The steady breeze that blew in from the north ruffled through Richie's hair as he stood at the end of the dock watching TJ fade from view. He was startled from his moment of solitude by the sound of Lindy's voice behind him.
"Lindy!" he exclaimed, turning to face his best friend. "Ya scared me, man. I didn't even hear ya coming down the dock. What up?"
"That's what I was about to ask you. Do I see a new love interest here... or a new best friend, maybe?"
"Who, TJ? Nah, no way, bro. One best friend is all I can handle." Lindy smiled warmly at this. Returning his gaze to where TJ had disappeared, Richie's voice became thoughtful. "He is pretty cool, though, don't ya think?"
"Yeah, he's OK, but ya didn't really answer my first question. Is he gay?"
"I think your first question was if he was a new love interest, and the answer to that is no." Richie kept his gaze on the lake when he said this. He wanted to hide the grin on his face as he continued to mess with Lindy's mind.
"OK," said an exasperated Lindy, "then my third question is, is TJ gay?"
Sure that he could keep from smiling now, Richie turned to face his friend. "That's gettin kinda personal, don't ya think? And what makes you think I'd know if he was?"
"You shittin me? Maybe because of the way you've been drooling over him? Or maybe because you spent half the day with him at the pond? C'mon, bro, this is your best bud you're talkin to here. And since I know you'd be more interested in knowing if a dude is gay than knowing his name, I figure you gotta know somethin, right?'
"I might," said Richie, smiling at how well his best friend new him. "But that don't make it any less personal, does it?"
"OK, whatever." Even though he was irritated that his best friend was being so evasive, he was sure he had a good reason for it, so shrugging his shoulders he changed the subject. "What I came down to ask you is, would you mind if I rode back with Kevin this afternoon? It's a pretty boring drive if ya have to go it alone... and besides, I'd kind of like to get back and see Nancy."
Richie's face lit up, and his eyes sparkled when he answered. "Sure, bro, I understand."
"Yeah? Well I didn't exactly expect you to be quite so excited about it. You sound like you wanna get rid of me or somethin."
"Well, now that you mention it, I do. Remember what I told you at the pond?"
"You told me lots of stuff at the pond, but what's that got to do with... Oh shit! He's gonna do it, isn't he?! That's why ya want me outa here, isn't it? So you guys can fuck your brains out, right?"
"Lindy! C'mon, man, we're not gonna fuck our brains out. But yeah, he said he'd do it tonight."
"Cool. You will tell me all about it when you get back, right?"
"I might," said Richie, knowing full well that he probably would, at least to some extent. "There's something else I want to talk to you about, too, though. I want to come out to my family soon... and I want to talk to you about it first. Plus, I'm thinkin I should come out to your family at the same time."
"Whoa, that's like a really big step, Rich. You sure you're ready for that?"
"No! That's why I want to talk to you about it first."
"Well, you know where to find me. Tell the truth, I think it's about time you did it. I mean, like we might be able to hide a lot of stuff from our parents, but they ain't exactly stupid."
"What d'ya mean? You think they suspect?"
"Nah, I doubt it. But sooner or later they will, and that's for real."
"How do you think your parents'll take it?"
"Mine? Shit, man, don't worry about them. They think the sun rises and sets on you, bro. You could turn out to be a serial killer and it wouldn't change how they feel about you. I'll do some undercover investigating before you get home, though, just to see if I can't find out for sure. Tell the truth, we've never discussed gay stuff before, so I guess I don't know exactly how they'll take it, but I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. Now, my little brother might be a different story, but I'm pretty sure I can make him understand." When Lindy made this last statement, he emphasized it by punching the palm of his hand with his fist.
"It won't require anything like that, will it?" asked Richie, his voice edged with concern.
"Nah, as much as I hate to admit it, Brad's pretty cool when it comes to stuff like that, so I'm sure he'll be OK."
Just then, Kevin called to them from the cabin. "Yo, Lindy, you got your bag packed yet?"
"Be right there," called Lindy. Then, turning to Richie again with a reassuring grin, he said, "Don't worry about it, bro. Just give me a call when ya get home, OK? And be ready to give me all the juicy details about tonight, too."
"Well, maybe not all the details, but sure, I'll let ya know how it went. Oh, and one more thing. Yes, TJ's gay."
"He is? Then why didn't ya just tell me? What's with all the 'gettin personal' shit? I was beginning to think you didn't trust me or somethin."
The tone of Lindy's voice and the expression on his face made Richie worry that perhaps he'd carried the joke too far.
"You know better'n that, bro. I was just giving you shit, is all. TJ told me to tell you, but he said I should make ya work for it. I guess I went a little too far, though, huh?"
"Nah, not really," said Lindy with a shrug of his shoulders and that 'I gotcha' grin on his face. "I was pretty sure you knew, alright... I just figured that if you weren't gonna tell me, you had a good reason for it. But since you were fuckin with my mind, I figured what's good for the gander is good for the gander."
"I think the expression is 'What's good for the goose is good for the gander'."
"I know, but since I'm dealing with a fag here, I thought my way was more appropriate," answered Lindy with a twinkle in his eye.
"You clown. You're the best, man."
"Oh, I know that. Just make sure you don't forget it."
"Never happen, Lindy. Never happen." This, of course, sent them grinning into their slap-tap handshake before they headed for the cabin.
