"Good morning James you sleep ok?"
"That was the best sleep I've had in some time.
"How bout you."
"So what are we going to do today?" James asked but never looked up He was busy cooking some bacon that he had found The warm smell penetrated the cool morning air, and reminded me of home, on a Saturday morning. I thought about his question what could we do today.
"I don't care, you want to go swimming?" I said , thinking it would be good to get out after yesterdays rain.
"Sure, where are we going?"
"Out where my uncle lives there's a lake."
"Sounds good to me, I'm about ready to start cooking the eggs, how do you like yours Shawn?"
Scrambled" I went back to the bathroom and brushed my teeth, started putting on my swimsuit and shirt. Didn't think I was gone too long, but then I heard him.
I came out of the bedroom walked across the living room into the kitchen. There were two plates of eggs, bacon, and toast with orange juice and water to drink. I was amazed he could do all this so fast. So I sat down at the counter, and he sat on the kitchen side of the bar and acted like he was at home. I wanted him to feel like it was home, hoping it would, it was what he needed most.
"This is really good James, I think I'll make you head chef"
"Got to earn my keep somehow"
"You keep cooking like this and I'll have to pay you." He just smiled at me and kept eating.
We finished breakfast and got ready to go. We took top down and then the doors off the jeep. We took the back roads around to where the lake was. The air was still cool from the previous days rain and proved to be invigorating while we drove along the country roads. We slowed down to a crawl, turning down a small woods road, a road I knew well. As I drove my jeep along the path James kept looking about at the forest.
"This is beautiful here. You say all this belongs to your uncle?"
"He owns all of this. Shelly and I use to come out here a lot. Sometimes we would ride our bikes; sometimes she could get her mom's car. We use to come out here and kiss, then we would, you know fool around and stuff." He just smiled at me, he knew that Shelly and I came out here to make love, or at least that's what everyone thought. Anyone would come to that conclusion, and in a way I wanted to, but I held back. It needed to be discussed first, and I never had the courage to bring it up. I somehow did not feel the need to go all the way, and was in fact ignorant of the exact mechanics of it all. I had the basic idea, but would have stumbled around trying. I felt in time, sure it would happen, but I just wasn't ready yet. Sure there were voices inside me saying do it, but there were other voices of respect for her, and my own insecurity. I knew other boys were doing it, but I lacked any confidence to make it happen. There was always the question of love. I thought that I loved her but I wasn't sure if I knew what love was all about. How would I know when I saw it, if I had never felt it before?
"It sure is a nice place, lots of big trees, looks like there are a few paths out here to," he said pulling his arm inside the door as we lightly brushed by a tree limb.
"Shelly and I have been on everyone of them I think."
"I bet she's real pretty."
"Shelly's a knock out, you ought to see her"
"You know the more I think about it I think I do remember seeing you with some girl, she had brown hair, kind of dark brown, she was a tad shorter than most of the girls, but she made up for that in other areas. Yeah I do remember her she was a fox"
I smiled at him. I was proud to be Shelly's boyfriend, even if what we did behind closed doors wasn't what everyone else thought. James turned to his right to look out the door, "Is that the lake?"
We drove right up to it and parked. The dam stretched out to the steep slopes to the far side of the lake. The dam itself was wide enough to drive a truck on to it, but we never did. The side of the lake nearest us was long, starting with some rock fire pits near the dam followed by a sand beach area that continued way up and just past the dock. Near the dock was a group of tress that offered a shady haven away from the hot summer sun. There was a small portion of sand beyond the dock but then the remainder was all woods. On the other side of the lake, the shoreline rose up out of the water and continued its steep ascent up to a ridge.
"This is a really cool place," James said. How long is it?"
