuring the currents. Dylan and Ivan fished as we moved from place to place at a pace conducive to trolling.
Ivan had unlocked the secret room with his grandfather's ancient fishing equipment. He was in the process of cleaning and oiling each item. When we went out on the water, Ivan tried it out to make sure it was in good working condition.
Ivan was using one of the work benches in Pop's shop to work on the fishing gear. I was sure customers who would go charter fishing with him would use the equipment he worked on.
When Ivan disappeared from my general vicinity at the conservancy laboratory, I could find him at Pop's shop working on one of the reels.
With two employees doing the many chores that kept the conservancy in good working order, Pop had time to sit down and talk with Ivan during the day.
They enjoyed each other's company. Both had mechanical minds and they could often be heard talked about problems with no easy fix at the conservancy. They managed to solve most problems.
Several times when I overheard them, as I came in from the lab, they would be in Pop's office and Ivan would be talking about the time he'd spent in Southeast Asia.
It wasn't a subject that came up often as far as Dylan and I were concerned. These conversation stopped when I appeared and the subject was changed. It was obvious that Ivan had experienced some difficult times while in the hands of the men he ended up working for.
One day in July, as I went to Pop's shop to collect Ivan to go diving, Harry came in from the conservancy entrance.
The embrace was immediate. I wasn't the one receiving Harry's hug.
“You look good,” Harry said. “Being back in Florida must agree with you.”
“Sure does,” Ivan said. “I couldn't wait to get back here.”
“Your father is well?”
“Yes, Dad's happy to be back and fishing with Popov.”
“Clay, nice seeing you too. I trust you are staying busy?”
“Yes, I am. We are about to go diving on my reef. You're welcome to come along if you want, Harry,” I said.
I once again suspected a history between Harry and Ivan that I might never be told about.
“Not today I'm afraid. I am expecting to meet with some Florida officials from the party in a couple of hours, Clay. We'll have time to catch up at lunch tomorrow.”
“You look good, Ivan. Better than when we met at my office in the Capitol. I'm up to my ears in politics today but the three of us will go to lunch at the Gulf Club tomorrow if you can make the time. I'm here to have a word with your father. Don't want to keep you two from your dive.”
“Thanks again, Harry. I wouldn't have gotten to Boris if you hadn't gotten to my... employer. I'm not sure I'd be here if you hadn't gone to bat for me,” Ivan said.
“Ivan, one day I'll tell you the story about my meeting with the man responsible for the men you were working for,” Harry said.
“I look forward to that conversation,” Ivan said.
I did too if they talked with me around.
“Clay, be sure to leave time in your schedule for lunch around noon tomorrow,” Harry said. “Can you meet me there. I have a meeting at eleven and I'll go directly to the Gulf Club afterward.”
“We'll be there,” I said.
I looked forward to hearing their conversation. Harry told me about his run in with Mr. Big. I was sure I got the G rated version. He did his best not to upset me.
Hearing Ivan and Harry talk on the subject would be interesting.
Ivan had slipped back into a life on our beach that suited Dylan and me fine. The Olsons and some times his father became reacquainted with the boy who had become a man far from us. As much as I worried about this, the Ivan who came home was much like the Ivan that left.
We'd yet to discuss his journey but he assured Dylan and me that one day he'd be able to talk about it. Even when we met with Harry, the conversation was more about politics and his run for the senate than it was about Ivan and his quest to find his lost brother.
Harry's absence from the conservancy for longer and longer periods of time meant he was getting his ducks in a row in a run for the senate. It would require over a year of campaigning if he wanted to be a senator. There would be a big event in Tampa in August that would kick off his campaigning in Florida.
“I'm going to need a lot more from you during this campaign, Clayton. This is a statewide effort that will introduce you to larger audiences and new places,” Harry said.
“Being elected senator will bring me to the national stage. With environmentalism beginning to catch the imagination of people everywhere, you'll be speaking to believers,” Harry told me.
“Harry, whatever you need, you let me know where to be and I'll be there. I've never had a senator in the family. I'm anxious to see what that might be like.”
“It takes a lot of money to become a senator. I need to cover the state with campaign stops. After I speak, you'll tell them about what we've done and what we plan for the Gulf of Mexico,” he said, sipping from his bourbon and branch water.
“We start off with the biggest auditorium you've ever seen. We kick off the campaign in Tampa. All the states biggest money men will be there. Most are involved with commerce in the Gulf in one way or another. The auditorium seats five thousand. My people intend to fill it.”
“What happened to name recognition, Harry?” I asked.
“In a single district, you don't have that much ground to cover. Florida is huge and we need to let all the people know what we do. At first we'll make ripples but in time we'll get some national press and some national recognition for you and the conservancy, I'm sure.”
I believed in Harry and the things he wanted to accomplish. That made speaking on his behalf a labor of love. What I did had taken on a life of its own, because of Harry's donors and friends of the Gulf.
Mostly Harry and I talked in this July meeting. We hadn't talked since before Ivan returned to our beach and he hadn't been home in ages.
Everything was full speed ahead. I'd need to go over my notes and make sure my appearance for Harry in Tampa would go well.
I tried to take Dylan and Ivan with me on the Sea Lab as often as I could. From time to time I went out with other marine biologists and it wasn't appropriate to take my lover and my son along. These were professional calls and I took visitors to one of the better known diving spots.
I'd gathered the history of the conservancy back to its founder, Mr Broadmore, leaving out the fact he hung himself at my current residents.
