This story was inspired by "The Better Part of Wisdom," by Ray Bradbury. It was a short story published in "Long After Midnight" in 1974. If you've never read it, I suggest you find it and give it a try.
Charles Well did the final review of this story for me. One of his stories, "Cow Pies and Country Cousins" is published on this site. He and I have worked together on many other stories. Thank you, Chuck, for another good and helpful review.
I don't know exactly why I came, or even what I expected to find. Something about a boy named Joe. But he would no longer be a boy. I had listened to the story years before my dad took his own life. Him and Joe. Dad never saw Joe again after that summer. They had promised to meet again in five years, but something had happened - a thing of anger and hurt. "Needless," he had explained. However, he never told me what Joe was angry about, or why he never returned to where I now was, the beach on which he'd spent a week as a boy.
I had lied to Mom; said I'd be spending a week at a friend's house. She wouldn't check. It had been two years since we buried my dad, her husband, and she still grieved. Me too, but at least I'm able to carry on with my life.
It was summer along the sea shore. Slow, small waves rolled up to the beach, none higher than three feet. Kids riding boards, believing they were surfing. I longed to go into the water, but dad had always forbidden me. I'd never learned to swim, never been in water other than a bath, and this was the week of my thirteenth birthday. I would celebrate it alone, just like I had my twelfth and eleventh. Mom didn't seem to notice the time passing or even recall these mile-stones in my growth.
"Tim?" I heard a young voice behind me ask. "Is it really you?"
I turned. The boy was tanned to a summer bronze, with dark blue eyes that made me think of a wild animal. Something about him stirred my interest. Not just in him, but about him. He appeared to be my age.
"I'm Danny," I said. "My dad's name was Tim."
"Was," the boy said, a bit of something I couldn't quite grasp buried in the way he said the word. "Then we don't have much time."
"Time for what?" I asked.
"For us to be friends. You and me. You do remember me, don't you Tim?"
"Tim was my dad. I'm Danny, and I've never been here before. I didn't catch your name," I baited.
"Oh, yeah, Danny. Got it. I'm Joe." He reached out and touched my shoulder. "Tag! You're it." Then he took off running towards the ocean.
I followed, my head spinning. His name was Joe, and he thought I was Tim. Coincidental? Perhaps. But he was cute, if not a bit odd, and that was good enough for me. He took off his shirt and dropped it on the ground as he ran, his long curly hair stringing along behind. I was gaining on him – until he ran into the surf, the waves breaking against his back.
I could see half of his shorts, and then the next wave would come in and nothing below his nipples could be seen. And then in the trough, half his shorts; each wave knocking him a bit forward.
"Come on, you're it," he yelled.
"I…" I paused. Then I said it. "I can't swim."
His smile turned upside down. "Sorry," he said as he came out of the water. "It's just that, I remember it differently. You never used to be scared of the water."
"I told you, I've never been here before. I only just met you. And Dad always told me to stay out of the water. Something happened when he was a kid, only he never told me what. But it seemed to be important. Anyway, I've never been in the ocean, or a lake, a river, or a swimming pool. I don't know how to swim, and I guess that's what scares me."
"Yeah, you're Danny, I get it. Sometimes I get things kind of confused." He shook his body like a half-drowned dog, spraying water all over me. "Are you here with your parents? I mean, your mom? You said your dad was dead."
"I didn't say he was dead; I just said his name was Tim," I asserted. "But he is. Three years now yesterday. And no, I'm here alone. I've got a tent set up in the campground." I stopped. I wanted to say so much, like how I missed him. And how his death had taken my mom away from me too. Only I didn't. "Why do we only have a short time?" I asked.
"I'll only be here for 5 days, just like each summer I come," Tim said. "We've got so much to catch up on." Then he smiled. "I mean, of course, to discover. You and me, like we've been friends forever. We've got stories to tell. Events. Important stuff to talk about. Like sex."
Sex? Where the hell did that come from? "I don't think I want to talk to you about sex," I said. "I don't know very much about it. Do you?"
He smiled again, the smile that melted my heart. There was a hint of evil deep in the dark blue of his eyes, but I ignored it. "See? We have so much to discuss, to share. Let's go to your tent and you can tell me all about yourself."
I could have said 'no' to him. I should have been cautious. But his coppery body spoke to me of other desires. He was my height, my weight, and he smelled like cut grass for some reason. I took a half step back from him before reaching out with my left hand and touching his belly. "You're it," I yelled as I ran off at an angle across the sand.
He left his shirt on the beach and ran after me. I didn't get far, and realized I had only been gaining on him earlier because he allowed it. He grabbed and tossed me onto the beach and lay on top of me, my arms held apart at the sides by his stronger upper-body strength. Then suddenly, without warning, he let go of my wrists and began poking a finger into my side, making me wiggle back and forth under him. I tried to push him off, but I didn't really want to, so I didn't try very hard. He felt good on top of me.