When they stepped into the main room, they saw Kyle sitting on the couch, the big screen tuned to the weather channel. Passing through, Richie followed Lindy into the guest room where Kevin was rounding up what few dirty clothes he had off the floor, stuffing them into his bag as he did. While Lindy began to gather up his own belongings, Richie sat on the edge of the bed.
"What's the rush, Kevin? You guys don't have to leave right away, do ya?"
"Fraid so, bro. The weather dude's talkin about a storm movin in, so I think we better get movin before it gets here. Besides, I thought you and Jake were in a rush to see us go."
Looking up at Kevin, Richie saw a smile on his face and a knowing twinkle in his eyes. He also heard a chuckle from Lindy as he dug some of his clothes from under the bed.
"Oh, man, is there anybody in Pine County that doesn't know what's goin on here tonight?" complained a mildly irritated Richie.
"What d'ya mean, Rich? I just thought you guys wanted a little peace and quiet for your last night here." Then, a devilish grin began to spread across his face. "Just what do you two have planned, anyway? Maybe we should hang around. I suppose we could wait and leave early in the morning."
By this time it was all Lindy could do to keep from laughing out loud.
"Oh, no," said Richie in a rush, flushing with embarrassment. "You probably should go now... you know, what with the rain and all."
When he looked up at Kevin this time, he could tell from his expression that he knew exactly what was planned for later. "You do know, don't you, fucker!" When he looked from Kevin to Lindy, Lindy could no longer contain his laughter and burst into a fit of giggles.
"Cool!" said Richie, jumping to his feet, his anger beginning to build. "Well I'm sure as hell glad my sex life is such a good source of entertainment for you guys." His voice was raised, now, to where he was nearly shouting. "Maybe I should videotape it for you, huh? You know, so you can have an accurate account of everything. We'll call it 'Richie's First Fucking'! How's that for a title, huh?!"
His face red, his pulse racing, he looked once more from Kevin to Lindy before stomping from the room. Hearing the outburst from his place on the couch, Kyle stood to find out what the problem was when Richie blew past him on his way out the front door. Surprised by Richie's reaction, Kevin and Lindy looked at each other, confused, their smiles no longer present on their faces.
Seething with anger, tears welled up in Richie's eyes as he paced back and forth in front of the cabin. His first impulse was to run, to get as far away from the cabin and his friends as he could, but there was nowhere to go. Instead, he sat on the front steps where he cradled his face in his hands, his elbows resting on his knees. He knew he had no reason to be pissed at anyone, and he felt bad about what he'd said in the bedroom. His friends weren't making fun of him, at least not to be mean, they were only doing what they all did whenever the opportunity presented itself - having a bit of good-natured fun. No, thought Richie, it wasn't them or what they said that had him so upset, it was something different altogether.
Hearing the screen door open behind him, followed by footsteps that passed by him, he looked up. Wiping the tears from his eyes, he saw Kevin standing at the top of the hill in front of him with his arms folded across his chest, looking out over the lake. While he watched, Kevin slowly turned to face him.
"What?" he asked, an obviously unnecessary question.
"Just wanted to see if you were OK. Are you?"
"No," answered Richie, slowly shaking his head as he looked at the ground between his feet.
"Look, Rich, I'm sorry for making jokes in there. You gotta know it was all in fun, though, right? I mean, you know I'd never say anything if I thought..."
"No, Kevin. It's not you... or Kyle, or Lindy. And it's nothing you said, either. I had no call to say the things I said in there... I'm the one who needs to apologize. It's just that I've got something on my mind is all, and I just... I don't know, sorta lost it or something. Sorry."
Sitting next to him, Kevin put a reassuring arm around his shoulders and pulled him close. "Listen, Rich, everything's gonna be just fine, trust me. Your parents are the best, man. They love you, and they're going to go right on loving and supporting you even after you tell them, and that's for real."
Surprised by Kevin's intuitive understanding, Richie looked up at him. "You know about that, too?"
"Well, yeah! In case your memory's failed you, bro, Jake's my best friend, just like Lindy's your best friend, so..."
"So chances are pretty good that Kyle's gonna tell you stuff just like I tell Lindy stuff, right?"
"Yeah, that's pretty much it, bro. Though he does tend to leave out some of the more exciting details sometimes, no matter how hard I push him. The point is, Rich, you got three really good friends that are here for you... for whatever you need, 24/7, and that's for real, too."
Looking back to the ground again, Richie thought for a moment before speaking. When he did, it was in a soft, serious voice. "I'm scared, Kevin. I know I gotta do this... and I know I want to, too, cause I know I'll never be happy with myself unless I do. It all seemed like a such a no-brainer, easy thing to do when the time was still somewhere off in the future. But now that it's getting close, I'm scared shitless. I swear, I don't even know it I can do it at all right now."
"Oh, you can do it alright, Rich, that's the no-brainer part. But if you don't feel you're ready, then don't push it."
"That's just it, Kevin, I think I'm as ready as I'll ever be. I've learned a lot in the last six months. You know, like what it means to be gay, and how most of society still thinks about gays and the gay lifestyle. I learned about some of the horrible things that have happened to gays, just because they're gay. I also know how a lot of the progress has been made to enlighten those who don't know what it's really all about. That kind of shit. So I think I'm ready to answer most of the questions my parents might have about it. That's what I had to be sure of before I came out. I needed to make sure I understood who and what I was before I could ask them to understand. Besides, like Lindy said, my parents aren't stupid. If they don't already suspect something, it won't be long before they do, so I gotta go ahead and do it now."