Lucy took the written history the summer before, had some of the pictures on the conservancy's walls copied, and she produced a handsome brochure with Harry and me on the front and the history, with pictures, inside the brochure.
At the back of the brochure were pictures of the Sea Lab, inside and out, to bring the person reading the history up to date.
I gave the brochure to anyone who visited my laboratory. As news of Harry's run for the senate became public, the people coming to visit me increased. There was a lot of interest in Harry's campaign and I tooted his horn as loudly as I could.
If I wanted to see Ivan during one of my busy days, he'd be in Pop's shop working on the fishing gear. On the days Dylan wasn't at the shop, he was content to spend the day with Mama and Lucy, once my lab had begun to bore him after an hour or two.
It was July when I went into Dylan's room to read before he went to bed and I noticed some of the books from Ivan's stacked on Dylan's desk. He wasn't in school and didn't bring home books from the school library during the summer. He went to Ivan's for books instead.
Ivan read from the same books after we first met. These were his grandfather's books. They told a history that didn't appear in school books.
“What are these?” I asked.
“Daddy-O has all kinds of books on history and philosophy. He reads to me when I go up there some days. I brought some books home to read. My great grandfather built Ivan's house. He was a fisherman too. These were his books.”
“Ivan and I used to read those when we were about your age,” I said.
“They talk a lot about the condition of the world between World War I and World War II. My great grandfather order the books in English so he could learn the language. He planned to come here from Lithuania for a long time.
“It's good you are interested in things you don't read about in text books. Many of the books we read are written by authors who didn't live in America,” I said.
“Charles Dickens wrote about the conditions in England,” Dylan said.
“Yes, he did. He's a good example of an author who didn't live here.”
“My great grandfather did the same thing Captain Popov did. He came to America to escape the Soviets. That took balls,” Dylan said.
“It did,” I said. “It must run in the family.”
“How's that?” Dylan asked.
“What your father did was just as gutsy as what your great grandfather did.”
“Yes, it was,” Dylan agreed.
As was the custom in the cove, the fishing fleet stayed in port for July. It was one of the hottest and most taxing months for anyone that worked outside. Taking July and February off meant less wear and tear on the equipment and the fishermen. No one complained.
There was the trip I made with Popov in those two months to study the conditions in his fishing grounds. This year it was the week after Dylan's birthday but that didn't matter either. On the way back the cake and ice cream came out.
This was the month when Ivan's meetings with Popov reached fever pitch. Each time Ivan suggested we stop by J.K.'s, he ended up in a huddle with Popov. Nothing was revealed after the meetings. To say Ivan was evasive was an understatement.
At the end of the third week in July, we went to J.K.'s for clams and hush puppies. Popov was there and Ivan was immediately in conference with him.
This time when Ivan came back to an empty plate, Dylan had eaten his clams and hush puppies.
“Snooze, you lose, Daddy-O!” Dylan exclaimed. “I didn't want your clams to get cold.”
“Glad I wasn't starving,” Ivan said. “I guess there are more clams where those came from.”
“What's in the envelope?” I asked.
Ivan handed the envelope to me.
“It's for you,” he said, with the most devilish smile on his face.
I opened the envelope and began to read a bill of sale; two bill of sales.
“It's in Greek,” I said. “Why not tell me what I'm looking at.”
“The party of the first part, Popov, sells to the party of the second part, Ivan Aleksa, the Bait Shop, now to be known as Cove Dive, Surf, & Bait Shop, plus all adjacent property. That would be the parking lot and the boat ramp. Plus I bought the marina, which is the right of way for the slips. I don't own the cove. It's public property and controlled by the state of Florida.”
Dylan took the papers and looked at them.
“What are these seals?” Dylan asked.
“They needed to be motorized. That's the seal. It makes it official.”
“You own the Bait Shop and the marina,” I asked.
“Now the Cove Dive, Surf, and Bait Shop. I registered the name. We, as in party of the first part, meaning you, and I, being the party of the second part, own it. There's a place for you to sign next to the seal where I signed.”
“You didn't take advantage of Captain Popov, did you?”
“That old pirate? You kidding me? I wanted to buy the Bait Shop. We talked about it and he tells me it's all or nothing. He wants me to buy the marina. He won't rent me a slip for my charter boat. If I buy the marina I can rent myself as many slips as I like.”
“Where's all the money coming from? Your money went toward it and most of what I earned while I was away went into the Cove, etc., etc. The kicker is, Popov gets twenty-five percent of our profits.”
“That's a lot,” I said.
“Popov is a good businessman. He took less than he wanted for the marina and he gets twenty-five percent after two years.”
“That's amazing,” I said. “You are going to expand the Bait Shop?”
“I am. Not right away. I can borrow on the value of what we own to build a bigger structure to carry the things we'll want to sell.”
“We own something?” Dylan asked.
“We do,” Ivan said. “I'm broke now. I couldn't go anywhere if I wanted to. For all interested parties, I don't want to.”
It was obvious that Ivan planned to stay. I stopped worrying about him leaving me but it worried me until he put most of his money into the cove. That would keep him on or near our beach most of the time.
Life on our beach, at the house next to the river, and at the conservancy house couldn't have been better.
I knew the principle of life turning on a dime. It had turned on me more than once. I was so happy that I wasn't prepared for hard times. I never saw it coming. This turn would K.O. me. Even with Ivan and Dylan trying to pick me up, I went down for the count.
It was unclear I had the ability to come back.