It was getting close to sundown by the time Pete got to the trail that led to the clearing. It was barely wide enough for one person to walk through, and it took many twists and turns as it winded its way back into the thick grove of palm trees and sea oats. Finally, after about 1000 yards, it led to a what looked like a bald spot among the giant palm trees, where a part of the bay emptied out into a pool about ten feet deep at its deepest point. It was one of the first places that Tyler had introduced Pete too, and he bragged that he had been the one that discovered it years ago. Since then more than a few people had become aware of its existence, as evidenced by the leftover bags and other assorted items that could sometimes be found there. Still, it was a good place to go swimming if you didn't want to be surrounded by all of the tourists that flocked to the beaches.
As Pete reached the end of the trail he could see that Tyler had already arrived, and was spreading out his sleeping bag next to the bank. He looked up as he heard Pete's sandals crunch in the sand. "Where you been?" he asked as he fluffed out his bedroll.
"Sorry man," Pete said as he neared the bank, "Ryan was home and I had to deal with him and his two friends before I could leave."
"Your mom not home yet?" Tyler said as he stood up and surveyed his work.
Pete picked out a spot and started to undo his sleeping bag. "No, not yet. Dad either."
Tyler could tell from Pete's tone of voice that he didn't want to elaborate any further, so he didn't pursue it. Not now, anyway.
"Hey, I see you brought hot dogs dude!" Tyler was a big fan of hot dogs. He also noticed the blue notebook that was wrapped up inside the sleeping bag. "You going to read to me later?" he asked.
Pete continued unrolling his sleeping bag, and then he placed the other items in a neat row beside where he was going to lay. "Sure, if you want," he said, patting out the hills in his bedroll. Tyler always preferred Pete to read his stuff to him, rather than reading it for himself. He had a difficult time seeing anyway, much less in the campfire-lit night, so after a few attempts it was mutually decided that from now on Pete would read for him. "Cool," Tyler answered. "Hey, how about a swim before the sun goes down?" He was already slipping off his shirt as he spoke.
Pete was allowed to sneak a quick peak at Tyler's chest as his shirt went over his eyes. He was not especially built, but because of his constant football activity he maintained a sleek and trim cut. He didn't have the first hair anywhere on it, and his belly button was sunk at least a half-inch into his very flat abdomen. Pete quickly glanced away as Tyler threw his shirt onto his sleeping bag.
"Nah, you go ahead," Pete said as he lay back on his sleeping bag. "I want to lay here for a while. I'm kind of tired from the walk."
Tyler slipped off his sandals and stood up. "Fine," he said, sarcastically. "When you get through "resting up" why don't you see if you can get a fire started. It'll be dark soon and besides I'm about ready to eat anyway." He paused for a second. "That is," he continued, "if it's not too much trouble." He grinned as he slung his black mop over to the side out of his eyes, and backed towards the bank.
Pete was going to answer, but he heard the sound of the water as Tyler dived into the deep end of the pool. Instead, he lay on his back, thinking. He and Tyler had camped out there numerous times over the last few months, and each time Pete had been able to control the growing feelings of attraction he was experiencing for him. To his knowledge, Tyler was completely unaware of how he felt, and he wanted it to stay that way. But there was also something else, a part of him that desperately wanted Tyler to know, to see how he would react and what he would say. On at least a couple of occasions, fear was the only thing that kept him from finding out.
He could hear Tyler splashing around in the water just a few feet from him, and he visualized how he would look when he came out. He'd be dripping with water all over, and the last rays of the evening sun would cause his tanned skin to glisten. His wet hair would be hanging all over his forehead, dripping beads of water onto his cheeks and nose.
His cutoffs would be tightly clinging to his hips and legs, like wet clothes always do, exposing every curve. Below his knees, the few black hairs that he had on each of his legs would be clasped to his skin, to just right above his ankles, where they suddenly stopped. Pete had seen it many times over the summer. Sometimes he would just glance, barely able to even be noticed. Other times he was almost sure that Tyler had to be aware he was staring. But if he had any idea at all he had never mentioned it.
"Hey," Tyler called from the far end of the pool, disturbing Pete's thinking. "Are you going to lie there all night or what?" Then he dived into the water and started swimming towards the bank.
