The Gulf Between Us|
Part One of The Gulf Series
by Rick Beck
"Lost on the Wind"
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After holding Ivan for a few minutes, he relaxed in my arms. I recognized the sound he made when he was sleeping deeply. I didn't want to release my hold on him, remembering the distance between us the last few days, but the bunk area began closing in on me. The air was thick and musky, even with the hatch wide open.
I eased my hold on him, letting him slide out of my arms. I took my time moving out of the bunk. I stood and looked at his face for a few minutes before I was convinced he wasn't going to wake up.
There had been healing but there were no answers that told me what had come between us. I listened to the silence at the tip of the boat. I'd heard the engines turn over while Ivan and I talked, but at a low speed we were moving just fast enough so the only distinctive sound in the crew quarters was that of water washing over the hull.
It had been an intense day from the time I woke up until now.
I needed some fresh air. My brain was full of thoughts rushing around with no destination in mind. Ivan and I finally said we loved each other. It came out of the blue, after some difficult days. It wasn't like I imagined it would be. We weren't simply going to ride off into the sunset together.
We had work to do. We had some growing up to do, and my instinct told me our love was dangerous love. As lacking in love as the world seemed to be, it should have been encouraged, cultivated, but I'd never heard anything about two men falling in love to live happily ever after. I'd never heard about two men falling in love at all.
It wasn't how things were done in Oklahoma. We were far enough from Oklahoma to make a big difference. Had we discovered a new kind of love? Was it necessary to explain it wherever we lived? What if we just wanted to live on our beach and be left alone?
Did location make the difference? It was dangerous and I didn't know why anyone would care about my feelings for Ivan. There was so much hate and violence between men, wouldn't love be better?
These thoughts didn't make me want to ditch Ivan. I couldn't speak for him. I didn't know what he thought about it. What if he hadn't thought about it? What if he hadn't sensed the danger?
As smart as Ivan was, he'd gotten here a long before I arrived. Was that why it took us so long to say, 'I love you,' to each other? Was it so dangerous Ivan needed to make sure of my love first?
The day he caught the big fish, two days after he broke my heart, I was the only one who was in love, as far as I knew, but the number had doubled. We'd said the words. Now what did we do? Where did we go from here?
I'd been waiting for him to kiss me and he had, but there was an eternity of pain between when he told me to get lost and that kiss. I accepted that kiss as proof Ivan loved me. I wouldn't forget that with love came vulnerability and pain.
I liked girls just fine but I didn't have romantic feelings for girls. High school was where boys got educated about affection. Boys who liked boys didn't get that education. They didn't dare hold hands in the halls or share a parting kiss.
I was aware I didn't feel what most boys felt, but I was lucky enough to find a boy who felt the same way I did. Even more amazing, he was a guy like Ivan. Otherwise I might have been forty before I got kissed like Ivan just kissed me. I don't think it would have been the same at forty.
I was standing out in the clean fresh air, when I became aware I had completed the trip from the crew quarters to the outdoors. I'd probably been standing there long enough to do a lot of thinking.
A stiff breeze was blowing a few feet farther out on deck and it was dark. The overcast darkened the western horizon, which usually held onto the light long after sunset. After being in the dark dank bunk area, fresh air was good.
I felt lucky to be there. I was lucky to be alive. I was lucky to have Ivan. His presence in my life made me even more alive. I'd only been living before. It occurred to me, without Ivan, I had no life.
I sat in the stern seat where I finished my day. I looked back at where we'd been. I looked back at where I'd been. I saw the regal Ivan doing that dive the first time I saw him. I saw the tough Ivan catch one whale of a fish. I felt Ivan's lips on mine. My fingers traced my lips. I wanted to talk to Ivan, but I was fine. I was wonderful.
The wake of the boat was hypnotic. Green phosphorescent sea creatures lit the path the boat took. I was lost in the fascinating green light. We were moving to smoother waters. We were in no hurry. Taking our time was fine. There was always plenty of time on the gulf. "Is he OK?" Boris asked. "You've been sitting there for ten minutes and you haven't spoken to me. Is it something I said?"
