The gym was where I went when I wanted to cool out. I worked hard and didn't pursue an active social life at the time, so at days end I often went up to Holiday Health Spa in Landover. I'd started pumping iron two years before because that's what the big boys did, and if they took a liking to you, even if you weren't one of the big boys, you'd best not say no when they invited you to sit in on their pumping up.
It sounds far more suggestive than it was.
My biggest surprise was how ready they were to pull weights off after they lifted and add them back once I'd done my middleweight life. I wasn't a "wuss." I worked construction, and drove trucks for a living, but even so, 260 pounds was my best free weight bench press. Most of them outweighed me by twenty, thirty, or forty pounds, so to them I was a middleweight, although I never felt like they treated me like one. Being included in the free weight crowd was serious stuff, even if I didn't measure up.
At first I was intimidated by them and their weights, but at the same time I was flattered that they'd ask me to lift with them. One would later explain that I was doing them the favor. The time they took putting my weights on the bar gave them time to recover. When I was done they were ready for another rotation. What looked like work to me was a break to them. I don't know if it was true or not, but it eased my mind.
My limit was two hundred and fifty pounds, which was a hundred pounds more then I weighed. I enjoyed lifting weights but I didn't need to go beyond my goal. I had always heard that bench pressing your weight meant you were strong. Lifting a hundred pounds more than my weight was quite enough of a strain to place on my body and its joints and muscles.
One day they challenged me to go a little beyond what I'd set as a limit just so I knew in my mind that I could indeed go further should I make the decision to do so. I don't know who made the original challenge, but I agreed since he made it sound so logical when he said it. They set me up with 260, and I pumped it off my chest three times in a row before I asked them to remove the weight from my hands.
There was a small celebration and everyone agreed I was the man. It's easy for other men to yield to your manhood when they routinely bench press 325 to 350 pounds. It no longer intimidated me that they were possessed with determination to push harder, higher, and faster than anyone else.
Every once in a while one of our group would fall by the wayside. Someone would say he heard this or he heard that, and others would say they didn't know. Then there were those men who were invited to join us from time to time. It started with a nod and a smile and casual conversation.
The newcomer often would stand and admire the strength, style, and grace with which the weight was being lifted, and the next thing you know their backs were on the bench for their obligatory 150 pound press. Now, a newcomer might be pressing nearly the entire stack on the machine that imitated the motion of bench pressing, but free weights require far more strength to lift and starting with a light weight is best.
I was never a big team sport man. I ran track in high school, which went quite well. I was never so much a part of a team as I was a guy who ran with other guys who did happen to be on the team. Mostly I was doing my own thing. Weight lifting at the gym wasn't like that. We were all guys doing our own thing, except we were doing it together.
Most of them wanted to be admired and told they looked good, which they did, because none of them were crazy competitive. It was mainly what you did to impress the ladies, but a lot of egos were fed by the compliments that came from the other men.
I wasn't a great social animal and mostly I liked one on one. I'd loved and been loved exactly once at the time, and I knew what that was, but it isn't something I can explain, but it had nothing to do with why I came and lifted weight. It may have also been the reason why I didn't have an active social life.
I had no fear and I didn't find it at all threatening. In fact it was the greatest experience of my life. It made getting up in the morning worth while and for the first time in my life I wasn't alone, and alone was the thing I feared most and it was also the thing I had the most experience with until I met David. Why him, why then, I can't say, but for over three years we were a couple and I couldn't conceive of life without him next to me.
Now I was satisfied with afternoons at the gym and evenings in front of the television. I was getting by and that's all most people ever do. While I'd endured the ultimate happiness with David, all happiness is fleeting, like life itself. You grab the gold ring when you see it dangled in front of you and you hold on tight. Then you celebrate for the rest of your life, because no matter how fleeting the ultimate happiness is, true love is better than anything else known to man.
We all aspire to love and when we love, we give it our all. At least I did. Even when the gold ring tarnished, I held on tight until it became obvious that it was time to let it go. When it ended, I never forgot the taste of love, even when times were tough. I lived with the hope I'd love again, although my posture protected against it. When I least expect it and under the worst of circumstances, I felt a slight flame flickering inside.
It was Thursday afternoon I came strolling into the gym with the intention of working out, taking a steam, and heading home refreshed. It was raining. I was early and the big boys were there. I pushed open the swinging doors without the thought that timing is everything and my timing today was particularly good.
In front of me was a tall thin man sitting naked on one of the wooden benches. He was doubled over vomiting. There was a loud bellow and gurgling and a muffled rumbling from inside him as he added to the growing pink puddle. I stood watching his misery for a few seconds. It was obvious he needed help and no one was making any attempt to assist him and I was going to change that.
I could tell nothing about the badly bent man beyond the fact he was thin and very much in distress. I did look much beyond his need for intervention. It would be my mission to do something in the way of assisting him before I worked out.
I remembered the pile of dirty towels in the room where the guy gave massages later in the afternoon. I set down my bag, heading for the pile of towels that would make quick work of the puddle he was producing. I began mopping up the outside of the spill, moving in toward his feet after using up two or three towels. I made sure I didn't spend much time in his line of fire.
I squatted in front of him after he'd finished another discharge that showered his feet and legs with an odd looking pinkish, reddish mixture, but he was running out of stomach contents. He lifted his head as though he could hardly lift the weight, glanced at me before his head drooped back down toward his knees.
My first thought was to reduce the amount of sludge in front of him. Often the odor coming from the contents of one's stomach is enough to further you sick. I used the two dirty towels to mop up the flowting liquid and then folded the chucky deposits into the third towel, immediately depositing them in the wash tub in the janitor's room and let the water run until the towels were under water.
With the forth and cleanest towel I wiped the bile from his feet and lower legs. I knew he knew I was there because I saw him moving ever so slightly while I did my initial pass to tidy things up. Once I placed the towel on his skin, he roused himself enough to partially lift his head out from between his knees. He tilted his head back and forced his eyes open to look upon his servant.
"Thank you," came a weak, barely audible appreciation.
I found myself caught by two azure blue eyes. They hadn't opened long but for that instant, he looked at me intensely enough to see my soul, or to allow me to see his, or both. His head dropped back down in stages. He seemed too ill to respond further. I reached up and touched his shoulder with my fingers to reassure him.
"Glad to be able to help. I've had it happen to me and it ain't no picnic," I said.
The other thing the touch revealed to me was his cool damp skin. I'd been tempted to ask someone to call for help. I'd rarely seen anyone so incapacitated in a public place. It was obvious this man was in more than a little distress. His skin indicated it was probably food poisoning and not the result of too much exercise too close to a meal. That was over pretty quick and while it was no walk in the park it was little more than an inconvenience on a bad day.
I deposited the final towel in the same sink and checked until I found his stash of clean towels. I took my time waiting to see if he would move. When I returned I saw he hadn't moved and my concern increased until I noticed he now had his hands folded out in front of him, his elbows resting on his knees. His blondish hair was remarkably neat in the midst of such an ordeal. I decided if he didn't respond after this, I'd insist we call for help.
I took the clean towel and started to wipe his arms vigorously as I sat on the bench beside him. He sat up weakly, leaning his head and shoulders back on the lockers behind him. It took him a few seconds to open his eyes as I continued to vigorously rub his chest and shoulders to remove any sign of the barf from his skin. I wanted to force him to move around so he would get his energy flowing. As I used the towel roughly on his chest I noticed how well cut he was, although the muscles were all thin and without the deep cut of the muscle boys I associated with at the club.
He kept his eyes on me and I could not help but notice the quality I found in them. I also noticed his face. I found myself with a stunningly handsome man. I carefully avoided his eyes for as long as I could. I stopped rubbing and stood in front of him. His gaze was unending.
