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What We Are II

Summer Heat

by Richie Ryan

Chapter 3: Stormy Weather

Passing through the back door of the arcade, Richie found himself standing on a huge, well lit deck that spanned the entire length of the McCarthy's complex. On it were many tables with attached benches, each table sporting a large umbrella to shield its occupants from the heat of the sun during the day. Except for a few patrons at the end where the bar was, and the small number entering and leaving the building from the parking lot, the deck was empty.

Although the sun hadn't fully set, the sky was darkened by the clouds that had moved in, and the familiar feel and smell of impending rain filled the sultry air. Stepping up to the railing, Richie looked out past the volleyball courts to the expansive, brightly lit and half-filled parking lot beyond. Because of all the lights, it wasn't long before he spotted Kyle. He was talking with some other kid while casually leaning against the side of an unfamiliar pickup truck at the back edge of the lot. Although this other guy stood with his back to Richie, he could still see that he was a little taller than Kyle, but looked to be about the same age. They seemed unconcerned about being detected as they stood with beers in their hands, directly under one of the many bright mercury-vapor lights that dotted the perimeter of the parking lot.

Richie's face began to flush with anger as once again the pang of jealously flowed through his body. Though Kyle and his companion were only engaged in innocent conversation, he felt as if he'd been abandoned in favor of someone else. Even though he'd never met this guy before, he already disliked him as he descended the steps from the deck and headed in their direction. As he approached the truck, Kyle looked up, smiling his recognition.

"Yo, Rich, what up, dude?"

Richie's anger began to subside as soon he saw Kyle's signature smile with his perfect white teeth accentuated by the light on the pole directly above him. As he closed the distance between them, he could tell from the glazed look in Kyle's eyes that he'd been doing more than just drinking beer.

"Oh, not much," he said. "Kevin and Lindy are killing each other on some video game, so I thought I'd wander out here to see what you were up to." Then, glancing from Kyle to his companion, he added, "And from the looks of your eyes, and the beers in your hands, I got a pretty good idea."

"Can't get anything past you, can I, bro," said Kyle with a wide grin.

When Richie was close enough, Kyle stood up, placed an arm around his shoulders and pulled him in close to his body. Though he didn't appear to be wasted yet, he was definitely on his way.

"Rich, this is Steve. Steve, Rich," said Kyle with a slight slur in his voice.

Richie's feeling of jealousy returned when he got a closer look at Steve. He was about a half inch taller than Kyle, had wavy black medium cut hair, and was wearing a captivating smile as he reached out to shake Richie's hand. Though he couldn't tell what the color of his eyes were, he was impressed with his tan as it stood out in sharp contrast to his white T-shirt in the parking lot lights. With a forced smile to mask his true feelings, he graciously shook Steve's hand.

"Hey, Steve."

"Hey, Rich. Kyle was just telling me about you."

"He was?" asked Richie, wondering just how much Kyle had said about him. "Well, I hope he didn't bore you too much," he added while looking at Kyle with a slight frown.

"Hell no!" said Steve, his own voice a little slurred. "He told me how you two met, and that was like far from boring."

"Oh, that. Yeah, well Kyle tends to exaggerate that story more and more every time he tells it."

When Richie casually slipped out from under Kyle's arm, Kyle returned to his former position against the side of the truck before taking a healthy swig from his beer.

"So," continued Richie, "like how do you guys know each other? Do you have a place on the lake, too?"

"Nah, I live in Pine City. Me and Kyle met each other when we were little kids. We used to hang out together all the time. Matter of fact, we used to spend the whole summer together... till his mom died that is, and he quit coming up here so much."

"Oh," said Richie. Trying to lighten the conversation again, he looked over at Kyle. "This must be sort of a reunion for you two, then."

"Yeah, I guess you could say that," said Kyle, looking at the ground as if in deep thought. Then, eyes glazed, and with a huge grin on his face, he looked up at Richie. "Rich, you look thirsty, man. You need a beer, I can tell."

Before Richie could say anything, Kyle fished a cold beer from the cooler on the seat of the truck and slapped it into his hand. Feeling exposed under the bright lights, Richie looked around, afraid that someone might see them.

"Don't look so worried, man, this ain't the city. Nobody around here's gonna give a shit if we sneak a cold one once in a while. Now drink up, cause we got a little somethin extra for ya, too."