His voice disturbed me in a distant sort of a way. I kept floating away from myself, after leaving Ivan.
"I didn't see you," I said, looking his way.
I don't know if Boris was there when I sat down or if he came afterward. I hadn't noticed him sitting there and I didn't notice if he walked up. He was hard to miss in canary yellow slacks, a baby blue polo shirt, penny loafers without benefit of socks.
"Is he going to be OK?" Boris asked again, pacing his words to make sure I understood him.
"I don't know. What's OK? He's sleeping. He was exhausted."
"My brother is something else," Boris admitted. "He knows how to put on a show. How could he sit there all that time? I had enough by noon. He leaves me to wonder why he does what he does."
"He did it for you, Boris," I insisted, having heard it from Ivan.
I heard him laughing before I watched him laughing. It wasn't a ha, ha, ha, laugh. He was busting a gut.
The laughter died away after a couple of minutes.
We both watched the wake spread out behind us.
"I box," Boris said, after considering the gulf for a time. "I taught Ivan what I know. I knew he'd give me a run for my money. He's smart. He sees stuff I don't see. I have a trainer. Bolo boxed professionally. Now he teaches guys like me. He claims I have potential.
"So I teach Ivan the moves I know. I'm no Bolo, so Ivan's getting a second hand education. I wanted to knock him on his ass a few times. Remind him I was his big brother. I work at being a boxer. I'm good. Oh, I'll never amount to anything in the ring, but the discipline allows me to keep in shape. The ladies like that. You don't know about the ladies yet. The ladies are everything."
"Do they box too?" I asked, trying to get him back on track. "Is that how you get the girls?"
Boris looked at me like he forgot where he was going.
"Boxing helps to keep my body hard," he said, drinking from his soda he had tucked between his legs. "Girls like a hard body."
He paused, still looking behind us. The breeze had subsided and the chop in the water smoothed out. Boris thought over his words. "So I teach Ivan the moves Bolo taught me. I showed him how my long arms allow me to clip him on the button and knock him down."
"Button?" I asked.
"Chin. Button. Knockout punch if you execute it properly. I don't have the power for a knockout punch, but I can sting him good."
"It's all about me knowing what I'm doing and teaching him enough to make him think he knows what he's doing. I'm not dumb enough to teach him how to hurt me. Ivan would hurt me if I did. Advantage is always mine. He's never going to outreach me. He can't throw a punch like I can."
"Because you have longer arms," I said.
I swiveled my seat to see him without turning my head. I sensed something I wanted to hear is coming. I'd heard Ivan's version of this story. Hearing Boris' version interested me.
"We box. I knock him on his ass. He gets up and I knock him down again," he said, still watching the water. "Ivan can't figure out how to get a shot at me. He wants to. He wants to kick my ass. You saw how he gets. We box. I knock him down. He won't quit.
"No matter how many times I knock Ivan down, he gets back up. He's watching what I'm doing. He thinks he's going to beat me, Clay."
"He's learning something you didn't teach him," I said. "He can't reach you because you know how to keep him away from you."
"I don't know this of course. I know Ivan's smarter than I am, but all he knows about boxing is what I taught him," Boris said, trailing off his last few words. "I didn't teach him how to beat me."
Boris looked at me for a minute or two. He finished his soda.
"You're his friend. I'm his brother. What you know about me is what Ivan told you. We're made of the same stuff. Ivan just has more of it than me. I'm soft. I want life to be easy. Ivan doesn't do easy."
"You and Ivan box? I think you were knocking him down a lot."
"One day he comes to Tampa, after our mother calls for him. I he's changed his boxing style. I ask him if he's training with someone. He says no, but he tells me he's been giving our sparring matches some thought.
"We get in the ring. He doesn't move the same way as last time. When I get into position to tag him on the button, he counters my move. When I set up to go the other way, he switches back so he's always moving away from my power. I can't even find him. I didn't teach him to move like that. He's figured it out on his own.
