From Luke's notes:
On that day that Simon had his appointment with Dr. Tiberius, I think I was as relieved as he was that he’d survived both ordeals—the dread of an op that he didn’t want, and that awkward lack up pubic hair! My brother picked up a follow-up appointment on the way out, which was to come back for a checkup at the beginning of July. With that in hand, everyone seemed happy.
I think Mum was a bit surprised when we all breezed in as chatty as you like. No doubt she'd been expecting the worst! She asked how it had gone and was a bit suspicious when Simon whipped out his Glansie, an unsubtle look of glee on his face. She frowned at the pair of pliers when it became apparent that she didn't need to get out the Tylenol and go run him a nice warm bath after all!
Dinner was on the table, so we all sat down to eat. Between mouthfuls, Mum pushed for a lot more details. After discovering how Simon's new toy was meant to work, she wanted to know everything—including why Doctor Tiberius hadn’t suggested the same option for me. It was a good question, though sensibly Dad said that if it HAD been an option, then A. Jonathan would probably have said.
Even she had to agree with that. Either way, it was too late to second guess.
True to his word that day—and much to Si's relief—Dad stayed buttoned up about the missing curls. Or, if he did tell Mum, she never let on.
After dinner, Simon disappeared upstairs, presumably to get down to his urology homework, and I buzzed off round to Ryan's. As far as I could tell, from that day onwards, my brother took to the task in hand with his usual single-minded dedication. I asked him a few times how it was going, but he remained cagey.
A week later, we finally hit our vacation. And not a moment too soon. Ten glorious weeks stretched ahead that would last us through the humid Georgia summer months until we restarted the new Fall semester at the beginning of August. Ten weeks to do as little school work as possible, though, as usual, we’d been dumped with a pile of holiday study that most of us would probably desperately cram into the last week!
At least I had a good excuse for not doing mine immediately as, from midnight the first night, I was on a two-week grounding of being parted from my laptop. The second week of that, we were off on holidays anyway!
To be honest, it was a summer like most others. I spent the first week avoiding both getting up before ten and going to bed before midnight. Then chores started coming, a haircut prior to going on a family holiday for two weeks on the Gulf coast, and time up at the lake in the boat. Simon even got Toby to come, though not in the boat. Still, he seemed happy enough sitting in the shade and sketching.
I spent a lot of the rest of the time filling in with off-the-cuff plans. Ry and I hung out a lot, and if stuff came up, then we did it. To be honest, while I wouldn’t say that all the stuff that had gone on during the previous semester completely went away, but as the summer progressed it did become more distant—a part of the past. We never dwelt on it and that seemed fine for both of us.
That didn't mean to say that it hadn't changed us.
Maybe that was a good thing?
* * *
Ten days was a still a long time, wasn't it? Luke pulled a face as his mind drifted back over the intervening weeks since school had finished. It had better be, he mused. Ten days was all that was left of the summer break!
It sounded a lot, but once you took out the weekends, there wasn't much left. As usual, the question was, Where the hell did it all go? He winced, knowing that quite a number of hours of that remaining ten days would have to be used to finish—actually start—all the study that they'd been given to complete before the start of the new school year. It was fucking unfair—he bet guys at Creek didn’t get given summer work!
But, no matter how much he whined about it, he still couldn’t get out of it.
Damn! Why did he always do this, this leaving it 'til the last minute?
He took a swig from the can resting on the plastic table at his elbow, deciding he would start soon. Tomorrow maybe. There was definitely no chance any books were coming out right then!
Ten days of vacation left, and the Quinces threw an open house cookout and pool party—the one Todd had been promising all summer but had never quite delivered on. It had come completely out of the blue, though it looked like they had stocked enough to feed an army. Come or don't come, Todd had said. It's up to you. Scanning the heaving pool at the centre of the huge garden, there was no doubt in Luke's mind that everybody who wasn't out of town had chosen the former!
Did they want to go too, Ryan had asked.
It was billed as an all-day affair, with the sensible proviso that the day—still being during the summer vacation after all—didn’t start till after lunch. Todd and Mase had made it an open invitation; come when you want, leave when you want. Dress for swimming...or not if you didn't want to. Cookout in the late afternoon if you were there for it. Movies in the evening.
