Summer World is how you think of it, now, some unreal waking dream of butter-thick air and the shimmer of sun-addled waves of heat lensing off the pavement. Summer World is the tight grid of streets lined with near-identical metal boxes creaking and popping as they expand under the heat, their inhabitants doing much the same as they totter around under the ministrations of humming air conditioners. Summer World is riding around on Papa's shame-inducing three-speed from Walmart, thanking the gods that no one you know will see you.
You are not here by choice, this year. Summer for you is Michigan, whose relentless winters are the price you pay for the most perfect summers anywhere. Summer is Jake and Sam and Dylan and Meg, and Ann Arbor and State Street and the University, and maybe one day Sam's dad takes all of you into Detroit for a Tigers game and you make sure that you sit next to Sam because, let's face it, you like Sam and you hope, you hope, you hope that he likes you, too.
No, this year's Summer World is Nana and Papa and Florida and their trailer - no, you correct yourself, manufactured home and it's just like a real house, they tell you, they bought the model, completely furnished - and not knowing what to do with yourself and trying to understand why anyone in their right mind would inhabit this place in the summertime. They didn't used to, moving between states as summer edged into fall and tainted the trees with beautiful rust, Bedouins in a Buick following the ebb and flow of the seasons.
No, this year's Summer World is being angry at your parents for refusing to get along with each other, moody silences and sleeping apart, whispered fights you aren't supposed to hear but do. You've heard things that you can't quite believe - certainly your Dad would never do that - but Mom's silent martyr act is about something that wasn't supposed to happen but did.
And here you are, shipped down first class, Nana and Papa meeting you at the airport in Sarasota, feeling like you've been banished for something you didn't do, your entire life bound up in a duffel bag and a backpack. They're smiling and glad to see you, but even you can see past their smiles and casual talk and you know that they know about your parents and why you're here and you are, for some reason, embarrassed for your parents and their inability to live with each other, or with you.
You can sleep in late, but your grandparents are up early, early, early, banging around well before seven, making coffee, making breakfast for each other and already the television is cranked up as they watch the shows they can't manage to stay up for the night before, mostly people on the news channels yelling at each other, or game shows. You slam a pillow over your head but it doesn't help. And when you finally stumble out of bed - it's nearly nine - because you know you have to, they smile and greet you but you know - you just know - that they can't understand why you can't just get up when they do, when every other decent person they know does.
Never in your life have you ever wished summer to be over so bad.
There is, at least, a pool, the best part of this small hell. You ride the embarrassing bike to it and it beckons you with its blueness and its wetness and its cool promises. You have it nearly to yourself because no one in their right mind is here this time of year save for a handful of old men who hang out in the sun-bleached chaises, wearing nothing but faded and too-tight swim shorts and fishing hats, proud of their leathery and sun-baked paunches and the grizzled gray hair foresting their mole-pocked arms and legs and chests. And even though there's a sign on the gate around the pool - No Alcohol! - there is alcohol, in the guise of a six-pack squirreled away in a styrofoam cooler and they chuckle as they pass the sweating cans back and forth.
The first time you go you burn yourself lobster red and Nana chides you and rubs aloe on your back, telling you to be careful next time, not to go in until late in the afternoon. You do, and eventually the sun coaxes a surprising color out of your Michigan-pale skin, an ambery gold that complements the mop of sun-bleached blond hair on your head and your pale blue eyes.
You try to keep in touch with everybody back home, but it's not easy; you're relegated to your tablet and a patchy WiFi cadged off the neighbor, because Nana and Papa's computer is so old it has a slot for a floppy drive and you feel funny using it anyway.
You see pictures of Jake and Sam and Dylan and Meg and, indeed, there they are at a Tigers game and you stare at any picture with Sam in it for longer than you need to. There they are in the Student Union at the University, at some coffee shop, laughing and cutting up, probably annoying the students around them, and you stare some more at Sam and you wonder if he's ever had to put up with this kind of thing. You think he hasn't but you're not sure.
You and Sam send each other texts and he admits, without admitting it, that he misses you and you wonder again if there's something, anything there straying past the bounds of normal friendship. Maybe this summer you'd planned to figure that out, but here you are instead.
Thinking of Sam makes you think of the other things you think about Sam, usually at night in bed, and there is that, as well, to contend with, the things that thinking about Sam does to you. You steal moments here and there, when you can, in the shower, or when Nana and Papa go shopping or to church. Their car has barely rounded the corner when you are out of your clothes and standing in front of the bathroom mirror, watching yourself as you coax yourself higher and higher, thinking of Sam and his beautiful smile and his dark umber skin and his husky voice, until, knees shaking, you spend yourself guiltily into the sink and sluice the evidence down the drain.
Papa plays golf when his hip and knees let him and he asks you along one day and - out of sheer boredom - you find yourself agreeing. The Buick is a quiet vault of cool air and a hint of Nana's perfume because you're sitting in her seat.
You find that you actually enjoy golf when Papa invites you to play. He shows you what to do, how to swing, which club to use where and why, and you still suck but it's fun to whack the little white ball senseless, to send it flying over the impossibly-green green, and actually getting it into the hole gives you some small bit of satisfaction.
After, you meet up with some of his friends in the clubhouse over beers; none for you, of course, although Papa winks and says he'd give you one except for Donna behind the bar with her eagle eye and her martinet attitude and her whiskey-rough voice blunted by a lifetime of unfiltered Camels and a cough she can't quite seem to get the better of.
Papa's looser around his friends than he is around Nana, and it's actually fun to watch them banter back and forth. You love Nana, but she seems to have too much of, what, Jesus or the Pope in her, always a little too serious for her own good, afraid to just let go, imagining a horde of tsk-ing saints staring down at her waggling their fingers.
You watch Papa when you think he doesn't notice, and you can see your mother in him, can see where she gets her sense of humor and her laugh. You love to hear her laugh.
You watch Papa when you think he doesn't notice, and something occurs to you, perhaps for the first time. You see the chain of life linking all of you together and you understand that someday, this will be you.