"After we do that dance for a few minutes, he switches back to his old style. I figure I had him now. He'd made me mad and now I was going to knock him on his ass. I set him up for my best punch. Ivan's waiting for me. He lets me take my shot and while I'm off balance, he sidesteps me and slips inside on my body.
"I wasn't ready for that. Didn't matter when I was. Even when I knew what he was going to do, he still outmaneuvered me. He's got this short jab he keeps hitting me with. I can't get him off me."
"He's hurting you?" I asked, knowing the answer.
"Damn right. You ever been hit five shots in the kidney. Don't waste your time trying it. You won't like it. I clinch to keep him from hitting me. He keeps hitting me anyway. I can't do anything about it.
Each time I push him away, he's right back on my body again."
"He took your advantage away. He found one of his own," I said.
"You'd be surprised how little we box now. I don't want my little brother making me say uncle, but when he gets in on my body, I'd done. He's like a bad dream. He keeps coming back."
"He's tenacious," I said.
"Ivan is smarter than me. He's tougher than me. You saw that yesterday," Boris said, looking at me. "Do you understand?"
"Not really," I said. "I know he's smart. He has courage."
"Let me get to something more recent. Ivan didn't catch that fish for me, Clay. He caught that fish to prove he's tougher than I am. Hell, I know he's tougher than me, but I'm prettier. The ladies like pretty. They'll tell you their secrets when you're pretty as me."
"Do you tell them yours?" I asked.
He looked behind the boat to close off the opening he'd given me. I threw no punches. It wasn't my battle.
Boris turned my world upside down the day he arrived. His read on things was different from Ivan's. If Boris was right and Ivan was out to show him up, why did Ivan say he caught the fish for Boris?
Ivan and I were beyond our brief dust up. Not to believe part of what Ivan told me below deck was to suspect everything he said. I believed Ivan. In the shape he was in, he didn't have the strength to make things up. In the shape he was in, he used his strength to set things straight between us.
Boris didn't attempt to put his dust up with Ivan behind him. What was between them ran deeper than anything I knew. Each had a grudge against the other. I still didn't know the entire story. I wasn't letting what was between the brothers come between Ivan and me.
I considered they could both be right. Ivan did catch the fish for Boris. By catching it he showed Boris up. One things didn't exclude the other. Ivan's intentions were honorable. When Boris refused the fish, Ivan returned it to the sea.
I doubt Mr. Aleksa wasn't surprised by the outcome. The sport fishing trip may have been an opportunity for Boris to redeem himself in his father's eyes. Boris fell short of that. Ivan refused to quit.
Everyone who worked on the boat with me knew how fascinated I was by the rare species that came out of the sea. When Ivan obviously put the marlin back for me, I don't think that surprised Mr. Aleksa either. He'd come to respect my desire to preserve sea life when and where I could.
I didn't know when Boris left. I sat looking into the dark behind the boat. In many ways I was still a boy. Fishing with a rod and reel required a different set of skills than fishing with nets. I was good with one and cared little for the other, but it was all fishing.
I'd been in love with Ivan since forever, or so it seemed. I didn't know what the feelings meant. I felt their power deep inside me. I don't remember any other feelings reaching me there. When I looked at Ivan, I knew those feelings were only for him. As there were different kinds of fishing, I figured there were different kinds of love.
I didn't doubt Ivan's feelings for me, but it wasn't just Ivan and me. The world revolved around our lives, but it seldom trespassed on our beach. We couldn't keep it out of our lives forever, no matter how much we loved each other, or how little we cared about what the insane leaders of the world's governments did.
World leaders had the power to come and get us any time they wanted. They didn't care about love or what we thought of them.
We had no say about anything once we were off our beach. Laws and rules of conformity controlled everyone beyond the beach where we lived. As long as we stayed on our beach, we were safe and no one knew who we were, as long as we were legally boys.
Once we were out among the people, we were obligated to follow the rules. Out there we had no right to be in love. In some cases, as was true of many minorities, we could lose our right to be alive if we made our love known. The world wasn't a safe place for love.
Ivan and I were growing up. We'd conform or perish. By the day Ivan caught the big fish, I'd adapted Ivan's anti establishment view of things. I understood the danger. I didn't want to leave my beach. I didn't want to conform to the world leaders' idea of the world they wanted the people to live in.