"'Bout a mile I guess. How bout grabbing those paddles there in the back seat, I'll get the cooler. We can set everything up down there under those trees and then walk around to the dam." James barely said a word I think he was soaking it all in. We walked across the dam and part way up the other side. The ridge offered a sort of bird's eye view of the lake. I stopped for a moment on the trail as James caught up with me. As he approached he slowed but never took his eyes off the water. He was behind me and slightly to one side. Because of the steep slope he was taller than me now and placed one hand on top of my shoulder. He was reaching out to me and I wasn't sure why. We both stood there not saying a word, just staring at the water. It was a deep blue color motionless and calm. The sun reflected off the smooth surface while the trees at the far end cast dark shadows making it look mysteriously hidden. We stood idle caught up in a trance, overcome with the serenity of the lake. I felt peace within, felt it penetrate my being, thought James felt it too until I felt his grip tighten up on my shoulder. I turned my head around to see his face distorted on the brink of tears. I didn't know what to say, what could I have said. I turned around completely, facing him, I placed my arms around his waist and because of the slope, my head rested up against his chest. I felt him rest his chin on top of my head and put his arms around my shoulders. My ear was against his chest and I could feel short quick breaths, irregular and abrupt. Inside was a pain that I hoped he could let go of. Set it free I said to my self, hoping that somehow he could hear my unspoken words, hoping that peace would return to him. I was holding him, running my hands up and down his back and in time his breathing became more normal. I could hear his heart beating, slow, rhythmic and strong. There was a real living person inside, someone that had dreams like I did. He had a heart and soul with feelings that could be hurt. It was if, for the first time in my life that I became aware of another persons feelings, could feel his pain as if it were my own. My whole life I had seen others pain but at that moment, I felt it. If there were any words to say, I would have said them. If there was something I could have done for him I would have done it. For now all I could do was to hold him.
I could feel just how different his shape was from Shelly's. From a thin waist, his body widened up near his shoulders and there were muscles that ran up and down on either side of his spine and the ones under his shoulder blade. The muscles were pronounced and rigid. He was a boy not anything like the soft body of a girl. I had never held a boy like that before but he needed me, needed someone to comfort him. It felt good to be helping, to rescue a boy away from the clutches of his cruel reality. My arms reached up along his back and I could feel his lungs expand as he breathed, feel his spirit within. We stayed like that, holding each other, strange to be holding a boy, but I ignored those thoughts, thinking more of how I might help him. With my head turned sidewise, my ear against his chest, and I could see the lake at the upper end; the water was starting to ripple. I knew what would happen next, I had seen it a hundred times. Funny how you could see the wind in the water, and then in a few moments, you could feel it on your face.
"James can you see the ripples in the lake at the upper end?" I felt his head lift up and look. "I see the ripples way at the other end but it's like glass down here." I was visualizing what James was looking at, almost like I was using his eyes.
"Just wait for a minute and you'll feel the wind." I felt him rest his chin on top of my head again. Soon the wind kicked up, I could see the trees near us and leaves all moving in a twirling like motion. I could feel the wind at my face blowing right at us. Then it stopped. Not as still as before but just a gentle breeze. He let go and gave me a weak smile and a thank you, but without speaking a word. I knew a place just ahead on the path, took his hand for just a second, gave a gentle squeeze and let go as I turned and made my way down the path. As I was walking, leading the way, I thought about what I had just done, how I wanted him to follow me and reached for his hand like a lover, like he was my girlfriend only he wasn't. It felt awkward but then not really. It felt natural at the time and even now I didn't feel all that out of place. I guess had it been any other place or another time yes my action would have been viewed as inappropriate, but here, today, with him it was okay. We made our way down the path winding around the ridge, then it turned left, uphill and away from the water. The path briefly ducked into a thicket and a clump of trees, then a familiar hard right as we emerged into an opening with a large rock from which the entire lake could be viewed. We walked across the rock and sat at its edge feet dangling down arms back propping us up, gazing out over the water. I watched him as he looked out to the water his blond hair blowing up in the wind revealing the darker brown hair underneath. He had removed his shirt and I could see the dark tanned back and shoulders. I could see the strong muscles that I was running my hands along just a minute ago. I tried to look past that, tried to look into his soul, hoping to see more. If only I knew what he was thinking if I could read his mind, then maybe I would know what to do. I was helpless to do anything more. Maybe if fate had placed us together long ago then we would be like old friends. I would speak to him only like old friends do. I would have known what to say, would have seen this coming could have been there for him at the onset. All I could do is watch him as I imagined the sun blazing down on us, its golden rays seeking out the problems of the boy who sat beside me and the wind, whisping those problems away. It seemed like minutes, but was I certain nearly an hour had passed.
He turned to me, his eyes strong and kind, his voice came to me carried on the wind. "Sorry about all of this."
"I understand or at least I think I do," I said, watching his expression.
"I don't know what came over me, that I fell apart like that."
"Don't know myself. You okay now?"
"Ready to head back then." He gave me a nod, and gently closed his eyes for a second, as I watched him move in the wind.