May slides into June, and then there's Luis.
He's at the pool when you show up that afternoon, along with the typical crowd, whom you wave at now as you enter. He's there, at the edge of the pool, dangling his legs in the water, looking up as you step onto the patio.
You look, but not too long, because you've learned that guys don't do that unless they mean business, and you're not sure you do mean business, not yet, but your impression is that he's not all that cute anyway. You take off your t-shirt and ease yourself into the water, start circling back and forth, wondering if he's noticed.
You surface; he has, quickly looking away. You take a deep breath and go back under, breathing out of your nose, sending pearls of spent breath streaming out behind you. You surface, nearer to him than you were. He looks away again.
You pull yourself out of the water, a few feet down from him, and twist around to sit with a wet plop on the side of the pool. You can see him in your peripheral vision. You turn slightly.
Up close, your initial impression is correct: he's not cute, but there's something. He's older than you, maybe/probably, thin as a rail, stringy and lean, face bony and long under a beetle-black brush of hair. His face reminds you inexplicably of something you saw one time in world history, something about the Mayans or the Aztecs, maybe, stone carvings of men with beaky noses and high cheekbones and narrow, slitted eyes, something fierce and proud about them, something exotic and alien.
You should get in, you venture.
A slight smile flickers on his face. Maybe. Later.
Nothing about him reminds you of Sam, but something does, some indefinable something.
Evan, you venture.
He nods. Luis.
In the time you've been here, you haven't seen any kids. You live here?
Luis nods. One seventeen. This means little to you, but it must be an address.
Thirty-seven, you reply, like code. The Bergstroms.
Luis scrunches his brow, thinking. Paul and … Iris, right? Grand Rapids?
You nod, surprised. I'm just here for the summer.
Luis eases himself into the water, then, and turns slightly back to you. An invitation? Maybe. You slide yourself in and kick out. You circle each other in the sun-glinting water. Luis arcs his body back and you watch the etched musculature of his chest and belly, and the spray of dark curls under his arm as he disappears.
You lose sight of him as he circles around, then there is a sidling touch along your calf as he snakes past you, under the water, and surfaces again.
After supper, after you've changed, you remember that there's a guide to the park by the telephone. Inside, there's a map. You figure out where you are, then you figure out where he is, down in the far corner of the park, where the houses back up to a marshy kind of drainage ditch meandering through pine and palmetto.
Papa's in his chair, watching the news. Next to him, in her chair - a twin to his - Nana divides her attention between a book and the television.
You remember the pool; your calf tingles.
Mind if I go for a walk?
Nana looks up. Not at all.
You slip out the door into the cooling night. You take a moment to orient yourself, then turn right and start walking. Others are out with you, single and in pairs, walking dogs or not, and you nod politely to each of them.
You're not sure what you're doing, really, but are you doing anything? Just out for a walk, right? But what if he's there? What if he sees you?
You realize you want to be seen, and you walk on.
One seventeen is smaller than your grandparents' place, tucked back from the street, nearly at the edge of the pines, retreating into invisibility. Marti ez, it says on the mailbox, and you look stupidly on the ground for the missing n. You can see the flickering light inside from a television, can hear rapid-fire Spanish blasting from the speakers. An old Ford with peeling and scabrous paint is parked in the driveway, amid a constellation of oil stains. Next to it is a Honda of similar vintage, three differently colored body panels held together with patches of gray Bondo.
You look to your left and right; no one on the streets right now, so you can stand for a bit, feeling every bit like the voyeur that you are, hoping for a glimpse.
And then - nearer than you would have thought possible - you hear
You nearly cry out and laugh in your surprise and then you see it, the faintly glowing tip of a cigarette in the night. You can make out his silhouette against the darker silhouette of the trailer.
Just out for a walk? There is a certain amusement in his question, which you ignore, glad that he can't see the red flush of your embarrassment.
Yeah. You dissemble. Couldn't stay cooped up inside any more. Thought I would …
Yeah. Well, come on over. Sit by me.
You do, bending down to sit on the remains of a planting bed along the front side of the trailer, concrete block tumbled and cracked. Once you're settled in, Luis offers you a drag on the cigarette, which you decline. He shrugs and puts it back between his lips.
You scared the shit out of me.
I know. Sorry. You know he's not, but you don't mind.
You're keyed up; you remember him from the pool, his thin, blade-like body slicing through the water like a javelin. You remember the touch - had it been accident? - as he swam by you.
He finishes the cigarette, jettisons it into the sandy ruin of the front yard with a flick of his finger.
You thirsty? Want a drink?
You nod, then realize that he can't see you. Sure.
He unlimbers himself, stands up, goes inside, comes back out with two cans of something, hands you one. You take a deep draw from it; it's beer, ice cold and bitter, and you nearly hand it back to him. But you don't.
He sits back down next to you, nearer than before, and his thigh rests along your thigh and you think to move. But you don't.
So … stuck in the graveyard?
I - what?
He chuckles. That's what I call it. He waves his hand around, taking in most of the park. It's full of old people, mostly. Used to be that was all that was here, but then they started having more and more houses come up empty after their owners croaked and their kids didn't want the place, so they voted to open it up to more people. Like me.
Part of you bridles at his description of your grandparents; you do remember some kind of talk from last winter, when you all came down for Christmas; Papa had gone on and on about the park taking in younger people, about how wrong he thought it was.
I guess so. Stuck, I mean.
Why? What do you say? You choose the truth.
My parents might be splitting up. They're fighting really bad and they sent me down here.
Yeah. Not much else to say, so you don't.
My dad, you start, then you choke up; you take another sip of the beer to calm down. I think my dad slept with one of his students.
Yeah. Not much else to say, so you don't .
A silence settles between you, but it's not unpleasant. It reminds you of you and Sam. Insects and frogs work at the night.
It's not all that bad.
Parents splitting up.
Again, you bridle. How can he - and then you realize.
How old were you?
Younger than you, I guess. Ten, eleven. Same thing, I guess. Daddy got kinda confused on the whole monogamy thing, which was fine until Mama came up with a case of the crabs.