What happened when I was forced to conform or face the consequences? I sensed there would be force. I sensed there would be consequences for our love.
If my parents were worried about their wild child son, who lived up the beach with his boyfriend, they didn't tell me. My last haircut came in April in order to prevent me running afoul of hair length rules at school.
Even when we ate at my parents' table, they didn't mention my unruly hair. School started soon. I'd need to get it cut to conform to school regulations. My long golden locks wouldn't cut it at school.
I believed in Ivan, our beach, and the Vilnius Two. I believed in the fish and whatever came out of the deep. I could see these things and they influenced my life. Everything else was a rumor sanctioned by people who profited from the status quo.
Considering the sorry condition of the world, I concluded that the folks running it were Looney Tunes drawn to amuse themselves. If they knew how to lead people or to make things better, they were keeping it a secret.
At school in Tulsa, we were taught to 'duck and cover.'
I'd seen pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Duck and cover what? Several square miles of major cities in Japan were vaporized by The Bomb. Our government said, 'Duck and cover?' It proved the insanity of our leaders to me.
When they drop the next A-Bomb, I want to be where I can say, 'What was that?' I want to be on the gulf, where the insanity didn't reach yet. I thought these things overnight, after Ivan caught the marlin, after Ivan told me that he loved me.
That was real. That was worth living for.
It was daylight by the time I figured out where I stood in the world where I lived. The sad part about what I knew was, I didn't know anything. I saw what was, what men created, and it was mostly bad, but there was nothing I could do about it.
As far away from the trouble as our beach was, it would never be far enough.
"Duck and cover my ass," I said, knowing it wasn't polite, even when they drop The Bomb on my ass, I should say posterior so as not to offend anyone. It was a joke the powerful played on the people. Watch your verbiage, while we take everything you have.
A Pepsi appeared under my nose. I had stayed glued to the seat all night. I wasn't tired. I didn't remember sleeping.
"Breakfast for two."
Ivan sat next to me so he could help me see where we'd been.
"Sorry about last night. I wasn't myself," Ivan said. "I lost my head. You mad at me?"
"Too bad. I rather liked the guy who kissed me. A lot!"
"You caught me. I'm not sorry. I just said that in case you wanted me to be sorry. We'd said we weren't going to...."
Ivan turned his head to look at me, before looking back to the gulf. He drank almost all his root beer in one long steady swallow.
"I think I missed dinner," he said. "At least I'm missing it now. I should have bit that marlin, while I had the chance."
"You missed all of yesterday. I think you took one sandwich."
His eyes were darker than usual. His face was etched with lines I'd never seen before. He looked tired.
"What did you name it, Clayton?" he asked into the wind that whipped at the back of the boat.
"What?" I asked.
"The fish. You name everything. I know you named that fish. Fess up, Clay," Ivan said.
It had become cooler overnight. I stood to stretch my legs. My mind had been so full of thoughts that it ran on without me. I must have fallen asleep at some point or maybe I spaced out.
"Egg salad or Tuna?" I asked, intending to get us food.
"God, nothing with fish. I don't ever want to see another fish."
"Maybe there's a roast beef left, but I kind of doubt it. They disappear fast," I said.
"Eggs for breakfast is good. It isn't last night? Please, tell me it's not last night."
"It's tomorrow. I hope you feel better than you look," I said.
"Cough it up, Olson. What did you name that fish?" Ivan asked.
"You think you know so much. You may not be as smart as you think," I said, going to check the picnic basket to see if there were any sandwiches left.
"Lucky," I said back over my shoulder. "I called him Lucky."
As I went into the galley, I got a large surprise. The picnic basket was already out. A very naked and aroused Kenny was looking into it. I wasn't the only one shopping for breakfast. He didn't notice me. Boris came into view a second later. He too was naked and aroused. I was hungry, but I was rarely that hungry. I guess food excited some folks more than others.
"You pick a hell of a time to decide you're hungry," Boris said, moving up close to Kenny.