"You are very kind," he said with just a slight bit more volume in his voice.
"You are very sick," I said. "How do you feel?"
"A little better. I think I'm finished. I'll be okay," he whispered.
"Just take your time. When you feel like you're ready I'll help you get into the shower. You need to let the cool water run on your skin. It will make you feel better," I paced my words so he would understand I wasn't in a hurry.
His eyes did not leave me.
"Thank you for helping me. I wouldn't have made it by myself," he said with a bit more strength in his voice.
"You sure you are going to be okay?" I asked.
"I think so."
I got up and returned one more time to the little room and found another clean towel. I wet it with cool water and returned to my patient. He watched me cross the floor and sit back next to him.
"You've got it all over your face. In your nose. Close your eyes," I ordered.
I blotted the cool towel on his face. He opened and closed his eyes several times as if it took all his strength. His face was a wonderful tan. His neck was long and lighter in color. I'd started off wanting to help a sick fellow traveler and I found the longer I attended him the more interested I became.
His eyes opened once I put the towel down on his neck. He once more followed every move I made. I'd seldom had anyone watch me so carefully. He seemed to be coming back to life, but his eyes and head were about all that moved unless I moved it. His back stayed pressed against the lockers.
"Blow," I said, handing him the towel.
The cutest smile came on his lips as he took the towel from me. His tapered fingers felt mine for only an instant but for longer than it was necessary to take the towel.
"Your nose," I said to clarify the meaning of the word.
The smile returned.
He looked down at the towel he had taken from me and took his face to it, first blowing gently and then more vigorously, taking control of the towel to clear his nasal passages of obstructions. When I reached for it he held it down to one side.
"No, not after I did that in it. It's bad enough you cleaning up after me."
"I didn't mind," I said. "I'm glad I could help you."
"Why?" he said, seeming to want an answer.
He was sitting up straight now. His arms were thin but not too thin. There was definition enough to appreciate. The skin was golden almost to the shoulder. His thighs were more muscular and white with no hair until you got below the knees where almost invisible blond hairs abounded. I suppose he could see the survey I was taking. His eyes were back in mine each time I stopped looking at his beauty.
"Why? You looked like you needed help. I tried to help," I said.
"You did," he said. "I think I can make it to the shower."
I heard the words but it hadn't occurred to me I should let him get away. Whatever it was between us, I wasn't ready to let it go. I was no prize. I suppose my body was better than it had ever been. I'd gained ten pounds of mostly muscle in the past year, and I lifted weights three, four, and five times a week. I knew my body was fine, but I'd never stopped any traffic and I hesitated walking around without my clothes. He had no idea what my body looked like; I was totally dressed and not big enough to make an impression in my clothes. I certainly didn't think I could make an impression on this handsome stranger.
"Bob," he said, holding his right hand out for me. "My friends call me Robby."
"I'm Rick, Robby," I said, taking his hand.
The handshake was unimpressive. Robby didn't have a lot of strength. Of course he'd been in bad shape when I found him and the lack of grip wasn't much of a surprise. I treated his hand as I had treated the rest of him, gently. The handshake was like the towel exchange, longer than necessary as his eyes were back on me. That blue was making my heart pound, and we stared at each other for a minute. There wasn't anything to say.
"I'll try if you'll help me," he said.
"Sure," I agreed.
"I'll be fine. I'm feeling a bit dizzy. I think once I'm up I'll be okay. Help me to the shower and if I'm not getting my legs under me, I'll let you know," he said.
"Sure," I said, standing up.
When Robby stood he was taller than I was by several inches. His body looked even better once he stood. His shoulders were wide but his waist was small. I figured he was in his late twenties and he wasn't a weight lifter, although his body was modestly muscular with no fat on his body. I felt a little guilty enjoying my proximity to him, but he wanted assistance.
After standing he reached his arm out as if he expected me to be there. Following his lead, I let his arm rest on my shoulder, putting my arm around his waist. He leaned toward me to see if I would furnish the balance he was looking for and seemed satisfied. His head drooped toward me and our faces were just an inch apart. His eyes opened and he looked into mine briefly and with no disaffection we started toward the showers. He made an effort to carry more and more of his own weight as we made slow progress.
"That's better," he said. "I might live."
There were a few men roaming about in towels as they came and went from the showers, a steam, or sauna. None looked at the two men with their arms around one another and their bodies touching intimately. We were invisible and perhaps their embarrassment about not being the one to offer aid to someone in need of help made them blind to someone who did. I really didn't care what anyone thought.
I felt less of his weight as he trusted his legs more. He didn't move his arm off my shoulder and I kept a tight hold on him. We'd come too far for me to let him fall down now. Once he was in the shower he would be able to lean on the tile and the water running over him would be the best treatment.
I stood with him until his arm reached up to hold the support on the door. He turned to face me causing my hand to slide across the top of his bottom end. His skin was soft and he tried to offer me a weak smile.
"How can I thank you?" he said, leaning on the shower stall now.
"There's a bar downstairs. You can let me buy you some ginger ale before I let you go. It will settle your stomach. I want to know you're okay before you get out there and try to drive."
"Okay," he said and he seemed fine with the idea we weren't done yet.
It was all I could think of to be able to stay with him a few minutes more. I didn't know what he had done to me but I hadn't felt what I was feeling in a long long time. Now all those tickly prickly nerve ends were super charged. They had me limited by the time and the place. And after one glass of ginger ale, he'd probably walk out of my life if the stars weren't in perfect alignment.
Going back to the bench where I'd found him, I sat watching him use soap on himself. He glided the bar over every line and into every crevice and his movements were slow and precise like he'd done it a thousand times. I watched and studied every feature of the man. It was still fairly early and the foot traffic was light. No one paid any attention to me and I saw only him. I wasn't sure what was happening to me but I both loved it and hated it. I'd loved before and my heart had been ripped from my chest and crushed for a closing act of that play. Now that those feelings had suddenly rekindled with no permission from me, I was scared by their intensity and scared by what I thought it meant.
He stopped washing himself and let the water run over his skin. He rinsed all the soap off, holding his narrow face under the water for a long time. When he looked down out of the shower his head turned and I could see those eyes as vividly as when he was right next to me. Once more our eyes were locked in one another's; I sat, he stood, the water ran, and time went on whether either of us knew what was going on between us or not. I can't say Robby was unaware of my attraction to him and I can't say if he felt any of the intensity of my feelings; what I can say is I'd never experienced anything like it before at a first meeting.
He came toward me at a more normal pace. I kept my eyes on him. Perhaps he would fall. Perhaps he'd need more help. Perhaps I simply wanted to memorize every line and detail I could.
I stood nearby as he dressed. His clothes were nice and well kept. He stuffed his black tie into the leather jacket he put on. He was a businessman, a salesman, someone that dealt with the public. He looked like a businessman. When he sat back on the bench he pulled on his black nylon socks and pushed his feet into the fine leather shoes. When he bent to tie them, he immediately sat straight up looking queasy.
"Bad idea," he said softly.
There he sat looking down at his feet and his untied shoes.
I kneeled in front of him and started tying.
"Don't," he protested mildly. "You've done enough. I'll be all right in a minute."
"Right! You looked like you might roll off that bench when you bent over. I don't mind finishing what I started."
"Probably," he said, sounding listless as he leaned all the way back against the lockers again. "I feel like such a fool. I knew better than to eat that pizza before I came to workout. My father's opening a new store and I'm working constantly. I wanted to work out today but I was starved once I got out of the store. I bought that damn pizza and I knew it could come back to haunt me."
"Oh, you have ESP," I said, sounding surprised.
"No, terminal dumbness," he said.