"OK, if you're sure we won't get busted... but if you're talking about doin some weed, I think I'll pass on that for now."

"Sure, your choice, man, but you're passing up some high quality smoke," said Kyle, before draining the last of his beer.

"You better go easy on that stuff, bro," said Richie. "It looks like it's gonna rain, and you still gotta get us back across the lake tonight."

"You're right, it does look like we're in for a little rain," said Kyle, looking up at the thickening clouds while he popped open a fresh can of beer. "Not a problem, though... we'll just make Capt'n Hatcher our 'designated driver'. He'll get us home OK."

"Well, guys," said Steve as he closed the tailgate to his truck, "I hate to be a party-pooper, but the wipers on this beast don't work too good, so I better get my ass headed home before it starts raining."

"Yeah," said Kyle as he pulled the cooler from the cab, "I guess we better round up the troops and head out ourselves. Thanks for borrowing me the cooler, Steve. I'll get it back to you tomorrow."

"Hey, no problem, man, glad I had it with me... and thanks for the smoke."

Then, turning to Richie, he held out his hand again and said, "Nice meeting you, Rich... I guess I'll see you guys tomorrow."

"Um, yeah, nice to meet you, too, Steve," said Richie as he shook his hand.

Kyle and Richie sipped on their beers as they watched Steve's truck pull out of the parking lot. As soon as his tail lights disappeared behind the trees, Kyle looked at the cooler on the ground next to him.

"Hey, Rich, grab one end of this thing and help me drag it down to the boat, would ya?"

"Sure," said Richie as he stooped to pick up his end.

Once they skirted the volleyball courts and rounded the corner of the building away from the parking lot, Richie felt much safer holding a beer in his hand. They walked almost the entire way to the boat in silence. When finally they reached the dock area, Richie began to make idle conversation.

"Steve seems like a nice guy. So, you two were pretty good buds back then, huh?"

"Yeah, I guess you could say that... during the summer anyway. He's the only dude I knew my own age around here, so we pretty much hung out together all the time."

Then, smiling at the memory, he continued.

"I remember one time when we were like 11... we stole some beer out of his dad's garage one night and got drunk as hell. Then Steve got sick and puked all over himself. He had to jump in the lake to clean himself off. Man, I laughed my ass off that night."

Seeing Kyle smile at his childhood memories caused a twinge of jealously to creep back into Richie. Although he knew that he had nothing to be jealous about since they were just kids at the time, doing what kids did together, he still couldn't shake the feeling. This feeling made him wonder if tonight they weren't rekindling their friendship in the parking lot.

"Sounds like you guys had some good times together. So, what did ya talk about in the parking lot?"

"I don't know, just rehashing old times, mostly. You know, catching up on what we've been doing for the last five years... the usual shit. Why?"

"Oh, nothin, just wondering."

Richie's jealously, and the concern he had for their relationship crept into his voice when he spoke. Kyle detected it, too, causing him to stop walking in mid-stride. Not expecting this, Richie kept on moving, causing him to almost drop his end of the cooler. Recovering his balance just in time to maintain his grip on the handle, he looked up at Kyle to see a devilish grin on his face.

"What?" he asked.

"You're not getting jealous on me now, are ya, Guppy?"

"Who, me?" said Richie, his face beginning to flush. "Hell no! I mean, like what would I have to be jealous about? It's not as if you two traded blow-jobs or anything." Then, after a short pause he added, "You didn't, did you?"

"No," chuckled Kyle as they started walking again, "though he is kinda hot lookin, don't ya think?"

He was needling Richie now, and Richie took the bait.

"Hey, you can do anything you want with anybody you want, Kyle! It's none of my fucking business! I mean, it's not as if we're married or anything."

Richie was pissed now, not only at Kyle for jerking his chain, but at himself for letting his remarks get to him.

Nothing else was said for the next few minutes. Soon they were on the boat where they set cooler down on the deck behind the driver's seat. Still seething with anger, Richie dumped the warm remnants of his beer into the lake, then flattened the empty can on the deck of the boat. Without a word, he reached into the cooler, pulled out a single beer for himself, then slammed the lid shut. Turning his back to Kyle, he popped open the beer while he looked at the still distant lightning flashes on the other side of the lake.

