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Finding Tim

A Fourth Alternate Reality

by Charlie
With editorial assistance from Dix and John


Norman's Story:

I'm standing behind the front counter in the Crosse and Blanders Ship Chandlery of Portsmouth, thinking about nothing in particular. Crosse and Blanders has been the family business for 180 years and 9 generations, after being founded by my great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, William Crosse and his partner, Horton Blanders in 1817. Horton had no children, so it's been the business of the Crosse family ever since, but nobody's ever thought of changing the name. My father, Henry Crosse IV, is in the middle of the sales floor, straightening out fittings on a display table that's been messed up by the child of a previous customer. He's a good customer, so we had simply ignored the misbehavior of the little boy. It had been my job to straighten out the cordage, and I just finished.

A boy walks in and looks around the store, not appearing to be looking for anything in particular. His eyes move from display to display, and seem to focus on a big collection of flags that we have on the starboard wall (well, it is a ship chandlery. And just so you'll know what to ask for if you ever visit us, the little room in the back of the store is the head, not the W.C.) I call him a boy, because that's clearly what he is. I guess he's about my age, sixteen. He barely shaves. Why am I wasting time on unimportant things? The boy is knock down gorgeous. Dark blond hair, very similar to mine. I'll bet it was really light when he was little. Alert blue eyes that seem amazingly sensuous, at least to me. He's a little taller than me, say an inch over six feet, and can't weigh over 12 stone-that's 168 pounds to you Yanks. He's built like a brick shithouse, to use an American idiom that I learned much later in life. Not an ounce of fat. I'm ready to pull him into the back room and try to rape him (though I clearly don't have the strength for that), but I've learned to keep my sexual desires to myself, so I just ogle.

After a few minutes he walks over to me and says, "Good morning." I have to wonder why he chose to address me instead of my father-most customers tend to go to the older clerk if both of us are available. A thought flits through my mind: has he been put down as a teenager functioning in a man's world and doesn't want to do the same to me? Who knows?

"Good morning to you. Can I be of service?"

"Nothing specific right now. I'm part of the support group for the Fred's Sports Sailing Team. We have two boats in Portsmouth for the month, and I'm just checking to see where we can get supplies when we need them."

"Crosse and Blanders is the place. We been here close to two centuries, serving the needs of merchant seaman, the Navy, yachtsmen, and more recently, racers. I didn't know Fred's Sports sponsored a sailing team. What're you sailing?"


"The 49er's quite a boat. Been selected for the Olympics in Sydney. Specialized parts for it are going to be difficult to get for a while. Ovington is putting on a big push to make boats for the world to compete for the Olympics. They aren't going to be very good at keeping up at making parts. Of course, fittings and things that are made by a third party will be available."

"You know quite a bit about the 49er."

"I love to sail, though between school and working here I don't have a lot of time. I've never sailed a 49er, but I've read quite a bit about it. It's been a popular subject since being picked for Sydney."

"Have you sailed with a trapeze?"

"Some, not a lot. We sail Lasers and Laser Twos a lot around here. The crew can hang on a wire on the Two. But no wings like the 49er."

All of a sudden this fellow floors me with, "Would you like to sail with me on a 49er?"

"You're joking me, right?"

"No, I don't joke. The team has two boats. The support group is in town, but the sailors won't be here for about five days. We could find an afternoon for a nice sail."

"I'd love it, but it would have to be on a weekday, weekends are the busy time for the chandlery."

The boy extends his hand and says, "I'm Perry Weeks, I'm delighted to get to know you."

"I'm Norman Crosse, and I'm equally delighted to know you, Perry."

"Crosse? That must mean that you're one of the nine generations in this business?"

"That would be correct. That gentlemen over there is my father, generation number eight." My father comes over and I introduce him to Perry.

The three of us talk a while, and Perry buys three sets of charts of the Solent and Portsmouth Harbour-one paper and the others waterproof-as well as quite a bit of very high quality nylon rope of varying weights. He hands over a Fred's Sports Visa Card that even has his picture on it. I've never seen a credit card with a picture and I ask him about it. "We were afraid that someone might not accept a credit card from a teenager, so we got one from a bank that has an option of putting your picture on your card. Notice that I'm carefully dressed to look like a teenager, with that green tee shirt."

Then he continues, "Norman, let me invite you to dinner tonight and while we eat we'll find a time for that sail."

I'm not a fool to miss a golden opportunity, and I accept, gladly. After Perry leaves my father says, "How on earth did that happen so suddenly?"

"I really don't know. He seemed a pleasant sort, and all of a sudden he's asking me to sail-on a 49er. Then dinner. He's a long way from home, I guess he's lonely."

"You're probably right. Listen, son, I have to warn you. He seems to have all the right credentials-I'm thinking of that credit card, which processed immediately. But he might not be what he seems to be, and even if he is, you could find yourself easily disappointed."

"I know, Dad."

"Just don't get your hopes up too high."

Perry's Story:

I know from some difficulties with supplies in Dublin that establishing a good relationship with a sport's store that has a good line of sailing and ship supplies is important. So, soon after our arrival in Portsmouth, I take a walk around the port area to see who's selling what. Right in the heart of the port is an old storefront sticking out from an even older warehouse-type building. It looks old but well maintained. Like the kind of store that's been around forever, and serves a regular clientele. The sign says, "Crosse and Blanders Ship Chandlers. Est. 1817." Well, that certainly confirms my sense of age, and survival of the firm.

I step inside and find pretty much what I expect: a well-stocked collection of just about everything you might want to sail a boat or operate everything from a small launch to a fast speedboat to a cargo ship-although they don't seem to be into the business of suppling engines for the big ships. It's neatly displayed, and on the back wall is a detailed list-with samples-of additional merchandise available from their warehouse, which I assume is the building behind.