"Maybe," Pete hollered back, though he was aware that Tyler couldn't hear him. It wasn't long before he heard Tyler reach the bank, and come out of the water. He could hear the sound of Tyler's feet approaching as they crunched in the sand, and soon his closed eyelids got dark from Tyler blocking out the last rays from the setting sun.
"I see you have a nice fire going," Tyler said sarcastically. Pete turned and looked up at Tyler standing almost over him, looking exactly like he had imagined. A bead of water from Tyler's hair fell and hit him on the face.
"Hey," Pete said as he wiped off the stray bead, "go drip somewhere else besides on me, ok?" He sat up on the sleeping bag.
Tyler reached down and picked up a towel from off of his sleeping bag and started drying off. "Damn!" he said as he dried his hair.
"What?" Pete asked as he stood up.
"I forgot to take out my contacts again," Tyler answered, his tone more than a little frustrated. The last time he had forgotten to take out his contacts before he went swimming his eyes had gotten very bloodshot, and for a while they both wondered if he was going to be ok. For Tyler it was worse than the smoke that sometimes got into his eyes from the campfire.
"Turn around," Pete said, walking over closer to him.
Tyler laid his towel across his shoulders as he turned around. Pete got close enough to see into his eyes. He had to almost stand on his toes to see into them. They were a beautiful dark brown color, so dark that it appeared he had no pupils in them at all. There was a sweetness about them too; something that immediately disarmed anyone who met him. The phrase 'puppy dog eyes' was very appropriate in describing them. Pete gazed into them, unaware of the time that was passing. In the breeze he caught the scent of salt water coming from Tyler's hair.
"Well, are they red?" Tyler asked, breaking the moment. It was a caring, almost loving tone in his voice.
Pete suddenly snapped back to reality. "What? Oh," he said as he pretended to be inspecting them for damage, "not too bad, just around the corners. I don't think it'll be as bad as it was last time."
"Good," Tyler said as he continued to dry off.
"Well, I guess I'll go see if I can find something that'll burn," Pete said, turning and heading for the trail entrance.
"Cool. About time," he heard Tyler say behind him. Pete turned around to see that "what did I say?" look on Tyler's grinning face.
After they had built a fire, Pete was appointed the official campfire cook, as was his usual duty. Through experience they had figured out that while Tyler was the better athlete by a long shot, Pete was definitely more adept at the more domestic and artistic areas of life. It only took three packs of burned hot dogs for them to figure this out.
So with their stomachs full of hot dogs, chips, and Coke, and the campfire reduced to burning ashes, they reclined back on their sleeping bags. It was a perfectly clear starry night, and even the faintest ones could be seen in the night sky above the palm trees in the clearing. There was no breeze at all, and the only sound that could be heard was the horn of a passing boat in the distance, that and the sound of the coals sizzling in the fire.
"You sleepy?" Pete asked as he stared up into the nighttime sky.
"No, just wore out." Tyler said, sounding as if it took some effort just to get the words out. "Football practice is beginning to be a pain."
Pete didn't answer.
Suddenly Tyler sat up. "Hey," he said, a new burst of energy coming from inside him. He reached over and slapped playfully at Pete's side. "You said you were going to read me some of your stuff."
"I did?" Pete asked, faking confusion. "When did I say that?" He sat up on his sleeping bag.
Tyler already had Pete's blue notebook in his hand, thumbing through it. He couldn't read anything on the pages, so he handed it over to Pete. "Come on, read something for me," he said.
Pete positioned himself closer to the burning coals, close enough to have enough light to read by. "Well, what do you want to hear?" he asked.
Tyler laid back down on his sleeping bag. "I don't care," he said. "Whatever you want to read."
Pete was actually more of a storywriter than a poet, but sometimes if he was particularly inspired he would write a short poem. Leafing through the notebook he found one that he had written just last week. He had gotten the idea while watching his mom make coffee one morning. As usual his dad was already headed to his new office, and often his mom could be seen preparing coffee for just herself, a lonely look on her face as she poured the first cup.
"Ok, here's something I wrote last week," he said.
"Cool", Tyler said, lying back down on his back.
