This is Charlie, feeling the need to take charge of my story again. Actually, the reason I am back in the narrator role is that this story has to be told from a variety of perspectives, not one, and I can do that best. I'm going to begin in Topeka, Kansas, and it will soon become clear how this fits into my story. Oh, yes. So as not to keep you guessing, the South of the title refers to the Southern Hemisphere, where Auggie, et al. were "messing about in boats." (The phrase comes from The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.) We'll get there.
Flint Campbell worked as one of several assistant managers at the Fred's Sports store in West Ridge Mall in Topeka. Since Montgomery Ward closed in 2001, Fred's Sports had occupied their space, giving them a major outlet in Topeka. Campbell had a rather unusual background. He'd grown up in Topeka, gone to the Topeka public schools, and then to Washburn University, a public university in downtown Topeka. Nothing special there, but Flint was an adventurer. At a young age he bicycled, eventually roaming over most of eastern Kansas and into Missouri. The summer he was fifteen he rode his bicycle across the United States from Los Angeles to Atlantic City, New Jersey. The next two summers he hiked the Appalachian Trail, doing the northern half the first year and the southern half the second–wisely traveling in the opposite direction of most thru-hikers–starting at the middle of the trail and heading toward the end. At Washburn he established an Adventure Club, and organized rock climbing, hiking, survival, and Mississippi River trips for the group. In the club he met his future wife, Pam, who was as enthusiastic as Flint about adventure in the outdoors. Their honeymoon was a auto camping trip down the Pan-American Highway through Mexico and Central America, ending at the end of the northern portion of the highway, where it's blocked by the Darien Gap, a jungle area on the border of Panama and Colombia. And back again.
Flint and Pam couldn't avoid the very pedestrian need for jobs, and he began as a salesman at the original Fred's Sports store in Topeka, advancing to Assistant Manager as more Assistant Managers were needed for the new, larger store in West Ridge Mall. Pam became a middle school teacher in the Topeka schools.
Children arrived, first Sally in February of 1985 followed by Josh in January of 1987 The accepted term for Flint and Pam's style of parenting is free-range, a term used pejoratively by some and enthusiastically by others (a group that would certainly include the Gang). Sally played outdoors and roamed all over the neighborhood, first on foot, then on a scooter, and finally on a bicycle. Josh followed right behind her so that, in fact, he did most of his roaming at a much earlier age than she had. They became good friends as well as siblings. There was another little boy in the neighborhood. His name was Greg and he was in the same class at school as Josh. Greg was the son of Flint's boss, John Markham, the Manager of the Fred's Sports store in West Ridge Mall.
Greg was as free-range as Sally and Josh and they roamed all over the countryside together. They did a lot of camping, either in school or scout groups, and with their families. If the Campbells went, Greg was always invited and usually came. If the Markhams went, Josh and often Sally would join them. The boys overnighted at each other's houses from very young, and Sally always played with them, and sometimes slept on the floor with them. When camping the kids always shared the same tent. Nobody thought much about that, and the kids were often naked together when they went to bed and dressed in the morning.
But little kids become big kids, and just before her thirteenth birthday Sally had her first period. Her parents hadn't been shy about sex education, and she was well prepared and accepting of the changes that her period heralded, and forced upon her. But it got Flint and Pam thinking about all the time Sally spent with her brother, and more importantly, her brother's best friend, Greg.
So one day Flint approached John at work and said, "Could we go to lunch together some day. There's something we need to talk about."
"Nothing serious, I hope."
"Nothing serious in the sense of trouble, but I do have a serious conversation in mind."
"We could do a late lunch today when Phil comes back; he'll be on duty this afternoon."
"Page me when you're ready to go."
They walked down the mall to the food court, got Chinese, and sat at a little table off to the side to eat. John said, "What's on your mind?"
"Our kids. The boys spend a lot of time with Sally, and as far as they seem to care Sally is just one of the boys. But obviously she isn't, and she has now had her period and is going to become a woman. It has to change the relationship between them. And the boys will be having similar changes in a year or so, maybe three."
"What's the problem?"
"You do know that they sleep together at our house and in their tent whenever they're camping. They're naked together quite a bit. That doesn't bother you?"
"Not really. But I see where you're coming from. Look, I think our wives should be part of the conversation. I'll have Bette call Pam and find a time for us all to get together. Perhaps dinner at our house. The kids can come, and they'll disappear upstairs as soon as they've finished their ice cream."
It was easily arranged, and as predicted the dessert was ice cream, and the three kids ran upstairs to Greg's room as soon as it disappeared, which didn't take long.
Flint basically repeated what he'd said to John, although it wasn't necessary, as both couples had discussed things at home before the dinner.
Bette repeated, "What's the problem?"
Pam said, "I'm not sure it's a problem, but we have to understand that as they become teenagers, and likely before, a sexual relationship is going to sprout if they continue their play and sleeping patterns that they now have. Are we ready for that? Are the kids ready for that?"
John said, "Well, I wasn't ready for it at ten, but I certainly was by thirteen or fourteen. I grew up in a pretty raunchy crowd."
Bette said, "That's true. Two of the girls in that crowd had to drop out of school because they became pregnant."
John responded, "Well, I guess you just deflated my balloon. The male perspective is different than the female. And it's Flint and Pam who have the female."
Bette said, "I don't think the damage was only to the girls. A couple of the boys have been through some pretty nasty divorces. You were quite the male chauvinist when we started dating. I made it very clear that you'd have to change or there was no way that I was going to date you, much less marry you."
"I did change, didn't I?"
"Yes, you did, and I love you for it. But not all of your buddies were able to make those changes. That's why we're good friends of the Campbells and not the Fosters or the Wilsons. And I think it's why you're the manager at Fred's Sports and not a salesman; Fred's Sports expects its female employees to be respected, and you're able to do that. Not all managers are."
"I'll admit, I've had to fire a couple for the way they treated women. However, they usually didn't do that well in their relations with male employees either."
Flint asked, "So where is this leading? Are we saying that our kids ought not have a sexual relationship?"
Pam said, "No, that's not what I'm saying. I think we need to recognize that they already have a sexual relationship. If a little boy and a little girl are naked together, and sleep together, and I think that they usually sleep naked as well, but I'm not sure..."
"They do," said Bette.
