Next day at morning workout everything is as usual, except Scott is not there. I am relieved. When I walk onto the deck in the afternoon, everyone stops talking. I see Scott, sitting in a stretching group. I decide, “Let him do the apologizing.”
I sit next to Lydia. Everyone is watching us.
“Am I the new celebrity around here?”
“I don’t think celebrity is the right word for it,” she mumbles.
“Are you going to take Scott’s side on this?”
“I need you to tell me something, so I don’t feel weird.”
“Look. I hurt Scott’s feelings by beating him yesterday. I used a tactic that took advantage of our training together so much last summer. But it’s not right to tell a bunch of lies about me. If you believe him, then I’m wrong thinking we’re friends.”
“But that’s it, Tim. We’re friends, just friends. You know I like you. Why haven’t you wanted to be my boyfriend?”
Her unanswered questions glare me in the face.
I stand up. “Come on. We need to talk without everyone staring.”
We leave the pool area, sitting on the grass. I take her hand which is our thing.
“I don’t feel I’ve done anything wrong, Lydia. I really like you as a friend and I want you as a girlfriend. I haven’t pushed because it’s what feels right. Now tell me what’s being said.”
“Scott says you showed him your log and told him you had sex with your male cousin. He’s worried about Stu, so he told his mom. They confronted you last night, and you denied everything. You’re banned from their family.”
“They accused me of having sex with boys which I’ve never done. Nothing was said about my cousin, who’s twenty. Last summer we had sex when I visited in New England. It wasn’t a bad thing. I was confused and told Scott. I trusted him. Now because of a stupid race, he got mad at me. He’s getting even by telling everyone. I’m telling you everything because I trust you.”
“Oh, Tim. Do you think you’re gay?”
“It’s not a bad thing, just something that got out of control. You know me now. I wouldn’t start anything with you if I thought I was misleading you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me? We could have talked about it.”
“We never even talk about sex. You’re pretty. I know you like me. I’m just letting it develop naturally. Should I have pressured you?”
“I don’t know Tim. I feel you misled me.”
“Am I supposed to introduce myself as the victim of incest? I’m not like you guys. I’m the outsider. I want to make a good impression to be accepted. Everything you think about fags is bad. It wasn’t a big deal. It happened. I was finding out about myself. I won’t be the object of your pity.”
I walk away, hoping she will call me back. She does not.
Coach Earl calls me that night. He says that no matter what happened, I have the potential to be a great swimmer. I should not quit.
“Have you ever seen me quit, Coach?”
“No, but you shouldn’t walk away.”
“I’m not the one with the problem. They have the problem. If they want to tell me it’s okay, I’ll be back.”
”It doesn’t work that way, son. Just come back tomorrow. It’ll be over.”
“Thanks, Coach. I’ve just got to figure it out. You know I hate skipping practice.”
I hang up and sit in my window sill, looking toward the Bay. The first lightning flashes I have seen since last summer are playing across the sky, past Miami Beach and Key Biscayne. I have been here almost a year. I still like my friends but feel abandoned. I think about calling Joey, but he will just say “Fuck ‘em.” Swimming is its own reward. It is not helping me grow up. I have as much fun with the ten-year-olds as I do with those my age. The older kids expect me to prove myself to them. Like mini-adults they want me to conform to their standards and ostracize me for refusing. And what is their great talent, the ability to swim quickly up and down a pool?
The rain from the storm starts falling, the first rain in months. I start singing, “listen to the rhythm of the falling rain, falling pitter patter pitter pat.. the only girl I care about has gone away, looking for a brand-new start. I never knew I’d feel this way…along with it she broke my heart.”
GUMMOE, JOHN C.
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
What a bunch of romantic crap. The rain passes. My problem is not Lydia. I pick up the phone Dad has put in my room. I dial Stu and Scott’s number. Scott answers.
I do not hesitate, “Is this the way you want it to work out?”
“Tim. Oh man, I didn’t expect you to call.”