The eyes were on me as I finished the second shoe. I stood and his eyes stood with me. For the first time I had to look away. For the first time he was making me nervous. We were on equal terms until just then. He was so sick he couldn't see straight and I was myself and he hadn't noticed. Now that he was recovering, why would someone that looked like he did want to have anything to do with me? There was only one answer I could come up with, and I looked out of his eyes and toward the door.
"I'll buy the ginger ale," Robby declared.
"You don't understand. I'm doing a good deed here. How can I let you buy the ginger ale and keep my good deed standing," I said, feeling as stupid as I sounded.
"How can I repay you?" He asked. "You've been so kind to me."
He sounded sincere and he looked sincere and I still could see his face and remember everything I knew about him. I'd buy ginger ale and we'd stand and make small talk and then we'd never see each other again.
"One day you will walk into a locker room and someone will be blowing chunks on their feet. You'll stop and take the time to help them. That's how you repay me. I call it passing on a random act of kindness," I said, knowing only part of it was true. I'd probably have stayed with him even if he hadn't been an Adonis, but he'd have bought the ginger ale.
"That's nice," he said sounding like he meant it. "So, I don't owe you anything?"
"No, I was happy I could help you," I said.
"You ready?" He asked.
* * * * * * * * *
Ginger Ale Rainbows
We took our gym bags and went to the bar. The reason the gym was almost empty was that everyone was in the bar. I ended up going to the bar to get the ginger ales. I took them back to where he stood. We were watching each other again. I needed to get away from him and I never wanted him to leave me.
"Thanks," he said, removing the glass from my hand.
He sipped from his straw and I threw mine on the table and drank from the glass. The ice was cool and soothing. The ginger ale was fresh.
"Does it really help an upset stomach?" he asked, questioning my motives I suspected.
"So my grandmother says. If it doesn't, blame her not me. I don't get sick that often," I said. "How often do you workout here."
I figured I'd pump him for information since he was still mine for a few more minutes.
"Never," he said, blowing me away with a word.
"Oh," I said.
"I was working out in Bethesda and I knew the Landover club was on the beltway. I figured it would be faster coming here instead of going into town and fighting all that traffic in Silver Spring."
"I see. Want another?" I asked.
"No," he said. "I've got to meet my fiancée. I'm already late. She's going to go ballistic. She hates it when I'm late."
"Did the ginger ale work?"
"Yeah, I think I do feel better. I'll be okay now. It's time I got going."
We walked in silence. He carried his gym bag and I carried mine. His strides were long and steady. Robby oozed with self-confidence. We went through the double doors facing Central Avenue and the stage was set for us to part.
He drove a little red sports car. It was too small for him but he made it look good.
"You sure you're okay?" I asked, leaning on his window after he rolled it down for me.
"Yeah, I'm fine now."
The engine started and I looked around as I stood up. When I looked down he was still looking up at me. My insides did a twist and a turn. I guess I should have spoken up but why mess up what had been a nice interlude. I didn't want to end it on a sour note. I could dream and he'd go away thinking what a neat guy I was. I liked that ending best.
I didn't move from that spot as I watched him driving away. I followed the sports car with my eyes. He didn't look this time.
I don't ever remember feeling like I felt just then. It was almost like someone had ripped a piece of me off and driven away with it. Robby was one in a million and a guy like that had no use for a guy like me. I did feel good about helping him. There was that. I smiled thinking I had done good even if it no longer felt very good. I removed my keys from my pocket as I approached the door of my van. The lock clicked and as I put my hand on the handle, I heard a horn behind me. I turned and there was this cute red little sports car sitting beside me. I walked around to the driver's window wondering what it meant.
"Here," he said. "Write down you phone number. I don't care what you say. I'm taking you out to dinner. What you did went beyond an act of kindness. I want to do this for you, please," he pleaded with his voice.
Robby could have had anything he wanted from me. I certainly wouldn't deny him this. It was a matchbook and once I was done with it he tossed it into his glove compartment. His eyes were on me as I handed him back his ink pen. I'd never hear from this guy again, I thought. Why not an address book, something permanent. I guess beggars can't be choosers. There was always the chance he would remember it was in there. There was always the chance he'd find it when he looked for it. There was always the chance it wouldn't get tossed out or someone wouldn't use the matches and throw away the matchbook. There was always the chance I still wasn't ever going to see him again.
"Thanks again," he said. "I mean it."
"Glad I was able to help," I said.
This time he put it in gear and eased away looking back over his shoulder at me. It felt worse the second time he left me that night. My heart sank and I had to sit in my truck for a while to recover from my loss. How cruel was fate anyway? I didn't enjoy being teased and tortured. David had left me five years before. I knew I'd never get over him because I loved him in a way I never loved anyone else. My loss became easier with time, but I steered clear of the intense feelings he'd ignited inside me until Robby came along.
It was good to know there was still passion inside me. It's not something I looked for but I'd found it when I met Robby. The only thing to do was go to work each day, workout in the afternoon, keeping my eye open for a Robby sighting without expecting anything.
My life was simple and easy and I didn't need to complicate it. There was always a chance he would call, but I wasn't sitting next to the phone. It was obvious to me there was a hell of a lot more going on between us than our words indicated. Posture and looks accounted for a lot more than the words. It wasn't healthy to dwell on uncertainty.
I wasn't surprised I couldn't get him out of my mind. I already knew he'd be there for awhile. He was about the best thing I'd seen in years because I avoided such intimate contacts with human beings. I wasn't looking for anyone. I'd been down that road and got kicked in the gut for my efforts. The pain never quite left me. Did I really want to get involved with someone that looked like Robby?
I thought about every detail of what happened while we were together. I relived the events daily for a couple of weeks. I went straight home from work every afternoon. I didn't stop off at the club. He never went there and so I waited near the phone. There was always the chance he would call and as long as there was that chance I'd wait for him. I guess I figured the odds at ninety nine to one, but one was all I needed when it came to Robby. If there was any hope he might call I was going to be waiting.
That lasted two weeks. If someone meant to call you after they said they were going to call you, two weeks would be about the limit when you stopped expecting them to call. I gave him a third week just in case he'd had an accident or gone out of town. I wanted to give him every opportunity to get me if he called, but he didn't call.
I went back to working out after the end of three weeks. Everyone was glad to see me and they watched me check the door each time someone came in. I'd reduced the weight I was lifting, but no one said anything. I'd announced before I started that I didn't want to get too big. The repetitions were what I was after now. I still did a set with the big boys each time they did a set and no one suggested I should step aside now. We were all friends and joked around and talked about our girlfriends, only I didn't have a girlfriend. But what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them.
I no longer thought about Robby all the time. Sometimes an hour went by without my remembering the way he looked, the way he looked at me. I couldn't believe that after an hour with someone I could feel that intensely. It was crazy. I couldn't get him out of my head. I didn't have a clue who he was or where he was from. His name was Robby, and he never came to Landover. He drove a little red sports car, and he worked for his father who owned businesses. And he produced pink and red and white puke.
* * * * * * * * *
It was spring and the days were warming. I came in from working out one afternoon and dropped down in a chair in front of the television set. I was watching something that had about half my attention and thinking about what might taste good for dinner when the phone rang. I bounced up and leaned against the door jamb as I reached into the kitchen to retrieve the phone off the wall.
"Hello," I said.
"Rick," a voice I couldn't identify said.
"Yeah," I said.
The bottom fell out of my stomach, my heart did a back flip in my chest, my knees felt weak, and I turned off the television and pulled out a chair.
"Robby, how are you feeling?"
"Pretty good. I haven't been sick like that in awhile."
"Good," I said with my mind going blank.
"I'm sorry I haven't called. My father put me in charge of opening this new store and I work every day. I think of calling and then it's nine or ten o'clock at night."
"Sounds rough," I said, hopeful and hopeless.
"It hasn't been a lot of fun. My fiancée is not happy," he said.