"You've got a boner," he said suddenly with a laugh. "I can feel it poking me."
"No I don't," I yelled. "Let me up!"
He rolled off of me at once, and rose up on his knees. "Yeah, you do," he said with a giggle as he pointed at my groin. "And it looks like a big one."
"Leave me alone. Go away. I don't like you anymore." He was right, I had popped wood. It apparently was obvious through my shorts. I didn't look down to confirm it though. I turned away and continued running to my tent. I decided then and there I'd pack my few belongings and head back home in the morning. I still didn't know why I'd come to a place my father had been to one summer when he was just a kid. There was a mystery to my life I wished solved, but no answers would be found here. Joe had embarrassed me, and now I just wanted to leave and go back home.
"Hey, Danny, I'm sorry," he said. "I get them too. You want to see mine? I don't care."
"No!" I yelled. But it was a lie. I very much wanted to see his. I had accepted that I liked boys, but not a single person on Earth besides me knew that. And now I'd gone and gotten a hard-on from some strange boy tickling me. "Go home," I yelled without looking back. If I turned and looked at that body again, I'd give in to it.
"Danny, we have so much to talk about," Joe said. "And so little time. I have so much to tell you. Things that will answer the mystery that clouds your life. And I've only got 5 days. This will be my last summer here. I don't want to spend it without you."
I ran on as his siren song tempted me to turn and look at him. Behind, I could hear his feet keeping pace with me. He ran tirelessly. I couldn't even hear him breathing, while I was forced to suck in air in huge gulps as the hot sand made progress difficult. I gave up as we left the beach area and were in the pine trees that provided shade to the campground.
I turned to face him, and was surprised to see he had a few tears running down his cheeks.
"I'm sorry I made you mad," he began, his eyes not looking into mine, as if he knew the power they had. "But you did have one. I didn't mind. You want to know about sex? I can't help you. I know nothing either, except that I almost had it once and did something stupid. I picked the wrong person, and ruined it. I'm hoping I haven't gone and done it again."
"I, uhh…" I knew what I wanted to ask, but not how to do it. I decided to just pull the bandage off fast. "Are you gay?"
"I've been happier," Joe said.
"No, I mean gay, like do you like guys?"
"Oh. Yeah, gay. And yeah, I do," he whispered.
Once again, something odd. He had no idea what the word gay meant. He thought it meant happy. Which I guess it did like a hundred years ago or something. But he was gay, he'd admitted it to me. Now his eyes had found mine, and I could see them pleading with me to tell him I was too.
"My dad, he didn't like gays," I began. "At the time he killed – I mean died, I kind of thought I might be but I wasn't sure. Now I know I am. But I've never told anyone. You said you know about stuff in my life. The big mystery. Tell me."
"Not here, not now," Joe said. "I will tell you all I know. Everything. But first, I just want to have fun. We can do sex if you want, god knows I want to, but I want to teach you to swim. I want to run on the beach with you, play games, have fun. I've only got five days. Before I go, I'll tell you what you want to know. Okay?"
I glanced down to below his perfectly formed innie belly button. The front of his wet shorts bulged out. He had a boner too. And I liked what I saw. "My tent's over there," I pointed. We walked to it, side-by-side.
It was a fairly big tent, tall enough for us to stand up inside. He zipped the door closed behind him, even though it was boiling hot in there with the intense noon-day summer sun. Then he unfastened his shorts, pulled down the zipper, and let them drop to his ankles. He wasn't wearing underpants.
I stared. It was the first boner I'd ever seen. Well, except for my own of course. He didn't seem to mind me staring, until I looked up and saw the orange circles on his cheeks.
"Sorry," I stammered, forcing myself to not look back down now that I knew he was embarrassed. "Do you want to borrow a pair of my shorts until yours are dry?"
"I want you to take yours off too," he said. "I want to see it. Please. And you don't need to be afraid to look at me."
I clumsily removed my own shorts and the boxers I wore under them, feeling ashamed and excited at the same time. I looked at Joe, this time without having to pretend I wasn't looking. He was circumcised, like me, and had tan-colored pubes around the base of his dick, which twitched as I looked at it. The tip was pointed right at my face, and under it I could see a wrinkled sack with the left ball hanging slightly lower than the right.
"W-w-w-what do we do now?" I stammered. I'd never been in such a situation before. "Can I touch it?"
"If you do, it's going to explode," he answered. "How about some dirty socks so we don't make a mess on the floor of your tent. Which," he added as he looked around, "Is really neat."