Slowly we made our way back, along the slope with James in the lead this time. His spirit brightened, I got him to turn around to look at me and he just smiled. Even his pace picked up, almost as if to skip along. When we reached the dam he stopped and said "race ya to the beach"
He took off his shoes; this was going to be a race to the water. I followed suit, scrambling to take off my shoes, and then my shirt but he took of first and had a lead on me. He was really fast and I had to work hard to catch up to him. The dam was very long and that gave me some time to catch up. I passed him, rounded the corner and down the sandy beach area almost to the dock where I turned into the water. I tried running on top of the water, trying not to let my foot sink below the surface. As each foot hit the water, there for only a second I felt as though I could run on top of the surface, but each footstep sank lower and lower, as the water got deeper. I was slowing down because of it and James was gaining on me. I could hear the splash of water as he got closer. I tried to move faster but the water was slowing me down even more. The splashes of water behind me got louder, the cool wetness of those splashes striking my back. I could hear his breathing, thought I heard him laugh as he caught me, leaping onto my back grabbing both arms. He then reached around my chest and upper arms pinning my arms to my side. I struggled to separate myself from him, but couldn't move my arms, he had a lock on them I couldn't break. Try as I might I could not move, he was just too strong. I felt like a young puppy in the clutches of a new owner, squirming, wrestling to break free. I stopped, stood still, hoping that he would let go, but that didn't work either. Then I submerged my self under water, which forced James under as well. He let go and I was free. Out of breath we walked back to the shore to get our cooler and paddles and loaded them unto the square floating dock. At the end of the stationary dock was freedom from the land, a place for us to let go. Often we would unlatch it from the stationary dock and drift out to the middle of the lake. There we could sun ourselves or dive off into the lake. After the ropes were undone James gave a push off and we started drifting. With paddles in hand we went out to the middle of the lake. We laid out for a while followed by diving and swimming. James was a good swimmer, and enjoyed the water as much as I did. He got back up on the dock, lay down and closed his eyes. He looked so peaceful lying there, as he drifted off to sleep. I lay there for a little while then started diving off the dock, enjoying the cool water. I did this for about an hour, all the while trying to be careful not to wake him. He finally awoke and said he was hungry. We ate our sandwiches that I had packed in the cooler and then we both lay down to enjoy the sun.
I guess I dozed off for a while, looked up and saw we had started drifting back from where we started. I realized I must have slept for sometime because we were just fifty feet from the stationary dock. James rose up his head as well.
"You look red to me." He said looking at my back.
"I left the sunscreen at home, stupid me."
"Too late for that anyway, you need to get out of the sun," he said while grabbing a paddle.
"I don't want to ruin your day here at the lake."
"I've had a great time here Shawn, won't be ruining a thing." We padded the short distance back, packed up our stuff and started for home. The ride home was quiet. I hoped coming here today gave him some time to reflect and to heal. I liked James and when he was in a good mood, he was fun to be with. I really liked the lake but the sun had done me in and I was glad to be home. James got out but rather slowly. He was a million miles away, not even aware that I was staring at him. I got the paddles out to put them away in the garage. James was walking toward the steps at the back of the house, but at his pace it would have been next Tuesday before he made it inside. Then he turned around, and saw me go into the garage.
"I'm sorry Shawn, I should be helping you, guess I zoned out there."
"That's okay, I understand." Thought that I did anyway.
"It's nice to be with someone that cares, somebody who wants to put you back together."
"That would be me," I said looking straight at him. He looked at me briefly, but then continued, looking at the ground, just standing there. "You look tired," I said with concern.
"I think it was the sun, it seemed to zap my energy." He came back to the jeep and helped me take the stuff back inside. James went to take his shower while I put everything away. Then it was my turn to take a shower. The water hit me and stung, as it beat upon my back. I came out from my shower wearing my usual sleep shorts. They were a little like Gym shorts except real soft. Not the kind you would find someone wearing outside. These were different, softer, and very comfortable.
"What are you doing James?" He was in the kitchen looking around.
"Just looking for some hamburger buns, oh here they are."
"Aren't the hamburgers still frozen?"
"I got them out this morning and put them in the refrigerator."
"James you think of everything, don't you."
"Try to." He was getting out the flipper for the grill, a bunch of spices my mom had given to me but I never used them. I watched as he put some spices in a small cup. Little bit of this and that.
"Looks like I've got a lot to learn," I said as I got up to put on some music. It was still rather warm, so I wasn't wearing a shirt.
"Got some sun today," he said from the kitchen.
"Yeah, a little."
"That's more than a little. Come here and let me take a look at you." I walked into the kitchen where he was standing. He was looking at my face, then my shoulders.
"Not to bad, how does it feel."
"Stings a little."
"Turn around and let me see your back. Got anything we can put on your back."