"Whoa, dude, what's up with you, man?" asked Kyle as he fished out a beer for himself. "What the hell did I say to get you so pissed off?"

Richie didn't respond right away, he was too upset. He was so upset, in fact, that he had tears in his eyes, and he stood facing the lake to hide the fact from Kyle. Logically, it didn't make any sense - he really didn't have anything to be upset about. Kyle certainly hadn't done anything wrong tonight, or any other time for that matter, so why did he feel this way? Knowing that Kyle was waiting for an answer, he quickly and discreetly wiped the moisture from his eyes, took a healthy drink from his beer, then turned to face him.

"Nothin, man. You didn't say or do anything to piss me off. I don't know, it's just..." his voice trailed off. After a brief moment, he said, "I don't know, let's just forget it, OK?"

"Look, Rich, I know I can be pretty insensitive sometimes, and if it was the crack I made about Steve being hot, or something else I said, I'm sorry. If you'd just tell me..."

"I already told you!" interrupted Richie, "It's nothing! Can't we just forget it?"

After saying that, Richie took another drink from his beer, then looked over to Kyle who was looking intently back at him.

"What?" asked Richie, followed by another drink of beer.

"I might be slower that the average bear, but I sure as hell know when there's something bothering you. Even if it isn't something I said, I still wanna know what it is."

When Richie remained silent, focusing his attention on the few people that passed by on the dock while he drank from his beer, Kyle prodded him some more.

"Look, Rich, I care about you, man... you know that. Hell, I care about you more than anybody I know, including Hatch, who's been my best friend for what, ten years now? And you and me have never kept any secrets from each other. So talk to me, man... tell me what's bothering you, and just maybe I can help."

Richie knew that Kyle was being honest with him, and that what he said was true. There were no secrets between them - they told each other everything.

When he drained the last of his beer from its can, Richie was surprised to realize that he'd just polished off two beers faster than he ever had before. Feeling the beginning effects of the alcohol, he flattened the empty can out on the deck of the boat, then reached into the cooler for another. After popping the top, he looked back at Kyle who was waiting patiently for his answer.

"What's happening to us, Kyle? To you and me, I mean. What's wrong with us?"

This question caught Kyle off guard, and for a second he was speechless as he continued to look at Richie. When it finally sank in that Richie had broached the subject that Kyle had long been afraid to bring up, he took a drink from his beer, then gazed out across the lake.

"Like what d'ya you mean, Rich? I thought things were going pretty good between us."

This was a lame, defensive answer, and Kyle knew it even before he finished. He was avoiding the issue again. Even though Richie brought it up and went straight to the point, he couldn't bring himself to discuss it.

"Then how come we haven't... you know... since that time we were up here last winter we haven't... "

His voice trailed off again. He was unable to say the words that would describe what was in his mind, so he took another drink from his beer and looked down at the deck between his feet.

"Haven't what?" asked Kyle as he turned back to face Richie.

Knowing that Kyle was waiting for him to answer, and knowing that since he started them down this path he would have to say it, Richie took another drink to bolster his courage.

"Haven't, you know, gone all the way."

"That's it? That's what's got you so upset? That we haven't fucked each other since last winter?"

"Yeah," said Richie, his confidence higher now that Kyle had said the 'F' word so offhandedly.

"I mean, sure, we've done just about everything else, and it's always been great, but yeah, that's it. And if you remember right, we didn't exactly fuck each other that time, either. I mean, I fucked you then, but you've never fucked me, not even once."

Both boys were silent now as they sipped on their beers and looked at anything but each other. Wanting to defuse the awkward moment, and deciding that this was as good a time as any to mention Kyle's recent increased moodiness, Richie finally spoke again.

"It's not just that, either, Kyle. It's other things, too. Little things, ya know? Like you've been more and more moody lately, and you've been biting my head off over stupid stuff - stuff that you used to just laugh at. It's like me just being around you aggravates you sometimes."

"Like what?" asked Kyle, "Like today? You mean that shit about the life jackets?"

"Yeah," said Richie, "but that's just one example. You just seem so... "

Richie was interrupted in mid-sentence by a loud but somewhat muffled voice that he heard calling from the beach about halfway between the boat and McCarthy's.

"Yo, Lindy, they're in the boat."