"Well, this is just a suggestion, but if I were you I'd think about telling your brother first."
"Carl? Ya think?" asked Richie, surprised at the suggestion, but more so because he hadn't thought about it himself, before.
"Sure. He probably knows your parents even better'n you, so he might be able to give you a different perspective on how they'll take it. Besides, it sure as hell won't hurt to have him in your corner when you do it." While Richie was thinking this over, Kevin made another comment. "It's something to think about, anyway... like your mind isn't already on overload, huh?"
"Nah. I mean, yeah, I guess it is, but what you said makes sense. I might just do that, man, thanks."
"Hey, no prob, Rich. Anything for a guppy," said Kevin as he stood. After brushing off the seat of his pants, he extended a hand down to Richie. "What say you come on in and have a beer or something with us before we have to blast outa here?"
"Sounds like a plan, bro," said Richie with a smile as he pulled himself to his feet. "Oh, and Kevin?"
"Yeah, Rich?" he asked as he stood at the front door.
"You know I won't say anything about you or Kyle, don't ya?"
Smiling at Richie's unnecessary reminder, Kevin put an arm around his shoulders to lead him inside. "I know you won't. Now c'mon, let's see if Jake don't have somethin cold left in his fridge for us to drink."
When they strolled casually into the kitchen, Kyle greeted them with wide open arms as he stood at the corner where the fridge met the counter.
"What'll it be, gents, beer, soda, water, milk, what? Name your poison."
"I'll take a beer," said Richie. "Pepsi here," said Kevin and Lindy in unison.
"Cool, then I'll keep Rich company with a beer."
No one made mention of Richie's earlier outburst. As if it never happened, there was nothing that needed to be said. Watching his friends seat themselves around the table - Lindy giving Kevin a friendly goose, and Kevin smacking him on the back of his head in return - he thought about how lucky he was to have them as friends. Even though he knew that Kevin had wanted to be the one to come out and talk to him, he also knew that it could have been any one of them, and that the results would have been the same. Opening his beer before moving to join them, he felt a surge of confidence in himself for what he was going to do when he got home. No matter what happened when he came out to his family, he knew he could count on these three to be there for him, and that was a very good feeling.
"Is it true, Kyle?" he asked as he sat down. "What Kevin said about rain?"
"Yup. That's what they said on the tube, anyway. Somethin about the jet-stream bringing cold air down from Canada. They weren't sure exactly when it's supposed to come through, but when it does, it could give us one helluva thunder-boomer, maybe even worse than the one we got on Tuesday."
"Are we ready for it?" asked Richie. "Like, is there plenty of fuel for the generator, AND is the battery for the starter hooked up?"
"Oh yeah," said Kyle, returning Richie's smile. "I learned my lesson last winter, so I double checked everything. All we gotta do now is snuggle in and ride it out."
Richie almost laughed at the double meaning. It wasn't lost on the others, either, as they grinned at each other. This time Richie wasn't bothered at all by their amused expressions - he knew his turn would come later when they pumped him and Kyle for the details.
They spent the next half hour or so joking around and reliving the events of the past five days until it was time for Kevin and Lindy to head for home. After making a quick check of the cabin for any forgotten belongings, they all piled into the Suburban and headed for Harry's. None of the boys spoke during the trip over Jake's Road. Each, in their own way, with their own thoughts, was reflecting back on the events of the past week. A short time later they pulled up in front of the Harry's Sport Shop.
"How bout a Pepsi for the road, Kevin?" asked Lindy as they climbed down from the truck.
"Good plan, bro. I wanna say goodbye to Harry before we leave, too."
Stepping from the bright sunlight into the relative darkness of the small store, the four boys paused just inside the doorway to allow their eyes to adjust. When they could see again, Richie noticed Harry at his usual spot behind the counter tending to the only other customer he had. When he was finished, and his customer turned to leave, Richie's body suddenly tensed. Reaching over to grab Lindy's forearm, he squeezed it hard to get his attention.
"Ouch, man," said Lindy, turning to Richie, "What the hell was that..."
His words died in his throat when he saw the customer approaching them. When Kevin began to move away to get their Pepsis, Lindy grabbed his arm with just as much force as Richie had grabbed his.
"What!" said an irritated Kevin as he followed Lindy's line of sight. His question was instantly answered when he recognized the drunk from McCarthy's walking in their direction. Without so much as a glance at them, he continued out the door.
Since none them had told Kyle the story of the drunk, he was clueless as to what was happening behind him as he made his way to the counter, greeting Harry in his usual fashion.
"Hey, Harry, you old rattlesnake."
"Well bless my soul. If it ain't my favorite city boys come to pay ole Harry a visit."
While Kyle proceeded to shake hands with Harry, the others held back to compare notes.
"That's the drunken loudmouth from McCarthy's, Lindy," said Kevin, keeping his voice down. "I forgot all about him. Did you tell Rich what happened?"
"Oh yeah," said Lindy, the two word sentence quietly drawn out. "Matter of fact, we saw him again when we were coming back from TJ's yesterday. He was out fishing with some other kid."
"No shit?" asked Kevin.
"Yeah," added Richie, "and I got some more news for you guys. He's Brian's grandpa, and the kid in the boat with him is Brian's cousin."
"No Shit?!" replied both Kevin and Lindy at the same time.