"Told you I'd be right back," Kenny said.
Boris began helping Kenny look into the basket at about the time he saw me. He took one giant step away from Kenny, looking unsteady. I suspect a lot of his blood had run downhill.
"We aren't the only hungry ones," Boris said, trying to hide his erection but not having big enough hands.
"Want an egg, Clay?" Kenny asked, hardly glancing my way.
An egg came sailing my way.
Having three older brothers, an egg coming at my face wasn't much of a challenge. I took it out of the air and didn't miss a thing.
"Oh," Boris said, discovering he was naked. "I was going to piss."
"Yeah, you were before I came to the galley," Kenny said. "Want an egg, Boris?"
"Sure. I better get my shorts," Boris said. "Put it on the table."
Kenny looked at me and shrugged. I liked the view and Kenny didn't seem to mind.
"What's your pleasure this morning?" Kenny asked.
"A couple of egg salad sandwiches. One more egg to go," I said, trying not to lose my train of thought.
Another egg came flying my way. He didn't look before tossing it. He walked the sandwiches over and put them in my hand. I looked down but not at the sandwiches.
"Nothing I can do about it. Once it stands up it salutes everyone. Takes a firm hand to get it to go down. Don't take it personal," Kenny said. "That'll be a buck two fifty."
"I bet it does," I said, looking at how white his butt was compared to the rest of him.
His skin almost glowed everywhere above his waist. His legs were closer to being tan. If I were him, I'd never wear clothes, but fishing in the buff wasn't a good plan. I'd seen him in the bunk next to the galley dozens of times over the last year. He'd never been without his cutoff. They were nowhere in sight.
My mouth had gone dry, but it wasn't the heat this time. Drinks were in order. I tried to hide my own arousal with the sandwiches. It wasn't like I didn't watch Kenny wash himself on deck at the fish warehouse after each fishing trip, but this was a bit more erotic.
Kenny had no modesty but I hadn't seen him aroused before. It didn't bother him the way it bothered me. My curiosity was showing, and that curiosity extended to Boris being naked and aroused with Kenny. My mind was drawing some rather direct lines.
"Sodas?" I asked, as Boris reappeared in a pair of baby blue shorts.
"Orange Tru Ade," Kenny said, sitting at the table to crack the shell on his egg.
"Root Beer," Boris said, sitting across from Kenny.
"Weird time to go bashful, sailor?" Kenny said, while salting the egg.
I handed over the sodas, taking my Pepsi and a root beer for Ivan toward the doorway, leaving them alone. I suspect my eyes gave me away. They seemed amused by my awkward departure.
I felt oddly out of place the entire time I was in the galley. It was like they knew something I didn't know and they weren't talking. I'd gotten what I came for and a floor show to boot. Not bad for a day that had just begun.
I looked when I saw something interesting. I liked how it made me feel. I didn't do anything and all they could do was guess about whether I would or not. Inconvenient feelings about other boys weren't new, but I rarely had so much to look at.
It wasn't warming much, even with the sun on the rise. The breeze had switched around to the northwest, which kept it cooler. This was the time in August the weather began to change and the heat let up a bit.
Ivan cracked the egg on his head as I watched amazed.
"Hardest thing around," he said, smiling my way.
"Not in the galley it isn't. What's with Boris and Kenny?"
Ivan's head wasted no time turning my way. He gave me one of those long studying looks.
"I thought Boris was this womanizer. The champion ladies' man," I added to the mix.
"It's not all there is, Clay. He didn't...? Did my brother touch you?"
"No. No way. Kenny and him are in the galley picking over the picnic basket. Naked! Both of them had erections and looked like the cat that swallowed the canary when I walked in," I explained.
"I told you about Kenny. What he did before Daddy hired him."
"Yeah, but he was with Boris. What does that have to do.... Boris and Kenny are?"
"You draw your own conclusions. I'm not talking about what other people do. It's really none of your business. They're just stupid for letting you see them."
"The big ladies man does guys?"
The wheels were turning in my head as I stared at Ivan.
"Don't you dare ask me. It's none of your business," he said.