Looking in the direction of the voice, both Kyle and Richie saw Kevin heading towards them while calling back to Lindy who had just come out of the arcade.

"Looks like our buds have tracked us down, Rich," said Kyle, relieved that their conversation had been interrupted. After moving closer to Richie, he spoke again in a quiet, serious voice. "Look, Rich, we'll talk some more about this later, OK? I promise."

Then, uncharacteristically for Kyle, he put the palms of his hands on Richie's cheeks and kissed him on the lips. It wasn't a long or passionate kiss, but rather a spontaneous one to show his affection. Just as Kevin reached the stern of the boat, Kyle broke the kiss. With his hands still on Richie's face, he looked him in the eyes and whispered, "I promise."

"What have you two horn dogs been up to?" asked Kevin. "Me and Lindy been lookin all over hell for you guys." Then, seeing Kyle break off his kiss with Richie, he added, "Whoa, is this a private X-rated party, or can I come aboard?"

"Aye, matey, come on aboard. Thar's a cold beer a waitin far ya in the cooler," said Kyle, as he turned to the back of the boat to give a lousy impression of a pirate.

Although Richie was caught completely by surprise at Kyle's unexpected display of affection, he thoroughly enjoyed the kiss, and knew he was sincere about his promise to discuss their relationship later. When he invited Kevin aboard with that absurd imitation of a pirate, though, he couldn't help but laugh, nearly dropping his beer in the process.

"Yeah, right, you clown..." said Kevin as he climbed into the boat, "and who's gonna get us back across the lake if I start drinking, too?"

"Hey, you got a good point there, my man," said Kyle as he put an arm around his shoulder for a friendly hug. "So from now on the bridge is yours, Capt'n Hatcher. Consider yourself shanghaied as our 'designated driver' for the trip home." Then, dropping his arm back to his side, he added, "And don't worry about your share of the beer, neither, cause me and Rich'll take care of that for ya."

"After the fight, maybe," said Lindy, overhearing the conversation as he approached.

"Whoa," said Kyle, staggering slightly to keep his balance when a wave gently rocked the boat, "a guppy that talks like a barracuda. Hop aboard, dude, there's plenty for all of us. We could even save some for Capt'n Hatcher to drink when we get back."

Just then, another wave rocked the boat causing Kyle to sit down heavily on one of the bench seats.

"We better get this show on the road if we wanna beat this storm, you guys," said Kevin as he started to dig out two of the life jackets. "The wind's picking up, and it's gonna start raining any minute."

Now that the sun had completely set, it was too dark tell for sure how far off the storm was, or how fast it was moving. Still, there was little doubt that it was moving in their direction. This was evident by the brighter lightning flashes and louder sounds of thunder coming from the west.

"Right again, bro," said Kyle as he stood and flattened his empty can on the deck.

The reality of the impending storm caused Kyle to regain control of himself as he pulled the remaining two life jackets from under the seat he'd been sitting on.

Once they all had their life jackets on, and Kevin had the motor warmed up, Lindy grabbed a fresh beer for himself before securing the cooler to the boat with bungee cords. By the time they were all seated, Kyle and Lindy in the back with Richie next to Kevin up front, Kevin had the boat pointed toward the south end of the lake and was easing the throttle up to full speed.

The wind picked up quickly. By the time they reached the midway point of their journey, it was causing the surface of the lake to churn wildly with large white-capped waves. When the temperature suddenly dropped by several degrees, they knew the storm was moving in much faster than they had first thought. This fact caused Kevin to become more than just a little nervous. His confidence took another blow when he felt the first drops of rain bounce off his arm, followed by the not so distant clap of thunder from a cloud-to-cloud lightning strike directly above them. Leaning toward the front of the boat, and yelling so he could be heard over the sound of the wind and the roar of the motor, Kyle gave Kevin some instructions.

"You're gonna be fighting one helluva cross wind, bro, so try your best to keep her steady at about three quarter throttle."

Giving him an understanding nod of his head, Kevin did as Kyle instructed, slowly but deliberately easing the throttle back to the three-quarter position. Digging the search light out from under his seat, Kyle handed it to Richie.

"Here, Rich," he yelled, "plug this into the cigarette lighter and keep it trained on the water about two or three boat lengths ahead of us. You're the navigator now, so keep an eye out for boats or anything else that might get in our way, such as logs and shit... and, Kevin, keep an eye out for rogue waves."