Something about this - maybe the beer - strikes you as funny and you snort out a laugh and part of your beer. You wipe it off your chin. Sorry.
Jesus, Evan. But he's smiling and you smile back. He reaches over and flicks a bit of the beer off the side of your mouth.
How old are you, anyway?
Sixteen, you answer. Seventeen in October.
I'm nineteen. You knew he was older, but this is almost-adult old.
There is, then, a torrent of Spanish from inside, not from the television. Luis turns his head and answers back, then turns back to you.
I have to go, I guess. He stands up, and so do you. You guzzle the rest of the beer and hand the can back to Luis with a quiet belch.
Thanks. For the beer. And for the - you shrug, and he gets it.
No problem. Guess we got at least one thing in common. He turns, then turns back. I work for the next few days, but I'm off Sunday, if you want to go swimming. Or something.
I'd like that. You smile. Or something.
You walk back to your grandparents place, maybe with a bit of a buzz going on, but you think you can mask it. They're still up; you feign fatigue and slink off to your bedroom. You undress and get under the always-musty coverlet.
In the darkness of your room, you dream of a dark-haired boy swimming under the gathered stars.
You don't work, you never have, none of your friends do, you're not expected to. You roam the University, the town, like a pack of not-quite-feral animals under the nominal control of your parents. You're special: you're the children of faculty.
You're impatient for Sunday to arrive; you cycle past one seventeen in the light of day. The place is, you think, less … manicured than your grandparents' obsessively tidy property. It's not unkempt, but relaxed, perhaps. But you're sometimes intimidated by Nana and Papa's place, with everything just so. Papa would never let oil stain the driveway that he has painted, would never let the landscaping go, would never let the scabby, gray-green-brown patches of mildew crawl up the walls of the trailer.
The Honda and the Ford are gone.
He must come home at some point, you think, but you stay away, for some unknown reason. You honor the agreement. You don't go over in the evening, when you think he must be home and sitting by himself on the crumbling wall, smoking, adding to the fan of spent cigarettes in the yard.
You wait. You are patient.
You accompany Nana and Papa on their errands. The grocery store is a vast palace of food arranged along aisles the length of runways, attended to by a bevy of pale, hopeless people in blue aprons. The runways are clotted by people like your grandparents, doddering along behind their carts, arguing incessantly over the relative merits of this brand of fiber cereal over that one, and all you want to do is run screaming around the store.
You go to the pool, but he's not there, only the group of men. You know them by name, at this point: Al and Steve and Bill and Cliff. They know your grandparents, as well, speak well of them. You dissemble - you're good at that - when they ask you why you're here for the summer, without your parents. You know that Nana would be mortified if you told them the real reason, but they're too polite to press you on it.
You look at more pictures of Jake and Sam and Dylan and Meg on your phone, spending the day at - of all places - Frankenmuth and its contrived and cloying quaintness, mingling with the tourists. You look at Sam. You think of Sam. But you also think of Luis.
You come into the trailer one evening to hear the tail end of a conversation between Nana and your mother. You can hear the scratchy static of your mother's voice on the line and it sounds a lot like she's crying, but Nana doesn't offer the phone to you; indeed, she moves into her bedroom with it and shuts the door when she sees you. When she's done, she offers no details of the conversation and you know the news must not be good.
So, Sunday's here and you decide to be good: you go with your grandparents to church. You don't hang back at the trailer, you don't indulge in temptations of the flesh … to wit: jerking off in front of the mirror, you dog.
Papa feigns a heart attack when you say you want to go with him and you smile, even as Nana swats him on the arm and hugs you. You haven't been church in, like, forever, because your parents don't go, look down upon religion as an exercise in absurdity. Mom has a whole litany of horror stories about growing up and being dragged to Mass and she wants to spare you all that.
You're in your Sunday best, which for you, here, is an ironed pair of khakis and a dark blue polo shirt over a pair of shoes that could stand a shine, but you look okay, Nana says. Good enough for this crowd, she says, and you smile.
You're in the back seat of the Buick watching the landscape slide by - expensive-looking subdivisions interspersed with orchards and open fields - as Nana's perfume perfumes the air. You have no idea about what's going to happen beyond a vague understanding gleaned from your mother's experience and various television shows. You'll have to play it by ear. You doubt that you'll be forced into the confessional, but it might prove an interesting exercise for both you and the priest.
The church is a longish, barn-shaped building of mottled beige stucco over concrete block and the parking lot is already packed. Most of the eastern half of the continental United States is represented by the license plates evident on the cars here; seasonal transplants like your grandparents.
The priest is surprisingly young, if a bit stout, and very Irish with his red hair and freckles and blue eyes and button nose; he's earnest and attentive and only slightly irritating as he notices you and chats you up as you try to slip by him. Nana's nice enough about it but her tone lets the man know that he's prying where he's not welcome and you have to go find a seat, anyway.
Papa and Nana keep to themselves as you settle in; you look around at the crowd, who are mirror images of your grandparents, but then you notice someone with glossy black hair and he turns and you realize that it's Luis. Next to him is a woman in her forties, maybe. He whispers into her ear and then something in his peripheral vision - you? - causes him to turn and see you. You're caught.
His eyes go wide and then he smiles and shakes his head.
You manage to get through the thing without making too much a fool of yourself; it's all so foreign and strange and you wonder what your parents will think of it when they hear of it, for certainly Nana will make a point of letting your mother know when she calls again. The heavens don't open up and rain fire and brimstone down upon you because of the things you were occupying your mind with - centering mostly around Luis - throughout the service.
After, you end up near enough to Luis and his mother but you don't talk to each other lest your grandparents wonder why and how you know someone here, but Luis taps his watch and holds up three fingers and you understand, nodding your head.
Lunch is a cafeteria down along the busy road, stuffed with more of the post-church crowd and you shuffle along and drag various things onto your plate but you wonder if you'll be able to eat anything because you're too keyed up with the possibility of seeing Luis again, but you try your best and the food - for all that it looks like ancient artifacts arranged in a museum's display case - isn't all that bad.