"If they do those things then a sexual relationship is already started. I think it's our job to be concerned about the shape and substance of that relationship."
John asked, "And just how would we describe the kind of relationship we'd like them to develop?"
"What does that mean?"
"I'm not sure."
"Not leading to pregnancy."
"Private. I mean not being the talk of the school or their friends."
Bette was on that one, saying, "We have two boys in the group and one girl. I've watched the boys together. Homosexual play has already begun. Are we going to be upset by that?"
They got sidetracked on that issue for a while, but finally decided that if that's who their boys were, that's who their boys were. They also realized that they could expect some experimentation as the boys figured that out for themselves.
"So where do we go from here?"
Pam said, "Well, there needs to be some group discussion of the birds and the bees, avoiding euphemisms like that. And this is the perfect time. With Sally having her first period, the boys need to understand what that's about and how it affects her. Hopefully the discussion will lead to questions and perhaps a discussion of what they do, or might do, when they're alone together. And I think we should avoid any suggestion that their dress and sleep habits are wrong or need to be changed."
John said, "My neighbors have already called me a free-range parent, and it was not meant positively. If they heard this, they might call a social worker."
"Precisely why I inserted the word private into the conversation."
Flint said, "I think that the idea of privacy is important, and I think raising it with the kids is likely to invite questions that'll lead to a discussion of behaviors in private, which is exactly what I think we need to be discussing, without being negative or threatening."
"When does this conversation start?"
"How about right now? The kids're upstairs. Let's call them and talk."
It was an interesting conversation, and quite revealing to the four adults. They began by talking about Sally's period, but soon realized that Sally had already explained the whole thing to the boys, and had let them see her change her pad! When they raised the question of privacy, the response was sort of, "Well, duh!"
They quickly realized that the kids had moved to a sexual relationship far beyond what they'd realized. As they began to ask questions, Sally quickly responded with, "Are we in trouble? If we start telling you everything that we've been doing are we going to be in trouble? Are you going to stop us from playing together, or spending nights together?"
As Sally's mother, Pam decided that she should field that question. "Sally, I wish you could've heard our conversation before we asked you all to come down here. We were very innocent in our understanding of what you all have been doing together, but our goal hasn't been to stop it, but to make sure it's healthy, honest, and very importantly that the boys respect you as a young woman. Not all boys do, you know."
Sally replied, "These boys do. If they didn't I wouldn't have anything to do with them."
Flint said, "I can't believe you're only twelve years old."
John said, "I think the open relationship that she's had with the boys is part of the reason for that. It's also simply because she's a very wise and mature girl, as are these boys or they couldn't handle the relationship they 're in. So, the answer to your question, is that you can talk to us very openly about what you think and do, and have done. We'll listen respectfully, not condemn or punish you, and try to give guidance if we think there are problems. OK?"
Greg got brave and said, "OK, if you ride about two miles south of down, by the farm with all of the fences, there's a large grove of trees on the right. There's a break in the fencing, probably made by teenagers years ago, and you can walk your bicycles into the grove. You can't be seen, and it's very comfortable. You get plenty of warning whenever anybody approaches, which is very rare. We're in that grove fairly often."
"Are you going to tell us something about what goes on in the grove?"
"Do you want to know? asked Sally."
Her father said, "I think we do."
"Our favorite game is strip poker. We started playing strip poker at Josh and Sally's house a year or so ago, when I'd spend the night," said Greg. "But that was just they way we'd get undressed for the night. In the grove we've done more."
Josh continued, "The loser, that is the first one naked, has to lie down and the winner, the one with most clothes still on, gets to do whatever he, or she, wants to him, or her. It started with tickling, but moved on. Now, if the loser is Greg or me our privates got thoroughly worked over. If Sally is the loser, we poke our fingers into her and tease her tits."
Sally said, "Then I got the idea that it'd be fun to tie the loser to a tree instead of laying on the ground. There really isn't anything different you can do in that situation, but it adds to the fun."
John asked, "And as far as you three are concerned this is much the same as sitting around at home playing Monopoly?"
"We've played strip Monopoly a couple of times. The game is essentially the same."
The parents were flabbergasted. First, by what their kids'd been doing. And, second, by the fact that they seemed willing to tell everything. Of course, they had to wonder what the kids were not telling, but thought better of asking too many questions.
Flint asked what he thought was a very important question. "What if one of you were tied to the tree and somebody started to do something you thought was inappropriate, or might hurt you. Would you say something? Remember, you're tied up; then would it stop?"
Sally said, "It's happened. Josh was tied up and Greg was squeezing his balls. It hurt, and Josh simply said, 'That's too hard,' and Greg immediately quit. I had to make Josh get his fingers out of me once, because it was beginning to hurt a little. He stopped at once. If anybody was tied up and said, 'Please untie me,' we would. If we couldn't trust each other like that, the whole game would have to end."
"Is strip poker or strip Monopoly the only game you play?"
"We play a lot of games, but I think you mean the only sexy game we play, right?"
Flint said, "We just made up a new one. We call it commander. You can play any game you want to pick a winner. The winner is the commander for the rest of the day, afternoon, night, whatever is agreed in advance."
"And what does the commander command?"
"What he, or she, likes. Sometimes its like, 'Go get me a Coke, and you can't have one.'"
"But it gets sexual, doesn't it?"
"That's the idea, but the game is new. We've just played it a couple of times."
"But you're looking forward to playing more?"
"So what happened the last time you played? Who was commander?"
"Josh, what did you command?"
"I'm getting uncomfortable," replied Josh.
Sally said, "It's OK, Josh. If they haven't exploded yet, your answer won't blow their minds–too much. Shall I answer for you?"
"Josh first told us both to strip each other naked. I undressed Greg, and he undressed me. Then Josh told me to come over to him and open his pants and pull them down so I could get to his dick. Then he told me to take it in my mouth and tickle it with my tongue. I also had to lick his balls. Then he made Greg do the same thing. Then he told me to do it to Greg while he watched."
Flabbergasted turned to disbelief. These kids were ten and twelve. Flint again asked what he thought was a key question. "Do any of you know what a blow job is?"
Nobody did, and he wasn't sure but what he was sorry he asked the question. But clearly the idea of having to put a penis in your mouth had more to do with teasing the person having to do it, than pleasing or arousing the owner of the penis.
