After I finished eating supper I raided the pantry for provisions Mani could eat on the beach and stuffed what I found into my back-pack. I'd fix fresh food with my mother in the morning. I went up to my room and had a shower. My mind was full of Mani and I went over everything we did and said. Once again it only took a few strokes before I was splattering the wall of the shower. As I towelled myself dry I suddenly got ter ribly afraid that he wouldn't be there in the morning. I imagined arriving on the beach and finding him gone and I felt a pain in my chest at the thought.
I reminded myself that he had said he would be there waiting for me. But I needed to find out more about him, like what his plans were and where his parents were. For me, I didn't need to know anything more than I already knew. Every minute I had spent with him was so complete in itself, was so perfect, I had never felt the need to know more. But if was to help him and make sure we could see each other no matter what happened, I had to understand his situation completely. I cursed myself for not getting more information. What if the cops or social workers he feared scooped him up tonight? I didn't even know his last name so how could I find him?
Out of habit I reached for my pyjamas then thought of how Mani would laugh at the idea of putting clothes on to sleep. I put them back in the drawer and tumbled into bed nude. I set my alarm for six and the next thing I remember was reaching out to turn it off.
My dear mother was already in the kitchen and the table was set with breakfast. She was spreading vegan butter and mayo on slices of bread and had tomatoes and avocados and other sandwich ingredients laid out on the counter. I could see she had doubled the amount she gave me yesterday though I'm sure she knew it was far more than I could eat.
"Is Mani a vegan, too?" she asked.
"Yeah, isn't that great?"
"I'll put some extra fruit in your pack. I've got some really sweet grapes. And it's so early I've made a kind of breakfast snack and a thermos of hot chocolate. It can be cold on the beach in the early morning. I'll put more juice boxes in the outside pockets so if you get thirsty you don't have to dig through everything else."
"Thanks Mom. You're the best."
"Are you gonna be warm enough with just that hoodie?"
"It's July, Mom."
"Yes, dear," she said as she bent over and kissed my forehead. "When are you going to bring your friend for supper?"
"I don't know, Mom. I haven't even asked him yet. I'll ask him today. Okay?"
My father helped carry stuff out to the car. My back-pack was bulging with about twenty pounds of food but it was not too heavy to carry once it was on my back.
In the car on the way to the park my father said, "You seem different today. Is everything okay?"
"Everything's great, Dad."
My father looked over at me with a shy smile. "I know," he said. "That's what I mean. You seem happier and more sort of turned on than you've been for quite a while so I'm curious. Is bird-watching that satisfying?"
"Bird-watching's good, Dad, but mostly I just had a really good time on the beach yesterday."
"This boy you met, Mani, he must be a pretty special boy?"
"Yeah. He is. Did you ever have a best friend when you were a boy?"
My father was quiet for a minute then sighed and said, "Oh, yes. I was ten when we met on a playground one summer morning. By mid-afternoon we were best friends and that never changed. We did everything together, all day every day for years." He glanced over at me. "We never fought, not once. He could make me laugh until I thought I would die. And I could do it to him, too. Eventually we went off to different universities and we drifted a little apart as we made our own lives. But whenever we'd meet it was always immediately the same, an instant connection, as though we'd never been apart." He fell silent.
"What was his name?" I asked.
"His name was Kevin. We named you after him and sometimes you remind me of him."
"I never hear you talk about him," I said. "Do you still see him?"
"No, he died, in a car accident, fourteen years ago, before you were born. But, you know, I still think of him almost every day, so much of what I am came into being when I was with him. It's like he's still part of me. You know, sometimes I'll be thinking about something and I turn around to tell him what I'm thinking. And then I realize that he's not there, that he's been dead for years."
"Wow. I'm sorry he had that accident. I wish I could've met him," I said. "I think Mani's kinda like that, for me. We met in the morning and started to hang out and by the afternoon I felt like I'd known him forever and I'd never really had a friend before."