"Look, I told my father I had to have this weekend off. I need a break. I have a houseboat in Annapolis and I'm going to stay there starting Friday night. I know it is short notice but how about coming up and I'll take you to a nice restaurant and then you can stay the weekend if you're free."
"If I'm free," I repeated. "Let me see. I have something but it isn't important. Sure! Friday night sounds good. When and where?" I asked, reaching for a pen and an envelope to write on.
He gave me the name of the yacht club where we would meet at 7p.m. Friday evening. He was gone from the phone as fast as he was there. It had taken him almost two months to call me. I was left looking at the piece of paper with the information he'd given me. It was the first connection to him I had.
It was unusually warm and threatened rain in Annapolis when I arrived. As my truck bounced on the rut-roughened road, the sign announced that I was entering the yacht club Robby's directions had guided me to. The worry that I wouldn't find it had been part of the drive, but my good instincts for directions remained true.
Robby was leaning against the same red sports car I remembered from the last time I saw him. As I expected, he was tall, tanned, and handsome. His T-shirt and jeans were even more casual than mine, which removed that worry. As long as my headlights lit his form, I watched him. My memory was also true. Robby was walking dynamite.
I wanted to hang on to the scent of him for as long as I could. As sick as Robby had been when I first saw him, I felt a strong attraction to him in spite of his condition. I knew better than to get too far ahead of myself. I'd let my emotions run away with me before and I paid a high price in the end for following my heart instead of my head. I would go to dinner with him, accept his thanks, and be happy that I got to see him again.
His teeth all came into view as I rolled to a stop. I hadn't seen the smile before. There were half smiles and attempts at smiling, but he wasn't in a smiling mood. He pushed himself off the hood of his car and came to meet me as I stared through the glass at him returning his smile with one of my own.
"Rick," he said, reaching for my hand, leaning at the waist, extending his long arm out to touch my hand.
We did the obligatory shake and his smell came to my nose. There was a distinct scent to him. Perhaps it came out of an expensive bottle of cologne or more likely a combination of things that created his unique scent. His relaxed friendly demeanor made him more appealing.
"Glad you could come up. I know it wasn't much notice. Why don't we do dinner first and I'll bring you back and show you the boat. Did you work out today?"
"Yeah, I always work out on Fridays," I said.
"I figured you did. We'll take it easy and just come back and have a few beers," he said. "You drink?"
"Sure," I said.
"Do you like seafood?"
"Me too," he said, turning a little so he could look at me while he talked. "We'll take my car and go over to the restaurant. It's only five minutes."
Seeing the way Robby was dressed had me assuming the restaurant might not be what I was expecting, but it was even fancier. They knew him and called him by name and we were seated immediately while others waited for tables. I assumed reservations but nothing was said. The restaurant was pleasantly lit with chandeliers hanging a long way down from the ceiling. Their petite lights furnished plenty of light to eat by, but not so much you could check on what other people were eating. I found it pleasant.
"The flounder is excellent. Oysters are a little small now. Crab is always excellent," he advised.
"Imperial Crab?" I asked.
"Good choice. I'm having the fish. Do you want wine?"
"Sure," I said, and Robby started looking for the waiter to give our order.
He was casual and totally at ease. He called the waiter by name. They smiled and laughed as he leaned back in his chair to be closer to his servant. He asked for bread and for coffee. It all came in about the time it took to walk across the restaurant and back. I dove into the black bread and buried it in butter.
"I'm glad you could come," he said with the same sincerity in his voice I'd remembered from that night in Landover.
"I had to make sure you were okay after all."
"I've been fine. I never get sick like that. I can't believe I did that."
He spoke honestly and was amazed about the event that had first introduced us. He smiled often and used his hands and arms to talk. He told me about opening a furniture store for his father and how much work that entailed. He actually slept at the store many nights and now it was open. He was managing it and he was responsible to make sure that it did well. It was his store although he gave me the impression his father didn't think so. Why was he with me and not his fiancée on this rare weekend off? He'd said dinner and it had become a weekend.
We ate and drank and smiled and laughed. He was easy to be with and I enjoyed the fact that I could be with him without thinking about having to leave him. I knew Robby had something that drew me to him like a dog to a bone. It was more than good looks or good manners. Anyway, I didn't like people that looked too damn good. They were sought after and I wasn't a seeker. My search had me looking for things that ran deeper than mere good looks.
I could enjoy beauty without wanting ownership. The longer I was with Robby the more beauty there was to be explored. The reverse was more often true than not. I found the most beautiful people to be the ones I got beyond the fastest. Once enamored by such a person I found the longer I spent with them, the less there was to enjoy about him, until nothing kept us together.
I liked men and I was a man. While I had nothing against a beautiful man, I preferred a man's man. Robby was both and that was something I wasn't familiar with. Amidst the beauty was not one effeminate motion or word that might have given me something that turned me against him. I never liked it when my feelings ran so deep. I'd spent two hours with the man in my entire life and it seemed like we'd known one another forever. I was completely relaxed being with him and he seemed quite comfortable with me.
The other thing about him was his realness. There was not a phony factor about him I could identify. Not his familiarity with fancy foods in fancy restaurants, or with keeping boats at yacht clubs, or driving fancy sports cars while dressing in high dollar clothing. It was all just a natural part of his life and how he lived it. He was comfortable with the man he was and not the least bit put off by a construction worker in his pickup truck and Levi's who picked him up in a gym.
I couldn't help but wonder if he knew I had picked him up. I'd have taken him home and kept him if I thought I could get away with it. I just didn't know how that could be. I'd gone for so long without giving a damn about liking anyone, and then the first time that changes, it's like falling down a well. Once you start the plunge there is no turning back until you hit bottom.
There were well over a hundred people in the restaurant but I saw only one. I was his audience and I danced on each of his words, laughing at all of his jokes, and enjoying the night away from my life. He went from thoughtful host to well mannered diner to unpretentious companion in the space of fifteen minutes. There was a flickering candle in a glass on the table between us. Each time I looked over it he was either looking at me or he looked up and smiled.
"How's the crab?"
"Fine," I said.
"It's one of my favorites. Did you bring a suit?" He asked.
"Swim suit. I want to take the boat out. Get it away from the marina. I know an inlet off of South River that is beautiful. I hope you don't mind."
"No, I'm here for the weekend. You know more about boats and inlets than I do. Anything is fine."
"Long day?" He asked.
"I left the house at five. It is getting a little long by eight," I said.
"I'd love to do what you do," he said.
"What? Construction work?"
"Yeah, use my muscles. I'm losing my tone in that store. I know it's what I have to do, but I'd like to get out and work with my hands. Get fresh air. Some days I don't even see the outdoors," he said.
"Bummer. I can't work indoors," I said. "I'm actually a truck driver working for a construction company."
"Great! You get to move around."
"Yeah, I don't like being in one place all the time."
"Why did you spend so much time helping me that day?" he asked out of the blue.
"I told you. I saw someone that needed help and I helped the best I could."
"I've never had anyone treat me the way you did. I don't know what it was. You seemed so… so… concerned for me."
"I didn't think much about it. I realized you were a nice looking guy and you seemed like a nice person. There wasn't much more to go on."
"I thought about it a lot. Why you'd spend all that time. Take me for ginger ale for God sake. I mean you really seemed to care," he said, watching me squirm as he went fishing.
"I did care. I didn't want you to get out on the highway and have an accident. The longer I was with you the more I wanted to help you. You seemed like a nice guy. I don't know why," I said, telling half-truths.
"Yeah, you felt that too. It was difficult to leave. It was like I should say something but I didn't know what to say. That's why I got your phone number."
"You could have given me yours," I said.
"I'm never home. The store isn't a place to get personal calls. It worked out. I felt… I felt… strange," he said unable to elaborate.