But the blow job question led to the need to talk about ejaculations and orgasms. And, considering how far these kids had come, those were probably subjects that had to be covered pretty soon; it might as well have been then. The parents also felt the need to talk about the pleasures of sex, and not thinking of their genitals as something to tease or harass. You might've thought this answer would come from Sally, the oldest, but it came from Greg. "If this were just teasing, it would've ended a long time ago. We played tickle games that weren't sexual for a while, but they got old fast. Now I'm never sure when I'm the loser that I'm really the loser. It's kind of fun to be tied up and have Sally and Josh play with me. I'm sort of sorry when they stop. Don't you feel the same, Sally? And Josh?"
They both agreed.
Pam said, "Let me sum up, and then we have to go home, it's past ten and these kids have to get to bed. We aren't going to tell you what to do or not to do. You're going to have to make your own decisions. Nothing you're doing will hurt you, if you're careful. And I don't think any of us want the nightly dinner conversation to turn to what you all did that afternoon. But we'd like you to keep us reasonably informed about what you're doing, and where. The where is important, because there are a lot of unsafe places around. And we want you safe."
Bette cut in, "Let's be clear. Our houses're safe. We'll promise to knock before we enter."
Pam said, "I agree with that. We'll talk from time to time, in our families, and we'll all get together and talk. But you know we're safe to talk to, so don't be afraid to let us know what you're doing and to ask any questions you like. And there's one other thing. Boys, you've found that the only way to really get to a girl is to stick your finger inside her. But remember, that's a very sensitive part of her. But very careful, and be sure you're very clean when you go inside a girl. My God, I never thought I'd be saying that to two ten year old boys, but I just did!"
Bette said, "And that's very important. Boys, if nothing comes out of this conversation than that, it was worth all of our time. It worries me a little bit that Sally had to ask you to stop that time, but you did stop. Always do."
Pam said, "We'd really like to tell you that her vagina is off-limits, but that wouldn't be fair to her; that's where her fun is. And we know you're in this for fun."
Bette said, "You do know about her clitoris, don't you?"
Both boys looked bewildered.
Bette said, "Sally, they need some instruction. Pam and I aren't going to do it for you. That's for another day."
On the way home in the car Sally burst out, "Mom and Dad, you're wonderful. I couldn't believe everything I heard."
Pam said, "Believe me, neither could your father and I."
Later that evening as Flint and Pam were talking in bed, Flint said, "Well, we had quite a conversation this evening. Our kids aren't really kids any more. Can we deal with that?"
"Sure we can. You know, it's interesting, nobody mentioned the elephant in the room."
"What was that?"
"The fact that the boys were playing with each other as much as with Sally."
"I believe the term for all of that is bisexual. Can we live with that?"
"We don't have a choice. But, yes, I can live with that. And however they sort it out, I can live with that, too. And I don't intend to try to push them one way or the other, nor am I going to be raising the issue for them. How they move on that is up to them, until they raise the issue with us."
I'm not going to spell out of the details of their sexual games for you; you have good imaginations, and I doubt you'll think of much that these kids didn't. Both boys started to successfully masturbate at age thirteen. Josh was first and told Greg. The next time Greg won at commander, he commanded Josh to demonstrate his new skill, and then he told Sally to clean him up. Payback came quickly, as Josh jacked Greg off while Sally watched, and Greg came for the first time. Their communications with their parents were good, and the parents were aware of this new development very shortly after the second boy proved himself. This led to appropriate instructions about where penises could and could not be inserted, and the care that needed to be taken with semen around vaginas. The kids were fast learners, and were very careful. At least they were sufficiently careful that Sally was happily married to someone else before she got pregnant.
I'll share an incident that involved the three kids. One summer, when they were ages sixteen and fourteen they were bicycling down toward Richland about twenty miles south and a little east of town. Since they lived on the south side of Topeka that was the direction they generally rode in, and they were about twelve miles from home when two boys pulled up beside them while they were resting. They all chatted, and introduced themselves. The boys were Johnny and Steve. They decided to ride together down to Richland and were heading back on a different road that Johnny'd suggested. It was very hot, and they were sweating, stopping often to rest and drink. At one of their stops Johnny said, "It's hot. I'm sure there'll be a bunch swimming at the hole. Shall we go?"
Sally said, "We don't have swim suits."
Johnny said, "Nobody wears suits at the hole. Will that bother you."
"Then let's go."
Josh asked, "Where is this hole? I assume you mean swimming hole?"
"It's a wide spot in the Wakarusa River. It's rises in the springtime, and it's beginning to go down now. By late July we won't be able to swim there. Then we have to go to the pool and wear swim suits. It's gone down enough now that we can't swing on the rope."
Johnny said, "It comes just below your waist when you stand. I like that because it makes it hard for the girls to hide themselves."
Steve said, "You have a dirty mind. Sally, be warned about this kid. But I'll tell you right now, you'll be safe at the hole. The boys are horny, but nobody pushes too far."
Johnny said, "And I'm really eager to see what you look like under that bra and shorts."
Greg said, "I'll tell you right now; she looks great."
The hole was about a half-mile off of a back road. You could bicycle to it single file along a fairly worn trail. At the hole they found about a dozen teenagers, mostly half standing in the water with their heads and shoulders out; others were splashing around in the water. To the extent they could be viewed, the were obviously all naked. Steve and Johnny led the way, parked their bikes, and quickly stripped off their clothes. As Josh started to follow their lead, a girl in the water said, "Wait. We have a rule for newbies. Stand up on that rock and strip and let us all get a good look at you. When we've seen enough, we'll let you get in."
Josh, then Sally, then Greg went through this little initiation. The boys weren't allowed off the rock until they'd gotten solid erections, but other than that, nothing much was made of the process.
As Sally settled into the very welcome cool water, she settled next to one of the girls who was already in. They got to talking, and the girl asked, "How do you manage to get two boys?"
"One, that one there, Josh, is my brother. The other is Josh's best friend."
"There's clearly more to it than bike riding. You were too at ease taking your clothes off in front of them, and us."
"We've all been friends since before kindergarten. Things happen. How is it that you all are so comfortable being naked here?"