After lunch is the drugstore and prescriptions being refilled, so many that you wonder what they're all for but you don't dare ask because then you'll be treated to a litany of your grandparents prodigious number of ailments and complaints. You sneaked a look one time in their medicine cabinet when they were out and it was staggering and more than a little frightening.
Back at the house, you change out of your clothes and into shorts and a t-shirt and hang out in a room they call the lanai, lined with windows that can be opened up but never are; indeed, you seem to be the only one who ever comes out here, and it smells like plastic anyway from the unopened windows.
You play with your phone, scrolling through the posts, and you notice pictures on Sam's profile of him and Jake and Dylan and Meg and this time they're up at Mackinac, the span of the bridge visible in the distance arcing over into the UP, and as you scroll you begin to notice something. Someone. Him. No tag to figure out who he is, but Jesus, fuck! he looks a lot like you as he stands there, next to Sam, smiling and happy, as is Sam. You scroll through and you see somebody named Amina - you know her slightly, her father works in the engineering department - say something about a Ryan, how hot he is. Even his name sounds like yours.
Your heart is hammering and your face is all hot and flushed, and then you're crying without really knowing why you're crying. How can you cry for something you're not even sure you had? But you were going to try, this summer, and you cry some more, silently, fat tears of self-pity coursing down your cheeks, burrowing into the corner of this unused room so that Nana and Papa can't see you. You curse your parents and especially your father - why couldn't he have just kept it in his pants, for fuck's sake? - for being the reason you're here and not there, standing beside Sam in Mackinac, smiling and happy, instead of motherfucking Ryan, whoever the fuck the fucker is. Fuck.
Your finger hovers over the keyboard as you debate messaging Sam - wtf, dude?, short and sweet - but even now you don't want to screw it up, hoping that there will be time when you get back to Ann Arbor for school to start, because surely you're not going to live here full time, are you?
You don't send the message.
You glance at the time on your phone. Two o'clock.
Your tears dry up and you sniff the snot back into your nose, swallow it. A car passes in the street in front of you; after it's gone, you realize that it was an old Taurus with peeling paint.
In the distance, you can hear lawn mowers humming and the buzzing rasp of a lawn edger as the landscaping crew attacks the zoysia and palmetto and bougainvillea. A faint rumble of sound to your left makes you look up, into a building bank of gray-white cloud to the west, coming across the gulf.
A few minutes later, you stand up and go inside; Nana and Papa are both asleep in their chairs, napping, and you tiptoe past them to your room to change into your swimsuit.
Before you leave, you write a quick note and put it where you hope they'll see it.
Gone to the pool. Be back for supper.
You're the only person there at the pool when you arrive. Not even Al and Steve and Bill and Cliff are there, baking in the afternoon sun, and you think that certainly Luis has not forgotten, since he was the one who told you when to arrive.
You slip in past the latched gate, entering the code into the keypad mounted on the wall next to it, and pick a spot in the shade to lay out your towel. You walk over to the edge of the pool and sit, slipping your legs into the cool wetness, trying to forget about Sam, about how easily you seem to have been replaced - insert generic young blond boy here - in the group. Maybe you're reading too much into it; you don't even know if Sam feels about you the way you feel about him, and maybe he has the same non-feelings for this Ryan as well.
But then there's the clank of the gate opening and closing and you look over and there is Luis, in a different swimsuit this time, brilliant white against the brownness of him, riding low on the studs of his hipbones and the waist you could encircle with your hands, he's so skinny. You notice a thin trail of wiry black hair springing from his navel and diving south under the waistband of the suit.
He's smiling as he walks over and puts his towel next to yours, along with a ditty bag tied shut with a drawstring and then comes to sit by you, his arm brushing against yours as he sits, his leg brushing against yours as he sits, and all thoughts of Sam and Ryan vanish.
Strange, seeing you in church today.
Do you always go?
He nods. I try to. Mama likes it when I do, and I really don't mind.
Wish I could have …
He nods again. Yeah, I know, but then you'd have to explain how we know each other.
Yeah. You swish your legs back and forth in the water, watch how it refracts light so that it looks like your legs are going off in some impossible angle from your knees. I thought I saw your car, earlier.
Oh. He thinks. Probably Mama, off to work.
What does she do?
Nursing. Down at the hospital in Bradenton.
You've seen it, some big hulk of a building hugging the edge of the estuary, at the foot of the causeway.
What do you do?
Cars. Body shop, up in St. Pete.
Good thing you didn't try to find him on your bike. You remember his parti-colored Honda. So does he.
As you can tell by my own car, I'm pretty good. But he's smiling, and you smile back.
He leans back, then, bracing his body with arms bent back behind him; he's so thin that his body pulls away from the waistband of the swimsuit and you can't help but hazard another glance at the thin trail of hair disappearing into the shadows there. Another grumble of thunder from the west threatens and you look up, into clouds that are suddenly nearer and grayer than just a few minutes earlier.
You think it'll rain?
Maybe, maybe not. It usually does, later. Plenty of time.
You're not so sure. Maybe we should …?
He smiles. Pussy. What's the worst that could happen?
You wonder what it would be like to be electrocuted; you don't really want to find out, but you trust him.
You both fall silent again. Neither of you seems too interested in the water, but that's okay. You like the feel of his thigh alongside yours. It's smooth, unlike yours, which has fine gold-blond hairs on it, as do your arms, although your chest and belly are still bare, and you really only have to shave every other day. Staring at the bunched muscles of his thigh stirs things up down there and you try to distract yourself.
Any more news about your parents?
Uh … not really. Nana talked to Mom a few days ago, but she wouldn't tell me what they said.
You shrug. Whatever happens, happens, I guess.
He gets up, goes over to his towel, rummages around in the ditty bag, comes up with a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.
Sitting back down next to you, he lights one up, doesn't offer one to you because he knows you don't smoke, although you're almost tempted. He's started a beard of sorts, you notice, which softens the contours of his strong, almost brutal face. There's a roughness about him that you respond to, a kind of maturity, even though he's not all that older than you. But he drives and works and smokes and drinks and there's something to that, even if he still lives with his mother.
