Richie was only vaguely aware of Lindy yelling something at him when he left the dock. As he moved further away from shore, headed northeast toward the middle of the lake, he was greeted by a combination of both large and small waves interlaced across the surface. As the waves began to toss him and his machine around like a cork, he wondered briefly if he'd bitten off more than he could chew by charging out here alone.
His current circumstances, however, made him quickly realize that it was too late to think about whether or not he'd made a bad decision. Like it or not, he was out here now, and he had to focus all of his attention on controlling his jet-ski. Out of instinct more than acquired knowledge, he began to manipulate the throttle, using more power to hop over the smaller waves, and less power to climb up and over the larger ones. At the same time, just as Kevin had done with the boat the night before, he kept the nose of his machine aimed slightly upwind from his destination to reduce the side slipping effect caused by the strong cross-wind.
It was grueling work fighting against the wind and waves, and before long every muscle in his body began to ache. He decided to use a trick that he'd learned from Kyle while riding the snowmobile the previous winter, and crouched just above the seat rather than sit on it. Although this put added strain on his already aching legs, it enabled him to use them as shock absorbers, giving him better control.
After many agonizing minutes, he found himself within thirty feet of the downed jet-skier. Glancing around to survey the area, he quickly located the other machine. It had drifted away from its owner and was now about forty or fifty yards downwind. Returning his attention to the rider, he was relieved to see that his life jacket was doing what it was designed to do by keeping his head above water. His brief feeling of relief was immediately replaced with concern, however, when he noticed that the kid still wasn't moving.
Easing his machine in closer, he caught a glimpse of something else in the water. It was floating just beneath the surface less than ten feet in front of him, directly between him and his destination. Exercising caution, he slowed his machine down as he approached the submerged object. Moments later a large wave lifted it high enough for Richie to see it clearly. What he saw made him gasp as his mind instinctively called on every drop of adrenaline his body could supply. With no time to think, and precious little time for instinct, he gunned the throttle of his jet-ski while he cranked the handlebars with all the strength he could muster. The machine responded well, and just as the huge wave crested behind him, it quickly went into a 180 degree turn. His quick action may well have saved him from a fate similar to that of the downed jet-skier. The almost totally submerged object was a log - an entire tree, really - that had probably found its way into the lake during the storm the night before.
Regaining control of his machine, Richie carefully skirted around the tree to continue his approach from the other side. When he finally got within five feet of the victim, he recognized him to be TJ. Easing himself as close as safety permitted, he called out to him.
As much as he hoped for a response when he did this, he didn't really expect one, and his expectations proved to be true. Looking for any visible signs of injury while he slowly circled TJ's limp and motionless form, he noticed an ugly looking bruise on his forehead. It didn't appear to be bleeding, but it was a sizable bump that already showed signs of discoloration.
His arms and legs aching, he continued to circle TJ while he tried to decide what he should do next. He suddenly felt helpless when he realized there was really nothing more he could do without some help, so he resigned himself to simply watch over him, making sure his face remained above water until the others arrived.
As he continued to circle, he soon became aware of the sound of a power boat. Looking in the direction of the noise he was more than a little relieved to see that it was Kyle and the others on their way to help him. As he watched from astride his machine, he saw that they were coming straight for him as fast as the choppy water would allow.
Suddenly the excitement and relief he felt when he first saw his friends was replaced with near panic as he remembered the submerged log that lay directly between him and the approaching boat. They were close enough now for him to see that Kyle was driving, with Lindy seated next to him and Kevin in the back. Remembering how close he came to the log before seeing it, Richie knew that if the boat got that close at the speed it was traveling there would be no way they could turn in time to avoid a collision.
At first he waved frantically at them with one hand while he kept the other on the throttle of his jet-ski, but all this did was to elicit a wave back from Lindy. With little time left to head them off, he gunned the throttle in a last second effort to position his machine on the other side of the log. His hope was to draw Kyle directly to him rather than to TJ and thus avoid a disastrous accident.