"It's been the rule of this swimming hole forever. Most of our parents swam here naked, and they know that if we're swimming here that we'll be naked. If a kid jumps in this pool with a suit on, and a few have tried, it's immediately ripped off him and shredded. And newbies who don't go through the rock ceremony before they get in the water have their genitals pretty seriously roughed up. Other than that, everything here is pretty tame. Every now and then a couple will head off into that cornfield and be pretty dusty when they come back. Nobody asks questions; we don't have to."
The hole had decent water from spring to mid-summer, but then was usually too dry to swim. Josh and Greg went back to the hole from time to time; sometimes Sally'd join them. She told the boys, "The trouble with the hole is that nobody does anything. They just look at each other. You two guys're much more fun."
Their visits to the hole gradually stopped, and that was the only other sexual involvement that they had, except with each other, until they'd finished high school. And, yes, their parents learned all about the hole after the kids first visit. To everyone's surprise, Flint was quite familiar with the hole, having swum there as a teenager.
One evening at dinner In the fall of Josh's senior year of high school his parents made a suggestion to their two children that turned out to be life-changing for Josh. Pam assured the kids that she was as enthusiastic about this idea as was Flint, but she'd let Flint spell out his idea.
"Josh, you graduate from high school this June, and Sally you'll finish all the courses that you can take at the Highland Perry Center by next June. Then it'll be off to a four year university, probably at Lawrence. Your mother and I are suggesting that our life as a family of four is coming to an end, and we'd like to have one big family adventure together before you two head off into the world."
Josh asked, "What're you suggesting?"
"Simply that we take next year, actually two summers and the whole year, to sail around the world together."
Sally asked, "Sail? In what?"
"An ocean-going catamaran. I've looked into them, and we can afford to buy one. Your mother and I have quite a bit of sailing experience, though not on the ocean, and the catamarans are quite safe and stable boats. They also have substantial back-up engines. The boat I have in mind is in Annapolis, and we'd take possession next spring vacation, sailing it around the Chesapeake Bay and out into the ocean. Then in the summer we'd sail down the coast, getting used to the boat in coastal waters. The first non-coastal trip would be from the Florida keys to Yucatan. From there down the coast to Brazil, across to Africa, down the coast to Cape of Good Hope, north up the east coast of Africa to Tanzania or Kenya. The coast gets very dangerous north of there, so we'd head east, whether to south India, Indonesia, or Australia I'm not sure. East along the Australian north coast, into the Coral Sea, island-hopping east. Whether we'd head to Hawaii or stay south to South America I'm not sure. We'd get home through the Panama Canal. I figure we could easily accomplish that in fifteen months, with plenty of time to make stops interesting and worthwhile."
Sally said, "My God. What an idea!"
Josh said, "Sign me up; it sound fabulous. Can we invite Greg; I'll bet he'd love the trip."
It was typical of this family that the adventure was greeted with enthusiasm and not dread. It didn't occur to anyone that this adventure might be beyond their capability.
And it proved not to be.
Greg, however, fooled Josh. He loved the idea, but was reluctant to give up his college plans, which were to be a freshman at KU the following fall. It was quickly worked out that he'd join them for the three summer months at the beginning and end of the trip, but would fly home from wherever they were at the end of August to go to school, rejoining them the following May or June.
At Thanksgiving they flew to Annapolis, via Washington, DC, to look at and purchase the catamaran. Flint had warned his family that he wasn't able to afford a luxury boat. Many were basically floating living rooms, with big engines that made sail an afterthought, rather than the main or only means of locomotion. Most ocean-going cats were forty to fifty feet or more, with a main salon and two or three cabins. He was looking at a thirty-three foot boat with a reasonable main salon and two small cabins. The three kids would have to figure out how they'd fit in one, he and Pam would take the other. There was one head with a tiny shower. The galley was decent, and the back-up engine would be adequate, but they couldn't consider motoring around the world with it. This would be a sailing trip, with the engine used mainly to get into and out of port and in emergencies.
The boat was small and funny-looking, especially when viewed from the bow or stern, when you could look under the deck between the twin hulls. Flint had done sufficient research to assure him that the boat could handle a well-planned Pacific crossing that minimized the long haul sail. It seemed to be in good condition, and before they bought it they had it inspected by an expert from a different Annapolis marina. It was out of the water for the winter, so they could only look, not sail. But the price was right, no comparable used boats were available on the whole East Coast, and the owner wouldn't hold the boat until spring. It was then or never, and Flint didn't blink. He realized that if he didn't move then, the whole trip might fall through.
Their adventures the next spring vacation were a little distressing. They quickly learned that (1) sailing in big water was very different from what they'd thought of as big lake, (2) sailing a catamaran was very different from sailing a monohull, and (3) their sailing experiences to date were pretty worthless, and they'd be learning on the job. On the other hand, they made great progress in their week of spring sailing, and took comfort in the fact that they'd begin their trip with coastal sailing.
Their coastal sailing would not, however, take them to Florida. Their study of ocean sailing taught them first and foremost that they needed to be conscious of the trade winds and ocean currents, as trying to sail across the ocean against them was a very difficult proposition. And the trade winds across the middle Atlantic are from east to west. If they wanted to go east they either had to head north with the Gulf Stream almost to Canada and follow the trade winds to the British Isles. Or, they could go south to southern Brazil and sail directly across to South Africa. They elected to head to Europe and sail south along the coast all the way to the Cape of Good Hope, then heading east pretty much directly to Australia. The Pacific winds also suggested a northern crossing, so they would make their way north to Japan and head east toward Canada, perhaps going as far north as the Aleutian Islands. Then down to the Panama Canal and north up the coast back to Annapolis. They were determined to go full circle and return to their starting point.
Flint spoke to John, not only about Greg joining them for two summers but also about his job. He offered to resign, but John would have none of that; rather he told Flint to give him a day or so to think about it. John knew the ways of Fred's Sports; he called the main office and soon found himself talking to one Curtis Simpson. Mr. Simpson introduced himself as a Director of Sports Team Sponsorship and asked the reason for the call.
"I'm not sure that I'm talking to the right guy. I'm not talking about a team."
"Give me some background; I'll decide if you're talking to the right person."
"I have an Assistant Manager here in Topeka who's planning to sail around the world in a catamaran with his wife, son, and daughter. For part of the trip they'll be joined by my son. The man's name is Flint Campbell..."