At this point their voices had risen enough to get Kyle's and Harry's attention.
"What the hell are you three jackin your jaws about over there?" asked Kyle.
"Um, nothin," said Richie as he and Lindy made their way to the counter. "We were just talkin about that guy who was just in here."
"That's George Larson," said Harry. "I reckon he's been round these parts near as long as I have. Owns a small dairy farm at the other end of the lake."
"So, what about him?" asked Kyle.
"Nothin, really," said Lindy. At this point, Kevin joined the rest at the counter with two cans of Pepsi that he'd pulled from the vintage 1950's Coca-Cola cooler. "Me and Kevin saw him at McCarthy's on the Fourth, is all."
"I'm betting he was drunk as a skunk, too, wasn't he?" said Harry.
"I spose he was a little tipsy," answered Lindy, his response geared for politeness.
"That's kind of you to put it that way, son, but knowin ole George, I'll bet he was far more'n tipsy. I reckon every community has a George Larson of sorts. I spose he's harmless enough, though. His problem is that he gets too drunk too often and starts preachin to everyone within earshot. Been doin it for so long now, nobody pays him any mind anymore."
Richie was pleased to hear that what TJ had told him about Brian's grandpa was apparently true. Since it was obvious that Harry knew most of what went on around Gull Lake, he was prompted to ask him about TJ.
"What do you know about TJ Allison, Harry?" he asked tentatively, not at all sure he was going to like the answer.
"TJ? The boy who was at your party yesterday? Well, I guess most folks round these parts won't have many nice things to say about him - what with all the mischief and such he's gotten himself into - but then they don't know TJ like ole Harry does. Ya see, son, TJ's a bit of a loner. He don't have many friends round here, cept for that Cochran boy that was at your party. So he stops in here bout two, sometimes three times a day, buys himself a Popsicle, then hangs around to shoot the breeze with ole Harry. He ain't never given me any trouble, and he's good company when things are slow, so I kind of took a liken to him. He's partial to Grape Popsicles, too, so I always order extra to make sure I got some for him."
Then, a touch of sadness clouded Harry's eyes before he continued.
"He's really a good boy, that one. All he needs is for his mama and daddy to pay him more attention. You know, show a little more interest in him and such. Course, it wouldn't hurt him none if they gave him a good swift kick in the pants once in a while, either." Brightening a bit, he added a final comment. "He's a smart kid, too. Reads lots of books, and goes to one of them fancy prep schools in the city."
"He reads lots of books?" asked Richie, intrigued as well as surprised. "Like what kind of books?"
"Well, from what he's told me, I'd say he reads just about everything, but he says he's partial to the classics. Can't say as I know exactly what they are, what with me not being as educated as he is, but as smart and as rich as that young fella is, he's never once talked down to ole Harry. He'll even grab the broom and sweep out the store when my arthritis is actin up. Now there's a lot to be said for someone who does that. He had some real nice things to say about you boys, too."
"He did?" asked Kyle. "When did he talk to you about us?"
"Why, yesterday, at the party. Made a point of it, too, he did. Went on and on about how you pulled him from the lake and such. Then he said somethin about wishing he could have friends like you. Now I found that kind of strange considering how well you all got on with him, but he was real serious-like when he said it."
All four boys were wide eyed with fascination listening to Harry. Partly because he was talking about TJ, but more than that it was the way Harry told his tale that had their complete attention.
"So what did you tell him?" asked Lindy, sure there was more to the story, the suspense about to drive him crazy.
"Why I told him the truth, of course. I told him he didn't have to wish for friends like you. That all he had to do was open his eyes and he'd see 'em all around the place. I think he got the message, too, cause he sure seemed to brighten up some afterwards. I wasn't wrong, was I? About you boys being his friends?"
After a brief, almost awkward moment of silence, it was Richie who spoke up. "Um, no, Harry, you weren't wrong." Then, looking from one friend to the next, his eyes demanding a positive answer, he said, "We all think he's pretty cool, don't we guys."
"Um, yeah, sure... You bet... Yeah, he's OK," they said in turn.
"Well, good," said Harry with a huge grin, "Cause I surely can't think of a better bunch of boys for him to be friends with."
"Well, it's been great talkin to ya Harry, but we gotta get cruisin," said Kevin, pulling a five dollar bill from his wallet to pay for the sodas. "Me and Lindy gotta get home tonight, and we wanna beat the storm."
"Oh yeah. She's supposed to be a doozy, too, from what they said on the radio," said Harry. Shuffling over to the antique cash register set into the middle of the counter, he rang up the purchases. Before he could retrieve Kevin's change, however, Lindy reached into the large mayonnaise jar filled with beef jerky while he looked to Kevin for the approval he knew he'd get.
"Keep the change, Harry, we'll just take a couple of these bad boys, instead."
Doing a quick mental calculation, Harry knew that even with the added beef jerky, there would still be a significant amount of change due. He was a proud man, and not one to accept more than a fair price for his goods, but he could tell from the look on the faces of all four boys that they did not intend to take anything in return. In order to break the standoff while saving face for both parties, he smiled as he pushed the cash drawer closed.
"In that case, you best take a couple more. After all, it's a long drive back to the city." A silent compromise was reached as Lindy picked two more of the strips from the jar. In the end, Harry had accepted the boy's offer of a tip while at the same time acknowledging their thoughtfulness by reducing the amount.