With very little time to spare, he managed to place himself between the log and the boat. Once there, he released the throttle and waved at them with both of his arms while shouting for them to slow down. His efforts were rewarded this time, and certain disaster avoided when Kyle slowed the boat to angle it in his direction. Then, when they were within twenty feet of him, Lindy spotted the log and pointed it out to Kyle. Acknowledging Lindy's warning, Kyle slowed the boat even more as he expertly maneuvered it until he was safely alongside of Richie.
"Whoa, am I glad to see you guys," said Richie when the boat came to a stop.
"Yeah?" said Kyle. "Well if it wasn't for you and Lindy you'd probably be pulling us all out of the lake after we hit that log."
When Richie glanced at Lindy he could see a slight smile on his lips, obviously proud of himself for spotting the submerged obstacle before it was too late.
"Well the kid in the water is TJ, and from the looks of it, he hit his head on that log. He's got a nasty looking knot on his forehead, and he's out cold. Hell, I couldn't even tell if he was breathing or not from as close as I could get on this thing."
"TJ?! Why am I not surprised to hear that, I wonder?" said Kyle, sarcastically.
"Whatever," said Kevin. "Let's get over there and help him. It sounds to me like he could be seriously hurt."
"Yeah, so go!" yelled Richie. "I'll meet you over there!"
With that, both Kyle and Richie revved up their motors, eased themselves safely around the tree, then came to a stop next to TJ. Wasting no time, Richie immediately abandoned his machine and swam over to him. Taking that action as a cue, Kevin jumped from the boat onto the jet-ski. His thinking was that with Richie in the water and the other two in the boat to help him, he could keep the jet-ski from floating away.
It was difficult for Richie to do much while they were being bounced around by the waves, so when he got close enough he did the only thing he could think of. Slipping his hand under his life jacket, he moved it up to his chest to see if he was breathing. Although his skin felt cold from prolonged exposure, much to Richie's relief he was definitely breathing.
"Yes!" he shouted. "He's breathing! He's awful cold, though, so we better get him into the boat, like fast."
"OK!" shouted Kyle. "Help him, Lindy, while I call 911."
While Lindy and Richie gently eased TJ into the boat, Kyle got on his cell phone. He was put in direct contact with the dispatcher for the Pine County Sheriff's Department to whom he quickly and calmly explained the situation. Before long, he'd relayed every detail of what had happened, including the location of the log, and TJ's condition. By the time his two friends had TJ's shivering, unconscious body lying on his back on the deck, Kyle had finished his call and was kneeling next to Richie.
"How's he look?"
"Not good, man," said Richie. "He's still unconscious and shivering, and that's one helluva bump he's got on his head."
"OK, let's cover him up with towels. The Sheriff has a boat already on the lake and it's on its way over here now. They're also dispatching an ambulance from Pine City, so they want us to bring TJ to the landing at Benson to meet them.
"The best thing I can think of to do is for me and you, Rich, to take him in while Kevin and Lindy round up his machine. That way, they can come back here and mark the tree for the Sheriff's boat so they can drag it off the lake."
"Say what?" asked Lindy when he heard his part in the plan. "I've never even been on one of them before."
Just as Richie was about to agree with Lindy, and volunteer to swap jobs with him, Kyle spoke up again.
"Don't worry about it, man, it's cake. Besides, Kevin'll be with you all the way."
Overhearing the conversation from the jet-ski, Kevin said, "Hop on, dude, and I'll give you a quick study on how to run this baby while we chase down TJ's machine."
The apprehension Lindy felt was etched on his face as he looked from Kevin to Kyle, then to Richie. Although Richie wasn't sure that he was in total agreement with Kyle's plan, but understanding why he'd said what he said, Richie didn't give Lindy any time to think as he quickly spoke to him in a firm but reassuring voice.
"Go for it, bro. Like Kyle says, it's cake, and that's for real. Now move, man, you're wasting time!"
Considering the urgency of the situation, and the words of encouragement from his best friend, Lindy shrugged his shoulders, took a deep breath, then jumped onto the jet-ski behind Kevin. Once they were well on their way to TJ's machine, Richie looked at Kyle.
"Is this supposed to be some kind of trial by fire or something?"