"I love that name."
"And Flint's asked for a leave of absence of at least fifteen months, and if he can't have it, he'll resign; I think he knows I'd hire him back in a minute."
"For God's sake don't let him resign. That's just the kind of guy we want representing Fred's Sports. Let me think about it for a while, talk to my Co-Director, and I'll get back to you."
Curtis talked to Gene, and fairly quickly got back to John. "Look, John, here's the deal that Fred's Sports is willing to offer Flint and his family. We'll be a sponsor of his trip. We'll put him on half-salary while he's away from your store. We'll cover part of the costs of his trip, and make sure that he has good communication equipment aboard. We want you to make a big deal of it out in Topeka: displays in the store, map of his route, radio interviews, maybe we can do television from the boat, I don't know, but we can certainly do TV from port. We'll figure out how to publicize nationally and internationally. The two things we want from John are to put a big 'Fred's Sports' on his sail along with our logo, and to name the boat the Freddie II."
"Flint won't believe that offer."
"Unless he dearly loves working for you, John, I don't think Flint's going to spend the rest of his life as your Assistant Manager. How old are these kids?"
"Sally's twenty, both boys are eighteen; they'll finish high school just before the trip."
"Why isn't your son, what's his name?"
"Why isn't he taking the full trip?"
"He doesn't want to delay his college at the University of Kansas."
"Does he know what he's going to be missing?"
"I'm sure he does, but he'll be around for about half of it. He's eager for college."
"Well, give Flint and his family the news; and tell Greg. It might be fun if you told Greg and let Greg tell the Campbell family."
"I'll have to think about that."
"We'll want to get all five of them, and you, up to Grand Forks for a news conference, lots of pictures, you know the drill. But that'll be next spring. Right now let's just get them up to get to know us, and let us meet them."
John considered Curtis' idea and went for it. Greg invited himself for dinner that night with Josh and his family. About halfway through the meal Josh said, "Greg, you've got something on your mind. I can see it on your face. Out with it."
"OK. Here's the deal. Mr. Campbell, my dad says that Fred's Sports wants to sponsor the trip, make a lot of fuss over it, help pay for it, and will keep you on half salary for the whole trip! The want all five of us up in Grand Forks just as soon as we can get there: to explain the whole deal and get to know us better."
Pam was able to speak first. "What? How do you know all that?"
"My dad. He's excited as the dickens. They're going to make a big deal out of it at the store, displays, maps, radio and TV interviews, the works."
Well, as you'll soon see, the point of all this story is not to follow the Campbell family around the world. Rather it's to set the stage for their next adventure. Their sailing venture went well. Luckily they avoided any hurricanes or typhoons, and were blessed with relatively smooth sailing, give or take a nor'easter off the coast of Maine, a rough passage around the Cape, and a longer than expected trip from Africa to Australia due to being becalmed for a while in the South Indian Ocean. The Pacific turned out to be quite pacific, and they sailed directly to Vancouver and had a great trip south to Panama, with Greg joining them in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for the last leg of the trip. (He'd sailed with them as far as Iceland on the front end of the trip.)
They returned to Annapolis, then Topeka, then Grand Forks to much fanfare, were greeted personally in Annapolis by Andy, Fred, and Marty, who traveled with them to Kansas and North Dakota. In Grand Forks they expected midnight to return them to a pumpkin reality, but instead Andy had a new proposition for them.
Let us turn now turn to Perry, finding him in Uruguay with a five or six person support group for three sailboats and six sailors. They hadn't been sailing in Uruguay long before Perry had a conference with Auggie. "Look, Auggie, I have to enlarge the support group."
"Your group's doing fine, isn't it?"
"This is practice. In serious racing, where there are two races in a day, I need two persons to meet and inspect each of three boats: I need at least two launches: I need at least one person on shore. Otherwise, one of the three boats is going to get short shrift. I need to add four persons to the crew."
"Perry, don't talk to me. You manage the support team. If you need four more, you need four more."
"But don't you agree? I don't want to be left hanging."
"Yes, I agree. But I don't think that makes a damn bit of difference. Nobody but you is going to ask for my opinion. Neither Fred, Andy, nor Marty, are going to question your judgement on this. Where are you going to get four people?"
"I think I'm going to have to ask for help from Andy. I suppose that I should be talking to the sports teams department, but with Curtis and Gene here with us, I have no idea who's running that. I've been dealing with Andy, but all he ever says is, 'Yes,' 'OK', or 'Get on with it'."
"So get on horn and ask for help. Everybody like to feel important."
He called Andy, who thought a minute and replied, "Look, Perry, I have the perfect four or five people for you."
"Who? Where? How can you possibly have someone in mind that quickly?"
"The who is the Campbell family. The where is, I think, somewhere around the Panama Canal. How can I know? Trust me on this. This family is exceptional. They're sailing around the world in a catamaran right now, along with their son's friend Greg, who might be your fifth person. I can't believe they wouldn't jump at the chance to join your team. But I don't want to monkey around with their trip around the world. That'll end in August, and I'll ask them then. Can you wait until then?"
"Sure, if you're so certain of this group."
Let's put these two stories together. The night after they docked in Annapolis Andy took the five of them out for a late night snack at their hotel bar. He told them, "Hold on to your hats. If you're interested, I have a two year job for you, starting as soon as you can be ready. I'd like the five of you to join the support team of the Fred's Sports Sailing Team, which is right now sailing three 49ers in the south of Italy. It consists of three pairs of sailors, one from the U.S., one from England, and one from the Bahamas. We think all three will make it into the Olympics in Beijing. You haven't been Fred's Sports employees on your round the world trip, but that'll change. I don't know Flint's salary, full salary, not the half he's been at while sailing, but if you accept this offer you'll all go on the Fred's Sports payroll at Flint's last salary level. Furthermore, all expenses are paid while you travel with the team, which will be virtually constantly for the next two years, so you'll be able to save almost all your salary. You don't have to answer tonight, but I need to hear from you very quickly, because if you don't think this is right for you, I need to get other team members very quickly."
The Campbell family, along with Greg headed up to their three-room suite that Curtis had booked for them. They sat in the living room and stared at each other. Finally Greg spoke. "Fred's Sports is capable of some pretty wild stuff, but this just about tops it all."