“Well, I did. Get your bike. Meet me at the pool.”
“It’s late and it’s been raining.”
“It’s not going to rain. Come on, man. This is the only way to settle this.”
“You wanna fight?”
“Grow up, Scott. That won’t settle anything. See you in a half an hour.” I hang up. I am glad to have started it, but I really have no plan. I just want to settle it, between just the two of us.
I ride down Riviera toward Ponce. Again, as I go by the library, I hear whispering and giggling. No one is there. I turn left for the University.
Scott is already there, looking tense and ready for anything.
“Have you ever ridden around at night?” I ask.
“No. It’s kinda cool.”
“Just be careful. Cars don’t see you. I usually ride on the sidewalk. Let’s go to the Grove.”
We ride without speaking, finally stopping at Peacock Park, right on the Bay. Leaving the bikes, we sit on the seawall.
“Boy, I could use a cigarette now.”
“Another bad habit from cousin Joey, just for two weeks. It calms me down. I stopped when I joined the team. I guess you think I’m pretty much a waste case.”
“Just ‘cause you smoked? No way, man. You still beat me at the meet yesterday.”
“My big mistake.”
He looked at me seriously. “Listen, Tim. I just popped my mouth off. We can be friends still.”
“We can’t change what everybody thinks about me. Today I felt it wasn’t worth being friends with you or anyone on the team. Even Lydia.”
“She’s under pressure. All the girls are quizzing her about all the personal stuff between you two.”
“Great.” We stay quiet for a while. Then I say, “I want to settle it between you and me.”
“You mean fight?” He looks really scared.
“No, you idiot. We’re going to race to see who’s really better. See that little key in the bay,” I point at a spit of sand about half a mile from shore. “We’ll race to there. Open water, no tactics, just the faster, stronger swimmer wins.”
A smile spreads across his face. “Cool.”
We strip to our Speedo’s and stand on the seawall over the Bay.
We dive in together and come up stroking. Scott tries to take an early lead, but I stay right on his shoulder, just like two days ago. Every time he tries to sprint ahead, I keep up. About halfway, he changes his pace, slowing down. I try passing him, but he keeps ahead. With fifty yards to go, I make my move, slowly moving up on him. We hit shallow water together and run ashore. With longer legs, I easily beat him to the water’s edge.
“No fair,” he protests. “You beat me running, not swimming.”
We flop down on the sand, laying on our backs, gasping deep breaths and laughing.
“I beat you again, asshole,” I crow.
“It wasn’t fair. You beat me running, because of your goony legs. We’re racing back. To the wall this time.”
He jumps up pulling me with him to the water’s edge.
We both dive into the dark water. This time Scott is determined not to be denied victory. He sprints out ahead, like a demon. With the lights ahead of us, I cannot get my bearings. I cannot keep up and my only hope is he will burn out. I am forming the words I will say about how I let him win, when I notice a dull noise. Looking up from the water, I see a power boat bearing down at us, a hundred yards away and closing. I yell at Scott. He is too intent on the race and is oblivious. I know the boat is on an intercept course. Fear for Scott gives me an adrenaline rush. I sprint as fast as possible, not even breathing, keeping my head down and thrashing my arms like a banshee. The motor’s dull noise steadily increases, but Scott does not waver. Just as it reaches a fever pitch, I catch his arm and pull him back sharply .
“Hey, that’s cheat..,” he starts to say, lifting his head. I grab him and pull him under water, diving down myself. I feel what I believe is the propeller slide over my back. We miss disaster by inches. Scott and I surface, looking wildly into each other’s eyes, with both shock and thrill. We swim easily to shore and pull ourselves up onto the seawall.
“I didn’t even know a boat was coming.” Scott is shaken up.
“I can’t believe you didn’t hear it.”
“You saved my life, Tim,” he says slowly.
He grabs me with both arms. I roll over backwards on the grass. We wrestle for several minutes.
“Whoa-ii,” he yells like a cowboy, the thrill overcoming him.