"You were sick."
"Yeah, and I wasn't looking any too good I'm sure. If you'd tried to pick me up or something, I'd have figured you were a… and you just helped me and asked for nothing."
"What would I ask for?"
"I don't know. I had the feeling you should ask for something. I don't know what I felt. You're right, I was sick and everything was all screwed up. I just looked down and there you were cleaning up my mess. I could never do that for someone. I'd have deposited my lunch right next to theirs. I can't stand that."
"There it is. I was doing something for you that you wouldn't be able to do for someone else. That made you more grateful for my help."
"I suppose. Not a very good conversation to be having over dinner. Do you like the water?"
"I love the water. I wish I lived closer to it. I wish I had more time to spend on the water."
"Me too! I haven't been down since last fall. I had to clean the boat. It sat all winter. I got here at noon and got a little sun. Cleaned all the dead stuff out of the icebox and got rid of the trash."
"Dead stuff?" I asked.
"Yeah, we always expect to get one more weekend out of the fall, but it turned too cold for the boat pretty early last season. It sits all winter once the first cold snap hits. I spent all afternoon cleaning, but I got a nap before you came. I had to set the alarm to make sure I didn't miss you."
"That's nice of you to be concerned about me," I said.
"I guess," he said. "So you don't mind us cruising out on the bay for awhile this weekend?"
"I'll love every minute of it."
"The water will still be cool, but the daytime temps are going to be pretty warm."
"I like cooler water," I said. "I never liked swimming in the summer on the Bay. It's always too warm to enjoy."
"Nettles," Robby said.
"That too. The scourge of the Chesapeake."
"How about some dessert?"
"No, I don't think so. I watch what I eat," I said, patting my stomach.
"Give it a rest. You aren't going to gain any weight on one weekend. We'll swim tomorrow and work it off. Live a little. I'm trying to repay a kindness here. You must have dessert with me. I insist. How do you feel about chocolate?"
"I love it," I said.
"You love a lot of things," he said, his eyes flickering with the candlelight.
The soft blue still held me in his eyes for much too long for my own comfort level. I looked down at my hands and tried to clear my brain for a response that would make sense.
"I hate working in doors. I hate staying in one place for too long."
"Have we been here too long?" he asked immediately.
"No. When I'm some place I don't want to be, I hate staying too long."
The waiter appeared and got Robby's attention.
"Black Forest Cake for both of us. Coffee. You want coffee?"
"No, not this time of night," I said.
"One coffee. Fresh cream for that."
The cake was incredible. The chocolate was out of this world. I savored each bite and enjoyed the richness. It was the perfect end to a perfect meal. He took tiny bites with his dessert fork and I pretty much ate regular bites with my regular fork. He'd look up every few bites and smile as he watched me make quick work of the dessert.
His left hand slid around the bread-basket and brushed the back of my hand. He looked down at his cake and the hand moved after a few seconds to break our connection. He looked up again and smiled that lovely smile of his.
I followed him out after he paid with a credit card. He waved and called people by name as he said goodnight. We didn't say anything for the ten minutes we were in the car. I wondered how smart it was for me to spend the weekend with him. What was I going to accomplish besides becoming more frustrated with feelings I knew to keep under control but couldn't?
I knew I should get away from him and go back home but I was going to stay for the last dance. It was beyond my control, and I had maintained such good control over my life, until Robby came along. I didn't need my world turned upside down, but I'd wait for him to say it's time to go. It wasn't smart but it was how things were. I liked being around him too much to end it too soon, or was it too late?
He walked well down the dock before hopping across onto a twenty-five foot houseboat. When I leaped after him, the lines holding the boat in place creaked as our motion tested the lines. He went straight forward and out of sight; I heard him untying lines and dropping them into the boat. The rear deck was spacious with a table and chairs sitting around.
He touched my shoulder as he came back to go inside the cabin. I watched as he pressed the button to start the engine. The engine purred as soon as he touched the button. It hummed to life and I could hear the exhaust at the back of the boat.
Robby came out to free the last line that held the boat to the dock before he climbed the ladder to get the view he needed to guide us out of the harbor. I climbed up after him and sat in a chair directly behind him as he stood at the steering wheel. There were enough lights to be able to see and the boat had running lights that lit enough of the water to see where we were going. It was a cloudy night but the moon shone through a wispy cloud now and then.
I looked at him from behind. His shoulders were nicely broad and he filled the back of his jeans with authority. Like the rest of him, it was just enough and never too much. I watched his arms as he steered the boat into the bay. Soon we were chugging along with lights from houses appearing infrequently to our right. As soon as we were past most of civilization, he turned right into what I figured was South River.
After five more minutes he guided us sharply to the left, and I could see tall trees looming up on three sides of us. The night sky was growing darker and he cut the engine and let the boat drift in the night. There was hardly a sound; the water rippled lightly on the hull, and night sounds came out of the trees.
"Smell that air," he said.
"Yeah," I said, "This is about perfect."
"I've been coming here since I was a boy. First time I ever took the boat out alone I found this spot. I always come here when I want to be alone."
I looked to see our surroundings but it was too dark for me to see any detail.
"Want a beer?" he asked.
"Sure. Have something dark?" I asked.
"Beck's okay?" he asked.
"Beck's is perfect. A little bitter but great taste."
"You've had Beck's before."
"It's my last name. I wouldn't drink anything else," I said.
"I didn't know your last name. That's funny, huh. I bought your beer and didn't even know it."
He brought me a light jacket when he returned. He left a light on in the galley and I could see his features but not much detail. I'd pretty much memorized everything about him by then. We sat sipping our beers and listening to the night sounds coming back to life.
"This is living," he said.
"That's for sure. I don't get to relax this way very often," I said.
"What do you do to relax?" He asked.
"You work out a lot?"
"A few times a week."
"You do construction work!"
"Yeah, but I like the social aspects of working out. I'm not a body builder."
"Did you work out that night? After I left?"
"No. I was no longer in the mood. I'd passed the point of getting any benefit out of it. It loosens my muscles and helps refresh me after working all day."
"Did you work out tonight?"
"I went straight home and got cleaned up. It's an hour over here so I had a soda and came on up."
He kicked off his shoes and stood, passing behind me and then I felt his hands on my neck. His thumbs dug into both sides of my neck.
"You are tight. Relax." His fingers massaged in tiny circles. I let my chin drop down on my chest. His hands moved farther out on my shoulders as his fingers continued less penetrating motions.
"That feels so good," I said, feeling him up against me through the cloth back in the chair. My arm leaned against his thigh. I enjoyed the physical contact.
"You got muscles," he said, moving back to his own seat. "I wish I had muscles."
"Don't mess with a good thing," I said.
"What's that mean?"
"Most guys would love to have a body like yours."
"I'm skinny," he said critically, looking to see himself as best he could.
"You aren't skinny. I got the entire tour if you remember back to when we first met. You have a good body," I said.
"What makes you say that? I don't do anything but work."
"That makes it worse."
"You look good no matter what you do. I work my butt off for the little bit of muscle I have," I said.
"What's that about? My body isn't all that nice. How long do you think it's going to stay this way if I don't start doing something?"
"I don't know. I think it takes a lot less time to keep yourself trim than most people think. I work out because I enjoy it."
"I don't do a lot of socializing. I know I'm not very good at it. I'm doing the best I can.
"Aren't very good at it? You know everyone at the restaurant and didn't seem to have any trouble getting what you wanted."
"We eat there every night when we're down on the weekends. My father knows the owner. His sons wait tables and we usually talk down at the marina. They have a boat two slips over from ours. Except for a few guys I went to school with, I know them better than anyone. Why am I telling you this?"