Could it get any better?
Not far away, Ryan shouted and waved him to come join them. Heaving himself up from the patio lounger to go join in a game of Frisbee, he waved back, indicating he’d be there soon.
The Quinces pool was a good one. While the one at Ryan's place verged on the humungous, Luke had to admit it was as unimaginative as Ryan's father seemed to be. All it had going for it was 'big'. Putting it another way: if size actually mattered, Ry was packing! That was fine if your sole purpose was to swim lengths, but in comparison, the pool at the Quinces, though smaller, was definitely a lot more fun.
As a family pool that never got too deep, it had wide steps at one end to walk down into the waist deep shallow water. From there, the pool deepened gradually, but not too much. And at the far end, the coup de grace: a spectacular, raised circular Jacuzzi. Inside that bubbling dream, the wide perimeter ledge provided seating for a dozen—a dozen portly Lemar Quince sized at that—with ease! Tiled in dark blue and white, it was tastefully in contrast to the sky blue tiles of the main pool. Heated if wanted and doing all the usual things a Jacuzzi did, the overflow water cascading down a mini waterfall into the main pool.
Any pool was good when you didn't have one, but Luke knew that if they could ever convince their dad to splash out, it would be for one not unlike this! So, there was an easy answer to Ry's question, 'did they want to go to Todd's for the day?'
Damn right they did!
The place was heaving with most of Todd and Mason’s friends, plus a ragtag of non-school friends, girlfriends and hangers-on he’d never met before. Half of his class had to be there. Even Scott Landon had turned up! Todd was funny like that; whatever crap happened, get over it and move on was his motto. Spotting Landon over near the pool with some girl he'd never seen before, Luke glowered. If only it were that easy...and if only the Frisbee had a jagged edge, he'd be tempted to have a shot at the shithead, even from this distance!
Just the other side of the pool from Landon, he spotted Simon. With the bullying his brother had received at Landon's hand, he wondered if he was thinking the same thing? Having just heaved himself out of the water, Simon was perched on the side next to his boyfriend and, like Toby, dangled his legs in the water. He laughed about something and didn't look like someone who was particularly bothered about Landon either.
Luke sighed. Was it just him? Maybe Todd was right. Forgive and forget, and move on. Or at least, just move on…
He studied Simon and Toby. Hidden in broad daylight, their covert relationship was completely out of sight to everyone except himself. And even Toby, he didn't think, had any idea that he was in the know.
They sat comfortably close, but not that close. The truth was, Si and Toby had been friends a long time, so in public there was nothing obvious about them hanging out together, and it was definitely nothing like the overt way he could see that a few girl-boy couples in and around the pool were acting. His eyes drifted around to some of his friends that he hadn’t even known had girlfriends!
He went back to studying his brother. Furtive wasn't the right word to describe them, he decided. That was a term that fitted Simon as badly as wedding shoes! 'Concealed’ was better: an essential part of their friendship masked, as though they were covered by Potter's cloak of invisibility.
Still, they seemed happy enough as far as he could tell, though they were so different. Together, the pair even looked like chalk and cheese: Si a very tanned brownish cheese at that! On top of that, he only just realized how gangly his brother had become in the last few months; a growing spurt, their mum would call it! He'd turned fifteen at the start of the summer and—just like he'd done himself—Si had made sure he got his license at the first possible moment. With both of them now wanting to get behind the wheel first, he couldn't get his own car soon enough!
On the other hand, and give him his due, for one who rarely ventured into the pool, Toby had picked up a bit of sun over the summer too. Normally verging on pale and pasty, clearly Simon had got his tee off him more than once!
Yeeewww! Luke squirmed with the unfortunate train of that thought! He couldn't help it. Even to him, the idea of Kieran smooching with his girlfriend was a lot easier to handle than imagining something just as intimate between two guys—especially when one was his little brother!
Why was that? Was he a gay prude as well as someone who couldn't move on?
Another unexpected guest who had appeared that afternoon—though it shouldn't have been, knowing Todd—was Joe Wong. It seemed that Todd had come good on that one, too! Joe was sitting cross-legged a safe distance from the water, apparently happily chatting with three girls. One Luke knew...kind of. She was Kieran's girlfriend, Trish. The other two, he hadn't the slightest clue, though one seemed to be Asian looking.