An older gentleman is straightening out one of the displays. Behind the near counter is a young man who appears to be about my age. I look around a little, easily deciding that this store is probably all the team will need for supplies while we're in Portsmouth. I don't need much today, maps and lines, but would like to begin to establish a relationship with the firm. I start to go to the older man to the rear, but I catch myself. I resent it when people automatically dismiss me because of my age; I should decide who to talk to on some other basis. Well, the young man is standing behind the counter, ready to be of service. The older man is working on his display. I walk over to the counter.

The young man smiles and says, "Good morning to you. Can I be of service?"

Hey, look, I have to be honest here. This guy is a hunk. If my jeans hadn't been keeping my dick under control, it would've been saluting long before he spoke. He was blond and blue-eyed like me, but slightly smaller, both height and weight. A gorgeous smile. A deep resonant voice that sounded like he should be a radio announcer. I respond, and we soon find ourselves in a conversation about his family, their ship chandlery, and then about 49ers.

We introduce ourselves and the conversation continues. He's obviously an experienced sailor, but has never sailed a 49er. I'm not sure what makes me do it, but I invite him to go for a sail on one of our 49ers. I'm not going to let anybody but our team on board the Freddie, but I think it'll be fun for the two of us to take out the Maddie II. We'll have to have a launch with us out in the Solent, but one or two of the team will be glad to go with us. And since none of them are particularly interested in 49er sailing, I don't think they'll object to my taking Norman instead of one of them.

It seems reasonable to invite Norman for dinner so that we can get to know each other a little better before we go sailing out in pretty big water. So I suggest that we go to dinner this evening. We set a time to meet, at his store, and I'm ready to be on my way. I buy the maps and ropes I need, and I'm off.

I've scheduled dinner fairly late, so that I can meet with the rest of the team, make sure that everything is under control, and tell them that I'll not be eating with them this evening. In answer to the inevitable question about who I'm eating dinner with, I simply say, "Norman Crosse of Crosse and Blanders Ship Chandlers." Nobody tumbles that Norman Crosse of Crosse and Blanders Ship Chandlers is a teenager, and that this might possibly be called a "date." Up in my hotel room I'm not fooling myself. I take a shower, put on khakis instead of jeans, and a new Polo shirt. I take more time with my hair than usual.

I head to the chandlery and Norman is waiting behind the same counter. He calls to his father and tells him that he's leaving and we're off. It looks to me like Norman's taken as much care getting ready for our dinner date as I have. He's changed into nicer clothes, and I can smell a slight odor of men's cologne that wasn't there in the afternoon. I ask him for a suggestion on where to eat, and he suggests a fish and chips place down the road a short ways. Of course, Fred is paying the bill for this dinner-he covers all of our meals and I know without asking that he'd insist on covering Norman as well as me-so we could go to the nicest place in town. And I sense that Norman has suggested the fish and chips to not put too much of a burden on me.

So I say, "I haven't been to a pub here yet. I'm not sure how welcome teenagers alone would be, or how legal. I'm just finding my way around English customs. Would it be OK for us to visit a pub for dinner?"

"Of course. I like the Goose at Southsea. It's not too far a walk. Teens can go to a pub, but we'll have to order soft drinks. Some places you can have a pint with a meal, but we'll be better off not ordering alcohol."

"That's fine with me. It would be completely illegal in America. Lead the way."

He leads, and it takes us just under fifteen minutes to get to the Goose. It's a delightful old building that looks like it's been sitting here serving food and drinks for at least a century. (It turns out that was a low estimate.) The bar is crowded, which he tells me is common, and I suggest that he order for both of us. I ask for a Coke-with ice if possible. He heads to the bar, waits quite a while till he gets up close to the bar and places our order. I see some back and forth with the barmaid. He comes back and we sit at a table. He has tea and I get my Coke. The back and forth with the barmaid was over the ice. My glass has exactly two cubes in it. Oh, well.

Conversation with Norman is fascinating. It turns out that he's a dual national, born of English parents in Hawaii. It seems that his mum (I may, eventually, get used to that) and dad were sailing around the world, stopping in various ports to earn enough money to outfit themselves for the next leg of the trip. In 1980 they were traveling around French Polynesia and discovered themselves on Naku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands (having sailed there from Tahiti) and further discovered that Helen, his mum, was pregnant. This led to a serious discussion of where Norman would be born. They decided that a wonderful gift to their baby might be American citizenship, so they set sail for Hawaii. They had US visas, so landing in Hawaii, and staying there, was no problem. They quickly ran out of money, but a cable to Henry's father, Henry, back in Portsmouth, solved the money problem. Norman was born, their boat was sold to finance air fare home, and they headed home to England, their roaming days over. They were ready to settle into the life of a Portsmouth merchant.

Norman continues, "Since then my folks have been happily settled in Portsmouth, working in the family business. My grandfather died shortly after they returned home with me, and from then on working in the business meant running it. But life hasn't been easy. Outfits like your Fred's Sports are taking over our industry. I work there in the summer and after school not to gain experience, but so that they don't have to pay another clerk that they can't afford. We aren't going broke, but we aren't getting rich, either. Luckily, we own the building and our house, and we have virtually no debt. We're OK, but just hanging on."

I tell him, "I know that Fred worries when he opens a new Fred's Sports store about who he's likely to drive out of business. However, he's told me that the move to the big chains is inevitable. If it isn't him, it'll be Sports Authority. What he likes to do is have his advance people come into an area or town and look at the existing sporting goods stores. If they seem to be well run by nice people he may make an offer to buy them out at a fair price, or offer to employ their people, or some other kind of arrangement that eases the loss. But nothing anybody can do is going to save the little sporting goods stores, unless they have a very special niche."

"I hope that isn't the fate of Crosse and Blanders, but it may be, and it may be on my watch. However, thus far there isn't a big chain of ship chandlers to compete with us. The big sporting goods stores are moving into our line, however. And, of course, they stock the high volume, high profit items, not the detailed inventory that we need to serve customers like you. The trouble is, the young racers buy their hundred pound wet suits from Tracers, and then buy a six pound pulley from us. If we sold the wet suit for a hundred pounds we'd make almost nothing on it, but they won't pay us a hundred and twenty pounds for it."