"I don't know. It isn't important. You handle yourself quite well and I did very much enjoy dinner. You're a good host," I said, trying to change the subject.
"Thank you. Why do I get the feeling you are about to ask me to take you back?"
"I don't know. I love this. I can't wait for tomorrow."
"A little. It's been a long day and after getting a full belly and now this, I'm starting to wear down."
"I'll show you the bunks. It's not much. Bunk beds. You a top or a bottom?"
"Pardon?" I said, swallowing hard.
"You like the top bunk or the bottom?"
The clarification came without question. I was clearly a top. I suddenly felt tired, almost lacking the energy to follow him through the narrow passage to the interior of the hulking houseboat.
"Here," he said turning on a light to reveal two bunks bushed up against the wall ahead of us and to the left.
There was some kind of a built-in dresser with shelves on top that contained books and random items that had probably been there for years. He stood off to one side so there was no reason to touch him as I passed him to enter the room. Both beds were unmade but it didn't bother me. I was beyond caring; the midnight air seemed to cloud my brain.
"I'm claustrophobic," I reminded him. "I'll need the top."
"Is this too small? You could sleep up on deck. I'll pull the mattress up there if you like."
"I'm not that claustrophobic," I said. "This is fine as long as there is space around me."
"Okay," he said.
I pulled off my shirt and tossed it on the dresser. I did it casually so he'd know the untidy nature of the cabin was no problem for me. I pulled off one shoe and then the other. He stood behind me as I pulled off my socks before standing.
"You do lift weights," he observed.
It was a factual statement I didn't care to read anything into. I was not big by the standards of the big boys but I held my own in an effort to keep extra weight off.
"Unlike you, it takes me a lot of work to keep the pounds off."
When I started unfastening my belt buckle, I sensed he was no longer at ease. He turned toward the door so he wasn't facing me but the room was too small for him to have me out of his sight and still be in the room. The only place one person could be in the room without seeing the other was from the bottom bunk when you were in the top.
There was not much to say about what I was doing. It seemed unusual for him to stand there watching me undress. Well, he'd get his money's worth now. I dropped my slacks and they passed my knees with a bump and dropped to the floor. The movement of his head told me he had noticed I wasn't wearing underwear. He said nothing and went back to standing sideways.
I leaped up and in one motion seated myself on the upper bunk before tossing my legs in and covering myself with the sheet and wool blanket. It was cool but not cool enough for wool. Perhaps by morning I'd be happy the heavy blanket was on my bed. Robby moved to the bed and got in with his clothes still on. He'd left his shoes under the table on the deck.
"Tired?" he asked.
"Yeah! It's been a long day."
The silence was more quiet than I was accustomed to. Usually quiet for me was interrupted by street sounds, the sounds of passing cars, the sounds of planes overhead, and the sound of doors slamming or a horn honking in the distance or sometimes nearby. This silence had a gentle lapping in the depths of it. You didn't hear it at first but then it was quietly inside of your head.
"Goodnight," I heard a voice say softly.
"Goodnight," I replied.
* * * * * * * * *
It rained during the night and the sound of it falling against the boat and the water beyond merged gently with the waters of the cove lapping at the hull outside. The night was cool but not the least bit cold. It seemed perfect enough to be a dream but I knew it wasn't.
I slept sound. I suppose when you're accustomed to getting up before daylight you expect to wake up early. We had stayed up late the ngight before. It was still dark below decks, and I didn't want to wake Robby, so I lay listening for the last of the night sounds.
I heard something up on deck. It sounded like music. It sounded like a banjo playing something familiar. I hung over the side of the bunk and found Robby was not there. I listened and heard the banjo more clearly. It was soft and gentle and wasn't disturbing, but it was man-made. I dropped my feet onto the floor and pulled on my slacks and the jacket he'd lent me. I walked back toward the rear deck.
Robby sat with his feet in one chair and his bottom in the other. He watched his fingers as he plucked the strings. I still recognized the tune but couldn't name it. I looked at him but he didn't look at me. He was still in the torn white T and the faded jeans with the fraying at the bottoms of each pant leg. His feet were long and slender and more tan than I remembered. I sat on the railing and looked off into the dark with the one galley light furnishing all the light there was.
He played on without me for another minute or two. He then set the banjo down, leaning it up against the railing behind him.
"You play well," I said. "What was that."
"Beatles! I knew I recognized it. Don't stop. It was lovely."
He looked at me oddly. He did not reach for the guitar. I didn't want to start the day off on the wrong foot. It would be nice if we just enjoyed the day and went our separate ways once it ended.
"Lovely?" he said.
The tone said it all. It wasn't a word he would apply to his playing skills. He kicked his feet off the second chair and brushed it with his hand.
"Coffee?" he asked.
"You need to ask? Lots of it."
"Cream and sugar?" he asked, and then decided, "You're a truck driver. You'd drink it black. Real men drink it black, right?"
"I don't know what they do. I like cream and sugar."
The cup was a mug and it was served with a spoon in it, but the cream came in a tiny silver pitcher and the sugar came out of a jam jar. I dropped in two teaspoons of sweetener and lightened it to the color I liked. He'd turned off the galley light and now we could only see each other as shadows with voices. I could tell that daybreak was near.
"Why'd you stop? I was enjoying it."
"Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" he said, using his finger against his lips.
Being with Robby had been nice but it was starting to become a test and I was no good at exams. I'd wait for the first lull in this exciting activity before requesting a return trip to my truck. He'd repaid any kindness I'd extended him with the meal. More than that wasn't necessary.
The coffee was brewed well. He'd certainly made it for himself before. It was plenty strong enough and the curse of most civilians was that they thought watery coffee was fine. I liked it when it pushed up the hairs on the back of your neck on that first sip; you knew if it had that bite it would do the trick. Robby's was fine and I could enjoy a few cups without getting too bored.
I didn't mind sitting and thinking in the morning. It was better than rushing right off with coffee all over the front of your shirt. It was rarely this peaceful anyplace where I had been. There were always sounds that interrupted any peace and quiet. Here the breezes slipped through the trees, and the water meandered by the boat, but they were real sounds, not man-made sounds like the banjo's.
I was thinking about what I didn't know when he reached his long arm across and shoved my shoulder. He pointed straight off toward the shore where the trees took off for the sky. I could see the heavy trunks and the shrubs that were just then becoming discernible from the ground and the shoreline.
"Beaver," he said. "Going left to right on the edge of the shoreline."
My eyes swept back and forth until they picked up the movement. They were gray, more black, and I could more see their motion than their shape. His eyes had to be pretty damn good for him to know those shadows were beaver. Of course I didn't know everything and sometimes I knew absolutely nothing at all.
"The pair of them are out every day at dawn. I was ten the first time I saw them. They like banjo music," he said as the sound of the banjo was soft and sweet.
The birds in the trees started to chirp and sing along. The beaver stood up to look across the water and seemed to be carrying on a conversation or maybe sang along.
It wasn't cold at all. It was warmer when we got up than when we went to sleep. It was one of those odd nights when the temperatures went in reverse. It would happen a few times each season along the mid-Atlantic-states. I'd never experienced it on the water but I had never been on water over night.
The rains were gone, but the smell of rain was still heavy in the air. The sky looked threatening but it was early and it might change by the time the light brought on the day. The birds flurried above us in the trees, staying awhile to serenade us, then moving on. He pointed out a few robins that mostly hopped near the shore, and there were cardinals that for a time filled the canopy of the forest around us with hues of red and the shrillest of chirps. We sat and watched the morning become filled with wildlife.
I could tell how much he loved this. He knew the animals that would appear and where to look for them. He knew where they would come from and which way they would disappear. His smile seemed joyful, like the smile of a boy might look. He amazed me that he was really sensitive to this small wildlife preserve he stumbled onto and then never forgot. I became more impressed with him the more I knew about him, but there was so much I didn't know and so much that went unsaid. I was sure of that.