"Rogue waves!" yelled Richie as he directed the beam of the bright halogen spotlight onto the surface of the water in front of them. "What the hell is a rogue wave?!"

"A really big wave that seems to come outa nowhere. Although they don't get no where near as big on a lake as they can on the ocean, on a lake this size they can get big enough to give us serious trouble if we're not careful."

"So what the hell do I do if we run into one?" screamed Kevin over his shoulder as he fought to keep the boat pointed in the right direction.

"Just keep the throttle where you have it, turn the bow into the wave, and pray."

When his three friends exchanged quick glances, Kyle could see genuine fear written across their faces. Thinking he may have been a little too melodramatic with his last statement, he tried to ease the tension in the boat by speaking in a voice that everyone could hear.

"I wouldn't worry about it too much, though. Waves big enough to be dangerous are rare out here. Besides, I seriously doubt the wind's blowing hard enough to cause one, anyway."

Both Kevin and Richie were too wrapped up in their duties to allow their fear to get the better of them, but Lindy was a different story. Unencouraged by Kyle's last remark, and having nothing to do to keep his mind occupied, he pulled his life jacket close to his body, then hunkered down in his seat as the rain pelted his face. When lightning flashed again, followed immediately by the deafening sound of thunder, he hunkered down even further. This time, the beer can he no longer remembered holding in his hand, slipped from his wet fingers, spilling its contents on the deck as it rolled around between his feet.

The wind, rain, and the white-caps made the last half of their trip across the lake a harrowing experience by anybody's standard - but, as they bounced and slammed from one wave to the next, they encountered no other boats, logs, or waves large enough to put them in any excessive danger. Though it seemed to take them half the night to make the trip, thirty five minutes from the time they left McCarthy's, Kevin was throttling back the motor as he eased the big boat into the relative calm of the wind-sheltered south end of the lake.

While the sky was lit up repeatedly with flashes of lightning, followed by their signature claps of thunder, all four boys began to relax as they slowed to a more comfortable cruising speed. As the rain continued to fall in torrents, cascading down over their faces, four pairs of eyes strained intently, scanning the shore line for the yard-light that would mark the Jacobson boat-dock.

Since this part of the lake was sparsely inhabited, it didn't take them long to spot the mercury-vapor beacon that would guide them the rest of the way to the cabin. All four boys voiced a collective sigh of relief when they saw it, too, thankful that Kevin had remembered to turn it on before they left.

"All right!" exclaimed Kyle when Kevin angled the boat toward shore, "Now that wasn't so bad, was it?"

Whether it was a rhetorical question or not, nobody answered him. Richie and Kevin only shot him a cold stare, then looked at each other, shaking their heads slowly as they brought the boat the rest of the way into the dock. Lindy remained stone faced and unresponsive as he stared back across the lake in the direction of McCarthy's.

Nothing more was said while they methodically ran the boat onto the boat-lift, then cranked it up and out of the water for the night. Of course, as could be expected, now that they were off the lake and out of danger, the wind and rain began to let up as the cold front continued to move through. All four boys, exhausted and soaked to the bone, slowly made their way up the hill to the cabin.

Once inside, they paired off and headed for their respective bedrooms to change into dry clothes. The first to get dressed, Kyle draped his wet things over a straight backed chair to dry, then built a fire in the fireplace to take the remaining chill out of the air. By the time he set a match to his creation, the others had joined him in the main room.

Nobody had spoken a word since they'd gotten off the lake, and the silence in the cabin was depressing. When Kyle was satisfied that the fire no longer needed his attention, he stood to face his friends. Kevin was stretched out in the recliner with his eyes closed, while Richie sat on the couch, staring into the fire. Sitting next to Richie, his right arm resting on the back of the couch, Lindy peered out through the picture window into the darkness beyond.

"What the hell's the matter with you, dudes?" asked Kyle, trying to put some life back into the party.

When no one responded, he tried again.

"C'mon, cheer up, will ya? This is supposed to be a party, remember? We got a cooler full of beer... we got enough coke and Jim Beam to make like a gallon of beamers... so what d'ya say, huh? I'll even get the first round. How about it, Rich, beamer?"