Josh said, "I can make the salary my father makes, right out of high school. And they'll be paying me to play."
Flint said, "I don't think you'll call it play. You, we, won't be sailors, we'll be part of the support team. I'm sure we'll work our butts off. I wonder how large a team it'll be."
Greg said, "I'm pretty sure I know. My father has the book, Quest, which tells the story of Tim and Charlie in the Sydney Olympics. They had eleven people for one boat, well two boats, but only one was in the Olympics. I'll bet this is about the same team, but they need it bigger for three boats. It'll be a fabulous adventure."
Flint said, "You declined our little trip around the world in order to go to college. Now you're talking about taking two years off for a new adventure."
Greg said, "You have to understand this. It isn't the sailing, or the travel, that's fabulous about this. It's the people. I don't want to sell the Campbell family short, but we're talking about some really extraordinary people here, starting with Auggie Madison. And Curtis and Gene, who made the offer of sponsorship to you, have given up their executive jobs with Fred's Sports to join this team. And, just to remind you, they moved from that support team directly into the executive jobs in Grand Forks. This is the chance of a lifetime. I wouldn't think of turning it down."
Only Sally had second thoughts. "I have a problem, two problems actually. First, I really want to get on with college. I'm looking forward to the university in a couple of weeks. However, the second issue is the deal breaker. Dad, you'll have Mom with you. Josh and Greg, it's an open secret that you two are falling in love with each other, and this'll make a wonderful honeymoon. Look, you two, Get married. Marriage is legal in Massachusetts, but very difficult for out of state couples, so marriage in the States is out. But its now legal everywhere in Canada, and in several countries in Europe.
"However, I don't want to spend the next two years in a group in which I'm the only unpaired female, and I don't think there are going to be unpaired males either. You four head to Italy, or wherever you'll be heading. I'll head to Lawrence as planned. I'll be fine, and Greg's right, you're going to have a fabulous experience."
Pam said, "I'm going to miss you. But you make some sense. I hate to see you pass up this opportunity, but I can tell you've made up your mind. As for me, and I hope Flint and Josh, I'm off to Italy."
And so were Flint and Josh.
Their acceptance was forwarded to Perry in Italy, and he headed to Grand Forks to meet his new crew. Since Andy had told him about the Campbells, he'd been following their sea adventures. The more he read, the more he liked. And the more he read about the layout of the Freddie II, the more he thought about the bunking arrangements for the five of them. They were definitely an interesting group, and clearly would fit in.
The sailing season in the Northern Hemisphere would soon be winding down. Perry was taking the team to Portsmouth for several weeks of sailing on the Solent. He admitted to Auggie that the fact that Norman's parents were there had influenced him somewhat, but there wasn't any better place to sail at that time of year, so why not Portsmouth? Auggie was fully supportive, saying, "If my in-laws lived somewhere we could sail, I'd suggest going there. But Lake Mendota isn't where you go to sail a 49er."
In Grand Forks Perry greeted his four new team members warmly, took them to dinner, and spent most of an evening telling them about sailing a 49er, the team they'd be part of, their responsibilities, the fun they'd have, the exciting places they'd go, and the joy of watching one, two, or maybe even three of their crews sail in the Olympics and win medals. His dream, of course, was that the United States would take gold, the Bahamas would take silver, and England, properly the United Kingdom, would take bronze. He could take your breath away, and almost did. Then he got down to business. He said, get yourselves to Kansas and settle affairs for another absence, this time two years. "I don't know what all you have to do. Take care of your house, your mail, say, 'Hi, Goodbye,' to your friends and neighbors, and get yourselves to Portsmouth, England, just as quick as you can. We're all staying at the Queen's Hotel, call me as soon as you have an arrival date and I'll book rooms for you. I assume you want two rooms."
Greg seemed to be the least overwhelmed by Perry's enthusiasm, and managed to interject, "Mr. Weeks."
"Call me Perry. Always."
"Perry, Josh and I want to go to Canada and get married before we head to Europe."
"Married! How wonderful." He thought a minute. "You don't want to head off to Canada, probably with just the five of you at this table, and get married by yourselves. It's now legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain. Come on to Portsmouth and we'll find a time, real soon, for your new family, the Fred's Sports Sailing Team, to all share in your marriage. And we'll be sure to get Greg's family, and some friends there as well. Leave that all to me. But right now, head to Kansas, and then to Portsmouth."
"Just how do we go about paying for all this travel." That was Flint. "I'm just about broke paying for the trip around the world. And just what is going to happen to the Freddie II?"
Perry grinned, fished into a little leather case and pulled out four credit cards, one in each of their names. He passed them out. "You don't want to ask what the credit limit is on these. You aren't to use them for personal expenses, but anything you need to enable you to get to Portsmouth quickly is, by definition, a business expense. Keep all your receipts, note on the back what each is for, and give them to me in Portsmouth. Put all your meals on the cards, except when you're in Topeka. That's your home port, and meals there aren't business expenses. The clothes you'll need in Europe and then in the Southern Hemisphere are business expenses. Use good judgement on the rest. But err on the side of considering things business expenses.
"As for the Freddie II, I think Andy will want to buy it from you and ship it to Grand Forks. With the Freddie I back out to sea, he has a hole to fill. Eventually, he'll want the Freddie I and the Freddie II to sit side by side at the corporate headquarters."
"It's a lot bigger than a 49er."
"Let that be Andy's problem. I'll talk to him and have him get it to Grand Forks. Later you can talk about ownership and where it'll ultimately reside. You may want to sail it again, who knows?"
While we leave the Campbells and Greg Markham struggling to come to terms with their new situation, making their way to Topeka and then Portsmouth (with Greg having a very interesting conversation with his very surprised parents), let's accompany Perry back to Portsmouth. The whole crew was staying at the Queen's Hotel, except for him and Norman, who were staying with Henry and Zenna, Norman's parents. They were delighted to have most of a month together as a family, even with the need to spend all day every day with the sailors, there being no time for days off with their three boat workload. The Campbells got the message that they were needed quickly and made their way to Portsmouth with amazing speed. That in itself persuaded Perry that Andy'd made a good choice.