"You're lucky, Kevin. Lots of people never get to have a real best friend. It's magical, it's one of life's great experiences." We arrived at the park entrance and unloaded my bike and other gear. My father gave me a quick hug and said, "It's a long bike ride, Kevin. Make sure you ride carefully on the way home tonight. There's some really careless drivers on the roads these days."
I waved my father goodbye and locked my bike to the bike stand. Then, with the pack on my back, the binoculars on one shoulder and the camera bag on the other, I tightened all the straps and headed down the trail. After a few steps I remembered that it was downhill all the way and I started to trot. I thought of Mani on the beach and I felt so happy I began to run and then I had to whoop and laugh as I flashed through the trees toward the ocean. I remembered an old Alpine song I liked, with the chorus, 'Valderie, valdera, valderie, valdera ha ha ha ha ha ha ha' and I made the forest ring with the 'ha, ha, ha'. I heard a raven's call and he seemed to be laughing too. I made it to the ocean in less than a half hour. The soft sand of the beach slowed me so until I regained my breath I walked and alternated that with jogging.
When I had breasted the top of Johnson Point I scanned Haystack Beach below and there on the sand was Mani, jumping up and down and waving with both arms. I ran down to meet him and we stood looking at each other and grinning like idiots. Then we crashed into a hug, a wonderful tight hug. All my fears fled like morning mist. Mani removed the binoculars and the camera bag and put them around his neck while he pulled me down the beach.
"That osprey hasn't come this morning, not yet. I've been watching since sunrise. Let's get all this crap off you and find a place to sit and bird-watch."
At Mani's campsite we stowed the gear and then he grabbed my hoodie and pulled it off. While he undid the button on my shorts he said, "Get that T-shirt off!" He unzipped my shorts and pulled them and my briefs down to my ankles. Then he knelt and pulled my shoes and socks off in an instant. He gathered up my clothes and put them neatly under the tarpaulin. Then he came back and looked at me and said, "Now we can have a real hug."
We put our arms around each other and pulled in really close so we were touching everywhere. Our two hot swords were jostling in the lower regions.
"Can I kiss you, please?" he asked.
"Please," I said.
When his cool fresh lips touched mine it was the most beautiful thing I ever felt. Mani was kissing me and I couldn't imagine anything better. We just stood like that for about two minutes and I understood what love felt like.
He pulled back and looked at me. "Kevin, that was best hug and kiss I ever had. Now, let's get out from under these trees and watch for that osprey."
"I've got some breakfast in the pack."
"Great! I'll put the sleeping bag out by that log and we can sit there and see if he flies over. You get breakfast and I'll put the binoculars and camera out there too."
"Bring your mug, too," I said as I opened the pack and got the breakfast goodies out.
Five minutes later we were sitting on the sleeping bag with a clear view of the sky overhead. The sun was bright but there was a cool breeze coming in off the ocean. My mother had scrambled tofu, fried potatoes, and onions with spices and put it all in a wide-mouth thermos so it was still hot. We ate it right out of the thermos, sometimes clashing spoons it was so good. I had already eaten breakfast so I got full pretty quick and poured us hot chocolate from another thermos while Mani polished off the tofu scramble. He stopped as he neared the bottom and said, "I'm sorry. I'm eating it all. Do you want any more?"
"No that's my second breakfast today. Go ahead. Please finish it so I don't have to carry it back up that trail."
Mani ate it all down to the last morsel and licked his spoon. Then we sat back and gazed at the sky while we slurped the hot chocolate. Still no sign of the osprey.
"That was so good," said Mani. "Did you make that?"
"No, my Mom made it. She's a good cook and since I became vegan she's learned all kinds of great vegan recipes."
"Wow! You're lucky. All the foster mothers I've had always made sure I understood that me being a vegan was just a pain in the ass as far as they were concerned. That last woman used to give me stuff, like soup, and tell me it was vegan and then when I was eating it I'd find some big piece of gristle or a bone in it. Then they'd all laugh like it was the best joke. It was like living with cannibals."