We finally calm down and sit with our legs dangling over the seawall.
“It’s crazy to swim out into the Bay in the dark,” I say.
“You’re crazy, Tim. I always knew it.” His grin splits his face from ear to ear.
“Life’s never dull,” I admit. “So, who’s the best swimmer? The way you were going I would never have caught you.”
“This is so stupid. You saved my life! You’re the best. That’s what counts.”
I am afraid he will hug me again, so we start hitting each other on the arms and chest. Finally, we get up and retrieve our bikes.
“I’ll ride you all the way to Kendall,” I offer.
“No way,” he firmly says and looks at me. “Can I spend the night at your house?”
“Sure, but what’ll your folks say?”
“I’ll tell Stu at morning workout about what happened, just not the speedboat part.”
We ride through the Grove and Gables, with Scott talking all the way, babbling and going on about nothing – just like Stu. When we get upstairs, he throws off his clothes and jumps into my bed. He is asleep instantly. I stay up, sitting in the window, watching the flashes that still play over the Bay. I remember sleeping with Pete and having to jerk off in order to not have sex with him. I do not think that is necessary now, as I am in much better control of my feelings. Scott knows I am gay, and there he is lying in my bed with only his Speedo on. Is it that he trusts me or is he offering himself to me? What do I want to do? Hell, I saved his butt from that boat. Sex is cool, but it always confuses me when I just do it, regardless of the consequences. I jump into bed, which wakes him up. He looks at me with sleepy surprise. I push him away. We go to sleep butt to butt.
In the morning we wake up so late we miss morning workout. We ride to the pool just in time to catch Stu. He is surprised we are together and confused about why Scott spent the night with me but does not say anything. It’s hard for Scott to leave me, finally saying we will see each other at practice. I am afraid he will hug me again. I ride to school and catch up with my coach before class. I tell him I do not want to swim the 500 at the State Championships. He agrees. I will enter the breaststroke and IM events, as well as a relay. I know I am doing this for Scott, which seems odd but right.
At practice, Scott almost runs to meet me. He has picked up Stu’s habit of endless chatter, which I am used to ignoring. I see everyone’s amazement that we are friends again. The start of workout cuts off the soap opera gossip. I promise to keep Lydia in the loop this time.
That night, Scott comes home with me again. He keeps up the endless chatter, until I want to shut him up. I figured he is coming out of a lifelong shell. He needs to verbalize all his feelings. We ride bikes again at night, but not to the Grove. Coral Gables is full of little parks and fountains. We just explore. We buy soft-serve ice cream cones at a little shop on 8th Street and sit eating them at the fountain at the top of Country Club Prado. Scott keeps talking about his feelings while I half-listen. Then he moves closer so he can lean against my back.
“Acting a bit gay, Scott.”
He does not move away, but answers, “Why would that bother you?”
“You really think I’m gay, huh?”
Then he does move back, “No, I just know you won’t push me away.”
I reach over and draw him back next to me. We relax.
“Now you’ve got me talking about my feelings,” I smile at him. “I just want to be myself. I need a friend more than a boyfriend at this stage.”
“What’s it like? I mean having sex?”
He is being way too seductive. Maybe he is naïve enough that he is unaware about where this conversation is going.
“I’m not that much of an expert, you know. I did it with a couple of girls as well as my cousin last summer.”
“Then you’re not gay?”
“I liked doing it with each one of them. I guess my score was girls 2, guys 1. I got hung up on my feelings about my cousin. I missed him a lot. The girls were both a one time thing.”
I pause to make sure he wants to continue these thoughts. “I’ve never told you how I got over Joey. He came here last fall. We did it so many times, I got sick of it. Now we’re just friends, just cousins again.
“So, you’re over being gay?”
“I’m just over my feelings for Joey. I think it is more dangerous than we’re told. Free love may not cost money, but your emotions pay the price. I don’t think being gay is as unnatural as everyone says. When I’m with you guys, sex doesn’t come up much. I enjoy the parties we have, but it seems like no one gets serious.”