The new team members fit in well. First, after a year plus at sea (not quite that for Greg), they were excellent sailors and used to hard work. The Freddie II was a small, definitely not handling the mainsail, even with the sheet leveraged with a pulley system, was no small task. Perry's demands were child's play for them. What's more, adding four to the team allowed regular days off, two at a time, except, of course, when racing, but they weren't racing in Portsmouth.
Perry, Norman, Henry, and Zenna had a wonderful time together. They had a late dinner most evenings (Perry and Norman ate with the whole team at least twice a week, and often Henry and Zenna joined them), followed by lots of talk. Henry and Zenna were very interested in catching up on their lives, especially Perry's. After all, they knew pretty much about Norman's because of their involvement with his co-op. Everyone was always fully dressed in the house, but Henry and Zenna seemed quite comfortable with what they knew the boys (now men, but you always remain a boy to your parents) were doing in their bedroom.
Then it was off to Darwin. They had to get south before winter, but it wasn't yet warm enough in the south of Australia for comfortable sailing. Much closer to the Equator, Darwin had good sailing weather. Perry made reservations at the Darwin Central Hotel and wondered if Mr. Feiffer was still the manager.
Again they arrived very early in the morning, this time a large group, and this time expected. As soon as they arrived the desk clerk got on the telephone to advise the manager of their arrival. Very quickly out walked, really ran, a familiar face: Not Mr. Feiffer but Alston Giddings. Their previous attempts to contact Alston by email had failed, and they'd completely lost touch with him. Now here he was, standing in front of them, and clearly in a managerial position at the hotel. Well, he wasn't standing in front of them, he was, rather, hugging and being hugged, much to the surprise of the hotel clerk, and perhaps to some of the sailing team, but all but the newcomers had gotten to know Alston when they'd been sailing in Darwin.
Alston had graduated from university and come back to work for Mr. Feiffer as an assistant manager. Upon Feiffer's promotion to the central office of the hotel chain, Alston had become the manager of the hotel. When he heard of their booking, he arranged to have night duty so he'd be there upon the team's arrival. Alston had the night bellman get everything up to their rooms, except that he'd take care of Perry and Norman himself. As soon as the three of them got into the room Alston said, "I've arranged for a huge breakfast tp be sent up to each room. It'll include an iced Coke for you Perry. I'd like to join you for breakfast, and I'm hoping that that might lead to other things before you fall asleep in that bed."
Perry looked at Norman and said, "Well, I'll be damned. Do you think we can handle that, Norman?"
"We can, but can Alston handle us?"
"I'm sure I can, but let's at least wait until the breakfast arrives. I need to have my clothes on when the young man brings it."
"And then you don't. Right?"
"Right. And neither do either of you."
"Breakfast in the buff, here we come."
Breakfast came, clothes went flying, and they struggled with the problem of what, or whom, to eat first. Airline food being what it is, and the breakfast being both hot and inviting, breakfast came first, very quickly followed by an attempt to reprise more than several weeks' worth of sexual activity into an hour or so. Male bodies simply don't allow that, and eventually they all fell asleep on the bed.
They awoke in the early afternoon, and again tried to see how much they could cram into an hour or a little less. Quite a bit, it turned out.
Perry asked Alston, "So tell us what all you've been doing."
Alston talked about his travels in Europe and Asia, his return to Australia and matriculating at the University of Sidney. He said he was back visiting his parents in Darwin, dropped in to see Mr. Feiffer, and was offered the assistant manager job on the spot. He took it right on the spot, started the next day, and within two years became the hotel manager.
"And your love life?" asked Norman.
"Just about zero. I had a few flings as I was traveling, and a boyfriend at the university, but that didn't go anywhere. Never have had as good sex as I did with you two."
"First time is the best time. Or, maybe it was the three-way situation."
"Or, maybe it was just that you two are the most fabulous pair I've ever met. And you proved it again in the last hour."
"Anybody here in Darwin?"
"There's a young man, about four years younger than me, working as a waiter in the dining room here. Very nice, very handsome, very gay, and very unattached. But he's off limits since he's my employee. If anything happened there, I'd be fired in a minute, and rightly so."
"That's a problem. Do you think it's reciprocated at all?"
"From his looks from time to time, I think perhaps it is."
"You know. You could talk, not date, and certainly not do anything. But if there's interest, he could resign."
"But if there's no interest, it would leave both of us in a very awkward position."
Norman said, "What if we talked to him; felt him out?"
"Would you do that?"
"Sure. Point him out at dinner."
"I won't have to point him out. You'll spot him in a minute. Sit in the far right corner, and he'll probably be your waiter."
They did, and he was. The meeting started with the now standard, "Hi, I'm Jeremy, and I'll be your waiter this evening."
They asked and learned that Jeremy was Jeremy Foster, and that he'd recently moved to Darwin, "To try out a new place."
As the meal ended, Perry asked Jeremy when he got off duty.
"You're my last table. When you leave and I get your table cleared I'm out of here."
"Good, then sit down and talk a while."
"I'm really not supposed to do that."
"Believe me, in this case you'll be fine; we have an in with Giddings."
He sat down, hesitantly. "I know who you are, you're part of the group with Fred's Sports."
Norman said, "You're looking at the top dog in that group; meet Perry Weeks."
"You seem to have singled me out, not just chatting with the guy who waited your table."
"Correct. Tell me if some or all of this is correct. You're gay. You're unattached. You're comfortable with the former, and would like to change the latter. You haven't found many prospects in Darwin. There's a guy at the hotel that you could go for, but he's off limits."
"Wow, you don't mind getting personal, do you?"
"The question is, do you mind?"
"I haven't had this kind of a conversation with anyone, certainly not a complete stranger."
"It's easier with strangers. Especially ones that'll soon be leaving Darwin and that you won't have to deal with again. If, after this conversation, you'd like, we'll promise to always eat on the other side of this dining room."
"OK, I'm game, but I'm not sure where this is leading. You must be some kind of a mind reader. Your description of me is spot on."
"I'm going to be specific. We think that Alston Giddings, who doesn't try to hide the fact that he's gay, turns you on. Perhaps more than a little."
"My God, am I that obvious?"
"I think only to Mr. Giddings."
"My God, am I going to get fired?"
"Not if you quit first, a course of action that we highly recommend."
"I can't afford to quit this job, or be fired."
"I don't think you're catching my drift. We started out by suggesting that you liked a guy, but that he was off limits. If you weren't an employee of this hotel, would Giddings be off limits?"