What's Michigan like right now?
It's nice. It's not like … this. You mean the heat and the humidity. Michigan summers are flawless. Except now, when you see your best friend and the rest of them … and Ryan … doing things without you, not even missing you, as far as you can tell.
Shitty winters, though, right?
Yeah. You get used to it, I guess.
You say so. I'll take Florida. I've been in this pool in February. Bet you can't do that in Michigan.
You smile and shake your head. No.
He finishes his cigarette and grinds the butt out on the concrete, then flicks it expertly over the chain link fence. Then he levers himself into the water and kicks out into the center of the pool, turning around to face you, and you follow suit.
You come to rest facing him; he dips his head back, holding his nose, and his hair is a jet-black helmet plastered to his scalp. You do the same. You circle each other silently, staring at each other, and you realize that something is changing, that this is veering dangerously close to meaning business territory.
You got anybody? Back home? His voice is barely above a whisper; even so, you're glad that Al and Steve and Bill and Cliff aren't here, watching you, wondering what you're up to.
You swallow, suddenly nervous. No … not really. I mean … You flush, embarrassed. You?
No. It's hard, with … well … He shrugs.
Yeah. You understand him, understand that he means his mother, of course, and maybe where he works and who he works with.
He kicks off the bottom of the pool and he's that much closer to you, so close that you can smell a bit of his smoky breath. His eyes are as brown as the rest of him; his nostrils expand and contract with his breathing. You can see, at the base of his throat, the beating of a blood vessel. His head tilts as he studies you.
He moves in, to -
Out of the corner of your eye, you see it, you both do, a long white streak of something splitting the air, and barely a heartbeat later, the thunder blasts across the park like the hand of God and you pull back from him, and he from you, and you both make towards the edge of the pool in a panic, hauling yourself out almost by levitation.
Right behind the thunder you can see it, a gray wall moving towards you, inexorable and unavoidable and then it is here, a rain so intense that it looks and feels like knitting needles falling from the skies, some kind of otherworldly plague.
You move underneath the meager protection of the building's eaves, thinking to wait it out, but Luis is grinning like a madman, gathering his stuff and moving to the gate.
What? No! You shake your head.
Evan! Come on!
Fuck, you mutter, but you do, you go.
He's running, now, down the street, and you follow. It's a straight shot back to his place, but it's still raining the apocalyptic rain of needles and they bore into you so hard you think you will bruise.
Luis is fast, but so are you, goaded on by the weather. Another flash rends the air and more applause from God threatens to level the madly-gesticulating palms and palmettos rearing up behind the trailers you run past. You watch Luis' narrow, muscular back and arms and legs working as he runs down the street, which is so full of water now, overwhelming the drains, that it looks like he's walking on water, Jesus in board shorts.
He deflects into a driveway and you realize that you're here, at his place. Ma ti ez beckons from the mailbox and you realize that another letter has peeled off. You fetch up in the carport, next to him and you watch the rain as you double over, hands braced on kneecaps, sobbing down breath.
Fuck, Luis! You gasp out the epithet, heart pounding in your chest as much from fear as from exhaustion.
He laughs, teeth white in his wide and grinning mouth. He jerks his head to the door of the trailer, an invitation.
Inside, it's quiet and cool and dry. You stand, dripping, on the square of vinyl flooring by the front door, hugging yourself against the cold, feeling your nipples crinkle in the chill, while Luis pads across the floor - leaving wet footprints on the rug - to the linen closet to get some towels. You look around you while you wait; the place is spartan and clean, with a few pieces of furniture here and there, all of it old but in good shape. Brightly colored artwork hangs here and there in the space; you look at the one nearest you and you can see LM scrawled in the bottom right corner. The artwork is surprisingly good and you think to compliment Luis when he returns.
And here he is, handing you a towel. You blot your hair, dab at your underarms and the rest of you, attempt to mop the worst of the water out of your soaked suit. Luis does the same. You don't know what you're going to do with your wet bathing suit; Luis, of course, has clothing to change into. You don't.
Luis takes the towel from you and pads back down the hall to the bathroom, leaving you shivering - hands stuck up under your armpits, flesh goosepimpling, nipples achingly hard now - in the doorway. You hear a weird, wet-sucking rustle, and just when you figure out what it is, you hear his voice.
Why don't you come hang your suit up?
Innocent enough, right? Eight simple words. But you know, you just know what you're going to see when you walk into the bathroom. You think to run, back out the door, down the driveway thanks Luis, but no thanks, bye back to your safe room with Nana and Papa and the droning television and the grocery drugstore church and wait out the remaining hours and days until one or the other thing happens: you have to start school as the child of a newly-single parent or the both of them manage to yank the tit of their marriage out of the wringer of divorce and stay together.
You go towards the sound of Luis' voice.
And, of course, there he is, and he's naked, and he's beautiful and you wish Sam and Ryan the very best in Traverse City or Pictured Rocks or Sleeping Bear Dunes or wherever else they end up this summer. You nearly swoon at the sight of this thin brown reed of a man and the prodigious, coyly coiled treasures there between the corded muscles of his thighs. Shaking hands find the waistband of your clammy swimsuit and you yank it down past your thighs knees calves ankles and off and over the shower curtain rod even as Luis' hands find you and pull you towards him. Lips find lips and fingertips dance and twist across the topographies of bone and muscle, slip into dark and even darker recesses, probing and testing and Luis withdraws a hand from high up in the shadowy wilderness between your legs and runs it under his nose, drinking in your musk.
He is a hard hot ridge wedged against your hip and you … well, you rise to the occasion and he leans back and takes both of you in his hand, locking you together for this your first time and it's enough as you slump back against the edge of the vanity, watching that part of you twinned with that part of him and you feel something in you rising and rising, something you've felt before, on your own, but not like this and, yes, it's different somehow.