"And when you're gone, they're going to wonder where to buy pulleys."

"That's right. But the answer is coming: from the Internet."

"I wish I had an easy answer for you."

"You talked about the Fred of Fred's Sports like you knew him. Do you?"

"Yes, very well. I call him Uncle Fred, but he isn't really my uncle. It's a long story. Maybe we ought to get home and save my story for another evening."

And that leads us to making a date for two days hence, Wednesday evening, and a sailing date for Thursday afternoon, with lunch beforehand.

I've urged Norman to come to my hotel for Wednesday dinner, and we're eating in the dining room. For this he's put on a coat and tie, but I'm dressed in a shirt and sweater. It takes me almost two hours to tell him quite a bit of the story of my father, Paul, and Jim, and the Gang, and how I got the job I now have.

Norman asks me, "What made you ask me to go sailing with you.?"

"I think it's the influence of Tim. I've heard Tim stories since I was a little kid." I tell him of Billy's meeting Tim and getting invited to dive. Then I take a chance and tell him of Tim's meeting Charlie and falling in love at first sight. That's dangerous territory, but I decide to risk it. He's neither offended nor inspired.

Sailing Thursday is wonderful. Norman's a good sailor and takes to the 49er as easily as Tim and Charlie did. We have a wonderful sail up the Solent to Cowes on the northern tip of the Isle of Wight. Curtis and Gene follow us in the launch and are having a great time racing back and forth, putting the boat through its paces, since it can move much faster than the Maddie II. Curtis and Gene stay out at sea while we dock, find a little fish and chips place, and Norman treats me to traditional English fish and chips. Luckily I've been around England enough not to be expecting potato chips with my fish, and I enjoy the fries-but without the vinegar. Norman complains that the damn chips now come in little wax paper bags instead of the traditional newspaper. He blames that on American influence. "I miss the printer's ink on the chips." I remind him that he is an American.

"Legally, but not in spirit. Not yet, at any rate."

We head back home and the launch pulls us into port, as the wind is just wrong to sail into the harbour. We all four go out for dinner together at a little hole in the wall restaurant that Curtis and Gene had found a couple of nights before. Norman says, "I've never been in here. I'm surprised that you two would've been inspired to come in here."

"We'll try anything once. And we thought the lamb chops were pretty good." We all order lamb chops, and they are good.

I see Norman screwing up his courage and he asks, "So, are you two a couple?"

"Yep. We've been together for eleven years, ever since we graduated from high school. We were lovers in high school, but it's hard to put a start date on it. We became public about who we loved after graduation."

Noman says, "I'm impressed. Coming out can be tough for a gay boy." This certainly suggests that he might be gay himself, but he doesn't say it.

This is Thursday, July 31. Lynn and the four sailors will arrive tomorrow, and full time sailing will begin on Saturday, the second of August 1997. I'll have much less time available to spend with Norman once the sailing begins. I warn Norman of that, and he reminds me that he has to be working in the store as well. We all separate at the restaurant, and the three of us walk to our hotel.

Norman's Story:

Dinner with Perry is a delight. I can't believe his stories of his Gang. He knows so many fantastic people. Tim. Charlie. Fred. Billy. Auggie. I can't believe that Auggie Madison is going to be sailing in Portsmouth for a month. Perry can't understand how I know who Auggie is, but I read a lot of sailing mags. We have a lot of them in the chandlery and I can read them as long as I lay them flat on a table and keep them pristine. There have been stories about Auggie sailing in Wisconsin and New York in several of them. The stories have all been about how this little teenager is beating all the big boys. And he's just about my age. Wow.

Curtis and Gene are the first openly gay couple that I've ever met. That's quite an experience. I guess my questions, and my reaction to their answers, may have made Perry suspicious that I was gay. But I didn't say anything definite. He's certainly accepting, but he hasn't given me any reason to believe that he's gay. God, that would be a dream, but it's not likely.

I'm still trying to figure out if Perry was sending me some kind of message by telling me about Tim falling in love with Charlie at first sight. Like that is some kind of metaphor for our first meeting. Jesus, that would be quite a message.

I leave them at that funny dive we ate dinner in. Mum would not be happy to know I'd eaten there. I can't believe that Curtis and Gene went there, and seemed to like it. I'll admit, the lamb chops were good.

I have no idea when I'll see Perry again, but he knows where to find me.

It's almost a week before he walks into the chandlery again, just before closing. I'm in the back of the store and a group of five walk in, talking animatedly with each other. I recognize Perry. One of the guys with him is Auggie Madison, I know from his picture. The short guy must be Tim, and the guy with him must be Charlie. The fifth is a big black guy that I don't recognize, but I remember that Perry had called him Goose and said he was from Freeport, Grand Bahama.

I hurry up front to greet Perry and his friends, and I'm introduced all around. I almost melt when I shake hands with Auggie. "I've read about your lake sailing, Mr. Madison. I'm very pleased to meet you."

"Do you believe this, guys? I'm Mr. Madison. I want you all to remember that. But you, Norman, have to call me Auggie, I'll never remember to answer to Mr. Madison."

Perry says, "Norman, I'm sorry I haven't been here sooner, but I've been pretty busy keeping these guys sailing. They're almost as good at handling a 49er as you and me."

I say, "If that's true, then Fred's Sports is wasting its money sponsoring this team."

Perry said, "You're right. It isn't true. Tim and Charlie are superb sailors, and by the end of this month Auggie's supposed to have made them the best in the world."

Tim then says, "We've given Auggie another year or so to accomplish that."

What kind of people are these? They're talking about being the best sailors in the world as if they could just make that happen by wishing it to be so. We go to dinner and the conversation continues. I learn their sailing schedule. They sail ten hours a day, week on end. If hard work is going to make them the best, then they'll be the best. And from what I know, Auggie may be the best coach around-he's certainly a top level sailor.