"What d'ya mean by that, Rich?" asked Kyle as he angled the boat towards Benson.
"Don't give me that shit, Kyle. You know what I mean... sending Lindy out there like that when you know it would have made more sense for me to go."
Revving up the motor to three-quarter throttle as they headed almost directly into the wind, Kyle said, "Well, he's the one that needs a little confidence building, not you. What's the matter, Rich, don't ya think he can handle it?"
"Oh, I think he can handle it OK. It's just that those waves look really big from that small jet-ski. Hell, it was scary for me, and at least I'd been on one before."
Noticing the worried look on Richie's face as he watched Lindy and Kevin approach the other machine, Kyle tried to reassure him.
"Don't worry, Rich, Kevin'll watch out for him. He picked up on what I was doing just like you did."
"How could he... " Richie started to ask as he looked at Kyle with surprise.
"Cause I told him," interrupted Kyle. "When you guys were still down at the beach earlier, he asked me why Lindy weirded out last night. So I told him what you told me. So don't worry about him, bro, he's in good hands."
Despite what Kyle said, Richie still worried. It wasn't Lindy's safety that worried him so much, but what would happen to his confidence if something should go wrong and Kevin had to bail him out.
Neither boy spoke again for a while, the only sound coming from the roar of the motor and the pounding of the hull against the waves as they moved closer to the landing. When they were about a hundred feet from shore, and Kyle began to ease back on the throttle, Richie thought he heard a groan from TJ. Since Kyle had started Lindy on his confidence-builder, he'd forgotten all about TJ. Jumping out of his seat at the sound, he knelt on the deck where he saw TJ's eyes briefly flutter open as they tried to focus.
"Hey, man, how ya doin?" he asked.
Although it seemed lame to the extent of being ridiculous to ask this, especially since TJ's eyes immediately fell closed again, Richie felt he had to say something, anything, to help bring him around.
Kyle had no problem controlling the boat once they neared the landing since most to the wind was blocked by the surrounding trees. As he eased the bow onto the apron they could hear the distant sound of sirens coming from the direction of Pine City.
"All we can do now is wait, bro," said Kyle after he turned off the motor.
"Yeah, well I wish they'd hurry up," said Richie as he looked down on TJ's towel covered form.
"Relax, Rich, they'll be here soon. Besides, this kid's too lucky not to survive this."
"And just what the hell is that supposed to mean, Kyle?" asked Richie, irritated with his attitude. "I wouldn't call lying here half-dead, lucky!"
"Whoa, chill, bro. I only meant that he always gets himself into trouble, and he always gets out of it."
"Yeah, well maybe his luck just ran out. Did ya ever think about that? It wouldn't hurt for you to care a little, ya know. Like show a little sympathy or something."
Kyle was confused and hurt by Richie's comments, but any further conversation was interrupted when a Deputy Sheriff's car pulled onto the boat landing followed closely by the ambulance.
Richie stayed in the boat with TJ while Kyle jumped out to meet the paramedics and explain what they knew about TJ's condition. Even though he barely knew TJ, for some reason Richie felt a very strong empathy for him now. He looked so alone and helpless lying there that Richie was prompted to squeeze his hand and speak to him even though he was sure he wouldn't be heard.
"Don't worry man, I'm here for ya."
"Excuse me, son," came a voice the rocked Richie back from his thoughts. "I'll have to ask you to get out of the boat now and give the EMTs some room to work."
Turning his head toward the voice, Richie saw a man dressed in the brown and gold colored uniform of a Deputy Sheriff standing next to the boat. As he climbed out, the officer pressed a button on his radio while he spoke into the microphone.
"Yeah, Frank, it's the Allison kid, alright. Better chase down his parents and tell them what happened... and tell them we're taking him to the ER in Pine City."
From then on everything seemed to happen in one non-stop blur, like seeing a video on fast forward. Richie stood back and watched in silence as the EMTs quickly and methodically did what paramedics do to ready TJ for the trip to Pine City. Before he knew it, it was all over and the two vehicles were on their way back to the hospital, the sound of their sirens fading with each passing moment.
"Yo, Rich, you OK, bro?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah, I'm OK."