"Well, it still probably needs some editing, ok?" Pete almost always issued the same disclaimer whenever he read something to Tyler. His confidence in his writing skills, although improved greatly since Mrs. Stanton had started working with him, was still lacking.
"Just read it dude," Tyler said, almost interrupting. He knew the routine.
"Ok. Here goes. It's called, 'It's Hard To Make Coffee For One'." And then he started to read it slowly.
It's hard to make coffee for one.
Too many grounds, or too much water,
And the flavor gets stronger the longer it sits
Longing to be tasted, instead, it winds its way
Down the sink, and is wasted.
It's hard to cook dinner for one.
Too much in a can, too much in a box,
In the refrigerator it lies till it dies, getting colder
Desiring to fill, no doubt, instead it never sits on a warm plate
But turns green, and is thrown out.
Pete's last words trailed off into the nighttime silence. He laid the notebook down beside him on the sleeping bag, and reached over to fill his white Styrofoam cup with more Coke. "Well," he said, accidentally spilling it on his chin as he spoke, "what do you think of it?"
For a moment Tyler didn't say a word. "I'm thinking," he finally answered.
Pete shifted anxiously on his sleeping bag. "Weeeellll?" he said, stretching out the word to reflect his impatience.
"Where do you come up with that stuff?" Tyler finally said, rolling over onto his side and reclining on one elbow, facing Pete.
"What do you mean?" Pete asked.
"Well," Tyler continued, "how do you know what to say? I mean, sometimes I have something that I want to say, but I just say it, you know? I don't take the time to try to put it right or make it sound good like you do."
Pete giggled a little under his breath. "Does that mean you liked it?"
Tyler produced a rather thoughtful look on his face, his forehead furrowed as his eyes peered up towards the tops of the palm trees. A slight smirk could be seen on his lips as well, adding to the effect. "Well," he began, "let's just say that it makes sense to me, you know? Like, I think I know what you are trying to say in it. You're talking about being lonely, and being by yourself, right?"
"Right," Pete answered. He waited to see if Tyler had anything to add.
He did. "And," Tyler continued, "that it's no fun being lonely or by yourself all the time."
Pete waited again, but this time Tyler was finished making his observations. "Right. So you like it then?"
"Hey, I'm no art critic you know," Tyler said as he laughed. "But yeah, I like it. If it had been me I would have just said something like 'I don't like being by myself or being lonely', but that's not your style." He smiled. "You're the writer around here, not me."
"Yeah," Pete said, "and you're the football player around here, not me."
Tyler's expression slowly changed to a more serious one, his smile fading from his lips. "Can I ask you something Pete?"
A thousand thoughts went through Pete's mind in a second! Did Tyler know? Was he about to confront him about all of the times he had caught Pete staring at him? How was he going to answer if he did? He could feel his insides begin to tense up, and he hoped that the panic he was feeling wasn't apparent on his face. He tried to sound calm and cool. "Sure," he said, as he lay down on his side and propped himself up on one elbow like Tyler was doing.
Tyler didn't say anything at first, and the silence only added to Pete's gnawing sense of fear that he was about to be cornered. He started groping in his mind for answers to a question that he had been asked a million times in his thoughts. He had a carefully scripted answer already prepared for such an occasion, but now, for some reason, he couldn't remember a word of it.
Finally Tyler broke the thick silence. "Do you ever miss your dad being around?"
"What?" The relief in Pete's voice was hard to mask.
"I mean, I know you see more of your dad than I do, but still he's hardly ever there." Tyler waited for an answer.
Pete felt so relieved that he didn't know what to answer at first. He fumbled around for words. "Yeah, I do, sometimes," he finally said. "He stays at his office a lot, trying to get his new practice going. But it's always been like that, even when we lived in Connecticut. He's never been around very much, for me or Ryan." Now that the fear of what he thought he was going to be asked had dissipated, he was able to fully think about what Tyler had said. "Well, actually he has always had more time for Ryan than for me anyway." Tyler didn't say anything. "Why?" Pete asked.
Tyler still didn't answer immediately. "I don't know, I was just curious." His words trailed off as he spoke.
"Do you miss yours?" Pete asked, hesitantly.