We sat in silence for a minute then I said, "Can I ask you some questions?"
Mani looked at me and said, "You can ask me anything you want."
"You don't have to tell me anything you don't want," I said.
"I'll tell you anything you want to know but I'll warn you, my life's been pretty dull."
"What's your last name?"
"Mondial. I don't have any middle name so my whole name is Mani Mondial. I think it's French or something. I don't know anything about my father, even if he's alive or dead, and my mother died when I was little. I don't remember her at all."
Mani told me of his life after the death of his mother, a long succession of foster families, places where there was little affection and he was mostly taken in to provide extra income for the foster parents. He fought back when he was abused and was surly when he was neglected. Since he was always either abused or neglected he earned a reputation as a troublesome child. He told me how he kept hoping each new placement would be the last, that he would manage to win their affection and earn their respect, to become a real part of a family with people he could trust and love. But he was always passed along to some new family and after a while he stopped trying to fit in.
After an hour or so he slowed down and turned to look at me. "Jesus, Kevin, you're crying." He moved close beside me and we hugged.
"Oh Mani," I said. I could hardly talk. "I'm just so sorry your life has been so sad."
"Hey," he said. "It's got a lot better in the last day or two. Since you came down to spy on me. All that other crap is in the past."
Then he pushed me away and exclaimed, "Kevin, quick! There's the osprey!"
I grabbed the camera bag and followed his pointing finger with the camera to my eye. I pressed the shutter half-way to activate the auto-focus and saw the osprey sharpen in the telephoto lens. Mani was watching through the binoculars. The osprey hovered over Haystack Bay right in front of us. I snapped photo after photo and then he dived. I followed him down and got a shot when he hit the water and a couple more when he rose with a big fish struggling in his talons. A half-minute later he was gone, disappearing in the direction of Johnson Beach. We gaped at the sequence we replayed in the LCD screen on the back of the camera. Shot after shot the osprey filled the screen. The final photo of him lifting himself and the huge fish out of the water was perfect, every feather crisply defined, the writhing fish glinting in the morning sun and his splashes frozen in time.
"Well," I laughed as I put the camera away. "I guess I don't need to come back here again."
Mani pinned me down on the sleeping bag. "If you even think about not coming back I'm never gonna let you leave." He bent down and pressed his beautiful lips to mine and I reached up and pulled him close. I couldn't believe how sweet his lips were.
"Hi, you guys," said a voice. "Is that a new style of wrestling?"
"Hi Peter," said Mani, looking up. "Yeah, this is a new hold I just invented. It's called the Mondial Grapple. You pin your opponent's head to the ground with your lips. It paralyzes him totally." He looked down at me. "See? He's still not moving."
Peter grinned. "Yes, it looks like a good hold. I wish my wrestling days weren't over."
"Mary still got her back out?" asked Mani as he sat up. He was sitting on me so my rigid penis was tucked right into his ass crack. His penis was stiffly erect too, poking up between his legs.
"Yeah, she says it's better today and she'll probably come down with me tomorrow. How were the cookies?"
"Oh, they were great. I saved some to share with Kevin here today. Tell her thanks. Okay?"
"Okay," he said. He started to walk away and Mani stood up.
"Hey Peter, just a sec. We'll walk with you." Mani pulled me up and we walked side by side with Peter down towards where Jack had spread his blanket. Peter ignored the erections Mani and I were wearing and they slowly deflated as we approached Jack's blanket.
Peter and Jack exchanged 'good mornings' and then Peter continued his morning beach stroll.
"Jack," said Mani, "we need your help again today. Kevin's not so pale as yesterday but I'm afraid another application of sun-screen is necessary." Jack produced the tube of sun-screen and handed it to Mani. He squeezed a big dollop of it into his palm and handed the tube back to Jack. "Okay, Jack, you do his back and I'll do his front."