We were ships passing in the night and the night was all but over. I would return to my world and Robby would return to his. We'd never really know each other. He'd never know what I felt about him. Life was less than fair at times, or so it seemed. He stood for awhile and reached his long arm up to hold the top of the cabin as he looked down the shoreline. Two geese swam up in our direction, hesitating before passing the boat they knew didn't belong there. At first apprehensive, they then became curious and swam close. Robby tossed breadcrumbs he'd set on the roof of the cabin. At first they were tentative and then just hungry.
"They mate for life," he said proudly.
"Who?" I asked.
"Geese. They mate for life. When one dies the other is alone until he dies."
"How sad," I said.
"Not really. That's devotion. You ever been in love?"
For the first time that morning I could see him looking at me. The usual squirming resulted. What did I tell him? David was five years behind me. After loving him I didn't want to love again. Maybe I was like a goose or maybe I just didn't do pain well. Yes, I'd loved and I'd lost and I never wanted to love again. It was something I had known nothing about until I met David. He'd taught me what love meant and how fragile it was. Even when I knew it was coming to an end, I was powerless to stop it.
"It must have been a long time ago if it took so long to remember."
"It's finding the right words that takes the time," I said.
"What was her name?" he asked, reminding me how far a part we were.
"I don't want to talk about it," I said.
Robby left the geese and came back to the table, sliding down into the chair as he looked at me.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to intrude," he said, seeming way too serious. "What is it like?"
He couldn't seem to help himself. Why would he want someone he didn't know to tell him about their lost love?
"It was probably the most painful thing I've ever done, but I wouldn't trade a minute of it for anything else."
He seemed surprised to hear my answer. He looked at me, up and down, as I watched a small deer drinking at the corner of the inlet. He followed my eyes to see where I was looking. He couldn't te;; I was looking beyond the deer, seeing my former lover. The image was clear. It was the one that came to mind most often.
Robby was casual enough in his demeanor but the questions had me reaching down inside me for what the real answers were. I wasn't purposely being deceptive or lying, but his casual inquiries cut deep into me.
Before I could think about what I was saying, I said, "What?" as a tactic to give myself more time.
"What made love so painful for you?"
We looked at each other again. The pain had been a raw pain from an open wound, but in time the pain was a sore spot in my past. I accepted it as a remnant of loving someone deeply. I had no regrets. I'd seen the end coming and prepared myself for it without having a way to stop it. I didn't want to shock Robby with the sorted details of my life but how much to say without saying too much?
"It ended," I said. "That was painful."
"Oh!" he said, leaning back in his chair, searching the shoreline for wildlife.
The sky started to clear over our head and the blue almost matched the blue of his eyes. It was before the sun was up to wash the color out and we could only see just a small opening overhead, but it was replacing the constant overcast of the night before. More time passed as we sat in silence. We'd both found something else to look at. Then he was at my shoulder, leaning his thing against my arm, pressing against me as he poured my cup full of steaming brew. Only halfway through the process did I realize what was happening. My heart pounded in my chest as I watched his packed jeans disappear back into the galley. He came back out and reached his arms skyward, tossing his head back, and screaming loud as though he'd been wounded by some silent shot from a hunter neither of us could see.
His stretch was long and made him look more powerful to me. He came to the table and carefully measured a spoon full of sugar and plunged it into his cup, stirring frantically and then repeating it for a second spoonful. He then tipped the creamer up and the rich thick cream changed the black nectar to a mellow gold. He stirred carefully as though he might bruise the cream if he were too rough on it. He then lifted the cup to his lips and his eyes followed the shoreline carefully before he looked at me.
"That's the big show for today. You might catch a random animal drinking but mostly they are here at dawn and dusk," he said confident.
"I see," I said.
He looked down at me as I held my coffee cup with both hands while still keeping my eyes on the shore. It was a bit chilly for me but he was still in the same T-shirt with the rips.
"Don't you ever sleep?" I asked.
"Oh yeah, I slept an hour yesterday afternoon and almost five hours last night. That's a lot of sleep for me."
"You need eight hours a night," I protested.
"Eight hours. Give me a break. If you sleep your life away you won't ever get anything done."
"I have no trouble getting it all done," I assured him.
"I've got to be at the store to open. That means I'm there before seven. I usually have paperwork to do from the day before. We don't close until ten most nights. We open Sundays now for eight hours. At night after we close I've got to inventory what has been sold and order new stock before making sure the orders customers are waiting for are being shipped so when they call I can give them a delivery date."
"A good leader delegates authority and lets others take responsibility so he can have a life."
"We're a new store. I've got to get it on a paying basis before I can delegate authority. I only have two sales people and one office worker. I do the rest myself. We can't afford more. Each store has to find ways to make a profit."
"I thought you said your father owned "stores"."
"He does. This is my store. I've got to make it successful. It's what is expected. I can't draw off the other stores to keep mine going. We've got to be profitable by the end of the year," he said, seeming to know what he was talking about.
"It takes a new business three to five years to become established," I said, citing something I'd read.
"My father says it is up to me to make a go of it."
"You're a nice looking man, but you are going to get old fast."
"Why do you say that?"
"Sleep is essential. You can rob yourself for a time and not suffer the consequences but there will come a time when your body goes to hell."
"I've never heard that," he said.
"I work out. I read about health. I try to give all aspects of my life some consideration."
"How old are you?" he asked out of the blue.
How old are you," I said, sounding offended even to myself.
"You look twenty," I said.
"I get six hours of sleep a night. Maybe you sleep too much. How old are you."
"Older than you," I said.
"I knew that. It's another one of those mysteries about that afternoon. I sat there for ten minutes wondering if I was going to die on that bench. Twenty guys must have walked past me. Mostly young guys but a couple of older dudes. No one asked if they could help. No one came near me. It was like I had the plague and they scurried along to their steam or shower or went out to the pool. You stopped to help. Why you at that instant? What made you stop and not them?"
"I saw someone in need and I tried to help. I can't answer for anyone else, Robby."
His name echoed on the water. Our voices cascaded across the inlet and up the slope and into the trees. I wondered if the animals were wondering what the hell we were talking about. I wondered why my stopping to help him was still on his mind. He'd taken me to dinner and he'd taken me out on his boat and we were still talking about it.
"What was her name?" He asked.
"You said you were in love. It was painful. I asked her name."
"What's that got to do with anything?"
The question threw me. Her name was David? I don't think so. David was a man and not in name only. He was all man and someone I had loved deeply but I wasn't ready to tell Robby that much about me yet.
"Nothing I guess. How about breakfast?"
"Sure. Can I help?"
"The galley is pretty small. I think I can handle it. Bacon, eggs, and more coffee, English muffins?"
He left the sliding doors open that led to the cabin. I could see him working around the stove. The smells mingled with the fresh morning air and made me feel great. He delivered a fresh cup of coffee, strawberry and blackberry jam and a container of soft butter. The strawberry was out of this world and I finished the muffin before I drank any coffee. By that time he was finishing breakfast and brought me my plate and more coffee.
"Sun looks like it is going to stay out. It's supposed to be in the seventies today. Unusual for this time of year."
"Sounds great. This is a nice place."
"Thanks," he said.
He moved around the galley in small motions. I could hear the bacon sizzling as he brought things together. While I watched some birds roosting in the branches of trees overhead, he placed a plate of eggs and bacon down in front of me, refreshed my coffee and added a warmer to the center of the table before taking an English muffin out for my plate.