"Are you kidding?" Tyler answered defensively, almost angrily. "Not in a million years. I mean, you can't miss something that's never around anyway, right? Besides, " he added sarcastically, "how else would I get all of that stuff I get?" Tyler smiled, but it wasn't the same smile he usually carried around on his face. It had a sad quality in it, and it quickly ran away.
Pete didn't answer. He knew what Tyler meant, and he knew that it was his poem that had produced the question anyway. In all of the time that he had known Tyler, rarely did he ever see anything but a good nature and a carefree expression on his face. Now, for the first time, Tyler was exposing a side that he usually kept hidden from everyone, including Pete. It was a moment, a real moment, and one that Pete would often look back on with fondness. However, the sudden and unexpected exposure of his feelings made Tyler uncomfortable. "Hey," he said, returning to his more natural and more comfortable manner of speaking, "I'm getting sleepy. I think I'll call it a night ok?" he said as he rolled over onto this back and pulled the sleeping blanket up to his waist.
Pete could still hear the conversation in his mind. "Yeah, me too," he said, also rolling over onto his back. "When do you want to get up tomorrow?" he asked.
"When we get up," Tyler answered, closing his eyes. He was glad it was dark, because he didn't want Pete to see the tear that was slowly falling down his cheek.
It was almost daybreak when Pete woke up. The sky was still dark, but on the horizon, between the palm trees, the first rays from the morning sun could be seen peaking through the leaves.
Pete sat up, and looked over at Tyler. He was still sleeping, with that almost angelic look on his face that he always had while he slept. Pete knew that expression well; he had gotten up early on purpose many times just to look at it until Tyler woke up.
After stretching, Pete stood up and quietly walked over to the bank of the pool, being careful not to wake Tyler. The water was a dead calm, not a ripple on its surface. Towards the bay he could see fishing boats starting their daily run, and just beyond that the rising sun on the water. It reminded him of the first time he had seen it, with his mom reassuring him that soon it would seem like home. At the time he thought she couldn't be more wrong, that he would always regard this totally foreign environment as anything but home. Now, months later, it seemed that she might have been right after all. At least he didn't feel as totally out of place as he did when he first got there.
Thanks to Tyler.
Pete looked again over at the sleeping form on the ground. He laid almost absolutely still, the only movement being the top of his sleeping bag against his chest as he breathed. "Oh God, how I love you!" he whispered just loud enough to hear himself. But last night, when he thought he was going to be asked that very thing, he ran in fear on the inside, unable to know what to say or how he would answer. He turned back to face the open sea in front of him. The emptiness and frustration that he felt on that first day there came back to him in waves, and he couldn't stop the tears that he suddenly found dripping from his cheeks onto the sand. His lip quivered uncontrollably.
He was glad that Tyler was still asleep.
After regaining his composure, he walked slowly over towards Tyler's sleeping bag, again being careful not to wake him. Tyler always carried a small pocketknife with him on camping trips, so that they would be able to cut the tough stems of the sea oats to be used to start the fire. Finding the knife laying on Tyler's sleeping bag, he reached down, picked it up, and then slowly stood. He surveyed the perimeter of palm trees, looking for just the right one. Finally, he had it picked out.
He walked very carefully towards one of the far palm trees, one that was slightly bent over from being too close to another one when it was younger. Reaching the tree, he opened the blade on the knife, and felt around for a good spot in the bark of the tree. Thinking it would be better on the far side, the one that faced the other side of the clearing, he maneuvered himself around its huge trunk. Positioning the knife in his hand just right, he stared to carve into its bark. The knife was dull from cutting sea oats last night, and the palm bark was naturally tough to cut through. Still, after several minutes with some effort, he was able to complete the project. Closing the knife blade, he stepped back to examine what he had written. The sun was high enough now to provide just the light he needed to see his handiwork. He traced the letters with his fingers. 'P.C. loves T.L.' He had also carved a heart shaped perimeter, to add to the message.
It was how he felt, and it was the best he could do for now. Only he and tree would know.
He walked back over to Tyler's sleeping bag, and placed the knife back where he had found it. Then he got back into his own sleeping bag, placed his hands behind his head, and closed his eyes. Tyler would be up soon enough, and Pete didn't want him to know that he was awake yet. He had done this many times. He knew the routine.Next Chapter Previous Chapter