"Holy shit. Are you guys sending me a message?"
"It seems to have gotten through. Turn in your apron as you go home tonight and join us for dinner right here at this table tomorrow night. We have a date with Alston tonight; tomorrow night he's yours."
"What? Oh, my God. What're you suggesting?"
"Think about it as you walk home tonight, apronless."
The next night Perry, Norman, and Alston came into the dining room and requested the same table. Shortly Jeremy joined them. After greetings all around, Alston asked, "Jeremy, I understand you quit last night. Was there a problem?"
"Oh, gee, did I screw up? Were you guys playing with my mind?"
Alston said, "They weren't, but I guess I am. I suggest that we move over to that table for two in the corner." They did, and they talked quietly through a long dinner, with Perry and Norman watching peacefully. They left together and they saw Alston go behind the front desk, remove a room key, and lead Jeremy into the elevator.
Meanwhile Auggie was leading the sailors in a horrendous regimen of sailing, sailing, push it, sailing, push it harder, watch the wind, push it, sail, raise the spinnaker, come about, push it.... You get the idea. Not only did Auggie sail with Freddie at the helm, he sailed with all the others, though not very often with Goose, with whom he'd sailed constantly for three years while he was training Tim and me. Further, Goose's partner and helm, Arndel, was as good as Goose, and they practiced together most of the time. The two English sailors, Angus and Trevor, were another matter. They knew they needed additional instruction, and they sailed with Auggie, and Goose and Arndel, a lot.
Auggie was quite impressed with both Angus and Trevor. He loved their very Oxfordian, upper crust accents, their not exactly upper crust fun-loving ways, their willingness–really eagerness–to take instruction, their quick learning, and (most of all) the alacrity with which they "pushed it" when Auggie so directed. As a result they were in the water a lot, and became the accepted experts at righting a 49er. Once day in Portsmouth Goose arranged a race between the Brits and the Yankees in righting a 49er. The Brits won two out of three, and they won two out of two in righting a turtled 49er. Auggie was delighted.
The three boats raced quite often, and while Auggie and Freddie were the most frequent winners, Goose and Arndel won their share, and Trevor and Angus frequently got second and from time to time first. Auggie felt that it was time to start entering serious racing competition, and in December Perry had them leave Darwin, reluctantly for Norman and Perry, and head to Valparaiso, Chile, where a lot of 49ers were gathering for an informal racing season that would go until Christmas, 2006. Except for the New Zealand Open at the end of the previous season, the Fred's Sports Sailing Team had been flying below the radar. Now they were sort of "coming out."
And they came out with a bang. Auggie and Freddie dominated the races. They were so gracious, happy, and happy-go-lucky in their attitude that the other sailors had a hard time resenting them, but they had an even harder time beating them. However, several of the top American boats were not in Chile, so no one could be certain that Auggie would make the Olympics. There wasn't another Bahamian sailing in international competition, so Goose and Arndel–with Fred's Sports financial backing–were certain of an Olympic berth. The Brits were doing well, but they never actually won a race in Valpariso, and two other British 49ers seemed to be doing better than they. Auggie told Angus and Trevor, "Don't worry. We've got more than a half-year before selection, and you're going to get better every day. Those guys've been racing for years, and they're as good as they're going to get. Freddie and I beat them consistently, and Goose and Arndel beat them more than half the time. And you're going to be as good as us by the time it counts."
Auggie's confidence was infectious, and Trevor and Angus never seemed to give up, or even waver in their determination.
Despite the conversation that had taken place when they first assembled in Freeport, the newcomers to the group didn't venture into sexual relationships, except that from time to time Auggie and Freddie had explored each other–but that was limited by Freddie's concern for Lynn, despite Auggie's reassurances. Auggie was concerned that the group was missing an opportunity to experience love and support, in particular sexual love and support which he, Tim, and others felt was a real component of athletic success.
He decided to stir things up a little. At dinner he told Freddie that he and Freddie were going to visit Trevor and Angus that evening, and he made it clear that he had sex on his mind. Freddie asked, "What about Lynn?"
"Lynn's going to join Millie and David this evening. She's going to indulge her lesbian urges and David's eager to be a voyeur."
"Are Trevor and Angus willing?"
"We'll find out. Are you willing?"
"My God, yes. But I'm a little scared. I've never been involved in any kind of group sex."
"There's always a first time. I know it won't be the first time for Angus and Trevor."
"There was a lot of hanky-panky involving them and all of the guys from Freeport. They've been together for eight months, and I don't think it took them very long to explore each other's sexuality."
"I guess I'm game."
At dinner that evening Auggie made clear the evening's arrangements, and after dinner he and Freddie headed to Trevor and Angus' room while Lynn headed off with Millie and David. Nobody misunderstood the implications of their departures.
To Auggie's delight, Trevor and Angus proved to be totally uninhibited. With Trevor, Angus, and Auggie leading, Freddie got carried along and lost the inhibitions that he'd started the evening with. Later to Auggie he admitted that he'd gone far beyond his comfort zone, but insisted that he'd moved the zone along, nobody had violated it. He pointed out that he'd never said, "Stop, Slow down," or, "I'm uncomfortable with that." Angus' claim to fame was a passion for sticking his dong [his favorite word for his penis] into every hole, or in his word orifice, he could find, especially mouths, navels, and arses. Trevor liked sucking everything he could get in his mouth, especially nipples, fingers, toes, tongues, and, yes, dongs. Freddy and Auggie just let them lead, and nobody was lacking for sexual satisfaction by the time they were finished.
It would be hard to project a direct link between their sexual explorations and their sailing skills. However, both developed well, and with about the same timing.
Meanwhile, Perry was moving the group from race to race in the Southern Hemisphere, and as spring and summer arrived in the north they moved north. With the Olympics scheduled for China, the key preliminary races were in Asia. The first was Singapore, then Taiwan, then Hong Kong. All of the Fred's Sports boats were doing well in their races. It seemed fairly clear that Auggie and Freddie had, at the least, a very good chance of being the American boat. Goose and Arndel had a lock on being the Bahamian boat. Angus and Trevor had a shot at being the British boat, but they were going to need a lot of skill and effort, probably combined with some luck.
Off to China; first stop Hong Kong.
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