“Girls like me but I’ve never felt sex was possible.”
“Being on the team keeps us from growing up too fast.”
“But, what did you do with your cousin?”
I laugh. “I never kiss and tell. You’re asking too much.”
His curiosity disturbs me, but it also awakes old feelings. At that moment, I realize I am gay. Accepting it helps me realize Scott, innocently, is making a pass at me. His feelings are a jumble; by my saving his life; by his exposing me to everyone; and, by his being able to talk about deep feelings for the first time. He needs to talk. His life is limited to being a swim jock. He is ripe for new experiences. Not being shy, I turn and look him in the face.
“Scott, I know how we feel about each other right now. We both almost died last night, but we survived. I like having you sleep over. I even like you talking non-stop. But if you keep talking about sex, we’ll end up doing something about it that may ruin our friendship, which I really need. I’m not ready to risk it.”
Then I hug him, not letting go until he hugs back. We look at each other and laugh.
“Now that’s what being a fag is,” I josh.
“You’re strange, Tim. You’re so confident. Do you want me to stay over still?”
“You can stay over any or every night.”
He hugs me again.
Scott is a permanent house guest from that night on. I should get another bed for him, but I don’t. Mom is totally oblivious. Scott’s mom gets concerned that he has not come home after a couple of days. We go to his house together. He explains to his mom and dad that he made up the gay part of my log to get even with me for beating him at the City Championships; I offer to bring the logs for them to read, but luckily they believe Scott (Why?) I am no longer banned. It is agreed that I stay over there an equal number of nights. Except for some weekends, Scott stays with me for rest of the school year. Scott’s mom comes to visit my mom, who is not part of the team’s parent support group. She knows my mom is getting divorced and wants to offer her support. Mom seems better with the two of us there for meals and normal family life. Everyone is happy.
The next practice we walk in together. The stretching group looks at us in amazement. The tension drops several levels. Lydia comes over and punches Scott, then me, in the chest. We all laugh. I start singing, “Lollypop, lollypop, oh, lolly, lolly, lolly, lollypop, POP, bah, dum, bum,bum, my girl Lollypop, she never ever stops, Oh, Lollypop.”
PENNIMAN, MICHAEL HOLBROOK
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, CARLIN AMERICA INC
Scott joins me, and then everyone does the ‘Pop’ with a finger in their mouths. Coach Diaz looks over, which makes us laugh even more. His scowl does not change.
“Hay, this isn’t choir practice. If you must celebrate, then I want you doing it in the water. Everybody get behind Scott. We’re doing ‘Follow the Leader.’”
This is our favorite practice-beater. One person sets a path around the deck, off the diving boards and platform, down a pool lane, under the lanes, all over the pool area. You have to follow the leader, but not necessarily stay in line. I get right behind Scott, who sets a slow pace, as everyone behind us jostles for position. Then he sprints down a lane, stretching the line out. Coach lets this go on for ten minutes, yelling at everyone not to run on the deck. It is a semi-hazardous game that is usually done at the end of practice. Doing it before workout is Coach’s way of acknowledging we are back to normal. When we stop, he gives us the toughest practice I can remember, fifty 100s on a minute 10 seconds.
The State Championship Meet is coming up. My school coach is only marginally interested in this meet, as there is no chance Gables can win, too many better teams from Gainesville and Jacksonville. He already agreed to let me swim different events. Scott is discouraged about his chances in the 500. He needs to drop his time to 4:42 after already dropping ten seconds to 4:50 in the City meet against me. I set out to help his confidence. I tell him he has nothing to lose in this race, as he is not a favorite. In distance races, the best strategy is the pace you set. We have practiced endlessly learning how to swim at a set pace and how to quicken that pace as we get into better shape. When we had gone 4:50, we averaged 58 seconds per hundred. In order to beat 4:42, he would have to set a 56 second hundred pace with a 55 second first hundred and a 55 second last 100. I know he will be unable to bring home a faster last hundred. Knowing he likes to go out hard but finds it hard to ‘kick’ it home, I suggest he totally throw out the pace strategy for this one race.