The month of August goes by. Perry tells me of the routine for his support group. While the four are sailing, there's a job for four of the remaining five. Two go in the launch. One sticks with Lynn and helps her with her supplies. That person also handles Auggie's camera equipment. Finally, one person stays on duty at their marina, just in case something comes up. That person gets a lot of reading done. The fifth can have the day off, unless there's some specific task to be accomplished. So, about every fifth day Perry meets me for lunch. He does some trading, so his off day isn't on a weekend, and we can usually spend the afternoon together. I show him Portsmouth; we sail on a Laser II I can borrow; we wander around the port. We take one whole day and head to London, and I show him the sights in one big blur of a tour.

I gotta tell you, Perry's one wonderful guy. I can't help but wonder if he's gay, and what it would mean for us if he were gay. I'm afraid that if I raise the subject things won't go right, and I'll screw up a wonderful relationship. I just pray that if he's gay that we aren't both so afraid that we never find out. Oh, Hell, I don't know.

His time in Portsmouth will soon be over. They're heading out on the last day of August to be home on the American Labor Day. Tim and Charlie have to be back at their university jobs on the next day. Perry and the support team will remain a few days to arrange for the shipping of their boats. I'm not sure where the boats are going.

Being with Perry is a little strange. We're both teenagers, about the same age. We both have adult jobs, with quite a bit of responsibility. Do we act like teenagers when we're together, or do we act like adults? Believe it or not, we talk about this. We both have had the same question go through our minds. Together we decide that we can be a little of both when we're together. Neither one of us is interested in being a "typical teenager," whatever that is, but the stereotype doesn't interest us. On the second to last day of sailing for his group, we get the afternoon together. I ask, "Do you know where you're sailing next?"

"Yes. Auggie's worked it out. We all head back to Chicago for the month of September. I don't think there'll be much sailing, but he's going to try to get Tim and Charlie sailing on Lake Michigan for a couple of weekends. Then we're heading to Darwin, Australia, for the second week in October."

"Wow, you really move around. The 49ers will go to Chicago for two weekends of sailing, and then to Darwin. Shit, that's expensive."

"Auggie and I have been told that we aren't even supposed to think about cost. It'll cost at least ten thousand dollars for those two weekends of sailing on Lake Michigan, as opposed to us all simply heading straight for Darwin."

"You say you and Auggie have been told. Just what is your role, Perry? I thought Auggie, Tim and Charlie were running your show."

"Tim and Charlie make no decisions. They do exactly what they're told. They tell us when they can be available, and Auggie takes it from there. He makes all the sailing decisions. My job is complete support."

"There are five of you providing support, right?"


"But you talk like you and Auggie are the top dogs."

"I'm the head of the support group. I put them together, and I run it. We keep it as cooperative as possible, but everyone knows who the boss is. Auggie doesn't tell me how to do my job, he just tells me where and when they'll be sailing. I need to have boats, hotels, meals, supplies, cameras, artist materials, you name it, ready to go. If Lynn sticks out her hand, somebody's supposed to be there to put a paintbrush in it."

"And you head up that team of five? David, at least, must be twice your age."

"A key question when I interviewed them was, 'Can you work for a teenager?' They all said, 'Yes,' and so far none of them has been proven a liar."

"But you're a good boss. I've watched you. When you wanted to trade off days, you didn't simply order people, you traded like you were equals."

"That's the way to make people like you, and perform for you."

"So, how do you arrange for the trip to Darwin?"

"One of us will have to go out there, probably directly from here. He, or she, will find a marina, housing, hopefully a good sailing club, and a shipping company to handle the boats that'll arrive by air. We'll play it by ear as to whether that person simply stays in Darwin till we all arrive, or goes home to Chicago. They won't be needed in Chicago, so it'll sort of be player's choice."

"You've got quite a job."

"I love it. But it'll all come to an end right after Sydney. Or a year sooner if Tim and Charlie don't make the US Olympic Sailing Team."

"Then you're going to college. Something exciting will come along." Then he drops his bomb.

"Norman, I want you to come with us to Darwin."

"What are you talking about?"

"Come, be my guest. We can share a hotel room, so it won't cost anything for you to be there with me. My gift will be your airfare."

"You can't afford that. You can't give me that. I can't accept that."

"I can, I can, and you can. Listen, I get good pay in the job, all of us do. And our housing is paid. Our meals are paid. My expenses amount to almost nothing that isn't paid by Fred's Sports. My salary goes into the bank. If I want to spend it on a plane ticket for a good friend, I can. And that friend damn well better accept."

"I have to be in school."

"So do I. But here I am."

"My mum and dad would never let me."

"I'll bet they would. Hey, they were the two that got married and sailed around the world. They wouldn't keep their son from an opportunity for such a trip. Look, you have two choices. I could be the one that flies directly from here. I could stay in Darwin till they all arrive for the sailing, and then a week longer to clean things up and ship the boats. We'd have seven weeks. At most I'd have three weeks work. We could play for a month. Travel around Australia."

"Fred's Sports would be OK with that?"

"Fred would be OK with that. In fact, he'd be urging me, us, on. Except that he won't give me any direction in this job. I'm just to do it and not ask questions. So it's completely my decision. On the other hand, I know Fred well, and he'd be urging me on."

"I can't believe what I'm hearing." Neither can my parents. I have the good sense not to mention that Perry offered another alternative: he could go back to Chicago and send someone else to Darwin. The he'd head there for only ten days to two weeks when they were sailing, and I could join him then. I want the seven weeks.

Mum and Dad have gotten to know Perry over the month they've been here, and they like him. Now that Tim, Charlie, Auggie and the others are here, we know that Perry is who he says he is. Before they can say, "No," I use Perry's argument, "You two sailed around the world when you were young and just married."

"We were 23 and 22; you're 16."

"And at 23 I won't get this opportunity."

"What about school?"

"I'm at school leaving age. I'll get back to school when I return. I know I can work that out."