"So, I take it that you two boys are stayin over, then. That right?" said Harry as he looked over to Kyle.
"Yup, and I've already checked the generator, Harry, so we're all set."
"Attaboy," came Harry's reply.
Shaking first Kevin's hand, then Lindy's, he wished them both a safe trip home. "Don't be strangers to these parts, either, you two," he said as he eased his bulk back onto his stool. "We need a few young bucks like you boys round here to brighten up the place from time to time."
"Oh, don't worry about that, Harry," said Lindy. "We'll be back, and that's for real."
When they left Harry's, Richie and Kyle waited beside Kevin's car while the other two retrieved their bags from the Suburban. Looking up to catch the grin on Richie's face, Kyle knew exactly what it meant.
"OK, so maybe I was wrong about him, but I told you my opinion was based mostly on his reputation."
"Hey, man, I didn't say anything," said Richie, the grin still present on his face.
"Yeah? Well you were going to."
While Kevin and Lindy were stuffing their bags into trunk, Richie noticed that Lindy wasn't wearing his Gilligan hat.
"Where's your hat, bro?"
"Whoa, I don't know," he said, slapping his hand to his head as if to make sure it wasn't there. "I don't even know when I had it on last."
"Last time I saw you wearing it was yesterday," said Kyle. "But don't worry, we'll find it and bring back with us."
"Unless we're lucky and it found its way into the trash," said Richie
"For a fag, you sure don't have much in the way of fashion sense, Andrews," said Lindy.
Richie knew he was joking, of course, but he also knew he really liked his hat and was worried about getting it back. So, after reminding him that he'd call as soon as he got home, he reassured Lindy that they'd find his hat and bring it back for him. Once they were buckled-up, they said a final good-byes before Kevin turned the car around and began to move toward the highway. They didn't get very far, though, before he slammed on the brakes. Wondering what it was they forgot, Richie watched as they backed up to where he was standing.
"I just thought of a better title for your video, Rich," said Lindy through the open window. "Instead of 'Richie's First Fucking', how bout 'The Guppy Gets The Worm'?"
"Fuck you, asshole!" exclaimed Richie as he tried to kick the rear bumper of Kevin's car. He wasn't quite fast enough, though, and with a quick spin of the tires on the loose gravel, Kevin and Lindy were headed for the highway and home. When the dust from their abrupt departure finally settled through the sultry air, Richie shaded his eyes to squint up at the cloudless July sky. Turning his gaze back to Kyle, he lifted the front of his T-shirt to wipe the sweat from his face.
"You sure you heard that weather dude right? This is like the hottest it's been all week, and there ain't a cloud in the sky."
"That's what he said, Rich, and you heard ole Harry, it's supposed to be a doozy. Besides, I know for a fact that when the jet-stream takes a dip to the south, it brings the colder air down from Canada with it. When that shit hits this hot, humid air, all hell can break loose in a hurry. Why? You ain't worried about a little rain, are ya? It's not like we haven't been through a lot worse than that, ya know."
"Oh, no, not at all. I love it when it rains, especially up here."
"Cool," said Kyle. Giving Richie a friendly squeeze on the shoulder, he coaxed him into accompanying him back to the truck. "C'mon, let's take the boat out for a final spin before we have to lock her down."
On their way back to the cabin, Kyle noticed Richie looking at him with his telltale 'curiosity' grin. Wondering what he'd said or done to generate such a look, he rolled his eyes and sighed.
"OK, Rich, now what?"
"The weather. You sounded like you knew what you were talking about back there when I asked you about the rain. Are you like some secret closeted meteorologist or somethin?"
"Oh, that. No, I just think some of that shit's interesting." When Richie didn't respond, Kyle looked over to him to see a different grin on his face.
"Oh no ya don't, Rich. I know what you're thinkin, Guppy, and there's no way I can do Meteorology and Forestry, especially with all those modeling gigs you seem to think I should be doin. So forget it."
"Hey, man, I'm not saying you should do everything. I just want you to think about all your options, that's all."
Minutes later, they pulled up in front of the garage. Not knowing how much time they had before the rain moved in, they dashed through the cabin. While Richie grabbed a pair of towels, Kyle threw a twelve-pack of beer and some ice into the small cooler. When they reached the boat, Kyle began to spin the winch wheel to lower the lift while Richie looked on. Stopping suddenly, Kyle looked over to him.
"What?" asked Richie.
"What about you, Rich?" asked Kyle as he returned his attention to lowering the boat. "Whenever the subject of college comes up, we're always talking about me. So what about you? Ever since I've known you, you never once told me what you plan to get into. So give, Guppy. Tell me about your dreams and aspirations... without giving me shit about using a four syllable word."
"Whoa," laughed Richie as he handed Kyle the cooler and towels before following him into the boat. "You're gettin too fast for me, big guy."
After checking that they had enough gas, Kyle started the motor. While they waited for it to warm up, he continued to press Richie for an answer, "Well, I still waiting, Guppy."
"Promise not to laugh?"
"No. But unless it's really funny, I promise not to laugh too hard. So what d'ya wanna be when you grow up, a sex therapist?"
"No, but I'd sure as hell advise my clients to stay away from hockey players, if I did." Then, his face flushing slightly, he said, "I think I wanna be a writer."
"No shit? Like one of those newspaper reporter dudes? You gonna be another Woodward or Bernstein, or do ya wanna like write a sex advice column?"