"You sure?" asked Kyle. "You don't look so good, man. You're like white as a ghost and shakin like a leaf."
Kyle's words seemed to trigger a switch in Richie's brain as he suddenly realized that he was shivering uncontrollably.
"C'mon, man, sit in the boat in the sun where it's warmer... and wrap a towel around ya. And get that wet life jacket off, too, so you can dry off."
Without speaking, Richie moved zombie-like into the boat while he popped open the plastic fasteners that held his life jacket on. As soon as Kyle pulled the loosened jacket from his shoulders and replaced it with a towel, Richie sat down in the back of the boat, pulling the towel tight around his body.
As he removed his own life jacket, Kyle looked out toward the middle of the lake to check on their friends. He smiled when he saw that Lindy was handling the jet-ski with ease. Better than that, he appeared to be having fun as he and Kevin rode the waves while they waited for the approaching Sheriff's boat.
Proud of himself, as well as relieved that his plan for Lindy worked out so well, Kyle turned back to Richie to tell him the good news. When he saw that he was still shivering, and staring at the deck by his feet as he rocked back and forth on his seat, Kyle's smile turned into a look of worry. Sitting down next to him, he put his arm around his waist, pulled him close, then began to massage his back to stimulate his circulation.
Neither boy spoke for several minutes, and gradually Richie's shivering began to subside. After another minute or so, he sat up straight, then stood to stare off in the direction of Pine City. Sensing what was on his mind, Kyle spoke to him in a gentle voice.
"He's gonna be OK, Rich. The hospital in Pine City has the best ER and the best doctors you can find anywhere between the Canadian border and the city."
After another moment, Richie turned back to face Kyle.
"You must think I'm a nut-case, huh?"
"No, you're not a nut-case. You're who you've always been... Rich Andrews, a caring and sensitive guy."
"Yeah, well I'm not so sure I'm not a nut-case. I don't even know this kid, and I'm actin like he was my brother, or one of you guys in that ambulance."
"There's nothin crazy about that. That's just how you are, man. You care is all, and it don't matter if you know the person or not. You don't make judgments when someone needs help, you just help."
"You don't like him much do you, Kyle? TJ, I mean."
"Promise not to yell at me again?
"Oh, sorry about that. Yeah, I promise."
"Then no, I don't think much of him. Course I don't know him very well, not personally, anyway. I mean, like we know each other and shit, but we've never hung out together or anything. So I guess my opinion is pretty much based on his reputation... well, that and the firecracker stunt he pulled last year... thing is, you don't get a reputation like he has without a reason. I don't think you'll find hardly anyone around here that likes him very much."
"Yeah? Well maybe that's his problem. Maybe all he needs is a friend, or at least someone who doesn't hate him." When Kyle didn't answer, Richie continued. "What d'ya think he was doing at this end of the lake, anyway?"
"Who knows. It's a good question, though. Come to think of it, I've never seen him at this end of the lake before. Shit, there ain't nothin down here but us."
'Nothin down here but us' thought Richie as once again he looked off in the direction of Pine City.
"Look, Rich, if it'll make ya feel any better we can call the hospital later to see how he's doin."
"Yeah," said Richie as he turned to face Kyle again, "I was just thinkin about that. I mean, it would be a nice thing to do, right? You know, just to make sure he's alright and that his parents are with him and shit?"
"Sure, no problem, dude," said Kyle with a trace of an understanding smile on his lips.
At that point their conversation was interrupted by the sound of two approaching jet-skis. As Kevin and Lindy eased the machines gently onto the apron of the boat landing, Richie realized that he'd forgotten all about them. Looking at Lindy as he dismounted and began to remove his life jacket, he could see a glow about him that he hadn't seen since his girlfriend first said she'd go out with him. He was grinning from ear to ear and looked as if he'd just won the lottery. Seeing that look on his best friend's face caused Richie's mood to brighten considerably. All thoughts of TJ left his mind as he, too, smiled, then walked over to where Lindy was standing.
"So, had enough of that thing yet, bro?"
When he heard Richie's voice, Lindy looked up at him and seemed to smile even more.