Joe's sister maybe?
A warning shout came and he ducked, only just managing to avoid being decapitated by a spinning Frisbee. Thirty yards away, Ryan had and unapologetic smirk plastered across his face. Luke grinned back—it was far too nice a day to get mad at anyone.
The disk sailed over the corner of the pool and landed near Joe and his harem. Luke started that direction to go get it, but a tanned Marco Fontana pulled up out of the pool and went to go grab it first, before crossing to join the game too. When it came to brown, Marco outstripped even Ryan! An energetic game ensued with Luke joining in until he decided that the sun was still just a little too hot to be out without a shirt. He and Ryan abandoned the Frisbee and the two of them relocated to the cool of the water.
“Aaaiieeeee!” Twenty minutes later, Danny Gillespie screeched as, at the count of three, Luke and Ryan let him go at the last swing and sent him sailing into the middle of the pool. Flailing, he hit the surface with a satisfying thump, raising up a sizable tidal wave for a small guy. He came up grinning with a face that seemed to shout ‘AGAIN, AGAIN!’
Luke grinned and shook his head. “I could do with a drink.” Ry could find someone else to create mayhem with!
He returned to his can to find it had already been tidied up. Shrugging, he went to find another. There was plenty of cold stuff to drink and the word was that the grills were firing up around five.
He surveyed the large, well-watered garden as he went to fish another can out of the ice from the ever-replenishing cooler. It was all soft drinks of course, and even though there was lots of boisterous fun, it was never allowed to get out of hand. In his own place, Todd just wouldn’t let it. His parents kept a beady eye on them all, too.
Everywhere he looked, guys were having a good time. Perhaps it was a little unfortunate that Chris Parker accidently ‘fell’ in fully clothed, but he took it well and his stuff was drying nicely in the sun. In fact, going anywhere within five meters of the pool was a bad idea if you didn't want to get wet.
He'd been in the pool himself of course, but had dried off quickly enough. The knee length jammers he'd picked up during their recent two weeks on the gulf coast were good for that. He’d admired the popular style on others around the hotel pool and at outings to the beach and had finally decided to splash out on a pair himself. Bright blue with striking white patterns down one side, the stretchy mesh-material fitted comfortably, and was as cool as it got! Well, he thought so anyway, and was quite happy to sport them that day.
Returning to the respectably comfortable lounger, he stretched out his long and increasingly hairy legs under the parasol.
Yep—all in all, life was pretty good!
And, speaking of sun, there was plenty of it just then, and he was trying to be careful until the afternoon heat died down a little more. He was already a little burnt from a recent day sailing on the lake with Simon and was trying not to make it worse. Even now, his shoulders were a little too red. To protect them, he backed them under the shade and looked out onto the sea of brightly colored board shorts and more than a few bikinis that would make his dad blink and his mum splutter! Even Ryan was wearing a color other than black—a welcome livening up in his dress style.
Full of energy, Ryan was at the top of his game; in many ways, more solid than ever. He also seemed to have gained the attention of a girl clearly looking for a catch. From what Luke could see, Trish—Kieran’s current steady—seemed to be acting as a go between. From the impassive look on Ry’s face, he wished them luck!
Lying back, he tuned them out and snoozed.
By the time he surfaced, the sun had crept up way past his legs and was reaching his chest, though it did seem that the burning heat was finally going out of the afternoon, mellowing to the kind of setting that was perfect for burgers. He guessed it was past four, maybe even five. His legs looked a distinct shade redder than before, and he winced. Bad move!
On top of that, his belly grumbled and he decided it was way past time to eat. It seemed that Todd was of the same opinion as the solidly built dark-skinned teen strode up. "It's time to cook," he declared. He looked a little harassed. "Where's Ry?"
Luke's gaze traversed the grass to where he'd last seen Ryan. He’d moved, but he soon located him, sitting on the grass back from the pool, deep in conversation with Jacko Jackson. "Over there." He pointed in the general direction.
"Do me a favor can you? Go get him and send him over..." Apparently with better things to do, Todd turned on his heels.
Favor or order? What did your last slave die of?
Luke stood. He could have bellowed across the grass, but he wasn't the bellowing type. Sighing, he walked towards the pool.