"God, Kyle, enough with the sex cracks, OK?" complained Richie, though not at all irritated, "And pull this yacht of yours outa here before we run out of gas, would ya?"
Still chuckling, Kyle backed the boat away from the dock, turned it toward the open water, then sat down again leaving the boat to idle slowly away from shore. When it was obvious that he wasn't going to make it go any faster any time soon, Richie was prompted to make a smart remark.
"So, rich-boy, you all of a sudden decide to save on gas or somethin?"
"Nope," answered Kyle as he sat with his arms folded smugly across his chest, "but we ain't goin nowhere till you answer my question."
"Alright, already!" exclaimed an exasperated Richie. Looking down at the deck, he continued in a quieter voice, almost too quiet for Kyle to hear. "I think I wanna write fiction." Before Kyle could say anything, Richie looked up at him, adding "I wanna write books, OK? You know, those things you've seen a lot of, but hardly ever open?"
"Books," said Kyle after a brief moment, his face showing no sign that Richie's remark bothered him. "Now there's a novel idea."
"Oh, man! I knew you'd have some smart-ass thing to say if I told you."
"Hey, chill, bro. I'm just giving you shit. What goes around comes around, right?" said Kyle in reference to Richie's previous gibe. "I think it's a good idea. I think you'd be good at it."
"Really? You've never even read anything I've written, so what makes ya think I'd be good at it?"
"I don't know. Just a feeling, I guess. You got the imagination for it, that's for sure."
"Ya think? Do you really mean that, or are you just saying it to make me feel good?"
"Hell no! I serious, man. You might even be able to make money at it."
"Yeah," said Richie, understanding the reality of Kyle's sarcasm. "That's the problem. I've never heard of anyone becoming a Stephen King overnight, and that's for real."
"Don't worry about it, Guppy. You might not do it overnight, but I know you, and if you want it bad enough, you'll get it."
"Thanks, man," said Richie, brightening considerably.
"Shit yeah!" said Kyle as he reached for the throttle. "I bet there's a hell of a market out there for fuck books."
"Asshole!" shouted Richie. Just as he tried to punch his friend in the shoulder, however, Kyle rammed the throttle all the way forward. Catching Richie off balance, the sudden surge of 'G' force sent him sprawling onto the deck at the rear of the boat. By the time he was back on his feet, the boat had planed off and was heading at full speed toward the middle of the lake. Struggling to stay on his feet, he gave Kyle a quick slap on the back of his head before pulling himself into his seat.
They continued across the lake at full speed until they neared the opposite shore, midway between the boat landing and McCarthy's. After easing the throttle back to one-quarter speed, Kyle pulled two beers from the cooler and the boys kicked back as they took in the scenery of the slowly passing shoreline.
Richie had never paid much attention to their surroundings before. Until now, the boat had been used simply as a conveyance to get from one place to the next, or as a recreational tool for water-skiing. Now, however, traveling at what TJ would call 'old people's' speed, he watched with interest while he drank from his beer.
They didn't talk much - just being together, the taste of cold beer providing them relief from the heat of the late afternoon sun, made any conversation pretty much unnecessary. It wasn't until they opened their second beer that Richie began to notice the subtle changes in the shoreline. As they moved closer to McCarthy's, he saw numerous inlets cut into the sandy beach, most of which appeared to be wide enough, and deep enough to accommodate a canoe or a small boat.
"Where do all those inlets go?"
Kyle didn't answer him immediately. Instead, with a wistful expression on his face, he fixed his gaze in the direction that Richie was pointing. Then, as if that moment had never happened, he took a gulp from his beer while he shrugged his shoulders. "Just some ponds and backwashes, no big deal."
"Can we take the boat into one?"
"Nah, the channels ain't deep enough." Fishing out two more beers, he handed one to Richie. "Here, dude, let's check out the lake on the other side of McCarthy's."
It was quite obvious to Richie that, for some reason, Kyle didn't want to talk about the inlets. When he looked to the north while reaching for the throttle, Richie clamped his fingers around his wrist before he could push the lever forward.
"Then how about using your canoe? It's gotta be deep enough for that, right?"
Kyle was beginning to fidget nervously. "Yeah, I suppose, but we don't have time. There's no way I'm gonna get caught in a canoe when it starts raining."
"OK, then how bout tomorrow?" pressed Richie.
"We gotta leave tomorrow, Rich," said Kyle, breaking free of the hold on his wrist to push the throttle forward. As the boat lurched in the direction of McCarthy's, it was clear to Richie that, for whatever reason, Kyle was not about to discuss this any further. Clueless as to the reason for his attitude, he knew Kyle well enough not to push him when he was like this, so he let the subject drop. Looking back to the last of the inlets as they roared away from the area, he wasn't sure which he was more curious about, the inlets themselves or why Kyle didn't want to talk about them. Whichever it was, he knew he would be bringing it up again. 'You are still a mystery to me, Kyle Jacobson,' he thought as he turned to look up at him where he stood between his seat and the steering wheel, 'and one day I'm going to figure you out, and that's for real.'
As soon as they passed McCarthy's, Kyle, his old self again, throttled back the motor, dug out two more beers from the cooler, then settled back in his seat as they continued their leisurely cruise. Accepting his fourth beer, Richie became aware of the beginning effects of the alcohol. He wasn't drunk by any means, nor was Kyle, they were just feeling a little lightheaded.