He watches you as he works both of you, a half-smile on his bearded warrior's face and you watch him in turn, see his passion flicker in his hooded eyes, in his curled mouth, in the flare of his nostrils, in the rough rasp of his breath. He thinks he's in charge with this but he's not, as much a slave to his passion as you are, as anyone is.
You're there, first - knees and legs shaking - as you knew you would be, but he's not far behind you and the thick odor of your commingled seed drifts up into your nostrils even as you spasm into his fist, grunting as he does, and you don't know where this will go from here but you don't want it to end.
Back at the trailer and they're up from their nap and cooking supper, spaghetti boiling in a pot, sauce bubbling, ground beef sizzling in a pan. They smile as you enter can they see it can they see it on your face?but of course they can't and you smile as you slip down the hall to change out of your suit.
Naked, you look down at yourself again and the memory is there, chaotic fragments of it, slipping away even as you try to wrest them to the surface. The sight and smell and touch of him as he draws you into this world that you knew you were a part of but could only watch from outside through the darkened glass.
You want nothing more than to swoon, naked, upon the bed and think about this, but you can't, you know that Nana would pop her head in and see you there, so you dress and go back and help set the table while Nana drains the spaghetti, sending a cloud of steam roiling about the kitchen.
You eat in silence punctuated by desultory conversation, paying little heed to it until one thing.
Shame about Cliff Parsons, Papa murmurs.
I know, Nana answers. Wonder what Louise will do now.
And you realize that Cliff Parsons is him, is your Cliff, of the quartet of joking, leather-skinned musketeers in their chaises and your voice is small as you ask.
Stroke, Papa answers, and you know now why you had the pool to yourself this afternoon, thinking it only your luck, not knowing that even as Luis held open the door to this new kingdom, Cliff was undergoing something unimaginable and horrifying.
After supper you think to retire to the lanai and see what the Sam and Ryan Show is up to, but both Nana and Papa ask you to join them in the living room and the television is silenced.
We've talked to your mother, Nana starts. She reaches out for your hand and you give it to her.
Your heart starts pounding. Yes?
She sighs. It's … well, they're trying. They're seeing … somebody.
You intuit a counselor of sorts. Yes?
I don't know, she goes on. They're trying, is all I can say. They're hopeful. She squeezes your hand and looks at you expectantly and you know you're supposed to say something like I want to go home as soon as I can without, of course, sounding like you want to escape the custody of your grandparents but all you can do - thinking of Luis' body, thinking how does everything fit in a body like that? - is to say good.
Afterwards, after Luis cleaned both of you up and you lay with him in his room, talking, you'd exchanged phone numbers and as you sit out in the lanai, your phone buzzes and its him.
Mama's working a night shift tomorrow. A somewhat louche emoticon - eyes replaced by twinned pink-red hearts, tongue lolling - accompanies this.
You smile. That's nice, you respond. Good for her. [smiley]
Jerk, you get back, and you smile. Come over?
Whatever would we do? Clever you.
It's different, this time; you remember more, and if the bloom is off the rose then the rose is showier, perhaps, revealing more and more of its gaudy and beautiful self. You're less afraid, perhaps, but the danger is still there; there are things yet untested even as you edge the boundary further away. Fingers are less afraid than they were when last you met; tongues and mouths demand their own part in all of this and it becomes surprisingly obvious to you how much a part taste and smell play a part in what you're doing.
You look down at yourself between outthrust legs at one point to see him there, to see the top of his head and the glossy cap of hair as he moves down there and, dear God, the feeling of that, as of birds darting and feathering as his tongue moves across you and into you, doing something you never, ever imagined possible but which, now, makes perfect sense.
He surfaces, smiling, and beaches himself upon you and as he kisses you you can taste yourself in him.
He murmurs in your ear, asking of you to do that which you knew he would, eventually, want you to do, and this is it, the it, the be-all and end-all of who you are becoming. He tells you it's easier if you're on top, you'd be in control of the whole process (ha! no one can control this! the joke's on him!) so you twist and slide past each other until you are poised above him.
Insert Tab A into Slot B, he jokes, and you laugh, and that helps, because your heart is a percussion solo in your chest as you, more slowly than continents sliding past each other, allow him into you. You watch him watching you, his eyes wide, understanding this gift of yourself, what it means to you to join yourself to him, that this - he - is the first time you've ever done this.
He surprises you, then, by flipping you onto your back and beneath him, with him still inside you, and you realize that it's now his turn to give himself to you as his body flexes once and once again and then again until you are lost.
This is different, now. You are different. In the span of a few weeks you have gone from abstraction to reality, from theory to practice, from subjunctive to indicative. This is what you do, not what you could do. This is what you are, not what you could be. You have crossed some kind of threshold; a wanton and phantasmic concupiscence has yielded to a studied exploration of this new world.
At night, with Nana and Papa, you watch them when they're not watching you. They have no clue, you realize; they have no idea what you're thinking, what you're up to, what you and Luis do to each other in his room. There is a delight to be had in this secrecy, but then you think back to how thrilled Nana and Papa were to have you go to church with them, and you know they'll never understand this. You know, too, that one day they will know, will have to know, and you know they'll be disappointed.
You know, deep down, that it's not going to last; you know that Luis knows that, too. You know that - one way or the other - you will go back to Michigan soon.
Some nights bring tearful, tear-filled conversations between Nana and your mother. One night you talk to her and she puts a brave face on but you can hear the sadness tiptoeing just underneath the too-bright words.
Who would you stay with, if it came to that? You don't know. You love both of your parents; you want to understand your father's betrayal, what he did, why he did it. What part of your mother did he not want? What did the nameless, faceless girl/woman want? What did she have to offer, besides a certain dangerous novelty?
Are you going to have to meet her?
As July slips into August, your trysts with Luis achieve a new level of … well, not desperation; you both understand that this thing between you is bounded and will end. Poignancy, perhaps, if you understand what that word even means. You understand that you can begin to count these meetings on the fingers of both hands.
By now, there is nothing that you haven't done together except for those things that you've only heard about, as has he, things that you don't think you'll ever convince yourself to attempt, things that seem only painful or disgusting. But it's okay, what you have with Luis is good, better than you ever thought possible, something you thought you would achieve only many years hence.