“Remember how you burned me on our Bay race from the key to the shore? Use that strategy at State. Instead of setting a reasonable pace, go out like a mad man, bringing it home as best you can. You’re in incredible shape. I bet you’ll be able to hold them off. They’re nothing but human automatons, anyway.”
“Luckily I wasn’t able to hold you off.”
“Otherwise we were shark bait. You gotta believe you can pull this off.”
Thinking about the Bay swim gives me an idea for some additional race strategy.
Scott asks, “Since you’re my new coach, will you count laps for me?” For distance races, a counter sits at the end of your lane, holding numbered cards underwater to show the swimmer what lap they are on.
“Sure, let’s have a signal at every fifty. If you’re 28 seconds for that fifty, I’ll hold the card steady, behind 28 I’ll move it sideways, and ahead of 28, up and down.
It’s a good idea, slightly cheating, but not prohibited.
The State meet is at the Swimming Hall of Fame pool in Fort Lauderdale. I swim my prelims, making the breaststroke finals. Scott is seeded by time in the night finals. He is in an outside lane, with six swimmers seeded ahead of him. We sense an advantage being on the outside as the other swimmers will not take his rabbit start seriously. He can build a lead without being pushed. My job is to convince him he has the heart to bring it home. My races go fine, but I am more into Scott’s race. I do not do my best times. I watch him concentrating on the lower seeded heats where the rabbits cannot finish strongly. I sense his doubts.
“I’m gonna die on the last laps.”
“Not unless some fishing boat comes along.”
“Seriously, Tim, I think this is a bad idea.”
“But you haven’t a chance if you swim your regular pace.”
“But Coach Cavanagh is counting on me for the points. What if I die and don’t do my time?”
“Stop. This is about a chance to be better than you are. Grab it.”
“All I can think about is how badly I’m going to die.”
I grab his shoulders and shake him. “Stop the negative thoughts. Visualize how you’ll feel to be way ahead of those crackers and rednecks.”
Laughing, I give him a quick shoulder massage.
I unleash my secret strategy. “When you hit the wall at nineteen laps, remember that boat, except now it’s me who is ahead of you, and you have to save me. Forget your pain, just let your adrenaline do it.”
I squeeze his shoulders, and then we take our places. Scott is in lane one, me at the end of the pool with his lap cards.
At the start, lane three false-starts, a sign of inexperience in distance races. Scott smiles and waves at me from the block, making me grin back. At the gun, he takes off like a shot. His fifty time is 23 and he has a two body length lead. He is 50 plus at the first hundred, which is his regular sprint time, and he is way ahead. The next hundred is 54, for a 1:44, his best 200 time ever. He is so far ahead that everyone in the Miami section of the stands starts yelling and cheering. Coach Diaz runs over to me, as I keep moving the lap cards vigorously. “What’s he doing? He’ll die.”
“It’s a strategy, Coach. He’s going to win.”
The noise has confused the other swimmers battling for second place. They don’t know where Scott is. His arms are turning over at twice their regular rate. Then he goes 28 and 29 seconds for a 57 third hundred. I move the cards slowly side to side. The next hundred was 1:00 and I move the cards sideways like crazy. I can see the desperation in his eyes with five laps to go. His next-to-last fifty is 30 seconds, and I start to give up. The other swimmers have closed the gap. Their better pacing means Scott will lose. I almost hit him with the cards. Just as he turns, I yell “Boat!” as loudly as I can. He digs his arms in and his rate of turnover picks up suddenly. The other swimmers have almost caught him, but for the first time in his life, Scott ‘kicks in’ the last lap. He wins by over a body length; his time is under 4:39, an automatic All-American. I run screaming to the other end and jump into the water on top of him.