When they passed TJ's, Richie couldn't help but notice a small rowboat tied to the mooring where the sailboat was normally anchored. Scanning the north end of the lake, he quickly spotted the sailboat. It was too far away for him to be able to tell if it was coming or going, but he was sure it was TJ's since it was the only one he could find. He was about to say something to Kyle when he remembered TJ telling him he would be out with this dad. Figuring Kyle would want to cruise past them, actually wanting to do so himself, he quickly changed his mind and kept silent. If TJ and his dad were have quality time together, he didn't want to spoil it by intruding on them. Smiling at his thoughtfulness, he turned his attention to the northern shoreline.
Fifteen minutes later, their fourth beer nearly finished, Kyle elbowed Richie in the shoulder before pointing to the western sky.
"Thar she be, matey," he said, using his terrible pirate voice to indicate the darkening clouds that were moving in from the west-northwest.
"Looks like a doozy, alright," said Richie. "Ya reckon we oughta head for port, Capt'n?"
"Aye, would be the smart thing to do. Besides, we be running out of ale soon." It was probably a combination of the alcohol and Kyle's absurd pirate imitation more than anything else, but Richie found his remark to be exceptionally funny, and went into a fit of giggles.
Angling the boat back toward the cabin, Kyle spotted TJ's sailboat, much closer to them now as it, too, made it's way to safety. Before Richie was aware of the other boat, Kyle put them onto an interception course.
"There's TJ and his dad, Rich. Wanna say 'Hey'?"
"Sure." Why not, he thought. Since the occupants of the sailboat had already seen them, it would be rude not to at least say 'Hey' to them.
They all waved enthusiastically as Kyle closed the distance between them. After pulling along side, he slowed the Bayliner to match the speed and direction of the other boat.
"Hey, guys. What up?" said TJ, casually leaning against the tiller.
"Just out for a little cruise," said Kyle. "Looks like Mother Nature has other plans, though."
"Yeah, that's why we're heading back," said TJ. "The winds beginning to drop off already." Then, turning to his dad, he said, "Dad, you met Rich already, and you remember Kyle Jacobson, don't ya?"
"Sure," said Mr. Allison, awkwardly reaching between the boats to shake Kyle's hand. "How's your dad doing, Kyle?"
"He's well, Mr. Allison, thanks. I'll tell him you asked about him."
"Good, it's been a long time since I've seen him. Tell him we'll have to get together for drinks the next time he's up, OK?"
"Yes, sir, I'll do that."
Remembering the tickets that TJ had given him, Richie felt obliged to thank his dad. "Those are some awesome tickets TJ gave me yesterday, Mr. Allison. Thanks."
"Oh, don't thank me, son. It was all Terry's idea, and I couldn't think of a better use for them." As he said this, he emphasized his point by patting his son's knee.
With his face reddening at his father's praise, TJ asked, "So, um, are you guys still leaving tomorrow?"
"Yeah, I guess," said Richie, his voice edged with disappointed resignation. "How bout you?"
"Yeah, Dad's leaving early in the morning, then me and Mom'll close up the cabin and leave sometime later in the afternoon."
"You'll call me when ya get in, then, right?"
"As soon as I'm in the door," answered TJ with a grin.
Glancing once again at the gathering storm, then in the opposite direction toward TJ's, Kyle looked to TJ, his brow furrowed with concern. "You guys want us to tow you the rest of the way in before we head back?"
"Nah," said TJ with a shrug, "Actually, that thing ain't movin very fast. The only thing I was worried about was the wind, but we're almost there now, so we'll be OK."
"In that case, since we got a little further to go than you guys, we better get movin."
After waving their good-byes, Kyle throttled up the boat and headed for the south end of the lake. Agreeing with TJ's assessment of the storm's progress, Kyle soon slowed the boat to an idle when he saw what promised to be a beautiful sunset building behind the storm clouds.
"Looks like a doozy, alright," commented Richie as he gazed at the towering thunderheads stacked high above the slow-moving wall-cloud.
"Yeah. It's still a long way off, though. I think it's getting bigger, too. And if that's true, as slow as it's movin, it might just be a doozy of a doozy by the time it gets here."
While continuing their leisurely cruise, they watched in fascination as the fluffy tops of the storm clouds, fed by the currents of warm air rising from below, gradually changed from snowy white to amber with each passing minute. So intrigued were they by the changing shapes and colors that they lost all track of time, and before they knew it they were directly opposite the Jacobson cabin. Since the storm posed no immediate threat, Kyle was prompted to kill the motor rather than proceed on into shore. With no power, and a nearly nonexistent wind, they floated silently on the surface of the stilled water.
"What d'ya say, Rich? Wanna sit out here and watch it for a while? At the rate its movin we got plenty of time to make it in to shore from here."
"We got more beer in the cooler, don't we?"
"You bet. Two each if my math ain't too messed up."
"Cool. Then why don't ya crack a couple and let's watch and see what this bad boy does."
"Yes!" exclaimed Kyle as he dug two fresh beers from the cooler. "I'm so glad you said that, Guppy, cause I just happen to have us a ready-rolled extra to fit right in with the beer and the sunset."
After accepting a fresh beer, Richie chuckled when Kyle pulled a joint from the glove box. "Well, one thing's for sure. If all your other career choices don't work out, you'd make one hell of a cruise director, and that's for real."