"Didn't think I got burned that much." At least it didn't feel too bad except for the shower. I couldn't see my back, so I had to take James for his word. "Don't think I have anything for a burn." I tried to think of all the stuff my mom gave me when I moved in. Nothing came to mind, as I turned around facing him. James looked at me, then outside, then turned his head slightly down, looking at me again, his eyes scrunched up as he turned to a kitchen drawer and pulled out a knife.
"What are you going to do with that knife?"
"You'll see in a minute." He walked out the kitchen door, out to the deck. In a minute he was back with a piece of a plant from outside. "Know what this is?"
"Yeah, that's a piece of a plant that my mom gave me, your a plant killer is what you are."
"You're a silly boy, now come over here and lay on the couch and I'll show you." He squeezed some clear gel looking stuff from the chunk of plant he cut, and rubbed some on my back.
"That feels great, what is it."
"It's an aloe plant."
"That stuff really works." He continued to rub my back and then the backs of my legs. I didn't realize they were burned too until he put the aloe on them. The coolness gave me an indication of the sun I got. His hands flowed over my back, as the aloe soothed the skin.
"There that should do for now, we need to put some on before you go to bed."
"Thanks pal that feels better."
"Your welcome," he said. If it's okay with you I'm gona move the charcoal grill over to the shady side of the house. Neither one of us needs anymore sun today."
"Sure, fine with me. The charcoal and lighter fluid is in the garage. I'll be down in a minute. You want some water?"
"Yes please." I got us an insulated pitcher full of ice water. The air was still warm, and the burn on my back was making me feel even warmer. I joined James downstairs along the side of the house. He was just getting the charcoal in the grill.
"Bet you don't forget the sun screen next time we go to the lake," he said while putting the charcoal in the grill.
"Think I'll just leave some in my Jeep, that way I'll always have it. What about you didn't you get burned?"
"Don't think so, I only got a sunburn once before."
"Lucky you." He did have about the best tan I'd seen in a while. I watched him as he built up a small mound of charcoal. Rather than just dumping a bunch in he actually built it up, stacking the charcoal up rather than out. He put just a little fluid on and took a match to it.
"I always use a lot of charcoal and tons of lighter fluid. I see you have a different way. Does it work?"
"Just about every time. I want to check out that old car your uncle keeps here."
"It's an old Chevy something or another, can't remember the year." My uncle had so many cars, and I was just starting to learn about them. We took the car cover off the front and pulled it part way off to about midway. I thought James was going to have a heart attack.
"I don't believe it."
"Don't believe what?" I said.
"You said it was an old Chevy, son this isn't just any old Chevy, this is a '64 impala, convertible."
"I knew that," I said. He looked at me puzzled. I actually did not know, but I kept a straight face for all of two seconds then burst out laughing.
"You're silly boy," he said as he hit my chest with the back of his hand.
I knew my Uncle had a lot of nice things and that this old car was one of them. I could see that James and my uncle would get along just fine. It was a great looking car, one of the first ones he restored. James got inside looked around, sat behind the wheel, looking like a little kid at the carnival. I thought he would never get out of it; he just kept looking at everything inside, inspecting every nook and cranny.
"So how many other cars like this does your uncle have?"
"Don't know. We should go by and see him."
"I can't wait." We put the cover back on and James checked out the grill. "See what did I tell you works every time."
"You just amaze me," I said.
"You seem to know so much about everything."
"It's just an illusion, actually there's a lot I don't know."
"Like what?" I said in disbelieve
"Take computers, I've used them, but just for sending an e-mail, or typing a paper for school. Don't know too much beyond that. You seem to take to them easily. You told me how well your doing at work and programs you've learned. See I don't know everything."
"Well you still amaze me. Hungry yet?" I said starting for the stairs.
"I'll get the hamburgers."
"And I'll cook them," he said, as he swatted at me with the flipper. Soon they were cooking and sizzling the fire leaping up at them. This was going to be a good supper.
I brought another cutting from the aloe down with me, "mind putting some on my back, it's starting to sting."
"You got baked today. You're redder now than before. Your skin feels hot too."
"Feels hot to me too. You're cooling me down with that aloe stuff." What a relieve it was, for the burning sensation was unbelievably hot. James had a soft touch as well, reminded me a bit of Shelly. "That feels so much better James, thanks."
"You're welcome. Just about time to turn these guys over."
"They sure smell good."
"I love that little sizzle sound it makes then how the fire shoots up." He looked at me when he said it. His eyes still strong with a slight spark to them. He resumed his job of tending to the grill. He flipped them over and got out the spice mixture he made, and sprinkled some on each patty.
"So what is that stuff?" I asked.
"Just some basil, garlic, a touch of salt, and a bunch of different kinds of peppers."