Perry's Story:

It's been a wonderful month in Portsmouth. Tim and Charlie are doing really well with their sailing. I've been out in the launch watching them quite a bit, and they really know what they're doing. Auggie's really pushing them. His big emphasis this month has been on reading the wind. He's talked to me about that and shared his concern that they need to sail in a lot of different locations to get really good at reading the wind. In particular, they need to practice in the two or three locations that'll host regattas that lead up to the selection of the US team. Then in the following year they have to spend a lot of time in Sydney, getting ready for the big one.

I'm a little startled to learn that we'll be heading to Darwin, but Auggie says that weather in October in Darwin will be good-it's the end of their dry season-and he thinks the week in Darwin will be good for everyone. I tell him that I'm thinking of inviting Norman to go to Darwin with us, and he says, "Perry, that'd be great. Is this a romance, or just a friendship?"

"I honestly don't know. Norman and I have been dancing around that, and never really discussed it. I think he's gay, but I'm not sure. Hell, I'm not sure I'm gay, Auggie. I love nights with you, but girls turn me on as well."

"You know the Gang mantra, 'There's at least a little gay and a little straight in everyone, if you'll just let it out.' But from our times in bed, I think there may be a little more gay than straight in you, Perry."

"I think so too. "

Well, I invite Norman to come with us to Darwin and he accepts, and, more importantly, his parents agree to the plan. His father wants to pay the airline fare, but I say no, Norman is to be my guest. We work it out so that we'll have about seven weeks together in Australia.

We want to head to Darwin as soon as possible after things are finished in Portsmouth. In turns out that Chris and Gene would like to have a few days together in England, so they agree to tend to the shipping of the boats, and let Norman and me leave on September second. Our air route takes us to Singapore and then on to Darwin. Flights to Singapore leave in the late evening and take about 13 hours, getting us to Singapore the next day about supper time. Then we have to choose between a redeye to Darwin, or spending the night in a hotel and flying on the next morning to Darwin.

I ask Norman which of the two he'd prefer. "Straight to Darwin. The sooner we get there the better, as far as I'm concerned."

It might not be my first choice, but I agree. I'm worried about being completely zonked after two nights on the airplane and then an early morning arrival in Darwin. But what the Hell.

Gene and Curtis, along with Norman's parents, Henry and Zenna, take the train up to London and the Underground to Heathrow with us. We eat at a nice restaurant at the airport, and they bid us farewell as we pass through security. I wonder what Henry and Zenna are thinking, as they see their teenage son fly off halfway around the world with another teenager they have known for less than a month. Much later Henry would tell me exactly what he was thinking: "I must be crazy."

It's a terrible flight. It's a wonderful flight. If I had asked, Fred would've insisted that I fly first class, and I could've afforded a first class ticket for Norman. But there's no way he would've accepted such a gift. So here we are, squeezed into a tiny econo seat in a Quantas jet bound for the Orient. That's one point of view. The other? Here I am tucked next to a wonderful boy that I think I've fallen in love with. We're off on the adventure of our lives. By the time we board the plane in Singapore at ten at night, to arrive in Darwin at four the next morning, I think that Norman's having second thoughts about getting to Australia as quickly as possible. But the die is cast, and we're off. We're both so tired that we sleep almost from takeoff until landing-we tell the steward that we aren't to be awakened for breakfast.

It's now 5:15 in the morning and we've arrived at the brand new Darwin Central Hotel, not far from the waterfront. Our room is not yet available, and the dining room doesn't open until 6:00 a.m. I ask if I might please speak to the manager. A Mr. Feiffer appears. I explain that I represent Fred's Sports, and their new sailing team. That we need a room for the next few days, but will be returning by the first of October. Then we'll need six or seven rooms for about two weeks. We expect to be back in Darwin again over the next year. If he wants our business, we need a room this morning, and breakfast right now.

"Mr. Weeks, do you expect me to believe that Fred's Sports is being represented in Australia by two teenage boys?"

"I don't really think that our ages are relevant. However, here's the name of our country manager in Melbourne. I don't think he'll mind being awakened by a phone call at five in the morning to tell you that I am who I am. Perhaps you'd just like to look at my Fred's Sports credit card."

Mr. Feiffer finds himself between a rock and a hard place. If he calls and I am legit, he's made a fool of himself with an important Australian business. If he doesn't call and I'm not who I say I am, he's also made a fool of himself. He decides to risk it and tells the clerk to take care of my needs. We're told that the only rooms available right now have just one king size bed. I look at Norman, who is enormously amused by the whole exchange. He nods affirmatively regarding the bed arrangement. I tell the clerk, "We'll take the room. Have room service send up an enormous breakfast for at least three hungry men. I'll leave my credit card with you to complete registration. Please have someone take us to our room."

With amazing speed we're shown to a very nice room with a beautiful view of the harbour, a great king bed, a sofa and two comfortable chairs, a table with four chairs where we can eat, play cards, or even arm wrestle if we choose. We tip the boy (about our age) who's wheeled up our four bags on a cart, and hurry him out. I turn and face Norman and say, "Welcome to Australia."

Norman's Story:

I've had enough put downs trying to do business in Portsmouth as a teenager-especially when I've had to run up to London to do something for the business-that I'm fascinated, and delighted, to watch Perry deal with this Mr. Feiffer, the hotel night manager. Then I get the question of all questions, would a room with just one bed (who cares about the size) be OK? You can bet I nod, "Yes."

Now I find myself in that room, looking at the one bed, and wondering where we go from here. Perry flops in one of the comfortable chairs and says, "I'm ready for a real meal. We've had nothing but airline food for two days."