For the next fifteen minutes or so, they quietly chatted with each other as they drank their beer and passed the joint between them. When finally the marijuana was smoked down to a roach too small to handle, Kyle carefully snubbed it out on one of the cleats before slipping it into his pocket. As the effects of the drug slowly worked its way into their system, they returned their attention to the approaching storm.
What Kyle had said earlier was true. The storm was, in fact, moving very slowly and was still so far off to the west and northwest that its beginning effects had barely made themselves present on or around Gull Lake. It was still as hot and humid as it was earlier in the afternoon, so the only sign of the coming change was the fact that the gentle breeze that blew just moments ago had dropped off completely. It was, quite literally, the calm before the storm.
They weren't disappointed in their decision to stay on the lake. As they watched in silence, occasionally sipping from their beer to keep their thirst at bay, they were treated to one of the most beautiful sights that nature has to offer. What was once a massive cloud formation was now a spectacular multicolored sunset, the tall pines along the lake-shore a black silhouette stretched across the length of its base. As the minutes passed, and the sun sank lower behind the horizon, this breathtaking beauty spread across the entire northern sky. It began as a bright orange from directly behind the clouds, then radiated out in all directions, morphing into reds so rich and vibrant they could be felt as well as seen. These reds then melded seamlessly into softer shades of purple before fading into the dark of the steel blue sky directly above them. Within minutes, what was once the clear blue of the late afternoon sky was now a pallet of phosphorescent color any artist worthy of his craft would be hard pressed to recreate. The boys were transfixed, unable to move, barely able to breathe as they watched in awe of Mother Nature's most beautiful work.
"Whoa," It was Richie who made the first comment since they'd finished the joint, his single word sentence drawn out and nearly inaudible.
"Double whoa," added Kyle.
In what seemed to the boys to be a very long time, the sunset grew, then peaked in less than five minutes. As with most sunsets on this scale, it began to disappear just as quickly as it had built. When all that remained was a tinge of red from somewhere far behind the thunderheads, Richie sighed as he turned to Kyle.
"Talk about a Kodak moment, bro."
"Yeah. Which reminds me, don't ever let me come up here again without my camera."
With the sunset gone, what little daylight remained was quickly disappearing. Straining his eyes, Kyle searched the darkened shoreline for any remaining visible landmarks to guide them back to the cabin. Barely able to see the white of the raft against the otherwise black of the surrounding area, he pointed it out to Richie.
"Ya see the raft, Rich?"
"Yeah," said Richie after a few moments of peering into the blackness.
"Well, keep your eyes on it, OK?"
With that, he fired up the motor, then angled the boat toward shore. With Richie guidance, and no wind or waves to hinder them, they were soon close enough to see the boat-dock. Even in the diminished light, Kyle's years of experience enabled him to skillfully maneuver the huge Bayliner safely onto the lift.
Since the speed of the approaching storm gave them little concern, and because they wouldn't be using the boat again before leaving in the morning, the boys worked methodically, yet unhurriedly to secure it for long-term storage. While Richie returned the lifejackets to their place beneath the seats, then removed all the left-over towels and discarded beer cans, Kyle removed the gas cans and pulled the plug to drain the water from the bilge. When everything was ready, they stretched the canvas cover over the top, raised the lift fully out of the water, then attached the chain and padlock to the winch wheel. Satisfied that they hadn't forgotten anything, they stepped to the end of the dock to check out the storm.
As if Mother Nature, too, was satisfied with their work, the inevitable wind that would accompany the coming rain began to pick up again, this time from the west. Even as the wind began to grow in velocity, the temperature dropped only slightly. Acting as a shelter, the trees that surrounded the boys broke up the increasing wind so the occasional gusts that reached them as they gazed out over the lake was refreshing rather than ominous.
"OK, Mr. Weather Dude, if this is a cold front, how come it isn't cold?" asked Richie.
"Probably cause it isn't here yet. Don't worry, bro, it'll cool off when the rain starts comin down." Just then, a flash of lightning far to the northeast caught their attention. "Look, Rich, this puppy's so big, part of it's already east of us."
"It must still be a long way away, though, cause I didn't hear any thunder," commented Richie. "I got another weather question for ya, big guy. Isn't there some way of telling how far away the lightning is by counting the seconds from flash to thunder?"
"Yup. All ya gotta do is divide the number of seconds from flash to thunder, divide by five, and ya have the approximate distance in miles."
"Cool. Then we're pretty safe, still, right?"
"Oh yeah, absolutely. So what d'ya say we take these gas cans up to the garage, bring in some firewood, then grab a few more beers and come back down? You know, get everything ready before it hits."
"Sounds like a plan, bro, let's do it."
With that, they gathered everything together and with Kyle leading the way, began their trek to the garage. When they reached the bottom of the steps, however, Kyle made a detour to the yard-light. After flipping it on, he called to Richie.
"Hey, Rich, look what I found hanging over the light switch!"
Looking over to him, Richie saw Lindy's hat perched lopsidedly over Kyle's head. His eyes were crossed and his lips were twisted into a goofy looking grin, an obvious attempt at an absurd characterization of Lindy.
"You clown! Well he'll be happy to see that again."
With the yard-light illuminating the steps, they continued on up the hill. On their way to the garage, Richie smiled at how well the past five days had gone. Now, while he waited for Kyle to open the door, he felt his dick twitch in his shorts and smiled even more at the thought of how the best was yet to come.
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