I had a package of travel tissues I'd brought just for that purpose. I got them out and started to hand him one but then had a better idea. I reached down, holding the tissue in front of the tip, and gently stroked the shaft. If felt odd. Warm and solid. I'd never paid that much attention to how my own felt as I touched it. My focus had always been on the erotic feelings generated. But this was different. It only took seconds before he took a deep breath, bent his knees slightly, and then began rocking his hips into my hand as several bursts of his cum were collected into the tissue my other hand held.
"Oh, god, that was good," Joe said. "My turn now."
It definitely felt better than my own hand, and like him, I quickly filled a tissue with my sperm.
"Tonight, I want to do something completely different," he said when we were done. "But until then, let's go play." He stepped into his shorts and pulled them up. "Are you going like that?" he asked as I still stood there naked but for my shirt.
"Hell no," I said. I decided if he didn't need underwear, neither did I. I was careful to keep from catching my dick in the zipper as I was still partially hard.
That afternoon he showed me the town. As we went past a boarded-up building, he said it used to be the arcade.
"The what?" I asked.
"You know, an arcade. Where the games were. But you needed a ton of quarters to play." He went on to tell me about Alien Sector, Road Racer, Sky Kid, and several other games I'd never heard of. "I wonder why it shut down? It was a really neat place." We tried to look through cracks between the boards that covered the windows, but it was a sunny day and dark inside and we couldn't see a thing. It looked to me like it had been boarded up for years.
"How long ago were you last here?" I asked him.
"I come every five years," he replied. "But not always to the town. I hang out by the beach, waiting for you. I mean, for another kid I knew." He looked away and then grabbed my shirt. "Look, Burger Time is open. I'm starved. I've got five dollars, that should be enough to fill us up." Without letting go of my shirt, he pulled me along.
They let him in without a shirt, which surprised me. But then, this was a beach resort in summer and normal rules would hardly apply. The burgers and fries were great. Huge circles of red, juicy meat covered with melted cheese, tomatoes, and ketchup, and served with golden fries. He was surprised that his five dollars didn't even pay for one of them. Luckily, I'd brought plenty of money with me and treated him instead.
We headed back towards the campground as the sun was sinking over the hills to the west. "Don't you have to tell your parents where you are?" I asked.
"You're here by yourself," he replied. "Does your mom know where you are?"
"Yeah, of course," I lied. Then I saw the look on his face. "Okay, she doesn't. But she won't miss me. She thinks I'm at a friend's house."
"Same with me," he said.
That night we both tried oral sex for the first time. The initial attempt wasn't that good, but we practiced and got better quickly. By midnight, both of us were depleted, of sperm and strength. We shared the large sleeping bag that once belonged to my dad and fell asleep next to each other, still naked.
The next four days passed so quickly I can't even remember all the stuff we did. We found a couple of kids from the campground to play baseball with and he showed me he was a wizard with a bat. I'm pretty good too, but nowhere near his league.
"You're going to be in the majors when you grow up," I said as we left after the game. "Remind me to get your autograph." He didn't respond.
We found a place where we could get our pictures taken together. He paid for two pictures, one for each of us. Later, he taught me to swim. He had to force me to get into the ocean, which he did by pantsing me and then running into the water with my swim trunks.
"If you want these back, you need to come and get them," he yelled, waving them above his head. I was naked on the beach, and we weren't the only kids there. I was more scared of being seen naked than I was of the water, and once in, he taught me how to swim. We worked on it each day, and while I'll never make it to the Olympics, I did become confident enough to get over my fear of the water.
Each night we worked on sex, and like swimming, we got better and better at that as well.
And then, without warning, it was the morning of the fifth day. It was cloudy, and there was thunder in the distance. Our days of summer were ending. I wanted to go to the beach again, before the storm hit, but instead he headed to the picnic tables. "I promised you something," he said. "Today is my last day here. I won't be with you this afternoon."
"So you're going home?" I asked. I hadn't realized how much time had passed.
"Yeah, something like that," he said. He paused. I could see him thinking about how to say what he wanted to tell me. He seemed somber for the first time since I'd met him, and I knew this was going to be something important.
Then, in a quiet voice, he began. "I come here every five years. This is my seventh summer here."
"Wait a sec," I interrupted. "That would make you…"
"Old, yeah, I know. Shit, I can't think of how to tell you. Let me start at the beginning. Please let me tell it all without interrupting. I'll answer your questions, but then I'll have to go. Don't ask me to stay, and don't seek me out, for I must leave. Only this time, before we part, I want to say goodbye."
He cleared his throat. "It was August of 1985. My thirteenth birthday is the 2nd day of the month. My family, Mom, Dad, and my little brother Steve, were here for the first time. I remember it like it was yesterday."
"The first time I saw him I fell in love. He was my age, just a few days older than me. He was beautiful, and we became instant friends. It was him who taught me how to swim. His name was Tim Stevens."
It couldn't be. I did the math in my head. My dad, Tim Stevens, would have turned thirteen the last day of July, 1985. Thirty-five years and a week ago.