"Fuck no! That thing is awesome, man! I ain't never had so much fun."
"It is kinda cool, ain't it?"
"No, man, it's like way cool," said the excited Lindy. This, of course, sent the two of them into their slap-tap handshake.
"Looks like everything went well, eh, Hatch?" said Kyle as he smiled at the sight of Richie and Lindy.
"Perfect, man, couldn't have gone better. Must be the guppy in him or somethin cause he sure caught on fast."
While Richie and Lindy filled each other in on what they'd been doing for the past twenty minutes, Kyle brought Kevin up to date on what happened with TJ. After a few minutes, Richie and Lindy joined the other two by the boat.
"Well, Rich," said Kevin. "Unless you have some other Boy Scout stunt in mind, what d'ya say we go back to the cabin and get ready for McCarthy's?"
This got a laugh from everybody, including Richie.
"Sounds like one helluva plan to me," said Richie. "I spose me and you will have to take the jet-skis back, though, since I can't think of anyone else to do it."
Richie said this with a grin on his face in hopes or getting a rise out of Lindy. He was somewhat surprised, however, when he turned to find Lindy already on the machine and snapping on his life jacket.
"Only way you're taking this machine is if you can catch me first, Andrews."
When Lindy fired up the motor, Richie looked over to Kevin and Kyle. Both of them knew what his question was even before he could ask. Tossing Richie his life jacket, Kevin grinned at him.
"Go for it, dude, I'll ride back with Jake."
Then, while snapping on his life jacket he noticed that Lindy was already pulling away from the landing. Shouting over his shoulder as he raced for the other machine, he said, "You better get a head start, Lindstrom, cause I'm gonna be on you like stink on shit."
"You guys watch yourselves out there!" yelled Kyle as Richie eased TJ's machine away from shore. "There's gotta be more than one log on that lake."
Kyle was sure that the last part of his message went unheard as Richie gunned his machine in an effort to catch up with Lindy. That was OK with him, though - he knew they would be careful even before he spoke.
"Those two are quite the pair, ain't they," said Kevin as they watched the two younger boys bounce their way toward the cabin.
"They are that," said Kyle as he continued to stare out at the lake with a far away look in his eyes.
"Kinda like the little brothers we never had, huh?" said Kevin. When Kyle didn't respond, but continued to look out at the lake, Kevin spoke again. "Look, it's none of my business, Jake, so I'll shut up if you want me to, but are you and Rich having problems?"
Kyle still didn't respond for a couple of minutes, and Kevin was going to let the subject drop when his friend suddenly turned to face him.
"I don't think we're both having problems, Hatch. I think it's just me who's got the problem."
He paused again, this time glancing around the landing area while he put his thoughts together. When he spoke again, his voice had a pleading tone to it.
"You know me, Hatch, better than anybody, even Rich. So maybe you can understand what my problem is. I don't want to be tied down with one person right now. I don't even know if I'll ever want to be in a committed relationship. What I do know is that the way things have been with us, I feel boxed in, like I'm trapped or somethin. Know what I mean?"
"Uh huh, at least I think I do," said Kevin, "Especially since you've never been in a long term relationship before. Hell, you've never even been in a short term relationship before. Truth is, I'm surprised it's lasted this long. So what're are ya gonna do about it?"
"Well, we had a long talk about it last night and I told him pretty much what I just told you... cept I didn't say I felt trapped or anything, just that I didn't want to commit to anyone right now. Actually, I told him that I didn't think it was good for either one of us to be in a committed relationship. I was kinda hoping he'd feel the same way, ya know... but I don't think he does."
"Yeah? So what did he say?"
"He asked me what I wanted to do... if I wanted us to like totally break up and never see each other again. I don't think I could stand that, man, so I told him 'no'. I told him that I loved him, and that I wanted us to still be friends, but that I wanted us to be free to see other guys, too. I even told him that I wanted to keep on having sex with him. Now how fucked up is that, huh? I mean, telling him that I want to be free to play the field, but at the same time I want us to be friends, and that I still want his body for sex. Jesus, how could I expect him to agree to something as fucked up as that? How the hell could I even have the balls to ask him that?"