Right about then there's a knock on the door and the same boy that brought up our bags pushes in a huge tray of food. Somebody really got the message about breakfast. The boy sets two places at the table in the room, and puts out a tray of eggs-fried and scrambled. There's a tray of breakfast meat-a huge pile of bacon, sausage, liver, and a couple of other things I'm not able to put a name to (and I'm not sure I really want to know what they are). There are two waffles, a stack of pancakes, toast, jelly, syrup, marmalade, coffee, tea, and milk. Perry asks for a Coke. A Coke! My God. The boy goes over to the refrigerator in the room and gets out a bottle of Coke. Perry asks, "Ice?" There are two trays in the freezer compartment, but the boy says that he'll go get a bucket of ice. He's back in just a couple of minutes with a bucket of ice. Perry fills a glass full to the top with ice and pours Coke over it. Both the bell boy and I watch in fascination as he drinks down the iced Coke and pours more. When it comes to ice, I'll never understand Americans. Perry tips the boy again-a huge sum by my standards-and he's gone.

We dig into breakfast. We're both famished, and the meal is everything we could've asked for. Perry leans back and says, "OK, we have a decision to make. We can try to stay awake today, so that we can go to sleep on schedule tonight. Or, we can sleep now and be completely off schedule tonight. Which of those unacceptable alternatives do you prefer?"

I'm not exactly sure why, but I answer, "Let's go to bed."

Perry agrees and says, "OK, screw the suitcases, the dishes, the shower. Let's just go to bed."


Perry moves to one of the easy chairs, sits down, and begins to take off his shoes. I sit in the middle of the couch, not far from him and do the same. His shirt comes off, and the tee shirt he has underneath. I follow. This is the first time we've ever undressed in front of each other, as the marina back home where the 49ers were kept had separate shower stalls with benches, where we changed when we came in wet from sailing. Perry slips off his pants very casually and I follow. We're now standing at right angles to each other, he in his briefs and me in my boxers. I slip them down, and watch his eyes follow them down and then return to my cock. It's still flaccid, but I can tell it's not going to stay that way long. I can feel my heart beat, I have an adrenalin rush in my chest, I open my mouth, but I'm not sure I can speak. However, I manage to get out, "You can touch it, if you want."

Perry's Story:

I can't take my eyes off his dick. It's not out of the ordinary: slightly darker in color than the rest of his body, pulsing a little like it's about to get hard, hanging below a patch of light brown, but not blond, pubic hair, partially hiding two elongated ovals in a fairly tight scrotum. His legs are muscular, long, and pretty hairless. And then I hear him say, "You can touch it, if you want."

It takes a few seconds for me to register what Norman has just said. I realize it's an invitation-an invitation that I've been dreaming about for almost a month. I reach out and wrap my fingers around his dick, feeling it throb in my hand. It gets hard really fast, as does my own dick-my tight jockey's being no obstacle at all. I can see from his darting eyes that his attention is divided between my eyes and the space between our groins, where he can view my hand on his dick and my underwear covering my own genitalia.

We hold this pose seemingly forever.

Norman's Story:

Forever? I guess it's more like a quarter of a minute. Then we fly at each other, wrap our arms around each other in a bear hug. That doesn't last too long as we pull our heads back and reunite in a kiss. Tongues are instantly unleashed, and tongues, teeth, maybe even tonsils, are engaged in furious combat which slowly eases to a comfortable massaging of mouth parts by the opposite tongue. We separate a little, move over to the bed and fall on it, and we're back to kissing.

Perry's Story:

Without breaking our kiss, I reach down and push off my underwear. Our bodies wiggle around so that our dicks are rubbing; all the while the kiss continues. I feel his hand working its way between our bodies and grasping my dick. It squeezes and then moves on to my balls which he works through his fingers. My hand finds his dick and I return the favor.

I break the kiss and move my lips down his body. I find his nipples, firm and erect, and tickle them with my tongue. That doesn't last long, because my mouth has a very specific goal. It pauses at his belly button, brushes past his pubic hair, and finds its goal. His pulsing dick is in my mouth about a minute before I feel him gush into my mouth. I swallow every bit before I let him go.

Instantly he's on me, sucking and licking. I'm as hot as he was, and I soon explode, but while he's licking the head, so it hits his nose and cheeks, and we both burst out laughing. That leads to a very sloppy kiss, and more of just about everything.

I say, "Norman, I love you. I think I've loved you since we first met. I hope to God that your invitation of a few minutes ago means that you love me too."

"Oh, God, Perry, it does; it does. I've been so scared to come out to you, but when I saw you staring at my cock, I decided that I had to take a chance."

"Oh, Norman, I'm glad you did. When I invited you to come to Australia, this is what I hoped would happen."

"Let's talk later, Perry. That big bed is inviting us, and we're both dead tired. I want to sleep in your arms."

We easily go to sleep.

Perry's Story:

We wake up in the middle of the afternoon, more or less rested. Two nights on an airplane and a nine and one half hour time difference can't be overcome with one five hour nap. But it sure helps. I see that Norman is awake and say, "I think we should get up and do something, or we'll never sleep tonight. How about a walk along the waterfront?"

"You're right, but I can think of other things that I might like to do with you."

"Me too. A walk, a nice dinner, and then we'll see what might develop."

"I know what I hope develops."

"Maybe that could be a conversation at dinner."

"We need to talk about it?"

"I think maybe."

"If you insist."

We shower, together in a big stall. That's all it takes to set loose raging teenage hormones. We dry each other off and head for the bed. We kiss, and our hands go wild. It doesn't take long before another shower seems the easiest way to sort out the situation. In the shower Norman says, "I think we could keep this yo-yo going for quite a few trips, but maybe we ought to try to get dressed this time."

We're soon out walking along the Esplanade, heading in a southerly direction. We find ourselves in the port area, and spend an hour poking around the port and the streets near it. We're delighted to find that we're both interested in what we're seeing-Norman's being an almost professional interest, and mine being a complete curiosity about just about anything. We find a ship chandlery, and Norman leads the way in. He's quickly engaged in a conversation with the manager who turns out to be the owner as well. We learn that small boat sailing is centered on the other side of town, at the Darwin Sailing Club and the Darwin Trailer Boat Club. He tells us that the Darwin Sailing Club will best meet our needs, as the Darwin Trailer Boat Club mainly serves members and other users that keep their boats trailered at home. The Sailing Club has facilities for storage-out of water.