Between gasps and gulps, he yells, “I did it, Tim. I saved you. All I could see was that boat and you ahead of me. I caught you.”
He has me by the neck. Lydia jumps in with her sweats on. Four or five others are in the lane. Then in comes Stu in his street clothes. Everyone is hugging Scott. The meet officials order us out of the water, so Scott can get his medal on the victory stand. When his name is announced, we all yell and jump up with him on the stand.
It is the lead photo in the Miami Herald Sports section, needing an arrow to point out which one of us is Scott.
Coach grabs me after the celebration. “That was your idea, wasn’t it?”
“I just told Scott he could do it. He was ready to give up before even racing them.”
“That pace is not the way to swim distance events. Now I’m going to really crack down on you distance swimmers. And, how come you weren’t in that race? You have a lot to learn about the IM before you’ll be any good.”
I evade the truth, “The high school coach did the entries.”
“I know better, Tim. Just remember, you’ve got a lot of years of swimming before you become a coach.”
“I’m glad, Coach,” giving him my biggest grin. “I’ll savor this victory for a while.”
Scott’s dad runs up to me, talking idiotically about how wrong he was to banish me from their house. Scott’s victory really shakes him up. I tell him to enjoy it with Scott. We all go out for hamburgers. I am nervous that Scott cannot keep his hands off of me, so I hook my leg on his leg under the table. Lydia sits with us, so I end up with an arm around her and a leg around him. When dropping me at my house, Scott just comes with me. His mom says he should come home. Then Stu wants to stay, too. They finally let only Scott stay.
“It’s like we’re brothers now,” I say.
“Yeah, but I don’t have to live at home.”
That night Scott wraps his legs around me after we get into bed. At first, I cannot get to sleep, so I go sit in my window. No lightning, but a breeze cools the warm night. Scott’s success makes me feel complete. We are so much better as a team than as competitors. He lays in bed with no sheet covering him, in his orange Speedo. He is now the hero. Everything is simple for him. I wonder if everyone would have been as excited if I had won. That is dead-end thinking. He lays there, so young, no hint of a beard, flushed cheeks, bleached brown hair. He is almost my height, weighing 130 or so, long legs, chiseled stomach and shoulders, but not muscular. He has the classic swimmer’s body. And he loves me, not a doubt about that in my mind. It made him win that race. The control I have over him is more important than the victory. Does wanting to protect his innocence mean I really love him back. If I make him my gay plaything, it will shatter my delusion that I am still a kid wanting to enjoy the moment. Sex has become a dark cloud for me. It is not fair. I am fifteen and feel old. Feeling like Joey makes me regret for the first time what we had done. I sigh when I think of him. He is the older one and shouldered the responsibilities I now feel for Scott. I laugh and whistle a nameless tune. A far away whistle comes back at me. I whistle sharply but a different echo does not come back. After several times, I realize Scott is up, standing beside me.
“What’s up?” he asks, placing his hand on my shoulder.
“I’m sitting here whistling and someone whistled back. I whistled again but this time there was no echo. I wonder if it was my siren song?”
“How come you can’t sleep?” he asks.
“You know, sitting here in my window, thinking about life, love, death, all the normal teen issues.”
“You’re so heavy, Tim.”
“Yeah. I wish I was more normal sometimes.”
“There’s nothing wrong with thinking.”
“Yeah, but it’s more fun to wrestle,” as I grab him, taking him to the floor. I get on top and find out he is hyper-ticklish.
“Stop. Stop,” he gasps.
“Can’t take it, huh? Set a new state record, become an automatic All-American, move out from your family, take over my bed, but you can’t be tickled?”
I keep going until he finally throws me off and jumps into bed.
“You can’t attack me here,” he declares, as I circle the bed, darting at him, then finally jumping in with him. He is right. The bed is our safe zone. As I lay back, he slides next to me, putting his feet underneath my soles. He keeps shuddering from the tickling.
“Good night, Tim.”
“Good night, butt-head.”