"You sound just like you did the day you bit my head off, Ivan."
Ivan stared at me, letting his glare soften.
"That's why you got so mad? You thought...? Not even. Your brother is hot, Ivan. I'm not blind, but I'd never...."
"It's not you I'm worried about, Clay. Just let it go. Drop it. If you love me, forget what you saw. Let it go."
I looked at him a little longer and Ivan was blushing. I'd never seen him blush. I wasn't interested in what it meant. I was more than a little confused.
We sat in silence, eating our eggs and egg salad sandwiches. The Pepsi was particularly nice and Ivan's words explained a lot.
I saw Mr. Aleksa standing at the door of the bridge, drinking coffee. He watched us for a few minutes before coming over.
"Sleep well, Ivan?" he asked, looking at his tired son.
"I more passed out," Ivan said. "I'm a bit stiff this morning."
'A lot of that going around,' I thought.
"Do you want a sandwich?" I asked. "Better let me get you one before Boris and Kenny finish them off," I said.
I wanted another shot at the goings on in the galley.
"No thanks. I got one a while back. Coffee is all I need in the morning."
"Soda is way more nutritious," Ivan said.
"Hell of a fight you put up yesterday, son. Not much to show for it, but you caught one of the biggest marlin to come over the side of this boat. Makes a father proud of his son to see he's capable of that."
"I was over Woolworth's with my mother the day I was in Tampa for her company picnic, Dad. On the walls of Woolworth's they have plastic swordfish. Right beside the pink flamingos they were. Some are three foot. Some are four foot long. If I start feeling like I want a fish on my wall, I'll go there," Ivan said. "Once they get dusty, you can't tell they're plastic."
"Yes, you can, but none will put up the fight that marlin put up yesterday. Took a man to land that fish."
"Can't argue that. It took all I had to get him to the boat, but once you see a fish on the wall somewhere, you've pretty much seen them all, Dad. The fish in the sea, now that's something to see," Ivan said unashamed. "Right, Clay?"
Mr. Aleksa was already looking at me. He knew where Ivan got the inspiration to return the fish to where it belonged. He didn't seem put off by the idea or Ivan's loyalty to a friend.
"Absolutely!" I said, giving him my biggest smile.
"Can't argue the sentiment. Leaving a couple of big fish in the sea is a good idea," Mr. Aleksa said, sipping coffee and looking out at the gulf. "Give us one more to catch next time."
"Clay, are we going to make a fisherman out of you?" Mr. Aleksa asked.
"You've already done that. I feel like I belong at sea," I admitted.
"I know. I didn't know you knew yet. You'll do well, Clay. You can sail with me any time leave port."
"Thank you. That's nice of you to say," I said, flattered by his comment.
"A man needs to love something that makes him glad to be alive. I see that love in your eyes each time we sail into the gulf," he said.
"I've always loved the gulf, Dad," Ivan said.
"You loved it from the beach. Any landlubber can do that," Mr. Aleksa said. "Takes a fisherman to love it from out here."
"Than call me a fisherman," Ivan said.
"No plans today, fishermen. We'll go the way the wind blows and see what we can see. Fish if you like. We're in no hurry. I figure we'll dock when we get there. I plan to get some sleep before I put the boat back the way it belongs. We'll be ready to go by next Friday."
Mr. Aleksa was direct and as easy-going a man as I'd met in my life. He'd come a long way to fish on the gulf, but he was a man in the place he wanted to be and doing what he wanted to do.
It was what I'd call a lazy day. After we ate the last of the sandwiches that afternoon, Ivan ramped up the boom, climbed it, and dove into the gulf from about thirty feet above the water. Both Boris and Kenny followed him up the rigging of the boom to dive off. I watched. I was a good watcher.
After we docked, we did as Mr. Aleksa said we would. This time Kenny went along. We ate pizza and hamburgers. We finished with ice cream cones before we got groceries for the week.
The best part of the day was dropping Kenny back at the boat. For the first time all afternoon, I could breathe. Kenny took a cloud of smoke with him all afternoon. At twenty-five cents a pack, he'd never be able to save any money.
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