"So what did he say then?"
"He said he'd have to think about it before he could tell me how he felt."
There was another long pause, and Kevin could see that his best friend was genuinely troubled by this. Before he could say anything, though, Kyle continued.
"I feel like such a dick, ya know? I love him, Kev. He's the best thing to ever happen to me, and I couldn't stand it if I did anything to hurt him, but I know I'm gonna go nuts if we try to go on the way we have. I know that it's only a matter of time before I'm gonna want to do something with someone else... and when that happens... shit, it would just kill him. So, I had no choice... I had to tell him we had to break up. But I don't want to lose him, and that's what's so fucked up about it. I'm so scared that he's gonna be hurt, or pissed at me, or both, and that he's not gonna wanna be friends anymore... and I'm gonna be in a world of hurt if that happens."
When Kyle paused to wipe the moisture from his eyes, the silence that surrounded the boat landing was almost palpable. When he continued, his voice was filled with both resignation and sadness.
"I hope to God I did the right thing, Kev, but I've been torturing my brain for a long time thinking about this, and I honest to God don't think I had any choice... no matter what he decides."
His last statement confirmed for Kevin the depth of Kyle's conflict. It wasn't so much what he said, but how he said it. First of all, he didn't call him Hatch - or even Kevin, which would have been rare enough. Instead, he called him Kev, a name he hadn't used since they were ten or eleven years old and he told him that his mother had been diagnosed with cancer. The second thing was that he had tears in his eyes, and Kevin hadn't seen him cry since his mother died.
"Listen, Kyle," said Kevin, also calling him by a rarely used name, "I can't speak for Rich, so I don't have an easy answer for you. I wish to hell I did, too, cause I know it's eating you up inside. Like you say, it's really fucked up. I do know you, though... and I think I know Rich well enough to know that whatever happens you'll both get through it OK. Besides, who knows? After he's thought about it, maybe he'll agree with you that this is the best way to go... he just might see himself in the same boat as you are. Now I'm not sayin there's anything goin on with him, but I have like noticed him lookin around a little lately... if ya know what I mean."
"Really?" asked Kyle. "You noticed that, too? I kinda thought about that myself just a little while ago with TJ. He was awful worried about him. Still... that's the way he always is, ya know? It's like it wouldn't matter who was out there in the lake, he'd still be worried about 'em."
Seeing that Kyle wasn't at all convinced, Kevin said, "Look, let me talk to him and see if I can't find out how he feels. Hell, who knows, maybe I can even help him understand where you're coming from better. So, what d'ya say? Give me a chance to talk to him. It sure as hell can't hurt, can it?"
There was another moment of silence while Kyle wiped his eyes before looking up at Kevin again. When he spoke this time, the desperation showing on his face was also in his voice.
"You'd do that for me? I'd owe ya big if ya did."
"Course I'll do it. We're buds right? Well, that's what buds do for each other, ain't it? And you don't owe me shit, either. Besides, I just happen to like both you guys, and I'd hate to see such a good friendship come to an end over something that's as fucked up as this is."
Kevin could see his friend's spirits lift some when he said this, and after Kyle wiped his eyes a final time, he even had a slight smile on his face.
"C'mon, bro. What d'ya say we catch up with the dynamic duo and head for McCarthy's? It'll be good for ya... help get your mind off this shit for a while."
"Yeah, sure, let's," said Kyle, actually grinning now. "But no matter what ya say, I still owe ya for this."
Tossing Kyle his life jacket, Kevin said, "OK, then you can give me a blow-job the next time I get horny and Stephanie's not around. How's that sound?"
This was meant as more of a joke than anything else, but when Kyle answered, he was serious, and he had a devilish twinkle in his eye.
"You got it bro, any time. You just say the word and I'll give you the best blow-job you've ever had."
Kevin laughed at this, but his laugh was contrary to his true feelings. As they pulled away from the landing, he sat in the seat next to Kyle, thinking about what he'd said. He knew Kyle was serious, that he would gladly give him the blow-job any time he wanted, and this caused him to imagine what it would feel like if he actually took him up on his offer.