"Yeah, sure, I'll have one," said Richie, perking up a little.

"I guess I'll take one of those, too, while you're at it, Jake," said Kevin from the recliner.

"All right, now we're gettin somewhere. Lindy? How bout you, bro? Beamer or beer?"

Without answering him, Lindy abruptly stood up, then walked through the kitchen and out the back door of the cabin. Kyle and Richie followed him with their eyes until he was out of sight, then looked at each other with puzzled expressions on their faces.

"What's with him?" asked Kyle.

"Ya got me," said Richie with concern as he looked toward the back door. "Go ahead and mix the drinks while I go talk to him. Make one for Lindy, too, would ya?"

With that, Richie stood up and went through the back door in search of his best friend. He found him on the back porch, leaning against one of the posts with his arms folded across his chest, staring out at the falling rain.

"Hey, bro, ya oughta have a jacket or sweatshirt on if you're gonna be out here. It would really suck if you came down with pneumonia or somethin."

When Lindy didn't say anything, Richie put his hand on his shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"Lindy? C'mon, man, it's me. You remember me, don't ya? Rich, your best bud? So talk to me, bro."

As he said this, he gently but firmly pulled on Lindy's shoulder, forcing him to turn and face him. When he did, he could see the tears glistening in his friend's eyes.

"Whoa, man, what's the matter? Looks like your eyes sprung a leak or somethin."

Without saying a word, Lindy jerked himself free of Richie's grip and turned back to stare at the rain again.

"Sorry, man, bad joke," said Richie. "I wish you'd talk to me though, and tell me what's bothering you."

"I'm a fucking wuss, Rich," said Lindy in a muffled voice that was barely loud enough for Richie to hear.

"What're you talkin about, dude? Hey, you may be a lot a things, but you're no wuss."

"The hell I'm not!" said Lindy when he turned to face Richie again, his tears making tracks down his cheeks. "I was scared out there, man, I mean really scared. I was so fucking scared I almost pissed my pants... and if anything had happened out there where you guys needed my help, I woulda been useless as tits on a boar hog."

Richie could see that his friend was really worked up now, so he did his best to calm him down.

"Well, you sure as hell weren't the only one that was scared out there. I can think of at least three other dudes that were plenty scared, too."

"Yeah, right," said Lindy. "Don't bullshit me just to cheer me up, Rich. I saw you and Kevin out there, handling the boat like pros, and you didn't look too scared to me. And Kyle... shit, man, nothin scares Kyle."

"Oh, man, you are so wrong about that, bro. On all counts, including Kyle."

After Lindy pulled up the front of his T-shirt to wipe his face, he looked down at the floor and listened as Richie spoke in a gentle, reassuring voice.

"Look, Lindy, maybe me an Kevin didn't look scared cause we were so busy with the boat, but trust me, bro, we were, and that's for real. But I know exactly how ya feel. It's the same way I felt last winter when me and Kyle got caught up here in that blizzard. Now I know I told you about how scared I was and shit, but Kyle was scared, too. And ya know what he told me that night? He said that everybody gets scared at some time in their lives, and it ain't nothin to be ashamed of, and it sure as hell doesn't make you a wuss. I thought he was just trying to cheer me up, too, until he told me how scared he was. Man, he was just as scared as me, dude. My point is, even though he don't show it, you can bet your ass he was plenty scared tonight."

"Ya think?" sniffed Lindy as he looked at Richie, his tears almost stopped now.

"Fuckin right I do. Just ask him, he'll tell ya. He may not show it when he's scared, but he's not ashamed of it, either. So ask him, man, and I'll bet you a buck he admits it.

"And as far as what you said about not being able to help if you were needed? That's bullshit, too. You'd be surprised at how fast you can forget that you're scared and get with the program if you have to. I found that out last winter, too. Hell, there was only the two of us here then, and since Kyle couldn't do it all by himself, I had to bite the bullet and jump in to do what needed to be done."

"Is what you're telling me for real or are you just stroking me to make me feel better?"

"For real man, I swear."

There was a short pause in which neither boy spoke while Lindy thought this over.

"So, you OK now?"

"Yeah, I guess so," said Lindy. This, of course, was followed by their 'slap-tap' handshake.

"Cool. C'mon back in, then. Kyle's got a beamer all ready for ya, so let's get this party movin again."