The pair had been chatting quite a lot that afternoon and, as Luke approached, Jacko pointed to someone—Luke didn’t know who, but it was over somewhere near where Simon and Toby were sitting—and whispered something. Whatever it was, it had to be genuinely hilarious as Ryan shook his head and burst out laughing. Grinning in response, Jacko lay back on the grass, his head resting on crossed arms.
What was apparently so humorous he had no idea, but as he arrived, he quickly got both their attention. "Come on, then," he probed, intrigued. "What's so funny?"
In response, and surprising for someone of his skin color, Jacko blinked and then went a vivid red. Curiously, his eyes flicked over in the direction where he could see Simon and Toby sitting on the side of the pool.
"The thing is," smirked Ryan, before Luke could figure out what had Jacko so rattled. "Poor Jacko here has it bad for a certain young lady!" He nodded in that same direction.
"Who?" Bemused, Luke turned once more. A bikini-clad girl was standing chest high in the water nearby and, as he watched she slumped provocatively over Simon's legs where he was sitting on the side. It was impossible to hear what she was saying, though the look on his brother's face was priceless!
Luke grinned. "You don't mean Becky?" He'd noticed her around, though there was no sign of her brother, Owen. He wasn't really surprised that she'd make a beeline for Simon at some point, though why she'd got an invite was anyone's guess.
Ryan raised an eyebrow. "You know her?"
"Of course I know her. That's Becky Kear...you remember, the family from Wales..." He grinned as he saw the signs of recognition forming in Ryan's eyes. Studying Jacko, he smirked. "You fancy her then, Jacko?"
Jacko looked hotly confused. "Don't be stupid! Of course I don't!"
Yeah, right! He wondered if Jacko knew that Becky was at least a year younger than him, probably two. Then again, he couldn't blame the kid for the confusion. Girls certainly matured faster than guys, that was for sure—and Becky was no exception! He'd also lay odds there had been differences of opinion with her folks as to whether she was allowed to wear something as skimpy as that around her backside!
Jeesh—who'd want to bring up girls!
"Anyway." Luke pushed his curiosity to one side and, looking toward Ryan, got back to the main thing. "Todd wants you. I think he wants you on the grills!"
Ryan stood and, like an eager puppy, Jacko leapt to his feet, too, and said, "I can help!"
As they re-crossed the grass, Todd spotted them. "Ry!" He bellowed and waved his arm rapidly. "Grills!"
There might have been a time and place when Luke would have felt put down. He was quite capable of cooking, and could see the two big Weber grills all ready for action. He could have pouted, 'I can grill too...', but it really didn't bother him. He was learning that there was more to life than getting sweaty about the small stuff! Todd was one of those guys who knew what he wanted—and he wanted Ryan helping on the grills.
They were more than welcome to it, Luke decided, stretching out again on his recliner. There were definitely more important things than getting hot under the collar over the gas grills—just as long as they didn't take too long about it, he mused as his stomach rumbled.
Then, out of the corner of his eye, he spotted the sporty wheelchair coming around the side of the house, its cheeky-faced occupant being pushed by none other than Owen Kear. Following just behind them, Stacey Wyeman.
He sat up and groaned silently. Oh crap!
Spotting him immediately, Owen angled the chair his direction and his musical welsh lilt rose enthusiastically above the revelry. "Hey, Luke! I guessed you might be here!"
"Hey, Owen! Great to see you!" Luke raised a hand in greeting as they drew up. "I saw Becks in the pool." He kept a guarded eye on Stacey who stayed in the background. Maybe it only looked that way, and that embarrassing incident had been months ago, but she appeared as awkward as he suddenly felt.
"She got here then?” said Owen, parking the chair. “Mum must have brought her." He then addressed the occupant of the wheelchair he'd been pushing. "Olly, I guess you remember Luke? He’s from the UK too."
Luke certainly remembered the highly irritating Olly Wyeman, but if he let any glower in his eyes show, Olly didn't seem to care in the slightest!
"Hey, Stace!" Olly turned his head and his eyes danced with finely balanced nonchalant glee. "It's Luke. You remember him, surely?"
Luke tried not to grind his teeth when, unexpectedly, Owen swiped Olly across the top of his head with his hand. Olly squeaked, rubbed the spot and looked pissed. But if he was expecting to be treated differently because of his disability, it didn't look like he was getting it from Owen.