I'm glad for the information, but today is not the day to start the work of the Fred's Sports Sailing Team. We walk back to the hotel, following a street behind the Esplanade, so we see new things. We find ourselves holding hands while we walk, and it feels good.

It's 5:30 and we haven't eaten since our huge breakfast. We pass a decent looking restaurant and go in, expecting it to be almost empty this early. Surprise, it's crowded. We would learn that Australia goes to bed very early, and in consequence dinner is eaten early. We go in and immediately get confused by the place. Eventually we learn that we need to grab a table and then go over and get in the line at the side counter to place our order. It's a forty minute wait before we have food. The wait is worth it, for a truly delicious lamb curry.

The wait for dinner gives us a chance to talk. I start. "Well, we had quite an experience this morning."

"Uh, huh."

"Where is this taking us?"

"To the moon, the stars. Shit, I don't know."

"Maybe we ought to think about that before we get in too deep."

"I'm already in as deep as you can get. Perry, I'm gay. I'm flat out in love with you. I want to spend my life with you. I don't give a shit how we make that happen, as long as we make it happen."

"Norman, this is hard. You're sure you're gay. I'm not that sure about myself. I've had quite a bit of gay sex, and I love it. I don't know whether you've figured it out, but Auggie and I have been lovers."

"You and Auggie? He's married."

"I've told you about the Gang. I guess that I need to add a little to that story. There is a lot of sex among the Gang, gay, straight, and mixed."

"You mean group sex?"

"Yes. Not orgies, but often groups of more than two. We're convinced that there's a gay side and a straight side to almost everyone. I think my gay side is stronger than my straight side. It certainly seemed that way this morning. But if you get me, you aren't getting a 100% gay man."

"It sounds like I'd be getting an honest man."

"You would."

"That's a step up from just about everybody else I've thought about or been attracted to. They tell you what they think you want to hear."

"I'll never do that. To you, or anyone."

"So. I'm a gay man. Boy really; we have to admit that we're both boys-teenagers. Some would say too young to make the kind of decisions we're talking about here."

"You'll never hear that in the Gang. Tim fell in love with Charlie at age fourteen and never hesitated. At lot of the couples in the Gang started in high school. Auggie met Lynn when he was fourteen. I think they were engaged that summer. They just got married this June."

"I'm in love with you, Perry. I have been most of this month."

"I think that I'd like to live my life with you, Norman. It's too soon to be sure, for either of us. We have seven weeks together here in Australia. We may know a lot more when those seven weeks are up."

We start the next day with breakfast in the room, served by the same young man. We engage him in conversation, and find that he's Alston Gidding. He grew up in Darwin, went to school here, and finished high school the previous December. He wants to go to university, but plans to go walkabout for a year or so first. He's saving his money and when he has enough he plans to head for Europe. He's eighteen, soon to be nineteen.

Norman asks him what he means by "go walkabout." It turns out that it's very common for young Australians to earn some money and pack up and head out for adventure-usually overseas. It's common before going to university, during, and after. We will learn that in Australia hard work isn't as esteemed as it is in America. Quitting a job and going walkabout is quite common and acceptable.

We ask Alston what his work schedule is, since he seems to be around a lot. He tells us he works from four in the morning until noon-five days a week. "Would you like to join us this afternoon; we'll buy your meals and you can show us the town?"

"Sure. You guys have a car? 'Cause if you don't, I do."

"Sounds great."

"I'll meet you in the lobby at 12:30."

I ask Alston the name of the hotel manager, and he tells me that Mr. Feiffer is, in fact, the manager; last night was his turn at night duty."

We go back downstairs, and I ask for Mr. Feiffer. He comes to the desk, and I tell him, "The breakfast yesterday was wonderful, thank you."

"Sorry, gentlemen, that I was a little suspicious. There aren't many large corporations that have men your age speaking for them. I did call your office in Melbourne. The country director came on the line and told me, 'Mr. Feiffer, I don't know anything about those two. But I got a cable from the main office in North Dakota a couple of days ago. They told me they were coming, and that I was to extend them every courtesy and see that they got everything they need. I'm sure it won't be an issue, but we'll guarantee their bill. And would you please tell them for me, 'Andy says, "Hello"'."

I get a good laugh out of that. I explain to Mr. Feiffer that if Andy was involved then the guy was talking to the absolute top level of management. We go over my room needs for the next few weeks, and part good buddies. The doorman hails us a taxi, and we're off to the Darwin Sailing Club. I have no trouble making arrangements to store our boats there, and have the whole team have the use of the facilities. They're used to out of towners, and we are welcome. We're going to need trailers to store and launch the boats, as they're put into the water down a ramp and over the beach. I can rent trailers, but the dockmaster (called that even though there isn't a dock) thinks that I might be better off buying two and selling them when they're no longer needed. I ask, and am told that if they can put other boats on them while we're away, we can store them at the club for free.

We would've eaten at the club, but we're meeting Alston. So we get a taxi back to the hotel, just in time to wash up and meet Alston. He is now nicely, but casually dressed, in slacks and a sport shirt. Clearly this young man is a cut above what we might expect as a hotel bellman. He senses our surprise at his presentation, and says, "In Australia jobs aren't as class based as in England and America. My parents are well off, but they expect me to earn my own walkabout money, and with only high school this is about as good a job as I can get.

I ask, "When do you expect to have enough saved up for your trip?"

"I could leave anytime, but I'll probably try to put aside a little more money."

We go back to the sailing club for lunch, and Alston says that he isn't much of a sailor, and has never been in the clubhouse before. After lunch he drives us around town, which doesn't take long. I ask, "Can you drive around the port to the western side?"

"That'd be to Waigait Beach or farther west on the Cox Peninsula. Sure, you can drive there, but it'd take two hours. The sun sets a little before seven, so by the time we got back it'd be after dark."