You work around an obstacle course of obstacles: his schedule, his mother's schedule, your grandparents' ever-vigilant presence.
You hardly ever think of Sam and Ryan any more.
You come home, one night, in the pretense of your wet bathing suit (wearing it as you clean up), the memory of Luis still there, the memory of Luis inside you still there as you'd straddled him and felt him slide up into you and how amazing that still feels, to have another man inside you, to surround the most secret part of him with the most secret part of you.
Nana is Cheshire cat smug as the three of you perform the intricate tango of preparing supper, goulash this time, not all that different from spaghetti and you understand the limited repertoire of their cooking, but it tastes good.
Conversation is desultory and basic until you're almost done. Nana fixes Papa with a knowing look and he, too, smiles and nods his head.
Tell him, Papa says.
Big day tomorrow, Nana starts, and you put down your fork and stare at her.
They're going to be here.
They're is obvious. Here is obvious. That they're coming down together is, of course, hopeful and not quite as obvious; something must have happened, some barrier breached, some defense undone.
You swallow. You smile. You dissemble.
Good. That's good. And you are happy, or would be under any other circumstance, but there's this circumstance, as well and even though you knew it was circumscribed by events outside your control, you are still caught off-guard. When? you manage.
Oh, I don't know, Papa says. Mid-afternoon, maybe. They're in Atlanta right now.
One more day, you think. You force yourself to finish your meal, but it has gone to wet ashes in your mouth.
After supper you excuse yourself and go for a walk.
He's there, outside, smoking, when you show up. He smiles.
You smile, but then you don't smile, and he notices.
You sit beside him.
My parents, you start.
They're and that's all you can get out before you're crying, like a fool, like a baby. You knew this was coming, one way or another, but now that it's here, you're just like anybody else.
Luis holds you as you cry into his arm.
Tomorrow, you manage.
Shit, he breathes.
Shit, you repeat.
Well … he volunteers.
I know. You pull away, pull an arm across your eyes. Sorry, you sniffle.
He hugs you again, not caring who might see you. The smell of his cigarette drifts past your nostrils; you can hear the rapid-fire Spanish from inside as his mother, whom you've not met, whom you'll probably never meet, watches her shows.
He nuzzles your ear.
He pulls you up and you know you're not going back inside. He takes you out back, behind the trailer, where the patchy grass and sand disappear into the hulking blackness of the pines and the sounds of the night. You don't know what to expect.
He pins you against the wall of the trailer, still warm from the sun's long afternoon blast. He kisses you; you taste the familiar musk of his cigarettes on his breath, something you find exciting and repulsive at the same time. His tongue breaches the gate of your mouth and slips inside. You embrace; you discover that he, like you, is shaking.
You, he starts.
You, you respond.
He makes a helpless gesture; you want - and he wants - to take you inside, to take you one last time, and you want that, too, but it's not going to happen. He pulls away, slumps against the trailer, and you stand side by side, silent, for many long minutes.
You, he starts.
You, you respond.
The next day, waiting, with Nana and Papa, everyone on edge but not willing to show it. Where are they now? you think. With every car that passes your heart starts pounding.
Nana and Papa trade Significant Looks, ones you've come to realize mean that they're trying to tell each other something without actually speaking. Your parents are good at that, too.
You watch something mindless on the television; Jimmy Kimmel, maybe; they like him. Maybe it's Jimmy Fallon. You take out your phone, which you've not looked at in a while; you see that you have several messages, from Sam. You flick through them; they're all variations on where are you, Evan? What are you doing, Evan?
Sam's page now is him, alone, mostly, Ryan absent, even Jake and Dylan and Meg are gone, everyone scattering as summer limps to another close. In a month, the trees will already start turning and there'll be a hint of crisp coolness in the air.
You look at Sam's beautiful face on your phone and of course you think of Luis and his own special beauty. You think of his body and of your own, entwined on his bed, locked together in the monastic simplicity of his room. Did Sam experience this this summer, with Ryan? Do you want to know? Does it matter?
Your fingers hover over the phone's keyboard; a thousand thousand things flicker through your mind, but you pull back. It's not yet time.
Then, the caustic flare of sunlight reflecting off glass as a noise from the outside intrudes - the sound of a car pulling into the driveway.
Ah, your Papa says. They're here. Another Significant Look passes between him and Nana as they both rise, as you rise, to greet whatever version of your parents will walk through the door.
Awkward silences and laughter as you greet them, your parents preternaturally close to each other, almost twinned, so close do they stand to each other. Perhaps your mother is afraid of letting your father out of sight, even here.
Bright, meaningless conversation bounces back and forth, meant to erase the past even as it drags you back into it. Endless details about the drive down, as if it were a thing they'd only just experienced, as if it were Marco Polo wandering for the first time into the mysterious vastnesses of the East.
You try to keep up, try to be bright and meaningless in your own right, even though the most amazing and meaningful thing ever to happen to you has happened to you. Can they see it? Why would they?
The television mutters to itself in the background, helpful filler when conversation lags, when you all run out of things to say, although the most important thing to be said will never be said, will always hang between you like some dark and ill-worked effigy of betrayal.
Finally, Papa looks at his watch. Well, we should, he starts, and you all rise, and although it is only 5:15 in the afternoon, you all file out of the house and go to dinner.
You are relegated to the couch tonight, your parents sharing the bedroom you just vacated. Nana offers to fold the bed out, but you don't care, you're happy just to wedge yourself on the couch's narrow confines, with only a blanket to cover yourself. You can hear your father snoring.
How long will your parents stay here? A day? Two? Far too few, anyway; August is slipping away from you. Will there be any chance to steal one last hour before you go?
It hurts, this thing, this longing, this wanting, this needing. Does Luis feel it, too? You cannot imagine that you are his first, as he is for you, but you know that you meant something to him; that frustrated, smoky kiss behind the trailer told you more than anything else you've done this summer.