Even though he and Stephanie slept together often, she always refused to suck him off, saying that she thought it was gross and disgusting. So, the only blow-job he'd ever had was when he and Richie sucked each other off last winter. Of course, that was a one time deal, and both boys were virgins at the time so they lacked the technique of the more experienced. But he still loved the feeling it gave him and he'd been longing to feel it again ever since.
A lot of things had happened since that night, too, including his realization that he liked girls better than boys. But in the back of his mind, he's always wanted to feel Richie's hot moist mouth around his dick again. Not only that, but he had to admit to himself that he had a desire to suck on Richie's dick again as well. These thoughts always caused him to regret that he'd told Richie they would never be able to have sex again - and now that he and Kyle were breaking up, he regretted it even more. So, Kyle's offer, coupled with the memory of his night with Richie, made his dick begin to rise in his cutoffs to the point that he had to adjust it for comfort. Kyle caught him making this comfort adjustment and just had to make a comment.
"So, what's got ya hard, bro? You thinkin about Stephanie, or me giving you that blow-job?"
"Shut the fuck up and drive the boat, would ya," said Kevin, blushing as he turned away.
This sent Kyle into a fit of laughter that continued until they reached the middle of the lake. A short time later they pulled onto the boat-lift at the cabin. Richie and Lindy had arrived long before them and were horsing around on the jet-skis while they waited. When they saw the boat pull onto the boat-lift, they pulled their machines in next to the dock.
"What should we do with TJ's machine?" asked Richie to no one in particular.
"We'll just leave it here for now, I guess," said Kyle. "He can always pick it up later, or we can take it over to his place tomorrow sometime. No big deal."
As soon as they had their lifejackets laid out in the sun to dry, they scooped up their wet towels from the deck of the boat, then trudged up the hill to the cabin. Once inside, they went into their respective rooms to change into the clothes they'd be wearing to McCarthy's.
Lindy was the first one ready. When the others emerged into the main room, they saw him sitting on the couch watching TV while he stuffed his mouth full of potato chips.
"Man, how can you eat like that, bro?" asked Richie. "I'd look like Porky Pig if I ate all the junk you eat."
"What can I say," said Lindy. "I'm a growing boy."
"Well ya better save some room for when we get to McCarthy's, dude," said Kevin. "Cause if this year's anything like last year, they'll have the most awesome bratwursts you ever tasted."
"Oh, man, I love brats," said Richie. "So what's keeping us, man? Let's cruise."
After restocking Steve's cooler with beer and ice, Kyle programmed the number of the Pine City Hospital into the speed dial on his cell phone. Once that was done, they rounded up four lawn chairs from the garage, then headed back to the boat.
The wind had died down considerably since they'd fished TJ out of the water, and was now no more than a gentle cooling breeze. Because of the calm state of the lake, they wouldn't need to wear their life jackets, but they would still need to keep a watchful eye out for floating hazards.
When they arrived at McCarthy's, Richie and Lindy were amazed at the number of people they saw. There were hundreds of them crowding the swimming area, and at least as many around the picnic tables by the fire pits at both ends of the beach. A rock band pounded out music from a temporary stage near the end of the building where the bar was, while a number of games were under way for the little kids at the arcade end. There was also a variety of food and beverage vendors strategically located throughout picnic grounds selling everything from beer and pop to brats and burgers.
Knowing that their earlier adventures had used up much of their gas, Kyle pulled the boat up to one of the refueling docks. Once it was in place, he shut the motor off while Kevin jumped out and readied one of the pumps to fill their tanks.
"Man, you weren't lyin when you said this was gonna be a big celebration," said Lindy.
"Yeah, it's pretty much the biggest day of the year for these people," said Kyle. "They come from miles around which makes it a pretty good gig for McCarthy's."
"How so?" asked Richie.
"You kidding? They get a piece of all the vendor action here, plus all the people who eat in their restaurant and drink in their bar... so it's gotta add up to a good chunk of change for 'em."
"Maybe so," said Kevin as he began to fill the tanks. "But don't they book the bands, pay for the fireworks, and organize the games?"