"You’d better behave!" Owen growled, sounding irate, "Or so help me, I'll run you to that pool and dump you in myself!"
Luke blinked. Bloody hell! Where did THAT come from?
Olly, however, seemed to take it well. He held up his hands to placate them. "Alright, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"
"Oh my God," exclaimed Stacey from behind them. She stepped forward and her pretty faced lit up with a familiar grin. "Did Oliver Wyeman actually apologize for something?"
Luke smirked as he watched Olly's eyes narrow. He very much doubted her brother would let that go, and he was right as the guy gasped theatrically.
"Oh fuck!" Olly put his hands to his ears. "Did Stacey Wyeman just swear? For God's sake, someone get me out of here, I'm being led astray! Owen, write it down in that notebook to show Mom!"
Owen sniggered. Knowing the strict church background the family came from, Luke couldn't hold back a grin either.
Stacey on the other hand decided to ignore it. At last, she turned her lively eyes his direction and said, "Hello, Luke. Nice to see you again. Ignore the annoying little beast boy if you can." If she'd seemed tongue-tied before, it didn't look that way now. Dealing with her brother was obviously familiar territory.
"Well, the beast boy needs somewhere to go and get naked!" Olly waved a pair of garish swim shorts that had been lying on his knees.
“We just need somewhere to change,” added Stacey, politely rephrasing the request. She was carrying a bag that was stuffed with towels. Not being his place, Luke didn’t quite know what to suggest, but was saved by a voice behind them. It was Todd
“My God! Olly!" Todd walked up to welcome the new arrivals. "You’re not actually planning on going in the pool, are you?”
“Damn right I am!” came the reply from the chair. Olly offered another nonchalant shrug. “Though it tends to be more like dragging my ass along the bottom until someone lifts me up for a breath of air. Still, it works for me!" He seemed determined to stick with his own style of 'funny'.
Todd took it in his stride. “Works for me too, bud!” He grinned. “As always, you’re an inspiration, Ol!"
During the exchange, Luke found himself studying his friend Owen, and couldn't get over how much he'd changed. There was a word for it... What was it...?
Along with that, Owen had lost weight. A lot by the looks of it—either that or it had moved to his chest and become surprisingly well-developed pecs! The zits had dried up too, and he looked brown and healthy. Above all, he no longer came across like someone who’d had enough of life and was waiting for the next flight out of it.
“Life good, Stace?” asked Todd. Something about the way his eyes flicked knowingly from her to him left Luke with the uncomfortable feeling that Todd knew more about him and Stacey than he'd let on.
If Stacey sensed it, she brushed passed it and was apologetic. “Yep, we're good. Sorry we’re late, Olly’s therapist was a bit behind. How are your folks?”
Frowning, Olly gripped the arms of his chair and looked distraught. He whispered to Owen in a voice that was obviously meant for everyone to hear. "Did she just say my therapist had a big behind?" The accompanying face was as insincere as it got as he complained, "That's not very nice is it? Owen...tell her..."
This time, Owen burst out laughing.
"Owen!" Stacey shook her head in obvious despair as Olly looked smug. "You're as bad as he is!"
“There are rooms inside for you to change," injected Todd, chuckling too. "Mom’s in the kitchen, just ask her.” Brusque once more, he switched to Ryan. “Ry—come and help me cook!”
Owen seemed to be studying the two gas grills that stood side by side on the patio, and he frowned. “You have two grills?”
“Don’t be a bonehead," said Todd, perhaps a little too curtly. "Jacko brought the other one on the back of his Dad’s pickup this morning. Mind you, we’ve got enough burgers to start a farm!” Looking across the energetic mob, Luke had a feeling they were going to need them.
“I'm helping too,” declared Jacko. His milky brown skin glowed in the bright sun, the confidant cheerfulness suiting him much better than the weird distracted mood he’d been in for a while before the summer break. Luke couldn’t help but smile. He liked Jacko Jackson, but a Jacko without a cheeky grin wasn’t a Jacko at all! Whatever it was, he was glad that whatever had been ailing him seemed to have passed. As thick as thieves, Jacko and Ryan were working on the two grills.