"This is my seventh summer," he repeated. "I've come back every five years, watching for him, for he promised me he'd come. But that was before I made the stupidest mistake of my life. It was the last day of the week we'd shared together. I touched him. In a place he didn't want to be touched. He was pissed, and he called me names. "Fag!" he called me. I ran away hurt and confused. I didn't want anyone to see me crying, so I waded deeper and deeper into the ocean. Only there were strong rip currents that day, and I wasn't that good a swimmer. I drowned."
What could I say? This was the event – the horrible event that my dad could never tell me about. It had tortured him for decades, and finally, 3 years ago, he killed himself. All over a boy named Joe, who had died after being rejected by my 13-year-old father.
"It was all my fault," the boy continued. "I killed your dad by dying. I'm sorry. I don't know what to say beyond that, except that this is my last summer. I won't be back in five years, for now I know that the boy I wanted to meet again, the boy I wanted to say I was sorry to, is never coming."
"This can't be true," I said. But I knew it was. I was talking to a ghost.
"I am real when you're here," he said to me. "You didn't even know why you came, did you?" I shook my head. "It was for me. I thought it would be your dad, but instead it was his son. You look just like he did then. And when you got mad because I said you had a boner, I thought I'd screwed it up again."
"You didn't," I said truthfully.
"As you come off the pier onto the dune, to the left is a boulder, set high above the tide mark," he said. I swore I could see him fading. "Ten paces ahead, and five to the south, we buried a box. Find it. What's inside is yours now." He looked at me and forced a smile to his face.
"I loved you from the first moment I saw you. We learned about sex together, you and I, like I had wanted to with your dad. I had no idea he didn't feel the same about me as I felt for him. So, I'm glad you came. But now I must leave. Please don't call me back. Don't try and follow. My seventh summer is ending. It will begin raining at 1:18 in the afternoon, thunder and lightning, and I must be gone by then. It was after the storm passed that I touched him and ruined everything. I am truly sorry I took your father away from you."
Tears ran down my cheeks. I couldn't speak. I watched him go, fading as he crested the hill. I knew from google maps that a boy named Joe Furgenson was buried in a cemetery in that direction. I'd seen a picture of his grave stone. It showed he'd died on August 4th, 1985. He had just turned thirteen.
The thunder was getting closer as I paced off ten steps from the boulder, and then another five to the south. I didn't have a shovel, but the sand was easy to dig. Because a storm was coming, I was found myself alone on the beach. I found the box just as the rain was almost upon me and ran to the Burger Time. I opened it as I ate my burger. Inside were two duplicate pictures. My dad at age 13, and Joe, sitting side-by-side in a photo booth. My Joe. The same exact Joe I'd just spent a week with. There was a piece of paper there too, faded and almost unreadable. "Tim Stevens and Joe Furgenson, friends forever," it read. "We'll meet again in 5 years," it concluded, signed by each of them.
I pulled out the picture we'd taken together. Now, it showed me sitting alone in the booth. Joe had faded out of existence. I looked back to the ones of Joe and my father. The photo concerned me slightly, making me aware of the passage of time. I looked back to the one taken of me and him, now only me. I was positive they were taken in the very same booth. Me on the right, the same place my dad had sat. There was a very strong resemblance between me and my father at that age.
I looked at the clock as a huge lightning bolt struck nearby, rattling the restaurant. It was 1:18 in the afternoon. The rain began immediately after the thunder had passed, a hard, pounding rain, with frequent lightning and thunder.
After the storm passed, I made my way to the grave and said my goodbyes to Joe. Then I returned to the tent with my treasure. I had the closure I'd sought - the reason for my father's suicide. He blamed himself for what happened to Joe. I wish he'd kept his promise and gone back to the beach himself. Joe could have explained it to him. Dad had been kind, and wise, and would have listened. And if he had, maybe I'd still have him with me. But that part of life was over.
Later, I told Mom the truth. About Joe, and Dad. She had also wondered why, and now knew. Perhaps knowing will help her to come out of her shell. Time will tell, and I remain hopeful. Either way, I decided I would not to return to the beach in five years. It would be pointless. Joe was right. He was the reason I'd gone - to meet him and to learn a bit about life. Now, I must look forward, without the anchor of my father's death holding me back. I know for sure who and what I am. And I know a bit about how lust and revulsion can both cause tragic results. One must proceed cautiously and with care.
But I don't need to wonder about my father any longer. Nor do I have to be overly concerned with my life choices. I am done living in the past, with a shadow hanging over me. Now it is time to move on; time for me to strike out on my own path.
There is a boy I know at school who I want to befriend. Perhaps more than friends. But there's no need to rush. I have more than five days. Time is not short; I am only thirteen after all.
Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]
* Some browsers may require a right click instead