The rain had slowed to a drizzle when Richie and Lindy returned to the main room to join their friends. Their drinks were waiting for them on the coffee table, and Kevin, wide awake again, was talking and joking with Kyle about their boat ride.

"What's up with you anyway, Jake?" asked Kevin.

"What'd ya mean, man, what's up with me?"

"Seems like every time you come up here there's some natural disaster just waitin to happen, like a blizzard, or a monsoon rain storm."

"Hey, don't blame that on me, man. It only happens when Rich is here."

They all laughed at this, with Richie blushing a little from embarrassment as they poked fun at him.

"By the way," said Lindy when there was a lull in the conversation, "I got my buck back from Kevin tonight. Although he's pretty good, he's no match for the master when it comes to video games."

"Just you wait, dude," laughed Kevin. "It's not as if you totally kicked my ass tonight. I'll get ya the next time we play, and we'll go for five bucks instead of one so you'll really feel the pain when ya lose."

"Oh, that reminds me, Rich," said Lindy, "some dude came around lookin for you while you off lookin for Kyle."

"Yeah?" asked Richie, wondering who it could be.

"Yeah, it was TJ," said Kevin.

"TJ?" asked Kyle with surprise as he looked over at Richie. "How the hell does he know you?"

Richie had completely forgotten about TJ. Now that the subject had been brought up, he was slightly embarrassed to tell everybody how they met.

"It's no big deal or anything," said Richie. "We just bumped into each other in the can is all."

Knowing from the looks on the faces of the others that they wanted more details, and feeling a little guilty for not telling Kyle about it earlier, Richie elaborated a little.

"I was in there taking a piss when he came in. He introduced himself, said he saw me in the restaurant with Kyle, and that was it, end of story."

Looking at Kyle again, Richie thought he saw a look of doubt on his face as he stared back at him.

"What?" he asked when Kyle continued to stare.

"Ah, nothin," said Kyle as he shrugged his shoulders and drained the rest of his drink. "I was just wondering why he'd come looking for you, is all."

"Beats me," said Richie as he stood to refill everyone's glass.

The same question played on Richie's mind as he busied himself mixing a fresh set of beamers. There was certainly nothing unusual about their chance encounter, so why would TJ come looking for him?

'Oh my God,' thought Richie as the alcohol began to work on his brain, 'he couldn't be gay could he? Is he gay, and caught me looking at his dick? Is that why he came looking for me? Nah, he couldn't have caught me... could he? No way... I barely had enough time to see it, and he was looking down at the time.'

Finished with the bag of ice, he was about to return it to the freezer when he suddenly stopped. Turning to look back in the direction of the main room, a new thought occurred to him.

'Could it be that TJ is gay, and Kyle knows it?'

Just then, Kevin came into the kitchen and caught him spacing out.

"Whoa, dude, you been smokin some a Jake's wacky-tabacky again? Where's your mind, boy? We're all dyin of thirst in there."

"Oh, shit... sorry, man, I was just thinkin about somethin."

"Well it's a good thing you weren't trying to chew gum at the same time or we'd never get anything to drink," said Kevin as he took over the job of making the drinks.

"Kevin?" asked Richie as he closed the freezer door.


"What did TJ say to you guys when he asked about me?"

"Well, if you'll hand me the coke out of the fridge before this ice melts, I'll tell ya."

"Oh, sorry. Here," he said as he handed the bottle to Kevin. "So what did he say?"

"He said 'Where's that hot looking dude that was with you earlier?'"

"No! Bullshit! He said that?! For real?!"

"No," laughed Kevin, the alcohol obviously playing a part in his joke, "but he sure as hell looked disappointed when we told him that you were probably out back with Jake, and that's for real."

"No shit? Why the hell would he do that?"

"I don't know, maybe he's gay. Did you flash your dick at him in the can or something?"

"No! Course not. I didn't do anything."

"Well, then I guess you'll just have to ask him tomorrow. He told us to tell you he'd be lookin for ya."

"You're bullshitting me again, right? He didn't really say that, did he?"

"Yeah he did... for real. Ask Lindy if ya don't believe me."

With that said, Kevin picked up three of the four drinks he'd made and headed back to the main room, leaving a perplexed Richie alone in the kitchen with his drink and his thoughts.

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