You want to sleep; you can't. Arms crossed behind your head, you stare up into the ceiling and the mottled light from the streetlamps outside gilding its surface. A car passes in the street.
This needing writes itself onto your body, there. You grasp yourself underneath the thin cloth of your shorts. Poor substitute, but you ease the blanket down and think to take care of yourself, there, but then you look out to the darkened lanai.
You swing your legs out of bed and the rest of you follows. Tiptoeing on the beige carpet, you snick! open the door and slide it away, then step out onto the porch. A vestige of the day's heat is still here; you look out the windows to a sleeping neighborhood.
Before you think how dangerous this could be - what if your mother has to use the bathroom right about now? - you ruck your t-shirt over your head and toss it on one of the wicker chairs. You hook your thumbs in the waistband of your shorts and pull them off. You stand, naked, in the space; bars of lamplight piano-key across your body. You look down at yourself pointing up at you, moving in rhythm with your heartbeat. You trail a hand down your chest and belly and into the nest of dirty-blond hair; touching yourself is not him touching you, but it will have to do.
The next day, your parents all-too-casually announce to Nana and Papa that just the three of you are going to go for lunch, and your Nana all-too-casually smiles and nods her head, and you know what's coming.
It does. Calmly - so calmly it drives you crazy - your parents explain to you what has happened and what will happen when you get back home. Living together under the same roof, so there's no red-faced explanation to Jake and Sam and Dylan and Meg about the whole shitstorm. Perhaps not so far as staying in the same bedroom with each other, but they only glance along the side of that half of the equation, spare you having to walk your mind down that particularly derelict and overgrown path.
What do they expect of you? Neither one is too clear on that; perhaps you're not really expected to do anything at all except dance along with them as they navigate the rocky shores, hoping that they don't drop you in the process.
They apologize for abandoning you here for the summer; they know you'd had big plans with your friends. You smile and say nothing, thinking of Sam, thinking of Luis. You are gracious as you say that you enjoyed spending the summer with Nana and Papa, and this makes them happy, especially your mother, and you smile past the subterfuge coursing just under your skin.
Would you mind if I took a walk?, you say, when you get back to the trailer. I need to clear my head.
No, not at all, and you're off.
Another palisade of gray-white cloud is banking up in the west, heading towards you; you've learned that this is a commonplace occurrence here, so common that you can almost set your clock by it. You think of that day, when you'd dashed back to Luis' place in the needle-sharp rain, Luis walking on the water, you trailing behind him, disciple to his rough beauty and its promises.
But he's gone, of course, when you idle past his place; both cars are gone.
You walk up to the door, put your ear to it, hear nothing. No excited Spanish from the television, no conversation.
You touch the metal surface of the door, cool and distant in the shadowed carport.
You cry. You cry, you cry, you cry, you cry, you cry. So predictable, like a stupid schoolgirl with her first unrequited crush. You thought yourself better than this, but you're just like everyone else. You finger the tears out of your eyes, wipe your nose with the back of your hand.
There's a noise at the curb and you turn to see the mailman in his little Jeep with its steering wheel on the wrong side, slipping a small handful of mail into the mailbox, and as he closes it, another piece of Ma ti ez flutters leaf-like to the ground. He sees you; you stare at each other for a long moment, a suspicious frown beetling his eyebrows.
You okay, son?
Yes, you manage, and he ambles off. When he's gone, you bend over, pick up the errant letter, slip it into your pocket. Some decision flashes through your lizard brain at this point and you act without thinking, pluck all the letters off the mailbox, put them into your pocket, so you will remember this.
Not much to do now, so you leave, going the other way so you don't have to have him staring at your back, wondering what you were doing.
Back at the trailer, the door to the utility shed is open and you can see your mother's figure in there. She's doing laundry - your laundry, the pile of clothes you've left moldering in the corner - and you know that this is it, you're leaving.
Might as well have clean clothes when you get back, she smiles. Then she takes in your congested, reddened eyes and her face falls as she pulls you towards her and into her tight embrace.
Oh, baby, she whispers, mistaking the source of your tears. It'll be alright. Don't worry.
But it won't.
You're up and in the driveway, the car idling at the curb, even before the sun itself is up; only the merest hint of not-black is scratched above the ragged silhouette of scrub pine in the east.
The five of you look awkwardly at each other.
Sure you don't want to stay for breakfast? Nana.
No, Mom. We'd like to … well, we just want to get back.
Nana hugs herself, nodding. I understand.
No one is crying, not really, but everyone looks like they're about to, even you, as you hug your grandparents tight and even tighter.
Don't be a stranger, sweetie, Nana whispers.
I won't, you promise. You think, for some reason, of Cliff, and you send a silent wish into the still-cool air, hoping that he finds himself soon, that Louise gets her husband back, as much of him as nature and an implacable God will permit.
Your parents are already in the car; your father powers the window down.
Come on, son. We need to get on the road.
You turn away and open the door. A sound behind you resolves itself into the stuttering, still-cold engine of a Honda, its windows still covered in morning condensation, but the driver's window is down and you can see him at the wheel. He stops at the intersection, longer than he needs to, and you can see the reflection of his face in the driver's side mirror as he looks back at you.
Come on, Evan. Get in the car.
His arm is stretched along the sill of the opened window and as you watch, his left hand raises up slightly, even as he eases the car around the corner and away.
Evan! You get in the car.
Your grandparents are standing side by side in the driveway and they wave and you wave as you pull away from the curb.
On the road, you fetch up behind the Honda and you smile. Luis is going about ten miles an hour as your father, muttering, brings the car back down and you're going so slow you could probably walk faster than this.
You can see Luis' face in the mirror, still, as he stares; can he see you?
Your father thinks to pass him, but an oncoming car disabuses him of that notion and you crawl along to the intersection, an impromptu parade of two.
Luis turns his indicator on to go left, waits for a truck to pass. And waits.
Go, idiot! your father hisses. Your mother squeezes his forearm to calm him down.
Luis turns, finally, moving slowly off into the distance even as you go straight, towards the interstate.
Asshole, your father mutters, as you speed off into the brightening new day.
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