"Kevin," grinned Mani, "Spread your legs and put your arms out like a scarecrow."
"Yessir!" I said and followed orders. Jack stood up behind me and started at my shoulders. Mani started at my collar bones then moved out to my upper arms and then down my sides. Then he did my chest, my belly, and my hips, sliding both hands towards my penis.
"Give me another squirt, Jack," said Mani holding out his hand. "Not too much, just enough for the bits and his thighs." Then he rubbed his hands together spreading the cream evenly and used one hand to cup my ball bag and gently pull it while the other hand stroked up and down my rapidly swelling penis. Once he had it sticking straight up he gave it one firm squeeze and a pull and then moved on to my upper thighs. Meanwhile Jack had reached my bum and was giving it a very thorough application of sun-screen.
"Don't forget the upper part of his thighs back there, Jack," said Mani as he stroked my inner thighs to spread the sunscreen around.
"Can I put my arms down now, sir?" I asked.
"Yes, at ease, soldier," he laughed as he looked down at my stiffly swollen penis.
"Jack, thank you for your help. I'm gonna introduce Kevin to the tidal pools. We'll see you later."
"My pleasure, boys," said Jack as we walked away, "Any time."
"Here's another question," I said after we had walked a short distance down the beach.
"Well, you know we could put that sunscreen on ourselves. Why do you always get Jack to help?"
"Does it bother you?" asked Mani.
"No, I'm just wondering why."
Mani thought for a minute, then said, "I don't think I really know much about getting along with other people since they usually seem pissed off at me. But one thing I understand is that love and money and sex and food and back-rubs and birthday cakes and help and kindness and other things like that are all mixed up together even though people like to think of them as separate things and that human relationships are kind of like exchanges. You know, you give something and you get something. And the exchanges are not always in the same thing. So maybe you give carrots and you get bananas or firewood or a band-aid on a scratch. That's fine. I'm not explaining it good but I'll try to show you how it works with Jack. I like Jack. Lotsa times he brings me bits of food, nothing special but I know if I am hungry I can always go to Jack and he will find something for me to eat. Jack was Special Forces when he was young. You know they teach those guys how to kill with their bare hands. Then he was a cop for about 20 years. He may seem like a softy but he's a tough guy."
Mani stopped here and said, "Are you still with me? I know this is kinda long and complicated, but you asked."
"No, it's great. So far it makes good sense."
"Okay. I'm just a thirteen-year old boy and I'm running around here naked, miles away from the nearest phone or anything. It sometimes makes me feel a little scared, like any big creep who wanted to could just mess me up and I couldn't do anything." He paused.
"Well that's the way it seems but in fact, if gave a shout, I know Jack would be by my side in about one second and, like I said, he can kill with his hands. So Jack is important to me – he provides security so I feel safe and free most of the time down here. And he shares other stuff too, like food and sunscreen. Okay now, remember what I said about exchanges?"
"Well I can't give Jack security or sunscreen or food and I can't even give him what he really wants, for me to sleep with him." Mani paused again. "But I can give him respect, even though I know he likes boys in ways he's not supposed to, and I can give him my friendship and trust. And since I know he loves to look at me I don't hide myself from him. It doesn't cost me anything to let him look. I didn't do anything to get this body – why should I be so selfish with it? I throw in the occasional hug and kiss and I think our exchange is coming out about even. When it comes to the sun-screen I figure it doesn't cost us anything to let him put the sunscreen on you and I know he gets a lot of pleasure out of it. In fact what he got from you today is probably worth about 50 tubes of sunscreen. Your bum is absolutely the nicest bum I've ever seen. It's like the ideal bum, the perfect bum. You could be a bum model!"
"Okay, okay, okay! Tell me about these tidal pools," I said. I hate blushing.
"Only if you let me feel your bum," said Mani grabbing towards my bum.
"Get away from me, you pervert!" I shouted as I jumped away from him and ran down the beach towards some black rock formations at the westward end.
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