I watched the fire, as it cooked. Kind of reminded me of the hot sun that had cooked my back. James seemed mesmerized by the fire and the sounds.
"I think I'll go up and get the fixings out and ready."
"Can you bring me a plate when you come back?"
"Sure" I said as I turned, starting up stairs, thinking about the way he talked, so quiet, so unassuming. As I got things ready for dinner, I thought about our day together. I had a good time with him, very different than with most of my friends. They always laughed and joked around, but half of it seemed kind of fake. They never dealt with feelings much, seldom talked seriously about much of anything. I always had a good time with my old friends, but today was different somehow, more memorable, and satisfying. Like when we were both on the slope looking at the lake. I never held anyone like that before, except for Shelly, and she was a girl. Holding a boy was different, way different. He was strong, I could feel that, but there was more to it than that. It seemed like we were brothers, but then we weren't. I couldn't explain the feeling, only that I enjoyed it, that holding him was of some help. It made me feel warm inside, that I reached out and felt another living soul as I exposed my inner self to him, that he had done the same with me, and that we grew closer to each other by reaching out. I heard a loud sizzle down below me. Almost forgot James needs a plate. I got one out of the cabinet and started back down the stairs.
"They're done, you ready to eat?" He started pulling them off the grill while I held the plate for him. We both went up to eat. Didn't say much while we ate, didn't need to they were great. We both had two each. After brushing our teeth we sat watching TV a while. James got another cutting of the aloe and applied it to my back. His hands were gentle, very soft, as he applied the aloe giving relieve to my hot back. We watched some boring TV shows, and started to yawn from time to time. I think we were both tried.
"You ready for bed?" James asked.
"I can't keep my eyes open," I said lazily.
"Come on then," and he took my hand and pulled me up on my feet. We walked into the bedroom I laid down first, just shorts on, to hot for a shirt with my sunburn. When he came back he turned off the light so we could go to sleep. I turned on my back, James was lying on his side facing me. He moved up closer to me and laid his arm across my chest. His arm felt good to me. It was warm and his presence there put me at ease. I felt safer somehow having him so close. I would have been content to lie there like that all night. James moved a little closer and put his head on my chest and arm around my waist. I felt my chest getting damp. Then a single drop of water hit my chest. It was a teardrop. Then another. I knew James was hurting inside. I ran my right hand up and down back, and with my left hand ran my fingers through his hair. The teardrops continued to fall.
"It's okay James, everything will be alright. Your okay, you just let go if you need to." I tried to comfort him the best I could. I pulled him tighter to me, held him as close as I could.
He was trying to speak.
"Shh, shh, don't talk, just relax, your here with me, everything is okay."
"But I need to tell you something." So I listened while I ran my hands through his hair.
His words came out with a crackly voice.
"When I was alone the last two weeks, I did my best to be strong. Had to. I was on my own and needed to survive, but now you're here. I let my guard down at the lake, let go of things that were trapped inside me. It felt like a huge release of pent up feelings. I was remembering how I felt then, but now I am very happy."
"You're crying because you're happy?"
"Why are you happy then?"
"Because I've turned the corner, I think I'm over her."
"That's good then."
"Yeah but there's more. I'm starting to realize how good of a friend you are and how lucky I am for you being here."
"That's very sweet, but you would have done the same for me."
"You just go to sleep for now." I could feel him nod his head yes in agreement. I was still running my hands through his hair, feeling its softness.
"Just try to relax, take nice deep breaths." I could feel his lungs expand and take a deep breath. "That's good just take another deep breathe get as much air as you can." I could feel his lungs expand again further this time. "Now blow the air out, all the way, then just breathe normal." He seemed better, his breathing was normal, and no more drops hit my chest. "Now just relax, loosen up the tension in your legs and arms, and relax your shoulders and your face." He seemed to relax a bit, he slid his arm across my stomach and turned more toward me, then he placed one of his legs in-between mine, his head still on my chest. I stroked his hair, hoping he would relax. He got heavier as he relaxed, and eventually he fell asleep. I tried to go to sleep myself, and was nearly there, when I heard it again, louder this time, much closer came the call of a whippoorwill, calling me. The night air was still, the day's events fading, my cares and concerns drifting off into the night. What I didn't know was the ensuing battle going on, a struggle for control. It was there within the boy that seemed so at peace now. Deep inside there was pulling and tugging of new thoughts and emotions, fighting to win, trying to take over the existing framework there in his mind. It was a battle that soon spread to neighboring countries. Little did I know that the seeds of war were planted that very night. It came in a rainstorm and spread quickly not letting up until it consumed its neighbor.
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