"Oh, true that," said Kyle. "I'm not sayin they're ripping anybody off or anything, but you just gotta know they're makin a good profit off all this."
As Richie listened to the conversation, he checked out the tanned bodies of a group of guys engaged in a pickup game of volleyball at the edge of the swimming beach. Although they weren't as hot as Kyle, there were a few of them that could give him a good run for his money.
Then his eyes came to rest on one player in particular whom he recognized to be Steve, Kyle's friend from Pine City. Even though Kyle was joking the previous night when he said Steve was hot, it was an accurate assessment to be sure. He was dressed only in a dark purple, boxer style Speedo swim suit that hung low on his hips, and the sun that beat down on them made the beads of sweat that covered his deeply tanned body glisten as he moved around in the sand. He was definitely the athletic type with well defined muscles and, even with his swim suit hanging low on his hips, there was no sign of a tan line. Richie's dick began to stiffen as he watched Steve play, and as he did, he wondered what his package looked like and if there were any tan lines on his body at all.
"Here, Rich," said Kyle, interrupting his thoughts as he held out the cell phone.
"What?" asked Richie, staring blankly at the phone.
"Didn't ya want to call to check on TJ?"
"Oh, yeah. How do ya work the speed dial on this thing?"
Momentarily taking the phone back, Kyle punched a couple of buttons, then returned it to Richie. While he waited for the connection to be made, Richie looked back to the volleyball game in search of Steve. He was slightly disappointed when he saw that in the short time he'd averted his eyes, the game had broken up and Steve was no where to be seen.
While he was checking out the rest of the beach, the phone clicked in his ear before falling into the familiar sound of the 'I'm sorry, all of our operators are busy... ' recorded message. This really didn't surprise him since the number he called wasn't an emergency number. While he waited for his turn to talk to a flesh and blood person, he heard a voice coming from the end of the dock.
"Well, if it isn't Gull Lake's latest heroes."
This caught everybody's attention, and all four heads turned in response.
"Steve, dude, what up, man?" asked Kyle when he recognized his friend.
When Richie looked up to see Steve approaching them, he nearly dropped the phone on the deck. He was dripping with sex appeal, looking hotter than ever with his white T-shirt casually slung over his shoulder and his hair plastered to his forehead with sweat.
Richie also noticed that he was being followed closely by a younger boy who looked to be about 14 or 15 and had facial features that were strikingly similar to Steve's. He was about as tall as Richie, had black hair that just covered the tops of his ears on the sides, but flowed down the back of his neck to his shoulders. Like Steve he had a well tanned athletic body, but was dressed in a black T-shirt and bright orange, boxer style swimming suit.
"Not much," said Steve when he reached the stern of the boat. "I just happen to see you guys out here and wanted to say 'Hey' to our latest celebrities."
"What the hell you talkin about, man?" asked Kyle.
"You guys. You're the talk of the county, bro. It's like you dudes are the greatest thing to come to Gull Lake since Smoky the Bear." Seeing the confused look on everyone's face, Steve went on to explain. "You are the dudes who pulled TJ out of the lake this morning, aren't ya?"
"Well, yeah but... " started Kyle.
"That's what I'm talkin about, man," interrupted Steve. "You're all heroes. Shit, dude, it's like everyone's talking about it."
"No shit? How the hell could they find out so fast?" asked Kevin.
"Well, this is a pretty tight community around here for one thing... and then there's Frank Preston, the dispatcher at the Sheriff's Department. We call him Mr. 411. You know, Mr. Information. It's like anything you tell him is gonna be public information before you can hang up your phone.
"So don't be surprised if a lot of people want to shake your hand today. Maybe even take your picture for the Pine City Tribune."
"Great," said Kyle in mock disappointment. "Just what we needed when all we want is a quiet place to drink a few brews and have a little fun."
When he said this, Kyle looked at Richie like it was all his fault in hopes of getting a rise out of him. Although Richie was listening to the conversation, he didn't catch the look that Kyle gave him. His eyes were too busy checking out Steve's body as well as the body of the boy who stood next to him. He still held the cell phone in his hand, but he'd already forgotten about his call to the hospital.
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