My hunger was huge and I couldn't keep myself from diving in to what looked like a great breakfast. It was amazing how relaxing it was to eat there next to nature. He too seemed to enjoy watching the activity around the cove. I watched him leaning back in his chair with an English Muffin poised for him to consume as he watched a mother possum and her two offspring scurry up the slope. The butter and red luscious jam ran down onto his hand while he was preoccupied. After they were gone he first licked the butter and deep red strawberry runoff from his long slender fingers. He smiled when he caught me watching the careful way in which he didn't waste a drop.
"My favorite preserve," he said, licking into the web between his fingers, glancing up to see my eyes.
"Great taste," I said, leaning back and enjoying my muffin, sipping coffee between bites.
"German. It's imported. My mother's favorite."
"She has excellent taste."
The pale blue in his eyes glanced at mine as the smile grew. He eased off with the tongue activity and devoured a strip of bacon, while watching birds launch themselves out of a nearby treetop. You could hear the power in their wings as they went straight up before taking off toward the bay.
"Haven't been fishing in years. I enjoy it," I said.
"Good! That's what we'll have for lunch, so if you don't catch a fish you don't eat."
"Sounds interesting. What do you catch up in here?"
"Crocker, Perch, Rock."
"Sun's bright," I said, feeling the warmth on my face for the first time.
"The water magnifies it. When I heard the forecast for this weekend, I knew I wanted to get out here. There's almost always one good weekend in April and after a long cold winter, it's what I wait for. My first weekend by myself."
"You aren't by yourself!"
"I'm glad you asked me to join you. This is lovely."
He noticed me with his eyes, penetrating beyond the blue in my own eyes. He seemed caught there like he'd been caught by the nature of things around us. He'd finished his bacon, his muffin, his enchantment with the forest.
"There was more?"
"I don't know. That day. I can't describe what I was feeling, but there was more to it than my being in need. You were ... There was more to it. I felt… I don't know what the hell I felt, but I felt it. You didn't feel it?"
"I don't know," I said.
"I felt like I wanted to help you. I felt like I liked you or maybe that I could like you."
Robby was genuine in his question and I couldn't give him what he wanted without risking being invited off the boat. I became more sure that he simply didn't know what to make of me and my actions.
"It's hard to go beyond that. I didn't know you. I was glad to be able to help you."
"I still can't get beyond all those guys who didn't. You might have come over and asked me if I wanted some help. It was like you moved in and took charge, doing what needed to be done."
"I did that."
"Why you? Why not one of them?"
"Why not me?" I said, letting his stare slip out of my eyes.
I could feel his eyes on me and then he was gone. Soon more coffee steamed out of my cup. He collected much of the breakfast damage and dumped the dishes into the sink without attending them. He disappeared out of my view. My first instinct was to go and find him but I was sure I'd find him in the "head".
* * * * * * * * *
The sun created a pleasant warmth that made being out on deck a great experience after the long cold winter. The sounds of the cove mingled with my pleasant feelings. I sat there for some time before I heard Robby back out on deck.
He carried the weapons that had been chosen by proclamation. We were to fish and he nodded to me as he carried the poles up to the top deck. When I got to the top of the stairs he was already baiting hooks, and he handed me a ready rig when I got to him.
"Cast before you sit. The sun might be a problem. We should have gotten started before breakfast."
He showed me the workings of the unfamiliar rig, and after losing my bait on the first cast, I was ready to give the fish a run for their money.
I sat watching where the line entered the water when he sat down beside me. His thigh pressed against mine as he too watched where our lines sat in close proximity to one another.
"What kept you with her? You say it ended and that was what made it so painful. Why did she stay for you to fall in love and then leave?"
"You ever been in love?"
Robby was emphatic. I might have doubted him except for the way he said it. I might perhaps have thought he had been in love but never noticed but his no was final with no wiggle room for anything else. I looked at his lovely face and couldn't believe women weren't throwing themselves at his feet. Hell, I'm sure men threw themselves at his feet. If I thought there was any shot, I'd have….
"I thought you were engaged."
"Don't you love her?"
"My father said love comes in time."
"If you're engaged shouldn't you be in love? I mean doesn't your girlfriend think you love her? Haven't you told her you loved her?"
I wasn't sure what I was asking. I didn't field such questions and I'd never given it a lot of thought. It seemed to be the way things were supposed to be according to my understanding.
"Yeah, I tell her that, but she'd be hurt if I didn't. I mean I like her. We get along well. She understands me. She doesn't make any demands."
"All the time you work?"
"She understands I'm building our future. It's what I need to be doing for now. That's why we haven't married or decided about kids. She's fine with it."
"When do you see her?"
"We go out Wednesday nights. It's a regular thing. She doesn't come by the store because that's my place of business. Her father owns a hardware chain. She knows how much time stores take."
"So you only sleep together once a week," I said, surprised that he'd tell another guy how little he was getting.
"No, she's a nice girl. She lives at home. My mother would never allow that in her house. We've just decided to wait."
"Wait?" I said with the words dripping with questions.
"You're sweating," he said, dodging the ball neatly. "Come on. These poles will be okay. I have a pair of cutoffs that might fit you. I'm a little thin," he apologized.
He was at least four inches taller than me but I couldn't get his jeans snapped once I got them over my larger hips. He slipped into a pair right beside me and had none of my difficulties.
"You don't need them if you don't want to wear any. No one comes up here this time of year."
I did get the zipper up and wasn't ready to walk around naked. My bashful nature might be overridden under the right circumstances but these weren't those.
His naked leg against my naked leg was somewhat more comforting as we sat up in the same section of the bulkhead, nursing our lines. He left his shirt off and I appreciated his firm well defined chest. His nipples were particularly nice and cut artistically to fit his chest. The light dusting of hair below his navel was almost invisible as it ran into the top of his altered jeans.
I caught a small Croaker and knew what it was immediately because it croaked and had me feeling sorry for it and wanting to throw it back. Robby did it for me and than apologized for not waiting for my say so.
"It was too small."
We sat again and let our lines drift closer together as we leaned more together and our feet crossed under his leg. Neither of us made any move to decrease our physical contact.
"So what's it like? ... Love?"
"It's like a feast after a famine. You live in and through someone else and they live through you and for you. There is no longer a border between you, only things that connect you. Each breath you take is different, better, ecstasy. When you're apart, all you think about is being together again. You are suddenly incomplete without the person you love. I ached for David when he wasn't with me. An hour became a year. I lived for him when he was with me. Then, there, it was timeless, him sleeping in my arms each night. Some days we slept like that until noon. God, I loved him so."
"That's the way it was for you?"
"Yes, it's as close as I can come to describing that which defies description."
"I'm sorry it didn't last."
"Me too," I said. "As painful as it was without him, I wouldn't trade any of it for a lifetime with anyone else. It was the best of times before I had to deal with what came after."
"The worst of times. I don't know I'd want to love someone that much."
"There are the memories. I did love someone that much and he loved me for a while, but he came to find things he liked better. It doesn't mean we didn't love. It only meant our time for loving passed. I'll always love him. Love doesn't go away. Not for me anyway. I know how to love. I know I can love. I may never let myself fall so hard for anyone else, but love is easy once you've gone down that road. There may even be better matches and someone I have more in common with. It may not be the best thing to love anyone as much as I loved David, but there are no regrets."
The water was still. A warm breeze barely made a ripple. I found Robby looking into my eyes as his hand reached for mine. He wasn't self-conscious or apologetic. I'd told him of my pain and he wanted to comfort me. Our fingers intertwined as we both smiled and started to laugh.
This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.
Of the beginning
Check out the much requested "adult version" of this story "Robbie's Desire"
Email the Author at email@example.com
More Rick Beck Short Stories
Rick Beck Home Page
Suggested Reading | Suggested Viewing | Links
Send a Comment
All Site Content © 2003 - 2023 Tarheel Writer unless otherwise noted
Layout © 2003 - 2023 Tarheel Writer