Getting back after dark doesn't mean anything to me, but it clearly does to Alston. He senses my lack of understanding and says, "We don't drive at night in Australia. There are two reasons, first is the danger of hitting a kangaroo; the other is that at night the road trains control the roads."

"Road trains?"

"You have to see them to believe them. A road train is a standard truck cab, pulling three to five full trailers. Traveling 100 plus kilometers an hour down a two lane highway, they make a formidable vehicle."

Alston is quite serious that he won't take us to the Cox Peninsula, because we'd be driving at night for the last 25 kilometers or so. It'll take me a while in Australia before I really understand that.

We tell Alston that we have two or three weeks to kill in Australia, and ask how we should spend the time.

"Go down to Alice in the red center. Go over to Cairns and scuba dive at the Great Barrier Reef. You have time to do both."

{Charlie, here. Since you are reading this, and not listening to it, you will have no idea how to pronounce <Cairns>. Since it's almost always mispronounced by non-Australians, perhaps a lesson here, at the first use of the word, will help you not sound foolish when you next talk to an Aussie. It is pronounced almost exactly the same way that both Brits and Yankees pronounce the word <cans>. Some Aussies almost completely drop the final sibilant, /z/, sound.}

We return to the hotel before dark, eat in the hotel dining room with Alston, say goodbye to him, and head to our room.

Norman's Story:

It's fascinating to watch Perry work. He likes Alston's idea of going down to Alice, which we quickly learn is Alice Springs. We'll need a car, and we just as quickly learn that as teenagers we can't rent one. I figure that the trip is off; not Perry. He gets in a taxi and asks, "Who sells used cars here? Actually, I'd like a used Land Rover."

The driver says, "Tell you what, mate. My brother runs a service station and sells cars on the side. I'll take you there. If he hasn't got what you want, he'll know where you can get it."

Both Perry and I are doubtful, and the driver senses that. "I know, everybody has a brother that'll sell you what you want. I wouldn't believe me either. But I'll take you there, and if you don't think he's on the up and up, forget it. It doesn't make any difference that he's my brother, either way. And, yes, if you buy something from him, I get a small cut. You pay the meter either way. OK?"

Perry says, "OK."

The brother seems friendly and takes us to a lot behind his station. Land Rovers are pretty common in Australia, and he has two. They both look like they're left over from the war, but 'brother' says they'll run well. We can have our pick. 2000 Australian dollars. "If it still runs and you haven't wrecked it, I'll buy it back for thirteen hundred dollars when you're done with it. It would cost you that to rent it. And I know why you're here, because the rental boys won't rent to you. Neither will I, but I'll sell this to you. Cash only."

To the bank, get the cash. Call the main office in Melbourne, talk to the director, get the name of a good local lawyer. Go to his office, ask him if the transaction is legal for Perry at age 16. It is. No problem. Lawyer comes with us to the service station-we've been riding the whole way in the same cab, but the lawyer follows in his own car. Pay the cash, complete the paperwork, thank the lawyer, tell him where to send a bill, drive away in our very own Land Rover. Whew! We're warned by the lawyer not to drive at night. 'Brother' says the same thing. It's confirmed by the taxi driver. We believe.

We set off the next morning for Alice Springs. It'll take two days, and the map shows few places to spend the night. We're told there's a hotel in Elliott, about halfway. There is; we stay; we move on in the morning. Much to our surprise, we're the first on the road in the morning, having slept late, in our terms. We've assumed that since everybody is off the roads by sunset, that they'll set off early in the morning. Not so. Australia is not a country in a hurry.

The next day we're in Alice Springs. A delightful town. We get a nice motel, and find that the town doesn't exactly close up at dinner time. There are a lot of young people in town, all looking like they were competing for the "Outbacker of the Year" award with desert pants, cool hats, heavy boots, shirts with an infinite number of pockets-you know what I mean. We don't fit the image, but enjoy walking around, talking to a few people, drinking tea (me) and Coke (Perry). A young man, perhaps a year or two older than us, decides we're gay, and invites us to his room for "some fun." We aren't even tempted.

We head to the motel, have "some fun" without the need of the young man, and go to sleep. By now sleeping wrapped up in each others arms has become natural. We love it.

The next morning we go to an outfitter and get a good tent, sleeping bags, and other equipment to camp in the outback. I can't believe the way Perry so calmly spends several hundred pounds. Money is clearly something that we're going to have to discuss, if we're going to make a life together-and that's what I'm hoping. Perry gives every indication that he's thinking along the same lines.

We follow the suggestion of the guy at the outfitters and take an old track west out of Alice. It's the first of three days of complete isolation in the outback. The Land Rover serves us well, as do the tent, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, and-most important-the advice we've received from the outfitter and others. We get back to civilization at a lodge near Ayers Rock. As soon as we're in the hotel, Perry gets out his laptop computer, plugs into the telephone line at the hotel, and checks his email. He's been very careful to keep in touch with his team, and they email him daily. He's been worried about being out of touch for three days, but all is well.

The next morning we drive over to Ayers Rock. It's a huge, red, sandstone rock formation-one of the largest rocks in the world, so they claim. The aboriginal people call the rock Uluru. It's legal under Australian law to climb it, but the Anangu people have posted a sign at the beginning of the trail up, telling that it is a sacred rock, that they never climb it, and ask that tourists not climb it either. We respect their request. We drive around the base of the rock (over 9 km.) And head back to the lodge for lunch. Perry checks his email and reports, "We have a serious problem. When they were sailing on Lake Michigan yesterday, a speedboat, operated by an obviously drunken college age boy, tried to see how close he could come to the Maddie II. He hit the wing and smashed it beyond repair. There doesn't seem to be any other damage to the boat, but nobody knows where they can get another wing."

I tell Perry, "It's going to be a problem. There's so much pressure to build boats that Ovington isn't producing parts. Maybe my dad can help."

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